Nicaragua Trip 2013

I am back from my annual trip to Nicaragua, and while these notes are late, most of it was written while I was there.


We started with a 1215 red eye flight from San Francisco to Houston. We then had what seemed like an interminable layover. It took 5 hours and I was in a fog the whole time due to lack of sleep and liberal application of benadryl. We flew into Managua, and then took a bus to Leon. We then spent an hour in the Sandinista history museum, and got a fascinating read on the revolution and counter-revolution from a Nicaraguan perspective. The guide was a guerrilla from the 80s, and was very polite, but was very upfront on the US role in the revolution in the 80s,and the role of the US in the assassination of Augusto Sandino.  Most of his discussion with us was on the roof of the building which had a great view of the city of Leon. We then drove to Chinandega and had dinner.

The view from the Sandinista History Museum


Today we got up at 7 had breakfast and went to mass at the church adjacent to the property. The mass was in Spanish but luckily the priest spoke slowly. After a brief orientation we got on the buses and drove to Cerro Negro. I have written about this  before, and I am confronted by a question. What happens when the transcendent becomes ordinary? Yes it was a hike in an amazing location, but the novelty has warn off. Then we took a 90 minute ride back to the compound for dinner.

The view into the major crater of Cerro Negro Volcano


This morning we had a brief orientation, and then went out to the communities. This year’s project was in La Chuscada.  It is a community about a 20 minute drive outside of Chinandega along the highway. It is a 20 min walk into the jungle from the highway. Most of our work was along what appeared to be a viaduct from an old watershed project. For whatever the reason, I worked harder than I ever have, manually. It was gratifying, but also tiring. No trouble with allergies. Mostly work with a shovel and a pickaxe, which is called a piocha in Nicaraguan Spanish. I worked with a 17 year old boy named Alfredo,who was one of the hardest workers I have ever seen. There was also a 13 year old girl named Patricia who worked hard as well. I also bought cheese bread,  called a palmita, from Lola, who is from Santa Catalina, one of the first communities that this NGO built. It was a great day.

The crew working on the trench monday
Digging in the trenches with Beth, the Gales and Alfredo


We went back to La Chuscada today do do some more digging. We laid 740 feet of pipe, versus 500 feet yesterday. Today I dug alongside a 13 year old girl named Isabel who worked extremely hard…because she was building a project for HER community. We started early, 9am, and dug until noon. Then after lunch we took a community tour to see their new water tank. There were other people who made a big impact on me today. The first was another 13 year old girl named Milago, whose name means miracle. She was working with her cousin, and was not very tall. The contrast with my daughter Anna was stark, yet the all held the same traits, namely they are strong independent young women. The final person who made an impression was one of the women on staff. ( I’ll protect her identity in case she reads this)    During evening devotional, she shared a story of how she made a decision that ultimately caused all of us to be late by 45 minutes…which in Nicaragua is being on time)  She said she felt terrible, and shared how she had struggled with depression. But that for the first time she had been able to realize how her negative thoughts were wrong and that she didn’t have to be held captive by them. I stopped by to talk to her afterwards, an told her how strong and brave I thought she was. I also told her that what happened was important because she could now heal. What she was able to do was to recognize a negative thought, and self-correct. And that is one of the first steps in healing from depression.

Also, a bunch of the youth did the Harlem Shake in the trench they we’re building. 


Wednesday’s are my favorite days in Nicaragua. We get to visit the orphanage, and I get to visit Chilo. I have written about her in the past. I could not see her last year, since she had to have surgery, but this year, she was there, sitting in her chair. She is severely disabled, and has little motor control, but she enjoy playing “futball” where I hold the ball for her left leg to kick. She is so grateful and laughs in in the most miraculous way. Afterwards, we toured the town.


Today we were back in the village of La Chuscada digging again, and I was working alongside Milagro again, who work has hard as any of us. I also had a chance to talk to the head of the village,  Sebastian, who kept using the word “historico” or historic, for what this work, the promise of clean water,  would mean to the community for the future of La Chuscada.


Today we had a “fun day” with the community. It was also the “triumph of the revolution”  day.  We went out to the community and had Mass. It was the first time many of the people in the village had seen in years. It was in both English and Spanish and was very moving. We prayed over Sebastian’s wife who had cancer. We then had lunch, peanut butter and jelly as always, in the community. We then had a baseball game with the folks of la Chuscada. We lost badly. They have some great players down there, soccer too. And most of then play barefoot. We then had the talent show, and my team did a bad interpretive dance version of Genesis 1. We won the fan favorite version.
  And I got to say good by to the woman on staff, but not before telling her how brave and strong she was.

Alfredo, his pal, and the baseball game


Saturday was a travel day, and we got home after 1am on Sunday.


After a lot of reflection, it occurred to me that this is the most impactful thing I do in my life. Without the experience in Nicaragua, I would not have made it through the first half of this year. Doing this kind of work changes and deeply impact you in many ways.