I disembarked the plane, and it hit me. I’m home. For the past five months, my life felt like it had been in some sort of limbo. I was home at the place I was raised in. I was home at the University. Yet all the while, I wasn’t really home, but now, once I had solidly planted my feet on Nicaraguan ground, I was finally home.
The Nicaraguan Airport… during the daytime.
After picking up my luggage, Liz and I started our search for the bus that would take us to our house in Chinandega. We peered through the window where the bus had parked last time I was in Nicaragua. It was pitch black outside, but from what we could tell, it wasn’t there. After searching the entire parking lot, we still lacked a bus. Had they forgotten us? Two dozen other missionaries on our team had arrived twenty minutes before us. Where were they?
Slightly scared, we walked up to a security guard and asked in broken Spanish if he had seen anyone wearing t-shirts like ours or had seen a school bus. He had seen neither. We walked back to the window and looked again. The bus wasn’t there. We looked through the mass of taxi drivers, praying we would see someone in an Amigos shirt to take us to the house. No one was there.
The guard could tell we were scared. We’d already been yelled at by four construction workers and a different security guard. He went out to the mass of taxi drivers and yelled, “Escuela por Cristo!” He thought we were students coming to study at a school in Nicaragua. We weren’t. Eventually, Herald, appeared at the front of the mass. We didn’t see him at first, but then the guard pointed at him.
“Dos?” Herald asked us. I nodded and gave him a bear hug. I was finally home. After another half hour, the second group of our mission team arrived, and we were off on our three-hour drive to our home in Chinandega.
The next morning, all forty of us piled back onto the bus and drove an hour to a small, obscure village called Mina de Agua. When we arrived at a dusty, rock-filled field, kids from the nearby village of Ricon de Garcia and families from both the middle of Mina de Agua and the village’s outskirts all came running in. We were here, and they knew we had the sports equipment. It was time to have some fun.
The boys grabbed a pigskin and started playing American football. Another group started playing an aggressive pickup game of futbol (soccer). The girls and I grabbed a rubber disc and started a frisbee circle. We threw that Frisbee for hours and though it seemed like a simple, mindless game, it was one full of fake passes, overthrown discs, and lots and lots of Spanish banter and jokes.
The next day, my missions partner, Sav, and I rose early for Mass, a Mass I love and adore. We understood none of it apart from “Sancto, sancto, sancto,” but the music was incredible. After Mass, we changed clothes and prepared for what would soon be one of the most difficult days of my life…
As I stared up at the volcano of Cerro Negro. It was taller and steeper than I last remembered it. Previously, I had hiked up the back
trail to reach the top. This time, since my Director was not there, I was going to climb the face of the volcano and somehow tackle the 2000 feet of straight-up that stood between me and the top. (Note: My Director can climb the volcano in 16 minutes. It usually takes normal people an hour or two to climb). Maggie, one of our American missionaries, came up behind me and patted me on the back.
“Are you ready?” she asked me.
“Uhhh, no. I don’t remember it being this big!”
“You’ll be fine,” she assured me, and with those words, she walked away.
As the straight-up team began the climb, I quickly found out that I wasn’t as athletic as I used to be. The next hour or two would be the hardest and craziest thing I had ever done in my life. Brian, Maggie’s husband, quickly became my climbing partner, and to say the least, I would not have survived Cerro Negro without him. The amount of support he gave me surpassed anything I had ever experienced, and I am forever grateful for Brian.
After a long while, we finally reached the top. The view was gorgeous. It looked like what you would imagine a hilly heaven would look like. It was simply God’s majesty on display for all to see. (Okay, before I get on a rampage about this, I’ll stop and do a separate post for this later).
On Monday, we headed back to Mina de Agua at the wee hours of the morning. Work starts early in Nicaragua! From about nine in the morning until four in the afternoon, we, alongside our new Nicaraguan friends, dug trenches to lay pipe for a new water system. The work is backbreaking but so rewarding. Digging, though it is considered a menial job in the United States, brought so much contentment. It felt like this was what I was supposed to be doing, like I was called to dig trenches in the heat of Nicaragua.
Taking a break after digging all day
Digging can be done by one of two ways – by hand or by machine. In Nicaragua, we dig by hand. Digging by hand makes things personal. For the Nicaraguans, this helps them take ownership of the water system. They personally helped build it, and they can take pride in their accomplishment and call it their own. For Americans, it helps us see the world from a Nicaraguan perspective. They don’t have all the fancy technology we have. They do almost everything by hand, the old fashioned way. Most importantly, digging trenches by hand allows to cultures to collide. Americans become friends with Nicaraguans and Nicaraguans become friends with Americans. We learn the stories of the other side. We develop relationships with the Nicaraguan community, and as I’ve talked about before, without relationships, we have nothing. Water is important, but relationships are everything.
