The Bridges Intern Corner: The First Leg of my Journey

June 19th, 2015

Join Bridges Intern Emily as she takes us on the journey of her Bridges to Community Service-Learning Experience.  Emily was one of over 140 volunteers that traveled down to Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic during the week of February 14th to build 10 houses, hold a medical clinic, and work on other community development projects.  This is Part 1 of her journey.

By Emily Fagan

FEBRUARY 14th, 2015. Can’t sleep. 4 am wake up call, meet at school in one hour. 5:30 am, bus leaves for Laguardia. Groggy, half asleep, not very talkative: with candy in our bellies and ambition in our hearts, we took off.

Emily and Colleen on the first flight from New York to Houston on February 14, 2015.

Emily and Colleen on the first flight from New York to Houston on February 14, 2015.

LEAVING NEW YORK.

My seat was next to two girls that I’d never spoken to before that day – oh boy. Here we go, now or never Em. Jump right in, both feet first. The plane ride was, at first, a muffled rumble of small talk, laughter surrounding funny sleeping pictures and genuine and uncontrollable excitement. Then started the fascination with the wings (the pins that US Airways gives to first time fliers who, mind you, are usually under the age of 10). But we all wanted them. They became the thing to have. The humor surrounding the wings themselves is rooted in the story of how we acquired so many – mine is still on my backpack. And so these wings allowed us to really soar. The quiet plane soon erupted in laughter and we quickly became closely knit.

Card games being played at our gate at the Houston International Airport.

Card games being played at our gate at the Houston International Airport.

TOUCH DOWN IN HOUSTON.

A reasonable four hour layover in Texas was kept busy with bananagrams, races on the moving walkways, travel scrabble, war, iPhone games, music and everybody’s favorite: Presidents. This card game soon became a staple activity for our group. Often heated but always fun, Presidents brought us all together and certainly tore us apart a time or two – speaking from experience. Plane ride number two was more of the same. Roughly the same seats, same wings, same games, same funny sleeping pictures, same new friends. It was long, it was tiring, and it was so worth it. Flying high above the city of Managua was spectacular. For a moment, you could have told me that I was flying above Los Angeles or Phoenix or Portland, and I would have believed you. For miles the colorful lights of the city and the golden glow of the “Trees of Life” were impossible to take my eyes off of. My smile was endless and my eyes widened like a baby girl first discovering the magic of bubbles – I wanted to take all of it in.

DSCN0295

The hotel pool in Managua, Nicaragua.

TOUCH DOWN IN MANAGUA.

I could feel the heat seeping through every crack in the wall of the airport. Every door that opened sent a wave of warmth through my skin. Gone was the cold and snow of New York; the strong, warm sun awaits. We made it through customs without a hiccup and packed our things into a small white van. These men tucked our suitcases into every nook and cranny and tied our belongings onto anything they could so that it could all fit in this truck. It was a tight squeeze, but fortunately a quick ride. We set foot onto our hotel property and the air felt thick and heavy, like you could sweat from just standing still. A quick dip under a nearly full moon in the hotel pool and we were off to sleep, anxiously awaiting our upcoming journey the day ahead.

Click here to read: The Second Leg of my Journey

Click here to read: The Third Leg of my Journey

Do you have a Bridges Experience story to tell? Tell it here and we’ll feature it on our blog!

The Bridges Intern Corner: The Second Leg of my Journey

June 18th, 2015

Join Bridges Intern Emily as she takes us on the journey of her Bridges to Community Service-Learning Experience.  Emily was one of over 140 volunteers that traveled down to Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic during the week of February 14th to build 10 houses, hold a medical clinic, and work on other community development projects.  This is Part 2 of her journey.

By Emily Fagan

Pictured here is our group all packed up and ready to drive northeast from Managua to Jinotega, Nicaragua.

Pictured here is our group all packed up and ready to drive northeast from Managua to Jinotega, Nicaragua.

