This is a guest post by Andrew’s father, Erik, from when he visited us in January 2016.
In his January Dicho Blog entry Andrew shared with us:
Hijo de tigre nace rayado – The son of the tiger is born striped.
In his comments he mentioned the joy of seeing their service through the new eyes of Carla and I as they introduced us to the natural beauty of Nica and the wonderful human nature of the Pinoleros whom have taken them in as family and friends. I want to share the viewpoint from the eyes of this old tiger as I reflect on our experience.
I feel like my memory banks are overflowing from the amazing variety and quality of activities that we engaged in during our 19 day stay! My overall impression is one of wonder and pride at the investment that Andrew and Emily are making in the lives of so many. It warms my heart to see the love and appreciation that their Nica and Peace Corp friends have for them.
I was amazed at how socially fearless these two cubs have become. Andrew’s adroit dishing out of dichos won approbation from friends and strangers alike, always producing a smile that says, “he gets us and cares about our culture”. When he pulled out “Nel Pastel” to the taxi driver trying to lure us in on Ometepe Island, she was so tickled and charmed. It amazes me how a small gesture of learning dichos can be such a powerful tool for making human connection. I have always been a logophile and have enjoyed sharing this with Andrew, but the cub has surpassed the old tiger in a love for words. This really expresses a love for the people he is learning from. Emily is equally open to connecting with the pinoleros that she has claimed for her own! They are living out the “dicho” of Bestemamma Marge: heartroom always has room for more!
A real highlight of the trip for me was the week, in the middle of our visit, that we spent working together at Access Camp. Access is a 5 day English immersion camp where 300+ of the best high school English students from around the country gather. They gather under the leadership of Nicaraguan and Peace Corp teachers to hone their English skills and have a blast together! Andrew and Emily were on the leadership team this year and did an outstanding job of working with an amazing staff and impressive campers. Carla and I taught a campfire class together, I led a workshop on the cognitive neuroscience of bilingualism and we helped out with a variety of little tasks where we could. From the first staff meeting on Sunday, before the kids arrived, I was blown away by the fun energy and openness of the young adults who took a week of their holiday to make a difference in the lives of these teenagers. In spite of the 5 a.m. wake up times and staff meetings going past 11 p.m., they managed to maintain their enthusiasm and convey it to the kids! So many fun and crazy things happened, both planned and serendipitous. From Greg’s sack race leadership skills to tree hugging, from hearing the whole camp spontaneously join in singing “We are the world” to midnight giggling sessions back in our room, we experienced muchos milagros mágico! Emily and Andrew work great as a team, their gifts and aptitudes align beautifully and they support each other in ways that remind me of Carla and I! Ah those stripes again.
A definite highlight were the two nights of city presentations that the campers put on to share the beauty, history and culture of their home cities. I am convinced that we got the absolute best introduction to Nica Culture possible. They were so earnest and energetic and authentic and you could feel the pride of place that they had for their hometowns. Such a great blend of beautiful dancing and singing and some truly silly and outlandish moments as well! Andrew and Emily both had cameo appearances in the one of the presentations that added to the levity of the occasion while at the same time addressing a difficult situation in a compassionate and effective manner.
I will conclude my blog by describing a couple of walks that bookended our visit! On New Years day we found ourselves in Beautiful Granada, staying with the Balmanceda family in their beautiful and love-filled home. Luis gave us a tour of the city that featured a Procession of Peace, that we took with several thousand townspeople though the central city to the Cathedral. I felt like a giant looking down at the heads of much shorter Pinoleros. It was easy to find Andrew in the crowd! Lots of singing, music, and very slow walking. We ended the day with a two hour mass, a delicious dinner, and ride back home in the back of a pickup with the whole family accompanying. ¡Bueno!
At the end of our visit Andrew and I joined three Nicaraguan friends on a 30 mile pilgrimage to see one of the most venerated Jesus on the Cross Icons in Latin America, El Cristo Negro of El Sauce. Over 20,000 pilgrims, from throughout Central America, descend on this small town on a weekend in January to pray for miracles and thank God for miracles granted. Andrew did this last year with 2 brothers and a nephew of one of Emily’s Counterparts (Lorenzo, William and Hugo), and I was stoked to be able to join them this year. Lorenzo, the oldest brother has made the walk over 30 years in a row and shared with me the sacred meanings that it has had for his family over the years. We started walking in Downtown Esteli at 4 p.m. and quickly found ourselves on the dirt mountain road heading to El Sauce (the willow). Welllllll, quickly might not be the best word choice. We walked and climbed and stumbled and slid over road and trail and nearly dry creek bed for the next 10 hours before schlumping into town delirious with relief, a little after 2 a.m. The company was awesome, William and Hugo have good enough English that we were able to visit and joke, and Lorenzo and I were able to share a bit with my Spanish comprehension and Andrew’s help. We saw lots of other folks along the way all heading to the same destination. I have one mental picture of a chain of about 20 flashlights and lanterns bobbing in front and behind us for as far as we could see. Our walk was broken up by rest and refreshment breaks at a variety of family owned pulperias along the way. The most amazing of these stops was a midnight meal in the middle of the path provided by a ranch family. As part of their holy duty, they annually make meals of nacatameles, gallo pinto and libations for over 500 people who pass. Delicioso! Andrew chatted with them and they told him that we were the only 2 gringos that they had seen so far! Sights along the way included a scorpion, snake, tarantula, and a sky full of beautiful stars! Seeing the icon at our destination was also a very moving experience and I am so glad that we made the trek. Following some excitement in El Sauce, Andrew and I hopped on a bus and took a 2 hour bumpy bus ride home and waddled on the outsides of our blistered feet to our beds for a pilgrims respite! I walked 68000 steps on the day (and night of the pilgrimage), 1650 steps on the day after! 8^) Uffda!
This Pappa Tiger was sure happy to be with his cubs for a few weeks!
Andrew’s mother, Carla, wrote a companion post about this trip. Read it (and see more pictures) here.