Rolando's reflection in the outside mirror of the van.

Rolando, our driver.

Rolando understands about as much English and most of us do Spanish, but he has endeared himself to all of us with his impeccable comedic timing and unmatched skill in the driver’s seat.

He works for the bus company hired by ProNica to get us from place to place during our stay. He picked us up from the airport and expect for our family stays in El Limon he hasn’t missed a beat.

Some of us were holding our breath when he backed the bus into a very tight space at Cayotepe. Some of us felt just a bit safer when he jumped out of the bus to guard the door after someone cat-called at the bus. And we all were impressed with the “Dad face” he put on when he had to shoo some neighborhood children off the back of the bus in Managua. (He has an eight-year-old daughter.)

There have even been suggestions that he teach us how to drive, or open a driving school. He’s excellent at his job and we are lucky to have him.

UPDATE: Last night (Jan. 13, 2014) we found out Rolando is the new driver for the Taiwanese Ambassador to Nicaragua! We couldn’t be prouder of our new friend. He will start is new job in two weeks. It will mean better pay and Monday through Friday reliable hours for him. Congratulations, Rolando! And congratulations to the Taiwanese embassy on the wonderful hire.

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Nathan with tonight's menu. He ate chicken.

Nathan with tonight’s menu. He ate chicken.

Nathan walked more than three miles for a hamburger. Every time we stop at a gas station or there is a chance to visit a grocery store he restocks his supplies of food he likes.

Nicaraguan food, including the everyday staples of rice and beans and tortillas, unfamiliar vegetables, sauces and juices have been a challenge for him. (He’s a picky eater back in Kansas, too.)

Although he may not be raving about the cuisine, the history major who lives between Ottawa and Williamsburg easily recognizes how much he is learning, how his perspective his changing and how he will question his history lessons for the “whole story” more often after we get home.

Nathan’s mom, Deanna, also is on the trip.

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A Lagrima de San Pedro bracelet on a wrist

A Lagrima de San Pedro bracelet.

Many of us left El Limon with hand-made jewelry crafted especially for us by the children who were our siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews during our time in their community.

The necklaces, bracelets and rings were meticulously strung with Lagrima de San Pedro. Known in English as Tears of St. Peter, the Lagrima de San Pedro seeds were gathered near the river by the hundreds.

After measuring our necks, wrists and fingers, the children worked quickly to clear the seeds of their internal fibrous material and string them onto plastic line or thread. In one case, painting each seed in a different design with nail polish was a special group activity.

Today — and for the days and weeks to come — we wear our Lagrima de San Pedro and remember the connections we made and the resourcefulness and ingenuity we saw in action for each of our days in El Limon. I suspect the seeds will be a reminder that we can do what we put our minds to as long as we’re willing to put in the effort.

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He’s at it again. The group is out and about, exploring Granada and Wyatt is sleeping back at the hostel.

“You sleep more than anyone else here,” Katy told him this afternoon. It’s true. But, Wyatt said, it’s because “I spend so much time trying to fall asleep.”

Wyatt knows he functions best with a lot of sleep and he takes the opportunity to get more sleep when it presents itself. That could be in a hostel hammock in Matagalpa for 20 minutes before dinner, or for a few hours in Granada.

When he wakes up, the third-year biology major from Osage City, Kan. will be ready for whatever comes next.

Wyatt is a Bonner Leader at Washburn who works with children at an after school program at Oakland Elementary with Tara. He plans to work as a wildlife biologist.

Wyatt sleeping in hammock, face down.

Wyatt, completely passed out in a hammock at the hostel.

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So much of our trip would not happen without Lucy.

Lucy

Lucy Dale stands with the Cayotepe tour guide just before the tour begins.

Lucy Dale’s earliest memories are of life in El Salvador in the 1980s. Her parents were missionaries there when she and her sister were young. She moved back to Chicago during elementary school and “was the only white girl in ESL.”

