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October 12th 2009
Published: October 12th 2009
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A Gifted MusicianA Gifted MusicianA Gifted Musician

Who says you need hands to play guitar: Tony Mendez
It has been 4.5 months since I arrived back to the civilization I know as Minneapolis, Minnesota. How great those two words sound together.

Still in Nicaragua the last week in May, I didn't want to leave the country I never thought I would call home. My very last day and night in Nicaragua was unforgetable. I said goodbye to my friends in Granada, one of whom took the bus ride with me into Managua. Having to say goodbye is never fun. I emptied all my Cordoba out of my bank account, transfered it to USD and spent the afternoon shopping. I would miss the fruit in the little plastic bags for 5 Cordoba, the men shouting at me to buy lottery tickets or to change money illegially on the streets, and of course the crazy zoo life of the streets. I bought my last fix of organic coffee, chocolates, and Nican music. I added socca and samba music to my collection. Heck, for $1 USD per CD, why not buy any music that interests you?

Backing up to my last week on Ometepe Island: leaving my kids was even more difficult. I have really developed meaningful, incredible, and
My last nightMy last nightMy last night

A gave Eduarda a princess tiarra for her birthday
sustaining relationships with some of the pequenos...Jeffrey is one of them. My very last lunch with him was just heart-throbbing. Eating our gallo pinto, cabbage salad, and tortilla in silence was just so hard. In fact, I didn't have it in me to even look at little Jeffrey: every time I did, my eyes would tear up...At one point, I had to go outside to collect myself from turning into an emotional wreck. It was one of those moments in time you just want to hold onto so bad...because you know it will soon end. All time stops except for that moment. My last lunch in the boys' section was very difficult emotionally. Although many will forget about me, I will never forget them.

Right after lunch, I had to continue packing, prepare my last gifts for my English store, and prepare my photo presentation I had planned for that evening. With failing energy every 5 minutes or so, the simple task of copying photos onto a blank CD almost becomes impossible.

Then, the kids were in for a surprise: Tony Mendez, a famous guitarist, was in to play for us. What's more incredible is that Tony lacks arms. Not accepting defeat, he used what God gave him to move on: he started learning to play with his feet! Gosh, the power and resilence that man has...He played popular praise and worship songs that moved my heart. He also shared the Gospel and told the kids to never give up. Nothing is impossible, even if you don't have any arms. His story was a good stronghold that I needed at that moment since I was so weak emotionally, leaving the kids the next morning and all.

As happens with celebrations, we all headed into the main ranchon for celebration. I guess I was lucky, because the kids and staff were already gathered, for a little bon voyage party for me as well. It was there that the home director, Yader, announced my departure to the kids, set for tomorrow. He then asked me to share some words: About 5 seconds into my speech, I became speechless. My emotions took over and I didn't have it in me to finish. Immediately, the floods of tears came out...

When you heart aches so bad, you need comfort; that is exactly what I got. The kids poured in, giving
Almost to the breaking pointAlmost to the breaking pointAlmost to the breaking point

The kids surprised me with lots and lots of love and hand-made posters!
me hugs and kisses on the cheek. "When will you be back to visit us? Don't forget me!" cried the kids. Every section prepared a poster with cards and messages of love. It was an overwhelming moment and I was so touched that I impacted them so much. I remembered Jesus' words: "What you have done for the least of my people you have done for me." My very goal in Nicaragua was to impact these kids and to love them. And, this was the last day I would have to hug them until I came back to visit them. Words are not sufficient to express the feelings I had; love needs no language.

As the sun was setting, promptly at 6:10pm, I had to walk back one last time through the plantain forest to grab my laptop computer for the photo celebration. I sat in my now vacant, lifeless room and finished up the copying. Then, bravely, I walked out the front door of the volunteer home, alone, into the now dark night. Usually, I am terrified of the dark: snakes, scorpions, and shadows lurke everywhere. However, my last night in San Lazaro, Ometepe, there was a sense
CeremonyCeremonyCeremony

Saying goodbye is hard
of peace.

I took the other path, the one opposite the plantain path. This path is lined with age old trees, with crevices in their trunks and enough vines to wrap you up and tickle your head. Snakes have been known to slither down their branches. I admired the night sky, lined with light bugs. My last sight of those beaten paths on Ometepe was breathtaking. There is was a silence and a peacefulness that was like being with God.

After about 5 minutes, I started to see the faint lights of the homes. It was dinner time, and I was late. As I crossed the dry soccer field separating the girls and boys homes, I started hearing chanting: "Teacher is coming! Save her a plate! Teacher!" I was welcomed in like a queen. The meal was one of my favorites: friend enchaladas, eaten with your fingers. I was taken from group to group, everyone wanting to spend some last moments with me. Girls ran into their sections, giving me gifts. For some, that was a thoughtful letter, like from Patricia. Although I didn't open it up when she gave it to me, I saved it until I
Kid ArtKid ArtKid Art

The kids really put a lot of effort into saying goodbye to me.
was back home: It was a thoughtful letter thanking me for loving her. It was her heart penetrating right through her words. For other kids, I received their beloved stuffed animals, for some the only one they had. I was deeply touched by ther ability to love and say goodbye.

