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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Tomorrow morning we leave for the rural community of El Limon. It is only 2.5 miles from where we are right now, but it may feel like a world away.

There is some apprehension among the group about spending the next four days and four nights with families we don’t know.

The primary concerns include:

  • Will I be able to communicate with my host familiy?
  • What will the food be like? What if it makes my stomach upset? (That is a particular concern because only outhouses are available in El Limon.)
  • What will our service project be and will my skills be useful? (The community chooses what they want our help with and we will learn the task tomorrow morning.)
  • Will my host family like me and will I like them?

In order to address some of those anxieties, our guides and a community leader from El Limon will determine who will stay with which families. That will ensure those with some understanding of Spanish will be spread among several homes, for example. We’ve discussed the importance of staying hydrated and communicating openly with someone you trust if health issues arise.

We’re signing off for now. Although there is electricity in El Limon, there is no Internet access. We’ll check in again on Sunday, Jan. 12 from Granada.

I don’t know why I am so taken with the sounds of this place. But waking up to the sounds of life being lived strikes me as so much better than an alarm clock.

This morning, a rooster near the hostel began to crow just after 5 a.m., as the sun began to sneak into the sky. Soon after I could hear people chattering, dishes clanking and what I assume to be the sounds of shops opening and people beginning their days. Just before 6:30 a.m., music and the sound of a voice in Spanish saying something about Matagalpa blared into our room. It sounded almost like a radio station promotion truck was driving down the road, but I don’t understand enough Spanish to know for sure. I was glad to be already awake. One of my roommates was startled awake but found a way to get back to sleep.

Katy and I will return to Casa Materna this morning to visit and exercise with the women staying there. I am the mother of an almost two-year-old and I am stunned at the idea of women who are 38-40 weeks pregnant walking up that hill. They know it could be time to meet their babies any minute. That walk was tough for us yesterday and most of us had no more than purses to carry. It is a testiment to the work they are used to, the physical demands of living in an economically impoverished country where everyone does what they have to.

When we get back, we will all travel to an organic coffee farm. We will meet the farmer, learn about the growing and roasting processes and, of course, try some. There’s more planned for the afternoon as well. It’s sure to be another incredible day.


Part of a mural on a wall at Casa Materna. We were all taken with the doctor holding the baby in front of the sun.

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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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Katy Davis

Everyone is hoping Katy is in the same family stay house as they are. Katy is the only person in our delegation who really knows any amount of Spanish.

A junior and double major in biology and Spanish, Katy said she’s much more comfortable reading and writing in the language than speaking it. She says she’s far from fluent and gaining proficiency in the spoken language is one of the reasons she wanted to travel to Nicaragua in the first place.

The other reason: “Exposure to a culture and living conditions and how different they are. I grew up in a middle-class, white neighborhood,” Katy said during one of our preparation meetings. Like many members of the group, she’s expecting her outlook and priorities to be shifted by what she sees and experiences in Nicaragua. And she’ll gain some language skills, too.

book cover of Webster's Spanish-English dictionary
We’ve been told not to expect to meet many English speakers during our 16 days in Nicaragua. Our guides from ProNica and those who will visit with us at various community organizations will speak English, and some people working in the more tourist-exposed city of Granada may as well.

“Overall, no one speaks English, unless they work at the airport or as tour guides,” Rick Ellis told the group during preparations. This will be his sixth trip to the country with Washburn students and the university’s seventh trip over all.

The prospect of predominantly communicating non-verbally for several days is a bit daunting for some of the group. It all will be part of our Washburn Transformational Experience.

We’ve all been taught the phrase “Que es esto?” or “What is this?” so we can ask for the word of something we’re holding or pointing to. Hopefully, we’ll each build some vocabulary during our four days with the families of El Limón at in time spent with expecting mothers and children during our other stops. Some of us will dig back in our memories for high school Spanish, too.

The other phrase we all know: “Dónde está Katy?” It’s been something to chuckle about at home, but it will be interesting to see how often we use that one.

Any advice for us before we go?