As this is my first blog post, I figured I would start with one of the first moments of my travels that has stuck with me for years. I was 17 the first time I ever traveled solo- as in, a non family vacation and without my parents. I applied to and was accepted into a volunteer program to Nicaragua through my church, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs.
I had learned about the opportunity a couple years prior, and was ecstatic when I was accepted into it (although my parents were a bit terrified). After months of preparation and fund-raising, the day had finally arrived where 19 other students and I would spend 10 days in Amatitan, Nicaragua building houses.
An hour long bus ride, an 8 hour flight, and a 2 hour rickety flight later (where I could hear the engine and feel the propellers under my seat), we landed in Managua, Nicaragua. We then took a 5 hour long bumpy van ride to the small village of Amatitan, where we would spend almost all of our trip. We stayed in a large, one roomed building on cots, that we spread out throughout the room.
There was an outhouse for a bathroom- or, a shack, with a cement brick that had a hole in it to the ground. There were tubs of water outside that we scooped out with buckets for bath water, which we used in a separate shack. We had to boil our water to purify it in order to drink it. And I had loved every second of it. When we arrived, we were greeted with dozens of kids that lived in the village, and a sign that said: Bienvenidos a la Casa Comunal (Welcome to the communal house).
We had rice and beans for dinner that night, and went to sleep quickly after. The next morning, we were awoken at 6 am for a breakfast of fruit and pound cake. Afterwards, the village adults came to the Casa Comunal in order to introduce themselves. Our mission leader Paula organized a game for everyone to play- we had to pass around a small red balloon. The catch was, we couldn’t use our hands, we had to use our necks! Once the balloon was dropped, you were out (although we didn’t really play by that rule). It was absolutely hilarious.
Afterwards, we split into groups with three Americans and three Nicaraguans. I got to know a woman named Lena. She asked me if I was married, which I figured out through the very few Spanish words I knew. Luckily, the word “no” is the same in Spanish and in English, so I could properly respond- imagine that miscommunication?
Before leaving, Lena came up to me and hugged me. She whispered something to me in Spanish and smiled while holding my hand. I didn’t understand what she said, but based off of her body language and smile I could tell it was something sincere.
Later on that day, I had the pleasure of meeting a beautiful 7 year old girl Maria, who would later become my pen pal for a couple of years after (sadly, the only way to get a letter to her was to give it to a student who was going on the same trip, which was only successful a few times). Whenever I had down time during the duration of the trip, I would scoop up Maria and read her an English to Spanish word book. Her eagerness to learn such a difficult language truly inspired me, even if she was only 7.
That night, as we were setting up our cots to go to bed, my friend Natalie and I (somehow) convinced our tour leader to let us sleep outside, with our other tour leader Steve, who slept on a hammock outside every night. She had reluctantly agreed, and before I knew it, we were dragging our cots outside, a smile bursting on my face.
As I lay down that night, I listened to the pigs and the horses walking around the premises, seriously hoping they wouldn’t decide to come right up to my cot and give me a warm welcome. I pulled my blanket up to my chin, the only thing protecting me from whatever else was out there.
Steve started to play his guitar, the melodic hum drifted through the air and towards the sky.
“Look at the sky, look at all of the stars,” he said. The night sky was nothing like I had ever seen before. It looked like a black canvas that had been painted with thousands of tiny white dots, strategically placed next to each other. The night sky was basically white from all of the stars, and was absolutely breathtaking.
I saw three shooting stars that night, more than I had ever seen in my entire life in New York. I hadn’t even spent a whole 24 hours in Amatitan, but I was already falling in love with it. The people of Amatitan live day by day and with so little, but are so happy. They are so grateful just because we visited them, and already, they have given me more than I could ever give them.
“When you look at the stars,” Steve said as he continued to play his guitar, “you are looking into the past. Most of those stars aren’t even there anymore, but since they are so many light years away, you still see them.”