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Posts from the ‘Nicaragua’ Category

Lights! Camera! Chickens?

(Lee Folk, a 2010 graduate of RMU’s nursing program, is filing these posts from his trip to Nicarauga. To read about Lee’s previous trips there, click here and here.)

It’s still dark outside when my phone alarm goes off at 5 AM. I hear Dr. Ross sit up on the side of his bed. “Is it seriously time to get up?” I mutter into my pillow.

“It’s your own fault.” Dr. Ross says, rubbing his eyes. “I’m blaming you for having to get up this early.” I start to laugh.

“Oh please. My fault?”

“Yeah, you had to go and write all those stories. Now we had to come and make a commercial and get up at 5 AM to do it.”

“Oh, yeah right! Well I wouldn’t have even written those stories if you hadn’t insisted that I come down here in the first place. This is totally your fault.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“No, Jeff is ridiculous. This was his idea wasn’t it? To be in the barrio by six in the morning?”

“Yeah, you’re right,” I agree, sitting up in bed. “So is he insane or what?”

“I think he might be.” Jeff had insisted at the production meeting last night that we be out the door in time to be at the location by 6 AM. After walking all over the barrio on Monday, Jeff had finally settled on his choice for the scrim shot, an avenue of the neighborhood that would give him enough “expanse” for the big reveal shot of the commercial. The major concern though was getting the key shot before the sun rose too high. If the light became too harsh, he wouldn’t get the shot he wanted. So to beat the sun, we had to start setting up by 6 AM. This would be the earliest that Dr. Ross and I had ever been in the barrio. And we aren’t too keen on the idea.

Thankfully, there is no rain falling this morning. The weather has been one of the major concerns with filming outdoors here in Managua during the rainy season. It’s rained each day we’ve been here, but the precipitation arrives like clockwork each afternoon between three and four. It pours for half an hour or so and then stops. Hopefully, our luck will hold out today, too.

Rush hour in Managua clogs the streets by seven o’clock, but right now, they remain fairly empty. I went without breakfast this morning, feeling more nervous today that I have at any point during the trip. With the amount of preparation needed to get this complex shot, we will most likely only get one shot at making it happen. I try to block out the calculations going on in my head about how much the university is spending to get all of us down here. There will be any number of variables that could inhibit our success, and I really don’t want to be one of them. Before this morning, I always thought it would be cool to spend a day in Tom Hank’s shoes. Not today. With this kind of stress, Hanks can keep his dumb shoes.

The crew is all dressed in the vibrant red production t-shirts that Kyle has provided for them. They have the Change A Life logo across the front, and on the back, the titles and locations of each commercial shoot is listed. Ours runs across the bottom: “Nicaragua Trumpet” it’s called. In addition to the shirts, we’ve also been given all-access passes to wear on the set that read “RMU Road Crew.” Kyle has certainly spared no expense in making us al feel professional and important. I’m not sure what kind of special access this pass gives me, but it still feels neat to wear.

Don Pedro takes us directly to the spot where we will be shooting. After unloading the equipment, the prep work begins. Anita, Jeff, and Adam begin by laying out a black tarp on the dirt road before laying out the skeleton for the scrim. It’s important that the red fabric stay as clean as possible. Dino calls me over to strap on the wretched microphone belt before I start to perspire too much. Doc is sent to wake David, who has been allowed to sleep in because he had to work at the Claro call center until midnight. Ray wanted him to be able to rest as long as possible. Lucky duck.

Once I’ve been wired for sound, I walk over to Larkin and Doug. They both seem to be deep in artistic thought. “What do you think, Doug?” I ask. “Are we in the right spot?”

“I think so, yeah. I guess we’ll find out soon, huh?” Ray walks over to us, grips my shoulder, and extends his trademark handshake.

“The best advice I can give you, Lee,” he said. “Just try not to think about the fact that everything depends on you right now.”

“Yeah, Lee, no pressure at all.” Larkin kids. “Just don’t mess this up.” These guys are brutal.

The camera has been set up next to a giant pile of dark gravel, facing down the street toward the intersection where the sewage canal begins. About twenty yards from the scrim site, the road starts to move uphill, a dimensional feature that Jeff was looking for. A few other qualities make this a great spot. There’s a giant pile of truck tires spilling into the road. On the other side sits a giant rusty septic tank. Near the drainage ditch, a grey horse is standing guard over a giant mud puddle, hitched to a wooden cart. The poor animal looks pretty depressed to me. When I frame the whole shot with my hands from the spot of the camera, the scene does seem to sum up the essence of the barrio environment nicely. Jeff knows what he’s doing.

In addition to everything that already in place, however, there are few small adjustments that the art crew wants to make. This they call “tweeking the set”. We certainly don’t want to create a scene that is fake, but we do want the viewer to see as much of the barrio life as possible during the five seconds over which this final scene will play. Jeff has made a wish list of little things he’d like to have in the shot. A smoking fire, a children’s soccer game, a cluster of feeding chickens: all of them sights that are seen quite frequently throughout this neighborhood. The task of making all of this happen is delegated to Kyle and the translators. Our PR professional has already grabbed Marcela and taken off for the market to see how many chickens can be purchased for fifty dollars. All of the craziest tasks seem to fall on Kyle, but she’s determined to do whatever it takes to make this production happen.

Meanwhile, my only job so far has been to stay out of the sun and well hydrated. This only serves to make me more nervous. The guys carry over the constructed scrim to the spot where it will stand, and they go to work covering the back of it with the tarp so the sun won’t reveal the scaffolding. The crowd of curious onlookers quickly grows as the set starts to take shape. It’s not every day that an American film crew sets up shop in their backyard. In fact, this is probably the very first time that anything like has ever happened here.

David appears around the corner with Dr. Ross, waving to everyone. The two of us have some time to hang out, and we pass out candy to the kids and kick the soccer ball around. The sun continues to rise higher, and its rays are growing hot. I really hope we are getting close to rolling tape, because it’s starting to feel very late in the morning. Ray seems to share that sentiment. I ask him how he’s feeling. “Oh, this is always the hardest part for me,” he says. “You just want the director to start filming something. But he has to be comfortable first. Everything has to be just right before he pulls that trigger.” He is right about that. Jeff has been at the camera for an hour now, looking through the lens, then calling out adjustments, then checking again.

The white van appears down the road again, carrying our chicken negotiating team. Everyone is curious to see how the chicken mission went. When the women hop out, Kyle is triumphantly holding a giant garbage bag. “We got eleven!” she exclaims. “Eleven chickens for fifty bucks! What a deal!” Anita has also purchased several new soccer balls, and she dispenses one to the care of our eager extras. They are instructed to begin playing gently on the side of the road. Then Anita starts to sprinkle feed across the ground to keep our fowl interested in our little film for a while. “Where do you want your chickens, Jeff?”

“Right there in front of the camera would be great,” he says casually. I lean over to Doug.

“Did we seriously just buy our own chickens to insert into the scene?” I ask.

“Yup. We are totally going to break the two golden rules of filmmaking today,” he replies.

“Two golden rules?”

“Yeah. Never work with children, and never work with animals,” he says, laughing. “This should be interesting all right.”

“The real question,” adds Larkin, “is whether or not we will be eating those chickens later tonight.”

Our translators have both sprung into action to get Jeff everything he wanted. While Marcela helps free the chickens from their nets, Edgar is busy starting a fire. The local residents have loaned us their small fire pit to burn some green branches, enough to create a small plume of smoke behind the scrim. Jeff also asks Dr. Ross to walk down the road and ask the owners of the horse to lead their sad animal forward a few strides. At long last, after nearly four hours of preparation, Jeff is finally ready for the two Davids.

“Okay, guys, let’s get you in front of the scrim.” David and I step in front of the big red square, me in my blue RMU scrubs and David in his new gray shirt. He’s got his trumpet and I have my stethoscope. Jeff calls us into our first acting huddle. “All right, both of you take a deep breath. This is going to be easy.” I groan inwardly. He is just saying that. Jeff goes on to explain what the viewer will see and what exactly he needs us to do when we receive our cue. For our first several takes, I will deliver the tail end of my final line: But he’s the one who is unforgettable. This line refers to David, of course, and once I deliver that line, David is to nudge me from the side and “make me aware” of his presence. By this point, Jeff will have zoomed out from my face to reveal the chaotic activity going on around David and me. Jeff reassures us once more not to be nervous, then jogs back to the camera. I look at David. Compared to yesterday, he doesn’t seem nervous at all. He must be getting used to this.

“You understand what he wants you to do?” I ask.

“I think so. Take one, yes?”

“Yup, take one. The first of many, I’m betting.”

“Okay! Here we go, everyone!” Anita calls out. She has two young girls standing by her side, extras that she will send walking in front of the camera when Jeff gives the nod. Once they cross the camera, David and I have our cue. I take a deep breath and take a look around. The crowd behind the camera is all smiles. Eleven chickens are pecking happily at their feed. The smoke rises behind us, and the depressed horse stares glibly at its reflection in the mud puddle. This is totally insane, I think to myself. How in the world did they talk me into this? All of a sudden, Jeff nods. The girls cross the camera. My one line evaporates from my mind. Then a split second later, it’s back.

“But he’s the one that’s unforgettable,” I blurt out. I wait for David to nudge me. He doesn’t. I look over and he’s standing there, staring at me.

“What do I do now?” he asks. The expression on his face is hysterical. I burst out laughing.

“Okay, take two, everybody!” I shout to the barrio.

It’s going to be a long day.

