A Georgia Baptist Institution
|STUDY ABROAD - NICARAGUA|
Nicaragua: May 25-June 3, 2008
Bonnie McNulty, a 2008 Shorter graduate, spent time in Central America serving as a Baptist Collegiate Ministries summer missionary. During her travels in Nicaragua, she assisted medical mission teams and built relationships with the natives. Last summer, Bonnie was a BCM missionary in Prague, the Czech Republic.
May 25, 2008
Here I am, sitting on a small wooden fold-out chair with a long, rectangular table in front of me. We arrived in Managua, Nicaragua, yesterday morning. After hearing about Managua from others who had been before, I was very surprised at the small size of the airport. We were coming close to our landing zone, but I couldn’t see an airport from my window. The plane soon took a sharp turn and, when I looked back in my window, I saw a beautiful mountain that encircled a sparkling mountain lake. Behind that mountain I could also see the rest of the mountain range resting prestigiously on the land. Then, out of nowhere, I saw a small runway and an even smaller building next to it. The other side of the runway was nothing but an open field with tall, brown, wispy grass. We landed and made our way through customs and then to baggage claim. The whole ordeal took less than an hour for our entire group.
While we waited for our missionary to pick us up, we congregated in a lobby-esque area. Small children from the city walked around asking for small change or selling packs of gum to make enough money to buy a coke.
After meeting Loren, the missionary, we crammed seventeen people, our luggage and our medicine into a truck and a very small van. The drive through the city was eye-opening to say the least. The drivers were crazy, the city was dirty, and the houses were merely pieces of tin propped against each other. The air felt warm, muggy and dense, and smelled like car exhaust, dirt, and trash.
After a forty-five minute drive, we arrived at a gated compound. When I say compound, I don’t mean the stereotypical cold cement building and barbed wire fence entrapment. This compound was beautiful. The fences lined with barbed wire were covered with lush tropical trees and plants. The leaves of the plants were so big compared to the vegetation we have in the U.S. The sleeping quarters formed the shape of a ‘u’ with an open air breeze way. In the middle was a courtyard that was home to a sassy toucan and very mischievous parrot. The courtyard also contained tropical plants with large, bright red, orange and pink blossoms.
Today after breakfast our team went to a local church service. Loren said it was an English service, but I wasn’t expecting to see a congregation full of white people. I couldn’t figure out where they all came from. I later found out that the congregation was comprised of missionaries, businessmen, and other representatives from American organizations based in Managua.
After church, we finished packing our hiking packs and loaded the small van once again. We drove for about an hour before we stopped at a chicken restaurant called “Fritz Pollo” on the outskirts of Managua. Our lunch consisted of fried or roasted chicken, fried plantains (their version of french fries), fried cheese (which Loren advised us not to eat), and a really good juice beverage that was made from whole boiled and blended fruits. When we finished lunch we loaded into the van and headed to our hotel. The drive took four hours, but it was the most interesting trip I’ve been on. We headed north into the mountainous regions. The roads were very narrow and windy. Some parts of the road were rock and dirt while other parts of the road consisted of pothole-entrenched pavement. A heavy storm blew in during the first hour of our trip. Fortunately, we hadn’t made it to the treacherous mountain roads.
The landscape of Nicaragua is most interesting. The highest peak is only 5,700 feet, but the mountains look massive because the terrain goes from sea level to mountain without much in between. I sat in the back seat of the van next to the window where I could take pictures. That is just what I did. I opened the window, and for four hours I took pictures of the landscape and the people who lived on it. The mountains are very rugged like the Rockies but not nearly as high in the elevation. I hate to use the word beautiful because the mountains were so much prettier and majestic than that. Looking out the window to see the magnificence of God’s creation blows my mind to think that people see this and do not believe in a creator.
We stopped for the night in a large town called Rio Blanco and stayed at a hotel outside the city limits. This hotel was considered to be very nice because it had electricity and running water. From the ceiling hung a single light bulb that illuminated the incredibly aqua blue walls. I felt like I was standing outside under a gloriously bright sky.
May 27, 2008
Yesterday we arrived in Palom Grande. Here, we set up our medical clinic in the local school. The school was cinderblock painted blue and white with open air window and no electricity. Due to the rain, we had to hang our hammocks inside the school. The village consisted of maybe 200 people. The children stood in the doorway and the windows and watched us for hours.
