Gracias y Adios: Thanksgiving sin Pavo y Papas

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I must say, I miss being surrounded by family, turkey, and football. It’s a bit weird being out of the country during this festive day. All day long, I have been reading everyone’s “I am thankful for…” statuses on Facebook and Twitter. They’re sweet and mostly genuine, but I feel like I can’t articulate that simply, everything that I am thankful for. Thanksgiving is the day that I should reflect and say thanks for everything and everyone I love. It’s an especially appropriate time to reflect over my time and experiences since I have been abroad in Nicaragua. But how would I possibly begin to declare everything I have been blessed with in my time abroad?

Do I begin at the beginning, in July, nearly 5 months ago? Should I work my way backwards, starting with today? What do I include? I just feel that this experience has been so long, so immense, that I can’t even begin to process the amount of memories and stories that I have accumulated.

I’m thankful for my mom and her unwavering support. I’m thankful for the times that she listened when that was all I needed, the fact that she never got upset when I didn’t call for a while, her constant confidence in everything that I do, her calmness every time I think my computer has died for good, and the fact that she always answered the phone.

I’m thankful for my best friends back home. They made time for me and made me still feel important and involved in their lives even though I was so far away. I’m thankful for them listening to my misadventures and triumphs, offering support or laughs when I needed them. I’m thankful for Skype and iMessage, which allowed us to keep in touch… when they are functioning correctly!

I’m thankful for the amazing people that I have met on this adventure. I’m thankful for all of the cool adventures with Zoe and Christian, but even more thankful for the times that we had nothing to do but have a toña or two and play some cards. I’m thankful for Zoe, one of the best friends that I have ever met. I can’t really fathom what it’s going to be like to not see each other every day. I’m so thankful for Jennifer, her optimism, and her childlike demeanor. I’m thankful for Christian… when he’s not bothering me or arguing with me! Our directors, Hector & Morena, were wonderful, enlightening, and at times, challenging, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way! My family here is caring and thoughtful, but just silly enough that we get along just fine. I’m thankful for the new friends and acquaintances that I have made at UNAN or just traveling throughout Nicaragua.

I mean all of these things I am writing, but I just feel like these words are so inadequate to describe what this experience has been like. My friends Christian described how he really realized that it’s not about the destination, but the journey. And as cliche has that sounds, it’s the absolute truth. He talked about how it’s really the little things that make up our memories, and I can’t agree more.

I’m thankful for the all of the cold showers that I’ve taken when it’s been unbearably hot in the afternoons. I’m thankful for the routine of hanging my clothes out to dry in the sun. I’m thankful for the all the times I have been frustrated with how slow people walk in Nicaragua, and perhaps, maybe I should remember to slow down too. I’m thankful for the fresh batidos always available in my little colonia. These little elements have made up what this entire trip has been for me. But there are so many more.

I began writing this on Thanksgiving, but set it aside for awhile. Now I am sitting in the airport in Managua. It’s a weird mix of Nicaraguan souvenirs being vastly overpriced and tourists wearing hiking boots and zip-off cargo pants with no mountain to hike. I already feel like I’m in a different place, very unlike Nicaragua. It’s also very bizarre to listen to everyone speaking in English. I’m hearing Boston accents and British accents, but I forgot how easy it is to eavesdrop in your native language. I can understand everything they are saying without making an effort or focusing.

As I am sitting here, thinking about the things I think I have learned or felt here, I’m sad. Zoe and I went out for a few beers last night at the dive bar across the street from my house last night. She turned to me and said, “this is going to be a new chapter in our friendship.” But in order foor it to be a new chapter, the current chapter must end. I just am having a hard time fathoming that this experience can never be recreated or reproduced. This is the end of the CIEE Social Justice & Development Program in Nicaragua. I’m thankful that I was lucky enough to participate in such an amazing program and so sad that no other students will be able to get to know this place in the same way I did. I’m going to miss this place so much.

