For our second week in Nicaragua, Jeff and I headed to Granada to spend a week in language school and at a homestay with a local family. Jeff, having studied Spanish at both the high school and college level, was just looking to brush off his somewhat dusty skills. I, having never received any more Spanish instruction than that offered by Sesame Street, was hoping to gain a little understanding of the language. All in all, I think it was a successful week. Jeff’s getting complimented left and right by native speakers on his language skills, and I, while somewhat limited in what I am able to say (at least without thinking about it for much longer than is suitable for conversations), can follow along with much conversation and handle some of the day to day business of traveling. I’m sure with time and practice—and immersion—more will come. And though a week may sound like a short amount of time to many of you, let me assure you that much was learned. Here, for example, are just a few things I learned.
1. Learning a language is much easier if you already know some other foreign language. All the things that seemed weird to you the first time around—conjugating every darn ending for each different pronoun, reflexive verbs, gender of nouns—make sense this time.
2. If I lived in Nicaragua, I’d probably die of either heart disease or diabetes. All of the food we were served by our host family was extremely salty and nearly always fried. All of the refrescoes—fruit drinks—had pounds of sugar in them. At times I thought I could feel my arteries clogging and my blood sugar shooting through the roof.
3. Politics are much more exciting in Nicaragua. Municipal elections are being held throughout the nation on November 9, and the campaigning is certainly rather interesting. Huge trucks ride through town, their beds packed with standing people waving their party’s flag and shouting slogans. The wooden posts holding up telephone and electric lines are painted in various party’s colors. People stand at intersections yelling at passing cars and waving flags at them. I can only imagine what presidential elections must be like.
4. The evening activity of choice in Nicaragua is stoop sitting. When darkness sets—at the early hour of 5:30 p.m.—you pull your rocking chair out onto the piece of sidewalk in front of your house and watch the world go by. Since children often live with their parents well into adulthood or at least live nearby, you can easily have 6 or more people out rocking in front of one house. We gave it a go twice, but just really couldn’t get into it. Maybe it was because the family we lived with resided on a pretty quiet street or maybe we just like to get out and do things. I will admit, however, that it was much cooler to sit out there than in the house.
5. You can go to university in Nicaragua, but you still probably won’t get a job. The oldest daughter of the family we lived with had a degree in computer studies, but spent her entire day sitting in front of the television watching telenovelas. My teacher at language school had an engineering degree but teaching Spanish for $1.25/hour/student was the best he could come up with. Though the Sandinistas have made education a priority during their political reign, they haven’t been able to mobilize the economy into one in which anyone can actually put their education to work.
(So we’re currently in northern Nicaragua exploring some nature reserves where there is no electricity or water, not to mention Internet, which explains why we’ve been neglecting you. But we have one night in the big city of Esteli, and so we’re loading up a lot of posts to keep you happy the next few days. Check back often for new posts, detailing our experiences in Granada and its environs last week.)