LEAVING MANAGUA. Even in the early morning – which you could never seem to sleep through even if you tried – the air felt thick already. We woke early as we always did, tied our belongings to the top of a larger white bus, and set off towards the northeast for the mountains. The warm sun felt so welcoming on my pale skin that hadn’t touched air above 40 degrees Fahrenheit in months (thanks, New York). We brought plenty of speakers, books, and friendship bracelet string to last us the 3-4 hour ride, and there was certainly no shortage of singalongs at the top of our lungs.

Here is Zeke with his Chicken Parmigiana for lunch!

Here is Zeke with his Chicken Parmigiana for lunch!

LUNCH. We were hungry and excited. We stopped for lunch at a beautiful restaurant along the ascent to one of the many mountains surrounding Jinotega just outside of the city. Delicious chicken and rice, fish and vegetables, or chicken parmigiana, which one of my classmates so interestingly chose. Of all of the times you’ll be in Nicaragua in your life, and you choose chicken parm!? We laughed about this for all of lunch. And then came the chocolate cake. Oh how our crew loved chocolate cake – we ate pieces of cake until they ran out! With full stomachs and happy smiles, we left lunch and headed northwest towards Sasle.

A local community member of Sasle dances for us at the welcome ceremony. |courtesy of Ally Moreo|

Photo courtesy of Ally Moreo

SASLE. One of our first stops in the community was at the local elementary school. It is a two-room building that is long and rectangular with red, blue, and white exterior paint and red tile floors. Outside was a small swingset, courtyard play area and a cement slab that acted as a stage. Some of the local community members put on a show for us; these girls danced so beautifully. Another school from the UK was working nearby so we shared the welcoming ceremony with them. It was fun, it was funny and it was welcoming. The music that the girls danced to felt so important to the Nicaraguan people, something that I cannot relate to with the Katy Perry’s and Miley Cyrus’s of the United States. And so when all of the fun was had and night began to fall, we headed back to the Finca (farm).

(photo courtesy of Ally Moreo)

One of our trip chaperones from my high school takes a picture of the welcome sign at the finca. The sign reads “Bienvenidos A Kilimanjaro”

FINCA KILIMANJARO. This place was magnificent. The farm was nestled between mountains and sat high up so that views were nearly panoramic in places. I’m not sure how the bus ever made it up those steep and precarious roads. They’re rocky, they’re rigid and they didn’t look too friendly to a cumbersome white bus. A wooden sign hung above the narrow dirt road into the finca welcomed us every time we passed it – that sign meant home, it meant rest and it meant hard work was done or about to be. There were three rooms that we stayed in, each with about five sets of bunk beds, all equipped with mattresses and mosquito nets.

gallopintoBreakfast, lunch and dinner on the finca was always delicious, warm, and authentic. I think I’d be happy eating beans and rice, plantain chips and some sort of deliciously cooked protein wrapped up in a tortilla for the rest of my life. Even writing about it now is making me crave Nicaraguan cuisine! So we all ate together around a long table outside of our rooms, listened to our coordinator, Cynthia, explain the itinerary and some facts about Nicaragua, and learned our groups for the two-house project we were about to undertake. This journey, which we would be embarking on the following day, was to be incredible, eye-opening, difficult and rewarding – and that it was.

