As we finally come out of a very long winter here in New York City, it’s hard to believe that it was Granada I called home in the months before my move here. The whole experience seems worlds away from the fast-paced, brightly-lit life that surrounds me now. And yet, I’m finding myself missing Nicaragua in some very peculiar ways.
Here are five unlikely longings for my old NicaLife:
My house in Granada, along with 95% of the places I stayed when I traveled through the country, had no hot water. I often cursed this fact of life as I dunked my head under the freezing faucet day after day in an attempt to get my body acclimated to the chilly water as quickly as possible.
And yet, all the hot water in the world couldn’t warm me up during this especially long northeastern winter. Oh how I longed for the climate that made cold showers bearable as I shivered my way into a towel after even the toastiest of bathtimes. Now still, with spring temperatures hovering in the 50s this week, I’d be more than happy to trade five minutes in a chilly shower for one day in the Central American heat.
Traveling via chicken bus was crowded, dirty, loud, and definitely not the safest experience I had in Nicaragua. But looking back, I’m amazed at the efficiency of it all. Walking up to the bus station, it was never difficult to find the right vehicle – just listen to the loud city names being called by bus operators standing near the doors. And if you’re still confused, it’s likely an overzealous bus driver will take you by the hand to the bus you need to get on anyway. Can’t make it to a station or marked stop? Just hang out on the side of the road and wave at a bus painted colorfully with the name of your destination. They’ll be happy to stop (or at the very least slow down) so you can hop aboard and pay your very reasonable fair.
Traveling in NYC, it turns out, is also crowded, dirty, loud, and not the safest experience I’ve had in the States. The trains are constantly being rerouted or cancelled due to ongoing construction work. Last weekend it took me 2 hours to travel less than three miles via subway thanks to service changes. There never seems to be enough trains when I’m traveling, the subways are always crowded, and the MTA employees are rarely helpful. Sure, no one tries to charge me more because of my accent or skin color, but $2.75 a ride is not cheap – especially compared to how far that would take me in Nicaragua. Plus, the percentage of crazies on NYC subways is really very impressive. And if you’re an HSP like me, that homeless man yelling profanities loudly on the other side of the car is just that much more uncomfortable.
In my house in Granada, it was really only my bedroom and one living-room type area that had any doors, and even those rooms weren’t entirely sealed. Life in Granada homes seemed to happen in chairs set out on the street or around interior courtyards, and most houses are largely open-air. This means that sometimes, it rains in your kitchen. It also means you are sharing your home with whatever critters invited themselves in via the open sky. Lighting mosquito coil after mosquito coil, this can get old.
But these days, I’m really appreciating how refreshing it actually is to live at the whim of your environment. Cooped up in this concrete jungle, I’m just as subject to the loud noises of my neighbors and passing traffic as I was in my open-air house in Granada – except I don’t get to hear the trees rustling with the wind, or smell the rain, or feel the sun on my skin without taking an elevator. In retrospect, some of the things that felt most uncomfortable in the moment were actually a very special part of the experience of living in the tropics.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking: There is no way she’s going to tell me she misses the multitude of biting insects. And you’re right. I don’t. Not even a little bit. While my skin has transformed from its bumpy, pink, and welted Nicaraguan state to a smoother and overall much more pleasant shape, I still wear many scars from those countless, varied bites.
Still, there was something comforting about sleeping in a bed draped with netting. I shared a lot of personal space in Nicaragua, but the room inside my mosquito net was all mine. Living in student housing in a very crowded city, I don’t have a solid feeling of ‘mine’ these days. Sure the circumstances of functional mosquito netting aren’t the most ideal, but the feeling of safety found underneath is a teeny bit romantic, don’t you think?
Sure, walking almost an hour through busy and dirty streets in the wet Nicaraguan heat to get to and from work is not the most pleasant, but in retrospect, there were a lot of benefits to those long commutes. For one, those of us concerned with our figures didn’t have to worry about hitting the gym after work or being particularly picky about what we ate thanks to the sheer amount of calories burned on those required marches. These days it seems I’m always battling my belly – exercise is no longer built into my day and finding time for it as a grad student is not always easy.
Plus, those commutes were rarely undertaken alone. I formed some of my most treasured friendships on those walks to and from school. It was a time to catch up on the previous evening’s happenings, vent about problems in and out of school, and get to know each other in a very authentic, necessary way. While I won’t complain about the convenience of living just across the street from the library these days, I do find a lack of natural opportunities to bond with my classmates sometimes disheartening. I’ve spent about the same amount of time in NYC now as I did in Granada, but my friendships here are not nearly as strong.
I know what they say about the grass being greener on the other side is true. If you would have told me then that these were things I’d be missing after I left Nicaragua, I probably would have been highly skeptical. But a life on the move tends to put things well in perspective. The real challenge is appreciating and enjoying what you have now, because you never know what circumstances will arise in your future. As I’ve learned many times, today’s discomfort could be tomorrow’s luxury.
So enjoy it all while you can.