After a long night with little sleep, I woke up at five to watch the sunrise. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that the sun rose at 4:30, so we effectively missed the entire thing. The view was still beautiful. We climbed the hill above our hotel and it opened our eyes to the mountains surrounding the valley and the small town scattered at the bottom of the valley.
May 28, 2008
“Monkeys, Limons, Guayava, Cacoa, Mountains, and Sunsets”
Today started early, 4:30 to be exact. I was sleeping in a hammock in a room full of hammocks and sleeping girls. Throughout the night the rope on my hammock slacked and I was pretty much laying on the ground. The roosters in the village were wide awake and so was I. I got up to go to the outhouse (la latrina) and Jenna, one of the other girls, woke up to go, too. After the bathroom, we ran up the hillside to try and catch the sunrise. Once again we found ourselves on the side of the mountain, out of breath and staring at an already risen sun.
After breakfast, we helped set up the medical clinic and packed our bags for our hike to El Cielo (the heavens). The hike turned out to be quite an adventure. I am going to try to describe the awesomeness of what I experienced, but God’s creation is so often indescribable.
First of all, the weather was perfect. Instead of the typical humid, hot and rainy day, we hiked in a cool and windy breeze with an occasional mist. Our hike was a vigorous one with mountain after mountain to climb. The summit of each mountain grew in splendor. We reached the summit of one mountain that opened to a hillside that overlooked the mountain range and the many valleys below. The wind was blowing in my hair as I over-looked the vast expanse. The gray clouds and the yellow-brown grass of the mountain provided an eye-popping contrast for the lush mountains and green valleys. The mountains in the distance were covered in a blue haze that reminded me of the Blue Ridge mountains. The sun peeking through the wind-blown clouds cast shadows across the mountains that enhanced the ridges and peaks across the landscape.
Before I move on to the next adventure, I must rewind a few minutes before the mountain-meadow view. While climbing the side of the mountain we saw a grove of trees on the hill. Carlos and Lauren told us that monkeys were near, but I couldn’t tell if he was joking. He wasn’t joking. As we rounded the hill and faced the grove, we heard the low squall of a monkey. We all froze and waited in anticipation for the minute possibility that we might actually see a monkey. We looked up to see not only one monkey, but several monkeys along with a mama monkey and her baby on her back. The mama monkey put on a show for us as she gracefully leapt from tree to tree with the baby holding tightly to her neck. During these moments I was scrambling to get my camera out of my pack so I could at least get a picture as proof for my family that I did indeed see a monkey. By the time of got my camera ready the mama monkey has disappeared into the grove. Well, we weren’t satisfied so several of us dove into the grove in pursuit of said mama monkey. I left my pack behind and followed the others zealously charging in front of me. I soon discovered that it was very difficult to chase a monkey on a hill, in the woods with a camera dangling around my neck. We plunged through moist soil and weak roots praying that we wouldn’t fall and tumble down the hillside.
We finally spotted said mama monkey at the top of a tree. I was able to get a few shots before she got mad. Angry monkeys are funny in a scary kind of way. To prove to us her distaste at us chasing her, she pooped in her hand and threw it at us while making a low, squalling sound. We soon retreated and trekked down the hillside to re-unite with the rest of the team.
After the monkey escapade we traveled a little farther to a farmer’s house. We stopped there to purify some water and eat lunch. We walked into their pasture so we could get some shade under the trees. We sat down and had our fill of peanut butter and jelly tortillas! We also at a ginormous lemon the size of an oval-shaped grapefruit and ate the outer rine of a cocoa plant The seed inside the plant is the raw product that produces chocolate.
Once we finished lunch, we headed out for the toughest part of the hike thus far. Yes, it was indeed tough. The climb was steep and narrow and covered in thick, sticky mud mixed with cow dung. Rocks and roots that scattered the trail provided some traction on the incline.
Okay, now we caught up with the mountain-meadow previously mentioned. We descended the mountain in part and hit another trail to our final ascent. When we reached the top of the mountain we had a 360 degree view of the mountains surrounding us. A little trail about a hundred yards long lead the way to the school in El Cielo. We made our way down the slinking trail to school house. We were greeting by children and their relatives and teachers.
