Dirt roads and shacks: Spring break in Nicaragua

Alysis Richardson

The rundown orange school bus is but an ant under the glare of the unforgiving Nicaraguan sun. A cloud of dust trails playfully behind, eventually settling in the sugar cane fields surrounding the dirt roads. In my seat by the window I don’t so much as blink my squinting eyes at the bead of sweat that persistently clings to my nose until it loses the battle and drips into my lap.

The incessant bumps in the road symbolize my life; the ups, the downs, the smooth ride interrupted by a dip so sudden it reminds me that life is not OK. I am not OK. The world is not OK. This “little engine that could” passes hundreds of poverty-stricken homes these Nicaraguan heroes so humbly call their abodes. “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” but I can not. How does this lucent blue sky, the same sky that blankets our streets paved with gold, cover the land of Nicaragua where the streets are dusty and littered with trash, disposed of only through heaps of burning ash, a formidable stench seeping into the hot, stagnant air?

The ride is silent. The bus is devoid of its usual laugher and screams. My cheeks are stained with muddy tears of “goodbye” from the school in Goyena where our hard work has finally paid off after a week of manual labor in the blazing sun. My body is scraped, bruised and burned — but the pain releases me and I feel accomplishment and pride in my physical discomfort. How can something as simple as running water bring such joy and amazement to so many people while those of us who “have” don’t think twice at the ability to mindlessly brush our teeth with running water each morning?

The bus pushes forward toward our host families in LaVia where middle-class homes still don’t have finished roofs or indoor showers. But my thoughts linger back in Goyena. Sitting in front of me are the ghosts of those glassy-eyed children with whom we’ve played for the past few days at the elementary school. As we depart with forced smiles and tears down our cheeks, a sage-like wisdom sparkles in the eyes of 7-year-olds with a sadness we First Worlders will never know. Standing at only three-and-a half-feet tall, these children may be tiny but their spirits are huge. And they have won an eternal place in my heart.

Our delegation traveled thousands of miles to bring knowledge and help to these young children — but they’ve taught me so much more than I could ever teach or give to them. These are people who can’t afford healthcare; young girls who face a life of prostitution to feed their families; families who live in shacks less impressive than my childhood forts. But what they have is so much more tangible than what they don’t; I envy their appreciation of life, the feeling that gets lost for those of us who “have” somewhere between the radio waves of our iPods and the filling of our bellies with massive quantities of sweets and fast foods.

I try to remember myself at their age, standing at my school desk facing the flag, hand on my heart. “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty, and justice for all.” I was trained to memorize these words but I never thought about them until now, on this hot bus, in the Third World country of Nicaragua where poverty is not a problem but a way of life.