It’s amazing how traveling thousands of miles away from your house can make you realize how small our world is. Our travels over New Years were a great reminder of this.
At the beginning of December Emily and I attended the NicaTESOL conference, where hundreds of English language educators and students from around the world met up to discuss teaching strategies. While Emily and I were trying to decide which breakout sessions to attend, we noticed that one of the presenters is currently studying on a Fulbright scholarship at none other than Southern Illinois University! Since half of my in-laws have studied at this school 45 minutes from Emily’s hometown, we had to go.
We knew we were in the right room when we saw the Saluki pin on the lapel of presenter. After a great session entitled “Accent & Intelligibility” we chatted with David, the presenter, and connected over the Southern Illinois connection. In true Nicaraguan fashion, David invited us to come visit him and his family in Grenada, and told us that he’d love to show us around. We told him we’d love to, but were internally feeling pretty ambivalent about the whole idea. I mean, we just met this guy and have only talked with him for two minutes. He’s only in town for a few weeks after being gone for a year and a half, does he really want to spend his time playing tour guide for two strangers? Is he just inviting us to be polite?
Fast forward to the end of the month. We’d just spent a very peaceful, yet slightly lonely Christmas in site and wanted to get out, see another part of the country, and be with people for the New Years. We planned to spend the 31st and 1st with host families in our training towns, but weren’t sure what to do with the 30th. Pushing aside our cultural unease of being burdens, we called up David and asked him if it would still work for us to come visit him in Grenada. Although it was his last day in town before going back to the states, he enthusiastically agreed to show us the best of his city. When we asked him for suggestions on cheap places to spend the night, he offered us a place at his family’s home. After double and triple checking that he was fine spending his last day in Nicaragua with us, that his family really wouldn’t mind hosting us, and that we truly weren’t going to be burdens, we graciously accepted.
What an incredible decision that was.
We spent a full day of walking around gorgeous Grenada with David. He showed us the main tourist sites, but made a point of taking us to places where only locals go. When lunch time rolled around, I could hardly contain my excitement when David told us we were going where Granadinos say the best vigorón and baho in the entire city, both of which are specialties of Grenada. We walked deep into the open air market, to the place the locals refer to as the esquina (corner). We purchased our food, sat down with our banana leaf wrapped morsels of culinary & cultural delight, and dug in. I was momentarily transported to a rift in the space-time continuum where only feelings of pure ecstasy and oneness with all of creation exist, as the combination of trying delicious, traditional foods in this authentically Nicaraguan location, all because of the generosity of a new friend, was almost too much to handle.
I was sure that this lunch was going to be the high point of our trip. Turns out it wasn’t even the high point of the day.
After our afternoon on the town, David took Emily and I back to his family’s house. David is one of eight siblings, and from the moment we entered the house we were engulfed by a sea of hospitality, kindness, and earnest interest in connecting that almost instantly we felt like these people had become family. They fed us, asked us questions, shared stories, fed us, swapped dichos, planned our future travels plans around Nicaragua, fed us, and made us promise that we would come back soon. Although David left at 4am the next morning to catch his plane, Emily and I didn’t leave Grenada until almost noon, as we were chatting with different family members all morning. They told us “the doors of our hearts and of our house are always open for both of you”. That kind of kindness makes the world seem like a smaller, friendlier place.
This feeling of inclusion and family connection continued through the following two days, as we made our way to Masatepe. Celebrating the New Year with host families and friends from our training towns was wonderful, and a powerful affirmation that, in time, we will create strong bonds in EstelÍ as well. We sat around in a circle, chatting away the remaining hours of 2014, I realized that Nicaragua would become the fourth country in which I had had the privileged to experience New Years (the U.S., Australia, and Norway being the others). We talked of New Years resolutions, of loved ones that have passed on, the pain of mourning and process of mourning, and of learning from life experiences. Once again, basking in the warmth of the love of new family, I was touched by the similarities that spread across cultures, and how connected our world is. Not in the internet/technology sense, but in the shared human existence sense.
May 2015 bring us more in touch with the fact that our similarities far outstrip our differences, and may this realization push us to reach out in relationship to make our world feel less lonely.