Ashonte was raised by a military family originally from Louisiana and in high school she participated in JROTC. You could probably guess that much about her background if you listen to her talk for even a few minutes.

“Miss Lucy,” “Dr. Ellis,” “yes ma’am” and “no sir” are her default responses. She’s hard-wired to speak formally, and many of us still aren’t used to hearing it.

She’s the youngest in our group at 18-years-old, so she’s been taught to use a courtesy title for each of us. She’s outgoing and well-traveled. She likes to sing and spent our first day in Granada reading The Great Gatsby.

Ashonte likes to stay active and is quick to trust. At the waterfall near El Limon the non-swimmer agreed to climb on to a piece of driftwood that served as a makeshift raft. Meghan, Laura, Sam and Jenna surrounded the raft to keep her safe as they pushed her out to and underneath the waterfall. She smiled and laughed the entire time.

The biology major who lives in Topeka plans to become a veterinarian. Her mom, who is studying human services, wanted to go on the trip but encouraged Ashonte to go in her place. She took careful notes on the history presentations to share with her mom when we get back to Topeka.

Ashante jams

Ashante sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at Quaker House.

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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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This image -- a Latina take on Rosie the Riveter -- is on the women's bathroom door at Casa Abya Yala collective cafe.

This image — a Latina take on Rosie the Riveter — is on the women’s bathroom door at Casa Abya Yala collective cafe.

Last night we had dinner at Casa Abya Yala, a women’s collective that opened last year. The name of the cafe means “The Americas.”

In addition to a relatively large menu, the cafe sold items made by local women including jewelry and bags. The art on the walls included a focus on literacy — the words “Leer para volar” or “read to fly” were painted above a bookshelf and books were growing like flowers in one mural. Other murals featured women as freedom fighters.

Ashonte took the time to read as much of the poetry as she could and didn’t realize that she hadn’t ordered for nearly an hour. Katy liked the lights made of recycled plastic jugs and a decorative tree with flowers made of repurposed soda bottles. A group of men sang songs in another room of the cafe and it music added to the fun and feel of the place, which distracted us from the time it took to get our food. (We are a huge group and they had a very small staff, we expected it.)

We helped make the place feel vibrant with our laughter, too. More of that is sure to flow today.

The atmosphere at Casa Abya Yala cultural cafe included murals focused on the women's role in revolution and the importance of literacy. Recycled bottles provided decoration as well.

The atmosphere at Casa Abya Yala cultural cafe included murals focused on the women’s role in revolution and the importance of literacy. Recycled bottles provided decoration as well.

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painting of Augusto Sandino

This painting of Augusto Sandino fills an entire wall at the memorial museum.

After a few hours of rest time — for napping or going to the nearby grocery store — we headed out for the rest of our history adventure.

First stop — a lookout point and Augusto Sandino memorial museum on the site once occupied by the personal palace and home of the Somoza family. (Three different Somozas, the father and two sons, ran Nicaragua as dictators until the Revolution.) Somoza family members fled and the palace and all of their land and businesses were claimed by the country.

The employee at the Viva Sandino museum explained the gallery of photos and information to us, with the help of our guide, Lucy, who interpreted for us.

Sandino was killed by Somoza supporters in the 1930s after agreeing to a truce in the guerrilla revolution he led. Sandino and his supported fought against policies that oppressed the poor and against the government’s reliance on the United States. (“North Americans,” as we were told at the museum. Everyone we have met is carful not to saddle us with any blame.)

The Sandinistas in the 1980s took the name to honor the spirit of Augusto Sandino. The national hero is memorialized in many ways, including images of his silhouette and straw hats.

light tree and Sandino silhouette

One of the new “Tree of Life” lighted trees and the iconic Sandino image.

Next, our bus took us to the central plaza to see the National Museum — filled with artifacts, painting, sculpture and parakeets chirping in a courtyard.

The city’s center was badly damaged and basically abandoned after an earthquake in the 1970s. Recently, work has been done to reclaim the space as an attraction.

group

The group in front of the National Museum.

On the way back to Quaker House, children tried to climb on to the ladder of our bus. Rolando, the driver, got out of the bus and put on his dad face.

The group is staring to experience some mild culture shock. There was a lot of talk of pizza, fried chicken or some other sort of “American food.” But most of us are enjoying the traditional food prepared for us while at Quaker House.

