It took me several months, but I’ve finally arrived to the perfect Nicaraguan city for me: Matagalpa. Nestled among rolling hills and coffee plant infested highlands, the city is bustling with life and excitement amidst the general laidback feeling that inhabits this wonderful little country. The city itself is smaller than León, and many of its people reside outside the city center within the hills. I feel it is the perfect size for me: large enough to have the feel of being a real city, yet small enough that I can walk everywhere I need to go; it only takes about 20 minutes to walk from one end of the center to the other. There are several reasons why I feel more at home here than I did in León. Reason one: there are actually trees in the middle of the city. Reason two: it is considerably cooler, known as “land of the eternal spring,” and I have a reason to wear my Colorado-reminiscent flannel shirt in the evenings (sorry, Laurel). Reason three: there are less backpackers and tourists (I did not say none, but less). Reason four: the locals walk much faster and are just as determined to get where they’re going in the morning as I am. Added bonus: there is coffee and chocolate everywhere.
I fell in love with my job before training even started, and then Day 1 confirmed it. I found myself among a group of entirely new people, all like-minded and bilingual but with their own unique backgrounds and home countries, in a new place, and I felt like I was studying abroad again. Then I realized, I’m actually getting paid to be doing this? And so began my time with Global Glimpse, a US-based non-profit whose mission is to “open the eyes of tomorrow’s leaders” by leading groups of high-schoolers from varying socio-economic backgrounds on educational and inspiring trips to developing countries. My role will be to design an inspiring and engaging itinerary for the students and then be their leader and role model, encouraging them to become leaders and global citizens through learning about themselves and their culture while evaluating their own courage, compassion and commitment. They will participate in educational activities regarding history, politics, culture, education, aid and development, global business, and poverty, reality challenges that force them to see live through Nicaraguan eyes, and other activities such as English tutoring and a community action project. I feel so blessed to have this position and the opportunity to facilitate a cross-cultural experience for young people that will hopefully change their lives as much as my experiences abroad have changed mine.
Our first week-long training was completely inspiring and I instantly felt in my element and at home among my new fellow coordinators and community. We had a lot of time to bond and get to know each other throughout the week before the majority of them departed for their own cities – the program operates a total of 16 programs in five cities throughout Nicaragua. Throughout the training we participated in activities that challenged us to work together and think critically, as well as real-life practice for situations that we will face – I pushed myself by volunteering to interpret a short speech in front of a room full of people that are just as bilingual (if not more than) as I. This was rather intimidating but it was good practice, and I am here to be vulnerable and to challenge myself as much as possible. My favorite part about the week was the elements intertwined through our training that truly embodied Global Glimpse’s culture, which totally aligns with my own personal values, as well as those that represented things we will actually do with our students. My second favorite part about the week was the fact that I felt like I was in school again – I even got to do homework one night!
My group here in Matagalpa is made up of two teams, consisting of me plus three Nicaraguans who are all returning for their second or third year with GG. Um, can you say intimidating? I don’t even know how to say it in Spanish (okay, I think it’s a cognate). Yes, this very fact intimidates me, but they are all so sweet and welcoming and I truly believe this dynamic is a good thing that will challenge me to push myself beyond my comfort zone – which is why we are all here. I have faith that I was intentionally placed in this team, in this city, so that I may continue to strive to be my very best and contribute something special to this year’s program. The past couple weeks I have had a lot of fun getting to know my teammates and the city and we’ve gotten to visit some really cool places already. My partner Denis has assured me that he is determined to teach me to dance salsa and that I will be converted into a Matagalpina in no time.
Although I transitioned naturally into my new job, transitioning into the city has not been entirely easy. It proved more difficult than I expected to find a suitable living situation where I did not have to compromise my ideal location, my personal space, or my budget. This was just another lesson in practicing patience and waiting for the perfect space to arise (which it did, eventually). Meanwhile I am lucky enough to have a place to stay for a few weeks with my new German friends Lucy and Felix. And here I arrive home to find that their Nica friend has come over to share with us the art of Nicaraguan cooking, and I find myself among yet another family dinner with new friends. This was a wonderful experience and it’s surprised me to learn how easily I can adapt to unfamiliar places and social situations (I will not detail the lasting consequences of this lovely dinner on my delicate tummy). Once again, I am grateful for my ever-expanding network that provides me with connections, opportunities and new friendships, and has proved present even when I am out of my element in a new city. As usual, everything is falling right into place.
I’ve enjoyed getting to know my temporary neighborhood, which looks like it would be quiet, but is anything but. The soundtrack to my neighborhood – and by neighborhood, I mean immediately next to my house – consists of motorcycle revving, children screaming and dogs barking late at night, and roosters crowing in the wee hours of the morning, most recently accompanied by a male quartet belting what I can only assume was a revolutionary ballad. In the mornings, I walk to work chatting with my neighbor or searching for a to-go cup of café con leche that is not most parts milk. In the evenings, I meander home and stop at the local pulperia to pick up fresh tortillas and eggs for breakfast, and discover, to my dismay, that there is nowhere within a block radius of my house to buy a take-home beer. On the weekends I explore the cemetery with foreign friends, find a new coffee shop and get lost in Eat, Pray, Love, and peruse through secondhand clothes at a paca. On Sundays I run the stairs up the hill down the street and wander up and down the neighborhoods set upon steep inclines, reveling in the beauty of the mountainside just across the city and the occasional pink flowered trees that decorate the streets. Then I return home in hopes of a cold shower, only to find that the water is out again. Así es la vida Nica!
So, this is my life currently, only the beginning of what is sure to be a magical six months here in Matagalpa…
besos ~ chels