Written by Susi Martinez, Princeton in Latin America Fellow
It’s hard to believe that I have already been in Nicaragua for over a month, yet at the same time it feels like I have been here much longer. When I got my placement through Princeton in Latin America, I saw I would be working with Comunidad Connect in Nicaragua for a year on public health and community development initiatives. I’ve traveled to a few countries in South and Central America before, but I had never visited Nicaragua. I was immediately excited for the new experience, and as my studious habit resurfaced, I started reading anything I could get my hands on that was about Nicaragua before I left Ohio.
As I watched the clouds pass by from my plane window, large mountains and lakes came into view. I had arrived to my new home. I luckily spotted Grace and Theresa, the two PiLA Fellows I was replacing, at the airport eagerly awaiting my arrival, and we started our journey north to Jinotega. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to spend in Managua, but as we left the city – after first having lunch including a nice helping of gallo pinto (rice and beans, also a favorite of mine growing up in a Colombian household) – I felt the weight of the history that those buildings, roads, and countryside had seen. Names of Nicaraguans I had remembered came to mind – Ruben Dario, Gioconda Belli, Sandino – as Bob Marley quietly played on the radio in the background.
As soon as we started our descent into the valley that hid Jinotega in the mountains, I knew I was going to love living here. Lush, vibrant mountains carefully encircle the city, providing the most beautiful backdrop to a small, old town. Being in Jinotega immediately reminded me of Cotacahi, Ecuador, where I studied last year, because of being nestled in the mountains and the relaxed pace of life. But, as my travels have proven in the past, no two places are exactly alike. And so I became even more excited to get to know my new home and community. Listen to stories and immerse myself in Nicaragua. So I jumped right in.
After my first two weeks of orientation, I had moved to Los Robles to live with my host family and shadowed one visiting group of doctors and their team in the community. Within the next week, Theresa and Grace bid me farewell and I was working with a new group from North Carolina, helping facilitate projects in Los Robles. I loved the energy that the volunteers brought, and it was really special to be able to facilitate their interactions with the families receiving our projects. After hearing so much about the cement floors, mosquito-repelling paint, improved stoves and ovens, and water filters, I was excited to see these projects in homes and meet the families that had earned them through community service hours. One of my favorite moments was translating for a volunteer as she spoke with the mother of the family. They both asked questions about each other’s families, cultural differences, and shared gratitude on both sides.
Although my time living in Los Robles was short, I’m grateful for the month I had getting to know my host family and community. I came to Nicaragua not knowing a single person. Yet I am continuously struck by the kindness of strangers and sense of community others have shown me. Whether it’s a neighbor offering to carry my 50 lb. suitcase across a muddy field, a child giving me directions to a house, my host mom being patient with my Spanish, or my new housemates motivating me to finish a hike up the mountain at 5:30 in the morning, I have been overwhelmed with the welcoming spirit of my new home. Two months here has already taught me a lot, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of my year in this beautiful country.