Hello, Plattsburgh. Some of you might remember me as the 16-year-old kid who wrote about a life-changing trip to Nicaragua with Mission of Hope a few years ago.
Well, I’m back. I’m no longer quite the same goofy, wide-eyed girl in the bandana and the fanny pack, off to see the world for the first time.
Except I’m still wearing a bandana, as I write this. And my fanny pack is sitting not even an inch away. And I’m still goofy.
But, anyways, over the past two days, as I put my hand out the window in the warm Managua air, as I tasted sweet pitalla and as all the familiar smells of burning trash washed over me, I tried to think about, on this 50th Mission trip, something that I could say that would sum up everything that has changed in my life since my first Mission trip, and everything that has changed in Nicaragua since the very first trip 15 years ago after Hurricane Mitch.
All of these years, all of the painstaking labors of love, all of the time I’ve spent turning it all over in my brain ... and I realized I truly have nothing to say anymore. Instead, I think it’s time to turn it over to someone who’s been waiting patiently in the corner to speak for far longer than my years on Earth extend: Nicaragua.
Harvin is a teenage boy. He’s been showing us around and helping us out for the past few days. As we sat down at the end of the day under the pavilion with other prep-team members (missioners who come early to help prepare for the larger group), I heard the words coming out of my mouth (in extremely poor Spanish): “Harvin, can I interview you?”
What ensued was about half an hour of very messy, disjointed Spanglish conversation that will, undoubtedly, be one of my fondest memories of my third Mission trip. I’ll do my best to convey it as it happened.
“So, Harvin, tell me about yourself.”
He smiles and shakes his head at how silly this sounds.
“Umm.. my name is Harvin, I’m 17. I live in Chiquilistagua.. umm..”
“You’re short,” Brody Hooper from Elizabethtown, interjects.
Harvin pretends to hit him. They’re close. They listed each other as brothers on Facebook.
“You have curly hair!” Demi Pellerin of Plattsburgh, added.
“Si, it’s beautiful,” Harvin says in English, smiling and running his fingers through his dark curls.
“You go to the university now, right?” I ask.
He nods. “I’m studying telecommunication engineering.”
“What do you want to do when you graduate?”
“When I graduate? I want to work on telephone networks. Making them connect.”
“Why?” I ask.
He laughs “Why? I don’t know. Because I like working with networks,” he says in Spanish.
“He says he wants to work with cars,” Brody nods knowingly.
“No!” Harvin laughs, and adds in English, “you are a bad translator.”
“Tell me a bit about your family.” I say.
Everybody laughs. Harvin’s father, Chico, is already very well known in the Mission of Hope. It’s weird to think anyone wouldn’t know his family.
“Go on,” I say, poking him with my foot.
“My father ...”
“Chico Cucaracha,” Clare Whitney of Schroon Lake interjects, smiling at his nickname.
Harvin smiles. “Yes, Chico Cucaracha, my father. He works for Mision Esperanza as a contractor. He built NiCasa, the Mission of Hope facility. I live with my mother. She’s a stay-at-home mom. I have a baby brother, Luis Carlos. He’s 10 months old.”
“What do you do in your free time?” I ask.
“In my free time.. I play soccer.. I help my father with his work..”
“You talk to your friend Brody on Facebook,” says Brody.
Harvin wags his finger at him “No.” We’re getting silly now.
“What is your favorite color?”
“Negro y Azulito.” (Black and light blue.)
“What’s your favorite book?”
“Harry Potter.” We high five. Harry Potter is my favorite, too.
“What is your favorite song?”
“A mi me gusta todos la musica.” (I love all music.)
“Even country music?!” Demi asks.
Harvin’s eyes become as wide as saucers, and he shakes his head “No, no, no. That I don’t like,” he says.
“What is your favorite joke?”
He grins mischievously. “Chile,” he says and winces in preparation for my backlash. He is describing a rather unfortunate event earlier today in which I was hoodwinked into eating a “sweet fruit” that actually turned out to be one of Nicaragua’s hottest chile peppers.
In an attempt to turn the conversation from laughter at my expense to something serious, I ask in Spanish “Can you tell me about going to school?” which only increases the hilarity, as apparently my Spanish is very broken.
When the laughing subsides, Harvin catches his breath and smiles at me.
“Well.. going to school is very hard. I have to ride the bus to my school five days a week. I wake up at 5 a.m. every day.”
I nod. Makes my 9 a.m. classes seem like a walk in the park.
The rocking chairs we’re sitting in creak on the concrete. The children in the background giggle and whisper, nudging each other on the bench and sucking on lollipops.
“Harvin, if you could write a book about your life, what would you call it?”
He looks up at the sky and stares into middle distance, like a movie director envisioning something great.
“I will call it, ‘My Memories.’”
“… with my best friend Brody?” Brody suggests.
“No.” Harvin says.
“What?!” Brody exclaims.”
“Clare, what is your opinion?” Harvin asks, putting his hand on his chin inquisitively.
“Absolutely not,” she says.
“Then no.” Harvin declares with finality, smiling.
Brody pretends to pout.
The sun is setting, and we’re treated to a cool breeze. It’s one of those moments in life where everything feels inexplicably light. We’re all sitting pensively for a moment, smiling and rocking.
“Harvin,” I say suddenly, “if you could give someone one piece of life advice, what would it be?”
He pretends to search his brain and puts on a deep, serious voice. “Live…or DIE!” and we all burst into giggles again. You simply can’t be around Harvin without smiling and laughing.
He smiles and looks at me thoughtfully. He is still smiling, but his eyes grow serious, and I see the truth in them.
“One piece of advice…. Don’t worry.” He says simply and smiles again.
And all of the sudden, despite the two-way broken conversation and the four people speaking all at once, clarity rings strongly under the tin roof of the patio, in the fading daylight of the country I love.
Sara LoTemplio is a student at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. This is her third trip to Nicaragua with Mission of Hope. Her father, Joe LoTemplio, is a longtime reporter with the Press-Republican.