Her connection to and passion for Latin America did not waver. She studied Latin studies and Portuguese at the University of Wisconsin and worked as a member of the Peace Corps in Honduras (Nicaragua’s northern neighbor) before getting a job in Nicaragua.

Now, at 27 years old she runs a cultural center and club called Cultura Quilombo with two partners and works with North American delegations. We are her first delegation with ProNica and all though she knows the history of this country much better than we do, she has been open about how much she is learning, too.

Lucy describes herself as bicultural, feeling as comfortable here as she does at home in the United States. Her story has been an inspiration to some in the group, who have asked her dozens of questions about the Peace Corps and how they can make service to others a life’s work as she has.

“It is important to me to be that cultural bridge,” she told us on one of our first days in Nicaragua. She’s not only an interpreter but a trusted friend who is there when we have questions about manners, what would be acceptable to wear, how to politely refuse food and so much more.

Thank you, Lucy, for always having our backs.

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We’ve arrived in Granada. We’ll be off exploring this beautiful colonial city soon.

I think it’s safe to say that after our stay in El Limon several members of the group are disappointed by the accommodations of the hostel. The lesson: It’s all about perspective.

The running water, indoor showers and toilets are luxury compared to what many of us experienced in El Limon. But they are nothing like the facilities at home in Kansas that many were clearly hoping for.

The drive from El Limon to Esteli, where we picked up some items we left at the hostel for safe keeping, to Masaya where we stopped to eat at a gas station cafe to Granada took about four hours.

There was a lot of beautiful scenery and an incredible amount of plastic waste littering the highway. In the cities, plastic is collected and sold to recycling operations. But apparently in the countryside there is no program or system for collecting garbage. I guess we should appreciate the adopt-a-highway program back home, and be conscious of the amount of plastic we consume because it does not quickly biodegrade.

Plastic on the roadside.

Plastic on the roadside.

More from Granada soon.

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Our work is done. When the center’s windows, doors, gate and trims were painted by about 11 a.m. today.

While several students spent time raking the front yard and sweeping the community room, three students helped Teo and Ishmalle, two community leaders, construct a concrete structure around the community water pipes.

The concrete will protect the pipes from erosion-related collapse and ensure access to the shut-off valve for years to come. In the coming days, a lid the two men will construct a lid to ensure animals — or children — don’t fall in the whole.

Travis, left, and Teo, center, work on the concrete structure to protect the water pipes.

Travis, left, and Teo, center, work on the concrete structure to protect the water pipes.

After the work was completely finished, several of us walked to Esteli to purchase thank you gifts for our families. Most of us chose treats such as cake, pastries and cookies.

In the evening, the community gathered at the communal for a dance and chance to share our mutual appreciation for the work and hospitality. For some of us trying to express our gratitude was emotionally difficult. For Suzie, the third-time visitor, it was especially difficult. “I have a second family here in El Limon,” she told them. And as she wiped the tears from her cheeks we knew she meant it.

The dance lasted for about three hours and everyone had a great time. It was fun to see the good dancers in the group get down — including Aldo, Lucy and Ashonte especially.

Three rows of people, outside in front of a window.

We did it! The group, after the work at the community center is finished.

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Work went quickly today. The group painted a second coat on each window and prepared the trim on both buildings — the preschool and community hall — for tomorrow.

Travis and Suzie paint a window at the preschool building.

Travis and Suzie paint a window at the preschool building.

While the students and Lucy worked with community leaders at the center, Rick, Michaela and Aldo walked to Esteli to meet with Lillian Hall and her husband, Ricardo Esquivia. Lillian was the in-country director for ProNica when Rick first began Washburn’s partnership with the organization.

Lillian and Ricardo live in Columbia, where Ricardo works as a human rights attorney and activist. Together they operate a non-governmental organization called Sembrandopaz, which translates to Planting Peace. (The information on its website is available in Spanish.)

