One of the most common things I’d heard about studying abroad – along with “It’s the best!” “You have to do it!!” etc. – was that you learn a lot about yourself. Now, I’m not one who naturally stops and reflects on stuff like, “Who am I?” But as I’ve been here in Nicaragua, surrounded by the unfamiliar, that’s a question I keep finding answers to. For example, living in Montana, it’s super common to claim what you like to do as hiking, skiing, and other nature-focused activities. I usually say those things too, but these last couple weeks really solidified that I love nature. I spend my weeks in Managua, a decently large, busy, modern city. It’s not until I get outside of the city until I realize how much I miss seeing countryside, forests, mountains or small towns. The last two weekends I’ve gotten a healthy dose of nature and am feeling rejuvenated.
Last Friday morning, the 6 of us girls from the U.S. hopped into a mini bus to go on an ISEP-sponsored weekend outing! Hooray! We drove about 3 hours towards the north/central part of Nica. Along the way our driver played love ballads from the 80s. They got old pretty quickly, and I had “My Heart Will Go On” stuck in my head for the next couple days. The city gave way to open, hilly countryside. This time of year it’s all brownish/yellow, but I still find it beautiful. We drove by coffee plantations, farms and ranches. We entered Matagalpa, a small city among forested hills. A few kilometers up, we arrived at our destination: Selva Negra (Black Jungle). I think it’s described as an ecolodge. I didn’t exactly know what that meant, but I’m now thinking it’s an environmentally-focused campground sorta thang. There are cabins for the guests connected by little roads and trails with gardens, ponds, and swings dispersed throughout the area. It’s all very tree-y and green. There are a bunch of trails that start right by the cabins and wind through the jungle and up the mountain. I loved it. It is so tranquil, the air is so fresh, everything smells good, I wanted to take a picture of everything I saw, I didn’t want to go inside, I told the girls I may not go back to Managua, and so forth. When we arrived it was sunny but not hot, later it got foggy, then it rained [all night]. I had this odd feeling…I don’t know if I remember how to describe it…I almost felt chilly! Haha it felt so good to wear a light jacket and pants and to sleep with a blanket!
On Friday afternoon, we did this sweet hike up a mountain that overlooked the valley and Matagalpa. At the top, they have constructed a huge cross and statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The clouds moved in as we reached the top, so it felt like we were in the clouds! It was raining, but a very soft, mist-like rain. It felt lovely. On Saturday, we took the trails from the cabins into the jungle. The rain had cleared up but it remained nice and cool. We were just surrounded by green and these great big trees. Some of the trees have these crazy roots that are above the ground and wind into loops. Others have trunks that look like they’re made up of dozens of smaller vines that have wound together so tightly that they’re now one being. It’s a magical world J We didn’t see any creatures, which is probably good. If I would’ve seen a monkey I don’t know how well I’d respond. Those things are creepy! Anyway, Selva Negra is beautiful and I am so glad I was able to spend the weekend there.
I’m learning another important lesson about myself (and the world). I’m seeing firsthand how good I have it as an American. Life is so easy. Not for everyone in the US, I realize that, but wow. I am incredibly blessed and it is hard to see how the majority of the people in the world live. It legitimately hurts my heart. And it makes me think – how should I be using my time here? Yes, there are definitely wonderful places to see and adventures to be had, but there are also so many people in need! I can’t just be here, living the rich Nicaraguan life and ignore these people’s realities. Feeling convicted, I asked Mary Helen (who works at the International Office and basically knows all) how I can volunteer. The next day, I was touring an elementary school, and two days later I was teaching English classes. The school is called Brazos de Amor (Arms of Love). It was created by this Nicaraguan couple in a poor neighborhood on the edge of Managua. The neighborhood has rutted dirt roads, lots of stray dogs, trash all over, and small houses that always have laundry hanging on the clothesline. The school has a couple hundred students or so, from kindergarten to 6th grade. They wear uniforms (blue pants and a white collared shirt) and look adorable. But they come from tough situations. The director was telling me that the majority of students come from a single-parent household or are raised by step-parents. Many are abused and/or malnourished. There are behavior problems. They don’t have to come to school, but they do. The school is an amazing place. I am so grateful that I can meet these kids and the teachers who work there. When I taught on Thursday, the classes were so good! They were engaged and received me warmly. When I was leaving the 2nd grade classroom, a couple girls came up to give me a goodbye hug. Promptly, the entire class was on its feet, mobbing me as they tried to give me a hug. Their teacher was nearly prying them away. Holy cow. I think that’s how it feels when your heart melts. I will teach each class, 1st-6th, for one hour a week. I don’t know how much those few English classes will help them, but I will do my best. And I will love them and pray for them. These children, because they were born to a certain family in a certain country, have a reality that is foreign to me. It’s not fair. But it can still be beautiful. I believe they have more to teach me about life and joy and perseverance than I can teach about the language.
So, my fellow Americans, enjoy what you’ve got.
Greetings from Nica,