Finding Community

by Brenna Trollinger

“I have largely underestimated the brevity and depth of this experience… what if this isn’t worth it?”

This was the first line of my bridge year journal, written by a version of myself who was scared, uncertain and had no idea what this bridge year would bring. And I was right, I had underestimated what this incredible and challenging experience would bring. However, I can say with certainty that it was worth it. I would do it again even with every hardship and bout of homesickness. I would not trade this experience for any other. Nicaragua will forever hold a special place in my heart and I am grateful for everything it has given me.

Here, I have found a community of friends within the other 1+4 fellows who are more like family than friends. They have seen me through my lowest moments and some of the most incredible experiences of my life. 

I have found friendship in my internship boss, Chepe, who is quiet yet kind.  We could talk for hours about his interests in biology and conservation. He showed such passion for the work we got to do together.

I found understanding in my Spanish teacher. Zoleyda was patient and understanding of all my questions and mispronunciations. I loved hearing stories about her life, gossiping and gaining confidence in my own Spanish. She is one of the best teachers I have ever had and one of the kindest friends I have made. 

I gained an appreciation for my host mom in her patience with me, and willingness to open up her family to me. When I was homesick and crying, Rosa was there for me to listen. She made me my favorite foods and reassured me that I can do this. I admire how she runs her family with such strength, raising both a strong daughter and granddaughter. 

Finally, In this family, I gained the little sister I never had. Maykeling is seven and loves to be the center of attention. She taught me how to dance and be a kid again, and how to be a big sister.

That sentence I wrote in my journal all those months ago was right, I underestimated the importance of this bridge year experience. Making the decision to come to Nicaragua was not a mistake. This year I found a completely new community and a home away from home.

On Being Mexican in Nicaragua

by Nadia Rosales

All my life I have been Mexican. Through the years, I have had to grapple with what that means, globally and otherwise. I have had a rough time shaking off stereotypes, but my identity was always on the defensive- I was always proving that I was Mexican, or that Mexicans did belong.

When I was a child, I spent most of my time trying to fit into a crowd that did not know what to do with someone like me. I always felt that it was a personal failure when the other kids rolled their eyes as I talked about anything that happened in my home and when they laughed when I used a word in Spanish. I learned that it was easier to just pretend I was a shallow outline of whatever the other kids believed a Mexican to be. All I ever did was hurt in my home state because no one acknowledged me for who I really was.

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An Angel

by Linnea Otto

“Here is your food, my queen.” Doña Violet beamed to a child who stood barely taller than her knees. Her voice held such a tone of reverence that it seemed she was truly speaking to royalty. The child responded with a goofy smile, showing the gaps in their mouth that outnumbered the teeth.

This woman, Doña Violet, is an angel. She works nine hours everyday making food from scratch for over seventy children at the youth center where I work.
Despite this, every morning when I enter the kitchen, she drops whatever pot she’s stirring or pan she’s scrubbing and spins around to greet me. If I forget my water bottle in the refrigerator over the weekend, she freshens it with new water before I get to work on Monday. When she cooks something that has meat in it, she makes me a vegetarian portion. When I don’t wear my glasses, she notices and asks me where they are. In an environment swarming with people, she not only makes me feel like a valued individual, but manages to devout attention to each and every child. When the food is hot, she will sit for an hour at the preschool table, reminding each kid to blow every single spoonful so that they don’t burn their tongues. When kids are running late for lunch, she will stand in the kitchen as she eats, waiting to serve the remaining children. On the day of the third and fourth grader’s play last semester, she made a special lunch of fried shrimp to celebrate. 

However, despite her shining smile, her eyes are tired. She has been working at the youth center for over a decade. The heavy lifting, working on her feet all day, and the daily temperature above 100℉ in the kitchen
are taking a toll on her physical health. When I offer to help her with simple tasks such as cutting vegetables or lifting a heavy crate, her face warms and softens as if I had just volunteered to carry her several miles. Only once or twice has she admitted to me that her arthritis has been bothering her. “I’m doing well today…but my wrists hurt,” she’ll say. And with that, she’ll brush off her apron and begin serving the seventy plates of food to her awaiting kings and queens.