The Pull of Nicaragua

Nicaragua

The wide, green valley spread out in front of me, bordered by craggy eruptions of hillside left over from some volcanic afterthought of long ago. The smoke tickled my nose as I gazed out, scanning for any sign of humanity. As far as I could see, not a road, building, tower, powerline or semblance of society was in sight. I was looking for what I knew to be real, not what really was.

At this precise moment I was alone, a feeling not often experienced by a mom, teacher, and wife. My children were somewhere nearby, but the vegetation masked any sign of company. I felt the stillness, the quiet only punctuated by the occasional crowing of a rooster or barking dog. Everywhere I looked was green, still, and lush.

The first time I heard about a volunteer trip to Nicaragua my attention was piqued. My life, up until then, was ridiculously scheduled and predictable-as predictable as a mom with two kids and a full time job can be. Adventure travel had ceased with the post-college backpacking-around-Europe-with-my-boyfriend escapade, and my world, although rich and full and satisfying, had taken on a somewhat banal existence. My children were ready to explore. I was ready to explore. The world was out there, and I needed to be in it.

Nicaragua wasn’t a place I had any special attachment to.  I could have gone any myriad of places, but as fate would have it, we landed in a country vast and untouched by modern hands. In Nica, no one has the latest model car or cell phone. Clothing is dated and faded, yet the people take extreme pride in their appearance. Wide grins, open arms and gentle spirits pulled me in, enveloping me with kindness. I found myself feeling safe in an unsettled space, surrounded by unfamiliar language and customs. Food, shelter and stories were eagerly shared despite our meager surroundings. It didn’t seem to matter where I came from; I was there, with them, in the moment. That was all that mattered.

Every day I scrutinized my surroundings with the eyes of an outsider, sure that the moment would come when my guard would go up. Acutely aware of my status, I attempted to melt into the backdrop and become one of them. I wondered how I would survive in their world, so unaffected by the 21st century. Far and wide the verdant landscape spread, lush and green, shrouding what should have been obvious to see. Day by day I found myself settling into the daily rhythm, following the beat of the culture around me. I was stripped of my shell, my core exposed in a way I found frighteningly unprotected yet blissfully liberating.

The pull of Nicaragua altered my former shy and timid inner child into a woman no longer afraid to take risks, to step into the world and seek out the unexpected. The pull of Nicaragua transformed me, like a soldier burning to fight an unknown enemy or discover a place far beyond their imagination. The pull of Nicaragua liberated me, helping me discover what was real.

This post was inspired by The Cartographer of No Man’s Land by P.S. Duffy. Angus enlists in the Nova Scotia WWI regiment and travels Europe to search for his missing in action best friend and brother-in-law. Along the way Angus discovers more than he ever wanted to know.Join From Left to Write on November 14 as we discuss The Cartographer of No Man’s Land.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

 

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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My Best Life-Growth: August, 2013

From my first day teaching to mothering in Nicaragua, living my best life means embracing growth in all it’s subtle forms.

I first felt like a grown-up…

when I started teaching, back in early 1991.

Jen first day teachingCollege wasn’t easy for me, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who I was and where I was going. Ultimately, I found myself in a credential program teaching 7th grade. To my great surprise, I loved the kooky age group, and when I was offered a job teaching 7th grade English at a brand new school, I was thrilled. I remember my first day so clearly-what I wore (purple, because it was the school colors – ugh!), my nervousness, the over-planning, the exhaustion, the adrenaline, the absolute weirdness of being called “Miss Mason” by groups of kids not much smaller than me! Over the 22 years I’ve been teaching, I’ve experienced tremendous growth, but still get that first-day-of-school tingle when I know I’m meeting kids for the first time!

If I could make anything grow on trees, it would be…

time.

Cameron age 2I’d like to be able to pick a few minutes or hours or days off branches right outside my study window. I’d love to be able to go back to those lazy summer days of my childhood, when it seemed like all I had was time and couldn’t wait to go back to school to fill up my days. I’d love to stop time and buy those minutes back from my babies’ childhoods, those times when they were screaming and fussing and I didn’t know what to do, just that I wanted it to stop. Their growth as humans measures my time as their mother; now that they’re plugged in and heading into their lives independent of me, I’d love to have more time to be with them before they head off into the world without me.

