On Friday, May 13th, my husband Skip and I arrived at Cleveland Hopkins Airport at 3:45 AM to catch a flight to Managua, Nicaragua. It was going to be our first mission trip ever! Unfortunately, mechanical problems delayed us and 3 others for 13 hours at the airport. When we finally arrived in Houston, we missed our connection by 5 minutes. Stuck overnight at the airport, we headed to Pappadeux’s Seafood Restaurant in the terminal for what would be our last real meal before heading to Managua. We over-nighted at the Holiday Inn, and left the next morning at 5:00 AM to board our flight to Manauga.
Upon arrival, we were met at the airport by a friendly Spanish couple who drove us on our two hour scenic and mountainous drive to the town of Chacraseca, Nicaragua. The old and very hot rickety van finally made it to our destination. However before we could settle in, we met with the locals who were preparing their carts for the annual procession. It was the Feast of St. Isidro which represents the farmers. We helped decorate a horse-drawn cart with balloons, flowers, and ribbons and began parading down along the dusty road to the beat of a small band, singers and the omnipresent fireworks.
The procession had its fill of livestock, with decorated horns, and scarfs wrapped around their necks. Walking in a hot 100 degree temperature along the muddy road to the church, I looked into the faces of the people that I met for the first time. They were welcoming us with love and hope. The purpose of our trip was a partnership program with the people of this village, to help tear down a concrete block bread oven to make room for a community center, to interact with students in the schools, learn about their culture, their hopes, and dreams, and to unite our church with theirs.
I knew this was the beginning of what was always in my heart. It was a hands on labor of love in a whole new culture that I have never before experienced. These beautiful people who had nothing welcomed us with no expectations.
Back at the Casa de Paz, or Peace House, after the long two travel days, it was time to set up my sleeping quarters. The small room for the ladies had 3 bunk beds and there were 8 women. I opted to sleep on the porch in a cot outside under a mosquito net. At least the nightly temperature was in the low 90’s, vs the heat inside. The thin cot was workable, and although I kept my arms and legs covered to avoid any bites, a few insects manage to make it through. I was so tired, I just fell asleep, but was quickly awoken at 4:00 AM to what sounded like fireworks, and a series of explosions. (I was reassured that the Nicaraguans were still celebrating the feast). However an hour later, the rooster at the foot of my bed started crowing, and nestled by my head was a stray dog trying to get my attention… so needless to say, I had very little sleep that night. Most mornings were like that and although the rooster was very cute, I didn’t want to become too friendly with it, since it would most likely be tomorrow nights dinner. Although I spotted a Scorpion on the wall, and some ugly looking bugs crawling by, there was such feeling of peacefulness.
We were served rice and beans at all three meals, along with fruit or some other peeled vegetable. Our favorite cook, “Estelle” walked 3 miles to work every day and cooked our meals in a wood burning stove. The other women who cooked for us, brought their children to work, and we all fell in love with one little boy in particular who would rest in a hammock while his mom continued to work. Despite the fact that I barely ate anything, I didn’t lose any weight. (Maybe it was the chips and granola bars I took with me).
The next day, we had a firsthand look at the efforts of Just Hope with its micro loan program which helped women become self-sufficient. We stopped at a Ferreteria (a hardware store), where our donations helped the business to sell these items for a small profit and also visited the home of a women who has established a business by making about 100 tortillas daily and selling them to the locals.
We visited the schools and brought them supplies, and led them in songs and dances. Meanwhile, back in the center of town, the others donned dust masks, safety goggles and wielded shovels, sledge hammers and a pick axe to remove debris and take apart a concrete oven. We all went different ways; some to the clinic, to the families homes, the schools, the upcoming farmland, and to the church. Many of the homes only had dirt floors, and no plumbing; but one thing in common is the loving family bond that was shared.
We visited the town of Leon, and also a beachfront restaurant where we watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. The dark volcanic sand and numerous shells were glowing. There we met children who with a “pinky-finger” promise, asked us to buy their goods. They also waited for us to finish our dinner so we could box left overs and they could take them home. Of course, we ordered extra meals, and knowing this, the last of my fruit snacks and goodies were pre-packed for them. I received a parting gift of shells from a young man whom I gave my boxed food to. In Spanish he said to me “Nunca me olvides”……..translation ……”Never forget me”. (I never will).
We traveled to a Coffee Plantation called Selva Negra where we spent one night. It was a beautiful balance of an organic farm, coffee plantation and wildlife forest area. It is tourism at its best in Nicaragua. There was also horseback riding, long hikes in the forest, solar cabins with beautiful views, white swans on the lake, and being in the mountains, it had a welcoming cool temperature.
One of the best gifts we received, was to bring back to Cleveland Ohio with us Padre Tomas from the church in Nicaragua. He stayed here for 3 weeks. It was an awesome journey. He had never been to the United States before, and our fellow missionaries, our priest Father Sal Ruggeri from St. John of the Cross, and many others showed him respect and love.