Click here to read: The First Leg of my Journey

Click here to read: The Third Leg of my Journey

The Bridges Intern Corner: The Third Leg of my Journey

June 17th, 2015

This is one of the girls' rooms at the Finca. |courtesy of Ally Moreo|

This is one of the girls’ rooms at the Finca. |courtesy of Ally Moreo|

by Emily Fagan

MONDAY FEBRUARY 16th, 2015. We were awoken early as always by the grunts of the cows and the whinnies of the horses on the finca as the sun was just coming up. There was a cool, dewy chill to the air as I climbed out of my mosquito net and down from the top bunk to wash my face. Some were trying to savor every last bit of sleep that they could, snuggled up in the cocoon of their warm sleeping bags. If the bellows of the farm animals or the crisp, cool morning air did not wake you, then surely  our chaperone, Tom Rizzotti, would. He marched into our rooms proclaiming something like “RISE AND SHINE!!” or “GOOD MORNING! TIME TO GET UP!” Oh, how we dreaded that, even while simultaneously looking forward to the laughs it brought about each morning. Slowly, like spiders, we all crept out of our rooms, groggily said “good morning,” and gravitated towards the coffee and the food. Breakfast time! Again, thinking about the food on the finca is making my mouth water. A delicious assortment of fresh fruit, rice and beans, eggs, coffee – dare I continue? After breakfast and some quick words about the day ahead from Cynthia, our trip coordinator, we stumbled into our respective rooms and got ready to go.

 

These are the two pick-up trucks that we rode to and from our site in every day. |courtesy of Ally Moreo|

These are the two pick-up trucks that we rode to and from our site in every day. |courtesy of Ally Moreo|

PICK-UP TRUCKS. Where I live in the US, there are plenty of people who drive pick-up trucks around wherever they go, from farmers to regular old Joe’s like you and me. But our fascination and excitement with riding in the bed of a pick-up never ceased. Every day we all wanted in, especially that first day. We had two trucks for the 20 of us, plus Cynthia and Francisco – our trip coordinators – and our drivers. The rides were crammed, they were windy, they were bouncy, and they were oh so fun. So we piled into the silver and black Mitsubishi pick-up trucks with our split groups and headed to our separate sites. My group’s site was a slightly shorter ride, right off of a main road adjacent to a pre-existing house the beneficiary family had been staying in and a small store that sold us large glass bottles of coca-cola every day.

 

One of the daughters of the beneficiary family enjoys a large coca-cola from the store adjacent to our work site. |courtesy of Ally Moreo|

One of the daughters of the beneficiary family enjoys a large coca-cola from the store adjacent to our work site. |courtesy of Ally Moreo|

WE PULLED UP TO THE SITE. The family looked beyond excited to have us there. Margeurita, the mother, and her husband greeted us with such open arms. I thought that the language barrier would be more of an issue; in fact, that was a big fear of mine prior to going to Nicaragua. Since I was 12, I had taken French classes and never a day of Spanish. Sure, I’d gone to summer camp and shared a bunk with five or six Venezuelan girls who mainly spoke spanish, but I had never known the language. It’s amazing what people can understand through gestures. Communicating with the adult community members was less challenging than communicating with the children. The adults knew how to describe something with pictures and hand motions a lot more than the children did, though all the kids really ever wanted to do was to play, which is the same in any language.

 

THE FIRST WORK DAY. Day one of work was mainly occupied by so much new information being thrown at us. Like a sponge, I attempted to soak it all in as best I could. This is how we make cement, this is how we sift the sand for the cement and this is the amount of wheelbarrows-full of gravel we need to mix. It was a lot. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly overwhelmed, but I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t at all excited. I watched Tom Rizzotti (Rizz) and Cynthia dive right in (they were the pros) jumping in the basin where we mixed cement. They told us to grab some shovels and start piling sand on. I’m a pretty fast learner, and once we all gained more confidence in what we were supposed to be doing, and really got into a good groove, we were cruising and it wasn’t too hard. Well, I shouldn’t say that; the work is never easy. It’s hot, it’s tiring, the buckets are heavy and the rocks always get in your boots – but it is so incredibly rewarding (and fun).

Tom Rizzotti and three of the masons mix cement in the basin at the work site.

Tom Rizzotti and three of the masons mix cement in the basin at the work site.

 

We brought our speakers and our “Nica” playlist on our iPods and really got to work. After a long and exciting morning, we headed back to the finca in the pick-up trucks for lunch and our daily siesta (a rest period taken after lunch before returning to work). After lunch was more of the same: dirt under my fingernails, rocks in my boots, cement on my arms and legs. I was learning the ropes and loving it.

 

 

This is the table that we ate each meal around at the finca outside of our rooms.