Ricardo, with Lillian as interpreter, told us about the ongoing conflict in Columbia and what he knows from press reports about private peace talks currently underway.

When we get back to Washburn, Rick plans to discuss the possibility of a partnership in Columbia. He plans to reach out to Washburn’s women’s studies program, the School of Law and others with the possibility of an exploratory trip to develop a program — or programs — similar to our journey in Nicaragua.

By the time we returned to El Limon the day’s work had finished and students were preparing to have lunch with their families. In the afternoon, many students walked to the river for a bath. Others took naps or visited with their families.

We’re getting more and more comfortable with our families and the reality of life here. There is one house in El Limon that is vastly more modern than the others, with a running over-head indoor shower and indoor bathroom. Most of us are using outhouses and showering by filling buckets with water and using a bowl to wet and rinse ourselves. Very different than we are accustomed to at home, but extremely refreshing.

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Work has begun. We’re making improvements at the preschool and community center buildings. The windows — metal bars in rows and columns — were rusting and in need of paint. So, today we sanded them and painted the first coat.

The second coat, and painting the trim, comes tomorrow. We’ll have more time, so we’ll work on the community’s water system. We’ll get the details of that when the time comes.

While we worked on the center’s windows, community members worked on building a more formal entryway to the community center and preschool facility. They built a frame for a gate and mixed concrete for its posts. They mixed the concrete on the sidewalk that Washburn students built last year, without measuring as far as we could tell.

While we’re here the plan is to work in the morning — from about 8 a.m. until noon — and spend the afternoons with our families.

Today, several from the group walked in to Esteli, less than three miles away. Others rested, showered, visited the river or learned to wash clothes by hand. Tomorrow, some are thinking of going back to the waterfall.

We’re all getting more comfortable with our families, and learning to communicate in spite of the language barrier. The Spanish-English dictionary is priceless. Some of us are getting dance lessons, helping in the kitchen or playing dolls with children in our host families, too.

We can’t wait to see with our remaining days in El Limon have in store for us.

Tara, standing in a window, holds the bars with her left hand and scrubs a bar with sandpaper with her right.

Tara scrapes rust on a window.

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We arrived in El Limon this morning and settled in with our families over lunch. Then, we headed for El Slato Cascada — a waterfall in a national protected area. Some of us walked the 3.5 miles from El Limon to the waterfall. The road was incredibly rocky and hilly, but the scenery was worth it. Others took the bus.

Nearly everyone got in the water, and absolutely everyone enjoyed the incredible beauty of the place. This is the dry season so the waterfall is not as powerful as it can be. But the consensus was being underneath it was incredibly refreshing and worth the walk.

A waterfall

La Cascada — The Waterfall

Along the way we saw a few cows, including one on the road with two people who were transporting it. We saw dozens types of flowers, beautiful scenery of the mountains and the transition from palm trees to oak and evergreens. There is so much variety and so much natural beauty here. It is breathtaking.

In El Limon we are split in groups of two or three per home. Six of us — all women — are staying two each with families who live in a compound of sorts, All five families who live there are related. The family’s compound is near the river and near the entrance to El Limon, down a long, rocky road. In addition to the families, there are pigs, chickens, dairy cows, bulls, dogs and cats here. It’s not uncommon for a chicken to walk into the house, but they are shooed quickly.

The accommodations are a bit different in each house. Some of us have running water, some don’t. Some have indoor plumbing, others use a “latrina” or outhouse. Everyone has filtered water for drinking and electricity.

A few things we are learning about Nicaraguans: They bathe every day without exception — more than once if it’s hot; they go to sleep early and wake up even earlier; they value family and are proud of their country’s beauty. For example, the 7-year-old girl Michaela and Tara are staying with knows the names of several flowers in her family’s compound and the fruit from every tree.

Cows walking up the path, past an elderly woman on their right.

Abuela (Grandma) welcomes the cows back home for the night.

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