It seems like the day has stretched on forever since we arrived in the barrio. David and I acted out the final scene of the commercial over and over and over again, so many times that we began to feel stupid about ourselves. Jeff kept telling us just to hang loose and act natural, but neither David nor I felt anything close to loose and natural in front of a rolling camera and several dozen onlookers. Finally, though, Jeff was satisfied with our work and we closed up shop on the crucial last shot. Duane organized everyone who had come out to watch us into one giant group photo, capturing many smiling faces of all shapes and sizes. The surrounding neighbors had been so helpful throughout the morning. Anita and Dr. Ross did their best to compensate each and every one of them to show our appreciation for tolerating our brief invasion. Then it was off to the clinic for lunch and several more hours of shooting. Supplementary footage was filmed of me triaging patients in the clinic, Dr. Ross treating them in his exam room, and both of us discussing cases during a post-conference. Then David and I were positioned out onto the veranda of the clinic to film a scene of us talking about the day he received his trumpet. By the time we moved up to David’s house, it was clear that everyone was on the tail end of their energy reserves.

“Adelante! Adelante! Bienvenido! Bienvenido!” David’s mother throws open the front door to the house to me and the film crew. Before I can climb the porch steps to greet her, I am caught by Judith, David’s 13-year-old sister. Judith is the tightest hugger I know, and she loves to surprise me with them. Since arriving back in the barrio on Monday, each time she has seen me, the young teen has latched onto my waist and tried to squeeze all the breath from my lungs. Judith bears a strong resemblance to her older brother, flashing the same broad grin to everyone she meets. David’s other sister, 17-year-old Laurita, has a rounder face, but the same long black hair as Judith and beautiful eyes. She’s a bit shyer than the exuberant Judith, but every bit as hospitable. It’s David’s mother, however, who beams the brightest. She kisses me on the cheek and wraps her arms around my neck. “Has vuelto!” she laughs, squeezing me even harder than Judith.

“Si, has vuelto! I’m back!”I laugh with her. She pulls back from me and studies my face carefully as if checking me over for scratches or dents. I have only met this woman once before, during my November trip, but she has heard much about me from her son, and she welcomes me home as family. I scan the front room of David’s house. The Espinozas are able to live in an actual house, a much more stable and spacious structure than most of the surrounding dwellings of the barrio. And it is immaculately clean. I can tell Mrs. Espinoza has been expecting us. The framed photos of David and me that I gave him on my last trip are proudly displayed in the center of the family table. There is music playing from the stereo along the wall. It’s a wonderful reassurance to see that my Nicaraguan friend has four solid walls around him and his family at night. That’s more than most people here have.

While we are talking, the film guys call David outside in the street. They’ve set up the scrim in the street and they want to get one final shot before the rain starts falling. The shot will be easy. All Jeff wants David to do is stand in front of the red square and play the trumpet for a few minutes. Judith and Laurita have put on their best outfits to welcome us. Larkin, who has proven to be keenly sensitive to our influence on the people here, asks Jeff to incorporate them into the shot as well. Everyone agrees, and the girls are placed on camera as onlookers. They are thrilled. Soon, David’s house is empty except for me and Marsela and Mrs. Espinoza. She insists that we both sit down in her rocking chairs. She pulls out chilled cans of apple juice from the fridge and serves them to us, then sits next to me and asks about my family back home.

“Oh, please tell her that they are all doing well!” I ask Marcela. “And I gave David a photo of my whole family this time, too.” She relays the message. “Would you mind if I asked her a few questions about David and his sisters?”

“Absolutely,” Marcela says. “What do you want me to ask her?”

“Well, please compliment her on David first of all, and the girls. They are amazing kids. My classmates and I have been so blessed by David. Maybe you could ask her how she managed to raise three kids so well here in the barrio?” Marcela translates my message and David’s mom nods eagerly. She begins to speak, and for several minutes, she and Marcela discuss back and forth as I sip my apple juice. Marcela grows quiet and listens intently. Finally, she turns back to me.

“Lee, this woman is incredible,” she tells me. “It seems like David’s father has been out of the picture since he was one year old, and she says he has never wanted any part of raising him or his sisters. So she’s been raising these kids all by herself since then. She says she works hard to provide the best life she can for them, and she has sacrificed everything in order for them to attend a private school. I asked her why and she said that the government schools don’t teach the kids anything but how to get into trouble. She didn’t want her children to go down that path, so she invested in their education. She is very proud of David, too. He doesn’t smoke or drink or hang around with the gangs. He sticks up for his sisters and helps his neighbors. She says he has worked since he was fourteen and takes his role as man of the house very seriously. She was crushed when his trumpet was stolen, and now, not only to have one again, but also to to have all of these exciting things with RMU happen to him, she is just happier than can express.”

It shouldn’t surprise me to hear all of this, knowing what I know about David, but yet it does. I had no idea that I had so much in common with this kid. My father never abandoned me at any point in life, but I know very well what both my parents gave up in order for me to have a private Christian education. They kept me from a public education for the very same reasons, wanting to be able to raise me with the morals and values that would guide me away from the social dangers I could easily stumble into. I just never anticipated I would find David’s mother to possess the same force of determination as my own mom. It’s difficult enough to raise physically healthy children in Nicaragua. Raising them to live their lives with responsibility and morals is even harder. But David’s mother made up her mind to do just that, right here in one of the most dangerous and impoverished areas of the city. And she has succeeded in an incredible way.

Outside, we can hear the notes of David’s trumpet rising over the approaching thunder. It’s about to rain. Sure enough, moments later, the daily downpour begins and our day of shooting takes an early wrap. The video crew comes pouring into the house, seeking shelter for themselves and the equipment. But all the wet heads wear bright smiles. Somehow, we’ve managed to get the bulk of all the needed footage in one long day of hard work. It’s been a great day. There’s just one last thing to do that can be done right here in the Espinoza family home. Dino sets up the sound equipment to record David reading voiceover lines that may be used in the commercial. Anita ushers everyone but David, Ray, and Dino out on to the gated porch. They need the room as quiet as possible.

Outside, I hop up on the hood of the rusty, broken down shell of car that hasn’t run a long time, one of the luxuries that Mrs. Espinoza gave up for her three kids many years ago. For me, this moment in the middle of the rain moves me deeply. For six months, I’ve lost sleep over this whole idea, remaining skeptical about the purpose of this commercial. I’ve questioned my motives. I’ve doubted the people in charge. I’ve prayed over and over again that this project would not result in any harm to David or his family, and that we wouldn’t be seen as taking advantage of their difficult situation. But when I look over at this boy’s proud mother, sitting in her chair, flanked by her two daughters, I feel at peace about the Change A Life campaign for the very first time. She rocks back and forth gently with her eyes closed, a huge smile spread across her face. Everything she gave up over the past nineteen years for her children must seem so trivial in this moment of maternal pride. All of her sweat and all of her tears can wash away with the rain today. Someone from the world outside the barrio finally discovered the amazing qualities that her son possesses, ones that she always knew were there. And now there is a film crew in her house, here to take his story home to America to inspire others. Yes, it was worth it all right. Some moments in life are simply so special you want them to stretch on forever.

This is one of those moments.

Los Dos Davids — Holy Mackerel!

(Lee Folk, a 2010 graduate of RMU’s nursing program, is filing these posts from his trip to Nicarauga. To read about Lee’s previous trips there, click here and here.)

Duane Reider’s photography studio was not at all what I expected. Several months before we took off for Nicaragua, I had been asked to meet Larkin and Doug down at an old firehouse on the far edge of the Strip District to shoot photos for the RMU campaign. When I parked at the address they gave me, I found myself staring up at a three story stone building that resembled a fire station. It was a fire station, in fact, and a beautiful one at that. It had not housed fire trucks under its roof for many years, having been decommissioned in the 1970s after the fire chief of Pittsburgh purchased new trucks without measuring their dimensions. When the rigs arrived, it was discovered that they could not fit in the garage. So the city had to build new firehouses, leaving some of the city’s most historic buildings in Pittsburgh abandoned. Many years passed before Duane Reider, an up-and-coming photographer, saw the potential for investment and decided to purchase the Lawrenceville property. Not only would it be a wonderful place for a giant studio, he thought, but also the ideal spot for a much larger endeavor: the Robert Clemente Museum. I didn’t even know the museum existed until that day in April.

I had to ring the front door buzzer to be let in. The décor of the engine house I walked into really surprised me. The entire bottom floor, where the trucks used to be parked, was filled with Roberto Clemente memorabilia. Walls were covered with jerseys, baseballs, bats, photos, paintings, letters, autographs – an entire life displayed across the walls. There was even an exact replica of the old Forbes Field scoreboard, along with an actual home plate used during one of the Pirates’ World Series victories. I spent several minutes gawking at the display. The inner Pirates fan stirred within me, reminded of the days when our hometown team was one of the most respected and feared teams in all of baseball. Those days have been non-existent in my lifetime though. Just the night before, the team had set the all-time record for the worst single loss in baseball history against the Brewers. “20-0!”was the humiliating headline across town that morning.

Soon, it was time to get down to business. Our photographer, Duane, was upstairs in the studio loft finishing up his session with Kristin Graziano, another RMU student being featured in the Change A Life campaign. Kristin also went through the nursing program, and I’d had the chance to talk with her several times during my schooling. Her commercial was to be shot in Washington D.C. where her experience at a homeless shelter had made a profound impact on her and others. Doug and Larkin came down from the loft to finalize my wardrobe.

“Are these the outfits you brought with you?” Doug asked me, pointing toward the suitcase I wheeled behind me.