This is the table that we ate each meal around at the finca outside of our rooms.

DIRTY. After a long day of work we returned to the finca to wash up before dinner. On the “Suggested Items to Pack” list that I was given, a loofa had definitely been highlighted, though I foolishly chose to ignore that because before I had never been a big fan of scraping away at my skin with a rough ball of mesh. But, boy, did I wish I had taken a loofah with me. The cement was caked onto my skin and no amount of scrubbing with a normal bar of soap would really remove it. We all came out of our showers and to dinner feeling ‘clean’, though there was a clear, thin layer of cement and grit covering everyone’s entire body; it was inescapable. We ate our dinner together as usual around the long, rectangular table covered in a different color tablecloth each meal, and reflected on the day behind us. After dinner, we had a brief reflection activity, some free time and it was off to sleep.

 

A late afternoon view from near Finca Kilimanjaro

A late afternoon view from near Finca Kilimanjaro

DARKNESS. As soon as it got dark, we were pretty much ready for bed. We were still exhausted from our full day of traveling a day and a half before, and the soreness of our muscles from the intense physical labor was sinking in. It amazed me to think about the long hours that our masons worked. We were exhausted after the six or so hours of work we had just done, and the masons worked more. They had already been working for some time in the morning before we arrived, they worked some more during our lunch and siesta, and stayed later after we were gone for the day – and it was like that every day. As grateful as they were for our help and hands to work on the houses, we were even more grateful for the masons who led the way. I kept a journal during my trip to Nicaragua, something I would recommend to everyone, and reflected as often as I could about everything I was seeing and experiencing. It was incredible to think about. As night fell, we climbed back into our cocoons, shared some funny stories and many laughs, and then fell fast asleep until the morning.

 

Click here to read: The First Leg of my Journey

Click here to read: The Second Leg of my Journey

The Bridges Intern Corner: The Fourth Leg of my Journey

June 16th, 2015

This is a photo of Colleen and I in the bed of the pick-up on our way to work for the day.

This is a photo of Colleen and I in the bed of the pick-up on our way to work for the day.

TUESDAY FEBRUARY 17th, 2015. Once again, the farm animals made it impossible to oversleep. We fell hard into the routine of up-early, bed-early. We sunscreened our bodies, hopped into the beds of the Mitsubishi pick-ups, and headed to the sites. Even by day two of working, we had become accustomed to what we had to do and got right to it. Our presence was known in the community of Sasle. Perhaps it was our pale skin and (relatively speaking) revealing tee-shirts and work shorts, but it was hard to go unnoticed. It was clear that we were there to help and I did not meet one community member who was not excited about that. The children’s smiles each day, as the dirt and dust was kicked up from behind our trucks when we passed through the community, said it all. Everyone waved at us and everyone was beaming. I felt welcomed.

 

Here is our favorite ice cream man! |courtesy of Ally Moreo|

Here is our favorite ice cream man! |courtesy of Ally Moreo|

SIMPLE PLEASURES. Each day, an older man traveled to Sasle from Jinotega to sell us ice cream, and it was no surprise that he would be back the following day. So every day we bought ice cream for ourselves and some of the community members. Each day felt the same yet so different, new and exciting. Jokes emerged from the most random occasions and never seemed to get old. We spoke in riddles that haunted some for the whole trip and made others laugh in their misery. We settled into our home away from home on the finca and felt relief as we pulled past that sign each day. Sometimes it can be hard to live in the moment knowing that something has such a short time stamp on it. I wish I could have stayed in Nicaragua for longer; a month, a year, still might not have felt long enough. I tried to enjoy the simplest parts of this experience, taking photographs in my mind of the beautiful sunsets and the bold stars. I’ve only seen stars as visible and as panoramic as those in Nicaragua a few other times in my life during my summers spent in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. I wish I could have that view each night.

 

The runoff pool from the mill at the finca was overflowing. It looked so inviting.

The runoff pool from the mill at the finca was overflowing. It looked so inviting.

