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I decided to partake in this trip because I wanted to experience something life changing. I wanted to see things I have never seen before and make connections that will last a lifetime. It is a little past the halfway point of this expedition, and so far this trip has exceeded all my expectations.
On Tuesday of last week, three days after the homestay portion of our trip had begun in El Lagartillo, I was pulled out of my morning Spanish lesson by two of our instructors. They walked me back through the woods to their house, and we sat down at the dinner table, joined by our third instructor. I was told there was some bad news from back home.
My aunt had died, they told me. Well, not my aunt, but my mom's best friend for over ten years. She had originally moved into the house next door, and after being introduced, my mom and her clicked instantly. She became a huge figure in both my sister and I's lives, and we thought of her as an aunt. I was devastated. I didn't show it at first, but after the daily activities were done and I was alone in my room, I was filled with emotions. I cried and cried and cried. I was, however, able to speak with my mom on the phone, and that was really nice. She asked me about the trip and inquired about how everything was going, but I was not in a very chatty mood. I told her that I wanted to go home, because I did. But my mom reassured me that Jenny (that was her name), would not want that. I thought long and hard about it. Jenny had come in to the restaurant I work at three or four days before I left and told me how proud of me she was and that she couldn't wait to hear all about it when I got home. I realized that Jenny would not want me to come home. She would feel horrible knowing that she was the reason I had to leave the trip early. I really did not want to stay at the time, but I was convinced that staying here was the smartest decision. It was what she would have wanted me to do.
I can without a doubt say that not leaving and remaining in Nicaragua with the rest of the group was by far the right choice. After addressing the group during the morning meeting and informing them of what had occurred, each person stood up and individually gave me a hug. Everyone was so supportive of me. I had fellow group members come to my window in the early evening while I was napping and asked me if I was in the mood to hangout and play cards. Everyone offered their condolences, some offered to talk, but all offered prayers and sent love to my family.
Now, I am going to shift the focus of this entry and talk about the reason I am writing about this experience. Therefore, I am going to tell you why this trip has been the biggest blessing I have ever received. Our second night of the homestays, the Dragons group watched a movie in the library about the Nicaraguan revolution. During the trailer, there was a segment about the local baseball team in El Lagartillo, the small village we were having our homestays in. I noticed the jerseys the players had on, and after the trailer, I asked if the jerseys were for sale. The answer I got was no. Disappointed but not affected by the outcome, I relaxed and enjoyed the movie.
Now, back to my aunt. I debated whether or not to tell the family I was staying with about her dying. I am very open about my personal life, and decided that I was comfortable with doing that. When I told her the news, my homestay mom gave me the biggest hug I had got yet. It was a bigger hug than I got from any of my peers or my instructors. She told me how sorry she was and that she was sending good wishes my way.
Now, finally. The part of this entry I have been leading up to the whole time. I was eating dinner with my family on the day my aunt had passed. She asked if I had inquired about a El Lagartillo baseball jersey. I responded that I had. I was surprised. I had never brought up to her that I was interested in a jersey. She told me that her daughter had one, and asked me if I wanted to look at it. I adamantly nodded my head yes. She brought it out to me and I admired it. How perfectly stitched it was and how authentic and handcrafted and beautiful it looked. I then finished my dinner and proceeded to walk back to my room.
She came running after me holding the jersey in the air. "Para ti. Para ti," she was exclaiming. I insisted on absolutely not accepting the gift and that she keep it. She forced me to take it, telling me that it was a gift from her as a token of her gratitude and a way to tell me how sorry she was for my loss. I broke down in to tears. This woman that I have never previously met, that I have done nothing for, went out of her way to give me a gift because of something that had happened to me back home. More so, it was something that was special to her community and her home and her family and she gave it away to me simply because I was sad.
This one small example of kindness shows the heart and compassion in every person I have met on this trip. The people in the small village of El Lagartillo, the big city of Estelí, the even smaller La Garnacha. This example of kindness displays the actions of every person I have met in Nicaragua.
All I have done for my homestay mom is take up space in her home. Her whole family is staying in one bedroom together in order to give me a good, comforting experience. I have done nothing for her and she gave me something that represented the home and place she has spent her whole life. If this story doesn't shed light on what traveling to a different country is like, I don't know what does. I will forever remember this journey and this experience, and my life has been forever changed because of the smallest gift of love and kindness from a woman I have never met before and might never see again.
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Best Notes From The Field, SUMMER: Nicaragua

