Finally in León! At first I was super excited to be in a large city that has bacon and peanut butter (rare commodities where I’m living), but then it was strange seeing so many gringos everywhere. I felt less special and I felt as if I were no longer as abroad as I thought. I didn’t get stared at nearly as much there as I am used to in my training town. It was hotter than Masatepe, as everyone had warned us. I was getting used to sweating constantly.
To do list in León:
Get Nicaraguan Tacos
Get my hands on a Bacon Cheeseburger
Get a Mamey Milkshake
Go to the Museo de la Revolución
Buy a postcard
Check out the book store
The ones I underlined are the ones that I actually did or ate. I eventually found out that Nicaraguan tacos are not like Mexican tacos. They are more like fried taquitos…I’m not a fan.
On Monday, I woke up and asked the hostel’s cook to make me breakfast. After having cooked so much for myself in the past, it’s still weird for me to ask someone to cook for me. I don’ think I’ll ever get used to it. Her name was Lucia, and she explained that I had two breakfast choices: American or Nicaraguan. The American came with fruit and pancakes. The Nicaraguan came with eggs, gallo pinto (beans and rice) and white bread with guyaba jam. I had to go for the American this time, since I had so much gallo pinto since I’ve been here. I washed down the pancakes with some coffee, then went to lay in a hammock under a thatched roof in the garden. Lucia was on the phone, talking to someone about preparing “vigoron” (fried pork skin and yucca) for when she got home.
She was smoking a cigarette. We began chatting, and we immediately got along. She reminds me of Cristal Connors, the Texan “villain” from the 1995 movie Showgirls because of her smile and the way I could just picture her calling me “darlin’” if she were American. She told me about how she has raised four boys and how she had been helping put them through college. I told her how great of a mother she was for supporting her sons financially, even though she earns a humble wage. Some parents in the U.S. don’t even do that. I told her about the Peace Corps, and about how happy I was to be in Nicaragua. I mean, it was Monday morning and I was laying in a hammock. I could just as easily be sitting in an office under fluorescent lighting and sipping on a scalding hot cup of Starbucks. Nicaraguans are always curious to see how much money I make, and I told her that I will be getting paid just as much as a Nicaraguan teacher: not much at all. I added that I was privileged in the sense that I had no one depending on me, so I could spend all of that money on myself. Lucia became someone comforting to talk to at the hostel. She was a relaxed person, and I gravitate toward those kinds of people. She was also amazing because she gave me half a jar of peanut butter after I had complained to her that the supermarket had run out of the cheaper brand. I miss her already!
I observed in a private school. Kids stood up to greet us as we walked in, which surprised me. The classroom felt welcoming as there were decorations of the national anthem, national foods, and Nicaraguan flags everywhere. Teacher spoke only in Spanish instead of in English but they had a good relationship with the kids.
Today I taught 11th graders (See Teaching Reflections #5 & #6 for an in depth peek). At night, I went for a walk through León on a mission to find Shawarma (also known as “tacos arabes”). There was a parade going on downtown, and the weather felt crisp because of the rain. Food venders were out and advertising their products. Women cried out “quesillo, quesillooooo”, and families staked out their coveted park benches. I stopped by the shawarma place and asked what kind of meat was on the huge skewer. It turned out to be chicken. I miss having lamb shawarma, but at this point, I didn’t care. Like any other person who is living abroad, I am more comforted by the act of just eating something I can find at home, rather than by the taste. I took a shawarma to go, then grabbed a grapefruit soda at the grocery store. I tried finding a park bench to sit on, but because of the festivities, it was impossible. I enjoyed walking through the city and smelling the scent of tortillas cooking on the comals, but I was starving. I headed back to the hostel and sat down to eat my meal. I could hear the clinking of the Toña beer bottles as one of the hostel employees put them in the fridge. My shawarma was definitely the worst I’d ever had, but I was in heaven. I just missed having Middle Eastern food. Variety is something I took for granted in the U.S.
That night, I came to appreciate León for still being an authentic city. I had imagined that it would be like America in Nicaragua, and that I’d have the same comforts as I would in the states. This was false. This city didn’t have any flashy lights or wax museums or other tourist traps that I could see. León didn’t pretend to be anything it wasn’t, and I appreciated it for that. This city also wasn’t nearly as large as I thought it would be. I felt as if I could walk comfortably anywhere. I felt safe here walking the streets here, and I wasn’t cat called nearly as much as I was in my site. I missed the sense of anonymity one has in a larger city. In a small town, you are constantly being watched. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be tiresome to live in a fishbowl and to have to explain yourself to people.
It’s Thursday morning and it was raining in the morning for the first time since May, apparently. I was going to go to the post office to mail my postcard that I’d had since Tuesday, but it looked like that would have to wait still. I was going to go to the Museo de la Revolución, but I wasn’t feeling it. After having talked with the locals about the atrocities of war, I haven’t been as interested in finding out more about the revolution of the 1980’s.
I went to Telica to teach my solo lesson (Solo Teaching Reflection #7), then we all headed to the beach in Poneloya. It felt so nice to finish off practicum week at the Pacific Ocean. Some of us played volleyball, while others sat and read. I spent the entire time in the water, getting tossed by the huge waves in an attempt to body surf. The water was unsurprisingly warm. I’m used to swimming in the glacial waters of the Pacific Northwest, so whenever I jump into the water here, I’m surprised that my body doesn’t have to adjust to the temperature here. This beach reminded me of the beach where I spent the summer of 2011 in Ecuador, where I learned to surf…and by learning to surf, I mean that I got up on the board for about 4 seconds. I also thought of the delicious seafood ceviche I would eat that came with crushed plantain chips on top of it. I wasn’t hungry at this Nicaraguan beach because I’d made myself some bacon quesadillas at the hostel. I was quite content. I’d finished teaching a group of smiling kids, I’d eaten bacon for the first time in over a month, and I was at the beach. The water’s salinity kept me floating on the surface like an otter-only my fingernails were painted orange. I’d felt so happy to be here, especially since it had taken me two years to get to Nicaragua after I’d applied to the Peace Corps. The sun peeked through the clouds, and I smiled along with some other local boys who seemed to be around 10 or 11 years old. They reminded me of the students I’d had all week. “Do you live here?” I asked one of them, who wore an earring in one ear. “Yup”, they said. “You are all very, very lucky”, I responded, before a mischievous wave smacked me in the back of the head and pulled me underwater.