The school was a wooden shack with a tin roof. Loren gathered everyone into the school and he shared the gospel and we acted out the story of Lazarus. After the story, Loren presented them with the gospel of John. When he finished, we split our team into groups and had the children lead us to different homes on the mountain.
My group went to a small house where an older gentleman named Jorge lived with his wife and grown son. He wore a straw cowboy hat and had brown leathery skin from a lifetime of farming in under the Nicaraguan sun. He was so friendly and hospitable toward us “gringos”. I was surprised to learn that he had only lived in El Cielo for ten years. Before he moved to live with his son, he lived in the lowlands of Nicaragua. With a lack of dependable transportation, I didn’t think people traveled far from home.
These people live such a simple life that is free from the material greed that we in America possess. They are happy and content with what they have. They do not yearn for the latest technology because they have never seen it and do not know that they do not have it. Many of the children traverse the mountains completely barefoot because they have never had shoes and do not know the difference. The people are happier in what we see as poverty than most Americans who have more than they will ever need.
Our day’s journey ended back at the school in El Cielo. We set up our hammocks and enjoyed each other’s company and incessant laughter. I must say that I have very jovial team members who have a passion for people and for life. Around dinner time one of the locals brought us a big pot of what looked like dirt and water. The drink was actually water and ground corn called Pinole. It tasted like unsalted Fritos in hot water. I tried a cup because it was hot and I was a bit chilly in the mountain air. Unfortunately, I only drank half because the watery Frito taste really got to me. To wash down the Pinole, we ate black beans (frijoles) and tortillas for dinner. I was so hungry at that point that I didn’t mind the rather bland taste of the food.
Nighttime covered the mountain around six o’ clock. At sunset many of us ran up the hill to see the sun go down on the mountains surrounding us. The sky quickly turned orange and then turned to a bright pink as the round sun started to makes its final descent. Like I said before, I can’t describe what I have seen in a way to give justice to the awe of what’s surrounding me.
By seven thirty, we were all snuggled in our hammocks and ready for bed. I had a difficult time getting to sleep because one of our guys snored up a storm- literally. By nine o’clock, Tex was snoring so loudly that he drowned out the other two snorers in the room. Not long after the snoring session came an intense rain storm. The wind was causing our sleeping quarters to sway and creak. The heavy rain pelted the tin roof and the wind blew rain through the cracks in the wood making it feel like a less violent rain shower was going on inside the small shack.
I woke up about five the next morning to be greeted by vast whiteness. I was hoping to catch part of the sunrise coming over the mountains, but instead I could not see anything more than ten feet in front of me.
For breakfast, the same lady who served us Pinole also brought us beans and Yucca (some kind of root). I had never tasted yucca, and after the first serving, I never wanted to try it again. It tasted like nothingness if that makes any sense. Topped with beans, the breakfast tasted like a bean flavored candle.
Shortly after breakfast, our team had to make some last minute changes to our hiking plans. We had originally planned to hike around El Cielo and meet the medical team at the next village. We wanted to inform other villages about the medical clinic. Unfortunately, we had to back track to Palom Grande because the rain storm had prevented some of the mules from getting to the village to assist them in carrying medical supplies. Our hike back down was very difficult because we were literally sliding down the mountains of red clay because many of the trails were washed out from the storm.
When we reached Palom Grande we unpacked our belongings and started helping the med team. The villagers were lined up around the school and out the front gate of the school yard. They waited patiently. Some of the women were holding fussy babies while some of the men were trying to control their rambunctious boys. I stood off to the side and took pictures of our team being the hands and feet of Christ.
The rain was still very heavy around lunch time. After lunch, Loren came into the school and told the hiking team to get packed in the next ten minutes; that included adding medical supplies to our packs. The lunch hour soon became mass chaos as we scrambled to pack our things. The rain really started to pour as we left the village. Loren told us that if we didn’t leave now, the rain would wash out the trail and we wouldn’t be able to make it to the next village. I must say that the hike was less than magical. The trail was very narrow and steep and rain water was quickly washing it away. We trudged through mud and rock and finally made it to the next village. We unloaded our supplies at the school and started setting up camp. Loren and several of the other guys hiked back down the mountain to help the medical team with their luggage.
