We woke up at 3 a.m. to leave our warm beds and the comfort of our homes to embark on the experience of a lifetime. We left everything behind that we didn't need- no cell phones to send one last text to the ones we love, no iPods to listen to in case we felt homesick. We tried to swallow some breakfast down, even if we had no appetite, because we knew that it would be all we had to eat for the next few hours. We left, groggy, and drove past the bright city lights of the velvet darkness, the high-rise buildings of San Francisco, the congested lineup of automobiles trying to get past a car accident on the highway. We arrived at the airport and were too disoriented to fully develop the realization that we were going to be leaving everything behind.
Before we knew it, we were boarding the next flight to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. I sat next to a Nicaraguan woman who was headed home. She only spoke rapid Spanish and I struggled to help her fill out the paperwork needed for international flights. I had been studying Spanish for 5 years in school, but all I could do was smile and nod as she garbled out questions to me. I no longer felt confident about my Spanish-speaking abilities as we hummed through the air towards Nicaragua. I had imagined having conversations with my host family about everything: from my family, to school, to their lifestyles. But now that dream was shattered by my insecurities.
We left with the sunset and traveled through the velvet darkness once again until we could see the city lights of Central America underneath us. The flood of lights was broken up by huge expanses of darkness: mountains and villages where there was no electricity. Somewhere, in that rural darkness, was the village where we would be living.
We arrived in Managua and were greeted by the warm night air and a flamboyant bus noisily waiting to take us to the city of Esteli. We hurled through the darkness down the narrow bumpy road, honking violently at other buses as a way of greeting, and constantly driving into the other lane to pass a car that was too slow. It was pitch black outside, but we looked at the stars and could see the dark outlines of trees. Occasionally we passed through a town and saw dim lights hanging over a peeling billboard, buildings painted in pastel colors, simple wood houses with mangy dogs sleeping in the yard.
We arrived in Esteli at 2 a.m. and stayed the night in a beautiful hostel named Luna. We explored the scenic city in a traveling pack made up of the most diverse students the local people had ever seen. We immersed ourselves in Nicaraguan culture, learning about the country’s heart-breaking history of war from a first-hand account: a mother who struggled to hold back tears as she told us how she lost her sons to the war and left her home to join the fight. We admired the breath-taking art of the murals and had a taste of local food in the café across the street. We were going to live in a rural village for the next eight days with the purpose of building a school to provide education for the villagers. We are students in a program named buildOn, and we do community service and travel to developing countries to build schools. And we couldn’t be more excited, and nervous, to live in the middle of nowhere.
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