I spent three weeks in León, Nicaragua this summer, and almost every day, Nicaragua surprised me. My experience in León couldn’t have been more different than my life in the United States, and it showed me life as I’d never seen it before.
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Nicaragua is a country where the natural world feels like it’s pushing right up against the human world, where a five minute drive can take you from an area surrounded by buildings and people to one surrounded by plants and animals. It’s a physically beautiful country of jungles, beaches, mountains, and volcanoes, the likes of which I’d never even imagined.
León is a city ringed by those aforementioned volcanoes, many of which are quite active. The volcanoes cast a shadow over the city both physically and culturally. They leave footprints in almost every aspect of León culture, from folktales to art to the people themselves.
I stayed in a hostel named Hostal León Imperial two blocks from the León town center. I lived with a contingent of Americans as part of an service organization called Global Glimpse, and we ate most of our meals at the Déjà Vu comedor down the street. Almost every meal was served with rice and beans, proving the name to be very fitting.
The natural beauty of Nicaragua surprised me, but it didn’t impact me as much as my experience with the people of Nicaragua did. While there, I took part in a holiday called La Purìsima on August 14th, which gave me a great look into how Nicaraguans celebrate. It was possibly the most festive event I’ve ever experienced. It felt like a city-wide party.
Not every experience was a fiesta. I, along with my group, visited schools and communities, and it was jarring to see just how different Nicaragua is from the United States. We spent a day working alongside villagers in a community where each person lives on an average of $1 a day, and I was stunned by how the people in that community lived. Many houses were made up of slabs of corrugated metal and covered with wooden roofs, with no running water or electricity. Television was a rare luxury, and only made possible through illegal means.
The people in this village were living at a standard of life that was lower than I had previously seen or considered, but they seemed so happy. I worked with one particular family, and every family member was always smiling. The dad joked with me – in Spanish – about how incapable his son was, and the elementary school-aged kids played tag and jumped rope with me. No one in the family thought they were missing out on something by being poor, and that impressed me. Everyone was just as happy with their $1 a day lives as I was with my regular life of iPhones, internet and indoor plumbing.
The same was true almost everywhere I went in León. If someone I met was poor or unfortunate, they certainly didn’t show it. I’d always taken it for granted that people less fortunate than myself would likely be unhappy with their lot in life. My trip proved that to be a false assumption. My mom always tells me that “life is what you make it”, and nowhere have I found stronger proof of that than in Nicaragua. I traveled to Nicaragua expecting to see a new side of the world, but I never thought I’d see a new side of humanity.
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