I’ve officially decided now would be the perfect time to write up another blog post. Why now you ask? Because I’m currently sitting in Tocumen airport in Panama, having a vicious battle with my conscience over whether I should go buy the most delicious-looking, chocolatey, fudgy, yumminess that is Haagen Dazs ice cream located just up the stairs 😛 So to keep my mind from wondering to that ice cream wonderland, I thought I’d do some writing.
FACTOID OF THE WEEK: Ok so maybe this isn’t a fact, more of an interesting observation 🙂 Regardless of their financial situation, Nicaraguans take great pride in being well groomed individuals – always looking nice wherever they go. Their clothes and shoes are all designer brands (well maybe they are knock-offs, but they still look really spiffy!), always are wearing a lovely scent, and always have nicely done hair (males have a funny obsession with hair gel and ladies with hair accessories). Very fashionable folk around here! I feel totally dressed down in my grungy travel clothes!
HIGHLIGHTS: first solo microbus ride without getting lost, Granada trip – colonial city of vibrant colors, spending more time with my homestay family, horseback riding with Noel (my first time I could only speak a few words to him, but this time a could carry on full conversations!), and experiencing earth tremors (could feel them all the way from Costa Rica!).
The purpose of the microbus ride was to pick up some treats for my family and colorful paper to make them a card (Waldorf is engrained in me forever!) in San Marcos. As this has been my last week, I wanted to give thanks to my family for everything they have done for me (even though no gift would ever be able to reciprocate how much I have learned from them!). Two squashed-like-sardines bus rides later and it was mission accomplished!
The Granada visit was interesting. As part of a Mariposa activity group, we visited a huge cemetery (where some of the tombs were bigger than my families’ homes!), an old jail/torture fortress, Indigenous art gallery, cigar factory, Lago de Nicaragua, and still had time left over to wander the city and markets too! People often say Granada is a “must-visit” if traveling to Nicaragua. I probably agree, but in my opinion it’s probably a must-visit for only one day 🙂 it has become a gringo hub where everything seems somehow geared towards tourists. Beautiful city, just not my cup of tea for too long! This is why I love San Juan de la Concepcion so much. It’s a small pueblo where the only foreigners are La Mariposa students. A great community feel.
S#!@?$*! A lady just sat down across from me with a scrumdidelyumpcious-looking Haagen Dazs ice cream! Man! Could she eat it any slower?!?! This is torture to my self-control! (Or lack there of!). I can most hear the ice cream calling my name!
Ok ok sorry bout that. Where was I?
EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER OF A WEEK:
This week has had some great times as mentioned above, but also some of the hardest times. I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but I actually cried this week…twice. Once at the funeral, and again in the plane when I was taking off from the Nicaraguan runway. But what I felt was nothing compared to what my homestay mom, Jami, had to experience this week.
For the past year, Jami’s mom has been ill with breast cancer. She had been having success with treatment and had returned from the hospital to live in the family home (same that I’m living in with the rest of the family). In Nicaragua, all the hospital fees and surgeries are covered by the government with the exception of only a few prescriptions. This is for both locals and foreigners. This lessened the financial burden of the situation significantly. Things were looking positive until two weeks ago, Jami’s mom was admitted to hospital again. During the first week of my homestay, members of the family took turns visiting her in the hospital (in Managua). Again she seemed to be recovering. But things took a turn for the worse over the weekend. By Monday, the doctor informed Jami and its be best for her mom to return home in order to live her last few days in comfortable surroundings.
My first thoughts as Jami’s mother returned to the house, was: am I going to be in the way? Would it be better for the family if I moved to a new homestay so they can take care of her? I didn’t want to be a burden on what was already a difficult situation. Of all things, I wanted to make things easier for them. I felt a tsunami of guilt rush over me. I didn’t want to take up a bed, any food, and above all, I didn’t want to take away any of their precious time they had left with their mother/grandmother.
I ran my worries past my family and they were quick to respond that having a homestay is actually a really good positive distraction from everything going on. It fact they were worried about my well-being in this potentially challenging situation to live in. I was grateful they didn’t want me out, because I wanted to be there as support for them until the end even though I knew emotionally it might be really hard. I also knew that its likely my weekly financial contribution aided the family.
This whole week, 24 hours per day, family/friends/neighbors/coworkers/teachers/church-goers/acquaintances/etc had been circulating through the house helping Jami and paying their respects. In Nicaragua this occurs whenever someone is living their final days. It is beautiful to see literally hundreds of people show their support for one special lady. Thisl my people just means it can sometimes be difficult to get any sleep =)
REST IN PEACE:
I awoke Friday and stepped outside my room. I panicked. The living room had transformed into a space of honor for Jami’s mom. She had died during her sleep.
The room was beautiful with a wood carving backdrop, religious symbols, on elaborately decorated coffin centered in the room, and flowers. Families try to give as nice of a funeral as financially possible for better passing. I feel it’s interesting I note that November 2nd is “Dia de Muerto” (Day of the Dead) in Nicaragua. It is a day when families visit the cemetery with flowers and take time to remember their loved ones. This was Friday, the day Jami’s mom passed away.
The family was trying really hard to stay strong, but you could see the pain and sadness in their eyes. My brother Josi talked a little about how he was feeling. He said (except in Spanish), “My soul feels empty without my Grandmother”. In a word… HEARTBREAKING.