“Yup,” I said, “I brought every possible thing I might wear while in Nicaragua.” Larkin and Doug had instructed me to bring along scrubs, nursing tshirts, and any other clothing I would wear on a normal day in the barrio. After discussing the options for several minutes, they settled on my full set of navy blue clinical scrubs, oddly enough the only apparel I would not normally wear. It’s simply too hot for scrubs in the barrio. But since they are instantly related to nursing, they chose to stick with the scrubs, along with my stethoscope. I was sent to change, then into a back room where the makeup artist Catherine touched up my facial blemishes. Duane would be shooting close-ups of my head with a 24-megapixel camera, so the fewer pores that popped up, the better.

After a quick introduction to Duane, we got started with the shoot. I was placed in front of the hallmark symbol of the campaign, the big red square, and adjusted into a dozen different poses. Duane kept me on my toes. He shot me standing and sitting, smiling and not smiling, with arms crossed and arms relaxed. Meanwhile, Larkin and Doug stood with Duane’s assistant, Rob, and stared at the images that popped up immediately on the two widescreen computer monitors several feet away from me.

“Okay, let’s try that again, but this time, don’t smile with your teeth,” Larkin suggested.

“Yeah, maybe not so much of a smirk,” Doug added. “Just a slight smile.” I quickly became self conscious about my smiling abilities. Is this how my own photography clients feel? I thought to myself. Every couple flashes, Catherine stepped in to make minute adjustments to my scrubs and dab my nose. I felt very strange. I supposed that this was, if nothing else, wonderful confirmation that nursing was a better fit for me than modeling. Half an hour passed before Duane wheeled his stool over to the art guys.

“Think we have enough to work with, fellas?” he asked.

“Oh yeah,” Larkin nodded. “We have plenty.” I walked over to join the group by the computers. Rob dragged the mouse over the image of my face and magnified it so that my nose filled the whole screen.

“That’s disgusting!” I shouted, horrified. The guys thought it was hilarious.

“That’s what we’ll use for all the brochures, just your nose,” Larkin joked.

“Very funny, Larkin. So who all will be going on the big trip in July, if it happens?” I said, expecting Larkin and perhaps Doug to be the only ones. Duane heard my question.

“Oh, we’re all going,” he replied.

“No kidding? Wow, we get photographers too? And how much of this stuff are you’re going to bring?”

“Oh, it’s all going. We have to do this same exact shoot with David down there. You two are the stars of this thing. You think this kid David will be easy to work with?”he asked. I laughed at the thought of David being in a situation like this.

“Oh, he will be beyond excited, trust me.”

Leaving the studio that day, though, I remained very skeptical that the whole crazy idea would ever get that far.

“Ahhh, Lee! Buenos dias! You’re late!” Donna Auraruth says, wagging her finger at me scoldingly. The assistant dean of UPOLI’s nursing school gives me a hug and then steps back. “You were supposed to be here an hour ago!”

“I know, I know! I’m sorry. We tried, but you know how it is.” She laughs. Everyone knows how plans often work out in Nicaragua. Forty-five minutes late translates to ten minutes early. It takes some adjusting, but after a while, you get used to being perpetually behind schedule. We’ve just arrived at RMU’s sister university, UPOLI, where we will be spending most of our Tuesday here for the photography and interview shoot with David. Dr. Ross has already explained our whole project to the faculty, and they’ve graciously offered our crew their primary nursing classroom for the day to set up a makeshift studio. Duane and Rob are on duty this morning for their part of the task. Jeff and the film guys will arrive after lunch to conduct the interview with David.

Our first job, once all the gear has been carried in, is to clear the classroom of its desks so that Duane and Rob can reconstruct the red scrim, along with their lighting equipment. David walks into the room to find the guys hard at work setting up equipment.

“What do you think, pal?” I ask. “All of this just to take your picture! Wild, huh?”

“Wow!” he says, wide-eyed. “My goodness! How do you say it? Holy mackerel?” I laugh.

“Yeah, you said it all right. Holy mackerel!”

Don Pedro needs to take David to the market with Larkin and Doug to buy a shirt for the shoot. At his house earlier, David showed the team what he owned, and they decided he needed something with more contrast against the red background. An hour later, David and his new friends have return from the market with a gray polo shirt. Duane is ready to start his work and calls him over to the scrim. “All right, David, front and center, buddy!”

After meeting him for the first time yesterday, the crew is already immensely pleased to be working with David. Using the same disarmingly innocent charm that has won over the hearts of dozens of RMU nursing students, he has already gone to work proving to the film crew that he is the perfect kid to be receiving this kind of notoriety. The crew has remained adamant the whole trip about treating me like some sort of celebrity, and the only thing more exciting than that is watching them treat David like one, too.

Duane asks David to go get his trumpet. He carefully removes the instrument from its case and walks to the spot where Duane points. Surprisingly, David soon shows us how remarkably comfortable he is with being photographed. Ray and Doc watch from the corner of the room, and they can’t help but smile.

“Look at that smile,” Ray says, shaking his head. “So genuine. This kid’s a natural!”

Thinking back on my portrait session with Duane in Pittsburgh, I remember one of his strongest qualities was his ability to make his subjects feel relaxed while he worked. Here at UPOLI, he stays just as jovial, joking with David as he clicks away, encouraging him to goof off. He even picks up on David’s liking for English catch phrases. Soon, their new countdown to the shutter becomes “1….2….3….holy mackerel!”

“Holy mackerel!” David laughs, showing off his wide, contagious grin as Duane’s flash pops. The rest of the stills shoot goes off without a hitch. Around noon, the door to the classroom opens and the film guys begin lugging in cases of video equipment. I notice out of the corner of my eye that Ray has pulled David off to the side to prep him for the interview he plans to conduct this afternoon. David is nodding his head slowly with that puzzled expression that tells me he doesn’t fully understand the conversation. I wait for Ray to finish, then walk over to take a seat in the desk next to David. The poor guy has gone from having the time of his life to being scared to death.

“What’s up, David. How ya feeling?”

“Ah, my friend, I am nervous!”he says, shaking his head.

“You don’t have to be nervous. Ray just wants to have a conversation with you,” I tell him. “There aren’t any wrong answers to these questions. You can say whatever you want!” He still appears unconvinced.

“Yes, but my English, when I have become nervous, I cannot speak my English as well.”

“David, your English is way better than it was a year ago. It’s great.”

“He wants me to talk about how I feel, about my….how do you say….my emotions? He wants me to talk about my emotions.”

“Oh, that just means he wants you to tell us what it felt like when we gave you the trumpet.”

“Yes, but I don’t know how. I’ve never tried to talk about my emotions.” I’m beginning to feel really sorry for the poor kid, and guilty for putting him in this situation. Having his photo taken comes naturally, but sitting through an Oprah-style interview will be way outside his comfort zone.

It’s time for lunch. We pile into the van and make a quick trip to the local Pollo Estrella restaurant. When David and I arrive back at the university, we find that our classroom has transformed once again, this time into a television studio. Jeff and his team have constructed a film set right in the middle of the room, complete with backdrop, dropcloths, lighting stands, sound booms, monitors, and cameras. David’s eyes grow huge again. I was not expecting this either. This time it’s my turn to use David’s phrase. Holy mackerel. Dr. Ross has been watching Adam wrap the lights in tinted cellophane to change the hue that will appear on camera. He looks over at me, also clearly amazed.

“This is just crazy,” he says. “I’m so out of my element here. I’m used to living in the field of nursing. I know nothing about this stuff. I have no idea how these guys do all of this!”

Ray comes over to collect David, leading him to a chair placed in the center of the fort-like interview set. He kneels down next to the teenager and goes through the plan with him yet again. Meanwhile, Anita is busy making final preparations. “Okay, I need everyone out!”she shouts. “Everyone who doesn’t have something to do, please clear the room!” Larkin and Dough grab wireless headsets and step outside to listen. Dr. Ross and I are pulled behind the scrim with instructions to be quiet while tape is rolling. Anita sees me taking photos of the final prep. “No photos once we start rolling, okay, Lee?” My wide-eyed friend looks up at me with an overwhelmed expression, and I take his picture one last time, then turn my camera off. Adam sets up a monitor for us to watch during the interview. On the small screen, I can see Dino taping a microphone to David’s chest.

“He looks scared to death, Doc,” I whisper. Oddly enough, at that moment, David looks over at me and tries to offer me some reassurance.

“My friend, do not be nervous!” he says bravely. “There is nothing to worry about!” He’s simply repeating the encouragement that we’ve been giving him, and that makes me laugh.

“Okay, we’re set to go,” Jeff tells Anita.

“All right, quiet on the set!” The humming AC units have been turned off to achieve the best possible audio feed. Dino waits for UPOLI students walking outside to move past the door, then gives Jeff the thumbs up. The red light goes on. Jeff nods to Ray. Ray turns to David.

“What is that, David? In your hands – tell me what that is.” David grins broadly.

“It’s my trumpet!” he says.

“Tell me about it. How did you lose your first trumpet? And how did you get another one?” David seems to take a deep breath, and then begins a rambling, sincere explanation.

“Well, my friend Lee, he knew that my trumpet had been taken from me, and I was despaired about it, but Lee, who is my American friend, in the United States, he got me this trumpet and when he gave it to me, I could not even believe my eyes. My eyes…yes, I even cried from my eyes! And this feeling of surprise went deep into my soul and I could not believe it!” Dr. Ross and I start to chuckle. This crew wanted to capture the essence of David, and this is it: bubby, energetic, and tremendously entertaining.

