Flaccita. This is a term I’ve gotten used to hearing when I’m being described by my host family, coworkers, and even strangers on the street. Flaccita literally translates to “little skinny”. This afternoon we went to a medical supply store to buy supplies for the clinic, and after a 20-minute walk, one of the nurses turned to me and asked if I was tired from the walk. I said no, why? And she said because of the fact that she was gorda (fat) she can walk a lot, but because I was a flaccita (little skinny), she wanted to know if I found physical movement tiring. I laughed and said no. Just one more thing I’m going to miss about Nicaragua: constantly being called out on my physical appearance.
Friday was a big day for our project. At this point, we had all the materials we needed: bricks, the metal pieces, and finally—the cement! Except we had one problem: no one knew how to mix cement. We had researched several methods online on how to mix cement…and it seemed really easy—except at this point in the trip, we’ve faced so many roadblocks and challenges, that I was really nervous about there being some trick to this and our whole project would just crumble to pieces. Literally. We arrived at the Bombanaci community at around 8 AM ready to get our hands dirty (and also ready to finally finish what we had started nearly 5 weeks ago!) Today was the day we’d put our theories to the test. The leaders of the community were quick to rally neighbors in their efforts to learn and understand how to mix cement. Well, turns out, our calculations and observations via YouTube were correct! Mixing cement was quite easy; and a task that didn’t end up taking as long as I anticipated. For the remainder of the afternoon, the families mixed, evenly distributed, and cemented all of their respective stoves, together! It was really interesting to see where and how each family decided where they wanted to build their new stoves. Some wanted it to replace their old stoves, while other wanted them in obscure nooks or crannies within their houses. A fellow intern from FSD once described the goal of sustainable development as “doing as little as possible”. This philosophy proved true on Friday. The project was completely in the hands of the community members and families—making our project 100% sustainable. As frustrating and tough as this entire process has been…Friday (aka cement day) made it all worth it seeing how incredibly supportive and inspiring the collaboration between the community leaders, community members, and the 5 families played out in making strides towards developing a healthier cooking methods and a cleaner environment through our air quality stove project. I left work on Friday with an odd mixture of emotions: excited about our progress, nervous about if it would all work as planned, and sad about only having 1 week left. I was concerned that something would go wrong, and that all of our hard work leading up to the final stages of this project would go to waste…. which takes me back to how I felt at the very beginning of this journey: uncertainty about just about everything. Its during moments like this when I begin to remind myself of a concept I introduced in my first blog post—maktoub. What’s meant to happen, will happen. If these stoves were meant to work and function, it would happen. And if not, we would pick up where we failed, and simply try again.
This weekend I went to León with Laurel, her little brother, and his friend Hannah. We decided to give volcano boarding another shot since the last time I was in León I got deathly sick after not having pooped for 6 days. Such a great memory. After experiencing a dead car battery, and many random and uncalled for run-ins with the cops, we finally got a working car and made our way to León! While everybody took naps, I decided to explore León a bit. I made a really bad decision of withdrawing over $200 USD while in León, and then proceeding to explore the shops and markets with over $200 USD and my debit card (which I normally never carry) in my wallet. I was sure nothing would happen….until I noticed a man following me after I left the ATM and as I perused through the market. I then became incredibly paranoid. I got really nervous and starting to make strides towards returning to my hostel until he saw me trying to leave and ran after me yelling “De donde eres tu?!” (where are you from?). I decided that he was simply trying to spark conversation and was totally aloof to the fact as to how much money I had. I responded with where my family was from…and as luck would have it, he noticed my hijab and explained he was Muslim and had just moved from Palestine to Nicaragua and had a wife and 4 children. I was shocked. He asked which hostel I was staying at, and then insisted that I should come meet his wife, have dinner with the family, and stay the night with the family—for free. SubhanAllah, its crazy how you can literally go anywhere in the world and the concept of the Muslim Ummah still remains true. Perhaps the best part of this entire conversation (aside from the offer of a free dinner and bed) was the fact that he spoke both Arabic and Spanish…but no English. Therefore, when I didn’t know a word in Spanish, I switched to Arabic…and when I didn’t know a word in Arabic, I reverted to Spanish. Linguistically, one of the most confusing, yet intriguing conversations I’ve had in a long time. I politely denied the invite (as tough as it was to refuse a free meal, and a place to stay!), and asserted then that I should probably head back to my friends at the hostel, until he mentioned that there was another Muslim lady who worked at a hostel just down the road. I eventually found the hostel he mentioned, and spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with a 67-year old Palestinian woman about the controversy over the masjid in Managua (apparently the government was really upset about it because it was built by Iran). I still don’t quite understand the controversy, but I think she was just so happy to have met an American Muslim that she didn’t care to discuss Nicaragua and wanted to hear about my family roots and what in the world I was doing in Nicaragua.
