#TravelTuesday: I Learned What It Takes To Be A Brigadista in Nicaragua

From weaving through the concrete jungle to walking under the greenery of Nicaragua, I found something new within myself that I will forever cherish during the longest week of my life.

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On August 4th, I packed my bags filled with bug spray and got on a plane headed towards Nicaragua. For those unfamiliar with the term brigadista --are individuals who help the military with medical assistance for communities. I joined a group at my college to volunteer at a Medical Brigade. At the early hour of 4:30 am,  26 of us, from all walks of life, excitedly sat in unison ready to start our trip of a lifetime. After almost 8 hours of travel, the murmur was high, and we were excited to land in the country's capital. There, we were met with Rafael, the Brigade leader who later became a very hard goodbye. 

As I unpacked my bags and sat on the bed in our compound, I realized that this trip was a lot different than visiting my familia in a different country. I was there on my own, with a mission to help improve the healthcare of the people of Nicaragua– I was a brigadista. Every morning at 7:00 am, the 26 of us got on our bus and headed for Guacucal, an impoverished community located 2 hours from our compound. Each day at sunrise, we were there on a mission to provide free medical attention as well as pharmaceutical needs to as many Nicaraguans as possible. At the end of our Brigade, the records showed that we saw about 200-300 patients. To me, it only proved that 200-300 people touched my soul every day that I was there. Though I had never been so tired in my life, I had never experienced such poor living conditions up close, however, I can say with full confidence this was the best trip of my life.

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The last day of our Brigade duties was what we call a "Public Health" day– it was a day in which we visited a different community and put down concrete in people's homes. This was the day that I realized a part of me would forever be indebted to this beautiful country in Central America. We divided into groups and spent a day making concrete and pouring it in living rooms and bedrooms. While blinking between my beads of sweat, I was one of two girls in the group who could converse with Senora Nadie and her family. It was then that I learned about their lives and just how happy they were living on the mountainside. I asked them if they had ever wanted to visit the U.S. and all of them, except Nadie's husband, said no because it seemed like life was too complex to enjoy. 

While we said our goodbyes and walked back to the bus fighting back tears, Rafael steered us to the direction of the schoolhouse, where almost 100 people stared in our direction. A few girls in the community performed a few dances for us, in gratitude of all we had done for them. While in America this may not have been a suffice repayment, my heart felt so grateful to them instead. As I watched the performance and danced in my seat to the beat of the song, a little girl pulled me from the audience, and we started to dance. Soon after, everyone joined, and I had never seen a room filled with so much joy. 

Eventually, we said our goodbyes and the tears couldn't be held anymore. In fact, I cried more than I ever did when I said goodbye to my family members. My emotions poured out of me like never before, and I wasn't the only one. Almost all 26 of us, from all walks of life, cried and hugged in unison as we never wanted to leave. 

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As a Latina working for a magazine in New York city, I never thought that I could find such happiness in such simplicity. While a vacation can help you relax and experience new things, there is nothing more powerful than being a brigadista. It is an experience that lasts you a lifetime, I guarantee it.