“Buenas tardes,” A dark-skinned middle aged man said.
“H-hola,” I stuttered, but found confidence when I looked in his reassuring eyes. He worked quickly,recording information on a card and stamping my passport.
“Oh, si!” I replied, embarrassed. I had forgotten to write my middle name on my travel form, but he grinned in forgiveness. After a few scribbles with his pen, he gave back my passport.
“Gracias.” I said. He nodded in reply, smiling. Our greeters led us outside, and workers began packing our bags into an old van.
“One dollar?”I looked down ata filthy young boy, his clothes stained and torn, his sandal half gone. I shook my head, knowing he was likely hired by an adult waiting for money for alcohol or drugs.
In the front of the van, talkative veterans conversed with old friends. The back was mostly silent; the first-timers stared out the window in awe.Litter and graffiti of government propaganda littered the bumpy streets. Houses consisted of scraps of wood or metal, with no windows to bring in light. Expensive facilities were guarded with barbed wire and machine guns. There was no speed limit nor law enforcement. I realized that a poverty-stricken country with an oppressive government history could lack laws, simply because they didn’t care about public safety. The humid air, crowded streets, and exotic plants shaped my assumptions of what Central America looked like. Though the memory of Grandpa remained with me, I saw sights that were beyond what I knew of the skinny old man that would sneak me in his big blue van to garden at the church.
I came to Nicaragua with the mission group that my grandpa helped start long ago. We were headed to the AMOS facility on the outskirts of the city, a volunteer meeting place and health clinic. Although the organization received threats from government officials in previous years, the organization still works to halt preventable health conditions in Nicaragua, such as diarrhea and malnutrition, which are often fatal. After our welcome, we were sent out on a 7 hour car ride on a mission to aid in health in rural communities in Nicaragua. Though some of us were new volunteers, the community showed us kindness and gratitude, despite the feeble hospitality they could provide in their dark, dirt-floored health clinic, where we would spend five days. Chickens and pigs chirped and grunted outside in the dust and mud, and whimpering dogs begged for food. To Nicaraguans, it is an insult to feed an animal, when the population welcoming you is starved and sickly.
Despite the language barrier, we made fast progress. We tested their water filters provided by AMOS in previous years, and held a health fair to test for anemia and malnutrition. One child had severe anemia, to the point that he had urges to eat soap and dirt, a desperate survival response of the body. My AP Statistics class proved worthwhile when a team was needed for tabulating and analyzing data. With the help of the Parajóns (the leaders of AMOS), who had a lifelong connection with my grandfather, we used our conclusions to communicate to the community how to improve health conditions andinspire further progress long after the volunteers leave.
My grandfather and I had had few conversations, despite living together for ten years. I kept to the quiet hobbies of gardening, cooking and camping with my grandpa. But I realized that no stories could simulate the experience of coming down and giving help myself. I would also understand my grandpa as never before.
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