Happy Anniversary

31 Jan

“The only journey is the one within.”  ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Justin and I celebrated our 4-year Nicaversary yesterday, which is amazing because it took him almost half that long to persuade me to move here in the first place.

Yup, that’s right – it took Justin nearly 2 years to convince me to move abroad.   He launched his campaign shortly after returning from a solo mission to San Juan in 2006.   Having just completed a year-long intensive international MBA program, he was feeling the travel itch, which I encouraged him to scratch before diving back into the real world of job hunting and desk jobs.  So, he went to visit our friend, Zach, who would later become an accomplice in Justin’s bid to move.

Barely off the tarmac, Justin began listing the benefits of a move to Central America.  Warmer weather, cheaper drinks, happier people…I was terribly reluctant, but Justin and Zach were persistent.  Weekly phone calls from Zach began with a weather report, followed quickly by a financial report.  The sun was shining and people were buying real estate.  Why were we still bitter in New England?

Eventually, Justin convinced to me go for a visit.  We arrived in Nicaragua in March 2007.  I was underwhelmed.  It was hot, dry, dusty, and brown and I was relieved.  It would never be my home.  We would stay the week, enjoy our friends and Don Ron and then return home to New England.

So how is it that less than one year later, I was disembarking in Managua with just two suitcases, one carry-on, my husband, and my dog?  And how am I still here after 4 years?  One word: Justin.  Okay, one more: faith.  I had faith in Justin.  And I will be forever grateful to him for inviting me on this journey.  For extending his hand and saying “come along with me.”  “As long as we are together, we will be okay.” And of course, “What’s the worse that could happen?”

And the thing is, sometimes, it felt like the worst did happen.  When I woke in our one-bedroom sauna of a house curled up in a little ball and wanted to stay that way all day… except that I couldn’t because the mosquitoes were eating my ankles and the sweat was pooling at the base of my spine.  Days when I felt lost in Spanish or lost altogether.  Days when I stepped on stingrays and in cow shit.  Days when I didn’t fit in, couldn’t keep up.  Days when I just didn’t want to squeeze my full-size body into a half sized bikini.  Days when I missed my friends’ weddings and my nieces‘ birthdays.  Days when I learned that my dad had fainted or my mom was unwell or my uncle was sick or my grandmother had passed away.  Everyday days and special days – Thanksgivings and Christmases and Fourth of Julys.  Days when the economy was in the toilet, real estate was dead and our bank account was empty.  Days when the power went out and stayed out.   Days when the car didn’t start, the internet was slow, and I could watch the mold growing on our walls.  Days with cold showers and unpaved roads.  Days in Managua.  Days I feared men with machetes and women with gold teeth.  Days without pretzels, blueberries, and good bread.  Days when I felt lonely and overwhelmed and angry.  Days when I searched for flights back home and let my finger linger over the mouse, tempted to click “purchase.”  Days when I felt a million miles from home.

But the other thing is that the best happened, too. I learned that bad days come, but they go, too.  And that they are often replaced by the best kind of days.   I learned to let go.  I learned to slow down.  I became a wife.  I became a mother.  I embraced my plus-size body, on the beach, no less.  I learned Spanish.   I learned to swear in Spanish.  I got a job, in Spanish.  I got promoted in Spanish.  I made new friends, in Spanish.  I gave birth in Spanish.  I tried opening a business.  I failed at opening a business.  I discovered family in my friends and likewise, friends in my family.   I found good bread.   I shared good bread.  I learned to walk in the shade and avoid the shady.  I marveled at sunsets.  I traveledI began to writeI continued to write.   I discovered that it’s okay not to do what’s expected of me all the time.

I learned to keep a flashlight next to the bed. I learned that the guys with the machetes were just cutting the grass.  I learned to be patient.  I learned that showing up 45 minutes late was still early.  I discovered new foods, new culture, new music (and reaffirmed that I still dislike Reggaeton).  I stopped worrying about how I looked and instead, focused on how I felt.  I rediscovered yoga.  I discovered my faith.  I befriended and be-familied people I would never have met elsewhere.  I learned that the things we assumed would be easy, took weeks and those that we thought would take weeks, took hours.   I learned to stop assuming. I learned to live with less and appreciate more.  I learned that there is no place like home, but that you can have more than one.

I learned that no matter how crazy he sounds, that I have faith in my husband.  But I also have faith in me.  What began as one anxiety-riddled, sweltering year abroad has turned into something more.  Nicaragua will forever and always be the birthplace of our daughter, our marriage, and in many ways, me.

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33 Responses to “Happy Anniversary”

  1. Gina Canales January 31, 2012 at 11:43 pm #

    Sara I loved what you wrote, you have described exactly what a went through living abroad (States, Africa and Asia). I wish you many Nicaversaries. Muchas felicidades!!!!! A mi tampoco me gusta el reggeaton 🙂 Siempre y cuando estes con Justin y Lucy estaras en tu casa!!!

