In Nicaragua, I was too busy having the time of my life to write about, so here are some highlights and insights from my 7 week dip into life in Nicaragua.
The Organization: I went to Nicaragua for a few different reasons. One was to intern with AMOS Health and Hope, a public health organization that works with rural communities to make health more accessible. I emphasize the word “with” because while the point is bringing health and a better quality of life, it is even more important to empower these rural communities to do so themselves. AMOS does this through educating in each project they are involved in, whether that be installing water filters, teaching mothers about proper nutrition to avoid anemia, or teaching the Health Promoters selected by each community to provide medical advice and services. My favorite part about AMOS is that they only go to communities when invited and properly solicited, rather than distributing the services or items they see fit to people they think may need them. AMOS is sure to only go where they are wanted, and work with the community in each step of the process.
The Work: As you can imagine, a public health organization is not the first place you would expect a 21 year old girl with an irrational fear of doctors and all things medical to intern. Luckily, I wasn’t the one doing the anemia testing (finger pricks, yikes!), but instead was the music volunteer. I did a variety of things. For one, I helped create a new “himnario”, or songbook, for the AMOS staff and health promoters to use in their devotionals that happen together each Friday (which I prefer to call “nomnom lunch” due to the delicious lunch we eat together as a community afterwards. Thanks, cooks!). To create this songbook, I surveyed the staff and health promoters to learn about their worship preferences, and created a collaboration of all suggestions. I also left them with some resources to be able to learn and teach these songs to each other. In addition, I created and gave a survey to members of the rural communities about their musical culture and musical dreams, in the event that AMOS adds a musical element to the programs they already run. I was ecstatic to learn that music is a common bond I share with many of the people I met, and for many of the same reasons. One man described his community as “pura musica”, pure music. Another girl told me that music could help give purpose to the many youth that turn to addictive behaviors. And yet another young woman told me that for her, music was the art of relaxation. I loved learning the beautiful ideas of the people I met, and know that there is so much more to learn from them, and share with them. At the end of my project, I made some recommendations to AMOS about how they can include music in their organization.
The Research Project: The reason I had the opportunity to go to Nicaragua is because of the Richter Scholars grant. For this grant, I came up with my own research project that includes documenting the “Alabanzas”, or praise songs, that Nicaraguan use in worship. Once written in notation, I will create a bilingual songbook so that North Americans and Central Americans alike can worship and make music together, regardless of language barriers. I learned that few worship songs are “Nicaraguan”, and met many creative musicians that write their own music, sometimes even on the spot.
The Boy: Yes, there is a boy. And no, he is not Nicaraguan. My boyfriend Cameron has been volunteering with AMOS for a year, and introduced me to this beautiful country on the back of a motorcycle, on sandy shores, through rainy downpours, and many dusty walks. I feel completely privileged to have seen a slice of his life for the past year, and am so thankful for all the trips and places that he planned especially for me. 7 weeks is clearly not long enough to explore the entirety of a new country, but I got a great crash course of the beauty that Nicaragua has to offer thanks to him. Not to mention all the care and compassion he showed every time I got sick, or dehydrated, or panicked on the back of a moto.
The Homestay: I can’t even begin to describe how I feel about my homestay. It is nothing like I had imagined. I had my own little house, slept under a bug net, played with a four year old and nine year old, watched old Mexican sitcoms and the most dramatic telenovelas (extremely melodramatic “soap operas”) , played with a feisty puppy, ate amazing rice, beans, and plantains every day, and shared a living space with some very lovely people. As I read this, there are really no words to describe how happy I was to feel comfortable with them and how accepting they were of me, despite me being quite shy. There were moments I didn’t exactly know what to do with, such as how loud it is when it rains on a tin roof, or showering outside for the first time, but everything I thought would be a difficulty for me (such as using a latrine) I soon learned didn’t matter, and were easy to adapt to. Material things are such a crazy concept in different contexts, and I am still learning about the realities of poverty and how it goes so much deeper than the material.
The highlights: Favorite things are hard to choose, especially when I thoroughly enjoyed so much. But some things were so grand they must be mentioned.
1. Teaching a music workshop to a Mariachi band in a rural community.
2. Watching sea turtles lay their eggs!
3. Going to the beach for the weekend and playing in the WARM water.
4. Reading “The Lorax” out loud in Spanish (Cameron has a great Lorax voice) followed by a boys vs. girls trash pick up activity to teach about sanitation and taking care of the environment. P.S. It was a tie between the boys and girls.
The Campo: Going to the campo basically means spending time in the rural communities. They are certainly different from Managua, and I suspect that each community is unique in its own way. I got to visit three of them, and each time experienced a way of living I wasn’t used to. The pace of life is slower, the houses are different, the roads were unpaved, the food was simple, and the people were shocked that I knew Spanish. I can’t do any justice speaking about the campo here, it really is an experience of its own. After going on short-term missions, people often come back with the perception that the people living in poverty have so little, yet are so happy. While this may be true, it is not the impression that I got. For example, we installed water filters for one community. While some people were happy to help us and hopeful of the changes the filters could bring, others were hesitant to sign up. The unclean water that they have bring bacteria, diarrhea, and diseases to the families all the time, especially young children. I met many young men close to my age, but almost never came across young women. Most men that I met worked in the field or on a farm. I am not saying that they aren’t happy and that they don’t make do with what they have, but I am saying that I know in my life, especially as a woman, I have many opportunities to learn job skills, make important connections, live where I want, and get as good of an education as I set my mind to. I am happy, too, but sometimes I am also sad or angry or confused or content, just as I suspect people in rural communities deal with the same range of emotions as any human. The poverty cycle just makes it much more difficult for them to change their situation. Anyways, the rambling continues, but all in all, the campo was a great learning experience as I got a glimpse of what life is like for others.
Nicaragua was a blast. I could tell you how I spent hours in an old school bus on the way to teach a music class, or how men whistled at me on the streets, or how I was bit by a dog, or how I helped install water filters. I can tell you that I played tag with little kids, or saw countless lakes and volcanoes, or translated for English and Spanish speakers for my first time. I had the best smoothie of my life, and tried a new fruit I have never heard of, and spent every day with my blonde best friend that speaks Spanish way better than me. I think we all know that experiences like these have to be lived, and can’t be explained in full, though I wish I could document each breathtaking moment to share.