The kid wasn’t kidding about nerves hijacking his English. He struggles to find words at various point, but bravely, he stays determined and fields Ray’s questions as best as his English allows. After he’s finished, Edgar asks him to respond to a few more questions in Spanish. These he answers much more fluently, and Dr. Ross nods to me as he listens. “These responses sound much more natural,” he whispers. Jeff then asks me to take Ray’s seat by the camera and pitch him a few more. David’s relaxed by now, and switches back to English. He talks vibrantly about all the girls who have become his friends since meeting him at the clinic, and how special it was for him to have our team surprise him with the trumpet back in November.

I am still in disbelief watching this scene unfold. The image quality on the monitor is so remarkable, David truly does look like a Nicaraguan celebrity being interviewed in a studio. After half an hour of taping, Jeff looks up from the camera. “Okay, that’s it! Great job David.” The kid heaves a huge sigh of relief and reaches for his cup of water.

“You did it, man!” I tell him. “See? I knew it wouldn’t be hard for you!”

“Yes, but I was nervous,” he laughs. “Holy mackerel!”

What a trooper this young man has turned out to be. Sitting in front of a camera, no matter what kind, can be a frightening experience for anyone, let alone being asked to answer questions from people you have just met in a language you have not yet mastered. But David made it look easy. I know he never expected to be living this crazy moment. I never expected anything like this, either. We’re both a bit scared of the whole thing. We’re both very excited, too. Being treated like TV stars is a thrill for both of us. And the strangest part? We haven’t even shot the actual commercial yet.

Holy mackerel indeed.

Los Dos Davids — Miracles Happen

(Lee Folk, a 2010 graduate of RMU’s nursing program, is filing these posts from his trip to Nicarauga. To read about Lee’s previous trips there, click here and here.)

Katherine Heigl is shooting a movie in Pittsburgh. That’s the topic of conversation at breakfast this Monday morning (July 12), our first full day in Managua. I find it very interesting to simply sit and listen, especially since it’s not very often that I’m sitting at a table sharing gallo pinto with a bunch of folks from the film industry. The crowd has already thoroughly dissected Pixar’s greatest moments, and I haven’t opened my mouth since receiving several stunned glances when I mentioned that no, I had not yet seen Up. Instead, I’m now trying to muscle down a few more bites of breakfast, in hopes that Dr. Ross will not give me the usual grief for not eating enough for the day. No matter more how hard I try, I can’t eat rice before 8 AM. It just isn’t natural.

A few minutes later, Anita brings us around to review our goals for this week. We have five days to shoot enough footage to produce a 60-second TV commercial. It sounds pretty simple. Well, on paper, it does. But in reality, I am becoming aware that there are ten thousand things that need to take place first before shooting even begins. So today, we are going “location shopping” in the barrio, the results of which will set the tone for the week. Our TV spot centers on a giant square of red fabric serving as a backdrop. This giant square is referred to amongst the crew as a scrim. I am to be shot on camera, telling the story about David and his trumpet in front of the red scrim. The viewer, when the commercial reaches its final cut, will be watching the commercial and seeing my face. Then, as the camera zooms out slowly, the camera will reveal that I have been standing in the middle of the barrio the entire time, with David standing right next to me. The goal is to create a concept captivating enough to really interest the viewer in David’s story. Today, we are setting out to find the spot in the barrio that will look best for the shot that the our art staff calls “the reveal.” If we find the perfect spot to set up the camera, then all will be well with Jeff the director and his worker bees. If not, then we have all flown two thousand miles for nothing. So in a nutshell, there is a whole lot riding on this first day.

As we all climb into the van outside the hotel, I am delighted to see that UPOLI has assigned my good friend Don Pedro to be our driver for the week. “I wanna dance with Don Pedro!” I belt out as I walk through the front gate with my gear for the day. He bursts out laughing. Back in November, this poor man was tortured by our nursing team with that doctored version of Whitney Houston’s classic hit for nearly the entire trip. He has not changed one bit since I left, and I am glad to find the Winnie the Pooh figurine still glued to his dashboard. With Don Pedro manning the wheel for the week, I’m already feeling good about our chances for success.

I sit down next to the man who has promised to bring out my inner Tom Hanks. “Jeff, Mr. Director sir, how ya feeling?” I ask. Jeff smiles from underneath his ball cap.

“I’m ready to get this show on the road,” he says. “You ready?”

“I guess I have to be! So explain the mechanics of this to me, Jeff. What exactly are you looking for with the reveal shot?” Jeff nods. He’s the type that enjoys explaining things.

“Well, basically, we’re going to be looking for an expanse,” he replies. “We need an open area that will give the viewer a sense of space. We need to have something to reveal, so it has to be more than just an alleyway. It has to be something that opens up.” In my mind’s eye, I’m trying to think of a spot in the barrio that would fit this description. I understand Jeff to a point, but I sure am glad that I’m not the one responsible for pulling this all together. It’s good to just be the actor.

The first daylight ride through Managua always holds lots of surprises for its first-time visitors. Whenever we land in the capital at night, the streets are quiet and sights are hard to see on the way to the hotel. But once the sun comes up the next morning, there are many things to take in from the window. I am surprised to notice that, for the first time in this country, I am not the guy taking all the photographs. Nearly every crew member has his camera glued to the glass, shooting every other second, trying to frame up as much of this first commute as possible. The intersections are the best sources for stoplight entertainment. There are clowns on crutches and beggars in wheelchairs and shirtless performers juggling flaming batons through the air, each of them very adept at the art of massaging cordobas from of the hands of wide-eyed foreigners. When the light goes green, the pandemonium of the urban traffic begins all over again. Drivers dodge the gaping potholes, sometimes also having to swerve from the dogs that dart out from underneath horse-drawn carts along the curb. One of our photography guys, Rob Larson, sums it up the best from his spot in the back row. “This is like one really messed up roller coaster!”

Before long, we make a turn off one of the paved avenues. “Okay, we are coming into the barrio now!” Dr. Ross calls back from the front of the van. Dino leans over to me, looking somewhat confused.

“Wait, where we’ve been driving wasn’t the barrio? I thought all of that was the barrio.”

“Oh no, that’s the nicer part of town. We haven’t come into the barrio yet.” The conversation in the van dies down as we drive into the neighborhood where the UPOLI clinic stands. I know the film crew has been prepared to see this, but there aren’t really words that jump to mind when you find yourself entering the thick of it in person. Poverty tends to bewilder us as Americans, and when it presents itself abruptly, particularly in this environment, it takes time to adjust one’s focus on reality. I am suddenly aware of how we will appear to the barrio as well. For most of them, this will be their first time seeing a film crew.

David, my good friend and commercial co-star, has been prepped for our arrival, thanks to Dr. Ross. On the last trip down, two weeks prior, he was able to get a hold of David and explain to him what we were hoping to do. I had predicted that David would be ecstatic about such a unique opportunity, and true to form, he made himself at our disposal right away. He currently works at night at a call center for one of the nation’s largest cellular providers, Claro. Since we were going to need him for several full days during this week, Dr. Ross contacted David’s supervisor and asked for permission to miss work. The boss agreed, as long as David could provide a letter from Dr. Ross, explaining why we needed him. As we pull up to the gate at the clinic, David is inside waiting. The crew begins to pile out, and I grab my bag to jump out, too. Kyle stops me.

“Lee, hold on just a second. We need you to stay in the van for a moment while the crew sets up. We probably want to capture this moment of you two seeing each other.” I look back at her.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, I know. Sorry. Just bear with us for a few minutes.” Outside, David has already started meeting the crew. There are big smiles, handshakes, high-fives. I want to be out there, too. I watch the kid for a few moments, wondering how long it will take for him to notice that I’m not there. As the guys are talking to him, he starts looking around. The camera crew is trying to pull everything out in time. They aren’t going to make it. David spots me in the window. Not knowing of Kyle’s hopes to get our reunion on tape, he strides open to the van and throws open the door.

“Hello, my friend!” he shouts. “You have come back!” I look back and Kyle and shrug, laughing. The boy can’t be stopped. I jump down to give him a hug. The photography guys are all set up, and I can hear their shutters clicking away. That’s all right. I would want to capture this moment, too.

“You have brought new friends!” David says, looking around at all the guys and their gear.

“Yes! And they all came to make you a big star. You ready to be a star?” David looks at me, always suspicious that I am joking.

“Sure? They are going to make me a star? You joke.”

“It’s no joke, man.” Duane says. “We’re here to see you!”

“Wow,” David says. “I can hardly believe it!”

“Oh, believe me,” I say. “Neither can !”

“Lee, can I get you to step inside the clinic for one sec?” Dino asks. “I need to get you wired up for sound.” A minute later, I find out what exactly being “wired up” entails. Dino pulls out an elastic belt about ten inches wide and stretches it around my midsection. A transmitter is attached to the back of the belt, and then a wire is wrapped around front, ending with a matchstick-sized microphone. This microphone, taped directly to my skin, will be able to pick up my voice and send it to Dino’s headset and the camera. So anything that I say, Dino hears. It takes a few minutes before he finishes taping the equipment to my chest. “Are you a heavy sweater?” he asks. I start to laugh.

“Oh you’re going not going to like me for very long, Dino. My sweat glands pump out gallons a day down here.” Dino looks concerned.

“Seriously? Cause these mics aren’t waterproof.”

“You’re saying I could electrocute myself with my own sweat?” He chuckles.

“Not likely. Well, let’s hope not, anyway.” Behind me, I hear Jeff and Adam unpacking the video equipment. Adam asks Jeff about his opinion of the camera.

