Return to Nicaragua – Part 1

The first time I flew into Nicaragua I was asleep. That I am sure of. I was up late and awoke very early for the flight. I had been traveling constantly for two years at that point and I was well adapted to sleeping in coach. When we did get to Managua I remember remarking that we could have been anywhere in the world – not necessarily Nicaragua. I had no idea for how long we were flying or in what direction.

The second time I flew to Nicaragua it was late at night. Nothing could be seen except a few lights around Managua.

The third time I flew to Nicaragua (and the last during my Peace Corps service) I remember everyone trying to peer out one side of the plane and catch a glimpse of Momotombo, the volcano that was thought dormant until it had unexpectedly erupted in glowing bright red lava earlier that same week. If I recall, as we passed by there wasn’t anything spectacular going on down at Momotombo, although it did continue to erupt for a few more weeks.

In a way, my three flights into Managua neatly divide the three eras that I see in my service. If you roughly divide my 27 months in Nicaragua into three nine-month segments, each era starts with me flying in. In the first era of service (2014), I was flying blind. I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing, but it was fun and I was learning and exploring and enjoying.

The second era (~2015) was the hardest for me. It was the uphill section of the marathon. A number of personal issues, both in Nicaragua and in the US, had me down. My health also was not always great, and I was struggling with the GMAT. I flew in by night, and it was certainly the darkest part of my service. I just glanced at my blog archive for March 2015, right after I returned, and I wrote a tall 11 blog posts, many of which are negative in nature.

As 2016 approached, things were looking up, and I was actually preparing for the end of service. Momotombo in a way was marking the grand finale, like in a fireworks show. I filled this last era of my service with a lot of work with my counterparts and clients, and closure with friends and acquaintances. It was enjoyable, although I felt that it went very slowly at times, especially the last three months, which were painfully slow (when you know when something is over you just want it to be done with already).

So what would my fourth flight into Nicaragua bring? Well, it was cloudy. Daytime, but with very little to be seen. I remarked to my friend Matt that Managua was, “Blehhh.” Of course, that’s how I feel about my trip. Hazy, blehhh at times, with some sun shining through as well.

My first stop was to visit León. This proved absolutely overwhelming. I have many friends and acquaintances in León – too many to see in just three days, and I felt bad that I couldn’t see everyone. It also seems that the realities of a hot tropical city had become lost on me, and I constantly felt exasperated and dirty,  simply sweating in place.

Visiting after one year also revealed a stark difficulty with being a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer – the onus of maintaining relationship is nearly completely on me. People in Nicaragua communicate differently from how we do in the US (Piquing 3 AM Tweets?). Some people do send me occasional messages (some send me more than occasional messages) but many more do not. When I do get around to sending them a message, they inevitably say to me, “You’ve forgotten me,” even though they too had not sent me a message. They expect that I will do the relationship maintenance work. I can see why. Most Nicaraguans, especially in smaller towns, do not really move away (except maybe to Managua). They’ve never had to maintain a long distance friendship – something that nearly all of my acquaintances in the US started doing when we were 18 years old. In addition, it is only I that can visit them. Most of them cannot obtain a visa or afford a casual flight to visit me in the US.

Starting after Spring Break, I started feeling that I was missing my own friends quite a bit. I had only seen most of them once since getting back from Nicaragua a year ago, and some not at all. Chapel Hill is just far enough from anywhere you would rather be, and I was realizing that this was most true for Washington DC and New York, where the bulk of my friends live.  Experiencing the difficulties of maintaining friendships with my Nicaraguan friends only reinforced how I was feeling about my American friends, and made me think about how I can see them more often over this next school year.

León was not all clouds. Despite the overwhelming pressure and grief I felt about visiting as many people who cared about me as possible, I did enjoy seeing many of them. One of my counterparts suffered a terrible motorcycle accident two months ago, and he was in terrible spirits after it happened. Although he still cannot walk, he seemed in a much better mood, which I really wanted to see. I also managed to completely surprise my site-mate Hailee and congratulate her on the occasion of her Close of Service. She then proceeded to thank me with a densely packed suitcase to haul back to the US for her (she is traveling up to Guatemala for a few months). That’s all not to mention that I met Matthias, my host family’s newest addition, born in December.

After León, it was time for the main event: the wedding in Granada and Catarina.

Dalia and Matt in the lagoon

Dalia and Matt in the lagoon

The couple was Dalia and Emmanuel. I met them all the way back in training when my friend Matt lived in Dalia’s house in Catarina. Dalia and her friends have always been friends of the Peace Corps, showing us around town and the lagoon and being members of our youth groups (even though she is actually older than I am and was older than all of the members of the Catarina training group). She and Emmanuel met ten years ago in college. His family is from Granada, not Catarina.

Marriages in Nicaragua are a bit different than in the US. In the US, a religious figure has the legal power to marry a couple. They do not have that right in Nicaragua. Only legal authorities do. Some people choose to only have a “civil” wedding and forego anything that has to do with religion (the Church loves this). This couple chose to have the Catholic wedding first and then that same day do the civil wedding (most couples that do both have the civil done first and then some days later do the religious wedding). In essence, I attended two weddings in one day (just for the same people).

Emmanuel looks so happy to be squeezed into the back of a pickup with me:

The highlight from the Catholic wedding was the priest imploring Dalia not to forget to iron and cook for Emmanuel once they have children (apparently lots of wives do this – it is important to remind them not to during the service). The civil wedding was a terrible bore. The officiant chose to give a long and rambling lecture on the history of the Law of the Family which no one seemed to care for. However, the party was a lot of fun. There were a ton of Peace Corps Volunteers there as well as familiar faces from Catarina. Food, drinking, and lots of dancing.


Another highlight was seeing Hannah, the last surviving member of Business 63. She is the last of my group that remains a Peace Corps Volunteer. She extended for a year and is wrapping up her service in June, before she begins an Impact Education program at UCLA later this summer. She was one of the bridesmaids, and also the unsuspecting catcher of the bride’s bouquet at the end of the night. She’s had a knack for teaching and mathematics since I first met her, and California is very lucky to have her as a soon-to-be teacher.

The second half of my trip was a bit more sightseeing, a bit less seeing people (although I still did meet up with a bunch of old friends). Stay tuned as I write Part 2 of my Return to Nicaragua.

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