By six o’clock it was dark and we were still tying to hang hammocks and get dinner ready by the time the rest of the team arrived. Bowls were clanking, flashlights were flashing, and people were buzzing around the building trying to get everything in order. A family across from the school let us use their pot and fireplace to boil water for our macaroni noodles. There’s nothing quite like smoke-flavored macaroni and cheese.
The rest of the team arrived around seven thirty. They had to hike the trail not only in the rain, but in the deep dark of Nicaraguan night. When they arrived what was chaos became mass chaos. People were scrambling to find their belongings, wet meds were scattered on the floor to dry out, and the large cauldron of mac and cheese was being passed around the room.
About an hour later, two of our team members started feeling sick. One of them started projectile vomiting and the other was experiencing extreme nausea and hallucinations. At this point I though, “Great, I have no desire to get sick, but if anyone else does get sick, it will be me because that is the kind of luck I have. Super.” I fought it until about 4:30 the next morning. By that time, four other people were also vomiting and having diarrhea. The fight was over and my stomach was ready to explode. It did. The rest of the morning was spent in misery on the covered sidewalk in the rain with the other sicklings. If we had to go to the bathroom, we had to walk in the rain to the outhouse in front of the school. If we needed to vomit, we had to walk around the corner of the building where there was a drainage ditch to wash everything away.
The medical team was still planning on having the clinic for the locals, so we sick kids had to re-locate to a “quarantine corner” inside the school. That afternoon as the clinic was winding down, Loren told us that were going to head back to Managua one day early because so many of us were sick. By three o’clock, we were hiking down the mountain to our vehicles. The rain was still steady and many of us were still experiencing nausea and diarrhea. Hiking while sick is a bummer.
We reached the vehicles around four and started our trek back to Managua. Loren told us that it would take four hours to get to Managua from where we were located. Let’s just say that our trip did not go as planned. After driving for two hours, we reached Rio Blanco where we were going to cross a bridge to connect us to the main road that goes directly in to Managua. The storm had washed out the bridge so we had to back-track an hour to take an alternate route. Loren informed us that this route would take us along the Pacific coast, through a couple of large cities, and then to Managua. This route would also take an additional four hours! Many of us were still feeling queasy and did not look forward to the idea of spending four extra hours in a truck going through horribly bumpy roads.
We hit another washed out road, but this time Loren went for it. His Toyota and the ambulance made it across, but the truck had to wench the van through the river. At seven o’clock the next morning, we were back at our safe house in Managua – what an adventure.
Dates a little blurred at this point…
After a few days rest, our team traveled to a small community called Tipitapa on the outskirts of Managua. There, we provided a one day medical clinic for the locals in the community. Tipitapa was quite a contrast to the mountains of El Cielo. This community was in the desert of Nicaragua. The air was hot and the wind blew sand everywhere. When we got back to our safe house I found sand and dust in places that I did not know sand and dust could be.
The locals were so friendly and excited about us being there. I had the chance to hold small children and try my hand at my broken Spanish skills. Our clinic was held in their church. A small cinderblock building with open air windows and decorative iron bars to add beauty to the place of worship contained four wooden pews resting on a slightly inclined dirt floor.
On our way back to the safe house Loren explained to us some of the history surrounding Nicaragua. Nicaragua is the poorest and most looked down upon country in Central America. Its neighbor, Costa Rica, is the most well developed country with a strong market for tourism and coffee. Loren told us that Nicaraguans often cross the border in search of jobs and very often harvest Costa Rican coffee because a Costa Rican would never harvest his own coffee. Nicaragua’s government is corrupt and in the process of a newly formed dictatorship with the election of their most recent president, Daniel. He is embezzling money and has no future plans for the prosperity of the country.
Nicaragua does not have any kind of soil and water conservation effort in progress causing Lake Nicaragua (one of the world’s largest lakes and the only lake with freshwater sharks) to become polluted with chemicals and waste. Citizens do not throw trash in trash cans; instead they throw trash in the streets. The country is coined as the “land of lakes and volcanoes”, but Daniel does nothing to conserve the resources so precious to the land.
Last day…June 3rd
The morning of our departure was one of mixed emotions. I made sure that all of my souvenirs were safely packed away in my luggage and Loren continued to nag us on our inability to pack lightly. We had a brief morning worship session on the covered porch at the safe house where each of us sat in a beautifully carved rocking chair and shared moments both light hearted and more serious.
Nicaragua was wonderful.
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