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Reflections

Harper Ensslin,Best Notes From The Field, SUMMER: Nicaragua

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I decided to partake in this trip because I wanted to experience something life changing. I wanted to see things I have never seen before and make connections that will last a lifetime. It is a little past the halfway point of this expedition, and so far this trip has exceeded all my expectations. On […]

Posted On

08/1/16

Author

Harper Ensslin

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    [post_content] => Hello,

Please enjoy these photos from the course!

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    [post_title] => Pictures from Nicaragua!
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SUMMER: Nicaragua

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Pictures from Nicaragua!

Luis Alvarado,SUMMER: Nicaragua

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Hello, Please enjoy these photos from the course!

Posted On

07/25/16

Author

Luis Alvarado

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Chasing Waterfalls
Yesterday, our group traveled to a special waterfall near El Largatillo while also planting a tree. The tree planting process was in remembrance to the land that was destroyed by a man who once took down almost all of the trees. The local townspeople of El Largatillo were very happy to share this experience with us. Even before fully planting our trees, the women were very happy to talk about the meaning behind us planting them.
The walk was almost....entrancing. The trees were lovely, the birds were chirping and everything was lovely....until I fell. However, it was very beautiful, but nothing compares to the waterfall. It was small, but it was almost magical. I felt like I was in on sacred land but I had earned the approvals of the locals. It was amazing. I didn't get to get any pictures which angered me, but I adored every second of it.
I even saw small fish within the waters. It was VERY shocking and awkward at first for me because I became scared. I didn't even want to go in at first, but I really had no choice but to since I had already changed into my swimming trunks before leaving home. I regret really trying to experience the waters, but I don't regret at least taking it slow. The rocks were full of moss, so every step had to be taken carefully. All together, however, the experience was both wonderful and promising and I'll never forget it.
Kamren Washington-Richards
La Viva Familia in El Largatillo
The Dragons in Nicaragua are close to the halfway mark and I think we've enjoyed it so far. We've been in El Largatillo for almost a week now, yet it's been feeling like a month ever since the second night. We all stayed up and decided to just....talk. It was really fulfilling and our group has become very close since then. However, after reaching El Largatillo, we were immediately split apart and taken to our home stay families. I'm not gonna lie, I was a little hurt that I wouldn't be able to be around my group, or, as our instructor Chelsea said, "you guys looked like sad puppies who were split from their litter." It was the truth, though. We were split from our "litter" and we all felt terrible. We thought that we'd be miserable without one another, but we actually aren't. I love my host family and the entire group knows because I've said almost everyday since we've been here.
I live with a mother named Maribel and her two sons, Claudio and Ricardo, who are 11 and 8. They also have a small dog named Chimuelo, or Toothless in English (from the movie "How to Train Your Dragon") and a cat named Princess. They were very welcoming and open to helping me with anything that I would need. And even though I'm slowly learning Spanish, Maribel has gone out of her way to make it easier to talk to her by speaking in English. She always tells me her English isn't that great, but it's easy to understand.
My host family reminds me a lot of my own family in the United States. Maribel is a single mother who is taking care of two children. My mom is also a single parent who, at one point, took care of two growing boys. Now, my brother lives on his own and after this summer, I'll be a senior in high school. Maribel works as a teacher to my fellow Dragon students while also being very active in the community's willingness to make a change.
Between cooking, cleaning, and making sure her sons are in school, she's almost always working constantly. My mother is a flight attendant who's also a hair stylist who experiences the same things even while taking care of me. The similarities of this household to my own could go on and on for days, so I'll stop here. I've felt very comfortable here. After telling Maribel about my lifestyle and family in the U.S., she understood why I felt so comfortable and told me that she was glad I'm here living in her home. Her sons, Claudio and Ricardo, have accepted me as their older brother or "hermano mejor". I know I'm going to cry when I leave because their acceptance of me being here has helped me a LOT with being away from my family, however I still miss them very much and I know they'll see this.
Kamren Washington-Richards
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SUMMER: Nicaragua

