I take my first step into a world that, until a few years ago, I never would have conceived knowing. The humidity shocks me, giving my straight, smooth hair a new, un-appealing frizzy due. As I stand around the dirty carousel, waiting for my luggage, beads of sweat are dripping off me, releasing an odor most people would not welcome. Despite all of this distortion of appearance and scent, I couldn’t be any more elated to be exactly where I was: Managua, Nicaragua. A team of American “gringos” are there on a mission that starts with one monumental step onto a yellow school bus and leap of faith.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
What I see out of the bus window is nothing less than mind blowing. The roads are clogged with old run down trucks, “fresh off the lot” pickups and cars, commuter buses packed with more people than any safety code would allow, and even “ox drawn carts”. The drive to the village of Nejapa and the missionary compound residing it, is filled with more eye opening sights such as tent cities, litter strewn over everything, and begging children. It doesn’t take long before everything in sight becomes a blur due to travel and optical exhaustion. Nicaragua, within the first few hours brings about extreme culture shock.
Bright and early, I wake up to the fragrant smells of rice and beans, the classic yet wonderfully satisfying cuisine of Nicaragua. My mind and body is at ease, as I sit in the hammock, swaying back and forth to the musical tunes of bugs and geckos. Unfortunately, Nicaragua can quickly turn on foreigners with something called “Montezuma’s revenge.” With this, I learn that Imodium is my best friend when acclimating myself to foreign foods.
I venture out onto the dirt road, stepping yet again onto that school bus, greeting the driver with a perky “¡Hola! ¿Qué pasa?” Today is the day I have the opportunity to meet the sole reason for this mission: the children. Every morning these “Chicos y Chicas” wake up to struggle and hardship. But, when I see their faces for the first time, cheering and welcoming the whole team, I can’t see a trace of anxiety or sadness. I see innocence at its best. These kids have the ability to warm the most frigid hearts with their bright smiles. They bombard me with questions (in Spanish mind you) about who I am and many more things that, due to my lack of Spanish speaking comprehension, I could not tell you. But, these children disregard any language barrier with a warm gentle smile: the universal language. As I hand out dresses to little 6th grade girls beaming with excitement. Soon, I kindle a genuine relationship with them that flourishes into a spunky photo shoot. I am snapping one last picture, with each girl giving me their fiercest pose.
One girl claims she is “Nicaragua’s Next Top Model,” and I do not doubt it for a second. Despite her poor and almost desperate situation, she thrives at being a kid. She is a true “model” of inspiration.
The most important lesson anyone can learn from a trip into the unknown of a third world country is this: many people are materially poor, but these people are the wealthiest people when it comes to true appreciation and spirit for what you have. Nowadays I find myself writing their story more and more, hoping to convince others to share in this cultural and life changing experience. The Nicaraguan people leave literal footprints in dirt roads, but they have left permanent foot prints on my heart.
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