“Best 68,000 dollars I ever spent,” he responds. The magnitude of this production is starting to sink in. I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. No pressure, Lee.

“Okay, is everyone ready to start walking?” Anita calls out to all of us. She’s the one whose job it is to keep the whole show running on schedule. Though today is not technically a shooting day, we are going to be rolling tape anyway for content that will be used for the B roll. The approach is to act as normally as we would on any day, making rounds through the streets with David acting as translator. Needless to say, the arrival of an American film crew has already caused quite a stir in the neighborhood. We are not very far from the clinic before clusters of children begin to appear in doorways, unknowingly creating prime photo ops for Duane and Rob’s lenses.

I’ve made sure that each of the crew’s pockets is well stocked with Smarties and Dum Dums for the kids. Candy makes fast friends in the barrio. The boldest kids run out first, some recognizing me from previous trips and wrapping their arms around my waist. There are shy faces too, tucked behind light poles and iron gates, too frightened to venture out to the strangers. I begin to hear children whispering names of my Robert Morris teammates. Donde esta Kelley? Donde esta Katrina and Ashley and Lindsey? I hate telling them that they are not with me on this trip, but I relay to them through David that the girls all miss them very much. One of the team’s favorites, Mercedes, asks if she can give letters to me for her RMU student nurses. I promise her I will, then I run to catch up with the crew heading in the general direction of Eddie’s house.

One year ago, nearly to the day, Eddie was the subject of my first story on the barrio, “The Plight of the Managuan.” That day in July, he had been raced to the clinic by his wife and very pregnant daughter. He was suffering from an aggressive case of penile cancer. Though the cancerous lesion had been removed in surgery, the infection that followed was advancing quickly. Three times Eddie had been taken to the hospital in Managua, and three times doctors had sent him home, telling him to buy a casket. There was nothing else they could do. Dr. Ross was also at a loss for what to do with Eddie that day. We ended up sending him away in a cab to the hospital to get antibiotics in hopes of fighting off a superinfection. Before we left that week, a group of us went to visit him at his home. We found him lying in the hammock in the front yard while a UPOLI nursing student hung his IV antibiotics from the barbed wire that stretched across the yard. With nothing left for us to do, we stood around Eddie, held hands, and prayed. Eddie was the calmest of anyone. For several minutes, he cried out in Spanish to God. Our translators whispered to us, in tears, that he was asking God’s blessing upon us, the people who had done what they could to help him. Eddie was at the doorstep of death, and at peace with it. However, God must have had another plan since today we are on our way to visit the man.

Eddie is standing at his door as we walk down the muddy road. “Hermano!” Dr. Ross call out, waving. Eddie grins and raises his hands in greeting. Though my eyes tell me it is him standing there, my mind struggles to process the moment. Eddie is not only still alive, but he’s out of bed and looking as healthy as any other man on the street. His shirt his off, revealing the faded scars from his surgeries. It’s such an incredible transformation, I’m almost afraid to touch him.

“Mi hermanos!” he cries out as he embraces both of us, oddly oblivious to the sound boom that Dino has conspicuously lowered over our conversation. Jeff presses the camera in close, and his grip guy, Adam, stands close behind. Our translator, Marsela, is there to provide help as we ask him how he is doing. “I feel wonderful,” he says. “All the glory to God. He healed me!” Eddie pulls the waistband of his shorts down far enough to show us where the lesion had been. His wife holds out a photograph of him at the height of the cancer for comparison. The area has healed beautifully. Somehow, Eddie goes on to tell us, a doctor in Spain heard about his case and volunteered to help him. He tells us how he was ready to die, but God had heard his family’s prayers. He wraps his arms around us and draws us close, “These two are brothers,” Marsala relays to the crew. Eddie’s daughter stands behind him, holding the baby boy who has arrived safely since July. It’s an amazing moment.

We say goodbye to Eddie for now and keep moving down the lane. A few young boys are kicking around a deflated soccer ball in the street, so David and I join them for a few moments. It’s becoming increasingly uncomfortable to be wearing this giant rubber band underneath my scrubs. “Dino, do you read me?” I mutter under my breath. I can see him nodding farther down the road with Dr. Ross. “Dino, I’m beginning to resent you.” A moment later, Jeff waves me over. “Lee, we need you over here for a second, please.” My soccer break is over. Dr. Ross has been approached by a teenage mother carrying her newborn. Jeff points me in front of the camera and nods when I am close enough.

It doesn’t take a lot of experience to see that the baby we are assessing is terribly ill. Not more than three months old, her legs are just twigs, covered in a speckled rash. When I step next to him, Dr. Ross leans over. “The mother is HIV positive, and her baby has full-blown AIDS.” The infant hangs limply across the mother’s arms, her eyes are bulging from her head, lice crawling all over her scalp. Our translator Edgar is visibly shaken up, as is Dr. Ross. He tells the mother what he can, simple education about treating the lice and caring for the rash. But it’s obvious that there is little that can be done. The baby has weeks to live, at the most. It’s Eddie all over again.

Fifteen minutes later, Kyle tugs at my elbow, pulling me away from the crowd. “We want you to cool off in the van for a few minutes.” I try to assure her that I’m fine, but to no avail. “Lee, we really need you to stay fresh for filming this week. All of us crew can be whipped tomorrow, but you have to be dynamite.” Kyle is my boss on this trip, so I am obliged to follow orders. I climb inside. From the quiet of the van, I take a moment to digest what has already transpired during our first hour of “location shopping.” Though my heart is breaking for the baby and its helpless mother, I have to tell myself not to give up hope. We are not able to do anything for the baby, but then again, we were not able to do anything for Eddie either. Yes, I’m witnessing a tragedy. But in a barrio like this, in a place where human efforts often fall so far short, there exists a preserving hope in the knowledge that miracles can happen. And do happen.

Just ask Eddie.

Los Dos Davids — Among Storytellers

(Lee Folk, a 2010 graduate of RMU’s nursing program, is filing these posts from his trip to Nicarauga. To read about Lee’s previous trips there, click here and here.)

The first person who came to mind when I met Ray Werner was Gordon the Fisherman. In setting up our first meeting, he had told me to look for “the old guy with the white beard.” Sure enough, on a brisk October morning last year, I walked into the Nicholsen Center at RMU and found him standing at the café – trimmed white beard, a wide smile, and very happy eyes. With the weather-worn face of an old sea captain, he appeared to be the street clothes version of Gordon the Fisherman, for sure. His vice grip handshake didn’t let go until he had thoroughly studied my face. I could tell he was an old-fashioned type, a man who cherishes opportunities for face-to-face interaction. Mr. Werner had wanted to meet me for coffee for several weeks. Though I had heard his name tossed around before by Dr. Ross, I had never seen him until we met that morning, I wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted from me, other than an interview about my RMU experience. I was curious to find out more as we sat down on the patio outside with our coffee.

“So what do you think of Robert Morris so far?” Ray began, settling back into his chair. He pulled out a pad of paper as I pondered his question.

“Well, I really enjoy going to school here,” I answered. “I’ve had a wonderful experience so far with the nursing program, and certainly with my trip this past summer to Nicaragua.” This was my standard response to a very common question. Most people just wanted to know that I was still enrolled and still studying, not much else. I drifted off as I noticed Ray setting a voice recorder on the patio table. “Wait, we’re recording this?” I asked.

“Oh, don’t mind the recorder. It’s just for my own notes.” Ray redirected the conversation. “Tell me more about Nicaragua. Tell me about this friend of yours, David. He sounds like a pretty remarkable young man.” I nodded. Indeed, David was remarkable. Since I had returned home in July, my short stories from Managua about David and other friends in the barrio had slowly moved their way up the ladder at RMU, finally ending up on the desk of Ray Werner, a man who had remained faceless t before now. I was beginning to wonder what exactly Mr. Werner did for the university. I finished up my comments on David and waited for Ray to speak. He nodded, tapped his pen a few times on his pad, measuring his reaction, stalling as if about to reveal a really great hand of poker.

“Well, I have a really special job here, Lee,” he said after a long moment. “In addition to teaching here, I’ve had the privilege of working with some really great people, including President Dell’Omo and his staff, to develop a new advertising campaign for Robert Morris.” Ray sipped his coffee and looked around. He lowered his voice a bit. “A new way for the university to present itself to the region and the world.” I nodded, but I wasn’t quite following him. “We think you have a remarkable story in the making here, Lee, and we want to follow it closely, particularly with you and David.”

“I don’t really know what you mean,” I replied.

“Well, I’m not able to tell you everything now because it is still very much in the developmental stages. But what you need to know right now is that we are very interested in capturing the moment when you give David his trumpet next month. Do you think you can make sure that happens?”

“I will do my best, sure.” We began to talk more about the details of my upcoming trip in November. I was not sure at all what Ray Warner had in mind, but it was clear he wasn’t planning on tipping his hand just yet.

~

“Take a look at this, Lee, and tell us what you think.”

It was now January, and I was sitting in the Pittsburgh office of Wall-To-Wall Studios on the North Side. Riding the elevator to the fourth story loft space of the advertising firm, one could enjoy an impressive panorama of the city, frozen in its midwinter pose. I had been summoned once again to a meeting with Ray Werner, this time joined by his oldest son and Wall-to-Wall executive, Larkin, and one of his employees, Doug.