My last growing pain was…

this summer, when I had to stretch outside my proverbial box and trust that everything would be OK.

Nicaragua Lily and CameronIn Nicaragua, I had to trust that my kids were strong, smart, and capable of traveling in a foreign country without me hovering all the time. I needed to let myself grow into trust, knowing that all would be well, and that they were learning valuable lessons right along with me.

I use my “green thumb” to…

bring beauty into the world.

gardenI can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a garden-first it was at my parent’s one-acre lot, where my dad would plant rows and rows of vegetables. I remember spending so many summer days happily moving hoses and scampering around in the dirt. My grandma Flossie was the consummate gardener – so much so that she carried around pruning shears in her purse to take slips of plants that she found on her daily walks. When I finally purchased my first house, the first thing we did was plant and landscape a blank plot of dirt into a beautiful Monet-inspired garden, complete with a brick patio and retaining wall built by hand. Today, as I write, I look out my second-story window and see hummingbirds feasting on Buddleia bushes and Stargazer lilies, old-fashioned roses blooming alongside gorgeous, droopy lavender Russian sage. My morning blooms make me happy, and digging in the dirt centers my soul.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Infused With Reverence

The simplest activities are infused with reverence.

“We see that when the activities of life are infused with reverence, they come alive with meaning and purpose. We see that when reverence is lacking from life’s activities, the result is cruelty, violence and loneliness. The physical arena is a magnificent learning environment. It is a school within which, through experimentation, we come to understand what causes us to expand and what causes us to contract, what causes us to grow and what causes us to shrivel, what nourishes our souls and what depletes them, what works and what does not.”

– Gary Zukav, The Seat of the Soul

I’ve written about the simplicity of life in Nicaragua; as images of our trip flash through my mind, I think about the authenticity of the people I met. Their simple lives – in outward appearances – rattle my brain as I slip back into my California home, bursting with the comforts of American life. At once, I wonder how they live without, and how do we live with?

What I come back to is the simple reverence they have for each aspect of their lives. The daily routines of existence- the preparing of food, the washing, the tending to children and animals, the care for their property-has such meaning and purpose. Nothing is taken for granted, little is wasted. And instead of a sense of lack, happiness exudes from their smiles, generosity pours from their hands and hearts.Their simple life, in reality, is much more complex than it appears.

Perhaps it is we who are simple, after all.

In Nicaragua, we learn what nourishes our souls.

We expand.

We experience reverence.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Travel with mamawolfe: Cementing Friendships in Nicaragua

Nicaragua Casas Viejas
Cameron and Lily on the first day.

The first day in Nicaragua is often a blur. Between the red eye flight, the road travel from the airport to Managua, and then arrival at the Seeds of Learning Resource Center midday, it’s hard for me to tell the date or time. All I know is I’m feeling a strange blend of exhausion and adrenaline that helps me stay awake for nearly 36 hours.

 Nicaragua Casas Viejas dirt road

Nicaragua’s landscape is amazingly green and tropical. The sky today is overcast and the scent of smoke hovers in the air as we load the Toyota truck and head off for the worksite. Twelve kids and seven adults, coated with sunscreen and loaded with backpacks and water bottles, took off down the dirt road for the first day of our adventure.

Nicaragua Casas Viejas school
The back of the existing school, where our building begins.

The children and teachers greeted us in Casas Viejas. Currently, the community has a two room schoolhouse for preschool through 6th grade. Our job is to help construct a two-room annex to provide a space for high school students. In Nicaragua, high school is grades 5-11. For the kids of Casas Viejas, the nearest high school is over several mountain passes, about a 90 minute walk. This addition will provide high school for not only kids, but also adults in the community.

 Nicaragua Casas Viejas
Teacher Ana (left) and Ize, our host at SOL (right)

Yuri  teaches 17 preschool students, Ana teaches 22 primary students in 1st-3rd grades, and Marisa teaches 22 4th – 6th graders. The teachers also serve as liaisons for the community to provide information about the school building project.

