Those of you who know me well, know that I’m a person who usually tends to veer away from any sort of risky or dangerous behavior. I think I’ve always been like that – a “follow the rules” type of girl. Plus, Tess has always been the rebellious one between the two of us – the one who marches to the beat of her own drum. However, ever since joining the Peace Corps, I’ve done some stretching in this area. I’ve definitely grown more confident in pushing myself to experience new, uncomfortable situations and to not be so hesitant when it comes to embracing the craziness that comes with life and enjoying the moment for what it is.
Just the other week, I was venturing out to one of my rural schools up in the mountains of Estelí, which requires a super early wake up at 4:45am so I can make the 6:00am bus, which is full of all the tobacco fabricas (cigar factories) workers. I hate waking up that early. It’s been over a year of making this weekly commute and I still moan and complain to myself every time my alarm goes off – “Uggghhhh do I have to???? Yes, Khalan. You have to. Get up.” I’ve fallen into a routine though, which has helped – I make my tea to-go in my Swell thermos (which keeps it hot for up to 12 hours!), fix my breakfast mason jar mix of oatmeal and chia seeds (so good!) and grab one of my unread New Yorker magazines to take up with me for the day. The buses only pass through the town twice a day – once in the morning at 7:00am and then in the afternoon at 2:00pm. While the bus ride tends to be noisy with the radio blasting “Noticias ABC” news radio, I usually pop in my ear buds and zone out to some mellow music, watching the morning mist rise up from the valleys to the mountain tops.
I was actually looking forward to this particular Tuesday at school because it had been so long since I’d been in class. The last time I was there was three months back in June before the school break and before I left for my medical evacuation in the States. So, suffice it to say, I was looking forward to seeing my counterpart, Prof. Myrna, and all my kids. Once 8:00am came around and the school bell rang, I found myself still sitting in the teacher’s lounge waiting for Myrna to arrive. Her morning commute consists of walking about an hour through the mountains and across a river to get to school every day – talk about a morning commute! I waited and waited. My mind started to race with thoughts about her not showing up. It hadn’t been raining so she should’ve been able to cross the river. If she didn’t show up, I’d be stuck at school all day with nothing to do (it’s happened before and it’s not fun). “Oh, please show up,” I thought to myself. I then saw the directora who then proceeded to tell me that Myrna was sick and wouldn’t be coming to school.
Damn. Damn. Damn. WTF am I going to do?!?
I had two options. I could camp out at school for six hours until the afternoon bus arrived or I could try and catch a ride back to Estelí. The problem was that I didn’t know anyone leaving the town. There were a few motos and trucks passing by, but I didn’t know them. After a few minutes of contemplation, I came to the conclusion that I was not willing to sit around all day with work to be done, and would have to hitchhike. I know that sounds a bit crazy, but it’s not out of the ordinary to catch a ride in developing countries, especially in rural areas. I’ve caught a ride before with my mom and friend when we missed our bus and were stranded in the mountains, but never have I hitchhiked solo. So, I knew I was in for an adventure that would test my risk taking abilities.
My goal was to start walking out of town and catch a ride with anyone who was heading in the direction of Estelí. I was a little uneasy at the thought of riding with a stranger, but honestly, after living in Nicaragua for 18 months, I had grown quite used to uneasy, uncomfortable and awkward situations. So, to my surprise, I just kinda shrugged my shoulders and told myself this would be another wild experience to add to the books of my time abroad.
I had only been walking for a couple minutes when a truck with two men approached me – one was maybe in his 50s and the other was older in his late 70s. Now, I know that it sounds unwise and NOT a good idea for me to take a ride from two men who I don’t know, but I did feel relatively safe in this small community where everyone knows everyone. It’s definitely not something I would want my friend or daughter to do, but it’s the Peace Corps and it happens. I looked at both of their faces to take in their energy – they didn’t give off malas vibras (bad vibes) so I decided that this would be my ticket out of town and when they said they could take me to Estelí, I jumped at the opportunity. I could have hopped in the back of the truck (probably the smarter move), but opted to sit inside instead. Here we go…
I introduced myself to both of them and explained that I’m a Peace Corps volunteer working here in the schools teaching entrepreneurship education. The man driving introduced himself as Bismark and then presented his friend who was called Don Santo. Bismark was originally from Honduras and lived in Nueva Segovia working in the coffee business. Don Santo was from town and owned a farm close by. Bismark did most of the talking. Similar to most Nicas I’ve met, he was very curious as to what I thought of Nicaragua. I shared with him how beautiful I thought his country is and how much of a positive experience I’ve had here, how much I love Estelí and it’s cool weather (the northerners feel very proud of their weather compared to down south where it’s hot and humid…not like it’s theirs, but you get my drift). I shared how friendly the people are up north and how “tranquilo” the lifestyle is. He smiled a big smile, his eyes twinkly, and agreed with the nod of his head. The rest of the ride was all small talk. It was a gorgeous, sunny day and the wind was blowing in through the windows of the truck. After sitting quietly for most of the 20 minute ride, Don Santo began to chime in talking about the horse farms in Estelí and the different horse breeding families he knew. I was happy that he had decided to join the conversation.
As we neared Estelí, they pulled over to let me out as they were taking a turn down a side road off the main highway. I thanked them both again repeating their names – they had remembered mine too – and hopped out of the truck. I was about a mile or so outside of Estelí and decided that I would just walk into town. It was a beautiful day anyway and I wanted to take in the moment of just having had a lovely conversation with two strangers. I was only walking for about five minutes when a red truck pulled up alongside me. I was about to get my guard up until I realized that it was Don Santo! Bismark had dropped him off at the farm to pick up his truck. He was smiling a sweet smile and opened his door offering me a ride the rest of the way into town.
Upon reaching Estelí, I couldn’t help but walk home with a little pep in my step and a smile on my face soaking up my sweet little exchange with Bismark and Don Santo. What began as an annoying start to my day, ended with a lovely, shared moment. I love experiences like this because they show me that small acts of kindness still do exist in this world. These are the moments I live for. This is why I came here. To connect with others, to make a positive impact, to explore, to grow and stretch as a person and to see how beautiful life can be.
So, to Bismark and Don Santo – thank you for the ride! Fue un placer. Saludos.