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Updates from Kam

Luis Alvarado,SUMMER: Nicaragua

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Chasing Waterfalls Yesterday, our group traveled to a special waterfall near El Largatillo while also planting a tree. The tree planting process was in remembrance to the land that was destroyed by a man who once took down almost all of the trees. The local townspeople of El Largatillo were very happy to share this […]

Posted On

07/25/16

Author

Luis Alvarado

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Showers
By: Abby Raved
For us bucket showers are the new norm,
And trust me they are the opposite of warm.
Washing off the soap is quite a chore,
But we have learned to take less water and make it count for more.
Family
As we reach the half way point of our homestays, we have learned so much about Lagartillo and the families that live there. There are 36 families that live in the community of Lagartillo. We were each asked to do a family tree of our homestay families for "homework", we quickly found out that all the families are related.
Lagartillo isn't like any old community. By talking to people, I found out that no one just buys a piece of land and builds a house. The houses are passed down though the families. Family support is very evident in this community.people drop by for meals or just sit on each other's porches and talk. Everyone genuinely cares about each other's well being.
knowing the amount of support in the community made it a bit easier to hear the history of this place. On December 31,1984 there was an attack on the community. The attackers plan was to encircle, kill everyone, and burn the town. However, a man from a neighboring village new the plan and gave Lagartillo a four minute warning. This allowed out people to escape in to the surrounding woods.there were only 12 armed people in the town and they stayed back to fight off 31 attackers.
My homestay mom, Tina, lost both her husband and daughter that day. She described, to me, how she stopped running and sat near a river because she knew her loved ones were not going to make it. It was really hard listening to her story. On top of the fact that it was really upsetting, the language barrier made it hard to follow along for at times.
I don't know how someone recovers from that, but I do now that she is never alone. Tina's nephew lives with her, and there are constantly people in her house. I have never walked through the front door and not seen her friends or young kids running through her house. Although there may be 36 different house here, Lagartillo is one huge family, and the love and care here is immensely visible.
By: Abby Raved
El Largatillo
By: Abby Raved
El despertador, in English it's an alarm clock,
But here in Lagartillo they really do squawk.
There is no snooze button to roosters,
And at five am it is not a morale booster.
However, the people here are already out and about,
The number of tortillas being made is to manny to count.
The home-stays are going quite swell,
Our Spanish is coming along really well.
By now we can all go on an American food binge,
But eating more Gallo Pinto now that's a real challenge.
We are all struggling to do the laundry right,
The tropical mosquitos sure leaves a bite.
All in all we are having a great time,
I promise your kids are doing just fine.
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SUMMER: Nicaragua

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Updates from Abby

Luis Alvarado,SUMMER: Nicaragua

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Showers By: Abby Raved For us bucket showers are the new norm, And trust me they are the opposite of warm. Washing off the soap is quite a chore, But we have learned to take less water and make it count for more. Family As we reach the half way point of our homestays, we […]

