Late Tuesday night, after teaching my English Level 1 class, I packed my things and set out in our microbus to Chepita’s house, nestled near the top of one of the hills in the semi-rural community of Cedro Galán. When I showed up through the driving rain, typical of the Nicaraguan rainy season, I was welcomed by the whole family. Mamita Chepita, Lisseth, Omar, Genesis and Diego were all standing by the entrance of their property, ready for the homestay week to begin. The six days I spent living with Mamita Chepita were my most enjoyable days thus far in Nicaragua.
From the moment I arrived, I could tell the week would be a blast. Within 15 minutes of being there, Diego had already planned our weekly activities and I had already gotten another taste of Chepita’s fantastic cuisine. Although there are so many different activities and intricacies of the week that I could write about, the two that I will focus on are the relationships I made with Diego and Genesis and the homemade Nicaraguan cuisine.
Familia. Diego, the 10 year-old grandson of Chepita and the son of Lisseth and Omar, was the person I spent the most amount of my time with. Throughout the week, we played X-Box and Wii, football and baseball, watched movies, played monopoly and hangman. We did it all. The video games were unexpected. I did not have a great idea of what to expect for the week, but I certainly didn’t anticipate playing "Need For Speed" and Wii Sports every night. Looking back on it, I realize how incredible this relatively simple experience was. We were sitting on the couch, playing a video game in English, having a conversation in Spanish about school and sports. In many ways, that reminded me of my relationship with my brother and reinforced how close I became to Diego in a relatively short period of time.
Genesis, Diego’s older sister, was slightly more reserved at the beginning of the week. However, by the end of the week, she opened up significantly and I was able to connect with her much more. Every weeknight, she would watch her favorite TV show, La Sultana, at 8:00 PM. Even though this was her TV show, the whole family would gather around the television set to watch with her. I really enjoyed that. Many times in the United States, I would watch TV shows alone and when other members of my family would watch a TV show, the rest of us would all disperse and do our own things. There was something really fun and unique about the whole family being invested in a TV show together, where they would discuss all the details during every commercial break.
My relationship with the two children was punctuated on the weekend with a series of fun activities. One of my favorite moments was teaching all of the children in the surrounding houses, including Diego and Genesis (and their cousins), how to play American football. My other favorite activity occurred Saturday morning, when I was taught how to do a balloon-twisting activity. The two kinds of balloon objects we twisted were roses and monkeys, although mine looked more like grass and a donkey.
Comida. Mamita Chepita and Lisseth, her daughter, are incredible cooks. Not only was every meal rich in flavor, each was so unique and different from the others. By far my favorite Nicaraguan food that I tried throughout the week was the dessert we had on our last night. The dessert is called Buñuelos and it is fried cheese served with honey. Although it might sound unappetizing, it was incredible and I look forward to the next time I visit their house (they already promised me they would make it again during my next visit).
The reality of many homestay scenarios is that they are unpredictable and can sometimes feel forced. Although I can truly say it was an unpredictable experience, it never felt forced, nor did I ever feel uncomfortable around them. They genuinely embraced the opportunity to welcome another person into their family and show them the hospitable and loving attitude that Nicaraguans are all about. For this, I am truly grateful and appreciative of the homestay experience that they provided me. Not only did I have a family for those six days in September, I formed a relationship that will last the rest of my time here, and hopefully, beyond.