ROUTINE. It was only Tuesday and I could already feel the week passing by me too quickly. We worked hard, ate well (and a lot), played often, laughed constantly, slept, and dreamed. The sun was strong and our slightly burnt skin was beginning to feel the same ache that our tired muscles felt. It was hot yet comfortable in the mountains, unlike further southeast in Nicaragua where the humid air and hot, hot sun is more deeply felt. But each day after work as we rode back to our finca oasis in the pick-ups, we longed for a cool swim. The water from the mill that spewed down the slide into the small pond looked so inviting, and so the joke of the water slide entered our trip’s catalogue. Every time we passed that chute – on foot, horseback or via truck – we joked about jumping in. Rizz asked us every day “Hey guys, is that a waterslide?,” and no matter how many times we ran that joke straight into the ground, it still made us chuckle. In fact, I can’t wait to see the look on my friends’ faces when they read that I’ve included this lovely anecdote about the slide in this latest post. Long story short, my point is that we had many jokes and many laughs! Indecipherable to anyone but us, the list of jokes never ended: Who or what can go through the green glass door? If three is five, and five is four, why is four the magic number?

We sat around the table for our nightly reflection together as a group.

We sat around the table for our nightly reflection together as a group.

REFLECTION. That night, we were each given a word to keep to ourselves until the end of the week. The idea was to think about what that word meant to the Nicaraguan people and how it affected their daily lives here, and our own back home. My word was gender, and I initially did not know what to think. Thoughts of the significance and meaning of the word back in the US flooded my mind, but I was at a loss for what to think about Nicaragua. This is going to be challenging, I thought to myself. But as the week went on, it became increasingly clear that gender played a large role in the life of the individual and the family in Nicaragua. By Friday, I had a clearer idea of what I wanted to express about my secret word to my group. I was exhausted and full of dinner and of thought about these words. So as the sun dropped behind the beautiful mountains, and the sky fell dark, we retreated into our separate rooms with the snapshot of the magnificent stars playing behind our eyelids as we fell fast asleep.

 

Click here to read: The First Leg of my Journey

Click here to read: The Second Leg of my Journey

Click here to read: The Third Leg of my Journey

The Bridges Intern Corner: The Fifth Leg of my Journey

June 15th, 2015

In the morning we load up the pick-ups with our bags, water and snacks and head to our site.

In the morning we load up the pick-ups with our bags, water and snacks and head to our site.

WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 18th, 2015. The middle of this week is a bit of a blur. We were nearing the end of our part of the work on the house, and our routine had become so normal that the days didn’t feel all that different from one another. This day was our last full work day on the house. It was hot – as usual – and it was tough. By now, Rizz’s sunburn was as red as a fire truck, we had probably gone through three bottles of aloe at least, and the caked-on cement layer – accompanied by our dings, scratches, bruises and scrapes – made for quite the colorful palette. We were a mess but so so happy. So much happened that day; we worked hard, went for a swim, picked coffee beans, road horses and more. Many incredible memories were made – as always – but the most vivid and memorable part of that Wednesday was the end. That is the real story I would like to share with you today.

 

DARKNESS. The activity of the evening was a bit more relaxing. In previous nights we had watched a film about life in Nicaragua titled Dreaming Nicaragua (2009), learned what it would be like to live on Nicaraguan wages with a family of four or six or seven while budgeting expenses of food and supplies, celebrated Sean’s birthday, and reflected on our given and then still-secret words (gender). But this night we decided we wanted to watch the sun set. I’ve seen beautiful sunsets before. I’ve watched the golden orange glow of the sun dropping behind the Adirondack mountains over Lake George. I’ve seen the egg-shaped moon rise from between the peaks of Mt. Marcy and Algonquin Peak in New York. But I’d never felt such a magical sunset so deeply in my bones as I did in Nicaragua. Perhaps it was the overall setting – I’m not just talking about the beautiful mountains and lush greenery, because I’ve seen a sunset just like that in the Adirondacks. But perhaps it was, instead, the whole picture. The group of incredible people, the underlying magic of knowing that I was in Nicaragua, somewhere truly special and unique, and the warm and bubbly feeling that I did not have a single desire to leave. I was so content and truly in the moment there.

