Courts for Kids Trip to Nicaragua Provides Unforgettable Experience

When we filtered into a second-floor classroom at the Jaqua Center, 10 weeks before our trip to Central America, we saw a room filled with faces we passed shyly every day.  Football, Acrobatics & Tumbling, Lacrosse, Basketball, Track & Field, and Softball athletes — as well as staff from several branches of the athletic department — comprised this unique group. They were fellow student-athletes we knew, but not well in most cases.

After weeks of awkward ice-breakers and small talk, our group narrowed to 20 people ready to conquer a Courts for Kids trip to Los Hatillos, Nicaragua. Derek Nesland, the President of the non-profit, briefed us on the work and preparation necessary to complete a concrete, multi-sport court in a developing country with limited resources and an unfamiliar culture.  On Saturday, June 17th, 2017, we boarded a plane, heading for foreign soil.

The town of Los Hatillos is a modest, underdeveloped community.  The people shop second-hand, live in cement houses, and stroll through streets of dirt.  Their shops are often in the living rooms of the locals’ homes. People spend Cordoba, the national currency, on knock-off Crocs and recycled glass bottles of orange Fanta and sweet Coca-Cola.  Life is simple, and the people seem satisfied with that.

To we Americans, the difference between our lives and cultures was immediately shocking.  Upon landing in Los Hatillos, we walked through the village and took in the echos of animals oinking, barking, and mooing.  Our eyes widened at the sight of two roosters fighting, and a starving dog begging for attention. The sound of Spanish filled the air, between the roar of motorcycle engines and roosters clucking.

Peace Corps volunteers graciously helped us bridge our language barrier. Up the road, emptied classrooms from the community school waited to be filled with our luggage. Thirteen girls lined thin mattress pads on the red tiles of the schoolroom, while the three boys and four chaperones did the same in the classroom next door. These floors would tuck us in each night, and this community would be our home for the next week.

In preparation for our arrival, the community graciously planned daily meals that would respect and accommodate our American diets.  The people of Los Hatillos typically consume some form of protein once a month, so it was generous of them to collect limited supplies and cook some at every one of our meals.  A major contributor to this protein was a large pig, who we named Wilbur for about five minutes — before he was brought to our local host Ligia’s back porch and turned into pork.

Several of us watched his transformation from living creature to lifeless weight.  Everyone, whether absent or present from the porch, took it differently: shock, intrigue, appreciation, and pure disturbance were among the reactions.  However, most enjoyed “la comida Nica”, or Nicaraguan cuisine, and respected the sacrifice of the pig and the significant efforts of the community at dinner that night.