We went to Managua in order to meet and train with our permanent teaching counterparts for the day. I packed up half of my belongings in a small grey suitcase and wrapped my red rain protective layer over my blue Osprey backpack (in order to prevent pick pocketing). I went to the kitchen and ate a piece of peach cake with coffee. My host family all woke up and met me in the kitchen to say goodbye for the week, and then I went off to the bus stop. The bus took about 20 minutes to arrive, but when it did, I ran to catch it and strategically placed my entire set of cumbersome luggage in the very back. As the bus filled with more and more people who were making another morning commute, I grabbed the tag of my suitcase under my seat. I didn’t let go the whole way, because I knew my white skin stuck out like a sore thumb, and the fact that I had more than my purse with me would make me a prime target. People regularly steal things from the passengers who aren’t wary of their surroundings, so I knew I needed to look out for myself. That’s the thing about living in this country. Other than petty theft, it’s pretty safe here. People aren’t aggressive, but if you fall asleep without having a tight grasp on your backpack, it’s an open invitation for them to take it.
The bus’ “cobrador”, or “man who is in charge of receiving payment” twisted his neck in order to read my tag, probably because my hand was glued to it. “Charlen Yonson Sto…”, his voice trailed off. “My last name is German. I’m from the U.S. and I’m here to teach English”, I said, having grown accustomed to explaining my presence in everyday situations like this. He smiled and continued charging people for the ride while flaunting a fan-like wad of bills in his hand. The cobradors are some of the sharpest people I have ever seen. They are in charge of knowing exactly when someone gets on the bus and when they are supposed to get off so that they can charge them accordingly. Also, no matter how jam-packed a bus is, be it with piñatas, people, and baskets of clothes, cobradors are expert contortionists. Once, I was packed into a bus so tightly that I no longer needed to hold on to anything. The cobrador managed to twist his hand over to me in order for me to pay him. Now I know better than to take the bus during rush hour- if I can avoid it.
An hour before reaching Managua, a loud thump shook the bus. I thought we’d hit an animal. I couldn’t see what was going on, but amid the whispers, I heard someone say that we had hit a motorcycle. The bus paused for a while, and then we headed back out. I’m still not sure exactly what happened, but we didn’t kill anyone. This reminds me of the nonchalant perspective that people have toward death here. It’s very different from Americans’ constant fear of death. In the states, death is seen as often seen as a personal failure. It’s tragic. In Nicaragua, death is a much more frequent occurrence that people seem to be used to. “If it’s your time, it’s your time, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can die anywhere. You can die in your house, on the street, in a car, so there is no sense in worrying about it”, said a Nicarguan family friend a while back. “Well, you shouldn’t go looking for it either!”, my host mom responded. TV News stations also reinforce this objective outlook on death. For example, here, if there is a car crash, news stations will unabashedly show the graphic footage of the crash. In the states, one would only see a covered body being transported. Here, it wouldn’t be a big deal to show a body facedown on the ground. The thought of blood makes me queasy, so I’ll stop here. The last time I donated blood was in high school, and let’s just say I didn’t provide enough blood before wanting to pass out. That Little Debbie Brownie at the end wasn’t even worth it.
I met the rest of the Peace Corps trainees at the Teacher Training Center in Managua around 9 AM, where we would be staying overnight. As I chewed on a complimentary ham sandwich with (gasp!) lettuce and tomato, Anita came over to introduce me to my counterpart. My counterpart would be one of the three people with whom I would be co-teaching for the next two years, but I didn’t feel as nervous as I probably should have been. The fact that I was eating something as foreign as fresh lettuce distracted me. I got up and met Tania, my counterpart from the department of Matagalpa. She seemed warm and approachable, and we could easily converse in English. Little did I know how well we would get along over the next few days. We spent the day doing icebreakers with our co-teachers and going over expectations that the Peace Corps had for us in order to work together in a sustainable way.
After dinner, I bought a “Super Eskimo” chocolate ice cream bar and caught up with Caitlin from the Environment group. Soon, about ten other volunteers rushed over to grab their own ice cream. It was nice to chat with volunteers in other sectors, because you realize that not everyone and their mother is here to teach English. Others are here to plant gardens in communities that might have never had one, and others are here to help women’s collectives market their hammocks in more effective ways. I’m here to help make English classrooms into fun, dynamic, and structured learning spaces. All of this catching up made me sleepy. By 9 PM, I went back to the dorms, positioned myself on the edges of my concave mattress, and knocked out.
A delicious breakfast welcomed me the next day. It consisting of a ham omelette, gallo pinto, cheese, and an endless supply of coffee. It’s the simple things, like being able to add pre-heated milk to coffee, that make me happy now. We went to a workshop about NESTS and NNESTS (Native English Speakers vs. Non-Native English Speakers) and talked about what each has to contribute to the English classroom. I shared that Tania and I were eager to work together to make our classroom into a safe place for our at-risk public school students, because so many of them live unstructured, unpredictable lifestyles. At the very least, we could provide them with a consistent, safe place to learn. Finally, the time came to head to our sites. I was more than ready to see what Matagalpa would really be like. Would it be as freezing-cold as everyone said? Would I be able to shower in glacial water? Was there really a place where people drank tasty coffee instead of the instant coffee I had begrudgingly accepted as a morning beverage? I turned to one of my supervisors, who asked me if I was excited, and I hugged her, saying “I’m so ready. I love y’all, but I am ready to spread my wings”. “We know. You still have two weeks with us after this, though!” she said, mischievously.
