Tuani15! : A Recap of the Monument Mountain Biannual Community Service Trip to Nicaragua this past June
November 25, 2015
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This past June, I embarked on a two-week long community service oriented trip to the distant and tropical country of Nicaragua with a group of eleven other teenagers, as well as our wonderful chaperones, Sr. Bouvier and Sra. Dus. As I prepared for the trip earlier in the year, I did not know what to expect when we eventually would land at the airport in Nicaragua’s capital city, Managua. I knew that it would be sunny, hot, and probably humid, so I packed plenty of sunscreen and several pairs of shorts—but not enough as it later turned out.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with Nicaragua, it is a relatively small country in the middle of Central America, right in between Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The climate is very warm, and the language commonly spoken is Spanish.
We landed in Managua on the evening of June 14th. It was not very late, but night had already come, and I later discovered that this was a recurring theme in Nicaragua—the sunset during the summer typically ranges from about 6:00 to 6:15 PM. I ended up seeing nothing of the city until the next morning when we traveled via bus several hours to the smaller city of Matagalpa.
To give you an idea of what Managua looked like; the streets were filled with people, vendors of various kinds, and there were lots of old, almost antique cars. There were very few tall buildings (in the past, Nicaragua has had trouble with earthquakes). As we drove out of the city, the buildings became more “homemade” looking; houses were built of stucco and occasionally some wood. Many structures were surrounded by a wall of some kind, usually made of concrete. People often painted on these walls, and after several years they had become quite colorful and pretty.
When we arrived in Matagalpa, the group split up, and I went off to meet my Nicaraguan host family. I was vaguely nervous, as it was going to be all Spanish from here on out; the host families never spoke in English, even if they did know some. I was introduced to my family, and they showed me the room I would be sleeping in—a dark, small, square room with no natural light.
That night, it dawned on me for the first time that I was by myself in a foreign country, living in a house with people that spoke a different language, in a city radically disparate from anything I was used to. I felt a little lost. Not homesick, just unfamiliar with everything around me.
For the remainder of that week, we attended a Spanish language school during the morning, and in the afternoons made visits to various cultural attractions and participated in interesting activities. We learned to dance the Salsa, made our own tortillas, and played soccer against a local, semi-professional team. Predictably, we lost that game. We also visited two schools and interacted with the students, speaking both English and Spanish.
During the evenings, many of the host families sat back and watched the finals of the Nicaraguan baseball championships. We discovered that a team from Matagalpa had made it into the final round, and everyone was very excited to see the outcome. After a very suspenseful game, Matagalpa won, and the streets near where we were staying erupted into chaotic celebrating. People drove through the darkened city, blowing horns and shouting victoriously. Several people lit fireworks that streamed into the immense sky of the southern hemisphere. Music was played, and people piled into the backs of trucks to spread the word of victory to the rest of the city. According to tradition, this celebrating would continue for another couple of hours, and would only end once the team returned home from the location of the championship game in the city of Leon.
In that first week I learned a lot, both at school and from my wonderful host family. I discovered the culture (mostly through food) and learned about the local traditions. I was served several exotic foods, including a soup made from yucca (a root that has a similar flavor to a potato) and a delicious meal known as Nacatamal, which is a traditional dish (similar to a Tamale) that dates back to the indigenous people of Nicaragua, before the arrival of Spaniards in the Americas. I also tried some of the local papayas and plantains, served in various forms. Plantains are extremely similar to bananas, and I was lucky enough to try them in the form of chips. They were surprisingly delicious.
We left Matagalpa Saturday morning, saying goodbye to our host families, and boarded the bus to Masaya. We spent Sunday enjoying the beautiful Laguna de Apoyo—a lake inside an ancient volcanic crater. That evening, we went on an excursion to an active volcano park and explored two very old bat caves. It was an incredible experience; we observed hundreds of bats emerging into the evening sky on the hunt for food.
During the second week (June 22), we worked on a few service projects outside of Managua while staying at the Cantera Center. Our first project was picking up trash along a road as part of an environmental awareness program. Later that week, we visited a youth center in the town of Sandino. We interacted with Nicaraguan students between the ages of twelve and sixteen, and together we painted a beautiful mural on the wall of the youth center. Our final project involved marching in a demonstration for the preservation of the environment. We walked alongside the locals of Sandino, and I—with several members of our group—carried the banner at the head of the demonstration.
Looking back on the entire experience, we really had an awesome trip. It gave us a chance to see a part of a world far removed from our own, and experience first-hand the wonderful culture and unique lifestyle of Nicaragua. It also gave us an opportunity to learn and improve our knowledge of the Spanish language, as well as to learn phrases used specifically in Nicaragua, such as “vos” and “tuani” (words not typically used in the Spanish language and roughly translate to “you” and “swag”). The trip was an incredible experience, and I certainly would recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the Spanish language and the amazing culture of Latin America.
This project has been supported by a grants from the Henriquez Memorial Fund and Youth World Awareness Program of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, as well as the School Center Inc. Fund of Monument Mountain Regional High School.