When my mom first told me about Project Minnesota León I had no idea what I was getting into. It was 2013 and I was just starting to think about high school. I was very young, and traveling to Nicaragua for 2 weeks without my parents felt strange. We had been selling egg rolls, truffles, and CDs to gather enough money to get to Nicaragua so I knew the other 11 kids in my group very well. We were all 13-14 year old kids from the twin cities who thought that we would rather spend two weeks of our life in Minnesota than with each other, but deep down we knew that it would be for a good cause. We were chosen by Project Minnesota León to travel to Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the western hemisphere, and to get to know some of the kids there. We were also supposed to go and do service work like planting trees and volunteering at a preschool but the main goal of the trip was to get to know the kids. Before we even went we were paired with a kid in León Nicaragua based on our personalities, our likes, and our gender. The Project wanted to keep the 12 families close together so that we could travel more easily so the 12 Nicaraguan families that were chosen to host us we all from the same Neighborhood; Benjamín Zeledón. This is probably one of the more wealthy Neighborhoods in León but they still didn't have any internet and the water wasn't completely safe. In fact, all of Nicaragua was not safe from the insects and the diseases. Before we left we had to get multiple shots and take pills for things like Malaria and Zika. All of these diseases sounded bad but the one that scared us most was Dengue fever. A girl on the last trip has gotten Dengue and in case you didn't know you can only get Dengue one because if you get it a second time then you will almost certainly die. Therefore the girl that got it will probably never be able to go back to Nicaragua.
Probably the biggest similarity that I have with Marcos is our love for baseball. Although most of Central America is in love with Soccer, Nicaragua's national sport is baseball. On the street kids try to play with old balls made of tape and bats that look ancient. I was extremely struck by their lack of sports equipment on my first trip. The 12 Minnesotans had brought brand new frisbees, baseballs, volleyballs, and soccer balls as gifts for their families, but by the end of the 2 weeks everything look like it has been used for years. This also helped me understand how different their culture is from ours. They value things based on their use, and they don't simply have things just to have them. I remember how I gave a brand new pair of baseballs to Marcos the day I met him and two weeks later I couldn't even recognize them as baseballs. I remember feeling mad that he had destroyed them, but later realized that they were meant to be destroyed. I was so struck by their lack of sports equipment that the second time I went I came with tons of bats, balls, and gloves, which were donated from local teams and stores. I had acquired so much equipment for the Nicaraguans that I couldn't bring it all in one trip and I had to wait and give most of it to a group that was going down after me, but I will save that story for another time.
Both times have have travelled to Nicaragua I have made sure to return to Cerro Negro, a local active volcano that last erupted in 1999. The volcano is hidden behind a group of farms and it takes hours of sitting in the back of a pickup truck to reach it. When you finally do reach it people walk up the side of the volcano and then slide down on their feet or on a board. That will always be fun to me.
Sitting in the back of a pickup truck actually brings back many memories with me and Marcos. That is where I sat after Germany won the World Cup and we travelled all around León yelling that Germany won, that is where I sat many times traveling to the beach which is only 30 minutes away from Marcos's house, and that is where I sat when I was rushed to the hospital and treated for dehydration and a stomach infection. I got to know a lot of people sitting in the back of that pickup truck but the one person that was with me through it all was Marcos. I had many conversations with Marcos in Spanish of course, and through talking to him I learned a lot about how people talk to each other. There were times when somebody would be talking to me in Spanish and I would have no idea what they were saying and I would just have to look away or try to find someone who was bilingual. It was frustrating but I got through it using hand motions and a lot of google translate during the rare times that I had wifi.
One podcast by Snap Judgement called "Love At No Sight" talks about the difficulties of having your best friend be someone that you've never seen. Although I have seen Marcos in real life, the language barrier is definitely very strong. There have been times that I have just stared at him wondering what he is trying to tell me and most of the time I don't know what he's saying. It's always easier for us to talk using the internet. There were even times when we were sitting right next to each other and we had to talk to each other but we couldn't so we used my phone to try to translate, we took turns typing words into google translate, hoping that it would make sense in the opposite language. This podcast also talks about how they met online. I can relate because the first time I talked to Marcos it wasn't in real life it was on Facebook Messenger about 4 months before I was supposed to see him. We didn't talk much because we didn't really know anything about each other. Even though we speak different languages we are some of the best friends and now I know a lot about him and his family.