Underneath the virgin, starry sky, all 200 kids gathered to see me off: The kids gather about once a week for a movie...however, tonight was my last night with them. I was the reason for the party. After some technical problems, I started my slide show, consisting of roughly 200 photos from the whole year and a half. Even the coveted quinceanera photos were shown of the lovely girls and boys in their pink outfits. It was a special last hour with them. After the show, I gave hugs to those I could, one last last time. I couldn't find Antonio or Jeffrey, some of my favorites, but they will always stay in my memory.

That night, I stayed up packing up the prizes the kids earned in my English store; Moniek would pass them out to the kids later. All other materials were left for the next
More Kid ArtMore Kid ArtMore Kid Art

I got around 15 of these posters. I had to take photos of them since they wouldn't fit in my luggage.
English teacher. The volunteers blessed me with a thougtful gift as well: jewelry made from the volcanic soil of Concepction, a picture of Moyogalpa, and a card. It was nice to know that I made an impact even on the other volunteers. I went to bed around 2am, partly from packing and partially because I was so restless. I didn't really sleep. I wish I was sleeping in the girls' section, where I was last night. The memories of the slumber party still fresh in my mind.

The very next morning, May 15th I beleive, all was sunny on Ometepe. I walked outside to our very own plantain forest and thought about all the volunteers who made impacts here, just like myself. I thought about how sad I was when all of my volunteer group left me back in January and how now it was my time to leave. We all leave leagacies, and I hope that mine will be remembered here.

I was given a ride into the homes, making pit stops to hug kids along the way. We even stopped at the school where I hugged Antonio and Jeffrey, finally. Then, we went down the dirt road, past the bean fields, offices, school, and finally the church until we made a left turn to head into Moyogalpa. The window down, wind whipping through my hair, I felt great about my work and life here in Ometepe. To this place I owe a lot: my heart's ability to find joy in the small things in life, my greatly expanded ability to love and let go, and my relationships with the kids.

We took the 10:30am ferry into San Jorge, where I was whisked to the NPH office for a few last days to finish up some work, some from the international meeting back in February. Too bad I still had to finish a report for our President for his conferance in Vienna, Austria. Although I was honored he chose me, I had a hard time enjoying my last days with Edgar, Osman, and Herthy while I was working on a deadline. But, I did manage to have some fun listening to music in Herthy's office or talking English grammar with Osman.

On Saturday afternoon, hours after landing in the office, I was given transport into the bus station. There, my bags were thrown on top
Remembering HerthyRemembering HerthyRemembering Herthy

My co-worker and office partner: why can't going to the office be this fun: music, movies, darts, and laughing all the time!
and I was off to enjoy my time in Granada to spend with my friends there. Arriving in Granada with 2 suitcases and two bags was overwhelming. Even at 5pm, the heat was intense as I shoved my luggage into the ghetto taxi with a slumping seat. The beginning of this blog entry recollects some of those memories, which include spending time with the family I have grown close to. I ended up giving them, along with their maid, a lot of clothing and toilteries. They were just extra weight I didn't really need. It was such a pleasure to see them enjoying my clothes. The maid seemed to take all the clothing: there was none left for the needy!

Now, back to the bus heading into Managua: I would be flying on the 26th back to Minneapolis. I had one more night in Managua. I still had to confirm with a friend who lives there, that we were on for my bon voyage partae. He has been a life saver for me in Nicaragua, helping with rides and luggage from back home.
My friend who lives in Granada was nice enough to escort me into the scarry bus
Trimming the trees at the officeTrimming the trees at the officeTrimming the trees at the office

Doesn't this remind you of the work of Edward Scissors Hands? Great craftsmanship!
station of Huembes, the most dangerous of them all. Negotiating a taxi ride for the last time, I was dropped off at the girls home. We took a walk into the mall, the closests one to the home. It is not as glamorous as Metrocentro or Gallerias, but it works. I have many good memories with kids and volunteers spent at that mall. We walked around with all the other Nicaraguans. In fact, that is the place to hang out in this country! Why not, when there is AC and not a whole lot to do in a dirty city with little governmental programs like pools or skating rinks. While we were at the food market, I lost it again. This city, this country, will be hard to leave. I think I cried not only because I will miss it, but because I wasn't sure when I would be back and unsure of how I could live there when there is not a lot of money involved in the business. I came home, longing for a way to find work where I could split my time in MN and Nicaragua.

After my friend left, I was left with the
Last Time in GranadaLast Time in GranadaLast Time in Granada

Wow...Bimbo Bread is quite popular!
girls. One, Johanna, is really close to me. She is like my younger sister. She just sat down and cried on my shoulder. I felt guilty for leaving her, not knowing when I could come back. I gave her some gifts of mine, as a way to remember me. Trying to feel upbeat after such emotional intensity, I sat outside in the dark Managuan heat, waiting for my ride. It was an hour late, expected here.

