Six years ago this month, a life-changing trip

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On assignment in rural Nicaragua…

 

By Caitlin Kelly

We’re fortunate indeed to ever have a truly life-changing experience — in a good way!

Six years ago, I did, flying from my home in New York to Atlanta and there boarding a three-hour flight to Managua, capital of the second-poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere — Nicaragua — after Haiti.

If you’ve never visited or lived in a developing country, especially one reached so quickly, it’s a huge shock.

The air just feels different.

It smells different — of mildew and roast meat and undefined vegetation. Bird calls are unfamiliar.

Horse-drawn carts clop along the streets of the capital.

That $15 you just blew for a sandwich and a drink at the Atlanta airport takes on a whole new meaning when

Nicaraguans’ annual per capita income is just over $2,000.

 

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Try climbing those steps in the dark, wearing a headlamp!

 

 

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Our aircraft from Managua to Bilwi — and back!

 

 

I learned how to canoe at camp -- useful when we went to Nicaragua
On assignment in Nicaragua for WaterAid — Jen in the bow of a dugout canoe

 

I went there with WaterAid America, hired and well paid to produce three feature stories about their work, joining a multi-national, multi-lingual, multi-generational and multi-talented team: a blogger from Maine, Jennifer Iacovelli; the WaterAid communications person, Alannah Imbach, and photographer Rodrigo Cruz from Mexico, even from the very city I’d lived in at 14, Cuernavaca.

We had never met before.

We had no idea if we would. work well together or even like one another.

But we did and we did.

We even had such a powerful experience that, when we said goodbye in Managua to the country director, fellow Canadian Joshua Briemberg (a dead ringer for Hagrid!) he cautioned: “No tears!”

What an adventure!

To reach the coastal town of Bilwi, we rode the tiniest commercial aircraft I’d been in so far — they weighed us, not just our bags!

The van we traveled in for hours every day often needed a push. The heat was intense and we were working hard, 12 hours a day, seeking shade wherever we could find it. The van was stocked with plenty of ice water, and we needed it!

 

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Reporting in Bilwi, Nicaragua for WaterAid

 

The goal there was to teach locals how to build their own toilets and wells.

Until you’ve been in a country where you sweat all day every day — and access to running water is a luxury — you can’t imagine it.

One of my favorite memories, when we visited a village without electricity and running water, sleeping on cots under mosquito nets, was bathing at dusk while trying to pump enough water from the well.

A cow stood nearby.

Just as I finally took off my sports bra…a little boy on a bicycle rode past.

We worked in Spanish, which I speak, and the area’s regional language — Miskito — for which we had translators.

 

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LInda’s home, where we slept w/o electricity on cots under mosquito nets

 

Food was whatever was available, sometimes cooked over indoor wood fires.

The wooden house we stayed overnight in one night was typical — smooth, shiny, spotless wooden floors, painted a bright color, with open windows, and on stilts, allowing storage, shade and room for animals below.

Their turkey (!) followed us through the woods to the river, gobbling happily, until Jen and I got into a dugout canoe there, a first for both of us! Good thing this Canadian knew how to paddle a canoe!

Our seats?

Our host’s mother whipped out her machete (!) and sliced two nearby stalks of bamboo on an angle — boom, seats!

As you can imagine, the week was filled with revelations and kindness, new experiences and the joy of doing some good work in a team of fabulous, easy-going professionals. No one whined!

In the years since, Jen has stayed in Maine doing non-profit work and Alannah now lives in her native Washington State, running Vibe, a gorgeous co-working space she designed with her Swiss husband, Marcel. And they have lovely twin daughters, Noemi and Chiara.

We are still in touch and I’ll forever be so so so grateful for their trust in me and my skills, allowing me to learn so much so quickly.

 

Have you had an experience that changed you or your worldview?

 

 

8 thoughts on “Six years ago this month, a life-changing trip

  1. i remember when you talking about this trip and cannot believe it’s been 6 years already. it sounds like it changed you in so many profound ways. i have to say that each travel experience i’ve had has changed my view of the world in some way.

  2. Very brave of you, Caitlin. Honestly? I don’t think I’d have the courage to make a trip to a destination like that.

    You asked – “Have you had an experience that changed you or your worldview?”

    Yes, meeting my now ex-fiancé (we’re best friends) who is from Baghdad. He escaped the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and has been living in France ever since. It has indeed been educational to see the West through the eyes of an Iraqi. That perspective has changed my worldview considerably.

    Take care during this horrific pandemic. Let’s hope it ends real soon!

    1. I wasn’t scared — we had all our vaccinations and there was little chance of malaria (we took pills) and then…not much else to fear, really.

      One of the truly eye-opening things for me was that the poverty was so so extreme — but people were clean and well-dressed. I didn’t see or smell the filth and squalor I expected, to be honest.

      And the team took such good care of us. As I told Alannah on Day 2; we’re racehorses: water and feed us and we’ll go flat out! When you are that well cared for (SO unlike journalism) work doesn’t feel like work.

      And it was beautiful — every wooden house painted glorious colors: purple and yellow and turquoise. Returning to NY and everything being beige or white…blah!

      I imagine! A friend of mine was dating an Iranian woman who escaped after being imprisoned (she now works for NPR.) Their view would be so different.

      You, too. It is very very scary.

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