I think I’m ready.  Not only do I have a bit of time right now, but I feel back to normal – ran 13.1 miles this morning, went to church, got groceries, am drinking white wine…no malaria or dung fever to report…yep, back to being me.

Liv’s Youth Pastor was also enrolled in the same Master’s program through Bethel College I just completed.  We know each other well, so it didn’t surprise him at all when I said during a break one day about a year ago, “Hey Todd – can I go on the Nicaragua Mission’s trip with you guys?”

He actually seemed excited about the prospect and laughed when I quickly followed his “Yes!” with, “But you can’t tell Liv AND you have to come up with a really good reason as to why you asked me to go.  K?  K.  Thanks, buddy.”

Months passed and it was kind of just forgotten until the postcard(s) arrived in the mail, outlining the details, training dates, and the people who were going on the trip.

Me:  Yep.
Liv:  Why?
Me:  Todd asked me and I really want to experience it, especially along side you.
Liv:  Simultaneous eye roll and sigh.
Me:  (Internally)… Ha ha.  Mi hija el mad-o.

There were 22 High School kids and 7 adult volunteers who went.  For 6 weeks prior to the trip, we all met every Wednesday night at the church to prepare, pray, and learn about what we were going to potentially experience.  Nothing we did in those 6 weeks prepared me for what I saw, felt, and continue to think about on a daily basis.

We left the church at 5:15am on Saturday, June 16th for the 3 hour bus ride to Chicago O’Hare.  Landed in Miami around dinner time, and arrived in our final destination – Managua, Nicaragua – at 9:00pm local time (11:00 EST).  Long travel day, but many excited Americans.

At the airport, we again loaded a bus and listened to Jairo, our Food for the Hungry (FH) Director, explain what we were about to embark upon as we drove through the dirty streets of the capital city.  All I will say about the driving in Nicaragua is as follows:  a) if the malaria, gang-bangers, human traffickers, or drug lords didn’t kill us at some point during the week, surely our bus driver or other fellow Nicaraguan drivers would; and b) I was totally the BEST 16 year-old driver ever (Dad!).

We listened to a very cute Jairo tell us about the scenery, the people, and the place we were going to be staying that night.  It was called the “Nehemiah Center,” and it’s where all FH partners stay while in Managua as it is clean and safe – safe since FH hires uniformed armed guards to carry AR-15s around the compound all night while we fall asleep worrying only about Gringo-loving mosquitoes.

After we turned off the main pot-holed road complete with what seemed like thousands of people, there was a sign indicating the Nehemiah Center was just through a gate up ahead.  Whew.  We were all exhausted, dirty, and starving.  It looked like a well kept camp ground; the quiet was a little eerie, but overall, I was expecting much worse in terms of accommodations than what I was looking at through the thick night air. 

We hopped off the bus and onto a very large tiled patio with several tables and chairs set up for dinner.  There were old-fashioned wicker chairs on one side, as well as several hammocks hanging from the open-air roof.  Very cozy, I thought.  The combination of several smiling faces simultaneously yelling, “Hola, Amigos!” and scent of home cooked whatever allowed my guard to come down slightly.  My gaze stopped looking in all directions for scopes, red dots on my fellow traveler’s foreheads, and the best escape route to save me and my child, in favor of sitting down and eating.

The food was amazing.  We had beans and rice (I quickly learned we would have this every meal, every day), perfectly cooked chicken breasts with a delicious onion-y sauce, cheesy potatoes, and plantains (fried bananas) which were my favorite.  All this was washed down with pinaya juice – also my favorite – kind of like pomegranate only better and a prettier shade of purple.

What a warm welcome.  We dutifully took our plates into the kitchen since we were there to work, of course.  Man…had that only been the toughest work we had to do all week…

Off to bed we went.  The girls had two rooms adjoined by one shared toilet and one “shower” that spit out a few ice cold trickles every now and then.  Yes, this Ritz Carlton lover was in a room with nine bunk beds, two sinks, a crap-ton of suitcases, and eight other slap-happy, overtired females.  I fell asleep the second my head hit the pillow – complete with a smile on my face and the A/C remote in hand.  Happily, there was air conditioning…

When my iPhone alarm went off the next morning, I awoke to find my “bath” towel (think more like hand towel) on top of my sheet in an effort to warm my shivering, balled up body.  I tried to whisper to the others, but since my lips were blue, no words were coming out.  I gingerly stepped out of my bottom bunk, flipped on a light, and saw eight other sleeping beauties underneath their sheets and hand towels.

Beth…it’s FREEZING in here!  What does that thing say?

Yikes.  It wasn’t even in Spanish.  I had no excuse, other than it was in Celsius.  Guess I should have paid more attention in Science so I would have known that 16 degrees Celsius is kinda nippy.

And so it began. Our first official day started by walking outside with our eyeballs fogging over…

Oh, how cold could it be, sissies?
The Welcome Dinner!

Nehemiah Center Patio