J first brought me to his parents home so that I could say goodbye.They too have been supportive of me, kindly inviting me in for tea, good food, and company. In fact, I visited them my first day in Managua; now I was visiting them on my last. "When will you be back," they ask me. I say as soon as possible. "Oh, for a vacation?" I lied, saying, yes. I was really hoping for a more committed stay than some mere vacation. How could I just merely visit when I left my heart here? I would figure out a way to stay connected for many years to come. Then, J and I were off to some fancy food. Singing to our favorite
The Short Man and the tall womanThe Short Man and the tall womanThe Short Man and the tall woman

This legend is so popular in Nicaragua. And, in Granada, it is all over!
singer of all time, Frank Sinatra, we arrived at the steak house.

The food was almost too much...for the first time in 18 months, I was overwhelmed by the choices and amount to consume. After some great conversation, which rarley happens in this bustling city, I left happy. My last words were said, and he dropped me off.

Almost right away, I went to bed. Awaiting on my phone were many text messages from my friends in Granada, wishing me a happy bon voyage. Ironically, I slept like a baby, awaking at 4:30am the next day.

As the taxi driver whisked me off as the city was coming to life beneath the pink sky, I remained calm and earily collect. The clean, big airport stood still, awaiting my departure. "Hasta pronto" my taxi driver wished me. Oh, yes, hasta pronto I said, really meaning it. The Managuan airport is so small that it is easy to get bored. And, as it was very early in the morning, I had a hard time getting my mind off all the emotional turmoil I was facing. I checked my last text messages from my Nican friends and sat down to
Home at last!Home at last!Home at last!

I can go out, get dressed up, and not have to rely on public buses! Life is great!
watch a program about Nicaraguan folklore. The familiar songs played on the marimba sung inside my head, ringing like a familiar melody. At last, time to board. Goodbye Nicaragua. Hasta pronto.

Now I am back in another familair country, the United States. My first week was filled with interesting emotions: The first one was pure excitment. Having been back only 2.5 months ago, my home still seemed new and exciting. My upcoming weeks were filled with pure adrenaline, overwhelmed by the choices I had in making money, dressing myself, and even picking out my food. I felt so happy for hot water, a car, a camera, and electricity. I felt alive and privledged for the life I have. I have the world at my fingertips here, or as someone I know would say: The world is my oyster. Yes, it definitely is.

However, the other emotion I couldn't quite understand is this sense of disconnectidness. Although I was happy to see my parents, family, and friends, I still felt disconnected. In the orphanage, I was never alone. I was needed. I needed to give love constantely and was also able to receive love constantely. Here, in my private
SailingSailingSailing

Going out to Calhoun with my partner in crime, Bill
room, fresh into the life I have lived here for 24 years, I felt alone. Working parents and friends, I was forced to unpack, readjust, and start over The days seemed long...Yes, I saw my friends after work and on weekends, but I had to drive to see them...or sometimes they were too busy. In Nicaragua, most of my friends made time for me instantely, with no hesitations. Building relationships is a core priority. Here, people are distracted with TV, internet, choices.....too much. I miss sitting outside, in a rocking chair, taking in the cool Nican breezes, talking about the day with friends in the third world. Even richer families never lost their ability to spend time with each other and connect with others. It was such a hard hit to my heart when friends said they were too busy to hang out here...I guess coming from a family of 200 kids, knit together by love really impacted me. I have to learn to not expect all countries to have the same values. So, I guess you could say that reverse culture shock took some time.

After about a month back in Minnesota, I started taking life for granted.
My NephewMy NephewMy Nephew

I love being able to see my nephew: he grew so much!
I think this is something that happens to all foreigners who spend time in the third world and then return to a country of luxery. It just happens, even if you don't want it to. Now, I really have to force myself to think about how lucky I am. Often, when I am driving into the cities for a fun night of salsa dancing for example, I imagine myself as privlidged for the ability to have a working car. In Nicaragua, I envied my friends in Managua who were able to give me rides and who had freedom. When your luxeries are taken away, only then do you miss them. It is so easy, even with people, to take them for granted. It is only after they are taken away do you see their real value.

Although having a car is nice, there are some things I could definitely go without here. TV is one of them. So is facebook. Although they say technology is supposed to bring us closer together, I see right through it: it often serves as a substitute for a real friendship/relationship.

Now I am planning my next trip abroad. S. Korea was an
Christine and the cityChristine and the cityChristine and the city

I LOVE Christine and I LOVE DT Mpls,especially in the summer. However, my fav time is the fall.
option, but my heart isn't there. I have been looking into Chile, Ecuador, Madrid, and Prague, for half a year. I don't want to be gone for too long, as I am anxious to start my dream job here, which hopefully involves travel to Nicaragua where I can be with my people.

Thanks for reading about my travels. Hasta la proxima viaje!


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19th October 2009

Great words Michelle. Interesantes reflexiones... Me ha gustado mucho el blog. Te felicito por lo que has hecho. Creo que has ayudado mucho, y seguro que para ti tambien te ha servido... :) Spanish friend
22nd October 2009

Thanks
Galce- Thanks for your kind words. You must understand service too, because you are a police officer. Isn't it great to give back to others? Take care and talk soon! Tu hermana en Barcelona, Michellita

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