This post is way overdue considering that I’ve been back from Nicaragua for approximately 2.5 weeks. It’s amazing how busy a person can be while not working and not going to school. And quite frankly, I’ve been enjoying my “break”, if you can call it that, with Orientation, kids, Christmas prep and all of the processing that comes along with a major life event. I’m referring to my trip to Nicaragua, but I suppose I could also be referring to the fact that, as of this weekend, my kids have a brand new step family. Not that my world changes much from that, but my kids’ world does, and thus, we are processing.
So, Nicaragua. Wow. I’m not really sure where to begin. I guess I’ll start at the beginning. After spending a few days in Kirksville for Thanksgiving, and dealing with some anxiety about being away from my kids for so long, Brian drove me to the airport on Saturday evening to catch my first flight to Houston. Despite the prediction that Lambert had the potential to be chaos on the holiday weekend, it was completely desolate. After checking my bag, going through security and getting a snack, I was at the gate with my book open in about 20 minutes. I had lots of time to chill. And fortunately, any of the anxiety I had been having melted away in the time I sat waiting to board.
As we lined up to get on the plane, I found the pair I was traveling with. Dave and I were wearing matching Living Water shirts, so we were easy to locate, and Dave’s daughter Rebecca was with him. The flight to Houston was uneventful. We landed, got our bags, caught a cab to the hotel where we checked in for the night around 11pm and planned on the 6am shuttle to the airport. Not much time there.
At 5:59am, my phone rang as I was shoving my toothbrush into my backpack and slinging it over my shoulder. I was about to miss the shuttle. Oh great, I had already been labeled the late girl. Or as I prefer to be known, the girl who comes flying in just in the nick of time. I don’t much care for any time of day that comes before 6am, so I cut it close. But we got back to the airport, grabbed bagels and coffee and made our way to the gate where we found several other matching shirts. Our trio doubled when we met our 3 Canadian friends, Eric and Jean from Toronto and 15 year old LJ from Saskatchewan. Then Lauren and Anthony joined us from Houston, separately. We would meet Enrique from El Salvador when we landed in Managua. Or group had formed from mostly a bunch of random strangers from around the world. And it couldn’t have been more perfect.
A few hours later we were in Central America. We got our bags, went through Customs and eventually met up with Enrique, Pancho and Chico (both are named Francisco so they go by nicknames to avoid confusion). Pancho and Chico were our lead drillers for the week and were in charge of getting us to wherever we needed to be. Our group chatted as we sat around a table full of fried chicken before heading to the compound where we would stay for the week. When our bellies were full, we loaded the suitcases into the team van and drove about an hour to Rivas, our temporary home.
I followed the girls into our room and we got settled. Then we had a meeting with Lisette, the Hygiene team leader.
A little background info, when I signed up for this trip, I had the option of being a member of the drill team or the hygiene team. My gut instinct is to always sign up for the hard job, give me manual labor. Weirdly, I don’t have any idea which team I asked to be placed on. I likely checked the box that said, put me where you need me. But I of course planned to get down and dirty in the mud and a hard hat. However, as the trip edged closer, I started receiving emails for the Hygiene team. Uh, so I guess I’m doing that?
Anyway, I went to the meeting with Lisette and she said we could do drilling or hygiene, it was entirely our choice. What exactly does the hygiene team do? Well, they teach lessons to the women and children in the community about how to keep the water clean, how to avoid spreading germs, oral hygiene and nutrition. They do skits, crafts and play with the kids.
I love kids, but somebody hand me a drill already. Right? Wrong.
I don’t know if ya’ll know this about me, but I sometimes have a little bit of a chip on my shoulder about proving how strong I am. And by a little bit, I mean a really giant chip on my shoulder. Well, as I embarked on a week in Nicaragua, I was about to learn about a new kind of strength. I somewhat begrudgingly (only inside my own head because that’s where the battle was going on) agreed to start with the hygiene team on Monday and take things one day at a time. I really wanted to use my work gloves that my kids had written messages on for me.
After meeting with Lisette, and with Jorge, our overseer for the week, we all got changed into more appropriate clothes for 85 degrees and went on a little tour of the city. We were situated very near Lake Nicaragua, which is absolutely gorgeous. The lake was surrounded by mountains, there were kids swimming at the beach and wild horses roaming everywhere. We were informed that one of our options for our “free day” on Friday was taking a boat to several of the islands on the lake. Awesome, sign me up!
We drove back to town, stopped into a church in the city center and wandered a little bit. Then we headed back to the “house” for dinner. Every meal we ate all week long was delicious, lots of rice and beans, fried plantains, fresh pineapple and watermelon. I may or may not be drooling just thinking about it…
On Monday morning we were up early. Devotional time on the patio started at 6:30am, followed by breakfast at 7 and leave for the work site by 8. We would stop to gas up the van and get supplies on the way and hopefully be ready to start work by 9ish. “ish” is key in keeping time in Central America. They are very, um, flexible on time. It was a welcome change from the states.
When we arrived in Nandaime the first day, we took a little walk around the community to meet some of the people we would be building the well for. It was about 45 minutes from where we were staying and was more rural. Many of the neighbors had considerable livestock, chickens, pigs and it wasn’t uncommon to see cows using the main thoroughfare.
