I saw this picture today and thought, wow,
I have a good looking husband did I really go to India?
Traveling is not something I take for granted and is something that I hoped and hoped for for so long. I get giddy like a schoolgirl as soon as I plan a trip and quite literally bounce off the walls. I always wanted to travel when I was younger and I’ve always been drawn to the idea of distant places, probably because my dad would bring back strange mementos from all over the world but pictures were few and far between. So I was left to dream.
Exactly 5 years ago I did my first (and only) international service trip. I was thinking about applying to the Peace Corps after I graduated college and knew I needed to have more experience doing similar activities if I was going to commit to two years of it. We were to go down to a tiny village in Nicaragua with a group called Engineers without Borders and install a solar panel at their school to produce electricity. We’d also be performing a health survey and testing the household wells for contamination in order to plan the next trip.
I wasn’t Catholic at the time. And it wasn’t remotely even on the radar. So imagine my surprise when I was looking back through pictures and found this one:
I’m the one chilling on top of the ladder installing wires in the church, right up next to a giant crucifix and a giant mural of Jesus. A little foreshadowing, perhaps? We were supposed to install the solar panel onto the school, but when we got down to the community, the residents told us they wanted it to serve their church instead. This being a secular trip, I remember we all talked about it and eventually justified the change in plans because the church really served as their community center so we wouldn’t really be promoting their church.
I’m not lying when I said I developed a love of children on this trip. My younger brother is only a few years younger and we never really lived around younger cousins, and although I’ve done my fair share of babysitting for neighborhood kids growing up, my experience with little kids was limited. You know those people who just attract kids?
Yeah, that wasn’t ever me. That was always the other girl.
Kids didn’t scare me, I just didn’t know how to act around them. But boy, these kids broke me down!
And I particularly love this one!
And then there were these most adorable little twins with strawberry blonde hair. I was so shy around them but by the end I snatched one up because he was too adorable not to have a picture with.
I’d just met the hubs a few weeks prior to leaving on that trip and when I think back to that time, the feeling I get in my stomach is synonymous to the feeling I remember having when I first met him. It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but after our first couple conversations I had the distinct feeling that this man would change my life.
One of the last days on the trip we had a couple hours free in town and I wanted to send him an email to let him know I was thinking about him. I asked our translator how to say “I miss you”. Well, somewhere along the way I messed it all up and I proudly signed the letter “Te extracto mucho” which, all Spanish speakers already know, is definitely not how you say I miss you. Its been our little inside joke ever since.
Anyway, that feeling that I get in my stomach, those butterflies of a new love, a new approach to life, and the feeling that you can go out there and change the world, all wrap up as one for me. I’ve decided its the feeling of hope. Before we got to the village, we thought we were going to change the world. And we’d do it starting with this one community. A few tests later and we realized how contaminated their well water was. Bacteria and nitrates, it was no mystery why the rates of disease were so high. We sat around contemplating what would be our next project. A health center, a better school, clean water. They needed it all. How could we change the world if we couldn’t fix the problems in one village?
But we had to start somewhere. We could give them a bit of electricity. And the next time, a clean water source. Although the basic civil infrastructure was what was lacking, engineered solutions could only skim the surface of what was really a political and sociological problem. We worried if what we offered would have longevity. Electric generators were common in the town and they powered tiny TVs and radios. They could have easily used our solar panel for the same after we left. Would our water system made out of PVC last or would they get tired of walking all the water to the town center to get clean water and just go back to using their contaminated well water?
Towards the end of the trip, it really hit us that all we had to offer was the idea that there was someone out there who was willing to help. A hope of something that was greater than themselves. Of course we could help provide limited tangible assistance as well, but we were unconvinced that that was the most valuable thing we offered. Its frustrating, seeing a situation that you can’t change even if you really, really want to.
Of course the big surprise was that they offered us hope as well and planted the idea that we worried about all the wrong things. How could they seem so happy, didn’t they know they had nothing? Where were our children, our families? the younger women wanted to know, as they were our age and already had little packs of children running around their ankles. A party they threw for us actually turned out to be a lengthy, fiery sermon about Jesus. Too bad it was lost on us as only a few of us understood Spanish. But the music and dancing later was universally understood as a celebration.
Soon after I returned from that trip I decided to go to grad school and study drinking water treatment. With more education maybe I could help people on a larger scale. Soon after that trip I also started attending Mass, which led to the start of my faith journey. And soon after that trip I followed that butterfly feeling and started dating my now-husband.
My life really did change directions from that exchange of hope.
I wonder how anyone’s life in that village changed.