    • Sarah February 1, 2012 at 3:49 am #

      Gracias, Gina! I didn’t realize that you had traveled so extensively! Would love to hear about it some day. Lots of love to you and your family!

  2. Julie McBroom February 1, 2012 at 5:46 am #

    I loved this article Sarah – Nicaragua really does teach you so much. Can’t wait to get back there in June.

    • Sarah February 1, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

      Thanks, Julie! It is a pretty amazing place to live, isn’t it?! Looking forward to seeing you in June!

      • Jackie February 1, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

        We are in the process of deciding to move out of the country. We were in Nicaragua over New Year’s and loved it.

      • Sarah February 1, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

        Hi Jackie,
        Glad you enjoyed your visit! This is a great place to be. Let me know if you decide to move here – happy to answer any questions you may have.
        All the best!
        Sarah

  3. In Nica Now February 2, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    Gord and I really enjoyed your post, Sarah. Great job on describing what life in Nicaragua is truly all about. Best wishes for 4 more amazing years in Nica!

    • Sarah February 2, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

      Thanks guys! I hope you hit your 4 year Nicaversary and beyond, as well 🙂

  4. Molly February 3, 2012 at 3:59 am #

    I’ve lived in Managua for 8 years (and prior to that had been coming to Nicaragua since 1999), and I so profoundly identify with what you’ve written. Thank you so much for this.

    I recently stumbled upon your blog, I also have a baby girl and I laughed out loud at your post about coming home to the funny pig tails because of not piercing her ears! (My Sadie’s ears aren’t pierced either…)

    • Sarah February 3, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by, Molly! It’s so nice to know that we are not alone in these crazy experiences abroad. Let me know if you have any ideas for blog topics or if you’d like to share something about your own experience on the blog. All the best! ~Sarah

  5. kristal February 3, 2012 at 4:55 am #

    Hi Sarah, my husband and I are in the process trying to move our butts down to Nicaragua. My only concern is we have a 17 month old. Coming across this blog has made me feel more excited about the opportuny. Thanks!

    • Sarah February 3, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

      Hi Kristal! How exciting! The move is terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. There are a ton of Expats, with little kids, living here. If you end up in San Juan, you will be well-supported. Let me know if I can answer any questions for you.
      All the best! Sarah

  6. Sergio Palma February 10, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    Hi Sarah, I just finished reading your article, and I must say that this is the first time I’ve felt homesick since I left Nicaragua almost 6 months ago. Now, I’m trying to start a whole new life in Taiwan, and so far I had only missed my family and friends, but the very sensitive and honest way in which you have described your experiences and how you’ve get used to them (both the good and the bad, the depressing and the joyful ones) in which “will always and forever be” the country where I was born and raised has really touched me, for I was never able to feel so identified or satisfied with what was supposed to be my own culture and my own people. So, keep up with the good work on this blog, and also congratulations for your 4th Nicaversary. ¡Hasta luego!

    • Sarah February 10, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

      Dear Sergio – thanks for reading and for leaving such a thoughtful comment! We have certainly come to love this place, for all the good and challenging things 🙂 Sorry to have made you homesick, but I hope it gave you a little taste for what you left behind. I also hope that you settle into Taiwan. Those transitions always take time! Best of luck to you. ~Sarah

  7. Constance Solano February 18, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    Sarah,
    Thanks for sharing your anniversary post. That was so well written! We have been in Nicaragua for 3 months and I’m still in the first half of your description. It’s right on the button. I thought I wouldn’t go through such a shock but nothing prepares you for Nicaragua! The decision to stay or go changes by the hour!

    • Sarah February 22, 2012 at 2:25 am #

      Hi Constance,
      Glad you found the post! I still remember those early months – it is an incredibly difficult transition – adjusting to new places, cultures, people, everything. Man do I remember the anger, the sadness, the loneliness. But – it does get better. It really does. Try to focus on the small accomplishments – for me it was things like buying food at the market all by myself or having a basic conversation in Spanish. Those things might seem insignificant now, but they really do add up – and make you who you are and are becoming. Take it from someone who only planned to be here for a year and hasn’t left after 4 – it does get better. Hang in there! Good luck to you on your journey!
      All the best,
      ~Sarah

      • Constance Solano February 27, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

        Thank you! Most of overcoming the culture shock is changing ourselves but how did you overcome the mosquito issue? We’re still getting eaten alive and cannot live on OFF.
        Here is our diary of pictures and videos so far. When you see this, you’ll see why we feel like running home most of the time. 🙂 http://www.americanfamilyinnicaragua.blogspot.com
        I love your comment on walking in the shade and avoiding the shady. Do you have a trick in identifying the shady? We’ve been lied to so much that we don’t trust our own shadows.
        Thanks for the shoulder!
        Constance

  8. Rick davison February 24, 2012 at 4:14 am #

    Hi Sarah,

    I love your spirit. You clearly have the gift to inspire.

    My wife and I are considering a move to warmer climes. We live in Oregon and love it, but my arthritis would benefit from the soothing reality of higher temperatures.

