I thought it was over. I bought a cake. I said my goodbyes. I left. I thought it was over, which is why I mourned so heavily over leaving.
But what I didn’t take into account was how fundamentally I had changed–or rather, how fundamentally Nicaragua had change me. I had my moments of culture shock when I came home, but the change goes deeper than that. I feel unequivocally connected to Nicaragua and it is an integral part of who I am.
Two months into my service, I wrote a poem that spoke of the difficulties of adapting to a new culture. I feel it’s appropriate to share now because I predicted the state in which I currently find myself: American (ehm…United Statesian) with a pedacito of Nicaragua lodged within.
Aquí estoy, en Nicaragua, Voluntaria del Cuerpo de Paz.
Today I am at ease; tomorrow loneliness will seize
my insides: it will strangle my heart, my body, my mind, my soul
de repente, like an acute illness, subsiding only to appease
my need to feel whole
again, by transforming something trite into something beautiful to
remind me that I can thrive here too.
It’s this dichotomy that causes me to pause,
only for a moment, to realize that this gaping hole
from within, where familiarity se fue, can cease
and can root me to this land if I allow pieces
of Nicaragua to become pieces of me, as if I keep a ray of the Nica sol
stored away adentro as a reminder that aunque vine sola,
I am no longer alone in this new país. Only two
months done. The strangeness now—the bolo that pees
on brick while onlookers yell “¡cochino!”, or the dog, barely able to stand on its paws
for hunger that dodges rocks and kicks from the kids that see
him sniffing for crumbs nearby, or the packed buses confronting potholes
like bulls ramming heads as passengers swop sweat and goods and hold
tightly onto the nearest immobile object, or the stranger asking bluntly, ¿Andas soltera?,
or worse, when alguien me pregunta algo and all I do in response is nod and say sí
uncertainly—all of this will become commonplace to
me. It will calm my soul like Dunkin Donuts, autumn, and running used to: en caos hay paz.
In chaos, there is peace.
So I’m weaving the bulla, the Spanish, the fresco-in-a-bag, the Nicaragua that I am conociendo, and piecing
it together within, so that its joys, sorrows, colors, and tongues, will make me whole
again. I came to Nicaragua totalmente American, but when I leave Cuerpo de Paz,
I know that nestled within this American soul
will be a Nicaragüense that drinks oatmeal, craves beans, and doesn’t use tú,
but vos. But for now, glancing out onto this sea
of unfamiliarity, of Iris’s blood dripping down her post-partum leg when she stood to see
what the nurse wanted; of getting caught in the lluvia without a piece
of rain gear, utterly destroying my charlas; of succumbing a bit too
quickly to a certain hombre, without understanding the whole
picture of how relationships might differ here; me doy cuenta that I will never be the sole
person to experience anything. Me doy cuenta that I should always pause
to gain perspective. Pause to breath. Pause to see
the sol that I have stored adentro. Pause to fit the pieces together.
And finally, pause to affirm that I’m still whole, that I’m still one within me.
I have not found the time to write as much since returning to the States. Instead, I’ve been finding my way, trying to figure out how to integrate this new aspect of my identity into daily life. Sometimes it’s difficult, like the time I passed by a group of teenage boys and they said something to me, and I didn’t quite hear them so I scrunched up my nose as we often do in Nicaragua. They misinterpreted my facial twitch as a sort of snarl and they yelled out “woahhhh!” as they physically backed away. I pushed my embarrassment aside and mentally noted this newly-discovered power over street hooligans.
Other times it’s easy, like yesterday when I started talking to Ana, my neighbor and new friend/ fresh corn tortilla connection from El Salvador, and it felt like being back in Nicaragua where paseando is a recognized afternoon activity.
Since being back, I’ve been seeking out ways to feel connected to Nicaragua. In Boston, Kate and I went to a Spanish-language meetup at a bar, in DC I held the Nicaraguan flag and marched with the Peace Corps in the Pride Parade, in Baltimore I chose to live in the neighborhood with the highest population of Latinos, where I can go to the corner store, speak Spanish to the Dominican shop owners, and buy cuajada.
When Esperanza, Nishant’s host mom, came to the States, I put Maní in the car and we drove up to the Jersey Shore to visit her and meet her family there. I felt so at ease: it was the perfect meshing of worlds. We sat at the kitchen table for hours, talking and eating. We spent the evening walking along the beach and going from house to house visiting family, eating, and drinking coffee, just like we did in Nicaragua. Experiencing the Nicaraguan lifestyle within US borders made me realize that leaving Nicaragua doesn’t necessarily mean that Nicaragua has to leave me.
So here I am, an American with Nicaraguan tendencies, embarking on a new chapter of my life. I’m currently in Baltimore studying public health at Johns Hopkins.
Just as my life is starting a new chapter, so too will my blog. This will be my last post for Nicaraguan Lauren. You see, part of the reason why I haven’t been writing is because this can no longer be a forum for my Peace Corps story. While Peace Corps and Nicaragua will always be a part of my story, the blog’s parameters seem too narrow now. When I come back, my blog will not only have a new name and a complete makeover, but it will become a forum where I can write about personal anecdotes, culture, gender, and public health. I hope to see you there.
Hasta la proxima. Thank you for reading.
Lauren Freda Spigel, RPCV (Nicaragua ’11-’13) signing out!