Back in Nicaragua


Group photo at the airport

It has been just over a year and I find myself back in Nicaragua.  The week leading up to this trip was full and gave me little time to really processes what being back in the country would mean.

Stepping off the plane and into the airport sent a shock through my body, my first mouth full of gallo pinto, the heat and humidity, the feeling of my tongue haphazardly producing the right sounds of the Spanish language, and the first smile and hug from Father Chepe (president of the Universidad de Centro America).  The love I have for this country and how comfortable it feels to be here is overwhelming.  It amazes me that anyone would ever leave but that is exactly what is happening everyday and the reason that I have returned. I along with nine Seattle University Students and three professors are here to collaborate with students and faculty from the UCA and the staff and volunteers of the SJM (Servisos Jesuita para Immigrantes) on research surrounding the factors that cause so many Nicaraguans to leave their homes, families, communities, and country.


Father Chepe providing the opening lecture of the day

Our first day was spent on the UCA campus in lectures and seminars on a variety of topics that relate to the phenomena of emigration from Nicaragua and research and interview methodology.  This was also the first day we met our Nicaraguan counterparts. Within the first hour of the day there was already profound conversations and discussion occurring and big topics being tackled.  The students which we are collaborating are diverse in their interests and experience but the majority are studying economics, psychology, or social studies.  In the later part of the afternoon we broke into research areas, Education, Violence, and the role of Women, and decided upon a research question.  Each group consisted of a mix of students and faculty from both SU and UCA.  After a long and successful first day the SU group returned to our hotel for dinner.


Panorama of the Church


Alodra, 2 Her mother left her in the care of her grandmother so that she could migrate to Panama

Day Two began with a yoga class, which I lead in the courtyard of our hotel, which was followed by attending a mass at a jesuit church which serves the families of migrants in Managua.  The church, one of the only buildings in managua to survive the 1972 earth quake, was a mix of soviet and post modern architecture with walls of cement and stained glass windows and a stone carving behind the alter depicting progress and advancement in science, life, and agriculture Nicaragua.  After the service our group met with the mother of a migrant (Señora Evelin) who was caring for her child (the woman’s granddaughter),one of her other daughters (Sayra), and a man who had emigrated and returned (Fransisco).  All of whom worked at the church in the kitchen that provided meals for the school next door.  The conversation began with the Señora talking about how many daughters she had and how many had emigrated and how she was currently caring for her granddaughter (Alondra, 2) while her daughter worked in Panama. Sayra then spoke up, interrupting her mother to tell about her experience being trafficked with her sister and three friends in Guatemala, being forced to work in a club, and then of how she planned and executed her escape- walking 7 days to the Honduran border.  Fransisco shared his story next, speaking about the grave discrimination he encountered during his time in New Mexico.  All shared their stories with an openness and an air of resilience of which I haven’t experienced.

After our interviews we went to lunch at a restaurant recommended to us by members of our group. Many of the group ordered natural juices and cacao both promised to have been made with purified water.   We toured around part of Managua after lunch, visiting the central square and a park on the lake with a model of what Managua looked like before the 1972 earthquake. We returned to the hotel to rest before having dinner with a man named Narcisso, an immigrant in Nicaragua from El Salvador. He works in a very poor neighborhood outside of Managua, working with youth as a teacher.  He gave much needed context for our time in Chinandenga which we would travel to the following day.


Day Three began with the discovery that 7 of the 12 members of the Seattle University group were sick with food poisoning and that a hospital visit would be required.  Thanks to our friends at the UCA the group was whisked away to the ER while four of us, including myself pushed on to Chinandenga with the rest of the students and faculty from the UCA.  We arrived in Chinandenga at noon, settling into the hotel and having lunch with volunteers from the SJM.  After lunch we split into two groups and proceeded to interview different families in two different neighborhoods.  My group met with a gentleman who’s brothers and sisters had migrated to Panama and El Salvador.  He had not migrated but lead and organized groups of families of migrants.  We then met with his mother, who is caring for three grandchildren (Ages 5, 7, and 9).  She spoke about the negative impacts of migration and the separation of her family.  Her son, she said, was trying to make money to send back to send his children to school but they do not want to go.  “They need their father and mother” she said.  The youngest knows her father only by the ragged photo that hangs on their all.



What is a blog for my experience studying abroad without one post about food!

