The Countdown Begins
For a long time I was telling my mother not to drop me off at the airport, I can handle this all on my own. But I was in denial. In reality I was a hot mess, trying to bottle in all the tears at any given moment whenever I was reminded that this is possibly the last time I will live in London.
As I collect my belongings from the security gates, I get a phone call from a close friend reminding me how brave I am, how proud she is of me and how much I am going to learn and grow. God’s timing is truly the best as this is just what I needed to hear! It made me think that if she was in tears of joy, why the hell was I feeling so sad? “I need stop with all these depressing thoughts and focus on the positive!” I told my self, over and over again. Her positive words of encouragement lingered on me for the next 15 hours and 45 mins I spent alone on the plane. But it still wasn’t enough to prevent me from feeling more suffocated by the negative fears of the unknown, as I grew physically closer to my destination. This led me to become extremely anxious walking through Houston, Texas’ already intimidating immigration security gates.
“Do you know the Queen of England?” grinned the security officer
“Not yet”, I responded, and then smiled as he directed me to what I can only describe as the VIP security queue, which only had one person before me in the line. It all happened so quick, I only asked the man one simple question. Honestly, I don’t even remember what I said to him, but he must’ve been fascinated by the way I said it! I normally roll my eyes at all the stereotypical questions I get asked from Americans about being British, but when it’s going to get me from skipping a potentially 1 hour waiting time queue, I couldn’t have batted my eye lashes any harder!
“Hmm…so this is what it feels like to have an unearned privilege” I thought to myself as I turned to my right and saw 100s of people cueing up at the airport immigration gates. And yes, I did walk through those gates smug a hell, but don’t make me feel guilty for using my British accent to my advantage. I don’t have white nor male privilege…stuff like this doesn’t happen to black girls like me everyday!
At the departure gates from Houston to Managua, I created several scenarios in my head of how I’d feel once I landed. Nostalgia is all I had. It had been 1 year and half since I stepped foot on Nicaraguan soil.
15 hrs and 45 minutes, left alone to think about what the next 2 and half months would have install for me. I’m still scared as hell. What on earth am I even doing? I left my job, family, friends, boyfriend, and home cooked meals and travelled thousands of miles away from my free home in London to learn Spanish in Nicaragua. Yes, I know I loved Nicaragua as a volunteer in 2014 when I was an optimistic (deluded) recent graduate that thought I was going to radically change the world through my advocacy of global social justice and poverty alleviation. But I’m a different person now. Times have changed (I’m nearly 23…whatever that even means!)
What if I don’t improve my Spanish to fluency level?…what if I don’t make friends?…what if I don’t like my job but I’m stuck and can’t leave but too many people back home are routing for me to stay?! “Is it too late to turn back?”
3 hours Until Managua
I’m sweaty as f*ck and feeling paranoid about every little thing. Either everyone is looking at me because of my huge sweat patches or they’re trying to figure out why this black girl is travelling to Nicaragua. (In hindsight I’m sure this was all in my head and people’s 1 second glances at me just felt like prolonged stares).
My intense fear suddenly turns into intense joy and happiness as I connect to the airport wifi and see a Facebook message from my boyfriend telling me he is (cue pet name) “proud of his baby girl” and that I should “disfruta la experiencia 😀 ”
Things seem to be going from good to great as I walk through the plane and discover that I have a window seat. Even better, that there is an empty seat between myself and the next passenger. (At least, he won’t be able to smell my sweat all the way from where he is!).
Masaya! Masaya! Masaya?
Fast forward a few hours and I’ve just woken up in Nicaragua for the first time in a year and a half. I’m feeling very nervous and anxious to walk the once familiar streets of Masaya. “Shall I take my phone? No, someone might rob me. Better leave it at home. But, what if someone robs it in the hostel while I’m away?” I asked myself. But at this point, I’m sick and tired of what seems like never ending anxious thoughts. So I grab my phone and rush out the hostel in a hurry before I give myself anymore chances to second guess myself. I’m determined not let this anxiety take control of me and I’m going to challenge it head on!!!
So my first challenge is walking to the supermarket. Seems pretty simple right? Only for me to walk straight past the supermarket as I see a huge queue of people standing outside. Nearly every single one of them is staring at me. This time it’s not in my head, they really all are…after all I probably am the only black person in Masaya at the moment. Too scared to ask anyone in Spanish what is the queue for, I pretend I was just casually walking by…
“Okay this is getting ridiculous” I tell myself. So what if everyone was staring at me, and so what if my Spanish isn’t perfect. I shouldn’t be running away from situations like this. I look left and right (pretending to look as if I was just lost), I do a 180 degree turn and head right back towards the supermarket. Rehearse my best Spanish in my head, prepared to ask “es la fila para el super…?” but then I see that the supermarket is already open and the never-ending line is for the bank next door!
So the journey to the supermarket felt like I had to navigate through this…
But in reality it was only this…
On my way back to the hostel, I reflect on my anxiety. I’m not being myself. I’m overwhelmed by even the most simplest of tasks. I’m avoiding eye contact with everyone I see staring at me in my peripheral vision and my confidence feels like an all time low. To add fuel to the fire, Masaya doesn’t even seem the same without the familiar comfort of 14 other British volunteers who I was once here with. But luckily my former host family from and I’m about to meet them for the first time in 2 years.
Fun, Friends and Family Affairs
Rocio runs towards me and I pick her up and spin her around. “Oh my you’ve grown”, I tell her like my aunties used to tell me me when I was her age. I give Roxanna, my host mum a huge hug and the 3 of us are bonding as if we just saw each other yesterday. “Your Spanish has improved so much” she tells me. She doesn’t know it but she has just boosted my confidence from 0- 100 real quick!
The next few days were relatively positive. I saw my best friend in Nicaragua (the one and only Said) and met up with my former work colleague Gabriella and her friend Sophie who were coincidently in Nicaragua at the same time. I also met some lovely people in San Juan, and one girl in particular called, Megan who little did I know at the time, would end up being a great source of solace later on.
My anxiety seemed to be a thing of a past. Spending time with company I enjoyed gave me a healthy distraction from my fears and worries. Things were going just about perfect, until the time I nearly died falling off my bike, falling off a rocky hill on a volcanic island. Which by the wasn’t even my fault. The breaks did not work so I couldn’t stop myself from speeding down the hill…only for me to crash and the bike fly into the air and fall on top of me. Apparently it looked hilarious to those who were fortunate enough to witness. That put a further strain on my already depleting budget. 7 days into my trip and I had already spent a 3rd of my budget… I’m not ashamed to say that I can be a real cheapskate with my money, especially on holiday when funds are limited. Yet, my costs were accumulating quicker than I could account for. After spending a lot of money eating out, hotel costs and transportation, I couldn’t have been more eager to start my voluntary job in Leon, where at least accommodation and food would be covered. The lack of schedule and constantly moving from city to city was taking it’s toll on me too.
In 10 days I did; Masaya to Granada, Granada to San Juan, San Juan to Omotepe, Omotepe to Granada, Granada to Masaya. Thus I couldn’t wait to just rest my feet in Leon for the rest of my trip. Staying in one place, where I could finally practice Spanish (which is the whole reason why I am here), free accommodation and food in a great university city with lots of young people.
What could possibly go wrong you may ask? Mate, you would not believe the drama I had to go through in Leon. The drama did not waste anytime either. It began the minute I stepped my foot on the shuttle bus there…