I kept saying I was taking so long to share my experiences in Nicaragua because I had to process it all. While this was true, there was another reason behind it, too: I was hesitant to share it with people that were not my immediate family or close friends. But I also know that the issues I was faced with while on my trip to House of Hope in Nicaragua are ones that need to be made public as much as possible.
I’m to the point now where I think I can talk about God stuff on this blog without being apologetic. I know full well that a good mix of people read my feeble little posts: other believers, skeptics, agnostics, and atheists alike. But what has blown me away is that members from all four of these groups have shown interest in the trip and the cause. I’ve even had people that had never read this blog (to my knowledge) e-mailing me to ask about the trip.
Those of you that know me well enough see this as a safe place, I guess. You’re not going to be attacked or questioned. See those four groups up there?…I’ve been a member of all 4 at some point and as a believer, I think it would be stupid to be in-your-face and drive you all away.
Anyway, all that to say…I’m ready to talk about it now. I actually have a seven page document with the entire trip written out. I have decided to not post the entire thing, but to divide it up by days. So without further delaying (did you sense that I was stalling?…) here’s the first of my Nicaragua posts.
I’ll skip the travels down there for the sake of interest. We left on a Sunday morning, from our church. Lynchburg to Raleigh, then flying out of Raleigh to Atlanta, then Atlanta to Managua. We arrived in Managua right around 8:00 p.m. Managua time. The plan was to meet a man named Oscar and his family. They would take us from the airport to our guest house in downtown Managua.
Oscar is roughly the size of a mountain and serves as basically the strong arm of House of Hope. He has three children, one of whom is an older son that lives in America. He, his wife, and his other son have not seen his American-moved son in nearly two years.
So it was a great privilege to be part of the group that actually surprised Oscar and his family by bringing his son with us. They had not been expecting it at all and there were many gasps and tears and hugs.
Five minutes in Nicaragua and I was already getting misty eyed. This was not good…
The truck Oscar picked us up in was an old work truck with an open back cab. A few support bars ran along the top of it. The thirteen members of our group crammed into the back of the truck, some sitting, some standing, some holding on for dear life, and drove through downtown Managua at about 9:00 at night. It was actually a lot of fun and also a unique way to see the lay of the land. It was also an eye-opening way to see how extreme the poverty is in certain areas of Nicaragua. One block would boast old houses and deteriorating yet habitable apartments while the next block featured shacks of wood, tin and anything that might hold them together, all tucked away behind concrete walls and trees.
So of course, I instantly felt guilty when we arrived at our guest house. The construction was new and we had a lot of conveniences that the majority of areas we had passed often go without: air conditioning, a fridge, hot water, clean sheets. Karma did pay a visit on a few occasions though; the water heater burst and partially flooded the den area, there was no water pressure for about a day or so, and the entire men’s floor was flooded with about an inch of standing water when the shower in the adjoining bathroom began to leak.
But enough with the woes of the spoiled Americans…
Day One had us traveling in a cramped van to the Managua Zoo. There, we were to meet the women and children of House of Hope and take them to the Zoo. When we got there, we discovered that the zoo is closed on Mondays. So after hanging out in what I assume was the zoo parking lot for about an hour, we decided to take the kids and women (an entire busload of about sixty or so) to Lake Managua. There, we accompanied the women and children on guided boat rides of the lake. This was a little bit of overload for me. It was quite difficult to split my attention between the kids and the sights. Lake Managua is enormous and most rich people from Managua and Granada have extremely nice houses along the lake. That, plus the beautiful sights of the lake’s wilderness and Mombacho (a huge volcano just south of Managua) setting in the background.
It was also a wake-up call to realize that the vast majority of these kids had never touched a boat, much less ever ridden on one. I was glad to be a part of it, even when I was asked to sit at the front of the boat and catch most of the waves that splashed up over the sides when the driver hit rough wakes.
This was followed by about two straight hours of playing with roughly thirty-five children on a playground just off the shore of the lake. Now look…I have 2 children, one of which is a 3 year old boy who has reserves of energy that baffle me at times. But within this 2 hours, I got more exercise than I had in the past 6 months. I got dirty and dusty. I got cuts and scrapes and bruises. I had bug bites (I guess that’s what they were anyway) and sore spots on places I didn’t know could get sore.
But it was fun. I had an absolute blast. It was also here when I was forced to get over myself. Knowing what the majority of these girls have gone through before the age of ten, it’s difficult, as a man, to know how to interact with them. Apparently, the girls are used to this and they take initiative. If they want to be hugged, your discomfort is a non-issue. They will hug you. And if you resist at all, you will be attacked with a bear hug. If they want you to put your arm around them as you walk from the swing set to the slides, they will take your arm and put it around their shoulders themselves. The first time this happened to me, the nine year-old girl in question actually looked at me and sort of rolled her eyes …a get over yourself expression if I’ve ever seen one…
We then had a late lunch of fried chicken with the group from House of Hope. The chicken lunches were from a fast food place called Tip Top. As a rule, I’m not the biggest fan of fried chicken but Tip Top was amazing (a good thing since I’d encounter it a few more times during my stay).
After this, we traveled to House of Hope. Stepping onto the grounds for the first time was sort of dizzying. It’s a place I’d heard about, a place I knew was helping so many women and young girls escape abuse. But now it was real. It was like reading about a place for years and then being able to physically manifest it and touch it. We got a quick tour where we learned more about Casa Esperanza (House of Hope). Our guide went over some of the basics, some of which I already knew: most of the girls in the home have no actual families. Some were even sold into prostitution by their families for meager sums of money. At House of Hope, the girls live in a dorm-like environment that barely holds the 27 girls that are currently living there.
It was odd to hear the guide explain the abuse and torment these girls have gone through, some from as early as six years of age, and then to see those same girls running around with smiles on their faces, playing and trying to grab our attention. It was my first confirmation that House of Hope was more than just a nice pleasant story of girls finding healing. Contrasting those stories with the joy I saw in some of them was polarizing in a way, but I left there that day with a better understanding of how God and faith truly can help to heal and redirect pain towards something better.