After a full day of orientation, we left Managua this morning and headed for the Department of Carazo, where we will spend the first six weeks of the semester studying Spanish and learning about Nicaragua’s history, culture, arts, literature and natural resources. We arrived mid-morning in Jinotepe, a city of about 29,500 (similar to Goshen’s population, in fact) and the capital of Carazo, where the Goshen unit house is located and some of the students’ host families live as well. On the way we passed through Diriamba and Dolores, nearby municipalities in which other students will be living with host families. Jinotepe, Dolores, and Diriamba all lie within a 7-kilometer span along the Panamerican Highway, a vast system of connecting routes that run from northern Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina.
After unloading luggage and refilling water bottles, we spent some time reviewing logistics, schedule, expectations, and host family assignments for the next six weeks. Then it was time for lunch, and we enjoyed the first of many scrumptious meals prepared by Conny, a wonderful cook and caretaker who has assisted the Nicaragua SST groups since 2010. Once again we refilled water bottles (do you hear a theme emerging?), and then we divided into three groups for a self-guided walking tour of Jinotepe that included places where we will be spending a lot of time this first six weeks: CEPAD (Council of Protestant Churches of Nicaragua), where we will have Spanish classes most mornings; UCN (Universidad Central de Nicaragua), where afternoon lectures will be held; the Parque Central, a park with a town-square type feel that sits in the middle of just about every town and city in Nicaragua (and is a good place to get one’s bearings and directional orientation if necessary); and the mercado, a sprawling indoor-outdoor marketplace where one can find everything from cheese to shoes, fresh fruit to hardware. We also made sure to pass by what I’ve come to call “cambista corner,” an area right outside the mercado where official cambistas (money changers) will exchange our U.S. dollars for córdobas, the currency of Nicaragua.
All three groups then met up at one of the bus stops in town and boarded two microbuses (public transportation vans) to go to Diriamba, so that students who live in Dolores and Diriamba could get a preview of their daily “commute,” and also so that everyone in the group would get a feel for how they are likely to be traveling at one time or another during their time in Nicaragua. We returned to the leaders’ home mid-afternoon, and the students had an hour or so to rest up or go back into town in smaller groups to change money, shop, find a cyber cafe, etc., and then the host families started arriving to pick up their “new” daughters and sons.
Program Coordinator Dalena and I were so proud of these 22 students as they greeted their host families with enthusiastic smiles, Spanish salutations, and proper Nicaraguan forms of address. It was clear that the host families are looking forward to getting to know the students and are eager to make them feel at home. This helped quell the inevitable nervousness that most students feel at the prospect of spending a whole weekend in the home of people you just met and who speak a language you are still learning. We are sure that it won’t take long for bonds to form, and we look forward to hearing all about their weekends come Monday!