It took a little while for her to warm up to us. When we arrived in Estelí, Doña Brígida politely showed us to our room, but kept her distance. Feeling proud of my Spanish acquisition I tried to ask her a couple of questions. I got the infamous Nica-nose-scrunch in response, which translates to something like, “Huh????” We had a place to stay, but it was apparent she was a little wary of us.
That afternoon while were getting ready to head out to meet some of the other PC volunteers in the area, we heard her grandsons playing in the living room. We spent just a few minutes before we left playing with them, and that night they told their dad and grandma that they didn’t want to leave until we came back. Their dad asked why they wanted to wait for strangers. “Dad, we’re not strangers, we’re friends,” the 6-year-old replied. By the time Doña Brígida recounted this story for the tenth time upon our arrival later that night, we knew we’d worked our way into her heart.
Meeting, learning about, and getting to know Estelí was quite similar to this experience. We arrived to the city with the help of our counterparts, which we had just met on Monday for Counterpart Day in Managua. At first we explored only within a small walking distance of our residence. Even though my school was only 1 ½ cuadras away, my counterpart met me and walked me there for the first time.
It’s not that these means were absurd; Estelí is one of the top 5 biggest cities in Nicaragua. There are so many streets, stores, and people that the help was definitely needed. I felt overwhelmed at times throughout the week with all of the counterparts to meet and to observe and to get to know quickly, new school cultures to adapt to, introductions and explanations of myself in Spanish, and Peace Corps suggested and required activities to complete during the site visit.
Slowly, but surely, we began to get to know the city and its people a bit more. We:
- Wrote down names of co-workers, new acquaintances, and family members of counterparts
- Met up with five fellow Peace Corps Volunteers in the area and learned about their experiences in Estelí
- Observed, co-planned, and co-taught lessons in our institutos.
- Ventured past the city park and walked around most of downtown
- Visited the houses of two of our counterparts to get to know their families and where they live
- Traveled on foot, by taxi, city bus, and highway bus
- Discovered cheap, but safe, food options close to home
- Splurged on creature comforts of Chinese food, good coffee, and crepes
- Met our new landlady/host mom and got really excited about our new apartment
- Heard countless stories and glowing reviews of Carlos and Yessica (seriously, I think they knew everyone in Estelí!)
- Spent time at each other’s schools to begin connecting with the directors, subdirectors, teachers, and students of our spouse.
- Cried a bit when we felt overwhelmed – OK, maybe that was just me 😉
- Began learning about the history of Estelí and the pain and suffering that so many have endured over the years from the war & Hurricane Mitch.
- Spoke and listened to a lot of Spanish
- Started to feel a bit more at home
Through these actions and many more we can slowly but surely warm our way into the hearts of Estelí. Or maybe it’s the other way around.