    My wife wouldn’t mind escaping from the rain and chill of Portland, but is concerned central america would be stifling.

    What are the typical high temperatures in the various seasons? Is there any way to get relief from the heat of the summer?

    I notice that you rented a car to go to Managua. Do you get along without one in San Juan?

    Thanks for your enthusiasm and help.

    • Sarah February 24, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

      Hi Rick,
      Many thanks! We love it down here. There are basically two season here: rainy and dry. Rainy season runs from about May 15-November 15. For most of this season, the area is green, lush, and humid. I would say that April and May are probably the hottest months thanks to the building humidity as we approach the rainy season. October is the rainiest, as it mirrors the hurricane season out on the Caribbean coast. Though we miss the hurricanes, we do get the residual heavy rains. November and December are beautiful – my favorite months. Rains have typically slowed or stopped altogether, but the landscape is still green. Jan-March tend to be the windiest. Temps tend to fall in the mid to high 80’s, but will feel cooler during the winds and rains and warmer during the humid times.

      We do own a car, but you don’t need one to live in San Juan. Many people are without and rely on the buses, taxis, and the kindness of friends for rides. You can also rent a car when needed, for trips to Managua, etc.

      Best of luck to you on your possible move!
      Sarah

      • rockybutte February 24, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

        Thanks, Sarah. Keep up the good work.

  9. well February 25, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    Hi Sarah;
    i really love the way u describe things,n what uve been throu,before turning better for u guys,,am planning to go to live in managua with my dad..but just wondering if i can get a job overthere (catering,bartending,customer service,waitering..) i really dont knw if i can make my living with 1 job cuz as far as i knw,the salaries are too low down there..Happy Anniversary Sarah n keep up with ur sweet work on this blob:)

  10. Kristen February 26, 2012 at 6:58 pm #

    Hi Sarah!
    We actually met you and Lucy:) at Julie and John’s party on NFL play-off Sunday. Shawn and I had been here a total of 2 or so months, and are still here. I cannot believe we had not found your blog before as we researched the heck out of SJDS and Nicaragua…but am more so glad I have found it now. Frustrations and excitement fill every day and I’m so happy you have shared that all we have been going through is the norm. I guess we are still getting used to the usual pros and cons and I struggle lately more than less. PLUS, I love the ‘Mom Blog’ as we have talked about wanting to start a family. It is always nice to know others have been ‘in your shoes’ and your stories have been extremely helpful. I hope to cross paths again soon.
    Kristen

    • Sarah February 27, 2012 at 1:23 am #

      Hi Kristen!
      So nice to hear from you! I think that the tough days here are harder than your average tough day elsewhere due to so many unknowns. But, it also means that the good days are really great!
      Anytime you want to meet up for a drink or a beach walk, shoot me a message. You can find me on FB, too. Hang in there – it does get better. Cheers! ~Sarah

  11. Nektar March 2, 2012 at 9:35 am #

    HI there!! We have been expats for years in the Middle East, now living in New Zealand (where my hubby is from, I am from Canada), and about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. Going to visit Central/South America and Africa and then back to Dubai for another long haul. What do you suggest doing around Central America?? Would love to hear your thoughts!! I have 3 girls, 10, 5, and 2. Thanks!!!

  12. Trish March 5, 2012 at 6:19 am #

    I loved this post! My husband and I live in Northern New Mexico at 8100′ elevation and being that he is from Cape Town he hates the winters here….this was our adventure from Oakland, CA, and it’s been good for my art (we are painters) but we work all summer to get wood to stay warm all winter. 5 years here and now we’re ready for warmer, cheaper, happier, and community (we have friends recently moved to Costa Rica). I am happy to find truth of the adjustment. We’re thinking maybe Granada……

  13. Rachel April 12, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

    What a wonderful post! I’m planning on moving abroad to central or south america sometime in the next year to year and a half. Its great to be able to read about someone else’s experience. Makes it a little more real! Keep up the goog writing and I look forward to reading more!

  14. Kim April 20, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    Hi Sarah
    I just came across your blog…thanks for sharing. I am planning to leave the US by November and thought I would be moving to Costa Rica with my 2 daughters but was told it is not possible. I have already booked a flight to Liberia, Costa Rica in June to explore my options and am crushed now to hear not to bother. Can you tell if Nicaragua is an option for us?

    • Sarah April 25, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

      Hi Kim,
      Thanks for stopping by! This is a tough question to answer, especially not knowing you or your family. The best advice I can give is to visit first. Get a feel for the town, the people, the infrastructure (schools, med care, etc). Ask lots of questions and evaluate what you are looking for in a new place. It’s a huge change to move anywhere and living here can certainly be challenging at times. Also consider where in the country you’d want to live, San Juan, Granada, Managua, up north? I’m happy to meet up if you do visit and answer more questions for you in person if that’s helpful.

      All the best to you on your journey!
      ~Sarah

  15. Lindsey Mead (@lemead) April 2, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    Happy anniversary!! I love your awareness of all the blessings and learnings that have come with your adventure. xo

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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