I love a good story.
Give me something that is deep and twisted and vivid, and I will happily bid this world adieu in favor of diving into a different one for a few days.
I remember finding a book like this when I was in a secondhand bookstore; I had been wandering around for a while when I pulled this massive book off of a shelf. It had the most beautiful cover, gold and copper leaf imprinting the title onto the soft canvas.
Without a doubt I knew this book would be well worth the time it would take me to read it; maybe even worth the hand-written price neatly penciled onto the inside page. Opening the cover, I didn’t quite get the first impression I was hoping for.
It wasn’t in English. Illustrations were interspersed between pages of poetry and short stories, and I could understand none of it. I almost bought it anyway, but time and money are two things a college student never seems to have a surplus of. Even for beautiful books whose stories I knew had to be amazing, but would never be able to read.
This is what I feel when I go into the field for my service learning class here in Nicaragua. I and several other students and I work with the organization ETU, whose purpose is to strengthen the community of a neighborhood from the inside out – through its own members. So far we have visited families on the outskirts of León, Chinandega, and Somotillo. And each family has been an incredibly unique experience.
Our purpose is to visit these families and record their stories – who they are, how they are involved in ETU, how ETU has impacted them and how they have subsequently impacted the community. The very first house we visited was home to a woman and her mother, who was sick with cancer. The meeting ended as we prayed over these two women, and when we finished there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
A second member of ETU we visited was a carpenter. As we walked down the dirt road to his house, person after person called out to him in recognition, even the kids, just getting off of school, were waving at him as we went by. At his house, he sat on a massive pile of wood shavings while we rested ourselves and our notebooks on the fruit of his labor.
At both places we talked for at least an hour, exhausting our long list of questions and filling pages of notes. And I understood barely anything of what was said. It may seem odd for an English major to go to a Spanish-speaking country to study, and even stranger for one to record and write the stories of these people.
But I think I have an advantage. I may feel useless when it comes to trying to understand someone’s story, but everything is so much clearer to me because I am not focused solely on the language. It’s like the book I found at that secondhand shop so long ago. Just because I couldn’t read the words, doesn’t mean I couldn’t see that the story itself was beautiful. And I hope the stories that come out of this class do justice to the people we meet.