I just received an incredible phone call this evening. The caller id on my cell phone said “Unknown.” This usually means that someone on Skype is calling me… So I answered, expecting a friend. Instead, I hear: “Hello, Scott? Scott? How are you?” I have no idea who this is, so I ask who is calling and how he knows my name. It is pretty difficult to understand him and the line is crackly. Then I hear, “My name is Jose Manuel.” I could not believe it. This was a guy that I had met over a year ago (same summer when I went on the trip to Cyprus) in the small town of Comunidad El Bonete, Villanueva, Departamento de Chinandega. I had practiced my Spanish with him and he had worked on his English with me. He even had a CD player and had phonetically written out the lyrics to some American songs that he had. At the time, I would say that my Spanish was quite a bit better than his English. It was amazing how far along he had gotten in his English because he did not have an English-Spanish dictionary.
I was in Nicaragua doing a medical mission trip with a bunch of pre-med, med, dental, and vet students. We actually started in Costa Rica and then made our way up to Nicaragua. Staying in El Bonete was one of the highlights of the 2-week trip. The people of the village were very kind to host us in their homes for the 2 nights that we stayed there. It was a very interesting experience. Most of us slept in hammocks over the home’s dirt floor. I was fortunate enough to stay with Jose Manuel’s family…they were quite well off and had wood floors and access to a boombox. (I’m hoping that Jose will eventually have access to a computer because at that time he had not heard of it, the Internet, or email.) Some of our medical team actually slept with chickens running on the floor below their hammock!
Anyway, we held a clinic there for a few days. In our free time we either played “baseball” with an old tennis racquet that we had brought alone. We initially were going to show the kids how to hit the tennis ball, but they thought that the racquet would perfectly for baseball instead. We also practiced our Spanish (only a few people in the entire village spoke even a little English). In fact, the English teacher had less than a year of English “training” himself!
When we eventually had to leave, I promised Jose that I’d mail him an English-Spanish dictionary. So when I returned to the United States, I bought a nice dictionary that also included a pretty complete section about English grammar that was written in English and in Spanish. I also included print outs of the photos that I had taken with my digital camera, a CD with assorted American music and the correct English lyrics for each song, and a letter to him written in English and Spanish that included my address, email, and phone. I had also included a translation of the song, 100 years by Five for Fighting.
Addresses in Nicaragua are given by reference to a specific fixed location not by house number and street name. So, I had some difficulty mailing the box. I can’t recall the exact address right now, but an example would be saying that you live three houses from the big tree that is across from the church next to the lake. I had a slightly better address that was for minister/leader of the village. I mailed the package via USPS and about 6 months later the package was returned to me! The box was in rough shape and there was even a sticker on it saying that they were sorry for the damage. There was also a note saying that the import tax was unable to be paid. I guess it had sat in Managua for quite awhile and was returned to me when no one was available to pay the tax (which turned out to just be a few dollars). So USPS decided to ship it all the way back to me, probably costing more than just paying the tax themselves. I repackaged the contents and looked to other shipping solutions. Turns out another problem is not just the taxes, but also the remote location of the final destination. It was going to be hard to find a company, be it, DHL, Fedex, USPS, etc., to ship the package.
I decided to contact Carlos, the guy who ran and organized our mission trip. He was an American living in Costa Rica. I emailed him and he said that I should mail him the package and that he’d bring the package to Somotillo whenever he got the chance. That’s what I did; a few weeks after mailing it to him, I got an email saying that he received my package. Now I just had to hope that Jose Manuel would eventually receive it.
This evening, over a year after I visited Jose Manuel in Nicaragua and almost one year after I mailed the package for the second time, I received a phone call from him. Before the line disconnected (most likely due to poor international line conditions), I heard him say that he received my package and was extremely grateful to me. He also said that he was going to write me a letter. I’m glad that his English improved because I was so excited that I couldn’t think of anything intelligible to say in Spanish. I now eagerly await the arrival of his letter!