Nicaraguans are incredibly hospitable, and go to great lengths to make us feel welcome and comfortable in their community. As soon as we arrived, Carolina, a 6th grader, quietly came up to me and waited for me to speak. She had a sweet smile, and was excited to get to know the teenage girls and me. After a prayer and singing the national anthem, she proudly danced for us.

Our work task for today was to prepare to start building one of three walls for the school.  First, we had to create a human chain to move bricks from the front of the school to the back area where the annex is being built. It was a great way to get to know some of the kids, and we were able to move hundreds of bricks fairly quickly. Cameron managed to turn it into a game, while getting to make some new friends.

Casas Viejas
Cameron begins to build a foundation.

To the kids great delight, the wall building began a bit early! Lily took right to the bricklaying, while Cameron helped build a cement foundation.

 Nicaragua Casas Viejas

This trip, I decided to be much more organized about getting to know the kids’ names, so I took a photo of these girls and asked them to write their names and ages in my notebook. I’d forgotten that photos are a huge treat in Nicaragua.

Nicaragua Casas Viejas 1 Hassel

It snowballed, and soon I had nearly every child wanting to write in my notebook.

 Nicaragua Casas Viejas

After a few hours of brick laying, we tumbled into the pickup and headed for home. We knew we’d sleep well, with the work of cementing friendships in Nicaragua has begun. The awkward introductions were over, and tomorrow the real building would begin.

Nicaragua Casas Viejas Cameron
Cameron covers his face from the dusty ride home.

How can you resist these smiles? Not bad payment for a long day of work!

Nicaragua Casas Viejas 1 Julito
Julito
Nicaragua Casas Viejas 1 Josselina
Josselina
Nicaragua Casas Viejas 1 Jose Manuel
Jose Manuel

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Nicaragua Packing Party

Seeds of Learning packing party

Today was our official ‘packing party’ for our trip to Ciudad Dario, Nicaragua. We leave tomorrow night! The receiving of the donations and packing of the supplies makes the trip seem so real…this is the exciting part for me!Seeds of Learning packing party

Why a packing party? Well, as part of our trip, we collect donations of school supplies, books, office supplies, crafts, and other items that are usable to the schools built by Seeds of Learning. This year, in large thanks for the interview and article published in The Davis Enterprise, our community stepped up and donated so many supplies that they filled my car AND sixteen suitcases, duffel bags, bins and boxes.

Seeds of Learning packing party

I wasn’t sure if we would fit everything, but thanks to our expert packers (and soon to be school construction workers), they managed to get each box and bag tightly packed – and no container weighed more than the 35 lb. weight limit.Seeds of Learning packing party

Let’s see… 35 lbs. each, times 16 boxes…thats 560 lbs of supplies! WOW!Seeds of Learning packing party Seeds of Learning packing party

I was astounded at the outpouring of support from our community, as well as cash donations from others living far away, that helped us gather such a huge amount of materials. Cameron packed dozens of brand new backpacks – the kids in Nicaragua will love having something new and all their own to take to school each day!

Seeds of Learning packing party

Linnea and I packed dozens of children’s books, all in Spanish. I got excited just reading the titles – I can’t wait to read them to the children in person! Many of these donations meant a lot to the owners, and we appreciate you giving up those parts of your children’s childhood to help the Nicaraguan kids with their education. I promise they will be well used and well loved for many years.

Seeds of Learning packing party

Tomorrow night, we fly out on a red eye flight from San Francisco, California to San Salvador, El Salvador – about 5 hours. After a short layover, we fly to Managua, Nicaragua-just under an hour of flying time. When we arrive in Managua we’ll be met by Seeds of Learning staff, and will drive nearly two hours to Ciudad Dario, where our adventure really begins.

Seeds of Learning

Thanks so much to all the supporters of our 2013 trip…we couldn’t do this work without you. Think good thoughts for us, and stay tuned for updates from the work site and around Nicaragua. The nineteen of us, as well as the Seeds of Learning staff and the people of Nicaragua thank you.

Adios! ¡Hasta pronto!

 

English: Territorio soberano.
Territorio soberano. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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