“You’ll be there to meet me at the airport, right?!” This plea from my sister, whose inexperience traveling solo – to a country where she cannot speak (or understand) the language no less – and whose familiarity with the Government of Canada’s assigned risk level: Exercise a high degree of caution, has not deterred her (to my surprise, and to hers, I think!) from accepting my last minute invitation to join me in Nicaragua.
“I’ll be there when you get in,” I lie, knowing full well that she will have to play charades with our non-English speaking Nicaraguan partners for the better part of an hour before my own flight lands from Guatemala City.
When I arrive and spot her through the windowed wall separating the arriving passengers from the people waiting, crowding, sweating outside the air conditioned airport, even from behind I can tell that she is gesturing wildly (not to me, but to her keepers) and there is laughing. I can’t hear it, but I can see the laughing. And when I do join them sweat-side, she is swiping through photos of her kids on her phone while three smiling Nicaraguan men dutifully ooh and ahh over her shoulder. Sometimes you don’t really need words.
In the community of Villa Alemania, surrounded by local residents, my sister cuts the ribbon on the community water well funded in part by her grade three students and her school. Over the years, as she has changed not only classrooms but also schools, she has invited me to speak to her students several times about how small can be BIG – about creating a ripple. And each year, her students join our fundraising efforts. In 2016, her students encouraged other schools to get on board, and the combined efforts of Alberta schools fundraised a whole community water well – the well we now watch them drill in Villa Alemania.
My sister watches, and is also watched. I watch her witnessing this project firsthand – a project that, like many of you, she has supported for years, sight unseen.
At this moment, I will her to be your eyes as well.
Now, this might come as a shock. But my sister and I, we are notoriously, well…LOUD. With our words. With our songs. We feed off each other. We sing over each other. Our desire to be heard competes with one another. And truth be told, she reigns supreme most of the time.
But a funny thing happens when you find yourself surrounded by unfamiliar things, by folks who are speaking a different language, and by the unknown unfolding in front of you. You lose the loud. And you listen. You share expressions, not conversations. You feel handshakes and hugs, not the weight of spoken words. It is these little things that connect us – and as I watch my sister communicating without making a sound, these little things feel pretty big.
And while we are there to translate for her, sometimes you don’t really need words.
In the remote community of Disparata, we gather around a well shaft. It is dry and partially collapsed due to earthquake. The man who used his horse, a sturdy saddle horn, and a rope to pull out the wreckage is here to tell his story, along with the families who now rely on a water truck – expensive and infrequent – to come and fill buckets. But it is simply not enough. And certainly not enough to bathe or to wash clothes. We survey the children. This much is obvious.
My sister and I slip away from the very adult, very Spanish conversation and are led from plot to plot by children eager to give us the grand tour of their homes. We are honoured. And they are elated. I explain that my sister does not understand Spanish, but they are not deterred – let the charades begin!
A few proud home tours later, I notice the adult meeting has broken up, and I offer handshakes and high fives to our new friends on my way back to the truck. And then I hear my sister call out.
“This little guy,” she says, “he wants to show us his house next.” Not a word is spoken between them, she just knows. My gaze goes from her eyes, innocent and kind, to his, wide and hopeful. And then I break the news. And hearts. Hers. His. Mine. Because, while we would love to give each child their moment to shine, we are simply out of time.
She doesn’t reply. She looks away, but I read her expression. Words not required.
My sister will tell you that she would have loved to have been able to communicate verbally, but I will tell you that it really is true that actions can speak louder. This year, the For the Well of it campaign is raising money so that we can bring water to Disparata and to the home of the little guy we never got to visit.
We are a few thousand dollars short. Contributions to the cause in any amount will speak volumes. Click here to act – to lend your support.
Because, sometimes you don’t really need words. Sometimes there just aren’t any. And sometimes there just aren’t enough.