Wow, this first week here in Nicaragua has had its ups and downs. Mostly ups though. It all began when I got off the plane in Managua. The parents-in-law of the guy I was in contact with from my host family met me at the airport. They brought two of their grandchildren and my new host brothers, a 6 year old and 14 month old, with them. We then took taxi to bus to taxi in order to arrive 3 hours later at their home in Leon, Nicaragua. Its a green house attached to several others on either side on a tiny street, more like an alleyway, behind another string of houses. My host family took me back to my room, the last one on the right from the back patio. It didn’t look like much the first time I saw it but I’ve made it home for the next 2 and a half months.
A little bit more about my host family: 7 of us live here. The older couple, the one that picked me up at the airport, their daughter, her husband and 14 month old energetic little guy, and another grandson of the older couple (and by older I mean maybe fifties, while the younger couple are in their twenties). They’re all very involved in a local church: the older man is the pastor, the younger is the youth leader, and his wife works for a school at the church started by the international organization Compassion International. They like to sit out on their front porch and just platicar or chat and that’s where a lot of my Spanish practice is happening. It’s also great playing with my little host brothers and the older youth from the church inevitably stop in for a few hours at least a few times a day. I love how unhurried their life always seems to be and how relational they are within their church group or even just with people in the neighborhood that they pass by on the street. I relate a lot to the younger guy and I’ve become his shadow over the past week when I’m not at the hospital. He even speaks a good bit of English, but that’s a crutch I don’t like to use to communicate.
The next day, I had plenty of errands to run to acquaint myself to Nicaragua. A SIM card for a cheap phone I had, a dollar haircut (30 Cordobas to be exact) since I was shaggy by Nicaraguan standards, a stop by the old La Merced Cathedral in the center of the city.
My host family lives about 10 minutes from the center of Leon, and those minutes are measured on bicycle since that’s how we get everywhere. The bikes looks just like the ones back home but here 2 bikes transport a family. The snazzy triciculo or tricycle that my host family has can transport a youth group.
And it is by bike that I get to the hospital everyday. My first day at the hospital was frustrating. I couldn’t seem to find the right person to talk to about who I was and what I was doing there since my instructions didn’t go much farther than the front door of the hospital called HEODRA. When I did find the right office of the internship coordinator, I waited half an hour until they told me that he might not be back until 4 in the afternoon. So I came back, got more instructions for the showing up in the morning. I waited an hour past the time I was supposed to arrive until the right person finally appeared and sent me to the department where I decided to start, Pediatrics. But I also carried some unexpected instructions: English class would start Monday. They wanted me to teach English to the staff at the hospital! Although surprising, I jumped at the chance to in some way be helpful to the hospital since I was going to be quite useless medically-speaking, at least at the beginning. But the first couple days continued to be stressful as my rusty Spanish suffered even in pediatrics, probably the calmest area in the overcrowded hospital. I was often lost as to what to do, trying to confront language and medical-knowledge barriers at the same time. The hospital environment was kind of depressing at the same time. It was hot and full of bugs (open-air, like almost every building in Nicaragua) and no one seemed to be in a good mood.
An adventure-filled weekend made me fall in love with Nicaragua again. First, it was volcano-boarding. My host friend, Aaron, works for a mission group that is based in Nicaragua and has short-term groups come in from the US. Saturday, some college-age girls in the group that was in town from Florida had Aaron take them up to a nearby volcano on their free day at the end of the week. I went along for the ride. As tourists often do, we climbed the volcano in an hour and a half and came down in 30 seconds, sledding on the volcanic ash and sand with rented boards of not much more than plywood tacked to a sheet of tin. The view from the top of the volcan and the ride were exhilarating, to say the least.
Sunday, it was the beach. The entire church of my host family packed into an old school bus that had been converted for intercity travel. I ended up on the stairs of the bus, the aisle and the seats stacked with people to the back, and we took off for the 45 minutes drive to the Pacific. At a public pavilion on the water, the church held a special service and then baptized several new members. The rest of the day was relaxing, swimming around in the estuary-type area where we were and hanging out with a lot of the young people of the church community.
I went into Monday (yesterday) with a new perspective, a Nicaraguan perspective perhaps, of going with the flow, staying positive, and being unhurried. The fact that I had adjusted my mindset to Nica time, that I had 2 more days to remember and practice my Spanish, and that I now had at least a little prior experience in that hospital environment helped me immensely. I have learned a lot from the nurses I am following around in pediatrics and my English classes (at some point, it grew into 2 classses) help by giving me a change of pace in the middle of the day. I have much more to add about my experiences at the hospital but I’ll save that until the next blogging installment. Hasta luego desde Nicaragua, tierra de lagos y volcanes!