 

This breathtaking sunset was unlike any other I had seen. |courtesy of Ally Moreo|

This breathtaking sunset was unlike any other I had seen. |courtesy of Ally Moreo|

TIME PASSES TOO QUICKLY. I’ve written about how hard it can be to really be present sometimes. My time in Nicaragua seemed to pass by me so quickly that before I knew it, I was back in the cold and bleak state of New York, feeling like it was all only a dream. I tried as best I could to be truly present during my time there, but this was the first moment where I really felt it. Wednesday evening of the week-long trip. Half way through, and it was just beginning to sink in that I was there, really there. As the golden glow and vibrant reddish pink of the setting sun faded into darkness, we began our descent back to our rooms. Once the sky fell dark enough and the stars began to fully emerge, we spread blankets out in the grass outside of our rooms and lay as a group staring up at the sky in silence. It was hard to keep the group silent as we’re such a vibrant bunch, but I valued that time so much. That memory is one that is imprinted in my mind for the long run. I felt like endless; I felt like I could see every star in our sky, and I felt safe. Knowing that the stars I was looking up to are the same as the stars I’ve seen every summer in the Adirondack mountains, and the same as those that my parents were seeing out of our kitchen window in that very moment, was a warm feeling. As cliche as it may sound, I felt like I had a different perspective. It is true that the stars were in a different place in the sky I was seeing in Nicaragua than that of through my kitchen window in New York, but it felt different. And it felt so happy.

 

 

Click here to read: The First Leg of my Journey

Click here to read: The Second Leg of my Journey

Click here to read: The Third Leg of my Journey

Click here to read: The Fourth Leg of my Journey

The Bridges Intern Corner: The Sixth Leg of my Journey

June 14th, 2015

Volunteers paint the recently completed home in Sasle |courtesy of Ally Moreo|

Volunteers paint the recently completed home in Sasle |courtesy of Ally Moreo|

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 19th, 2015. We woke after a good, long night’s rest on the finca to a warm but cloudy and muggy day. The day ahead of us was not to be a “normal” work day – not that any of this is really normal for me. Instead, this day we left the finca for a different work site to paint a home that had been finished by another Bridges group a week earlier. The family of this home had been around our original site (the home for Margeurita and her family) all week and had been helping us in anyway that they could. We arrived in the morning with paintbrushes in hand, paint cans to be stirred, and smiles on our faces. The family had decided that the house was to be painted two colors: a beautiful and vibrant lilac on top and a one-foot thick black stripe on the bottom with designs to be painted later on top of it. The paint was oil-based making it great for painting the home, but horrible for my skin which had a hard time parting with all of the splatter marks; those lilac spots on my arms and legs lasted for a few days and were full of memories. We painted that house from morning until lunch and then left the site for home.

 

Masons continue working on the home we helped build | courtesy of Ally Moreo |

Masons continue working on the home we helped build | courtesy of Ally Moreo |

ON OUR WAY. We passed our original jobsite on our way back to the finca, and for the first time I realized all that we had accomplished. Pulling up each morning and afternoon to the site, our progress did not sink in because it felt gradual, yet fast-paced. But on this occasion, it truly dawned on me that I had helped make this – that I had used my own two hands to help build not just a house, but a home. We made one final stop before lunch on our way back to Finca Kilimanjaro at a spot that was especially meaningful to four members of our trip. I’d like to preface this story with a quick explanation of what happened last April (2014). It was Friday April 11, 2014 and I had been glued to the news channels and Nicaraguan online newspapers all day. The US Embassy in Nicaragua reported that “On April 10, 2014 at 5:27 p.m. a 6.2 earthquake on the Richter scale struck near Mateare, Nicaragua, followed by over 300 aftershocks. The Nicaraguan Government has issued a “Red Alert” and has indicated that additional aftershocks remain a possibility.” This news hit us all hard. I anxiously waited by the phone for a call from Rizz, and around 8 or 9 pm heard the dreaded news that our trip had been canceled. I was gutted; I can’t remember a time that I had felt such disappointment as I did in that moment. Of course, it was in the best interest of our safety, and of course, I knew I had the following year to look forward to, but that didn’t make it any easier. The majority of the volunteers scheduled for the 2014 trip were upperclassman who would not be returning the next year.

