NICA BLOG: 'It's impossible how nice the people are'
By SCOTT WARD
MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- The people of Nicaragua are unbelievably nice.
As we left today the surfing town of San Juan del Sur and headed back to Nicaragua's capital of Managua, for the "volleyball portion" of our trip, that was my biggest takeaway from the first four days of this incredible journey.
I was talking about this during dinner Thursday with our guide Brooke Rundle, and she said it's not just me who feels that way. She said, "It's almost impossible how nice and appreciative the people in this country are."
She told me this incredible story from her first few months in the country -- she moved to Nicaragua about five years ago after falling in love with the country on a surf trip -- where she was driving along a dirt road that had turned to mud, and her car bottomed out and got stuck in the muck, it's wheels spinning relentlessly without making any progress other than spraying the surrounding area with the mess.
She immediately thought of her time back home in the United States and Southern California, where the people are nice but generally not willing to help out in such a situation, and thought she was out of luck until she could come back to the car later with some help.
Right about the time those thoughts snuck into her head, though, the people living in the nearest house began to emerge and began to dig her out. Like, get under her car and dig with their hands, while the rest got behind and pushed while the feet sank into the muck.
Northern Colorado Volleyball spent a lot of time during its stay in Central America assisting with the Casa Llanta Fund. To learn more about this program or to provide a 100 percent donation, click here.
When hearing this story, you have to keep in mind that these people likely had no running water in their house – no shower or quick-drawn bath to rinse off with -- and were living with eight to 10 people in non-air conditioned square footage that some of us in the states use for a den.
But, here they were, out and helping Rundle, a complete stranger, just because she obviously needed it.
It's a pretty remarkable story, and as she spoke I had no problem envisioning the scene playing out. Everywhere we've been this week we've encountered the friendliest people, be it in our hotels, in restaurants on the street as we drive by, in the stands during our first match.
Everyone that we've come across is nice and outgoing and passionate about what they're doing, regardless of the task.
It's refreshing and remarkable, especially considering that nearly everyone we've met has every reason – every, every reason – to be bitter about their lot in life.
It's really hot and humid in Nicaragua, and there's very little air conditioning. Many residents here have very little education on their resume, as many have dropped out of school early on in order to help raise their siblings at home.
And there's very little hope of getting out of the country, according to Rundle, because the process of obtaining a travel VISA for someone with little education and even less money is a next-to-impossible task.
It's difficult to describe and do it justice, but the living conditions in Nicaragua are pretty unbelievable and truly make me thankful for everything I and my family have back in Greeley. With no real threat of anything more than rain occurring here, many of the houses we've seen on our trips through the country provide little more than shelter.
Outhouses are the norm, as are chickens, horses and cows running through the streets, front yards and into homes (well, not the horses and cows, I guess), and the construction material I've seen utilized way more than I ever thought I would see is aluminum sheet metal, used in America for roofs on sheds.
Here? That same aluminum is walls, dug into the ground and nailed into more aluminum used on the roof. And that's everywhere. There isn't a "bad" part of Nicaragua. Here the minority is the wealthy areas.
But that doesn't deter anyone from putting their best face forward.
Now, I'm sure each and every person we've met this week has had their fair share of bad days and plenty of grumpy moments, but I'd bet that those days are far outnumbered by the good days.
By the late afternoons spent swinging in front-porch hammocks after the sun goes down.
By the nights around a picnic table in the front yard playing cards with friends, relatives and neighbors while children run around kicking up clouds of dust and dogs start to wake up from their heat-induced daylong naps and join in the fun.
Or by the days spent working in the restaurant of a local resort, enjoying the AC, catching elevated glimpses of picturesque and world-class surf and helping tourists from America with their high-school level Spanish (that's me, by the way).
All the while grinning from ear to ear, and waving with the most welcomest of welcome waves you could possibly think of.
It's been a remarkable few days, and the people I've interacted with and the scenes I've seen in a blur as we've roared through the countryside will stick with me for the rest of my life.
My wife and I are taking a family vacation this summer to San Diego, and the third and newest member of our family is 16-months-old and is the cutest little red-headed girl you've ever seen. We decided to take her along with us, rather than have her spend the week with Grandma, because we want her to see as much of the world as she possibly can, even though this time won't stick that much in her memory.
But, I have to admit: I'm already thinking of future trips with her and my wife to places like Nicaragua, which has proven to be anything but San Diego.
We'll have an amazing time there over the Fourth of July holiday, and we'll make memories that will always been in our minds and our scrapbooks. But the experiences we're having here -- the experiences the Northern Colorado players and coaching staff are taking in -- aren't available anywhere in the United States and will continue to bring me "back" to this place anytime I think of it.
San Diego will do the same, but for different reasons. I'll think of San Diego and think of the movie Anchorman ("They called it San Deeaaaaggoooo!"), of Torrey Pines golf course, of an incredible fireworks display over the Pacific Ocean, my daughter's eyes when she sees an elephant at the San Diego Zoo.
When I think of Nicaragua -- and I hope our student-athletes will think of this, too -- I'll remember how I'm blessed; how fortunate I am to be able to travel freely between countries in this world; how I don't need to walk across the yard to use the bathroom; how I never had to stop going to school and pursuing my dreams because my little brother needed another hand to help feed him.
And I'll also think about the people in this world who are facing those other unthinkable challenges every day. And I'll remember the smiles on their faces and the sparkle in their eyes and remember that if their problems aren't really problems, than my problems probably shouldn't be problems either.