In Nicaragua, customs are a bit different than what I’m used to for funerals. It is essential to bury the body within 24 hours of the death. Accordingly, Friday I experienced a days worth of all new experiences. Until 4pm, the whole town (or at least it sure seems like it!) came by the house to sit in one of dozens of law chairs, and share stories to celebrate her Jami’s mom’s life, drink coffee, and eat bread. This time is so designated for condolences, however, the primary aim is to remember her her life with joy. There were dozens of people in the house and outside on the property. The living room had been filled to the brim with the most beautiful floral arrangements I’ve ever seen, boasting with vibrant colors and aromas. By 4:30, the solid wood coffin was carried on the shoulders of four guys amidst a procession of at least a hundred people, myself and a few other extranjeros included, that stopped road traffic in town until we arrived at the church. The catholic service was beautiful, with singing, tears, and smiles. It was officiated by a priest and the family did not speak.
Immediately following was the burial. The grand procession occurred for the second time as we walked to the cemetery. By this point (6:30ish) it was pitch black already out and many torches and lamps were used to lay her to rest in her grave. Many anxious onlookers and tearful family members used this time for their final goodbyes. By 8 pm everyone returned to the house to have a feast of food and to celebrate.
RIP mi homestay abuela.
OH NICARAGUA, HOW I’LL MISS YOU:
My family was so strong through the process even though it must have been so emotionally draining. For this reason I wish a could have changed my flight whose timing left something to be desired (3 am wakeup the day after the funeral). To be completely honest, I didn’t want to leave even though I knew there were many new adventures in store for the future. I just fell in love with the country of Nicaragua. I think a little piece of me will always be there. I had tears of thanks and sadness as I was leaving, and tht don’t happen all too often!
Reflecting on my 5 weeks in Nicaragua (feels like its only been maybe 2 and a half!) I feel like I have learned SO much. First off I learned a great amount of Spanish. How do I know this? Well, I’ve been staring at the same cereal box every morning for some weeks now and I’m finally able to understand every word it says on it! Yay! Ok so maybe that’s not a very good measure of my Spanish skills, but I am now able to carry on conversations completely in Spanish, which at least can get me places! 😛 I’ve also learned a lot about myself and how I get on socially. I’ve noticed many areas worthy of work because my timidness often can really get in the way. But the people here have taught me that sometimes it’s a good thing to step (or leap!) outside my comfort zone, and that doing so can allow great things to happen. Since Houston I’ve also been making and effort to smile more and take in life’s smaller joyous moments. I have discovered this makes me completely feel from head to toe, generally more happy and content. It’s amazing what our thoughts and consciences are capable of! I’ll admit I’m even going to miss my early-morning bucket showers (brrrr!).
But I think what I’m going to miss most about Nicaragua, is my adopted family. The big, brown, curious eyes of 15 month old Camila my niece, the crooked grin of my mom as I try to explain something in Spanish, the laughs I’ve shared with my brother (he tried to come with me to Ecuador in my backpack but he didn’t quite fit!), and the good times with my sis and brother-in- law. I feel blessed to have been able to spend my time with them =)
So I haven’t even been gone 2 days and I’m already trying to determine the next time I can return! I’m a bit concerned though because Nicaragua was only my first country! What will happen if I love them all?!
It’s official. My test of self-control has been successful. I haven’t gone to get Haagen Dazs 🙂
Well I’m off to explore the beautiful continent of South America. Many new experiences await. Ecuador better watch out cuz a new Canadian extranjero is coming to town!
I send love to all my family and friends back home. Thank for you kindness and support!
Thank you to all those I’ve met on this journey. Each one of you has taught me something unique and impacted my path in a truly positive way.
Cheers to the adventures that’ve been had and cheers to those to come!
Estoy agradecido de vivir mi sueño de viajar.
(I am grateful to be living my travel dream)
What a beautiful, honest and touching post. All of these experiences are enriching you beyond measure! Safe travel to Quito and the Eco village.
Love you and miss you tons,
Arden From , on Nov 5, 2012 at 04:03AM
Bien viajes. Donde va en America del Sur? Muy interesante. So great to read about Nicaragua. Take care in Panama. Much love, J & D From, on Nov 6, 2012 at 03:28AM
Keep on adventuring and living your dream! From, on Nov 6, 2012 at 04:22AM
Heart felt blog from you, these memories you will never forget. From, on Nov 6, 2012 at 07:10AM
Throughout this journey of yours you have already touched so many hearts, and made so many life long friends. Keep on cherishing all those once in a lifetime moments, Life is so absolutely precious! You are already making a difference in this world by bringing your compassion and kindness every where you go. Do continue the story, of ” Losing then finding my way in South America.” From, on Nov 7, 2012 at 01:43AM
Alysia, This blog post was so beautiful and so honest and I am thoroughly enjoying reading every entry! It sounds like you are experiancing so much! and there seems to never be a dull moment!
Thinking of you, and sending you best wishes! 🙂 From , on Nov 12, 2012 at 12:15AM
Blessings Alysia as you continue this GREAT adventure. Your writing is amazing. I feel that I am there with you. Travel does have a way of enriching our lives. Journey on with hope and faith as true companions. It is a privilege to see you grow. With Gratitude. William From, on Nov 15, 2012 at 04:49AM