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We are getting settled in at Quaker House. Our adventure in Nicaragua has begun!

Our journey to Managua was uneventful as far as airport travel goes. Our group made both flights with plenty of time to spare, everyone has all of the luggage they had when we left Kansas City and no one left anything on either plane or the bus. Good start, right?

group in Atlanta

In Atlanta

The Atlanta airport had art all over, plus tons of options for eating and shopping. We ended up with plenty of time to fill our bellies “with the last American food for two weeks.”

Even Travis, who said he is an extremely picky eater, found something. And Suzie shared an important tip: Don’t load up on greasy food when we get home. Last year she had a fast food hamburger in the airport and “regretted that decision.”

It is easy to see how having two people who have been to Nicaragua before in the group is going to be a huge help.

We are ready. Jenna got several Christmas gifts to help with the trip, including a water bottle with a powerful filter. Deanna and Nathan planned their packing around items they can leave behind – including sleeping bags. Katy has already used her Spanish skills to help out the entire group. Meghan has been reading up on the history of the country. And right now, the group is chatting on the back porch at Quaker House.

Two big surprises. First — If we can stand the taste of all of the chlorine, we can actually drink the tap water. We’ll likely opt for the filtered water available at ProNica and elsewhere we will visit.

Second — We can’t flush our toilet paper. It goes in a trash can. The plumbing system here can’t handle it. Although everything in the bowl is no problem, remembering to put all paper in a trash bin may be tricky.

Tomorrow we relax at a volcano lake. Ashante got to relaxing tonight with a ukulele at Quaker House. She played and sang bits of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Ashante jams

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Congratulations to the following Washburn students who are traveling abroad during winter or spring 2014:

Semester and short-term programs

Belgium

Michaela Lazzo and Ashley Russell will spend the semester at PXL University College, Hasselt. They are studying fine arts.

Finland

Caitlin Beckman, Sara Burton, Kelli Gramlich and Sarah Hayden will spend four weeks at Mikkeli University of Applied Studies in Savonlinna. They will also complete a clinical nursing experience.

France

Paul LaCount will spend the semester at University of Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand. He will study French language.

Ireland

Danae Nelson will spend the semester at National University of Ireland in Maynooth studying general education.

Netherlands

Rachel Catlett will spend the semester studying law at Maastricht University in Maastricht.

Faculty-Led Programs

Belize

Judith McConnell-Farmer, professor of education, is leading Brooke Brennan, Garrett Fenley, Chandler Hillebert, Natalie Jones, Lauren Journot, Courtney Kesselring, Jacob Lewis, Erin Macaronas, Ashley Murrell, Brittany Schuman, Rachel Seuell, Lon Talbert, Ryann Vobach, Mary Webb and Tasha Whittington.

During two weeks in and around Belize City, Belize, students will volunteer at orphanages and the Caye Caulker Island School. They also will attend the Belizean International Symposium on Education.

Belize1

Members of the delegation to Belize at the study abroad awards ceremony in November.

Costa Rica

Randy Pembrook, vice president for academic affairs at Washburn, is leading Joanna Becker, Ty Buschbom, Edith Jimenez, Rachel Klaus and Taylor Moore.

During their time in and around San Jose, Costa Rica, students will volunteer at a retreat camp, local orphanages and in dental clinics.

India

Andy Vogel, international student recruitment and retention, will lead Robert Florence, Kristen Hearrell and Jordan Mills as well as a number of community members.

During nearly three weeks in and around Pune, Maharashtra, India, the group will explore Indian culture and history through general study of ancient and contemporary traditions at Simbiosis International University.

Nicaragua

Rick EllisĀ  will lead Rachel Beiker, Travis Bussen, Kathryn Davis, Suzie Fields, Samantha Finley, Jenna Frick, Deanna Goracke, Laura Highland, Meghan McGuire, Tara Phillips, Katarzyna Potocka, Nathan Robertson, Wyatt Robinett and Ashonte Tell.

During just over two weeks in Nicaragua, students will explore the history and culture while engaged in service both in Managua and rural communities. Explore this blog to learn more about the students involved in this particular trip and their experiences in Nicaragua from Jan. 1-16, 2014.

members of the group

Meghan, Tara, Katy, Nathan, Deanna, Travis and Suzie at the awards ceremony in November

Rick Ellis

Rick Ellis talking about the upcoming trip at the ceremony in November