Posted On

07/25/16

Author

Luis Alvarado

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SUMMER: Nicaragua

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Photos from Nicaragua

Instructors,SUMMER: Nicaragua

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Posted On

07/20/16

Author

Instructors

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July 15
Dear Mama,
I want to tell you a little about the experience Nicaragua has given me so far. On one of the first days here in Nicaragua, we stayed at La Garnacha, a small farming community outside of Estelí. On the first night the wind howled in the trees as we played cards around the round wooden table. This group takes cards very seriously. At one point I looked out at the hills and near by the porch I saw small lights blinking in the grass. It took me a moment and then I realized, I was seeing fireflies! Do you remember when I was little how I used to try and catch fireflies when we were in New Hampshire? They've always held a certain magic for me and it made me think back to that. While we were at La Garnacha we got the opportunity to milk goats. Who knew milking goats was so challenging! Everybody took a turn trying to spray some milk into the pail and while we were eventually successful, it definitely took us quite awhile to get the hang of it. A man named Pablo showed us around and there were many really adorable baby goats that we got to play with. I got you something small at the community store as we were leaving but you'll just have to wait and see what it is.
As we drove away from La Garnacha on our way to Estelí we sang old camp songs very loudly and earned a good deal of encouragement from the locals lining the streets. Once we arrived in Estelí we moved into a hotel where the room I stayed in smelled very mildewed and there was frequently a loud banging sound as a mango slammed into the metal roof. While we were in Estelí we ate at the same restaurant for three meals a day for many days in a row. It would be an understatement to say that I got sick of desayuno numero cuatro. We spent our time in Estelí preparing for our upcoming trek to El Lagartillo which is where we will spend two weeks with a home stay family taking Spanish lessons and further immersing ourselves in the Nicaraguan culture.
Tonight is the first night of our trek. We are staying at a farm referred to as "Julio's house" and there are chickens everywhere and a pig that keeps coming around to say hello.  My feet are sore and I am covered in dirt. I really should have brought those hiking boots I decided to leave out at the last minute! Oh well, next time. Our two guides Camilo and Mario are really great and tonight we sat around the fire playing ukulele and singing songs that you used to play through the big speakers in the living room. It reminded me of you and all those dance parties we've had just the two of us. This group is beginning to feel even more comfortable and even though I'm sure we'll have our ups and downs I'm really glad that I'll be spending another three weeks with this group of people. I love you and I can't wait to tell you more stories when I get home,
Reilly
July 18
            Today was our first full day in El Lagartillo. I woke up very early to the sound of roosters crowing and my host mother pounding tortillas in the next room. We needed to be at the language school at 8 o'clock so I had a few hours to go. When I opened my small window I noticed a small yellow bird very close by. The bird sort of cocked its head at me before seeming to decide that I was no threat and went back to observing the rest of the world. With the time that I had I wrote in my journal and reflected on our trip thus far.
           The first thing we did today with our new teachers was talk about how the community here in el Lagartillo was affected by the Sandinistas and the "contra." Everyone sat around the memorial while the teachers told the story of this place. The memorial depicts the faces of all the people that lost their lives to protect the greater community and connecting all their faces are flags of Central American countries. They talked about how the contra's plan had been to surround the village and kill everyone here because they were opposed to cooperative communities like this one. We spent some time sitting quietly thinking about the reality these people had been through and gradually understanding more about the history of el Lagartillo. What surprised me most was how recent this tragedy was (just 32 years ago) and how closely it affected many of the people I have met here. Tomorrow is the day that marks the revolution in Nicaragua and the rebirth of hope and opportunity. Many of the people here in El Lagartillo will be traveling to Managua to hear to president speak.
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SUMMER: Nicaragua

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Update from Reilly

Reilly,SUMMER: Nicaragua

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July 15 Dear Mama, I want to tell you a little about the experience Nicaragua has given me so far. On one of the first days here in Nicaragua, we stayed at La Garnacha, a small farming community outside of Estelí. On the first night the wind howled in the trees as we played cards […]

Posted On

07/20/16

Author

Reilly

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Yesterday morning the ten of us packed up our bags and hopped in the back of atruck. Our ride was filled with song and we quickly arrived in Esteli. The contrast of farm and city isn't new to me but the two experiences have been very different. At home I switch between city and farm weekly so the transition has been easy and I could step back and enjoy the ride. The people in Esteli are very different and there are many more of them. Some are friendly and some just utter "gringa" behind my back.
Before I knew any of this we were arriving at our hotel here minutes before a
 downpour. Once we had put our stuff away, everyone agreed we had a common goal: to buy a soccer ball and go play outside in the rain. However, we did not get to play until today. Today we left at 8:30 to eat breakfast and leave for Diriang's hometown, Ocotal. Ocotal means a profuse amount of pine sap, to me this means the blood or life force of a tree, making Ocotal a very special place.
The whole day has been filled with the building excitement of our organized
soccer match. After lunch and a walk we headed to our field and began warming up. A few stretches later, families started to arrive. We were going up against Diriang's family and friends. These people have ended up being some of my favorites that we have met, the game was incredibly fun even though I had never played before. After the game we all shared food, laughed, and cheered.
Our time here in the city has been less utterly awe-inspiring, yet the beautiful
colors still shone through on the walls of each building and the tiles on the sidewalk. It has been an incredible exposure to being alone in a new city and being able to find my way. We have also grown further as a group, we've learned how to deal with each other's weaknesses and we've learned how to speak and be heard instead of the free for all we experienced trying to find our way to the restaurant without help of the leaders. Now we're off to the next part of the journey. I hope this finds you having a great day,
Wishing you all the best,
Eliana
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SUMMER: Nicaragua

