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ASB Visits El Balsamo Nicaragua, January 2015

Journal entries made during the El Balsamo ASB trip.

Happy new year! Being the first entry, I believe the people of El Balsamo deserve this dedication. Tucked deep in the hills of Nicaragua surrounded by steep hills and dense foliage, life here would be difficult with or without power.  What truly amazes me every day is despite their hardships and relatively isolated lifestyles, the people of El Balsamo are nothing but hospitable. Despite having so little they truly are an example of generosity. So for that, I thank them and hope to take back that selfless attitude even if just a fraction should be something we all strive for. Happy new year.

What a night! …. I had a great time all day yesterday. Between getting to work on the farm, attending the local church service, playing baseball, and all of the evening festivities, I finally felt more a part of it. My favorite part was probably when we played baseball. It was the first time I felt like the language barrier melted away — though I’m still struggling with speaking and understanding Spanish. Baseball became a universal language that we could both understand. Seems weird to say, but I felt like they respected me more afterwards.

The dancing was also a welcome treat. Though I am a terrible dancer, I still love it. I think the locals were also amused by our sweet moves. I like how the whole team (except sleepy Liam) showed up and danced. This group seems to be getting along great, and I haven’t seen any cliques forming. Everyone is inclusive.

Overall, this trip has so far been everything I hoped it would be. I wanted to be challenged, frustrated, excited, happy and a gamut of all other emotions. So far, El Balsamo has delivered. I can’t believe 2015 is here, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of this trip brings.

Feliz Ano Nuevo! Yesterday was the most exercise I’ve ever had probably when not purposefully working out. What fun dancing! It’s not all about grinding and stuff. Really nice change. I really enjoyed baseball yesterday; no communication was needed and it didn’t matter that we were from different countries, the sport is the same and still fun. I really wish that the men would be a little more inclusive; the girls and kids seem to be excluded from a lot of things. Changing their society isn’t our goal, though. I do really enjoy the happy simplicity of life here in El Balsamo. There are so many opportunities to appreciate the endless luxuries we have in the U.S. Clean water, smooth roads, good sewer systems that can process toilet paper, sufficient electricity, soft beds, closed houses, air conditioning, internet, showers, cars, money and endless other things make life so easy (relatively) for us.

We usually don’t appreciate them. The people here are the best. Happy, helpful, excited about us new people, and all hardworking. I love being immersed in a new culture and language, and can’t wait to see what the rest of the trip will be.

We’re only three days in, but so far this trip and El Balsamo have been incredible. For the first time in a long time, I feel present, connected with what I am doing and who I’m with. Nicaragua is a beautiful country, and the people of El Balsamo are amazing. They are so kind and knowledgeable. It makes me realize how ignorant I was. I expected to teach the people of El Balsamo, but really they are teaching us.

I like the way of life here, it has its positives and its negatives, but I really like the sense of community. Everyone is constantly interacting and socializing. In the states, people tend to be disconnected. Always in a rush, separated by doors, smartphones and computers. I like working hard and feeling satisfied and accomplished at the end of the day. I love the children, their eyes and smiles, how interested they are. They are constantly running around, and they want to help, work and learn. They have such an amazing energy, I honestly wish I could play with them all day

I really like my group. I feel like it is a rare thing in our society anymore to see people do good without expecting attention or a reward in return. To do good things simply to do good is a very beautiful thing. The members of my group humble me.

Today our house mom, Dahlia, asked if we would return to El Balsamo to visit them, and I realized I was already planning on it.

I feel very grateful, thankful and blessed.

Another immersion experience and while there are more positives than I can list here, I cannot help ut to feel continually conflicted and sad. It is a difficult emotion to describe, or even understand myself.

Coming to El Balsamo is an experience in observing life that has been stripped down other basics. Where caring for your family and community and making a living life for yourself and loved ones is the focus. Some could argue this is true of life in the U.S. as well, but I can’t help but believe these values are covered in other noise and distractions. We have progressed as a society and this has brought an abundance of positive things. Yet, we have lost things along the way as well. When I observe the community here, I get a glimpse of what we have lost.

Being able to experience life without these distractions and being reminded of what truly matters is a beautiful thing. Along with it comes questions of how others perceive this difference, what are the powers and privilege struggles, and so many more. This why I do not feel one solid emotion of happy or sad, or positive vs. negative. Life and trying to understand its purpose, meaning and value is so much more complicated.

But here I am with the time and immersion to ponder these things and ask such questions. I have the privilege of doing so with an incredible group of people as well. This ASB team makes me laugh and smile all throughout the day. They inspire me and give me hope. They allow me to take a break and simply be present in the moment. To me, ASB is about challenging yourself and analyzing your beliefs. The moments when you connect with the people of this area and the team are sweet spots that consistently occur throughout the time in difficult thoughts.