My counterpart and I boarded a “ruteado” bus from the Mayoreo bus station. We had the choice of taking an “express” bus that would get there faster but for a little more money, but I chose to take the ruteado because it would leave earlier anyway. We found our seats in the back, and the cobrador helped me place my luggage in an overhead rack where I could see it. An woman my age in an apron boarded the bus to sell chicken and tortillas in plastic bags to us. “¡Pollo frito a cincooooo….a cinco….pollo fritoooo!”, she belted out. Others sold candied applies and soda-in-a-bag. We had just eaten donuts before leaving, and weren’t hungry. Once the bus filled up, we headed out for mountain country. Tania and I chatted most of the way up, laughing at one another’s occasional linguistic mistakes. She laughed at my Mexican idioms, such as the saying “A huevo” (“That’s right”). I told her that I would have a long break during holy week, and she mentioned that in English it was called “Wester”. I clarified that Wester isn’t a holiday, that I know of. “You mean Easter!?” We laughed about silly little misunderstandings like this during the 3 hour ride to our site. She then showed me pictures of her adorable son, and I knew I would be pinching his cheeks as soon as I would meet him.
My ears popped as our old refurbished school bus sped higher and higher into the mountains. The sudden rains forced us to reluctantly pushed up our windows, which had helped circulate the hot air. The temperature dropped a bit, but not as much as I had hoped. Tania pointed out the patches of land that made up the coffee farms. Large black garbage bags lay in the sun to dry the beans inside. “If it rains, they are screwed”, I said. Tania nodded. It’s a very Nica thing to be constantly concerned with the weather, and it’s obviously rubbed off on me.
Finally, we arrived at the bus station and we paid a few cents to use the bathroom. I kept the leftover toilet paper that I had bought for later. We trudged up the hill to my house in the heat, but the beauty of the surrounding mountains made up for my shortness of breath. Tania showed me to my host family, where the friendliest, quietest shaggy dog greeted me. I finally had a place to leave my things. Tania and I had planned to explore the town and schools, since it was only 2 PM, but we decided to meet the next day instead. We had a whole week, and the heat was too much. It looked like my showers couldn’t possibly be so icy after all. My host sister asked about any food allergies I had, to which I just replied that I did not, and that I loved eggs at any time of the day. I added that I wasn’t a fan of eating so much rice. Consequently, she made me a huge plate of eggs with sausage and fried plantains. This girl can cook, I thought. I was kind of jealous that she had cooked eggs, actually. Cooking eggs is one of my favorite things to do in the world. It’s still strange to be served food instead of cooking it myself, but once I finish my training period, I know I’ll miss it. #PeaceCorpsProblems.
Later that afternoon, I was feeling nervous, excited, and restless, so I decided to take a walk. I would be calling this town my home for the next two years, so the next logical step would be to know what it looked like. I felt nervous and scared because my life in my training town had been so structured and monitored. I had a curfew of 9 PM (which I didn’t mind, since there wasn’t anything to do past that hour anyway), and a family who always knew of my whereabouts and asked me how my day was. Here, my new family didn’t really need to know where I was all the time. It felt as if I’d had Stockholm Syndrome-the light version. What was I supposed to do with all of this freedom? People in the street looked at me as a foreigner, but they definitely didn’t stare at me or give me nearly as many cat calls as they had in my training town. This place was bigger and the locals were used to seeing gring@s like myself. The busy streets flooded with the noise of honking horns and people mingling outside of the many “American Clothing” stores. This bustling activity stood is stark contrast to the calm, majestic clouds above that caressed the surrounding emerald mountains. My new home reminded me of Wenatchee, Washington, where I’d played countless soccer, volleyball, and basketball away games as a teenager. The allure of the mountains made me wish I’d lived there instead of the flatter, Midwest-like Moses Lake. My new home has palm trees instead of pine trees, but I feel as if I’ve been granted my wish-albeit a bit late in the game.
The next order of business? Explore the grocery stores and their wide varieties of peanut butter and cheap sparkling wine. These were things one could find only in larger sites. I’ve missed making mimosas, and was relieved to see that André existed in this country, even though it cost about $9 here. That’s about ¾ of the cash I get per week here as a trainee. Things will shape up a bit more financially when I’m a volunteer, meaning that I may be able to have a mimosa once or maybe even twice a month. We’ll see. All of this grocery store exploring made me think of one problem: where would I be able to go running? Paved roads hurt my feet over long distances, so I would need to find a running buddy around here who could show me the ropes. I should ask my host sister how much the gym costs when I come back. She goes at 5 AM. What am I doing with my life? The occasional work out video or hike up and down a volcanic crater lake, that’s what.
On my way home, it began getting darker. The güirila ladies warmed their freshly made arepa-like corn patties on their grills in the streets, filling the air with their comforting scent. I went back to my room and thought about watching TV. I was still suspicious of such electronics, though. I wondered if they would ask me to turn it off because it used so much electricity. Several movies and National Geographic specials later, I would come to find out that my host sisters didn’t care. Phiew.