On a lighter note, I want to talk about my last day in Nicaragua. It was quite possibly one of my best days here. After one last night out in Managua, I woke up around 10 and hung out with my host mom while eating a nice breakfast. She surprised be by making a carrot and orange juice without sugar, which is likely the most delicious and fresh juice I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. Zoe and my friend, Angel, had flown in from New York the night before and wanted to head to Masaya, a town known for their folklore and artesian goods. Angel drove us there in his truck, which was a much welcomed mode of transportation in comparison to the chicken buses and beat-up taxis in Nicaragua. We wandered around the market, gathering last minute gifts and haggling over prices.

When we were about to head back to Managua, Angel asked if Zoe and I wanted to check out a town called la Catarina. La Catarina is a small town, located high on a ridge that looks over an ecological reserve called La Laguna de Apoyo. Zoe and I had never been there before, though it had been recommended to us multiple times. The drive to La Catarina was only about 6 kilometers from Masaya, but we ended up hitting a rough patch of traffic on the way there. We considered turning around, but persevered until the traffic thinned out.

In La Catarina, we drove through the cobblestone streets with little shops on either side. The town is absolutely beautiful and picturesque. We even passed a giant tent-like structure that had been built and was in the process of being covered in flowers, plants, coconuts, bananas, and any other tropical fruit you can imagine. I like to think that someone was going to get married that day, under the beautiful tent, but apparently the celebration of the patron saint of Masaya is about to begin.

Upon entering the lookout, which is what La Catarina is famous for, the wind danced through our hair and blew on our faces as the beautiful view took our breath away. Angel spotted some men offering horseback rides leading down the hill and on a small dirt road. I am not too fond of horses. Actually, to put it honestly, horses freak me out. They are really big, wild, and I usually steer away from any opportunities to ride horses. As soon as I told Angel this, he got this grin on his face that said, “Now we HAVE to do it!”

One of the guides grabbed my hand and rushed me over to a beautiful white horse with brown spots all over it. He helped me get in the saddle and walked me down the hill as my knuckles were white from gripping the saddle so hard. The guide taught me how to use the reins and I loosened up a bit. We went on a nice walk, only with 1 mishap or so. My horse decided it didn’t want to walk with everyone else and would just abruptly turn around and start walking the other direction. By the end of the ride I felt like I was no longer afraid of horses… I might even want to ride one again sometime!

We had a nice lunch at a small restaurant with a view. A two man, father-son band came up and asked if they could play us a few songs. They gave us little samples of songs that they knew so that we could pick the song that we wanted to hear. For the last song, they asked Angel for my name, and sang it to me. Zoe said it was as if they knew that it was my last day in Nicaragua.

We drove back through the construction traffic to Managua in the nice airconditioning, satisfied and happy from the great afternoon. For my final night in Managua, my family asked me if they could take me our for my favorite food in Nicaragua: pupusas!

Yes, pupusas are originally Salvadorian, not Nicaragua. But they are roughly 15 cordoba, which is 62 cents, and incredibly delicious! Imagine a sweet, thick corn tortilla that has been filled with cheese or chicken or beans or whatever and then cooked until the filling is trying to escape. Then you top that with ensalada which consists of shredded cabbage, onions, carrots, and vinegar. The final ingredient is the spicy tomato/onion/chili mixture that gives it a nice kick!

My family, Zoe, and I enjoyed the pupusas under a large, straw rancho hut. We joked around and enjoyed the last meal that we would eat all together.

Zoe and I finished the night with some toñas and a Shakira concert playing on the tv at our local dive bar. We chatted about our times in Nicaragua, and tried not to think too much about how I would be gone the next day. I headed home to get some much needed shut eye before my long day(s) of traveling began.

This bring me to where I am right now. Sitting on a overbooked, late plane from Miami to Dallas. I’ll sleep tonight in the Dallas airport and board a 9:00 am flight to Austin. Lindsay, Bailey, and Ari will pick me up from the airport and take me back to Georgetown. I am so excited to give them hugs and listen to country music int he car ride home.

Thank you to everyone who has read my blog for the past 5 months! I appreciate the support and interest from each and every one of you. My favorite part of writing it was looking at the statistics page after I post something new. From this page I can see a map of the world and how many people and from which countries accessed my blog. On some occasions I saw that friends from the US, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Argentina, India, and Belgium had all taken the time out of their to read what I had written. Knowing that people care really means so much to me.

Miss you and love you all,