Lessons From Gallo Pinto and Coffee Ice Cream

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As we stepped out of the airport, tiny droplets of water clung to our skin, honking cars zoomed by us, and street vendors tempted our taste buds with intricately fresh cut mangoes and fried plantains. We boarded the bus and watched the foreign bustling streets buzz around us. Everyone gasped in surprise at the culture shock; they had never seen such dirty conditions, felt such humid weather, and witnessed such poverty. Ironic, since the moment I stepped out into the damp air, I was impressed with the nation. Wow, I thought, it just looks like a cleaner, less populated India.

The rest of my time in Nicaragua was filled with countless thoughts of oh, I’ve seen this before, and this isn’t new and it’s not a big deal. In many ways, I was disappointed with the results of my trip. I thought I’d be exposed to a whole new world of people and culture.

Turns out, I just saw the easy version of the conditions I’ve experienced every three years in India when I visit. I’ve taken cold bucket showers, seen miles of slums, turned away countless children begging for food and money, heard incessant honking from the wild traffic raging on the streets, and smelled the trash spilled all over the city. The truth is, I was used to such an extraordinarily different lifestyle in a third-world country; and even then, India’s living standards were still significantly lower than the one I lived in for three weeks this past summer with a group of students from around the U.S.

As we spent one day living on a dollar, worked in the local market, accomplished our community service projects, and more, I never felt the “aha” moment which I expected out of my trip. As each day passed, I felt the same. Disappointed. Frustrated. Ashamed.

I dreaded eating the gallo pinto, or rice and beans, for three meals of the day. I loathed that the only spices that existed there were salt and ketchup (which by the way, was torture to my Indian palate). In fact, the only thing I looked forward to was eating coffee ice cream in the shop around the corner!

I was still unhappy with myself because I felt like I didn’t learn anything new, which made me feel selfish and incomparable to my peers who had eye-opening experiences.

On the last day, however, it finally dawned on me that while everyone else in my group went to Nicaragua to discover more about the outside world, I went there to discover something about myself.

I learned that my life has always been focused on the future, and although I strive to fulfill all my goals, my efforts sometimes lose their luster in the midst of trying to get everything done. I have spent so much time zooming past everything and not enough time looking at what was right in front of me.

My problem is, I don’t wait. I want to do as much as possible without wasting as much time as possible, because I love to accomplish and experience as much as I can. However, Nicaragua highlighted that slowing down moments, taking in every last bit of detail, and savoring the experience can offer me more perspective, and a moment to catch my breath, rather than just zooming through life.

So in the midst of drudgingly eating rice and beans every day, excitedly going out for my mouth-watering coffee ice cream in the shop around the corner, sliding down a daunting volcano, working hands-on to repair a deserving child shelter, exploring lush forests and breathtaking mangrove reserves, and tutoring English to passionate students, I had gained a sense of stillness that life in the states had never graced me with. It was a stillness that opened my eyes to the idea of waiting. I learned that waiting is not necessarily bad, but is peaceful, and is a place to be observant and to imbibe knowledge around me.

Nicaragua, thank you for teaching me that savoring life and slowing down makes me happier and healthier. Thank you for pointing out that waiting and eating my gallo pinto will always be worth it no matter how hard it may be to enjoy the plain flavors of its content, as I know that waiting just around the corner will always be my delicious coffee ice cream.

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