After our walk, the drill team got right to work and I joined forces with Lisette and Lauren to prepare for our first lesson. In the mornings we would teach the women and the younger children who weren’t in school yet. Then we would all break for a picnic lunch. After lunch we would teach the same lesson to the school age children while the drill team would get back to it.
While I fully intended to participate in the actual drilling at some point, as the week wore on, I couldn’t fathom giving up my role with the hygiene team. Typically, Lauren would talk them through the lesson, Lisette would translate, and I would do my best to illustrate the points through acting out a skit or being the voice of our puppet, Francisco (yes, another one). Even with minimal Spanish, I was able to make the audience laugh.
On the first afternoon, the very first little girl that I walked over to and said, “Como se llama?” gave an answer that made me both excited and brought a tear to my eye at the same time. “Alison” she said. I stumbled through my Spanish to tell her that was my daughters name too. I showed her a picture of my kiddos. Alison and I were bonded immediately. She was my little piece of home, away from home. My heart knew it was in the right place.
Everyday Alison would wave excitedly when our eyes would meet, I would beam and wave back. She was always full of hugs, just as so many others were. After the lesson, we would do crafts and Lisette would make balloon animals, or we would paint their faces. They always left smiling. So did we. We also left exhausted. We would nap in the van on the way back. And our no hot water showers were actually very refreshing after a sweaty day in the heat and dust. One night we went out for ice cream and a walk in town, another night we went out for a fantastic steak dinner at a nice restaurant. We all slept well at night, even if I forgot to plug in the AC one night, and despite my bed that creaked if I got too close to the right edge.
We had a few complications with the drilling project through the week, and we questioned whether or not we would complete it. On Thursday we went to the community and it looked like we were all set to finish up and do the well dedication that afternoon. However, the pumping process that day took longer than it should have. That afternoon, Pancho posed a scenario for us. We wouldn’t finish on Thursday, so we could come back on Friday, our “free day” and finish, or we could go do our end of the week activity and then Pancho and Chico would come back and finish the well without us on Monday.
No one gave it a second thought. It was immediately unanimous. We were coming back on Friday. There was no doubt about it. We all wanted to finish what we had gone there to do.
So Friday morning looked much like every other day. But since the hygiene team had no more lessons planned and we were all just waiting to put the pump together, we played. Anthony and LJ threw the football and kicked the soccer ball with the kids. Enrique and Lisette made balloon animals and hats and swords and hearts and anything you can think of. We played with bubbles and just hung out. And then, it happened. Pancho filled a bucket with water and started chasing the kids. And before we knew it everyone was filling anything they could find and dumping water on everyone. What better way to celebrate fresh water, than with a huge gigantic water fight?! I was on my way to put my phone, and Rebecca’s phone in the van, for safe keeping when I saw Pancho headed my way. I held the phone over my head so he would see it, and he dumped the water right into my ear. I laughed, since the phones had been spared. And then the phones went away. And I lived in the moment. And I laughed. And laughed. I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed so hard I had actual tears at one point. It was the best water fight I have ever participated in. The kids were using the hard hats, filling them with water, and getting anyone and everyone. It was amazing. It was the best possible way to spend our free day.
Eventually it calmed down and the kids went home to get cleaned up. We put the pump together and we had a working well.
I had asked for a fresh coconut earlier in the week and at lunch I was presented with my very own coconut with a straw. One of the families gave us a watermelon, so we sat around eating and laughing and LJ throwing rinds at the Rooster.
The community members started congregating; we all gathered around the well and said a prayer. We took pictures and celebrated that our new friends had a well that would safely provide clean water for them. As our time was coming to a close, the hugs came fast and furious. And as the hugs slowed, and the waves down the street started, so did the tears.
Have you ever seen the movie Inside Out? Ya know how as a baby, her emotions are very simple, but as she gets older, they become more complex as she feels many things at once? Well, in that moment, I felt so many things. That whole day was about feeling everything on the spectrum.
This trip was the perfect capstone to the year 2015. I have experienced every emotion on the spectrum this year, as well. I said in the beginning of the year, I wanted 2015 to hold big things. 12 months ago, I couldn’t have imagined all that this year would bring. A week in the hospital, a diploma, a new step family for my kids, a budding career in nursing, a new stamp in my passport. I’m still healing from some of my past, but 2015 proved that none of that can hold me back.
In Nicaragua, I didn’t pick up a tool, or get muddy, or even put my gloves on once that week. But I don’t think my friends in Nicaragua will remember that about me. My Spanish is conversational enough to ask names, and ages and what things they like to do. But I don’t think they will remember that about me either. They don’t know anything about my struggles as a single mom, or missing my dad, or any of the tragedies of my life, so they won’t remember that either.
I think they will remember my smiles, and my tears, and my laughter, and my goofiness, and my hugs, my joy. They might remember that my Spanish wasn’t perfect. I believe I told them I was sad to snow, instead of sad to leave, but the figured it out. More importantly, I think they will remember that I was willing to be vulnerable enough to try. I was vulnerable enough to leave a piece of my heart in a little village in Nicaragua. And there is so much strength in that.