Travels to Nicaragua

Approaching the doorway, I pause, take a breath, and smile, as every head turns in my direction. There is sudden silence and all eyes are on me. “Buenos dias! Como estan todos?”

I find myself once again, the foreign newcomer in a small village school in a corner of Central America. It’s barely 8 o’clock and I’m already sweaty and a little sticky, the cooling effects of the morning’s cold shower already long gone. However, it’s not Belize, where I served my Peace Corps term, but rather on the island of Ometepe, in Nicaragua. I was fortunate enough to snag an invitation to join the Beacon Hill Elementary School delegation on their recent visit to their sister school in the village of Balgue. It helped that few of the members spoke Spanish, so they were convinced I’d be somewhat useful. So, on this July morning, I found myself “back on familiar ground.” It was an opportunity to live the Peace Corps life again, if only for a few weeks.

Students from my home school of West Woodland, along with Beacon Hill school, donated school supplies and books, which we brought to Balgue in bulging suitcases. The Nicaraguan teachers’ eyes lit up when they saw the suitcases, and it was a privilege to be able to bring those gifts from Seattle schoolchildren. The school has turned one classroom into a library, and with ongoing help from Beacon Hill and BOSIA (Bainbridge Ometepe Sister Island Association, the umbrella organization), is expanding their book collection.

Days were spent observing, teaching, and sharing with both teachers and students. Just as during school visits during my Peace Corps days, there were lessons I had time to think about and plan. “There’s a book about sharks in the library, and Lago de Nicaragua, has freshwater sharks, so that might be an interesting subject for a reading lesson using nonfiction text.” Similarly, others were impromptu. “You want me to perform—right now?” while simultaneously racking my brain for a song I can sing in Spanish. Besides singing “Cinco Patitos” to a group of preschoolers who stared at the gringa, I lead sixth graders through lessons in reading and making maps (“Of course you need to put your home on this map of Balgue we’re drawing! I need to know where everybody lives! Where is the cemetery, by the way?”), and even got to relive my own elementary school years when another delegate and I pulled jump ropes out of the suitcases and decided to teach them how to do “Double Dutch.”

Evenings were spent sitting in the hammock, coordinating the next day’s activities, and drinking Nicaraguan rum. On the weekends, we met with the Balgue teachers for long-range planning and took several excursions to interesting sites on Ometepe, a first for both the Nicaraguans and Americans. Down time spent walking around the village brought back memories of walking in my Belizean village, on muddy, potholed lanes, catching glimpses of everyday life and greeting people as I went along. On these walks, I was rewarded with the sounds of howler monkeys in the trees (native to Belize as well), and found two fruits I hadn’t seen since my days in the Peace Corps, which I excitedly shared with my Seattle companions.

All too soon, it was time to say “adios” to the Nicas, as they call themselves, and return to Seattle. l thank the Nicaraguan people for the hospitality and friendship they shared with me during my short stay in their country.

Carolee Walters, Belize, 96-98