I am not exaggerating when I say that I feel extremely blessed to be sharing this experience with such amazing young men and women. From day 1, we have all bonded in such natural ways and we already feel like we are family.

This morning a group of us woke up very early and went for a morning jog together around the beautiful town of Leon. We watched out for one another as we’d yell in Spanish, “HOYO!!” which means hole, since the sidewalks and streets have so many. We ran past locals in the community and greeted everyone with a smile and a “buenos dias” as we dodged massive piles of horse poop and chickens which gave us a laugh as we ran. Running truly felt like an obstacle course! We all successfully finished and showered quickly and had breakfast together at a local comedor called, Quiero Mas which literally means, “I want more.” We had gallo pinto (a typical Nicaraguan side dish) made of rice and pinto beans mixed together in the most delicious way!

After breakfast we had an academic seminar about culture, which was the theme of the day. Our question of the day was: What role does art play in preserving local customs and traditions? Our quote of the day was: “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” -John F. Kennedy

We then talked about culture and reviewed the definition that the students created in their pre-trip seminar which was: Culture is a system of beliefs, values, and assumptions about life that guide behavior and are shared by a group of people. It includes customs, language, and material artifacts. These are transmitted from generation to generation, rarely with explicit instructions. As a group, we engaged in critical and insightful dialogue about stereotypes and the potential dangers of trying to define other cultures based off of things we’ve only seen in the media, books, news channels, etc. We also thought about how other cultures might view the American culture based off of the same sources. As a group, we realized that we have to be very conscious and aware of how we may misrepresent or misunderstand other cultures that are not our own. In particular, the Nicaraguan culture is so deep and rich that it is impossible for us to think that we can fully and accurately describe it after such a short time in this country, however, our goal was to get to know as much about it as possible.

After engaging in such deep discussion, we exchanged our American dollars for Nicaraguan cordobas and felt RICH….until we realized what the exchange rate is (24.50 cordobas = 1 U.S. dollar). We used our math skills to figure out how much money we actually had and what kinds of items we could afford with what we had. We all then took public transportation together to a local museum called Museo de Mitos y Leyendas and we learned about the devastating history of oppression towards activists and revolutionaries in the country. It was intense to hear the multiple ways that Nicaraguan people were dehumanized and tortured for fighting for equality, access to education and justice, things that we all realized we take for granted on a daily basis. We also learned about legends and myths that have been passed down from generation to generation, some humorous, some terrifying, but ALL interesting.

Later, we took a bus ride about an hour out of Leon to a rural town called San Claudio. We met a group of very kind and humble women that taught us how to make artesania, which is Nicaraguan art, out of natural materials found on their land. Even the tools we used to shape our ceramic pieces of art were recycled materials that included strips of jeans, broken pencils, straws, etc. The students really enjoyed making these art pieces and they were amazed at all of the wild life that was literally beside us the entire time. We were surrounded by pigs, turkeys, chickens, horses, etc. Since we all knew that these women make this art as a form of survival, we all felt strongly about purchasing art from them to show our appreciation for their creativity and hard work. We all felt sad to say good bye.

Once we got back to Leon and had dinner, we burned off our calories almost immediately with our Salsa and Bachata lesson at the hostel. We laughed, we stumbled, and we grooved to beautiful Spanish songs that inspired our bodies to move like we never had before. We were sweating, laughing, dancing, and most importantly bonding with one another.

At our nightly meeting, we have to share a thorn and a rose for the day. The thorn reperesents something particularly difficult or possible not enjoyable, while the rose represents something beautiful or appreciated from that day. Tonight, there were very few thorns (which were basically mosquito bites and a nose bleed from the heat) but each student had several roses to share at once.  When it was time to pass the torch to the first leader of the day, we decided as a group that the leader of the day will inherit a crown to wear at each nightly meeting and a pin with my baby brother’s photo on it to wear for that night and the next day’s activities. This was especially significant and emotional for me because my brother died last year, two days after his 25th birthday from sleep apnea. He was a natural born leader and an incredible human being and it has been extremely difficult for me throughout my grieving process because we were very close. I hope that each leader wearing his pin in honor of him will leave Nicaragua remembering not only his name, but also how short life can potentially be, how tomorrow is never promised, how life should be lived purposefully and intentionally, how important our loved ones are, and how an influential young person, although gone in the flesh, can still remain ever so present in this world if we do our part to keep their legacy going.

Salud to one of many amazing and life changing days and experiences to come! Buenas noches!