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The Nicaragua Club’s Trip to Costa Rica

By Nick Pulliam
On February 1, 2019

Over this winter break, I had the opportunity to go with the Nicaragua Club to Costa Rica for a week. This trip was meant to happen last May, but had to be postponed because of violent political turmoil that began last April and resulted in roadblocks closing off streets throughout the capital city of Managua. As the protests progressed, the body count rose and the nation’s advisory level was raised from a two to a three. So, understandably, the university didn’t want us to go. Since then, the violence has died down, but the country of Nicaragua’s threat level was still too high for the university to allow us to go there.

As a solution, Compas de Nicaragua helped us go to Costa Rica. It wasn’t our ideal plan, but it worked because it gave us the opportunity to speak to Nicaraguan refugees who fled the country due to the violence from last year.

In Costa Rica, we worked in a town called LaCarpio, which is situated right next to a dump. In La Carpio, we worked at a small school, which had some of the only grass in the entire community of 35,000 people. The school provided students with two meals a day and the opportunity to get an education that otherwise, they may not have been able to.

At the school, we had the opportunity to help out the kids and the staff in a few ways. We did a lot of painting and took time to talk to the families living there. The staff took us on a tour through the school and they were gracious enough to make us lunch and dinner for most of our time there.

Our days weren’t entirely spent working at the school. We also toured the town of La Carpio and went to the homes of three refugee families to see the conditions they were living in. On the day we did that, our group split into two. My group first went to the apartment of a Nicaraguan couple. The floor they lived on had one bathroom to share between all the tenants. Their apartment is made up of one room, with a bed, an old TV, and a stove. They were hanging all of their clothes from the ceiling. We sat down to talk with the couple and learned that the husband fled first and his wife joined him several months later. As they were telling us their story, which was translated by a nurse named Susan who was with us, music started blasting from the floor below. The couple seemed entirely unphased and they told us how this happened constantly. Apparently, there was a bar on the first floor. The music eventually died down and the wife took out a bag full of homemade jewelry. She told us that she sold these to make a little money. Then, she gave each of us one for free.

After that, they thanked us for hearing their stories and the other half of our group arrived. We began to move on to the next house and I spoke to Susan who was translating for us. She told me that she came to Costa Rica 50 years ago and she’s been here as a nurse ever since. Throughout the trip, she would share stories with us about some of the atrocities she’d been hearing.

We made it to the next house, which was just a few streets away. The house itself was about two stories, but both of them were extremely narrow and housed eleven people. They were all part of the same family, except for one who was the son’s best friend. He was a university student in Nicaragua and was in danger because he participated in the protests, so the family took him with them. They took us up concrete stairs to the second floor, which, while being the same size, felt even smaller, because there were three bedrooms. Since there were so many people living there, everyone had to share beds. They told us their stories and right before they left, they offered to cook for us, despite how little they had.

After that, we all regrouped and made the trek to the final home. This one was more difficult to reach, because it was at the very bottom of the hill, right next to a river. To get down, we had to descend a steep stone staircase that was broken and uneven at different points. At the bottom, we made it to a shack, where another Nicaraguan family was living. The mother of this family told us that she came here because her sister was already living there. A short distance off, there was smoke rising. The sister explained that she burned her garbage, something most of her neighbors chose not to do. The edge of the river was lined with garbage and someone told us that whenever it rained, the entire river flooded with trash from further up.

After visiting these three families, we continued to work at the school for a few days. We eventually had the opportunity to sit down with all of them and hear the stories of how they crossed the border to Costa Rica. One of them spoke about how they had to travel in complete silence for hours, out of fear of being caught. Even though the violence has died down dramatically, one of the refugees told us that she wasn’t ready to go back to the country yet. Once they all spoke, they expressed their gratitude to us for taking the time to hear their stories.

The trip did have a few days that were focused on doing fun things, like going to the zoo and the beach. But I think to everyone who went, the most important parts were working at the school and with the refugee families. What really stood out to all of us was how open and welcoming they were to us, despite the fact that they were going through such difficult times. We plan on going again in May, this time with some new members.

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