The next morning we were going volcano boarding with a company called QuetzalTrekkers. I had felt a sore throat and stuffy nose coming along….no surprise. I am always sick. We barely woke up in time to eat breakfast and make it to the QuetzalTrekkers office before 8 AM, so we decided to buy cookies off a vendor from the street and call it a day. After we got our volcano boarding gear, piled on the back of a truck, and rode for 50 minutes, we made it to the base of the volcano. From there, it was an hour hike up to the top of the volcano. The higher we climbed, the more force and power the wind had to push me over…after all, I was carrying a wooden plank the size of my body. On our way up, we checked out the air vents where sulfur dioxide gets released into the air. I made a really good (but really, horrible) decision to put my face smack dab in front of where the sulfur dioxide was spewing out (thinking it would clear my congestion in my nose)…Nope, not the case. The sulfur dioxide was so potent…yet so cool. One of my favorite things about Nicaragua has been the incredible landscape and great variety of different landforms to explore: lagoons, islands, volcanoes, mountains, beaches, etc…For some reason, I thought it would be a really good idea to spend my time playing with our QuetzalTrekkers jumpsuits and frolicking around the sulfur dioxide air vents that I completely missed the entire spiel about what to do when boarding down the volcano. I’m talking everything. The first few people in our group went, and by the time it was my turn to go, I didn’t even know how to maneuver the board. I flipped over the board the correct way, planted my butt on the top, gripped the cord, and used my feet to help get some momentum rolling so I’d start sliding down the volcano. I scooted my board using my feet for the first 3 minutes. I still hadn’t made much ground. Frustrated and ready for an adrenaline rush, I dug my right foot into the ash and threw my entire body to the front of the board as hard as I could. Yet again, another bad decision. And also the completely wrong way to start your trek down the volcano. My board gained so much velocity this way, and I had no idea how to control my speed, direction, or board. If only I had listened earlier on. The rest of the group looked like ants from the top of volcano. After 5 minutes of rocketing down the volcano uncontrollably, I figured out that you control the balance of the board with one foot, and steer with the cord (duh). Once I thought I knew what I was doing, I ended up veering too far to left, and flew off my board followed by taking many hits to my unprotected arms and also swallowing a mouth full of volcanic ash. Be careful what you wish for: I wanted an adrenaline rush…and well, I got one. I eventually got back on my board and continued to follow the same maneuverings that I discovered earlier on….The company we went with provided us with gloves, goggles, and a jumpsuit. The goggles would’ve helped, if only I had thought to tie my scarf inside my jumpsuit to keep it from blocking my goggles. In reality, my scarf was flying wildly in front of my face, ultimately obstructing any and all vision. At this point, it didn’t really matter, considering I already had no idea what I was doing….a common themed I’ve found during my time in Nicaragua.
After the last person in our group successfully made it down the volcano, we ate lunch at the ranger station, and headed back to the QuetzalTrekkers office to pay and clean off all of the collected volcanic ash. I needed to head back to Masaya alone because Laurel was staying in León for another night. After packing all of my belongings and saying goodbye, I was midway to the bus station until I got a panic attack, feeling like I forgot my glasses and contacts back at the hostel. I do this ridiculous, yet uncontrollable thing when traveling, (and sometimes even at UNC during the school year), where halfway while I’m en route somewhere, I start to think that I forgot something important (homework, wallet, phone, etc…) and have to stop where I am and search through my belongings just to triple check that I do, indeed, have whatever I thought I forgot. This panic attack couldn’t have happened at a worst time: I was in the middle of an obscure, deserted road in the middle of León. I knew that I had packed my glasses….but if I didn’t stop and triple check, I would have spent the rest of my walk itching to search for them. So I dumped my bag open on a street corner and hastily tore through the pile of clothes and toiletries only to realize that yes, I did have my glasses and contacts packed into the deep pits of my backpack. False alarm. I repacked my bag on the side of the street, made it to the bus stop, and after a series of bus and taxi rides… I finally made it back home to Masaya.
PS: I keep having really awkward encounters with my host family lately. For example: the other night I was making Wudu (for my nonmuslim followers, this is the Islamic washing of the body done before praying) outside of the bathroom using a bucket of water. The last step of Wudu is rinsing each foot 3 times…so as I was finishing up wudu, washing my feet, my host grandpa sees me washing my feet, grabs a seat next to me, and begins to wash my left foot. I didn’t know what to do….so I just let him finish washing my foot, went to my room and waited until he went away, went back to the bathroom, and made Wudu all over again.