This is a guest post by Andrew’s sister, Kari, from when she visited us in September 2015.
The eight days that I spent in Nicaragua with mi hermano y mi cuñada were filled with an array of experiences that are gems of memories. The memories are strongly embedded into my brain as they are enriched with joyous emotions, bursts of laughter, delicious tastes, beautiful sights, harmonious song, and somatic stimulus. The entire experience was linked with feelings of gratitude and peace for having the opportunity to spend time with my beloved friends, who I have missed dearly.
My first experience in Nicaragua was struggling to communicate with the customs clerk and then being put on a “black list” for bringing organic honey crisp apples from Costco as gifts for Andrew and Emily (well it wasn’t really a black list, but they did put my name down on a piece of paper. Well, the piece of paper was not very threatening as it was super small and looked like scrap paper). My next experiences were exponentially better when I reunited with the siblings. Next, I surprised myself with my Spanish skills as I was able to hold somewhat of a conversation with the very friendly taxi driver. Andrew translated for me several times, but instead of translating to English he just spoke more slowly in simpler Spanish! Immersion truly is the best way to learn a language. I was surprised with how much Spanish came back to me after being surrounded by the language. I remembered the irregular past tense of tener and ir!!! Andrew was very gracious to say that the dicho “me defiendo como un gato panza arriba“ fit me. I appreciated Andrew writing his dicho blog posts because I was able to utilize some of the simpler ones.
The language barrier was not too frustrating or intimidating for me because I always had Andrew or Emily nearby to help me out if ever I was in need of something. Also I felt as if I could understand a significant amount of conversations, not just because the knowledge from my 3 years of Spanish class in high school were resurfacing, but because I observed their body language and facial expressions to understand the underlying meaning of their message. It helped that Nicaraguan people are very expressive.
The most frustrating part of the language barrier was I felt like I was stuck repeating the same known phrases over and over again. It was like small talk, but with no option to delve into deeper conversation. I feel very motivated to learn more Spanish. I hope to become fluent as it is such a rewarding feeling to be able to travel to another country and communicate with the local people in their mother language.
Regardless of having a language barrier, I still was able to join in laughter, song and dance with the people of Nicaragua. A fun moment that allowed for cross-cultural communication was when we were in the bed of a truck on a 2-hour ride back from the pacific ocean with another PCV and his Nicaraguan friends. One of the friends was sitting in the bed of the truck with Andrew, Emily, and I. She didn’t know much English and was shy to speak and I didn’t know much Spanish, but you know what crosses cultural divides? BACKSTREET BOYS!!! We sang the 5 or so lines that we knew of a few backstreet boys songs as well as Beatles songs and other random songs we could think of. It was so fun!
The main differences between the US culture and Nicaragua that really stood out to me are the following.:
- People honk SO much! A Nicaraguan told me that is has become a bad habit, but the purpose is to notify someone else that you are passing them.
- You have to throw your toilet paper away in the trash vs flushing it down the toilet (I messed this up a couple of times, so hard to break the habit. This was like the only thing I really was excited to come back to).
- The people are so friendly! I love how the typical greeting is to kiss on the cheek. One example was when we were out in the country celebrating independence day on a finca (farm house). Andrew and I had to use the restroom and the outhouse at the finca had a HUGE hornet’s nest in it. After Andrew got stung 5 times when he was trying to lock the door, we decided to take a walk and find a nice patch of grass to water. Andrew suggested we could ask any of the neighbors to use their bathroom, which seemed odd to me. Lo and behold, Andrew asked someone and they immediately said yes. After some chit chat, the owner of the house told Andrew that we could stop by any time and just hang out there.
- Also people are laid back which means that the two independence day related events I attended started an hour to an hour and a half late. One of my favorite phrases that I learned while in Nicaragua is “No hay falla” (there is no fault, like “no big deal”). I also utilized the dicho “tranquillo como camillo” often, mostly because it is the easiest dicho to say and remember.
- The public transportation is repurposed school buses! And they are all very colorfully painted! Many buildings are also colorfully painted.
- EVERYTHING IS SOOOO CHEAP!!!!!! But this is only the reality for tourists, as many Nicaraguan people struggle to feed their family. I bought a handmade sun hat for $6. You can get handmade leather boots for $100 (I’m getting that the next time I visit).
The September guidepost that Emily blogged was so fitting for this trip: “Cultivating laughter, song, and dance.” These three activities are ones that can be found in all cultures. This trip was also filled with these three activities, which is why the memories are so rich in my mind. I enjoyed being able to share in laughter with the Nicaraguan people I met. Also I observed the Nicaraguans traditional dance as well as heard the Education Anthem and the Nicaraguan National Anthem at the “acto” for the day commemorating the Battle of San Jacinto.
I strive to experience laughter, song, and dance on a daily basis as it is very crucial for optimizing my mental health. Andrew and I have a knack of being HILARIOUS (never mind the fact that only Andrew and I understand and appreciate the humor). Spending time together means shenanigans filled with talking in poorly done accents, dancing around with no inhibitions, finding various ways to mispronounce words, and making up goofy nonsensical songs. It was refreshing that even after a year apart, we were able to jump right back into our usual unusual behaviors. This vacation we tried something new, but equally as silly. Emily, Andrew and I created our own barbershop tags! “Love”, “Calico Beard” and “Big Booties” were our three hits.
Andrew and Emily were amazing hosts and tour guides. It was so wonderful to see where they have been living for the past year and to meet their counterparts. I wasn’t surprised to see Andrew being a social butterfly and chatting with each and every taxi driver and making crowds laugh. I wasn’t surprised to see Emily have little Nicaraguan fans that Emily made laugh and feel loved. They both seem to be really appreciated by the community they are in and I have no doubt in my mind that they are giving so much to their community and adding a lot of value in the classroom. Even though they aren’t technically the highest level of language proficiency, it sure seemed to me like they were experts!
My time in Nicaragua was filled with so many different activities (my favorite was our 2 day tour of canyon de somoto), authentic food (lots ‘o gallo pinto and corn tortillas) and experience (independence day feast at a finca, farm house), and good bonding time. Thank you Andrew and Emily!!!!!!!!! SO MUCH LOVE!!!!!