Fun Fact of the Day: The word “diet” comes from the ancient Greek “diaita,” which means “the way of life”

Nicaragua’s main food groups are known as salt and sugar. During my time here I have found a better way of living my diet.  One of the toughest things I faced coming to Nicaragua was knowing that I would not be cooking the majority of my own food.  My host family provides me three meals a day, and fortunately they cook and eat exceptionally healthy for Nicaraguans. I have found myself continually surprised by the delicious inventions and dishes they place before me, the majority of which include rice and beans, but also include vegetables (some of which I have never seen) and well-prepared meat!  Depending on others for the majority of my meals has got me thinking about how so many “diets” are centered on the idea and necessity for control.  Maybe control is simply not possible or even healthy.  Does it make someone happy to count calories and meticulously plan every meal?  Please do not mistake this post as an anti-diet rant because for some, those truly are fulfilling and effective!  For me, that has not been the case and in my opinion will not be in the future.  So with control not feasible, where does that leave me?  The words balance, moderation, and awareness come to my mind.  Let’s look at my experience, or “diet” in Nicaragua. 

Honestly when writing this post initially, I began to outline a typical day as far as what I do and what I eat, and realized that it went against what I was attempting to say in this post. So here are the basics. Being gluten-free has proved incredibly sustainable here, however I eat noticeably more sugar and salt than I do in the US.  Apart from the occasional funny stomach or the warm up period to the climate and food at the beginning of my time here, I have found that I feel pretty awesome both in energy and otherwise.  While I might eat some fried bananas, chicarones, or indulge in an eskimo ice cream during a day I am also active, sleep for at least eight hours a day, eat all of my meals at a leisurely pace, drink plenty of water, and take time to have good conversations.

So what is the moral of this story?  For me it is that food does not equate to diet, yes it is a large part of what keeps us alive and running, but diet is more about living and the way we live or give ourselves life in this world.  That being said how does one focus on life while also making sure they and their family have three meals a day.  This is an issue I will soon face upon returning to the US but for now I am focusing on how I will enact this new understanding of diet in my everyday life. 


During an afternoon interview on the porch of my host family’s house I find myself in a moment of silence while the participant I am interviewing takes a moment to collect her thoughts.  Sweat drips down the back of my neck.  Not even the shade today can protect me from the heat of the afternoon sun.  A clock ticks in my head as I think about the dwindling time I have to complete this interview and get to the office for my next appointment as well as on a larger scale the amount of have to finish my project here.  I began to panic a little.  The participant, Yulissa, brings me and my thoughts back to the interview, beginning to answer the question I posed moments ago.  Her answer with its perfect honesty and clarity make me smile.  She has been a difficult person to schedule time with, this beginning the third interview appointment we have made and the first that actually worked out.  Third time is a charm but the wait and scheduling issues almost drove me to move on but this hour with her on the front porch made it clear to me that the wait and frustration were worth it.

With a week of more than 10 hour work days behind me I have found a moment of calm, of reflection that I have not felt in more than three weeks.  My project as well as my life and time here has gone at warp speed.  With less than one week left in Limon Dos and Nicaragua I find myself needing to make sure every moment counts.  But that yearning goes directly against both what I need and the most beautiful part of the culture here.  Espera, the one word that both summarizes and embodies the mentality of Limon Dos and of Nicaragua.  Espera translated is to wait or to hope.  One must wait and hope for moments of reflection, clarity, tranquility, and beauty.  This is something that goes against my nature and against the norms set by much of American society but is something that has become one of the biggest blessings in my time here in Nicaragua.  Waiting for the sunset to become just that more beautiful, to sit on the porch with my host family to hear just one more store of Abuelita’s, and to wait in silence as my next interview subject thinks, smiles, and presents a pearl of wisdom and perfect insight.


Two brothers play in the waves as the sunsets

Two brothers play in the waves as the sunsets

Mirriam during out meeting looks out the door at those passing by.
Mirriam during out meeting looks out the door at those passing by.

My abuelita buying Guineo, one of her favorite foods!

My abuelita buying Guineo, one of her favorite foods!



How One Starts

Here in Limon Dos days start when the roosters start crowing, which for some is well before the sun rises.  Mornings are spent feeding animals, spreading water around one’s yard (to prevent polvo/dust), and pitching in with morning chores. My days begin around 6 am and starts by de-securing the house with my host mom, Lesbia, and my abuelita, Carlota. After these chores are done we sit on the porch drinking coffee and eating a light breakfast. This moment does not last long but is among my favorites in the day – the porch provides a perfect place to watch the world go by.  Students, in their crisp blue and white uniforms, pass on their way to school while others bike, moto, or walk by on their way to work.  While their uniforms can distinguish most of the students there is an even easier way to determine the difference between the two groups, by the direction they are traveling.  Towards the left, Las Lajas (the road I live on) leads to the beach and the entrances of a few hotels and a large luxury resort that boarders Limon Dos and Limon Uno.   To the right leads to the main road that stretches to the south to Rivas and to north which leads to the primary school of Limon dos and further to Las Salinas, the nearest community with a secondary school.  The secondary school sits about 5km down the main road.  Some student’s use the bus while others walk or take bikes, sometimes two or three to a bike.   