After the introductions had been made, Ray brought us around to the purpose of our gathering. He began by sliding a piece of paper across the boardroom table in my direction. There were several blocks of text on the page, and as I began to read them to myself, I became acutely aware of the stares of the other three men in the room. I was already aware that big changes were ahead for the public image of Robert Morris University, and I had suspicions that my stories from Nicaragua would somehow be playing a role. The rest was a mystery, though. Now, after several months of waiting, here was the pitch. And it felt like there was intense expectation for my reaction.

“Well,” I said, after a moment of reading over the paper. “This looks like a script of some kind.”

“It is indeed a script,” Mr. Werner responded, nodding eagerly. “It’s your script.”

“My script for what, exactly?” I said, looking up.

“Well, that script is a script for a commercial we want to produce about your story.”

“My story?”

“The story of you and David and the trumpet.” Mr. Werner was visibly excited, wringing his hands as he talked. “It’s a wonderful story.”

“You must be joking,” I responded, chuckling now. “You’re serious? A television commercial?”

“Yes! We want to produce it with you this summer! How does your schedule look for July?” I was more than a bit shocked.

“Well, I uh, um….I haven’t given much thought to the summer yet.” Mr. Werner’s son, Larkin, leaned over the conference table to join in the conversation.

“We want to make your story with David as true to life as we can, Lee,” he said. “Do you think David is the type of person who would be interested in making this commercial happen?”

“Well, what do you mean exactly?” I asked. “I mean, the way this script reads, it seems like David is actually in the commercial with me.” My next question seemed so ludicrous to even ask. “Does that mean we’d be flying him here to Pittsburgh?” Larkin looked over to his dad before responding.

“Well, actually, it would mean we all would be flying down there.” The comment struck me completely caught off guard.

“To Nicaragua? You want to shoot the commercial in Nicaragua?” I asked.

“Hopefully,” replied Larkin. “That’s the plan. We still need final approval on everything. But this is a colossal project we are undertaking, and it’s going to be a giant investment by RMU.” That was no understatement. Mobilizing a film crew to set up and film a TV spot in the barrio of a third world country seemed like an incredibly ridiculous proposition to even suggest. But Ray and Larkin and Doug had obviously given this a lot of thought, and they didn’t seem to think so.

“So what do you think?” Ray asked eagerly, obviously caught up in the inspiration of a big idea. It took a moment for me to respond.

“Honestly,” I responded finally, “If think you’re all a bit nuts.”

~

It’s raining in Belize tonight.

I know this because of the text message that lit up half a dozen cell phones just minutes ago on Continental Flight 1774. The majority of our film crew operates constantly on the iPhone, and after the pilot had given passengers the okay, most of them had been turned on for the sake of playing music. A random text message arrived in the plane, welcoming us all to Belize airspace and informing us of the roaming charges that would apply if we decided to use our phones. Glancing out the window, I can see thunderstorms from the plane, lit from up from within by lightning every few seconds. It’s an incredible sight as we continue to fly through the twilight of a tropical sunset. The sky above us is slowly morphing from orange to pink as the sun sinks lower. Meanwhile, a canopy of flickering storms dots the landscape between us and the ground.

From my seat by the window, I can see the other members of the team spread throughout the cabin. Some are reading. Some are sleeping. A few are just enjoying the sunset. I’m on the plane to Managua with the eleven people it will require to pull off a project of this scope. Throughout our travelling today, I’ve been able to piece together the names and faces of the film crew. Along with the RMU representation of Kyle Fisher and Dr. Ross , there are three art producers, two still photographers, a sound technician, camera technician, director, and producer. I do not have all of their names straightened out yet, but I am almost there. Seated behind me is Anita, our producer. She has been all over the world working for Longfellow Productions. Beside her is Adam, our camera grip. He will be the guy following the director around with spare batteries and lenses.

Our two photographers are sitting behind me as well. Duane Reider is the premier portrait photographer in Pittsburgh. He has worked numerous times with the popular personalities of Mario Lemeiux, Hines Ward, Sydney Crosby, and Troy Polamalu. He also happens to be the owner of the world’s largest collection of Roberto Clemente memorabilia. Clemente never made it to Nicaragua, dying in a tragic plane crash to the country in 1972. Flying to the country that Clemente cared so much about is an important moment for Duane, one of the legend’s biggest fans. His assistant Rob will be working the still shots with him, as well.

Jeff Garton, the director, is sitting by the window on the wing. I haven’t talked too much with him yet, but he seems to be a very interesting character. When he has his ball cap on, he resembles a gaunt Steven Speilberg. Through our group email thread, I know he just finished filming a movie called The Riddle in Pittsburgh with Val Kilmer. On the tram in Houston, I overheard a conversation between him and Dino, our sound guy. Jeff was describing the challenges of filming Shaquille O’Neal, who he recently produced a music video with. I turned around on the tram so he wouldn’t see my jaw drop. Fantastic, I thought to myself. This guy has directed Shaq. No pressure. Dino is a man of vast experience as well, having traveled with National Geographic production crews all over the world. Most of these guys are pretty much freelancers, from what I’ve gathered. They wait for a phone call from their production house, they gather their gear, and they go wherever the script sends them. And tonight, they are all on assignment to Nicaragua to film some college kid from RMU.

Across the aisle from me are the three art gurus who first pitched the idea to me. Ray is reading intently. Larkin is lost in a magazine as well. Doug, on the other hand, seems to just be passing the flight on his iPod. Since meeting him at Wall-to-Wall, I’ve learned that Doug is the freshest talent out of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, where he graduated at the very top of his class. This is his first long trip away from his new wife, Sarah. A couple months ago, Larkin and Doug were able to give me a preview of the campaign that they’ve spent months working on for Robert Morris. Under the supervision of Ray, these two creative minds have created something really eye-catching. The whole rebranding of the university will be based on the following slogan, Change Someone’s Life and It Changes Yours Forever. It’s not only a compelling idea, but also a massive undertaking.

When we all made it safely through security at Pittsburgh International, Ray had gathered the group to share a few words about the meaning of the campaign. “All of us here are storytellers,” he told the group. “We’re all here because of a story that is worth capturing and worth sharing. The mission here is to be the best storytellers we can be. Let’s go do our best work.” Not wanting to forget what he said, I pull down my tray table and start to jot down some notes on the day’s events. Dr. Ross, seated next to me, takes notice and pulls out his ear buds.

“Are you really writing already? We just left a couple hours ago. Can’t you wait?” he teases.

“Kyle told me she wanted me to be the official blogger of the trip. At least I’m doing my job and not sleeping away all of my time.” Doc chuckles. The friendly abuse is now tradition between us. He leans back over.

“So have you thought about what you’re going to name the stories this time?”

“I have actually, a little bit,” I reply. “What do you think about this – Two Kids Named David. Yes? No?” Dr. Ross nods.

“Or how about in Spanish?” he says. “You could call it Los Dos Davids. The Two Davids.” The title strikes an even better tone.

“That’s great! We’ll go with that!” I jot down Los Dos Davids at the top of the notebook page, then glance out the window. The plane is descending through the flickering canopy now, causing the wing to visibly shake in the turbulence. Managua’s runway is short and bumpy, which makes for an armrest gripping experience. It’s time to pray for a safe landing.

We land in the midst of a torrential downpour. However, as it so often does, the precipitation has tapered off by the time we roll up to the gate. Steam is rising from the wings of the aircraft when the cabin lights come on. Within a few minutes, we are all standing in line at customs. Watching the Nicaraguans on the tarmac carting baggage away from the plane, that peculiar feeling of being a little fish in a big pond begins to sink in once more. Spanish is the new sound, sweating the new norm.

We are very fortunate to have all our equipment cases make it through to the other side of customs. Medical supplies never cause an issue here. However, upon seeing thousands of dollars of camera equipment pass under the eyes of luggage X-ray, security personnel stops the belt and demands an official explanation. It takes some artful negotiating from Dr. Ross and Anita, but eventually the guards are satisfied and we are permitted to leave. Outside the doors of the Sandino International, the chaos of airport traffic greets us along with the wall of humidity. A truck has been sent from UPOLI to pick us up, but we still have to figure out which of the many parked-in vehicles is chartered for us.

This situation at the airport can get crazy very quickly, so I position myself on the curb with my duffel bag clutched to my chest and keep my eyes on Dr. Ross. A moment later, I feel something tugging at my shirt. I look down beside me to see a girl, six or seven years old, pulling at my clothes and asking for change. I smile at her. Inwardly, my heart melts for this place all over again. This is how this whole crazy ride began, I think to myself. A little girl tugging at my clothes, one just like her, rejected often, yet somehow relentless in her hope for a helping hand. In fact, it’s been a year to the day since I wrote that story about Ruthia and her grasshopper and sent it off to my mom back home. Now I’m standing here at the airport again, this time with a film crew. You never know what can happen in one year.

I pull out twenty cordobas leftover from my last trip and hand it to the girl. Her face lights up for a brief moment, and then she is gone, vanished into the maze of traffic. Ray was right. I am not among nursing students this time. I am among storytellers. And here in this city, in this largely forgotten corner of Latin America, there are plenty of stories that need to be told.

Two hours later, I am sitting out on the patio at Hippos, the traditional hangout spot for the Robert Morris groups that Dr. Ross brings with him twice a year. The sports grille is just a short walk from our bed-and-breakfast hotel, Sol y Luna, and the atmosphere provided here by the hospitable wait staff makes it a very memorable place for many nursing students. The crew has all crowded around several tables. We seem to be the only customers in the place this late on a Sunday night. The rain has blown away, carried off by a steady breeze that brings with it the soundtrack of the Managuan night. Honking taxis and rasping insects and the passing crackle of a peddler’s loudspeaker: all of it blending into the crazy rhythm of Latin ambiance. A conversation I had with my friend George comes to mind as I watch the activity in the street. I remember talking with him one night about the feeling of being an American in a foreign land. George has been to France more times than he can remember, and he describes the experience well. “I’ve been going over to France for decades,” he said, “But still, every time we land in Paris, I walk down to the local café and sit out on the avenue with a drink and I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m really not dreaming.” That’s exactly the feeling I have right now.

