After the Honeymoon

A sunset from Clare's back porch.

Written by  September 27, 2012

After the thrill of being in a new country has worn off, how do you experience newsness abroad?

When living abroad, it is very easy to focus on the challenges faced on a daily basis and to forget what I have become accustomed to; those aspects which I have come to enjoy, but take for granted so quickly. After participating in several six-month stints, I wind up focusing on what is at the end of the adventure, overlooking it as a new way of life and forgetting to live in the present.

Sometimes, it is important to step back and look at what one has become comfortable doing and basking in the joys of living abroad—especially in a country like Nicaragua!

Here are a few things I have noticed:

1. An open and inviting sensation that appears to be present everywhere I go. Upon returning from Nicaragua last year, I couldn’t help but feel isolated from the outside world. I also could not understand why, in such beautiful weather, there were not as many people sitting out on their front porch gazing away at the days’ ongoing activities. Perhaps, the homes and buildings here are designed to bring in light and sound, open to the world’s activity. Or perhaps, it is simply the Nicaraguan customs, such as saying “adios” to those they encounter on the street as a gesture of good will. Windowsills in Nica homes are used for perching, watching and commenting on the daily on-goings. Nicaraguans are great observers and storytellers, doing so on a wooden rocking chair on their front patio or balcony.

In my apartment there are at least three large windows from which I hear a variety of noises and enjoy a wonderful amount of light and air. They are wide and allow for breathtaking views, especially in a mountain town like Matagalpa, located in a deep valley.

There is a lot to see, hear and feel when looking out my windows, including tropical rain and thunderstorms; light breezes ranging from cool, warm and soft; tiny sparrows that perch on my windowsill, the morning sun, ever so bright at 6 am, shining through; evangelical sermons that rage on into the night like a rock concert would in Toronto; one gorgeous pink sunset after another; and the children playing down below on my neighbour’s patio.

2. The delicious flavours of tropical fruit. I am blessed to live in a country like Nicaragua where the soil is fertile and thus a variety of delicious fruits are grown, some of which are available all year round like limes and bananas. Although we have a wide selection of tropical fruits to eat in Canada, fruit here is picked when ready as opposed to before ripening, rendering the fruit with a bland taste. Fruit here, well, tastes like fruit.

When I go to my local campesino market I have the option of choosing from a wide variety of delicious fruits from pineapples to oranges to unique varieties like the Chinese mamon (similar in texture and taste to lychee fruit). These fruits make for delicious ingredients for a sweet smoothie any day of the week! Nicaraguans also love to eat some fruit with salt and chili. I never thought I would like unripe mango with salt, vinegar and fermented chili until I tried it last week and it makes for a great roadside snack.

3. Getting perspective outside of my country is something I have become accustomed to quite quickly while living abroad, but it is one of the most precious aspects of this kind of experience. Some might argue one can get perspective while still living in their native homeland, but there is truly something to be said for completely removing oneself from one’s home, culture and daily routine to experience the lifestyle and customs in a different part of the world.

I have the rare opportunity many do not to reflect on the behaviours, values and beliefs I might never have questioned before. I am constantly comparing the lifestyle here to that at home. I compare the technically extensive and impressive recycling system I grew up with, for instance and the small fraction of one run here in Matagalpa by a private organization for disabled youth. I think about the negative aspects of living in North America such as overconsumption, individualism and our addiction to material things and the stronger focus on the collective and family here in Nica.

Although I notice more poverty and subsistence living in Nicaragua than I do in North America, I also notice many more smiling faces.

4. The adventure of it all. It has become very easy for me to forget that my life here is one big adventure. Seemingly simple, everyday tasks are rendered thrilling trips where the new and unknown awaits for discovery and investigation. For me this rings especially true due to my food and lifestyle choices; I am a vegan and I rely on as much holistic and homeopathic medicine as possible. Unlike in Toronto, where any kind of alternative medicine, food or lifestyle choice is right at my fingertips, these options are not as easily found in Nicaragua. The challenges turn into adventures.

It turns out I have a wide variety of choices to seek out nutrient-rich vegetables and plant-based grains including: the convenient store, street vendors (both roaming and street side), the open air market and the conventional grocery store. It is not simply that I have the options of going to all locations, but the speaking in a foreign language (both body and spoken) while doing so, that makes the adventure all the more exciting.

It is the walk that takes me to such locations; the steep slopes to climb, the roosters crowing, the men who whistle, the cowboys who lean on walls, cigarette in mouth like something out of a Stetson commercial—the sensory overload is what makes my everyday life so thrilling. Having everything accessible all the time is much more boring than being constantly surprised every day.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Clare Esler

Clare Esler has an undergraduate and post-graduate degree in International Development. She is currently on a seven-month internship with Youth Challenge International through CIDA’s International Youth Internship Program in Nicaragua, working as an Environment Project Officer with ANIDES (The Nicaraguan Association for Sustainable Development). When not working internationally, Clare lives in Toronto.

Website: www.fromctoyou.blogspot.ca/

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