The four returning volunteers and a member of the beneficiary family from April 2013

The four returning volunteers and a member of the beneficiary family from April 2013

 

So, on this year’s (2015) trip, there were only four “veteran” volunteers who had been to Nicaragua before with Bridges to Community. Now, back to Thursday, February 19th, 2015. Those four returning volunteers wanted to visit the home they had completed in 2013 together on our way back to the finca. It was a beautiful moment that made me imagine what it would be like to return a year or two later and see the final product of a project that I had worked so closely with. Their smiles radiated throughout our whole group.

 

All of the John Jay volunteers, masons and beneficiary families celebrate the hard work and success.

All of the John Jay volunteers, masons and beneficiary families celebrate the hard work and success.

BACK TO THE FINCA. We arrived back at the finca just after 2:30 pm, ate our delicious (as always) lunch and began to gather our things. The next day we would be leaving the finca for Granada, Nicaragua and so everything had to be packed away. Just after lunch, the clouds got thicker, the muggy air felt heavier, and the sky fell darker. Soon, a misty rain filled the mountains and not long after that a torrential downpour surrounded us. We rode in the bed of the pick-ups to our sites as a group in our nice summer dresses, huddled under a tarp to avoid becoming drenched. For the first time, we were together at both sites as a full group to celebrate all of our hard work, and to dedicate the new homes to the beneficiary families. We stepped into the nearly-finished homes for the first time in over a day and that same feeling of pride and accomplishment filled my body. I felt warm and so grateful for this experience. Margeurita said a few words from her family to all of us that was translated by one of our volunteer coordinators. She said how she never in her lifetime thought that she would ever have a home of her own to live in, and that we had given her more than walls and a roof but a place to raise her family. I felt tears stream down my face and a weight lift off of my shoulders. What I had gained from this experience was greater than anything I could have anticipated. Sure, I learned how to lay cinderblocks, mix cement and build a home, but I learned to appreciate hard work and community. The opportunity to experience another culture – even for just a short period of time – is something that I will forever be grateful for.

 

These are the charms given to Bridges volunteers upon the completion of their trip.

These are the charms given to Bridges volunteers upon the completion of their trip. |courtesy of Pauline November |

REFLECTIONS. This is the last time I’ll be able to say that we returned to the Finca. We ate dinner together as usual, though this time it lasted a lot longer. No one wanted to get up from the table and go to sleep as early as usual; no one wanted the fun to end. We finished this night with our evening reflection, although this time it felt different. We each received a necklace with a silver charm on it; this necklace, given only to those who have been on a Bridges trip, signified success, accomplishment, friendship, love, hard work, and most sadly the end. We went around the table and said a few words about the significance of this trip to each of us, followed by the sharing of our words from the week. As I wrote in The Fourth Leg of My Journey, my word for the week was gender. I thought long and hard about this all week, and it wasn’t easy coming to any conclusions about the significance of the word gender in Nicaragua. I thought about what it would be like for me growing up as a woman in Nicaragua, having children at a younger age than in my town here in the States. I thought about what it might be like to conform to traditional gender roles of a stay-at-home mother and a working father. I couldn’t formulate any opinions of whether or not I would like that – whether or not I would like my life to be that way. It was all so foreign still, yet it felt like home in more ways than one. With teary eyes and smiles on our faces, a melancholy feeling overtook me. I didn’t want to leave – none of us did. We went to bed after a few rounds of cards and some late night laughs, ready to wake up early and pack up our lives into those duffel bags again.