This time in the morning observing the traffic and morning commutes has made me think about the two clear directions or paths people take in this community.  Well actually, three. One group that is not represented are those who are already at work, in their own homes. Three paths, three directions, none of them any better or more prestigious than the other.

Most of those that pass by exchange greetings with us porch sitters while some even stop to sit with us and drink a cup of coffee.   One of the frequent visitors is Louis Alberto.  One of the beautiful things about Louis is his contagious smile and attitude.  Every time he stops by the house on his way to work he always bears the best attitude.  Which lead me to ask him a question.  Are you happy?  This question came after we were talking about how he did not complete school, in fact dropping out after 6th grade. His response was interesting and strangely caught me off guard; no he said without hesitation, he wanted to study more, complete his high school degree and to study English.  He is 28 years old and has spent the last six years working construction in towns close to his house. For this job he worked three days a week and made close to 800 cordobas in one day ($31 dollars a day on the days he worked, but only $4.25 a day when it is spread out in a week). During this time he was saving for the costs of school that he hoped to complete in his days off.  However the construction work and jobs dried up and he now works at one of the hotels that is located on Las Lajas near the beach.  He has been working there for close to a month and works 6-7 days a week and makes 2,000 cordobas every 15 days ($79 dollars for 15 days of work and $5.25 a day).  While he makes a dollar more the commute time on bike is close to an hour and a half both ways and does not leave him time to complete schooling.  With 50% of the population unemployed and another 20-25% underemployed Louis Alberto had no choice but to take another job and commute

       For the majority of families in Limon dos, and the surrounding area, schooling past secondary school is not an option for mainly economic reasons, for some primary school is not even a viable option.  Only 43% of individuals have ever attended high school, with almost 25% dropping out (ChildInfo 2005).   In contrast the graduation rate for Fenix students is 93%, with the majority who graduate moving on to further education.  While education provides many future gains the reality of life and the need for more providers in a household often keeps children and youth from continuing education.  This unfortunately stunts the potential opportunities for individuals as well as the economic growth of the community. Fenix places immense value in education by supporting students through tutoring and by providing school materials. However I think the real secret to the academic success of Fenix students is that its shifting views around the tie between continued education and economic success.  This is a sentiment often realized by individuals later in life and a sentiment that is growing in the community.  By imparting that to students early on there is a higher probability that they will stay in school, possibly move on to higher education, and attain higher quality of life. How we start our day and our lives in the world directly impacts where we go and where we end.




Discomfort and the Present

The past two weeks studying Spanish at La Mariposa were quite an adventure.  Each day I could feel the depth and length of conversations growing.  With each verb tense I reviewed or learned during Spanish class my conversation grew in depth.  I could talk about what I did in the past, present, and what I was going to do in the future.  While this provided a wonderful opportunity to grow my relationships with those around me and make me an altogether better communicator it also brought up the questions about what I would do when I returned to the United States. That question is just as brutal in Spanish as it is in English. With the possibility of graduating early after I get back in April, the question of what I am actually going to do when I return is in the forefront of my mind.  While the future is an important thing to consider, the least beneficial thing to do would be to bypass the present for the future.  How does one live in the present with a vision of the future as well?  I am not sure exactly sure how to answer this question but I know that staying present in what I am doing today is going to directly impact my experience here and thus the path I will take after.

My experience in San Juan de La Concepcion, at La Mariposa, has been overwhelmingly positive.  My host family and everyone I came in contact with thus far have been welcoming and willing to help me in anyway that they can. The one Sunday I was in San Juan I attended church with my family.  This was a very different experience than anytime I have attended service in the states, not solely because it lasted twice as long and all of the songs were in Spanish but because at the end of the service the entire church community blessed me.  On the way home I was overwhelmed by a sense of support from people in a community that barely knew me.  This sense of support was furthered when my host mom told me I was a part of their family and that I could visit anytime while I was in Nicaragua and was not expected to pay.

