Spring break, although only a week long, was absolutely life changing. A team from Santa Clara University went south for the break to immerse ourself in the familial and artistic culture of Nicaragua while introducing devised theatre to Nicaraguan artists for the very first time. I had the honor and privilege to go to Nicaragua and spend a week staying with Amigos for Christ and working with Teatro Catalina in Chinandega. My best way of explaining this is breaking it up day by day. The order of the middle of the week may be a bit blurry, but the account is true and from the heart. Get ready for a sliver of a slice of my adventure. Vamanos.
The Weekend: Cerro Negro
This weekend I did the most wild and thrilling thing I’ve ever dared of doing. I hiked and then sprinted straight down the face of the largest active volcano in Nicaragua, Cerro Negro. To get an idea, it took over an hour and a half for the group to get to the top and it took me two and a half minutes to get down. With Gatorade, salt, and two pb&j’s in my backpack, I hiked up the volcano thinking to myself “why am I doing this? I’m going to sprint down the cliff side of a massive volcano, am I crazy?!” As a matter of fact, we’re all a little bit crazy as it’s a sort of right of passage as a Nicaraguan to either slide or sprint down Cerro Negro. So out of fun spirt and respect, that’s what we did. Once at the top, we struggled to stand against over 30mph winds pushing us into the center of the volcano (luckily the volcano only ate a few of our hats and none of our people), and we ate what might be the most deliciously satisfying peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I will ever have in my lifetime. We danced together, sang together, ate, and conversed as we admired the stunning view and contemplated how in the world we were going to muster up the confidence to run down the volcano. Let me tell you, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Me and a group of girls, some of who had done this before, grabbed hands and slowly started sliding/walk-jogging down with terror and thrill pumping through our blood as we look down to what I thought was going to be my inevitable death. As the powdered ash surrounded and engulfed each step I took, I quickly realized how secure and safe it was to start a jog. Letting go of the group, I started a jog, a run, a sprint, and suddenly found myself quite literally leaping in 10-15 foot strides down this volcano. It felt like anti-gravity. If there is anything in this world that can imitate moon walking, it would be this. With absolutely no one around me, I was leaping down one of the tallest volcanoes in Nicaragua in complete control. With the wind breezing past my ears, I felt the melody of the air sing to me as I gazed at the exceptionally beautiful world around me. It was as if I was flying. I sincerely felt as if I was something else a little bigger than humankind. Coming down, I was welcomed with huge cheers, smiles plastered on every face, and shoes drowning in volcanic ash. Leaving with no Gatorade, salt, or food left in my bag, I also finished with a full heart. Welcome to Nicaragua.
Monday: Story Time
Monday we introduced everyone to playwriting and exercises to generate stories. A common theme among everyone we found was the perception of home, and with that we ran. A full day of poetic writing workshops, deep conversations, tears, and celebrations, every age and generation fully participated and absorbed everything we did with them. This is when the real work started. The Nicaraguans were teaching us and giving us more than we had to offer them. And they had no idea.
Tuesday, I believe, was geared towards acting and the idea of telling stories with the voice and body. This was when I finally understood the concept of scaffolding within a curriculum and how necessary it is to successful education. The games we played had intention in them and each one built on top of the other, working to some find some heart wrenching and inspiring performances by the end of the day. The people we worked with began to show me their love and I was shell shocked to the point where I completely broke down at lunch realizing how deprived I was of genuine love and affection in the States. I’ll say it again, if there’s anything that Nicaraguans have over Americans from the States, they know how to love.
Wednesday: Shall We Dance?
On Wednesday we dance, and man was it taxing. It was hot. It was sticky. It was long. And I was tired. But oh did I learn a lot about myself. Taking a backseat and letting others lead, it was amazing to watch and work with the Nicaraguans closely this day. With very little communication through speech, we were able to form close bonds exceptionally quickly through movement. Physicalizing our names, others names, their meanings, every little thing we did created stunning pieces of art. I was completely blown away by their innovation and inclusive nature. At the end of the day, they asked if they could share with us their dances they have in their culture. We of course said yes, and I became fully entranced in experiencing first hand a living history of Central America. Though dance, they showed me that they lead from their heart. They reminded me what that looked like this day.