Having passed my NCLEX exam just 48 hours ago, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Glasses are raised in celebration of my new R.N. status. After four years of hard work, my classmates and I are finally achieving our goal of becoming nurses. Ray Werner leans over to me, thrusting out his hand for his tenth handshake of the day. I’ve noticed that whenever Ray wants to say something to you, he almost always must be shaking your hand to do it. I take his hand and he squeezes, then speaks. “You know, Lee, I noticed something while sitting here.”

“Oh? What’s that, Ray?”

“You really look like you feel at home here,” he says. I have to laugh. At the end of this trip, I will have spent one month out of the past twelve in this country. It still feels worlds away from home, but I do admit to him, it sure feels good to be back. And just to make sure all of it is really happening again, I lay my wrist out on the table for a moment, and pinch.

Los Dos Davids — Introduction

(Lee Folk, a 2010 graduate of RMU’s nursing program, is filing these posts from his trip to Nicarauga. To read about Lee’s previous trips there, click here and here.)

Dear Friends,

I’m writing to all of you from my seat on the wing of Flight 1774, currently somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico. This morning at Pittsburgh International, a crew of twelve people embarked for Managua, Nicaragua. Some of you know about the nature of this trip already. Some of you don’t. If you are in the dark about the project until now, I promise to fill you in shortly. Just before we boarded for takeoff, the chief marketing officer at RMU, Kyle Fisher, asked me if I would be willing to compose a blog of our trip similar to the ones I wrote throughout my first two trips to the country. Though I was planning on chronicling the progress of our crew long before Kyle requested me to, it’s encouraging to have the endorsement of my alma mater. This is my official introduction to that blog. It will be sent out in installments under the title Los Dos Davids. Work has already begun on Day One!

If you are receiving this email, you are one of the many friends and colleagues who have contributed so much support to our university’s work in the barrios of Managua, Nicaragua. Whether you are a part of the Robert Morris community or part of my amazing church family, I want to personally extend my sincere appreciation to each and every one of you who has invested in my academic endeavors, particularly over the past year. I do not say this nearly often enough, but I would never be sitting on this plane tonight if it were not for all of your love and support. If I had the resources, I would charter a plane for all of us to lift off and go see this amazing place together. But I’m afraid I am currently a broke college grad. I do have a pen and paper, though, and there are fresh batteries in the camera. So I will work with what I have and send snapshots of the adventure home as best as I can. Keep an eye on your inbox and keep us in your prayers over the next week. We all appreciate it!

All right, I have to go now – it’s almost time to land! Stay tuned!

Sincerely yours,

David Lee Folk, RN

A Trumpet for David

(The following was written by RMU senior nursing student Lee Folk, who is currently on his second trip to Nicaragua, where a group of nursing students travel twice yearly to provide basic health care to residents in the barrio around the capital of Managua. The trip is led by Carl Ross, university professor of nursing at RMU.)
“Hey, I know you.”
For nearly five years, George McClintock has greeted me the same way. Hey, I know you. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that he knows me. The man knows just about everyone. After teaching French for over 30 years at Upper St. Clair High School, George is one of the most well-known, and well-liked, members of the South Hills community. He has long since retired from the school district, but not from living an active life, by any means. George is a man who has always enjoyed a challenge. So, after leaving the classroom, he went looking for one. And ended up in the emergency room.
That’s where I first met George. He was sitting outside of a patient’s room in the emergency department of St. Clair Community Hospital, watching for a high school student to come wandering into the ER. I remember being very nervous when I walked onto the floor. My tangerine scrubs set me apart rather clearly amongst the olive-clad nurses. My friend Collin Otis had talked me into this volunteer position. Since I was beginning to investigate the nursing field by that point in time, I figured some experience in the ER would be a good way to get my feet wet.

That first night, I was told to look for a white-haired man with a white mustache. He was in charge of training the volunteers, and he would be waiting for me. His name was George.

For the next six months, George showed me the ropes of the St. Clair ER. My job description was limited, but the experience of simply observing was invaluable. I stocked rooms, transported patients, and did whatever odd jobs the staff needed me to do. George and I became good friends over our dinner breaks upstairs at the snack bar. He and his wife, Obbie, attended my school play that year, and after my graduation, we continued to stay in touch. George may have been one of my oldest friends, but he could text message just as quickly as anyone my age.

Having made over fifty trips to France themselves, George and Obbie were thrilled when I told them the news that I would be going on my first international trip with Dr. Ross in July. They waited each day for The Mail from Managua to arrive via email, and then printed the stories out and took them over to Obbie’s 97-year-old mother, Olive, to read as well. It was George who jumped into action right away when he read the final chapter about David and his stolen trumpet. As I mentioned before, the man knows a lot of people. He made a few phone calls, and within a week of David’s story being written, there was a text message from George.

We have a trumpet for David.

Once we had arrived in the barrio, it was not long before David became everyone’s favorite friend. His smile was contagious around the girls, and they found themselves as quickly attached to the teenager as I was when I first met him in July. David simply has a way of making everyone feel at home. As soon as he learns your name, he goes to work finding out as much about you as he can, so that he won’t forget you. Early in the week, he made it his mission to memorize each of the girl’s names. It was quite a challenge to keep nine girls straightened out, but they were more than happy to help him remember. Kasey even drew a picture of herself in the form a stick figure with curly hair and left it with David for him to memorize. I could tell the boy loved the attention, as he would come over to me on more than one occasion, nod toward the girls, and whisper, “This is the life, my friend, this is the life!”

Everyone knew about the trumpet from the beginning, except David of course. The instrument served as my one of my carry-on bags on the flights down to Managua, and became quite a conversation piece along the way. We decided to save the big surprise until our last day in the barrio, and so the suspense built throughout the week. Back at the hotel, I had begun to receive nervous emails from friends and family back home. They were reading the stories, but not seeing a word about the trumpet. What happened? Where is David? Did you give him the trumpet? There were many eager readers out there, but all of them would have to wait.

Meanwhile, in the barrio, every conversation with David seemed to take on special significance for each of us, particularly since nearly all of them seemed to lead back to music and his passion for playing. One of the most humorous moments occurred during one of our lunch breaks. Katrina was skimming through Ashley’s iPod, looking for a song that David had mentioned earlier in the morning. When she finally found it, she jumped up to go find David. No one could keep a straight face as we listened to him singing in broken English from the back of the clinic, “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence. It was simple joy for him. The boy just loves music.

On Thursday afternoon, Lindsey boarded the van and announced that she had something to show everyone. “Just wait until you hear what I have on video!” she said excitedly, pulling out her camera. She began to play back a conversation that had occurred just moments earlier. The conversation in the van died down quickly as everyone strained to hear the faint audio. We could hear Lindsey’s voice behind the camera. “David, if you could have anything for Christmas, what would it be?” The lens was turned on David and me, standing outside the clinic. David looked at Lindsey.

“For Christmas? Hmm…” he contemplated the question for a moment. “Well, I would ask for happiness for myself and for my family.” It did not surprise me that he would answer so simply.

“Yes, but we want to know if you could have any gift, or present, for Christmas, what would you ask for?” David nodded and rethought his answer.

“Well, then I would ask for a trumpet. Mine was stolen, so I would like very much to have another one. But I know that is not possible now.” David waved again at Lindsey’s camera, and did not even think twice about the grin that was spread across her face.

“What are you writing now?”

Emily Himmel has asked me the same question half a dozen times this week. I look up from the table in the back room of the clinic. It’s Friday afternoon, and the health fair is about to begin out on the veranda. I only have a few minutes to catch up on my notes.

“Just jotting down some things,” I reply.

“What kind of things?” She snaps a picture of my hand covering up my small notebook.

“Oh, just notes for a journal entry. I don’t want to forget anything that happened this morning.” The girls are used to me scribbling notes by now. I have my notebook in my back pocket at all times, ready in case I need to record something quickly. The difficulty comes in deciphering the notes when I get back to the hotel at night.

Emily leaves me to my writing. A moment later, though, I sense someone else staring at me. I look up again. The three nursing students from UPOLI are standing opposite the table. They are watching me write. One of the girls asks for my name.

“My name? My name is Lee.” I tell them, pointing to myself.

“Lee? Lee. Lee. Lee.” they each whisper it carefully to themselves.

“Yes! Lee. Good.” I go back to writing.

“Like Bruce Lee?” one girl asks after a moment. She chuckles.

“Yes! Like Bruce Lee!” I respond. “Nice!”

“Or Robert E. Lee!” adds another.

“Yes, Robert E. Lee, too!”

“Or David Lee Roth!” The students are all laughing now.

“Very good!” These girls really know their Lees.

“How about Lee Harvey Oswald!” I add as I continue writing. The laughter suddenly dies off. I look up. The girls nod solemnly and stare down at the table. Way to kill the mood, Lee.

The silence is broken by a familiar voice. “My friend! Why do you look sad?” David sits down next to me and puts his hand on my shoulder. “My friend, I have something for you. A Christmas gift.”

“A Christmas gift?” I look at David with surprise. “No you don’t!”

