Tales from abroad: Nicaragua

Credit: Courtney Wittekind | News Editor Credit: Courtney Wittekind | News Editor

The 10 of us made it to Nicaragua. After a year of planning for the unexpected, having long discussions about sustainability, panicking about the seemingly insurmountable amount of funds to raise, selling donuts, cookies, pizza, donuts, soup, Rita’s, raffles tickets, donuts, donuts, and even more donuts… we finally made it to Nicaragua.

Even after all the planning and preparation, I still think that I wasn’t prepared for what we would learn, the bonds we would make with the community, or the experiences that would make me long to return.

After a night in a small motel, we traveled in a tiny 12-passenger plane that swayed and rocked with every gust of wind. Hidden behind the mountainous ridges was a small gravel landing strip that marked our entrance to the place we would spend the next week — Siuna. We spent some time in Siuna touring through the local hospital, marketplace, and university. Siuna is one of the poorest cities in Nicaragua, a city that had its local water resources destroyed by American and Canadian mining during the first half of the 20th century. Although they have had to deal with a failing infrastructure, the community has been able to make progress with the help of the university and community organizations, such as our partner organization Bridges to Community.

After a canoe ride through the jungle, we finally made it to a rural village called Amparo. We received a warm welcome from the community and began unpacking our bags and mosquito nets in the community church.

We spent the week in Amparo in order to learn how we could successfully work with the community on sustainable projects. During the week, we built latrines and clean-burning stoves with a lot of help from the locals. The stoves we built would reduce the danger of smoke inhalation. During the rainy season, the latrines would promote a more sanitary living environment for families.

We also had the opportunity to have art workshops with a local elementary school. The school was more like a room in which the teachers had to educate all the first- to fifth-graders in the community. Needless to say, their resources were spread thin. We were able to give these children a chance to explore art and provide them with the materials to pursue this outlet. Our workshops culminated in a wonderful mural of the school painted by all the children. We had some of our best moments, however, with the kids playing “Simone dice” (my impromptu translation of “Simon Says”) and breaking the language barrier by running, jumping, and crashing into each other.

Even though we spent the week without running water or electricity, we loved every minute of it. At night we would be able to walk from under the overhang of the church and gaze upwards towards the sky. Having spent my whole life in the city, I can remember few other times in my life when I saw so many stars. Cooling off by bathing in the river after a long day of building latrines and stoves was always gratifying.

All pleasantries aside, we spent each day working ourselves to the bone. At certain points, we would feel incapable of doing half the amount of work that our comrades Don Margarito, Don Luis, or Hugo could do within 10 minutes. This humbled even the most capable of our group.

I remember one specific example when I was gathering gravel to help construct the latrine. As I packed a 50-pound bag of gravel on top of a pack mule, I looked over to Sebastian, the owner of the soon-to-be-built latrine, to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. Although it really was a simple task — grab the bag, fill it with gravel, lift it on top of the mule, pack it on, repeat — I was nervous. I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front this guy who, at the age of 20, had a 20-acre plot of land, a three-year-old child, a wife, 30 cows, and 10 chickens. For all intents and purposes, this guy was a cowboy. At 20! Kind of makes you feel unaccomplished, doesn’t it?

Even though I was intimidated, he didn’t shy away from conversation. We were able to joke about scary movies we had seen (he loves scary movies), baseball teams, and different types of girls we like. I forget sometimes that even though people may have grown from entirely different backgrounds, there is always some sort of common ground among us. Over the course of the week we played baseball with the boys in the community, enjoyed long discussions about the history of Nicaragua and Siuna, and really began looking at what we could possibly do working side by side with the members of this community in the next few years.

I still find it hard to describe my trip in Siuna. It is easy to show a person a picture of the dense jungles we were in, the boat that capsized during one of our expeditions to Amparo, the friendly community who rarely seemed to smile for pictures, but it is hard to explain the sense of belonging I felt and my hope that we can do something good with these people. I loved my trip, and all the donuts that I still have to sell can’t change my mind.

Angel Gonzalez | Special to The Tartan