For me, it is easy to adapt to a new setting and way of life, but extremely difficult to readjust back into the Oregonian life that I left behind when I stepped off of that famous PDX carpet and onto the plane. In all honesty, I was in no way ready to leave Nicaragua. I know that 7 weeks is hardly enough to understand a culture different than my own. In fact, 7 weeks is just long enough to make friends, and become comfortable. I had just gotten into my projects and started to understand how AMOS works, and was only on the surface of getting to know my co-workers because of my shyness in Spanish. Personality sometimes changes with language. Weird, right? Anyways, I knew the people well enough to understand that they were wonderful, incredible, and passionate people working towards a great cause. But not long enough to really talk to them or spend time with them, which is a tragedy because of how lovely of people I know they are. I surveyed enough people in the campo to begin to understand their hopes for music in the future, but not long enough to help put any plans into action. I taught one music workshop and learned that I wish I could teach a hundred, or a series, or teach others to teach and create their own projects and workshops. I grew a great passion for a mariachi band that I only met for three days, but we shared a musical and teaching experience that left me feeling pumped, and ready for more. I stayed in the campo long enough to know that I really know nothing about the daily life there, and long enough to remember that there are beautiful people worth knowing in all corners of the earth. What I am saying with this long winded paragraoh is that I was only in Nicaragua long enough to experience the beginning, and see only a snippet of all I could see. It felt like my time was cut short, and gone before I knew it.
In Nicaragua, I knew there were many social cues that I didn’t pick up on, and many cultural norms that I didn’t participate in. I never used their “vos” form of Spanish, still feel extremely unnatural when pointing at something with my lips, and always forgot to offer to share my snacks with people around me. Whoops. But coming back to the United States has been way more difficult even though I understand mostly every social situation thrown at me, and can handle it in the culturally appropriate way.
Even so, with my mixture of Central America and Europe in the past 7 months, I feel a bit at odds with the society I should be familiar with. For instance, while walking around the tiny town of Newberg, I was incredibly aware of my surroundings; every car, dog, passerby were all accounted for in my safety-traveler brain. To a point of paranoia. When taking my jog on the beach, it was startling to me that no one whistled or offered any catcalls. Not that I miss that, but the lack of attention made me feel invisible. Before, I never had a chance of blending in.
Coming home the first night, I was shocked at how convenient everything was. I ran out of toilet paper, and reached under the sink to get another roll. My hands felt dry, so I reached over and used the lotion sitting on my nightstand. There is running water 24 hours a day. Toilets flush, and I even have one located in my own house. Showers are inside. And they are warm? I have more than one towel. If I need to talk to someone, I can use my internet or my cell phone. Everything I wanted was right there, inches away from my fingertips.
Back to the showers. Should I feel guilty that I can shower as long as I want? Or that my water is hot? Do I even use the hot water? If I turn the water off between soap and shampoo, it seems much more conventional. I finally compromised with using the warm water, but trying to take the fastest shower possible. Even after a week, I feel strange and slightly guilty every time I step into my heated shower.
I can drive a car, and don’t need to wait for confusing public transport, or sit on the back of a motorcycle in a leather jacket and 95 degree weather. While all these things may seem like luxuries to you, or even just normal daily activities, they send my mind into a frenzy and give me a strange feeling that just hasn’t gone away.
All of these things lead me to the thoughts that many people have after witnessing rural poverty. Why was it me born in the middle class family in the USA? Why is my childhood bedroom bigger than many peoples’ entire houses? Why is it me that was born into the life with a pantry full of snacks, and education through high school, and drinkable tap water? It took me a long time to realize that being middle class isn’t wrong. It is part of who I am and part of how I grew up, but I don’t have a lot more consolation other than that. And the next expected questions: Is my life better because I have more? Is their life better because it is simpler? Are they happy? Are we happy? I don’t have any answers, although I know there is merit to living simply and there is comfort in having food on your table. From my observations I think that I have many more opportunities for jobs, education, travel, and lifestyle than women my age in Nicaragua. I also feel like he culture I grew up with is more respectful to women, and in most ways I feel like I am treated equally to men. I met few women in the rural communities, and my guess is that this is because they don’t often have opportunities like I would imagine them. Again, is this wrong? Are they content with their lives because that is how their culture is? I wonder if they would prefer to learn a profession, or work somewhere rather than in their house. I wonder if I would rather spend my life taking care of my family and children instead of searching for my own career. And in all honesty, I do want answers to these questions. I just don’t have a clue where I will find them.
Being thrown from one world to the other is overwhelming. One minute you are talking about how to measure women’s empowerment, and the next you are talking about what stares are having great sales, and what cute clothes your friend bought on their shopping spree. One moment you are wearing your flip flops walking on the dirt road and stuck behind a small herd of cows, and the next you are slipping on your flip flops at a nail salon after a pedicure. It is a rattling experience, or at least it is for me. And at this point, how can I even stand going to the mall, or justify spending $40 on a dress when I know I have more in my closet. Material things start to haunt you, and money doesn’t make any sense.
I never know what to say when people ask me about Nicaragua and what I did there. I like to brag about the awesome mariachi band I worked with, or tell them about turtles laying eggs on the beach. These answers are easy to understand. There is no way I can even begin to describe my time in Nicaragua, the communities I saw, or my home-stay experience. I loved it all. I really, really loved it all. I want to represent Nicaragua in a positive light, and don’t know how to bring up their situation of poverty. I want my listeners to see Nicaragua as the beautiful place that it is, without them thinking it is dirty or dangerous. When I show people a picture of the house I lived in, I don’t want them to be impressed that I was able to live there for 2 months. People live like this every day, and it’s not a matter of “sticking it out”. I just want to show a true picture of Nicaragua and not have people think their lives are better or worse because of what they have and where they live.
I also know that while I think I have a clear idea of how life is in the rural communities, or a grasp of rural poverty, I am probably completely off. I was only there for a short time, and the shorted the time the more skewed the perception is. I also am still having a rough time processing the campo, and still don’t know what to think or feel or do about campo life, or of there is a way I should feel or act.
I have been in a bad mood since I got off the plane. I am angry and frustrated, and usually for no reason. I know this is just a sign of reverse culture shock, but I wish I could just get it over with and be a happy person again. I don’t know how to process my experience yet, and I know that the processing will take more time than I would like. I wish I could make someone else understand how it was, but I know that there are no words to explain, even if they were game to sit and listen for that long.
Being back is the weirdest feeling. I feel so out of place, and have the feeling that I just want to go home. But I really can’t even think of where home is. I just am uncomfortable in every setting. The only times I am comfortable are when I am reading books, because I feel like I am in their world and not my own. So many of my thoughts just don’t translate, and my brain is in the process of deciding whether to shut them down, keep them swirling around, or actually do something about them. Until that happens, I will be stuck in this state. Unfortunately, I know it can take months, or even longer, to really readjust. It is such a hard change for me that every time I think about traveling somewhere new, I have enormous impending second thoughts of doom thinking about the time returning “home” afterwards. Somehow, it is still worth it. At this very point in time, I feel absolutely horrible in many ways. But I wouldn’t change my time in Nicaragua for the world, and I know it.