There is something to be said about the simple life in Nicaragua. Every morning here starts out the same: I wake up, roll out of bed, and pad outside with my journal to listen to the morning sounds of doves cooing, roosters crowing and coffee percolating. If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine I was home – except for climbing out of a sweaty bunk bed tangled in mosquito netting, swinging in a hammock, and the scent of burnt debris, it is eerily similar to Davis.
And that’s when reality sets in.
Traveling in Nicaragua is hard for foreigners. We’re constantly on guard to keep from eating or drinking the wrong things. We’re vigilant about drinking water to keep hydrated, spraying DEET to ward off malaria and dengue, and we sanitize like it’s going out of style.
But some of my favorite parts about traveling in Nicaragua are really the simple parts that are so very different from living in the US.
The truck rides
I absolutely love riding up the dirt road in the back of the pickup truck. The only rules? Stay seated on the pavement, hold on, and only 10 gringos in the back at once. Easy enough. I remember my terror the first time here at the thought of my children riding in back without seatbelts; I soon realized that the back of the truck was the most comfortable.
The sense of time
It does take some getting used to, this idea of Nicaraguan time. ‘Hurry up and wait’ is how we Americans seem to operate. As long as we make it safely, and everyone in the group is accounted for, time isn’t really something paid a whole lot of attention to. The only rule I’ve heard our host say is to not be driving after dark-it’s not as safe.
Most of our meals are prepared by a restaurant owner named Enrique. He has his own restaurant right around the corner, and we eat breakfast there every morning. Lunch and dinner are either brought to the work site (lunch) or to the Seeds of Learning compound (dinner). Simple and delicious, Nicaraguan food is a combination of savory and sweet, little salt or spice, not much dairy or cheese. The fruits are fresh, squash and corn plentiful, and nearly every meal comes with freshly made corn tortillas. The kids love the soda here – nothing artificial about it. Pure cane sugar!
Each day here is some sort of combination of hard manual labor when building the school, connecting with the community, and working with children.
In Nicaragua we don’t use power tools or pre-made anything – we make our own mortar, cement, and rebar, and it is not unusual to see men working entire days with a pickax to remove one large boulder in the way of a new wall or foundation.
The people of Casas Viejas and Ciudad Dario couldn’t be more friendly and hospitable. We get a fair share of strange looks (19 white people walking down the street surely must look odd in these small, remote communities), and cat-calls (chellita! chellita! are the favorites), but considering the US’s checkered past with Nicaragua during the Reagan years, they really do welcome us warmly.
The children here really do seem happy with the simple life in Nicaragua. Although we bring crafts, they really enjoy coloring books, puzzles, Monopoly and chess games, Legos and playing catch. Not many kids here are plugged in or tuned out. Their favorite use of technology seems to be having their picture taken- “un photo” echoes through my ears every afternoon.
The focus on the family
Nicaraguan houses are simple and conducive to socializing with the family and their neighbors. An open door is an invitation in Nicaragua, and each evening we see families gathered on the sidewalk in front of their house, or inside their front room, having conversation and simply spending time together. Often they will draw us in, asking us questions or making friendly comments. In the rural areas, the same sense of connectedness happens with parents and kids sitting outside in the shade, in the crotch of a tree, or on a rock in their garden.
So while I admit I do look forward to a bit of air conditioning, purified tap water and a hot shower, I will certainly miss much about the simple life in Nicaragua. I guess that’s a good reason to come back.