By Conor Sanchez
Our summer mantra was getting comfortable with being uncomfortable (pretty sure Michaela stole this one from Jillian Michaels). We sold our belongings, drove ourselves across the country, ran up a 2,000 ft. incline in .88 miles, and even learned the basics of flying trapeze.
All of this was great practice for Nicaragua, where we are now filled to the brim with new experiences. Tasting fruits I never knew existed, eating cow stomach for the first time, hiking to the edge of an active volcano’s crater are just a few examples of what we’ve encountered so far. Each morning I wake up expecting the unexpected, which I’m thoroughly enjoying.
There are moments when we crave a little bit of routine. For this, we usually escape to a coffee joint in my town or watch movies in Spanish on Netflix (if you haven’t already, check out La Camioneta – a documentary on decommissioned school buses that are sold in the U.S. and make their way to Central America to serve the transportation systems. Michaela and I take a school bus almost every weekend to reach each other).
But even as I try to incorporate some of my old habits back into my daily schedule – running, writing, reading – I’m realizing nothing is ever going to be quite the same. And that’s ok. In fact, my favorite moments in country so far have been the ones in which I’m finally beginning to feel comfortable, at ease in fact, as if adapting to this new terrain ain’t no thing. Then, suddenly, something delivers a swift slap to the face.
For example, one Sunday morning Michaela and I got up and decided to go for a run as we often did in D.C. The sun was up, the town was coming to life, and we were cheerful to be up and going on what promised to be a beautiful day in the Department of Masaya. We drank a cup of coffee and casually stretched in her host-mom’s sala. As our feet hit the pavement outside, I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “Huh, aside from that gigantic pig tied up on the street corner and the pile of trash burning across the street, this really doesn’t feel any different from my old life.”
Then, less than a mile into our run, we were abruptly forced to stop when four giant oxen came barreling into the street. One ox appeared particularly furious and began bucking uncontrollably before breaking into a full gallop down the road. Michaela and I planted our bodies flat against a nearby wall as the chaos ensued. Seconds later, about four men (presumably their owners) came racing down the street trying to subdue the beasts.
The rest of the run was fine and, for the most part, felt pretty normal. However, it’s moments like this that serve as a reminder that, not only should we beware of angry oxen fleeing their owners next time we go for a run, but we can certainly continue to expect the unexpected in our new lives here. It’s also funny how certain things that initially struck me as wildly different from my life back in states, such as taking cold showers, have already faded into the background (and on a hot day, it becomes a gift from the gods). While at the same time, more subtle differences that didn’t immediately catch my attention in the first few days, like eating carbohydrates all day, erryday, are starting to pop up and challenge my ability to adapt.
Next week promises a whole new set of novelty and adventure as we prepare to depart for our Practicum Week, a five day opportunity to observe and learn from a currently serving Volunteer in our sector. Michaela and I will be in Chinandega, which, according to everybody we talk to, is basically a gigantic oven that’s going to cook us alive.
The city of Chinandega, located in the northwest corner of Nicaragua not too far from the border with Honduras, has been nicknamed Ciudad Cálida because of its reputation as the country’s hottest city. And for some inexplicable reason, no matter how hot it gets, everybody wears a polo shirt tucked into jeans. I’m not joking. We. Will. Cook. The good news is 1) Michaela and I will be together and 2) we might get to check out a beach.
Already, we’ve learned some important lessons in our first five weeks here. For example, it’s not enough to simply embrace the uncomfortable. We also have to expect the unexpected. In the words of one local friend, “todo es posible en Nicaragua.”