Leaving Manzano Numero Uno after three months of volunteering, I couldn’t believe how quickly the time had flown by. Perhaps it was the different pace of campo living that affected my sense of time: everyday we would get up just after dawn and go to sleep before 10 o’clock, our days filled with walking along shaded dirt paths, instructing and playing with kids, finding creative ways to use our limited staple foods, and cooling off in big Pacific Ocean waves. And then again, maybe it’s as simple as the cliché, ‘time flies when you’re having fun’. Although my three months in Manzano Uno felt short, they were filled with memories and lessons that will no doubt be with me for a long time.
Aisha and I were the first volunteers to have lived in a homestay rather than at Coco Loco. While initially we missed the creature comforts of running water and a refrigerator, we quickly adjusted and realized that the homestay offered us an opportunity to be involved in the community on a more profound level (and, of course, it dramatically helped our Spanish improve). Living with a Nicaraguan family, we were able to realize both the daily struggles and pleasures of Nicaraguan life in the countryside. Everyday I watched or helped my nearly 60-year-old homestay father walk up and down our sloped property, carrying 2 heavy buckets of water that he’d pumped from the well up to our outdoor kitchen. Then he’d be off, cutting back thick undergrowth with a machete or repairing barred wire fences or tending to the cows. I also looked on as the neighbors across the road hand dug a well deep enough to supply water to their new vegetable garden. Within one week, 3 teenage boys had dug the well: one dug while another loaded up the dirt into a bucket and the third hoisted it out using a pulley system. The speed, strength, and ingenuity of the people in our community never ceased to impress me. Besides improving upon my Spanish, I learned something new everyday while living in the Manzano Uno. Whether it was about the cycles of the tide, fishing and lobster catching, caring for cows, how to make tortillas, surf, or fix a palm-thatch roof, there was so much knowledge to be soaked up from my new neighbors and in true Nica fashion, everybody was friendly and excited to share a slice of their life and work with me.
Volunteering for such a wonderful, giving and friendly community was more rewarding than I could have envisioned. One of the most gratifying aspects of my volunteer experience was the creation and fruition of a project that I designed in celebration of Earth Day. In Nicaragua there really is no trash collection system – people regularly throw their trash on the ground and every once in a while collect it all and burn it. So, in early April I developed a plan to get the kids to start thinking about the impact of littering and burning plastic, and to help them realize that the plastic we use will be around far longer than any of us will. My plan involved teaching the kids how to make eco-bricks, plastic bottles filled with highly compacted non-biodegradable trash that can be used in place of bricks or cinder blocks in construction. I collected some trash on my own and did a demonstration for the kids – filling an empty bottle with plastic trash that I compacted with a stick until the bottle was full and completely solid. I was worried that the kids wouldn’t be very into the idea of picking up trash, or wouldn’t really understand the point of the project, but they took to it right away. One of my proudest and happiest moments came later that month when we had a community walk and trash collection day and the kids filled over 30 bottles with compacted trash in an hour. Packing the trash into bottles turned out to be a fun exercise for them, almost like a game, and they would come running up to me with beaming smiles, showing of the eco-bricks that they had made. We’re now up to nearly 70 bottles that we plan to use in future Waves of Hope construction projects, and we’re expanding the project into two nearby communities as well!
Volunteering with Waves of Hope has been one of the most positive experiences of my life. The Coco Loco crew – Jamie, Ben and Earl – have wonderful hearts and a great vision for the future of Manzano Uno. I’m so happy that I had a chance to be a part of the work that they are doing and to add my own project to the mix of amazing endeavors already in place. Three months of living in serene Northern Nicaragua, growing to know and love the culture and customs, learning something new and helping a loving community everyday simply can’t be beat. While my time volunteering was extensive, there was also a lot of down time that allowed me to think and grow as I look towards my own future; and there were of course tons of fun times filled with the pleasures of living in paradise: cutting down fresh coconuts with my local friends at sunset, going to pulperia parties and dancing the night away, and doing yoga and learning to surf in beautiful Naulapa Bay. Without a doubt I’ll be back to revisit the community and take in the stunning sights and sounds of the campo.
Gracias para todo, todo, todiiiiiito Olas de Esperanza y Coco Loco!