I never thought it was physically possible to eat rice and beans at every meal for two weeks and not get sick of them, let alone enjoy them. I’ve been back in the United States for two months since my trip to Nicaragua. I have the ability to open my refrigerator and decide what I want to eat. I have choices, and the possibilities are endless, but I would give anything to be back at the community center in Las Conchitas, a small village in Masaya, Nicaragua, eating rice and beans.
What made this simple, traditional Nicaraguan dish so delicious? For starters, it was prepared by a little old woman who’d been working for Bridges to Community (http://www.bridgestocommunity.org/) for at least 10 years. She cooked rice and beans every day for the volunteers, like myself, who came to help build houses. This may be a classic case of ‘practice makes perfect’, but there is also a possibility that the rice and beans got their flavor from a secret ingredient. I’m convinced the secret ingredient was the dedication and time she put into making it.
I’ve discovered that just like a chameleon, food matches its surroundings. In a community center in Nicaragua, a typical meal became a flavorful feast. The rice and beans reflected the personalities of everyone eating in the community center and all of our new experiences. For example, on the days when my friends and I played games with the feisty, hot tempered, five year old boy named Julio Cesar, the rice and beans were spicy. The day we went to see teams from all of the villages in Masaya compete in a soccer tournament, the food had a nice kick to it. At the dedication ceremony for the house we built, the family said that God himself had sent us to Nicaragua to make their dream came true. Behold, that night at dinner, someone exclaimed “these rice and beans are heavenly”.
Then there was our last night in Nicaragua. I tried to hold back my tears, as I came to the realization between mouthfuls of beans (which tasted oddly salty), that this would be my last time eating this food, with the people who started out as group guides and ended as friends. As I sat there looking at my beans and rice, I was reminded of a saying I’d seen written on the outside of a building. The saying said something along the lines of “ If Nicaragua is my body, then Masaya is my heart.” After this experience, I feel that this is true. But I also feel that Masaya is my stomach.
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