IU cannot thank everyone enough for making this experience what it already has been and what it will continue to be. I look forward to the rest of our time together!

Wow! El Balsamo is such an amazing place! There are so many things I could write about that I am having trouble deciding on what to include. I am constantly impressed by the overwhelming sense of community here and all of the great things that can lead to. Listening to music can easily turn into a fiesta with lots of dancing. Another thing that fascinates me is the language barrier because although it can be frustrating at times, it can also seem unimportant. The people are so kind and welcoming and I have many rewarding interactions with them despite knowing very little Spanish. I have learned that a smile can say a lot more than words. I can’t believe we are already halfway through our time here because it feels like we just got here yesterday. It amazes me to think back about all the work we have done making stoves, preparing for parties and working in the gardens. I feel like our group has really become more of a team and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to work with such an amazing group of people. I also feel lucky ot be able to spend so much time getting to know individuals in the community by staying with host families. Each person has a unique and inspiring story. Seeing a new way of life has enabled a deeper reflection on my own life, which I hope will help me be amore grateful and giving person.

I am so grateful for this experience! We have been here for a week now and I am exhausted! I am also much closer to my host families and the other members of the community. It has been a very rewarding experience being able to make some of the community gardens. I have learned so much from the men here on how to garden biointensively and organic. They take so much pride in their work and they want to improve their lives and create a sustainable community. I am also very happy and blessed to be a part of this group, the students are all so hardworking and humble that they have truly touched my heart with their willingness to learn and communicate with the locals. I can say that this experience has been both eye opening, heartwarming and life changing. I am humbled by the families here that have opened their homes and their hearts. Marcela is like my grandmother. She has taken very good care of us and I appreciate her for that. Our host mother Dilia is very sweet and understanding and I have enjoyed her getting more comfortable with us.

Is it that the clouds actually move more quickly, or the pace of community life slower?

Leave the community of El Balsamo has been sweetly bitter — like bittersweet, but marked with more bitter. All the families that hosted us the last week and a half have touched our souls and opened our minds. It makes me smile to see the sparkle of happiness in the eyes of the host mothers, fathers and siblings as we worked with them this last day. Tonight we shall enjoy the pool halls of San Jose, tomorrow the coffee fields Malacatoya.

— Sam

El Balsamo has opened my eyes to so many things. Although they don’t possess much modern technologies, they are happy in their way of life. That makes me want to strive to be more like them. The sense of community here is like anything I’ve experienced. It’s like everyone is part of one huge family. And I’ve felt nothing but welcomed into their lives. I have another family in Nicaragua. The beauty of the nature is astounding; I could spend all day looking at the landscape. I am so lucky to have this experience with such a great team. Everyone works so hard and doesn’t expect anything in return. I feel so blessed that we had this opportunity and can continue our friendships in Idaho.

— M

Today is the last day of this ASB trip (Travel day!), and I am having a hard time coming up with something to write. There was much that I saw, heard, felt and tried on this trip, it would take at least a whole notebook or two to share it all. I’ve already filled the journal I brought.

We had a group conversation last night about how when we tell others what we experienced, often they will lose interest or become distracted, and that is due to a lack of understanding of all we have done. So to combat that, we should come up with something good, bad and surprising/exciting to share at first and if they ask more questions or want to now more, then we can expand on it. The following the three things I will share:

Good: We were able to do a variety of work in the community and see the fruits of our labor in action — like when we saw the beans sprouting in the garden bed we made and planted.

Bad: A good portion of our group had a spell of the shits (myself included), but we were able to talk about it and come up with some great poop humor that made the shitty part better.

Surprising: The home stay experience was an amazing learning experience. We were able to get close to a family and see how they live their life as well as share bout ours. I was able to try making a tortilla and my host mom said it wasn’t bad! Just a little fat.

This is an experience I will always remember so thank you to everyone who made it possible and shared the experience with me.

Today we are leaving for Malacatoya and although it was sad leaving El Balsamo, it is really exciting for the adventures ahead with the coffee, and swimming, and other surprises ahead.

If there is anything that I have learned so far it is that although these people live different lives we are1 in the same in many ways. One eye opening moment was when I realized although they live so much simpler lives, they in turn can focus on the most important things in life, such as family, community, religion, etc.

— Lexy Wilson


University Communications and Marketing

Phone: 208-885-6291

Fax: 208-885-5841


Web: Communications and Marketing

U of I Media Contacts