The both of us were driving our rental car through the chilly New Mexican desert, a place that reminded me of Central Washington because of its barren, beige colored earth and open spaces. One thing was strikingly different: the cold, vast, cloudless, bright blue sky. The only thing interrupting the serenity of this sky was the mesmerizing amount of thin, white airplane streaks crisscrossing it. We had originally planned to take a winter vacation in a warm, southwestern area. I had already been to Arizona, so I convinced my mom to try out New Mexico. I had always been intrigued by the artistic oasis that was Santa Fe, and by the thought of blue corn. While freezing my butt off during the Polar vortex in Boston, I day dreamed of sipping Dos XX by the pool in my bikini while the rest of my friends froze to death. The joke was on me. New Mexico may have deserts, but it is mountainous and cold in the winter. The average temperature was about 40 degrees and the ground was covered in light snow. Some tropical escape, I thought.
“Why don’t you want to go?” asked my mom, shocked that I would turn down a paid opportunity to travel. She knows me so well. “I just don’t know anything about it. It’s a conservative, Catholic country. I’m used to having all of my queer friends in Boston and not being afraid of hiding who I am. I won’t have that in Nicaragua. I’ll probably have to grow my hair out so that people don’t ask why I have short hair and everything. I won’t be able to be myself there. It’s taken me so long to realize where I belong. Not every place is as liberal as Boston”. I reiterated what my more concerned friends had warned me of. Even though they had never been to Nicaragua, they warned me that I wouldn’t be able to be myself there, and that I should take care of myself and stay in Boston. On the other hand, there were others who supported my inclination to take the leap. “There’s just something more out there than Boston has to offer you. I can just feel it”, my roommate told me. To be honest, I believe that I finally decided to go because I had waited so long for my assignment. I had applied to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in September of 2012, and nearly almost two years afterward, I arrived. Countless phone calls with returned Peace Corps volunteers from Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Paraguay also made me believe as if this were the right fit for me. At least I should try it out. I had nothing to lose. No dog to feed, no children to clothe. I knew it wouldn’t always be like this. A new adventure would be worth dealing with a more conservative environment. So, what the heck.
That day, we made the trip to the Tent Rocks National Monument, about an hour outside of Santa Fe. We spent the morning meandering past the cone-shaped rock formations, slowly hiking through wide and narrow crevices in the stone. Occasionally I’d feel the crunch of snow under my retro Nike sneakers. The bright sun shone down on our faces, and after reaching the top of the hill, I was warm enough to take off my coat. It felt as if we were on a distant planet. At this point it was nice to just be somewhere new. It wasn’t nearly as warm as I’d expected, but I began to appreciate what this state had to offer. We ended the day with New Mexican food. I had a bunless elk burger smothered in cheese with a side salad. It was just as gamy as I’d anticipated. That was probably the last elk burger I would try. Since Santa Fe is a pretty calm town, there was not much going on during New Years Eve. We walked to one of the only bars that was open that night to see if we felt like staying, but it wasn’t our scene. Instead, we walked to a gas station, bought sparkling wine and snacks, and decided that we’d watch the ball drop in NYC from the comfort of our hotel room. It’s what we did every year at home. The both of us were just happy that this exhausting year had ended, and quickly went to sleep after wishing one another a Feliz Año Nuevo. 2014 would indeed be a step up.
As evidenced by my sporadic yet lengthy blog posts, Nicaragua has been amazing, to say the least. I’ve only been here for 4.5 months, yet I’ve never felt as if I’m in the right place at the right time as I do here. When I skype with my mom and friends back home, they can’t help but comment on how relaxed I look and feel. “Man, and I thought you liked Boston but look at you now!”, my friend Erica said last night during a skype date. I also thought I was happy in Boston, until I realized that happiness can come in many different forms. I told her that being here has made me realize how happy I am while I’m living abroad. I love waking up every day and facing the challenges and successes that come with navigating a different culture. I love that each day there is something to learn, whether it’s learning to incorporate filler words like “Fijese de que…” or learning the proper way to write a cover letter in Spanish. Hint: at the end, it is wise to say “I wish you success in all of your daily activities”, instead of the more American and curt: Thank you for your consideration”.
In response to my previous concern that Nicaraguans would be a conservative, unwelcoming lot: False, false, false. While this is a highly religious country, Nicaraguans are some of the most generous, friendly people I have met. I’ve become used to two typical questions: “Are you married?” and “Are you Catholic?”. No and yes. I used to find these intrusive questions annoying, but now I’m used to it. The people here just ask them because they want to get a more firm sense of who you are. In the states, if you’re at a party, people ask you what it is that you do. Here, people care first about your family and beliefs, and if you have little to say on that front, then they move on to your career. I also am lucky enough to live in a large, relatively progressive city in the mountains, so dealing with homophobia and other isms isn’t something I worry about as much as I would in a smaller community. There’s lots of NGOs, women’s collectives, and social justice work going on. I feel at home here because there’s a strong sense of people helping one another out, regardless of what they have.
I’m looking forward to 2015 because the school year starts in February. Winter break began in late November, so I’ve had plenty of time to integrate into my community, cook chilaquiles, teach English on the side, eat pastel cuatro leches, and go hiking. I’m looking forward to working with Fundación Uno, which sponsors weekend English classes for Nicaraguan English teachers. Doing these trainings will be a top priority for me, since my goal is to empower Nicaraguan English teachers. They will be the ones who will stay when and if I ever leave. I can’t imagine being anywhere else at the moment, and am looking forward to overcoming life’s obstacles with more patience and optimism than ever. For now, I don’t want to leave Nicaragua.