Saying goodbye to Nicaragua
March 15, 2016 / By the Rev. Alison Schmied
It’s early Sunday morning. We are on the old yellow school bus, driving toward the airport. Salsa-like Christian praise music plays over the radio, and we occasionally catch a word: Jesus, alleluia, gloria a Dios. This is the first leg of our return trip to the United States after a week at Project Chacocente, located near Masaya, Nicaragua.
It is helpful that the journey home takes a long time because it gives us time to think, to solidify experiences in our memories, to sort through thoughts and feelings our time in Nicaragua has planted deep down in our hearts.
Even with 22 people and 28 pieces of luggage – each under 50 pounds, but too large for an airplane’s overhead bin – the bus seems positively spacious after yesterday’s trip to and from the beach with 20 hot, sweaty, salty, tired Americans plus 32 Nicaraguan friends in similar condition.
As we drive away from the verdant courts of the Hotel el Raizon, we wave goodbye to its beautifully tiled floors and covered walkways, eclectically decorated outdoor sitting areas, and comfortable, colorful hammocks. We have become accustomed to drinking – and brushing our teeth with – only bottled water, throwing toilet paper in the trash, scrubbing caked-dirt off our bodies in cold showers, and sleeping through the sound of ripe fruit falling from the trees (thump) and rolling off our corrugated tin roofs (bumpity, bump, bump, bump).
We wave goodbye to the hotel’s sleeping dogs, rabbits, and parrots. We wave goodbye to other missionaries who have come to share spiritual encouragement and material resources with the poorest residents of Nicaragua, one of the world’s poorest countries.
Missionaries practice their faith with the conviction that offering even a cup of cool water to those in need is serving Christ Jesus himself. Working with the people at Project Chacocente, we strengthen our own faith in God’s presence with great love for the people of Nicaragua, as we build and nurture hope for a better standard of health and life for all of God’s children.
As we drive from Masaya to Managua, through the bus windows we see our last view of Nicaraguan palm trees, dusty reddish-brown roads, roaming dogs and random chickens, and tiny herds of five to ten skinny grey and brown cows being led by sun-weathered “vaqueros” Spanish for “cowboys.”
We hear the now familiar beeping horns of passing vehicles and the longer, sustained honks of busses approaching a point of embankment, calling passengers to leave their shady refuges to assemble at the bus stop.
Goodbye Nicaragua, land of perfectly clear blue skies, still-smoking volcanoes and recent earthquakes and eruptions, land of smiling faces of friends with beautiful black hair and friendly, dark eyes.
Goodbye land of wonderful dark coffee, gallo pinto and plantains, beans, rice, and tortillas, and fruit we can’t quite identify at every meal.
Goodbye 90-plus degree days working in the hot sun, mercifully cool – yet dusty – breezes, and sweet refreshment on “Watermelon Wednesday.”
Goodbye sunscreen, hat, bug spray, work gloves, and water bottle.
Goodbye pickaxes and shovels, wheelbarrows and cement, stones and rebar; goodbye green paint and new sneakers in every color imaginable.
Goodbye Chacocente Christian School. Study hard, students! Learn how big your world is and how many opportunities to make a positive difference in the world will be opened to you, if you ask, seek, and knock.
Goodbye horse-drawn carts and 18-wheelers commuting on the same highways with over-filled bicycles, motorcycles, busses, and pickup trucks.
Goodbye deeply eroded and rutted dirt roads on which we traveled very slowly, our driver Ezekiel at the wheel, carefully avoiding stranding us in the sparsely populated countryside, with the bus’ undercarriage immobilized on dirt with all the wheels spinning helplessly in the air. Is that what it feels like when hope is lost? What would we have done if that had happened?
But the bus didn’t get stranded, the plane didn’t crash, no unsupervised children drowned in the ocean, no babies fell out of the wide-open bus windows while being passed from one child to another over top of the high bus seats. Though the first aid kit travelled with us everywhere, sunburn was the worst malady our travelers suffered. Stomach complaints came from gorging on tasty but unfamiliar food, not from unfamiliar bacteria consumed.
Adios, Pacific Ocean and Pochemil Beach with your dark brown sand, palm-roofed restaurant pavilions, horseback and four-wheeler rides for hire, and whole-fish dinners – small, medium, and large – served up with both head and tail still intact.
“Dios los bendiga a todos” meaning “God bless all” the vendors of Eskimo ice cream with your incessant bells ringing, sellers of trinkets made with shells and sellers of macramé bracelets made from bright colored strings, musicians and dancers who entertain for just a few Nicaraguan Córdoba (one Córdoba equals approximately three-and-a-half cents U.S.).
Sadly, we leave behind much unrealized human potential – a resource that seems to be discarded and ignored in Nicaragua as frequently as the plastic bags and bottles that litter the shores and roadsides.
Why doesn’t anyone care? Or, if people do care, why don’t they do differently? Will we live any differently?
Hasta la vista, families of Project Chacocente. Like the endangered turtle that is your namesake, just seeing you gives us hope for the future.
“Una tortuga sólo avanza cuando su cabeza sobresale de su caparazón,” meaning “a turtle only moves forward when it sticks its neck out.” What is true for turtles is also true for humans: We must risk coming out of our shells in order to make progress in life.
Turtles of Chacocente, we pray you will catch God’s dream for you and bravely leave the comfort of your shell of familiarity, venturing into a new and hopeful future. We pray that your living will glorify God, who is able by the Holy Spirit’s work within us to do far more than all we could ask or imagine.
Yes, turtles, progress may be slow, but "no pretendas que las cosas cambien, si actuas de la misma manera," meaning “do not pretend that things will change if we continue to act in the same way.”
Rev. Alison Schmied is the associate pastor at the Liverpool First United Methodist Church.