I’ve spent a lot of time trying to process my current situation, and now I guess I should blog-vomit all my feelings.
Starting a little over a week ago, Nicaragua has been facing some civil unrest. I’m not going to get into the details, but I encourage everyone to do some additional googling.
On Thursday, April 19, Peace Corps volunteers received an email informing us of some civil unrest and told us to avoid traveling to Managua (where the protests were) for the rest of the weekend. The next morning, I traveled to Matagalpa. I had a STEP class to teach on Sunday, so I’d planned to come in early and hang out with Thomas. By that afternoon, we received another email that we were on standfast, meaning we had to stay where we were and contact staff to report our whereabouts.
My class got cancelled, and I was not allowed to leave Matagalpa. The bright side of that is that I was with Thomas and a few other volunteers in my favorite city in Nicaragua. We spent the weekend eating pizza and waiting for updates from staff and from our friends around the country. There were some protests in Matagalpa, but from what I have heard, it was much safer than other department capitals. There was some confrontation and violence, grocery stores closed, etc, but we felt safe in the hostel and hopeful that we could get back to work soon.
Over that weekend, it became apparent that all volunteers were going to be consolidated to a central location in Nicaragua and then evacuated. I hadn’t been expecting an evacuation, so I was traveling without a passport, and with barely enough clothes for a weekend. I contacted my host family and asked them to pack a few things (including my passport). On Monday, Peace Corps staff drove all over the country to pick us up and drive us to Granada. I’m very thankful to everyone who left their families at 5 in the morning to make sure we were all safely consolidated. I was reunited with my passport and a few other items when I got to Granada.
While I was happy to pass the standfast with other volunteers, I was devastated to have left without having a chance to say goodbye to anyone back in site. Here’s a brief list of things that made me cry during my last few days in Nicaragua:
- A hug from a woman who worked at my favorite hostel
- A friend calling me to tell me how much I mean to her
- A Nicaraguan flag 🇳🇮
- A bell (brought in from the Peace Corps office for volunteers to ring to mark the end of their service.)
I knew I loved this country, and it has felt like home for a long time, but I don’t think I realized the extent to which Nicaragua has changed my life until I was forced to leave it. We were evacuated to Costa Rica (where I still am) and booked flights back to the U.S, where we will stay for at least 30 days. Some people call it “going home,” but for a lot of us, it doesn’t feel like that. I love my family, and my childhood home will always feel like home to me, but it’s not where I want to be right now. This evacuation feels like I’m leaving home. I was planning to stay in Nicaragua for the rest of my service, and I wasn’t prepared to leave. I feel like I have a lot left to do. I love my Nicaraguan family, friends, counterparts, and students, but I haven’t been great at telling them what they mean to me. It’s been difficult coming to terms with being unable to see them and say what I needed to say before I left. I am committed to going back as soon as I can—to work, finish my service, and hug everyone super tight and tell them how much I love and appreciate them.
Before I left, people often told me they admired me for coming to help their country. They thanked me for leaving my family and my country. But Nicaragua is home to me now, and being a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua has been the greatest privilege of my life. I feel like I’ve received much more than I’ve given. I’m forever in Nicaragua’s debt.
I rarely feel like I’m able to put my service into words, but I’m going to try to share little tidbits of what has made my service so meaningful, and why I can’t imagine it ending yet.
I came to Nicaragua during a year of intense grief, and that grief continued as into the next year as Bev was diagnosed and died of pancreatic cancer within a 6-month period. When I initially talked to my host family about the cancer, they talked to me about how ugly the disease was, about a woman they know who found a lump in her breast. They frequently asked me how Bev was doing, though I never had good news to share. I remember September 1, when I saw the news of her death and knew I had to get to Managua so I could catch a plane back to Missouri. I tried to keep it together as I told my host mom that my stepmother had died. I’m not sure I’ve ever been pulled into a hug so fast and been hugged so tightly. So many things felt so unfair, but in that moment I was thankful that I had a mom in Nicaragua to comfort me.
That is what Nicaragua is to me. The people are the most welcoming and kindest who I’ve ever met. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have invited me to see their community or their finca. I intend to take more of them up up on those offers when I go back. Some of my favorite moments in the week are walking to my counterpart’s house and spending a few hours with her family. We plan classes and make materials and practice English. We chismear and talk about our lives and give each other advice. She always tells me to wait, to stay longer, because she wants to give me lunch and take a taxi to school together.
The week before the evacuation, I left my wallet at home, and she paid for my taxi to school. I fully intended to walk all the way back home after class, and I wasn’t going to borrow any more money, but unprompted, she gave me money for a ride home. She said it was too hot for me to walk. She didn’t want me to be in the heat. She is one of many people who I have come to love, respect, and trust during my time in Nicaragua.
I can’t imagine my service without these people. I can’t imagine my life without them.
I feel incredibly lucky to have had this privilege: to have been invited into this country to live and work with these spectacular people. It’s also a privilege that we get to leave as soon as things get a little tough.
When the protests started, Nicaraguan friends sent me messages. Be safe. Mantente seguro. Tenés cuidado. Me chat cuando estes en un lugar seguro. They care about me so much, and I am so so lucky.
Friends and family in the U.S, please do something for me. Read about what’s happening in Nicaragua. Research what’s happened in the past. Ask me questions privately if you want to (it’s in my best interest not to comment publicly about certain things.) Understand that while you’re happy we’re safe, we’re feeling very conflicted about being evacuated. Understand that though this may seem like a month (or more) of ~fun vacation time~, we feel as though we’ve been taken away from our loved ones without having a chance to say goodbye or see you later or thank you for changing my life so profoundly.
(That said, if you have free time while I’m back, I will be taking limited appointments to reconnect with people. The rest of my schedule is packed with Feeling Things I Can’t Express With Words and binging the new season of The Handmaid’s Tale 😉)
My dear Nicaragua: Te extraño mucho. Gracias por todo lo que me has dado. Nos vemos pronto. Stay strong, and be safe.