From Reagan we were to transfer to Miami. I hadn't slept at all that night, and I nearly passed out on one of those uncomfortable chairs that one always hopes will magically turn into a La-Z-Boy recliner. With my fedora over my eyes, I would look up from time to time to make sure my group hadn't boarded yet. Then, Maria said "Hey Char, it's as if you aren't a part of the group!", jokingly. Kim encouraged me, saying "Let's go Char". Go teamwork! My new family members already know how to look out for me. I like to get comfortable, and I like to take my time. We boarded the plane, and I felt surprisingly nonchalant about the whole thing. It doesn't feel like I'm moving to a developing country for two years. It just feels as if I'm on a fun Spring break vacation with a bunch of other kids. We landed in Miami, and I felt as if I were already in Latin America. The restaurant stalls sold empanadas de guava con queso, carne, and pollo. I didn't find any mofongo though. I knew I would get enough of this kind of food in Nicaragua, so I held off on the pineapple juice and had a mozzarella and prosciutto baguette instead. I walked around the airport for about an hour, then ate my sandwich at the gate. I looked at a woman taking her cat for a stroll on a leash. Another Peace Corps volunteer and I just shook our heads at it. Others went to pet the cat.
It was time to board, but I wanted to just enjoy my sandwich and diet coke before the flight. I looked pretty comfortable, as I do. Emily mentioned to me in passing that I looked so calm, compared to how shaken up she felt. I laughed. It still just felt like a vacation to me. I knew that I would go through the culture shock of thinking everything would be so different and wonderful as soon as I arrived in Nicaragua, so I wanted to just enjoy the present. I usually hate having a window seat, but the flight from Miami to Managua was magical. Miami's waters were so vibrantly blue. We passed over the Florida Keys, and I could see the thin roads built over the water that connected them. Our descent into Managua was one of my favorites in a while, though. We passed over countless lakes, mountains, and volcanoes.Dan sat next to me, and the window was awkwardly placed right next to my head so that I had to lean over to let Dan partake in this awesome sightseeing. At first, there weren't so many trees as we flew over the volcanoes. Then, the palm trees appeared. For some reason, I expected Latin America to be a flat jungle with the occasional volcano in the distance. This was Pompeii: The Jungle Version. Volcanoes were everywhere, and one of them was casually smoking right next to Managua.
As soon as we landed, I felt relieved. I had applied to the Peace Corps two years ago, and I finally made it after the intensely long application process. It was worth it just to feel the wheels hit the road. We passed through customs, and the airport had that distinct Latin-American smell: slightly moldy and unpretentiously welcoming. I paid the $10 visa fee, and the customs offer stamped my passport. The stamp says 90 days, but I'm not sure why...that's barely how long my training will be before I'm placed in my community for the next two years. As soon as we exited the airport, we were greeted by a few other current Peace Corps Volunteers, holding up signs with the Nintendo 64 sign (my group is known as N64). One of them was beating an empty water cooler like a drum. It was nice to be welcomed in a silly way like that after such a long night and day. We crossed the street to our Best Western Hotel, and had lunch right away. We are staying at this hotel for the next three days for another Orientation and language testing, and they keep reminding us: "don't get used to it". Why? This hotel has air conditioning, indoor plumbing, wi-fi, and american food. I must admit, it is really nice being spoiled upon our arrival. It won't last forever, that's for sure.
After more ice breakers and logistical breakdowns, we put on our bathing suits and headed for the pool. I cannon balled right in without even testing the temperature. I knew it would be warm, especially after having swum in Montana's glacial lakes three weeks prior to this. We played catch with a tennis ball for a while, and then a massive grey storm cloud rolled in right above our heads. The wind began blowing leaves and twigs into the pool, and many people jumped out of the pool. One little boy went up to Michelle and I and warned us that he had heard thunder. He would eventually be right. In the meantime, Dan, Ben and I swam in the pool under the rain. It poured. On my beach chair were my towel, fedora, and yoga mat. They all got soaked! I didn't care, though. It was strangely refreshing to be swimming in the rain. I pretended this was what being under a waterfall would feel like. I can't wait to go on an adventure in the jungle and just swim by a waterfall. As soon as the lightning started, we jumped out. On my way to my room, I kicked the puddles of water. The air was still warm, but more refreshing after the downpour. We then had a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs and pineapple tarts. We chatted with a current Environmental volunteer about his experience. He advised us just to let time pass and to not compare our experiences to those of other volunteers. My biggest takeaway was to challenge myself to do things for the sake of enjoying the process. Because vacations are so long here, I will have a lot of downtime. It's up to me to use that time to build relationships. "Nicaraguans are the most generous people I've ever met, from my experience", he said. I don't doubt this. I'll end this blog with another piece of advice that our staging coordinator gave us on our bus to Reagan Airport: "Try falling in love with Nicaragua as soon as possible. When you love something or someone, it's easier to forgive the little things. And there will be a lot of little things".