There and Back Again: A Volunteer’s Tale

My first visit back to the states in 16 months went off without a hitch and I’m currently working on settling back into my life here in Nicaragua. It was two weeks filled with family, food, holidays, dates with Amanda, and fun. I spent about half of my time with family and half with Amanda and her family and got to do New year’s with both Amanda and my family. Unfortunately I didn’t get much opportunity to connect with many friends, partly because of my busy schedule and partly because I didn’t have a cell phone to call them up. That, and now most of my friends are scattered across the country and world. Highlights from my trip include: Cutting and decorating the Christmas tree, Christmas dinner, seeing my friend Sara, breakfast with mom, a cabin trip with Tyler and Jon, time at the same cabin with Amanda, New Year’s eve dinner and games with friends and family, and meeting Amanda’s coworkers and students in New Prague, MN.

The men cutting down a Christmas tree

Mom and I at the Christmas tree farm

Sara and I, friends through high school, college, and beyond. Too many memories to count...

Bros at the cabin

Expert firewoman at the cabin

Amazing New Year's dinner

Happy New Year!!!

Welcoming the new year together

I had prepared myself for significant culture shock after having been gone for so long, but I didn’t really have any trouble re-adjusting for the brief time I was home. I did feel a bit like I was on the outside looking in at this country of concrete, bricks, metal, and electricity, but it wasn’t alienating as much as it was fascinating and confusing. I constantly found myself wondering, “How did we get all the money and resources to build all of this?” Having lived in towns with scant electricity, unpaved roads, houses made from corrugated metal roofs and wooden boards, and cars signifying extreme wealth, it was overwhelming to see such development everywhere. What does it all mean? I think that I was searching for some kind of narrative or story that I could apply to make sense of the vast differences, but there is no easy explanation. The roots are complex and deep and probably have to do with a huge head-start in terms of accumulation of resources, development of a productive economy, political and economic stability, almost no large-scale destruction in the past 150 years, and huge reserves of natural resources to draw upon. Nicaragua, meanwhile, was a colony for over a hundred years, which limited its growth, and then suffered periodic wars for the next hundred years. Dictators robbed the people of resources that could have been invested in infrastructure and education, hurricanes and earthquakes took their toll on the small country, and the natural resources do not compare to those of the US. Add to that the foreign interventions, the crippling civil war in the 1970s and 80s, the more difficult climate, and a culture and society influenced by all these experiences and the differences make more sense.

In addition to culture shock on my way into the US, I was preparing myself for a difficult re-entry to Nicaragua. I knew apart from saying goodbye to loved ones again that I’d be leaving the comforts of a developed country like indoor toilets, hot water, huge amounts of delicious and varied food, highways, climate control, cars, movie theaters, couches, rugs, nice mattresses, I could go on. Yet when I arrived back in country I slipped easily into Spanish, welcomed the warm weather, and felt almost at home on the crowded ex-school buses that took me home. The word home is always a tricky one once we leave it for college, and in some ways home will always be where I grew up, but in another sense it means wherever you’ve become accustomed to living, wherever you feel most comfortable, and wherever you understand and fit in best. In that sense, Nicaragua feels much more like home than I expected, and it has been a very rewarding and pleasant re-entry. My friends threw me a welcome-home party and the masses of tourists and short-term volunteers here increase my sense of belonging to the community here. I am extremely lucky to feel so happy and comfortable visiting the US and then to have such a happy and comfortable re-entry into the country where I’ll spend my next 11 months. I miss home, but at least I feel at home here too.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Allie on January 10, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Love the photos! You all look great. It was so good to talk to you and Sara on the phone, and I’m glad you’ve made it back (home?) safely! Talk soon!


  2. Posted by Deb Ryan on January 10, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Ah Andrew, I so wish that we could have connected while you were home, but you DO know that I carry you in my heart everyday and long for your safety, comfort and good and exciting days. The pics of you and family bring tears to my eyes, as for so many years I have considered us all family and cannot believe you are here and gone without having hugged you even once. I am glad that you had a wonderful time and I know that you, more than anyone, are able to adapt and move on with an optimistic attitude after your brief visit home. They are so lucky to have you. We have been so lucky to have you near for so many years. As you kids travel to your destinations I sometimes long for the days you were little and thrilled with campfires, get togethers and lots of “snacks”! You are forever in my thoughts, with your great big smile! Deb


  3. Posted by Janet Boddy & Chuck Spargo on January 11, 2012 at 9:38 am

    This makes me feel good about where you are: “I miss home, but at least I feel at home here too.” You are successful at creating your home with those you are with.
    Love, Mom


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