This was the most stressful day I’ve had in a long time. It was music day and the majority of it was led by me. We worked through rhythm games, process exercises, and basic music theory. We ended the day with songs that we learned together and songs that they had completely crafted on their own. They completely blew me away but my fear was still there – did they get it? Did they enjoy it? Did I do okay? I asked my team, and the reassuring support I received was a huge sigh of relief, but I didn’t quite understand my effect on the Nicaraguans until the weekend.
Friday: Los Judios
Now Friday was something. We were putting everything together in a cohesive piece to show, until suddenly our space was disrupted. We were all warned a week or so before about a day called Los Judios (The Jews) but we weren’t sure to what extent we should have prepared ourselves. Well, there was no way we could have prepared what we all witnessed. Apparently, there’s this tradition. A tradition at the end of Holy Week where men pretend to be the Jewish people parading to Jesus’ crucifixion by jump on horseback with weapons in awfully scary costumes and masks and ride around town looking to scare children. But the way they scare the children is by chasing them, and sometimes even .. pretending to take them. And that is exactly what happened to us. We managed to only have one little boy taken for a quick second; but it was terrifying, people! I was holding a little girl screaming and crying, and there were children sobbing and running for their lives straight to us seeking saftey. I was certainly scared and had no idea what to do, none of us did! Thankfully it passed and we could continue on with the day as if nothing had happened. But wow, talk about culture shock.
Saturday: Welcome Home
This is the day we had our show! The school venue was filled to the brim with community members and friends ready to watch this performance of ours. The show went up and I sat back reveling in what the Nicaraguans created for themselves. After the show there was a celebration amongst us all to soak in all that we did this week. All of us together ended up in a loving circle after everything had died down and we organically went around giving our appreciation and thanks to each other. I will say, I have never been given so much unexpected love. There were men and women alike, all ages, coming to me with tears in their eyes because the games and smiles and simple music I taught them gave them so much to work off of, that they felt unstoppable. I was stunned, and too was brought to tears. I didn’t know I could make someone feel unstoppable. I didn’t know I could change someone’s life. I didn’t know I was a part of the reason they got out of bed that morning. I don’t have much to say simply because it cannot be put into words. But I will say, I learned my value in this place. And feeling what it’s like to be valued and loved, truly for the first time, was life changing. But for the Nicaraguans, that feeling is everyday life. Nicaraguans, although most have no running water or electricity, they know how to make someone feel honored and loved. They know what home is, and they know how to invite someone in.
And Then Some
Katie’s birthday was this week! Katie is the founder of Teatro Catalina in Nicaragua, and we were so lucky to celebrate her the week we were there. With a BIG party at her home, a long night of karaoke and games, and a stop downtown for ice cream, we celebrated throughout the week, as one should! From the little things like mouthwatering cheese bread and the humble inability to flush toilet paper, to the fact that we were one of the first groups to expose those in Chinandega to devised theatre, I cherished every single memory. I’ve held onto the heated Avalon debates, the communication and curriculum building skills I fostered within myself during our grueling nightly meetings, and the simple twinkle in everyone’s eyes when we were creating together. As a practicing Christian myself, I thought I knew what it meant to give, and I thought I knew what it meant to give love. But this spring break, I was deeply humbled and overflowed with honest giving. I left for the airport in Managua (as we were playing Avalon) and I panicked as I was watching my time in Nicaragua turn into a memory. It was a feeling of raw ache and sadness knowing I may never see some of those Nicaraguans again. But I also left Nica filled to the brim with passion for people and passion for asking them how I can help. One Nicaraguan told me, “Don’t let the United States forget about us. We have dreams and you have the opportunities.” Well, my dear friends, anyone who has crossed my path since has been reminded of Nicaragua. Through me, you are seen. You are heard. You are loved. And you are so unbelievably honored. Thank you, Nicaragua, Teatro Catalina, Katie, all of you, for teaching me more than I ever could have offered you. If I ever am given the chance again, know that I am coming your way, Nicaragua. And know that a piece of my heart is always with you.