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Into the City

Eliana,SUMMER: Nicaragua

Description

  Yesterday morning the ten of us packed up our bags and hopped in the back of atruck. Our ride was filled with song and we quickly arrived in Esteli. The contrast of farm and city isn’t new to me but the two experiences have been very different. At home I switch between city and […]

Posted On

07/19/16

Author

Eliana

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    [post_content] => Hola Family and Friends,

Please enjoy these photos from the Nicaragua team's orientation phase in La Garnacha!  Stay tuned for more posts as they come in.

image3 image4 image1 (4) image2 FullSizeRender IMG_1783 IMG_1769 IMG_1747
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SUMMER: Nicaragua

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Photos from Nicaragua!

Admin,SUMMER: Nicaragua

Description

Hola Family and Friends, Please enjoy these photos from the Nicaragua team’s orientation phase in La Garnacha!  Stay tuned for more posts as they come in.

Posted On

07/13/16

Author

Admin

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    [post_date] => 2016-07-13 10:33:21
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    [post_content] => Hola!

Greetings from Nicaragua. We've been here for four days but I feel as if we've experienced what some would in a month. The first thing I noticed stepping outside of the airport was the wall of humidity, and now the air I breathe in feels as familiar as the air at home. The first night we slept in a hotel and with dinner we drank pitaya and mango juice. The yellow of the mango seemed almost unnatural and the fusha color of the dragon fruit juice looked brighter than any fruit I know. Swirling the two together was not only beautiful, but the resulting maroon drink was delicious.

The next morning we collected the last two members of the group, Abby and Jordan, and headed to La Garnacha. At this wonderful community we have seen almost indescribable sights  that formed a living tapestry of colors equally beautiful to the hints of Nicaragua the juices showed me. Our days here at La Garnacha have been filled with eye opening conversations, incredible food, and budding friendships. This morning we all voluntarily woke up before six to milk goats and, although, I did not as much sleep as I wanted, I wouldn't do it differently tomorrow.

The way La Garnacha revolves amazes me. In a world where it seems like money and
success are the ultimate goals, one might start to loose hope that such a place exists. There are only a hundred and sixty five people here in this farming community but everything seems to be done in such a way that seven thousand people where I live couldn't do a better job. They milk goats and cows then make their own cheese, there are artisans and medicine women, everything is solar powered, and food is grown proficiently.

Lastly, there are things that have carved a lasting image in my mind. There are
butterflies flying everywhere -- so many kinds I cannot count. We saw moths bigger than our hands and Reilly felt one land on her shoulder. We all learned how to carve stones into what we choose. And at night we saw the flashing fireflies, crystal clear light from the stars, the Milky Way stretching across the sky, and now the dying light of our fire as I write the end of this letter. I can't wait to see what happens tomorrow!

Wishing you all the best,

Eliana
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SUMMER: Nicaragua

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Update from the Field

Eliana,SUMMER: Nicaragua

Description

Hola! Greetings from Nicaragua. We’ve been here for four days but I feel as if we’ve experienced what some would in a month. The first thing I noticed stepping outside of the airport was the wall of humidity, and now the air I breathe in feels as familiar as the air at home. The first […]

Posted On

07/13/16

Author

Eliana

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    [post_date] => 2016-07-09 15:19:20
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    [post_content] => With Abby and Jordan safely in Nicaragua the whole team is together and ready to begin their journey.  The group is off to La Garnacha today for orientation.  Please stay tuned for more updates.

Dragons Administration

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 3.16.01 PM
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The whole team has arrived!

Admin,SUMMER: Nicaragua

Description

With Abby and Jordan safely in Nicaragua the whole team is together and ready to begin their journey.  The group is off to La Garnacha today for orientation.  Please stay tuned for more updates. Dragons Administration

Posted On

07/9/16

Author

Admin

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