School Visits, Notebooks, and a Life’s Work

We walk back to the horses and gallop, wildly, over another set of green-gold hills to the new school Martina will begin working with.

The familiar two small blue and white buildings in a valley surrounded by mountains and a sea of silver, low clouds. The musical sonnet of children playing, which stops abruptly when they see the four horses and riders walking down the road. Then I try to give my best impression of a person hopping down from a horse, but know my soreness probably gives it away that I’m not.

Fortunately the children are so excited to see Martina, even my camera snaps hardly interrupt them.

She sweetly delivers the stacks of notebooks with an animated speech that leaves the kids laughing and smiling, as she teases and admonishes them to study hard.

She lights up in front of these kids like nothing I’ve ever seen. Theatrical and funny, yet sincere and kind. She gives each one a little hand shake or hug–in return each child shines with light and adoration. Only glimpse into the relationship she’s built over these past years, the little lives she’s impacted, this sweet little talk is enough to make my eyes water. I feel a swirl of pride and good fortune to be this woman’s friend, and humbled beyond belief with the beauty of the work she’s doing here…

Riding in the Back of a Truck

We walk slowly to the store, through a maze of narrow alleys and along an old cemetery, filling each step with more stories and details of the lives we’ve lived in the last six months, as men in cowboy hats wait on horses lazily grazing the green grass along the river and the sun spreads gold and rose arms across the sky.

Back at Carmen Maria’s, a simple dinner of hot pasta in front of the TV feels like five star luxury. Then to bed.

I lay for a few minutes. Savoring my own stillness, as the little Nicaraguan town around me continues to move. Shadows flit across glazed windows, the rattle of Spanish spoken way to quickly for my ears to comprehend. The bark of a dog. A motorcycle kicks off. A girl laughs.

I wake up with sunlight streaking through the window. Martina’s already made pancakes — delicate, buttery, dripped in honey — with hot, dark coffee. A thank you and a smile. Each bite tastes like the best breakfast ever. More than anything, after months traveling solo more accustomed to having my guard up than taking a breath, I can’t get over the sweetness of being cared for. We sit amongst Carmen’s collection of china figurines, for a moment in the handful of quiet minutes, until there’s a hollow rap on the massive metal door.

Smiles and a deep breath, and we’re off again.

Gustav, a heavyset man with requisite cowboy hat and mustache, uses gnarled hands to carefully sweep the bed of his old green pickup truck–our seats for the next stint of the trip. We climb in and hang onto the black, wrought-iron rails as we drive into town. The warm wind (in the dead of my winter) and the freedom of traveling however we please feels like a treat, and I feel like two kids in a parade. Passersby glance, then again. Two white girls riding in a pick up truck in a swirl of dust and sun.

We make stop after stop. Piling stacks of notebooks, paper, groceries and one red pinata into the bed of the truck until it’s nearly full. Then settle carefully between bags and sun-scorched metal for the long ride. Outside Esteli, tiny towns flit by between long expanses of absolutely nothing but dry jungle trees. My hair whips out of it’s french braid into a snarled halo around my head as we speed along. Trucks speed up within feet of the back bumper, lights flashing, as we wave off would-be admirers.

“We’re one hour late.” Martina worries.

“Sounds like we’re right on time!” I figure Nicaraguan’s must have a concept of Nicaraguan time that’s similar to Mexican, Indonesian, and Ethiopian time.