The Bridges Intern Corner: The Seventh and Final Leg of my Journey

June 13th, 2015

This truck carried some of our luggage and followed us back down towards Granada and Managua.

This truck carried some of our luggage and followed us back down towards Granada and Managua.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 20th, 2015. 9 am. This was the last time we would be driving through the archway of Finca Kilimanjaro together as a group. Our bags were a lot lighter for the ride home; many of us left behind clothes, books, games, toiletries and more to be kept at the Bridges office in Jinotega for donations and for volunteers. Even so, the drivers strapped our bags to the roof of the bus and, in what felt like an instant, we were gone. As we made our decent and left the stormy, muggy mountains of Jinotega, the sky began to clear and the sun felt strong on my peeling skin. We headed directly south from Sasle to the city of Granada, Nicaragua – a popular tourist city on the northwest shoreline of Lake Nicaragua. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant in Granada and then had a chance to walk around and shop for souvenirs. To my surprise at the time, most everyone that I met in Granada spoke English well – something I hadn’t encountered earlier in the week. This day felt surreal, like I was sightseeing with some of my closest friends and as if we hadn’t just built two homes up north.

 

One of the boats we road in on Lake Nicaragua

One of the boats we road in on Lake Nicaragua

FRESH WATER. That afternoon, we took a boat ride on Lake Nicaragua where we saw island mansions and a few resorts. It looked wealthy – quite different from Sasle. The fresh water sprayed my raw skin as the boat bobbed up and down going through the wakes. I sunk the tips of my fingers below the cool, crisp water and let the current push them backwards as we flew on. We stopped our boat beside a protected island with colonies of monkeys living on it, took beautiful photos of Ometepe – an island in Lake Nicaragua made up of two volcanoes: Maderas and Concepción – and enjoyed every second of the wind blowing through our hair. This day felt like a gift at the end of a hard, physically demanding, emotionally exhausting, and incredibly fun week. As the afternoon sun sank a little lower, we headed back to the bus for a quick hour-long ride northwest to Managua. By now, our trip had come full circle.

This is the island of Ometepe where the two volcanoes in Lake Nicaragua are located.

This is the island of Ometepe where the two volcanoes in Lake Nicaragua are located.

 

BACK TO WHERE WE STARTED. Not only had we literally come full circle in that we began and ended our trip in Managua, but the whole picture of the trip had too. It’s amazing for me to think back to not knowing a thing about some of my fellow volunteers prior to those 5 hour flights. I had heard from friends, who had been on a Bridges trip before me, that going to Nicaragua is more than a service trip to a foreign country. Instead, it fosters friendships and bonds that cannot be broken and are only truly understood by those who have been. I had heard all of these things and I admittedly doubted their validity, but I could not have been more wrong. I don’t think I’ve smiled as brightly all year as I did in Nicaragua. I don’t think I’ve felt as positive or safe among friends as I did in that time. And I don’t think I’ve wanted to go back to visit a country as much as I do now. I think about my beneficiary family and the community members a lot back here; I wonder what they’re doing now and I imagine their smiles and their joy in a home of their own.

 

Back at Laguardia airport in the cold and snowy New York, our group took one final photo.

Back at Laguardia airport in the cold and snowy New York, our group took one final photo.

THE RETURN. No part of me wanted to leave our hotel in Managua that Saturday morning, February 21st. I dreaded those flights – not because of the time, or the distance, but because it meant the end. I am still in touch with everyone from my Bridges trip; we get together fairly often for dinner, or for a game of cards at the local ice cream place King Kone. Although we’re no longer in Nicaragua together, when we spend time with one another it takes us back there; I am taken back through memories in looking at my pictures, laughing at old jokes, talking about Nicaragua with friends and writing about it here. Thank you for joining me in reliving my incredible journey. Working with Bridges not only changed the lives of community members in Sasle, Nicaragua, but it allowed me to grow as a person and better my own community. I wish I never left, but I’ll be back one day soon.