This month, one student's impression of the 2007 Teen Delegation,
Natasia Poinsatte, 2007 Summer Youth Delegate from Boulder High School:
Our first 3 days in Managua, like the city itself, were a frenzied blur of images and sounds, racing past too fast for us to comprehend them all.
Most clearly I remember pulling up to La Chureca, a community built on a landfill in Managua. From our charter bus we gazed out upon a sea of
makeshift houses of cardboard and wood, children running naked through pools of congealed waste, dwarfed by looming piles of trash.
And everywhere the smoke rose, dark and impenetrable. I caught the eye of one girl, standing on the edge of the road.
What must she think of me? When the 14 kids from La Chureca first boarded the bus they were timid and reluctant to speak.
My first few clumsy attempts at conversation mostly fell flat, as I seemed incapable of comprehending their rapid responses to my questions.
It was difficult, that first day in a foreign land. Mostly I just observed the people. I noticed Pablo, the oldest, intense and very intelligent.
Then there was Ramon, with his sunny, beautiful smile. We all loved him. Julio and Jose Daniel seemed to have only each other.
Both equally shy, they went everywhere together. As the day wore on, the barriers between us seemed to melt gradually away and
it became easier to speak Spanish. We played games with the little ones and chatted with the older kids. The more I got to know them,
the more painfully aware I became of the difference between our two worlds. I wondered if these children had any concept of my world of excess,
of cars lining every street and 3 story houses. I don't think they do. The contrast is almost unimaginable.
Meeting their families was something else entirely. I was escorted around La Chureca by 3 eager little boys.
I met Pablo's mother first, and she told us that she had 9 children, and that Pablo could not go to school because he had to work in the dump.
I recognized Ramon's mother immediately because she had an identical, beaming smile. She had only 3 kids,
and was sending Ramon to a private school where, she informed us proudly, he was top of his class.
At the end of the 3 days there was a long goodbye, although we hoped we'd see those children soon in Jalapa.
And again we set off into the unknown. Arriving in Jalapa had a bit of a dreamlike quality. Looking back on it,
I can hardly believe those streets and houses I came to know so well had seemed so foreign.
After an introductory meeting, Marie and I met our host family and headed off to our house, which also happened to be a panaderia (bakery).
We boarded the bus early the next morning, and headed to Champaigny to start work on the school.
I was stunned at the vast, misty beauty of the countryside. We were handed picks and instructed to start hacking at the ground.
I don't think we had any idea, then, of the monumental task we'd been assigned. Whoever says you can't move mountains has never been to Nicaragua.
A hill had to be eradicated to make way for a kitchen and latrines. Our motto became "you can never move too much dirt." We worked hard, that first day.
My hands were soon covered in blisters and my face plastered with sweat and dirt. I was none too attractive of a sight,
but the crowd of children which gathered around us seemed unperturbed. They smiled shyly up at us and brought us wonderful, exotic flowers.
Lots of flowers. So many we didn't know what to do with them all. The first little girl I really talked to was named Miralda.
She was missing 2 front teeth and had quite a mischievous smile. She told me she'd stopped going to school because she didn't have a notebook or shoes.
Of course I had known that sort of thing prevents many kids from going to school, but to hear it from this sweet little 7 year old stung in some unidentifiable place.
She introduced me to her family. Her grandma, who looked about 100 years old, welcomed me kindly. Her little sister was positively adorable,
but she had a sad, starved sort of look in her eyes. At one point the two little girls ran away giggling and gestured for me to follow.
They lead me to a nearby shop and bought us each a chocolate covered banana for 50 Oreales.
The next day I brought some money and bought the two of them and their friends each a little treat, as a thank you.
I wish I could have brought them shoes and notebooks, could have brought a piece of my world with me and shown that sad, starved gaze a glimpse of something else.
Over the next weeks, working in Champaigny, I got to know more and more of the kids. They chattered about their families,
asked about members of former delegations (la "Yessica" in particular), and life in America. We played many a game of soccer,
inevitably punctuated by high fives all around after every goal. I don't think I've ever loved little kids so much. I found myself having to promise we'd be back
the next day before I could untangle myself from their midst. Although it got overwhelming on top of all the work we were doing, meeting those kids was one of
the best parts of my trip. My favorite was Jaser. He worked with us sometimes, and I noticed him immediately because of his gleefully delighted giggle,
and the look of thoughtful concern that sometimes adorned his face. He told me his father was killed when he was little. I didn't know quite what to say.
Being with him I just wanted to make him laugh, because it really did light up my world.
Our evenings spent in Jalapa were far from dull. We spent our time at the soda fountain, playing soccer in the streets,
hosting reggaeton dance parties with neighborhood kids, playing dominoes with Helen's host brother, partying at the discotheque, playing pool,
climbing the "satanic" hill, and pursuing any other activities we could conceive of. Our host family never ate with us, but they would sit and talk to us.
We falteringly attempted to articulate concepts ranging from suburbia and global warming to pop music and the winters one encounters living in Colorado.
Our mother was actually from El Salvador and moved away because of the war there, only to find herself in the midst of Nicaragua's contra wars.
We slept little and worked a lot, but each moment there, from hitch hiking in the pouring rain to gnawing on a fresh picked mango, seemed an intense
and amazing experience.
Working with Tamara, FCP¹s in-country representative, and the community of El Polvorín was very inspirational. FCP's current project has been huertos,
family garden plots. The huertos are flourishing, and there is a different sense there all together, one of purpose and organization.
The people have a vision, and the means to create something out of it. Each member of the community seems dedicated to doing their part to change things.
In some ways we were less necessary there, except as a symbol that someone does recognize all they've achieved.
That in itself, though, is a good thing because it means that what's happening in Pasmata cannot be stopped, and will only gain momentum.
We learned a lot about reforestation projects, as well as sustainable gardening. Working with members of the community,
4 of us rebuilt the huerto escolar and provided it with a fence so it would not be destroyed again.
This effort was led by Don Tono, a remarkable old man who possesses seemingly infinite knowledge about the land.
One memorable day we got to explore his nearby finca and its acres of fruit trees,
vegetables and corn.
My time in Nicaragua often seems a memory too vast, and in some ways too removed from my life here to contemplate or describe.
When I think about it, it all comes at me at once, and it's hard to decipher one moment from the next.
All I know is that I discovered something about life there, and about myself. I was confronted with a lot of pain and injustice,
things I'd known were out there, and had maybe even glimpsed in the past. But never before has the full reality of the world touched my life in this way.
Never will I forget the people I encountered and the stories they shared with me.