Suzie comes to Nicaragua to see her “second family.” Although graduation will prevent her from returning with the Washburn group for a fourth visit, she says she knows in her heart she will be back.

Reserved and thoughtful, the senior in psychology from Cummings, Kan. signed up for the trip to Nicaragua for the first time three years ago at the suggestion of her then roommate. She says Nicaragua is the reason she had to meet that woman. This year it was her turn to suggest the trip to someone else. She talks about Nicaragua and the people of El Limon so often that her boyfriend, Travis, had to see it for himself.

Rick says he was shocked when Suzie told him she wanted to go on the trip a second time. He’d thought she had been pretty miserable, actually. This year, he knew she would be back.

“You’ve been a pleasant surprise,” Rick told her after our final reflection. “I’m so glad to know you.”

In many ways, Suzie’s three visits to Nicaragua are merged in her mind. But she says each has changed her for the better.

She has learned you don’t have to speak the same language to laugh and play with a child. A hug from a woman you haven’t said more than a few words to can make a place feel like home if she hugs you like your mom does. And those who have the fewest material possessions often share the most.

“Life’s not what I thought it was,” she said during our last reflection at Quaker House. “The first trip, I was so far from the person I am now. I was in a bad palce. This has helped me figure out who I am. Seeing Aldo’s passion for origami, El Limon and their passion for family … it helps you figure out what you want your passion to be.”

Suzie knows she’ll feel strange this time next year when the trip happens and she’s working or in graduate school. But she’ll be planning and saving for a return trip to see her Nicaraguan family.

Whatever she does, Suzie will carry in her heart the community of El Limon and the lessons she learned in Nicaragua about the world and herself.

Suzie and Travis

Suzie and Travis

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Travis has served in the U.S. Army for the past 11 years. Prior to this trip, his only travel outside of the country was on deployment, in Iraq and Egypt. His unit maintains security for dignitaries visiting conflict zones.

Given his training, Travis has naturally fallen into role of protector for the group. Not only because his girlfriend, Suzie, is on the trip, but because it’s what comes naturally to him.

Each time we travel anywhere as a group — and we’ve done a lot of that — Travis brings up the rear. He walks with his head on a swivel and has quickly assessed every situation that seemed odd, unusually or potentially awkward or dangerous. These have included drunk men on the street making cat calls to a strange scene on the walk back to El Limon where a car was parked in the middle of the street and oddly surrounded by large plastic soda bottles filled with water.

The group, walking down the street, from the back.

Travis brings up the rear of the group on a walk in Granada.

Travis graduated last May with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He is finishing a second degree in psychology now and plans to work in a rehabilitation capacity with juvenile offenders.

After our visit to the Gallery of Heroes and Martyrs in Esteli, Travis reflected on the experience of Dona Mina and her son, who left to fight at age 14.

“As a person who joined at 17, I understand him wanting to go. But as a parent, I know how hard it must have been to let him go,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. I feel like, we didn’t do it, but our government is who killed him. It makes me ashamed. It was the most emotional day I’ve had so far. It was so hard.” (Travis has a five-year-old son.)

His experience as a member of the U.S. armed forces has brought important and valuable perspective to the group during history lessons, as well. He has told us he joined when he was 17 to protect the ones he loves. He does what he does, he says, so others don’t have to not because he blindly supports the actions and decisions of the government.

“I don’t fight for a government. I fight for my family,” he said. He plans to remain on active duty until he is eligible for retirement.

We are grateful for his service and his willingness to share his experience with us, in the form of protection and information that has enriched our own understanding.

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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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Katy and Suzie in bunk beds.

Katy on the top bunk and Suzie on the bottom bunk in a room at our hostel in Matagalpa.

We have arrived in Matagalpa, had lunch and are getting settled into our hostel, Buena Onda (translation: “You’re cool,” or literally “the good way”).

During our quick break before visiting Casa Materna, a ProNica partner here in Matagalpa, students are napping, resting or logging on. We’ve got WiFi here so look for posts over the next two days for sure.

Wyatt’s taking a nap in a hammock in the lobby. He’s pretty passed out, but there are a bunch of us nearby.

Wyatt sleeping in hammock, face down.

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

Our bellies are full from the six pizzas we devoured — two veggies, two margarita and two Hawaiian. The consensus was it was very similar to genuine Italian pizza, from a quality pizza shop at home.

The picky eaters (more about them in a get to know you post later) were thrilled. Some were a bit bummed that we missed out on an authentic Nicaraguan meal. But we’re all pleased with our accommodations. This is the first hostel experience for most in the group. It is comfortable sharing rooms here because we know each other now. Here, the guys are in one room and the girls are split between two rooms.

There is another group of American students at the hostel, too. They arrived yesterday from Rice University and will work in a nearby community on a water distribution system. Each of them are engineering students.

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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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Packing for any major trip is nearly an adventure of its own. The Ichabods headed to Nicaragua have been advised that they will need to be able to carry their own luggage – by themselves – for between ¼ and ½ a mile. For most of us, that means bringing less than the airline’s allowed 50 pounds per bag.

And don’t forget to leave room for coffee. And maybe a painting! (During her first trip, Suzie fell in love with some of the paintings done by a local artist. On her second trip she made sure she had the money and the room for a painting that now hangs in her home.)

Backpacks in a store - from Everywhereonce.com.

So what do you bring for a 16-day trip to Nicaragua?

  • Passport
  • Airline ticket
  • ID, credit card, insurance card and photo copies
  • Medicines and prescription photocopies as required
  • Warm weather clothes – but keep the shorts and tank tops to a minimum. Shorts are and especially speghitti-strap tank tops not commonly worn in Nicaragua.
  • One nicer outfit for meetings with organizations
  • Bathing suit
  • Light jacket or long-sleeve shirt for cool nights in the mountains.

We will have access to a washer and dryer at Quaker House, at the beginning and end of our stay. We may be able to wash our things alongside or home-stay families.

  • Walking shoes
  • Sandals
  • One nicer pair of shoes
  • Flip flops – for the shower only

Several travelers have purchased sneakers second hand so they don’t worry about getting them dirty while we’re working.

  • Towel
  • Toiletries
  • Hat, Sunglasses, Sunblock
  • Bug repellant
  • Water bottle
  • Camera
  • Cell phone

The Ichabods have been encouraged to “unplug” during the trip, but having a phone or not is a personal decision.

Still not sure you can make it all fit?

Check out these great posts from the blog Everywhere Once about packing for an extended excursion.

The photo of backpacks on this page was borrowed from Everywhere Once


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 Ellis  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