Happy Mother’s Day!
So much has happened since I first stepped off the plane and onto Nicaraguan soil, I don’t quite know where to begin. I guess I’ll start off explaining a little bit about my initial thoughts going into the trip and the significance of this experience for me. I applied for the program because it aligned perfectly with my interests and combines experiencing a new culture, improving my Spanish, and community service. I’m an avid traveler and have been lucky to enjoy many international vacations with my family, but this experience is definitely very different from any of my past travels. I’m on my own, living in a foreign country, working within the community, and communicating entirely in a different language for nine full weeks. Scary? Definitely. Exciting? Extremely.
Our adventure started off with a quick touristy experience in Managua, the country’s capital and home to its only airport. We stayed in a beautiful hostel for service organizations, Centro Kairos, in the outskirts of the city. We hit all the main spots in Managua and got a small introduction to some of the PGL partner projects in Managua. Esparanzas en Accion is an artist cooperative connected to Project Gettysburg-León that has very beautiful pottery and handmade carvings. We explored Tilopeca Hill – a historical site in Nicaragua – and ziplined over a beautiful lake. My favorite was the “superchica” pose! We spent the next day and a half at the beautiful Laguna de Apoyo, kayaking, swimming, and relaxing before we got to León.
We arrived at our host families last Friday night (a full week ago now!). My welcome crew included my host mom, Marta, my host sister, Aracelly, and all five of their dogs. It was pretty hectic. Coming from a house where our only pets were a few fish and a guinea pig, it’s quite a change to be surrounded by so many animals. The first night it was a little difficult to communicate – my Spanish skills hadn’t quite kicked in and I was pretty tired from our travels. But my host family couldn’t be sweeter – they are very patient and understanding when I have difficulties with my Spanish and they make a very big effort to include me in conversations. Aracelly is 23 and I’m really happy to have someone pretty close to my age to talk to and show me cool spots in León!
My host family’s house is a lot different than any kind of residence in the U.S. and definitely took some getting used too. The majority of the “house” is actually outside, with a strategic, small roof over the kitchen and a few separate, closed rooms around it where the family sleeps. My family has a really large garden, which surrounds everything – they grow their own fruits and vegetables. It’s nice because there are a lot of trees all around and there’s a little bit of shade. I live a little bit apart from the rest of the family across the outdoor “living room.” I have a room to myself with a fan. My room is connected to an indoor living room that hasn’t been used that much. It’s definitely a very nice and kind of upscale place to live in León. The only downside is the bathroom is near the kitchen and I have to walk outdoors to get to it – which is a little bit less fun since its the rainy season.
There are always a lot of people at my host home and they’re treating me like part of the fam! I’m definitely thankful for how cheerful and welcoming they have been. My host parents, Marta and Carlos, have three kids: Aracelly, Adriana, and Carlos Ernesto. The two oldest don’t live at home anymore, but they are over every Sunday. Adriana lives nearby with her American husband, Mateo, and they are over almost every single day for dinner. Aracelly’s boyfriend, Maverick, is there everyday too! Carlos Ernesto lives in the city right above León, called Chinandego, so he’s over every Sunday with his girlfriend, Tamara. There’s definitely a culture of including significant others into the family, which is different from my experience in the US. I’m enjoying having so many different people to talk to and meet!
It’s pretty impossible to sleep past 7am here because the roosters start up at 3am and the dogs, two parakeets, guinea pig, and pig join in right away. I’m normally not a morning person, but I’ve actually enjoyed getting up earlier since it’s definitely a little bit cooler in the morning hours. The Nica heat is especially strong in León and it affects every aspect of daily life here. Houses are constructed to minimize heat and people schedule their days around staying out of the heat. It’s been a little hard to adjust to the heat and the strength of the sun for this Irish American, but I’ve gotten used to the continuous sweating. I did get badly sunburnt early on, but I’m recovering and definitely more aware of how strong the sun is now. Before I go to work, it’s normally just Aracelly and me in the house, so we eat breakfast together and get to talk. The hour before I go to Las Tias in the morning is actually one of my favorite parts of the day.
I started my work placement at Las Tias this week and have been enjoying it thus far. Las Tias is a supplemental education program for at risk youth in León. Kids go to school here in two sessions – one from 8am-12pm and the other from 1-5pm. During the “off-shift,” these kids come to Las Tias for help with their homework, a hot meal at lunch, and further instruction. This means that there is a different group of kids in the morning and in the afternoon, although they all overlap for one, big lunch. This week I was mainly getting to know the children (ages 6-14) and helping out with homework and preparing food when I could. In the near future, I will probably teach an informal class. I still have to decide what exactly I would like to do, but it seems like there is some flexibility for me to decide. The director suggested an English class, so I might do that or a reading/writing class. We shall see!
One of the most fascinating aspects of Nicaraguan culture is the concept of “Nica time.” One of the teachers at Las Tias explained the concept with the words, “hay un tiempo para todo,” or “there is a time for everything.” Things definitely move at a much slower pace here than in the United States, which can be frustrating with work placements and trying to get things done, but it also definitely has its benefits. From what I’ve experienced so far, people take more time just to talk to each other and to enjoy each other’s presence.
One person in particular here in Nicaragua impressed me with her willingness to just talk to us and get to know us in a relaxed and comfortable manner. Her name is Lillian and she is a member of a family of weavers here in Nicaragua. They have worked with Heston interns in the past and were all ready to work with us and include us in their family as well! They make tapestries with weaving machines in their house and sell them throughout Nicaragua and internationally. Lillian invited Victoria and me to stop by and learn how to weave whenever we wanted – that’s definitely something I’m looking forward to!
Today is Mother’s Day in Nicaragua – which is a very big deal for everyone in the country. Every May 30th, Nicaraguans are off from work and participate in festivities in honor of their mothers. The night before all of the schools have big performances and dances to celebrate as well. Nicaragua does have a Father’s Day in June, but it isn’t quite as big of a deal and everyone still goes to work. I was initially a little surprised at the disparity between Mother’s and Father’s Day, but I realized that there are a large number of single mother families or families with essentially absent fathers here in Nicaragua. I had a conversation with my host family about that family dynamic and realized the full significance of Mother’s Day. It is a day to celebrate all mothers as heads of the household and generally the primary caretaker of the children and the family. This holiday is definitely a fascinating aspect of Nicaraguan culture and indicates some of the gender and family dynamics that are apparent here. It is also interesting that there is definitely a profound awareness within Nicaragua about the important role of women within the family. I think my host family is unique in Nicaragua because it has such a strong, solid family structure and all of the daughters and sons have significant others.
I definitely haven’t covered everything, but this is a little bit of a window into my life this past week. Tomorrow, Victoria and I are climbing a nearby volcano, Cierro Negro and sledding down it, so I’m looking forward to that. I’m excited to be in Nicaragua for this incredible opportunity and the adventures to come! Hasta la próxima vez!
Kerry Mullen ’16