A Rocky Start
The start of my visit to Nicaragua was slightly more eventful than I anticipated. I met Carlos and Yessica, the directors of Project Gettysburg-Leon, and Leidy, the other Heston Fellow, at the airport in Managua and we went to get lunch. There we had our first taste of gallo pinto, or rice and beans – a dish that probably constitutes around 80% of Nicaraguans’ diet. When we finished lunch and returned to the car, both mine and Leidy’s backpacks were missing, and spot for the key on the driver-side door was turned sideways. Both of us lost our laptops and Leidy lost her passport. Discouraged but still excited, we spent two days in Managua touring the city and its surroundings before making the 2 hour or so journey to Leon, the site of the fellowship.
In the evening a few days after making it to Leon, I started feeling sick to my stomach. I ended up vomiting on the side of the road, actually right in front of the school I was going to be teaching at. The next 8 hours or so went pretty much the same way. I think that it was a combination of the heat and a completely new diet that did me in, but in any case I wasn’t sure I would make it.
My host mother, who, along with the rest of her family, has been incredibly hospitable, assured me it had nothing to do with the lemonade she had been giving me, but somewhere along the lines there was something that I didn’t take a liking to. Thinking it could have been the water, I decided to ask Carlos and Yessica to bring a water cooler to our house that I could use. At first, it was kind of weird to have a separate source of water, just for me. I had a problem with the principle of it – why do I need that when everyone else in the family clearly doesn’t? It seemed to create a degree of separation between my host family and me. Yet, even though it does still seem like a symbol of privilege to me, my host family didn’t treat me any differently, and ultimately I decided I preferred the peace of mind.
The other thing I had been worried about was that my host mother would think I didn’t like her cooking, or that it caused me to get sick. I didn’t want the family to think that I was somehow too coddled to have real Nicaraguan food. To be safe, she gave me just basic foods for a few days or so immediately after, saying she didn’t want to “hurt my stomach.” Even though I assured her I could handle it, almost three weeks later, there are still things she hasn’t given me for that reason.
I bring up being robbed and getting sick because an account of my time in Nicaragua wouldn’t be entirely truthful without them. Still, they have by no means defined my experience here. I have probably had rice and beans more times than I ever had either one on its own in 21 years, and yet recently I’ve found that I actually look forward to gallo pinto. I got a tour at the top of Leon’s cathedral, the highest point in the downtown area, from which the view of Central America’s ‘Ring of Fire’ of volcanoes was incredibly striking. I started taking guitar classes at the local taller, where everyone else there is Nicaraguan. I’m definitely getting more and more used to being here, and I can’t wait to see what else Nicaragua has in store for me.
Aiden Egglin ’17