Scratching the Surface

Yesterday was a beautiful day, full of many firsts. It was my first time to:

  • Visit a cheese store (quesería) and tortilla store (tortillería)
  • Celebrate an anniversary in Nica (Emily and I have been together for 5 years)
  • Visit Emily during the week
  • Ride in a taxi
  • Tear up over saving twenty cents.

After a full day of Spanish class, we were released 30 minutes early to go integrate into the community by conducting community interviews.  I went to one of the local cheese/tortilla stores named  “Quesería y Tortillería: El Ratoncito Chontaleño”.  I learned about all of the different types of cheeses, and purchased some delicious, smokey cuajada ahumada and a fried tortilla, cheese, sugar, butter combination called rellenita.  YUM!

Yes, that is cheese.  Smokey, delicious cheese!
Yes, that is cheese. Smokey, delicious cheese!

After class, I hopped on a bus to go visit Emily, and celebrate five years of being together.  It was the first time one of us has traveled to the other’s host town during the week, as Peace Corps advises us to spend Monday-Thursday with our respective host families for language learning purposes.  What a treat it was to spend the afternoon together!

Time together is a treat during Pre-Service Training!
Time together is a treat during Pre-Service Training!

We enjoyed our afternoon in pretty typical Andrew & Emily fashion: sharing a cup of tea, eating a delicious meal, talking, and snuggling.  However, as this was a Nica anniversary, half of the conversation was in Spanish, we snuggled under a mosquito net, and the meal was DELICIOUS Doña Manuelita, home-cooked fare: pollo rostizado with platano maduro, smoky gallo pinto cooked over an open fire, and a healthy portion of fresh cabbage salad with spicy pickled veggies.  YUM!!!

I feel like I make this face a lot when I'm about to eat Emily's host mom's food!  Pure excitement and joy, bordering on tears!
I feel like I make this face a lot when I’m about to eat Emily’s host mom’s food! Pure excitement and joy, bordering on tears!

I’ve been lucky enough to eat this comida divina on the weekends that I’ve visited Emily, and I’ve been dreaming about it ever since!  In fact, I’m drooling right now as I’m writing this post.  I was way more excited than I should have been that Emily’s stomach was hurting her (note the packet of raisins in the photo), and that she needed help finishing her food.  Oops!

Dinner entertainment consisted of many race car competitions conducted by Diego, Emily’s four year old host nephew, in which his four cars (Steve McQueen, Francesco, Steve McQueen, and Blue Steve McQueen) duked it out around the porch.  He is quite the sweetheart.

Can you tell from his car names that Diego is a fan of the movie "Cars"?
Can you tell from his car names that Diego is a fan of the movie “Cars”?

Around 6:15pm the sky started to darken in a very ominous fashion, so I grabbed my things and headed out.  From the Pan-American highway I was lucky to flag down a taxi before it started downpouring.  As I squished in the backseat I asked how much it cost to travel to my training town.  The lady next to me said ten Cordobas, but the driver immediately overruled her and said fifteen.  Knowing ten was probably the fair price, but also knowing that this taxi was probably saving me and my possessions from certain saturation, I decided not to haggle over the extra twenty cents I was being charged.  I asked the lady next to me where she was heading, and she too was headed to my training town.  I joked with her that I must be getting charged the gringo price.  The two of us then began to make delightful small talk for the entirety of the ten minute ride.  It was an awesome opportunity to apply all of the Nica-isms I’d learned over the last four weeks.  I even busted out some slang that I had learned just the day before during our family celebration at the finca!

As with any small talk I’m a part of, I made sure to guide the topic to food.  I find food is great conversational material for connecting and pushing conversations deeper.  The fact that I was able to share all of the Nicaraguan foods I’ve tried and loved made this an especially rich cross-cultural interaction.  I, of course, recounted the delicious dinner I just shared for our “anniversario de novios,” and made special reference about how delicious the gallo pinto tasted cooked over an open fire.  She totally agreed, and said nothing beats the “sabor de leña” (flavor of the wood used to make the fire).  Throughout our conversation I also learned that her son was actually the taxi driver!  As I hopped out of the car and started counting out my fifteen Cordobas, I could hear her and her son exchanging words.  She then leaned a bit out of the taxi, extended her arm and said, “Diez” (ten).  I couldn’t help but feel that I had just passed some sort of test!  What awesome, tangible proof of the power/benefit of cultural integration. That was, without a doubt, the best twenty cents I have ever saved.

I look forward to the many other benefits and soul-enriching rewards I will gain over my next two years of Nicaraguan integration & cultural exchange.  It’s only been one month and four days, and even still I can feel my heart expanding 🙂


11 thoughts on “Scratching the Surface”

  1. Hi hon,
    I’m so glad you and Emily got to be together for a few hours on your anniversary. 5 years is great! Congratulations. I’m happy for all the great years together you have ahead of you.
    I loved the story about saving 20 cents. It reminded me of the interesting taxi driver we had for the trip to Telum in Mexico. You and he had a great conversation. Just think how much more you’d understand if you were on that same ride today!
    My last back to school night was fun. Wilson is really doing well, there was a great positive vibe full of excitement there tonight. There are 20 new teachers and lots of new classes including Yoga/Mindful studies, sound and video production, Health professions, lifetime sports, marketing and more. Ryan has some great classes. Friday is the first football game on the new turf so we plan to attend.
    Tomorrow I’ll help with the TCC garage sale.

    Oops, sorry to use this space for an update. Thanks for the post. Love, Mamma

    1. I love the update! Thanks Mamma. I definitely remember that conversation with that taxi driver. What a great memory. I look forward to making many more!

  2. I have definitely seen that “AH I love you food and can’t believe I get to eat you right now” face many times before. I bet she loves it that you enjoy her cooking so much. This phrase is cool, “sabor de leña”. Way to socialize and delve into meaningful conversation from an experience that could have been done in silence (and most people probably would have just sat there). Yay for heart warming experiences!

    1. Thanks Kari! We are in Leon for practicum week right now, and my two taxi rides so far consisted of 5-10 minutes of non-stop convo with the drivers. All I did to start the convos was to say “Como esta Senor?” or “Me gusta su taxi!” From there they were genuinely excited and willing to engage for the entire ride.

      Remember when we would share stories about trying to go above and beyond in social situations to connect with strangers? That seems to be a way of life here, at least when interacting with us gringos. I could definitely get used to it 🙂

      1. I totally do remember being accountability buddies regarding putting ourselves out there in social interactions with strangers. Doesnt seem like you need much push these days 🙂 Awesome.

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