They didn’t say anything for the first hour.
Then, our gate agent says: “Attention passengers of Continental Airlines Flight 1472 service to Houston. Please have your boarding documents ready and available when we begin the boarding process in fifteen minutes.”
And then, thirty minutes later she says: “I’m sorry for the delay. We will begin boarding the aircraft in twenty minutes.”
We gather around the ceiling-floor windows to watch three then five then eight mechanics and professionals in suits cluster around an open engine and scratch their heads. One whips out a cell phone and walks away.
And, then, an hour later: “Again, I’m sorry for the delay. Twenty more minutes and we will begin the boarding process.”
The man sitting across from us keeps talking. He’s talking to a poor girl sitting next to him—she’s traveling alone and he’s been talking non-stop since announcement number two, why doesn’t she just move—but due to his volume, he’s talking, by proxy, to all of us. He tells of an infamous flight in India where the gate agent told the waiting customers that the flight would depart in fifteen minutes again and again for six hours—so the mob attacked her.
I meander around the duty-free store until another woman makes an unrelated announcement in Spanish and a man in a leather blazer (airport or not, we’re still in Managua…) glares at me and drawls in a thick Texan accent, “Do you speak English?” Rather taken aback (not a question I get so much) I say, “Yes…”
“Did she just say our flight was cancelled? That damn flight is going to be cancelled.”
“No…I don’t think it’s cancelled. Just mechanic stuff. Delay. Nothing else.”
I arrive back to the gate to our familiar gate agent announcing that our flight would definitely be taking off today. Well, yes. Obviously. What an odd announcement. It’s 3:30 in the afternoon. Why wouldn’t it take off today?
I get myself another Subway sandwich (was it dinner time yet? When you get to the Managua airport at 4 a.m., somehow going to Subway three times by 4 p.m. seems perfectly normal. I got my same sandwich and realized I had in a day consumed 18 inches of Chipotle chicken fiesta.) And it was only when I overheard a man in a Continental uniform ordering 100 ham sandwiches behind me did I get an inkling that our flight was definitely not going to take off today.
And so, a long story short, I got to spend in a night in Barcelo Managua, a five star hotel in the wealthy, housing development outskirts of Managua, above the city, on Continental Airline’s dime and my time. We awoke bright and early (5) to try again, find a second flight cancelled, and a hop skip and a hissy fit later, on a mid-day American Airlines flight home via Miami. And the name of that chapter is: 20 hours in Augusto C. Sandino International Airport.
The flight-canceling ordeal was not inandof itself traumatic except for the extreme exhaustion I packed in my carry-on bag along with 3 weeks worth of dirty laundry and bed bugs. (Yes, I got bed bugs at our second hotel. And they stuck around in my clothes. Icky.) We arrived at the airport at 4 a.m. to send off the teens—without a hitch, I may add—and then commenced our wait, echoes of the week and the negative space left by all those people reverberating around us.
Generally speaking, the trip was a roaring success. A mere three weeks before, Jesse and I headed to the airport in our matching grey t-shirts and nervously awaited for a grey t-shirted mob to emerge from customs. We held our group sign and waited. It was peculiar to be on the other side of the glass—welcoming rather than arriving, as I had almost a year before, nervous and alert, searching and alone. It brought me back to the beginning: to when I burst forth from customs at midnight, and nearly cried when I saw a man holding a sign with my name on it.
But, anyway: no time for nostalgia. The Nicaraguan sky thundered and lightening flashed. Twenty-one teenagers stumbled through the sliding glass doors with ungodly amounts of luggage; the sky exploded with rain, torrents of Nicaraguan rain. Through the warm downpour (welcome to the tropics) we shuttled them on to our bus and inched through the water to Granada, got all 21 students in the door with their respective kilos of luggage and: the power went out (darkness and no go on the mandatory phone calls home tonight, kiddos). The adventure began.
We spent two very exhausting days in Hostel Oasis in Granada, orienting the kids to each other, to us, and to the great country of Nicaragua. I learned 21 names in a day and then, shockingly enough, had to use them, had to call them up within a moment of seeing a face, a task exhausting enough without having to exert any sort of influence over these names and faces.
The three other leaders were fantastic and the kids were, for the most part, a lovely and diverse group. We spent a week in a town outside Esteli, a town in cool and mountainous northern Nicaragua, and then headed to la Isla de Ometepe, an island in great Lake Nicaragua, directly east of Rivas. I’d been to both destinations before, in the epoch of ‘backpacker Megan’, traveling with girlfriends and being allowed to drink beer, so it certainly was interesting to roll up with so much and many in tow.
It was exhausting work—up at 6 a.m. every morning to knock on doors with a jolly ‘good mooooorning’ until bedtime at 10 p.m. with a less than jolly ‘lights out, guys. Goodniggggght. No seriously. Goodnight.’ I’ve never fallen asleep so fast or slept so hard—consistently, night after night, to wake up in the morning and start it all over again.
I had a great time with the 14-17 year-olds. I’m thrilled that I myself am no longer in high school—my god, the awkward agony—but I really gained an appreciation for the things they say and do. They’re totally un-edited and blunt in some ways (‘No! Go away! screamed one tall blond to a leering man, a reaction I never had the audacity to preform), and touchingly honest in others (‘they sure use everything they have,’ said one student without a touch of irony, upon seeing the hodge-podge shack that served as the cafeteria at our first school). They’re also surprisingly resilient little suckers, taking the horrible food situation at our first residency in stride with all sorts of positivity. (Whilst I, in my ripe age, almost threw a hissy fit when after an eight hour day I was served, again, a plate of white rice, white bread, and pasta with oil.)
I wouldn’t say I left Nicaragua on a bad note, but I was pretty thrilled to be leaving when I finally did leave. It was nice to be reminded, through the fresh eyes of a few well-traveled teenagers just how beautiful a country it is, and how amazing its people are. I got to notice all the things about Nicaragua I sort of just stopped noticing, the colors and air and sounds and language. To be consistent with the diction of my traveling comrades, I was reminded that Nicaragua is ‘like, the best country ever.’
It’s interesting how you assume rolls given the circumstances you’re thrown into. For three weeks, I was ‘leader Megan’: I was the adult, the authority, answering questions (and my oh my do teenagers ask a lot of questions) and giving directions and advice and medicine. I was, for lack of a better word, an adult. Now, I’m back at home, living again in the parents’ house, and although they aren’t actually even here, I’m just a little less adult, a little more the Megan I’ve always been. I lost the appendage of 21 teenagers, so I’m relishing independence and alone time, silence and structure-less days, but… it’s a little eerie, coming back to the real world of different problems and solutions and ways of going about all that. The real world of emails and health insurance and careers, where the things I have to do seem to be more nebulous than those of a service project in Nicaragua. (Plywood, screws, sandpaper, blue paint, 43 desks without seats or backs + 10 students who need something to do…ready, organize. Or, student A with diarrhea, student B with a rash…fix me, Megan! …Rifle through med kit, Imodium and Cortisone. Concrete stuff, a million little decisions in an afternoon.)
So, besides losing that giant appendage of 21 teenagers, nothing’s really changed… summer in LA tools along as normal.