river day: a field trip

Where’s the ball? my students scream to me (in Spanish, oh well.)

Oh no! Where’d it go? I respond, mock shock and concern.

The current took it down the river, says Leana with a giggle, thinking that I couldn’t see that she was actually sitting on the ball, floating with it between her legs. 

I took off down the river, in search of the ball, while the five girls laughed behind me.

Tuesday was river day. My morning English class and I took a field trip to the river down the road. It was splendid and honestly the most rewarding three hours I’ve had in Nicaragua. Just plain fun. At ten en punto, we congregated at Brio and began our trek down the hill and along the road to the quebrada about a mile away. Trying to practice English en route sounded like this… Look! A butterfly. But. Er. Fly. Butterfly. Look! A frog. Look! A puddle. Pud. Dull. Mud. Lot’s of mud. Look! A rock! Rocccck.

The river is knee high in most places, so I wasn’t sure how the whole ‘swimming in the river’ thing would go. All doubts disappeared when we arrived and the kids jumped in with a big ballyhoo and scream. A soaring tree with great giant roots formed a little shady pond upstream of the road, and there we swam for close to three hours. I initially surveyed the water from dry land a bit skeptically—who knew what lie beneath the muddy surface? But, as any good teacher does, I finally gave in when my students started chanting my name. Clambering up on the roots, I counted to three, prayed for no snakes, and jumped (or plopped) into the pond. Chilly, muddy, dirty, and just lovely.

After a quick swim, we got out and, nestled in the roots of the regal tree, had a picnic. 

Leana and Martha whipped out their little plastic purses full of crackers and soda, and Nancy, the oldest at fifteen, opened her plastic bag to reveal a wonderful lunch of rice, fried plantains, and lobster. Now, I know how much lobster costs around here. I tell ya, when Nancy handed me a plate of lobster (on a glass plate, brought just for me) and Leana offered me some of her coke, my heart just about melted.

After lunch, we had jumping contests from the roots (mine were a bit more like tumbles rather than jumps given that the pond didn’t exceed four feet) and tossed the ball around. We played Simon says, river style: Simon says swim. Simon says splash. Simon says dive. Their level of excitement was beyond any previous moment, and it was contagious. I splashed and played and sang ‘little green frog’ with ‘em, screamed accordingly when Martha dove and grabbed my feet, pretending to be a crab.

I will admit, I don’t know what exactly goes into this river, so swimming (and, well, playing a hold-your-breath contest) in its murky water for three hours was not perhaps the healthiest choice. However, I tried to put it out of my mind and enjoy myself. After all—this was it. After everything, after all the mishaps and mistakes, I came down here, started teaching English classes; now I was standing on an ancient tree root, in a rainforest, about to jump into a cool river pond full of my students, in a small town by the beach, in Nicaragua. So, meh. Oh well if my skin felt itchy and tight for two days afterwards. (And if I felt a little nauseous that night. Whatever.)

The river is right off the road, so cars and bikes passed by frequently, drivers gaping at the spectacle. However, these stares were different. For the first time, I didn’t so much feel like a gringa, a strange outsider who must be checked out top to bottom. These were my students, this was our fieldtrip, and—perhaps I’m wrong—I felt like I belonged to something.

(Later that afternoon, I went for a run and said hi to some older students and their families. Those stares were of the strange outsider sort, and one of my students even ignored me, so who knows how much progress I’ve really made.)

Jaime just stopped by. When are you leaving Gigante, chica? I don’t know. I was going to leave tomorrow. But clearly I’m not doing that. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m in a puddle of indecisiveness, and me no like it. I’ve spent my week waiting on my various options to call me back or email me back. It’s been an interesting lesson in patience, in the ability to enjoy myself rather than pacing up and down the stairs and checking my email thousands of times.

Any local I talk to, including Juan, says that I’d be crazy to stay through October. I won’t have classes because the infrastructure falls apart in the rain. September has proved much more mild in the rain department than I initially thought, so who knows what the case really is. But, my decisions are made much more difficult by these breakthroughs with my students, such as on river day. Some days, those days when no one shows up or when they do and seem to have backtracked in English land, I’m easily frustrated and say things like “how can you not know how to say cuatro?” which is really not a good thing to say in my encouraging English teacher role. 

But, there are moments, few and far between, when I believe I’ve really started something here. River day, for example. Handing me a plate of lobster. When I ask what you want to eat and I hear “I want fish” rather than “I’m fine, thank you.” It’s a rare occasion, at least in my life, that one person alone can do something tangible. Why would I leave that behind? For all the frustrations of teaching and living here, in the middle of nowhere, there certainly are things that would keep me here. If nothing else, the follow through, of kids counting on English class and it departing with my departure.

I miss cities. I really do. I miss options, restaurants, cafes. Variety. The anonymity of walking a city street. Anonymity at all. Chocolate bars. I want to see more, cover ground (what ground and why, I don’t know).

On the other hand, there is a wonderful familiarity here. On Wednesday, I spontaneously grabbed the green learners board and went surfing for the first time in a month. And I managed—get this—to place both feet on the board and stand-up-ish for a whole second. Seriously. Alone on my beach. Horray. I stop, lay on the beach, in warm sand, clear blue sky and a toy plane flies overhead, far away from my earth bound self, and I’m here.

I guess that what it comes down to. Being where you are.




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