A sign of this growth for me is a certain sense of discomfort and being overwhelmed. Someone once told me that the only way to grow is to be in a place of discomfort, to experience different things, and to venture away from the known. I can feel something stirring inside myself and no it is not all the beans I have been eating. Something actually internally is shifting.  I am not sure if it’s the air here, the people, volunteering or what but something about this, about being here now is moving things.  This in itself is discomforting, that is the knowledge that I am changing and will be different upon returning in April.  While it is scary I find myself yearning for that change and growth and I armed with knowledge that I have the support of those around me and at home. Thus I willingly embrace the discomfort and inevitable growth and change and can focus on the present knowing my future will unfold.




I have arrived…

After a long 15 hours of traveling I arrived at La Mariposa Sunday afternoon. La Mariposa is a spanish school located near San Juan de La Concepcion, Nicaragua. While I am here I am staying with a host family, volunteering at a primary school in the morning, and taking spanish classes in the afternoons.  While I am only three days in, my days have been long and full of spanish, great people, and many smiles.  My host family, the teacher I am working with, and my spanish teachers have been very welcoming and are helping me improve my spanish and begin to know the people of Nicaragua.  What to tell you all about…I will start with my home stay.  I am staying with Nila and Chico Alama Lopez, two of their four children, a son in law, two grandchildren, six chickens, three dogs, one cat, and back yard full of fruit trees.  Dona Nila and Don Chico have a very large family and have welcomed me into their house with open arms. They have a very interesting story and I am just now beginning to understand the complexities behind it.  Things in the house are very different than the US, the most noticeable is how most of my house, minus the actual bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchen, are outside. The weather here permits much of life to be lived outdoors. There are only two seasons in Nicaragua, Inverano and Verano, the wet season and the dry season.  It is currently the dry season and the average temperature where I am at does not exceed 70 degree but with the strong wind feels like a nice 60.  However, El Limon where I am going is suppose to be much hotter because it is further south.

A day in the life!

Each morning I have been waking up at 6 and doing a short yoga practice. At 7 I have breakfast which consists of fruit, eggs, gallopintos (rice and beans), platanoes (fried or baked plantains), and coffee. During breakfast I get to talk to my host mom Dona Nila.  At 7:30-7:45 I leave the house and walk or catch a microbus (a van packed with people) to Rube Dario (the school I am volunteering at).  At 11 or 11:30 I walk from the school to my spanish school (La Mariposa) which is about a 30 min walk through the town of san juan.  Lunch at La Mariposa lasts from noon to 1 and consists of more rice and beans, salad, vegetables, and fresh juice.  After lunch I have two hours of conversation with Miguel.  During our time together we usual go on walks (caminattas) to La concepcion (the town up the hill) or around san juan (the town below the school).  After my two hours with Miguel I have two hours of grammar lessons with Marvin.  After spanish lessons the other interns for Casa Verde and I gather around one of the tables and catch up on the day.  These gatherings started accidentally and have now become habit.  Around 6 I walk back to my host family house and eat dinner with my host family.  After dinner I spend time playing with Nila’s grandkids, playing pool, or talking to Nila about Nicaragua and the community.  I usually head to bed around 8:30 or 9 and read for a half hour or so.  I wake up a few times during the night because of all the new noises that surround my casaita. These moments have been the highlights and staples of my day and life so far in Nicaragua.


My first meal in Nicaragua


my room


Patio at La Mariposa




A new friend







Outside of the school I am working at




Some of my students



The view of the valley where San Juan (Where I am living)



Hello to all of you out there.  I am not sure what has brought you to my blog, no matter if you are a loved one or are interested in traveling or working in a developing country I welcome you. My name is Morgan Marler and I am a senior Humanities for Teaching and Political Science major at Seattle University. I will be spending the next two and a half months living and traveling in Nicaragua. I will be spending my first two weeks at a spanish school, La Mariposa, located about 45 mins outside Managua to get my spanish back up to speed.  After those two weeks I will travel to El Limon Dos in the county of Rivas, see the location of El Limon Dos  google maps here, to intern with Casa Verde, a non-profit dedicated to the empowerment of the community of El Limon Dos.  Casa Verde’s (CV) stated mission is to “provide youth – from all backgrounds – the experiences, skills and sustainable resources to reach their highest potential in global society” (Casa Verde).  During my time as an intern there I will be working to create a metric system for CV to measure the efficiency and effectiveness of their goals and the outcomes in the community.  I have worked with a few non-profits during my time at Seattle U but never in this capacity.  While I expect difficulties along the way I am excited by the skills and experience I will gain and of course the beautiful people I will meet along the way! 


Until next time,