Tuesday brought a day of laughter, tears, and a lot of excitement. Sav and I joined the high school mission team and went down to the Old Folks’ Home for a fiesta. I was quite skeptical at first. Would this be like the old folks’ homes in the States, places where senior citizens sat around bored and lonely, unable to do much of anything. What I found was quite the opposite. That day, I saw a “grumpy, old lady” beat apart a piñata, a ninety-year-old lady place the top of the piñata on her head as if it were a hat and she a young child at heart. I witnessed enough dancing to shake the floors and enough laughter and happiness to bring Heaven down to Earth.
Most importantly, I got an adopted, Nicaraguan grandmother – Rosebell! She is the cutest and sweetest woman ever! When we passed out food and drink, she tried to get one for me – even though I would be eating at a restaurant later on. I heard her life story, though I understood none of it, and saw tears in her eyes when I called her my Nicaraguan grandmother and she realized I had flown from the US just to spend time with her and the people of Nicaragua. After a while, I was even able to get her to shake her hips with me on the dance floor. And by golly, I think I got enough kisses from her to last a life time. I love my little Nicaraguan grandmother Rosebell to death!
While I was there, I also got to show off some of my own dance moves. I salsa danced with the head of Amigos’ Education Team and taught Wilfredo how to swing dance and do salsa! Unfortunately, to everything there is a season, and eventually, we had to pack up and head out, but not before I could tell my sweet Rosebell that I’ll be back in a few months to visit – which, of course, I will!
The day was still young, and we still had much to do. Maps of Chinandedga were distributed and we divided up into groups. It was time to explore! Sav and I headed out, got lost, got un-lost, and finally found our outdoor buffet restaurant. There, we enjoyed some of the finest Nicaraguan cuisine, and I enjoyed my first Coca-Cola in over eighteen months! Afterwards, we headed off to do some shopping before meeting the rest of the team back at the bus… only to head off on another adventure.
The Nicaraguan beach was like the splendor of God’s grandeur from the top of Cerro Negro – only this time, it was soaking wet. The scenery and sunset were absolutely gorgeous, but even more exciting was the opportunity to hear stories from Maggie and some of the other trip leaders. If such a profession existed, I would love to just hear stories from other people all day long every day of the year. People lead such deep and exciting lives if we only take the opportunity to get to know them and hear their stories.
I spent the next day and a half digging trenches again, except this time, I did a lot of pick-axing. I swear, my muscles were growing by the hour! One day, I, along with several others, walked to a pulperia (a mini-store in a village) with Herald. The walk was one of the most difficult, and many times, I wondered if it would end. The heat was scorching. Thankfully, we eventually made it and I was rewarded with a (warm) Pepsi and some delicious Nicaraguan junk food!
Blowing Bubbles… This picture was taken by one of the girls playing with my camera!
Painting our nails! (FYI – Even the boys jump in when we paint fingernails… but they only paint their pinkies!)
On our last day at home in Nicaragua, after digging trenches all morning, we pulled out the sports equipment for the last time. There were some young girls who looked like they wanted to play or do something, so I called them over and asked if they wanted to do something. They all smiled and said they did. I walked over to my backpack and pulled out the last of my bubbles. Suddenly, I found myself swarmed by children. I was sitting on the ground, and they were all standing around me. Everywhere I looked, I saw the excited faces of Nicaraguan children, eager to play with bubbles. Together, we blew bubbles for hours. We played hide-and-seek on the bus before Maggie kicked us out, talked about why I had to wear glasses, painted nails, and took hundreds of pictures on my camera.
Did I cry a little when we left Mina de Agua? Yup. Did I cry when I boarded the plane to go back to Atlanta and then cry some more when I got off the plane? Yup. Did I sob when I went through pictures the next night? You betcha!
In fourteen days, Nicaragua has become my home. I have watched God move and seen lives transformed. One day, I hope to be able to say, “Oh, I don’t live here in the US. I live in Nicaragua.” Nicaragua is a symbol of purity – purity in nature, love, emotion, action, and all things human and supernatural. In Nicaragua, I can climb onto the roof and see all the stars. There is no boundary there, physical or spiritual, literal or symbolic, that separates me from God. It is home.
I have a million more words I could say, but I should stop here. More to come at a later time.