By Renee Hodges
Our friends, Wendy and Eric, sold most of their possessions and moved to Nicaragua eight years ago because they felt God calling them to be missionaries there. They immersed themselves into the culture knowing only basic Spanish and started serving in several towns and villages. Their experiences have ranged from sublime to hysterical over these years.
My mister and I wanted to see the places and meet the people we were hearing about, so we hopped on a plane to Managua. They showed us around Matagalpa, the city where they live, and took us to the remote villages they served. When I say remote. . . I mean remote. The whole week was life changing.
The Nica people are extraordinarily kind and invited us into their homes without hesitation. As if by magic, a tower of plastic chairs would appear and be unstacked around the room so we could visit. In very comfortable homes and in homes with dirt floors, we were welcomed with a hospitality that would impress any Southern grandma.
Since my entire Spanish vocabulary consists of words I learned from Sesame Street more than a couple of decades ago, my direct conversations were limited. I mean, how many times do you need to count to ten or remark that the weather is “caliente”? I relied on our friends for translation and, often, the Nicas we met wanted us to speak English so they could learn. So, my unilingual self never felt uncomfortable trying to communicate.
We visited several churches in several villages. I loved seeing all the children. Some came with sparkling clean clothes and faces. Others came looking like they’d been playing in a mud puddle. They, like their parents, welcomed us with broad smiles and shining dark eyes.
Those kids wanted nothing more than attention. They clustered around me, sang little songs, played with my hair and my necklace. The camera effects on my phone were a big hit. Then, I learned a word for the little girls. Bonita. It translates as pretty. I used it generously because it was true of every little girl I saw. Their beautiful dark skin, black hair, and brown eyes stunned me. The word made them smile.
At one church, I found myself on the floor in the middle of a group of children vying for attention, climbing over and on me like a human jungle gym. I would point to something, tell them the English word, and wait to hear the Spanish word. They were all excited interpreters.
One girl I supposed to be around eight years old was standing outside of the circle around me. Her fine black hair was tangled around her dirt-smudged face. Her clothes were stained and a little too small for her. She was smiling as she watched us play and laugh. I motioned for her to join us. When she stood in front of me, I touched her cheek and said my magic word, bonita, and her smile filled her face.
In the crowd of kids, one of the little boys said another word. I didn’t recognize the word, but I knew its meaning immediately. The smile ran away from the face of the beautiful girl in front of me and the other kids giggled as they looked at her. She started to walk away but I took her arm and pulled her onto my lap. “No, no, no.” I waggled my finger back and forth as I made eye contact with the boy and the others who laughed before I touched her face again. “Bonita.” Then I took a selfie with her and showed her the pic. She was my shadow for the rest of the day.
It doesn’t take much to encourage someone else. It doesn’t take much to hurt someone’s heart. Our words, author friends, written and spoken, can instill confidence, convey worth, and inspire.
Renee Hodges blogs at www.sweetfriendship.life, has completed her first novel, Ona Mae’s Deli and Bait Shop, and is working on the next novel. For down time, she and her husband enjoy traveling, having friends over, and hanging out in their easy pants watching cop shows and cooking competitions.