“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 traveled. I began to write. I 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.