“My friend, it is no joke!” he says as he places a small bag in front of me. “It is for you!” I haven’t the slightest idea what the bag contains, but the mere fact that David wants to give me something at all is touching. He already has so little to call his own. I look into the bag. At the bottom lies a necklace, made of polished volcanic rock.

“David, you’re giving this to me?” I ask as I pull it from the bag. David nods.

“It is for you! Merry Christmas!” The necklace looks like many others that I have seen at the various markets across Managua, and yet, it is unique. Regardless of what it cost David, the gift is already priceless to me.

A few minutes later, Ashlee and I are introduced to the families. Our presentation goes off as planned. Afterward, I stand in the back to watch the rest of the groups, snapping pictures next to Kasey. “Did you see what David gave me?” I ask, pulling the necklace from underneath my tshirt to show her. Kasey admires the necklace, and then produces her own gift from David.

“He gave this to me, Lee.” she says. She holds out a beautiful macaroon seashell. “We talked about the beach a few days ago, and he told me all about when his family went to the ocean. He said it cost so much money to go, but he would never forget it. And he gave me this shell that he found there.” Kasey was not the only one to receive a special gift, either. David had found something small and meaningful for each of his new friends, and was quietly going about his own gift-giving as the health fair went on. He didn’t want us to leave without taking a part of him with us. None of us really knew what to say.

The health fair culminates with the ceremonial beating of the piñata, and as the children finish diving for candy, I sneak out to the van to retrieve the hidden trumpet. We have a duffel bag to hide the case in. The girls go about distracting David while I carry it to the back of the clinic. There is not much time left before we must leave. The group gathers in the back to share in the moment we’ve all been waiting for. I hand Mrs. Perozzi my camera and turn to the girls. “Is everyone ready?” I ask. A dozen heads nod yes. David is talking to one of the children over by the door.

“David!” He turns toward me. “Come over here, pal. We have some gifts for you.”

“You have something for me?” David looks at me suspiciously as he walks over to the table.

“Yes, we have a couple presents for you!” I reach into a plastic bag and pull out an old Robert Morris College jersey that Emily brought with her. David’s face lights up. He already has a few RMU tshirts, but he always loves getting more apparel.

“For me?” he asks. Right away, he takes the jersey and puts it on over the Kenny Chesney shirt that Katrina had already given him. I pull out the other things I brought with me. There are a couple framed photos from my first trip. David smiles at the photo of me and him and holds it up for the girls to see. A dozen camera flashes go off in his face. He points to the picture. “See? We look smart!” The girls laugh. His English phrasing is one of his most endearing qualities.

At last, it is time for the surprise. Up until now, I had not given much thought to what I would say before unveiling the trumpet. Now the moment is here, and I have to say something. I tell David that we are proud of him for all of the work he does in the community. I tell him that he has made each of us feel at home by being our friend. I tell him that we love him and that there are people in the United States who love him too, though they have never met him. David keeps nodding as I talk. He understands most of what I’m saying. “There are people back home who read your story, David. They know how much you loved your trumpet, and they also know that it was stolen from you. So they wanted to do something for you.”

I disappear into the adjoining kitchen area where the duffel bag is waiting. David suddenly becomes aware from the crowd watching him that something big is about to happen. I step out from behind the bookcase with the trumpet case. The miraculous appearance of the instrument sends David’s hands to his face. He turns away for a moment, then whirls back around to make sure it is not some sort of mirage. But I’m still standing there. He looks down at the case. As I open it, it appears as if he really can’t believe what he’s seeing.
“No! A trumpet?! For me?!” he cries. There’s an amazing sound in the young man’s voice. It’s the sound of childlike disbelief. The girls around me are wiping their eyes. Cameras continue to flash.

“It’s for you, David. You deserve it.” David picks up the trumpet and inspects it. It is a well-used instrument. The bell needs polishing, and the valves could use some oil. But David holds it like it’s the finest trumpet he’s ever seen. He attaches the mouthpiece and looks around shyly, as if seeking our permission to play a few notes.

“Go on! Play something!” Dr. Ross encourages him. David lifts the trumpet to his mouth and purses his lips. The first notes are a bit sour. He quickly stops and laughs.

“I need practice!” he tells us. Not to be denied, though, he fiddles with the valves for a moment, and then tries again. This time, the horn rewards David with several big, brash notes to accompany the excited applause of his audience. We don’t care if he needs practice. That’s why we brought it for him in the first place. He stops playing and hugs me.

“Now I can make the band!” he tells me. The shock is still sinking in. He collapses in a chair and stairs at the instrument in his lap. “I am just so surprised!” he laughs. “I don’t know why, but I feel like crying!”

“Oh, don’t cry!” I reply. “Nobody cries at Christmas!”

Unfortunately, the time we have been dreading cannot be put off any longer. Dr. Ross tells everyone to say their final goodbyes to the families and head toward the van. I can see our father, Alvaro, waiting patiently out on the veranda. He catches my attention and grins, waving for Ashlee and me to come over. He squeezes my arm as he tells us one more time how thankful he is for what we did. “He hopes that the Lord blesses you and that you will arrive safely home,” our translator tells us. “He wants you to come back to see them as soon as you can, but if he never sees you again…” the translation trails off. Alvaro has begun to weep. He finishes his last sentence with tears in his eyes, then turns away quickly to leave. The translator leans close to us. “He said if he never sees you again, he will look for you in heaven.”
Dr. Ross conducts one final head count in the van. David is outside, leaning against the wall, still inspecting his trumpet. He looks up at us, and through the window, notices the heartbreak on the girl’s faces. The goodbyes are beginning to sink in. Our friend opens the van door and sticks his head inside. “Hey now!” he points to the girls, shaking his finger. “Do not be sad! You must not be sad!” The girls manage to smile at him. “We will see each other again,” he says with assurance. “Now do not be sad! Okay?”
The door slides shut again, leaving David and all of our friends on the other side. The families stand along the side of the dirt road as we pull away. I turn around and look out the back window, managing to snap one last photograph just before the rising cloud hides them all away in the dust. The lens catches Alvaro, standing alone on the street corner, with his hand high in the air. He is smiling again.

For several long minutes, no one speaks. On my first trip, I remember the students being talkative and cheery as we pulled away. The mood is quite different now. There are no words for this group. The air in the van is heavy with the sound of flowing tears. This is the moment that my camera could never capture. This is the moment that is impossible to explain to your friends and family when you get home. This is the moment where your heart determines that this life is so much simpler than you once thought, and this world is so much bigger than you ever knew.

This is the moment that changes your life.
I suppose I was wrong in what I said to David. This year, everyone is crying at Christmas. During the miserable ride to UPOLI, I find myself wondering what it will be that will pick our hearts back up and start us laughing again. Katrina is sitting beside me in the back. She suddenly remembers the Christmas present that David gave to her. It is a favorite CD he owned, a collection of his favorite American songs. Just as Don Pedro drives up to the university, the CD gets passed up to the front. “David said I would enjoy this mix,” Katrina says to the group.

At first, no one recognizes the opening measures of the song. There is a big band playing, with the bright notes of a trumpet in there too, somewhere. Then the artist becomes clear as the unmistakable voices of John Lennon and Paul McCartney come flowing out of the speakers. Somehow, after making all of us cry, it is David who makes us smile again. The boy was right. We should not be sad. We accomplished what we came here to do, and whether we knew it yet or not, we were leaving with more than what we brought to give. The families have been assessed and treated and trained and loved. The Nicaraguan children know some English now, and they have taught the American college students some of their Spanish, as well. There are new beds to sleep on. There are new friends to stay in contact with. There are new godsons and goddaughters to pray for. And deep within the barrio, thanks to the determination and optimism of its young musician, there is music once more.

Indeed, by the time the Beatles reach their chorus, the tears are being wiped away, and the sun is shining again. I know everything is going to be all right, because my brother David picked the perfect song.

All you need is love.

A Promise Kept

(The following was written by RMU senior nursing student Lee Folk, who is currently on his second trip to Nicaragua, where a group of nursing students travel twice yearly to provide basic health care to residents in the barrio around the capital of Managua. The trip is led by Carl Ross, university professor of nursing at RMU.)

David was nowhere to be found at first.
It was our first morning in Managua and we had just arrived at the barrio. The girls in the van were all excited, but no one was more eager to arrive than me. It would have been too perfect had David been sitting at the gate where I left him in July, but I didn’t want to get my hopes too high. He could be at work or at school or back at his house for all I knew. As we pulled up to the clinic, I looked out my window for him to be waiting. But David was not there. We all climbed out and exchanged greetings with the other brigadistas before we found seats in the small school desks that fill the open-air waiting area of the clinic. The UPOLI nurses who run the clinic gave us a brief description of the clinic and took us on a tour of the facility. Then it was time to take a walk through the barrio to meet our families. Our group emptied out through the gate. I was putting my camera into my bag when I heard the voice I had been waiting for.

“My friend, you have returned!” It was David, walking down the rocky lane toward me. His black hair was cut shorter, but his wide smile was just as bright. “You have come back!” he said as he embraced me.

“I promised I would, didn’t I?” I said, laughing.

“Ahh, yes, so you did. And so you have kept your promise!”

In the span of an hour, David succeeded in capturing the hearts of all the girls. They knew who David was from the stories I had told about him, but now that they had finally met him in person and become the direct recipients of his infectious charm, they were all instantly attached. By the time we were headed home from the barrio at the end of the first day, the consensus was clear. Everyone loved David.

“Lee, your dad is here.”

Kelly’s words make me stop in my tracks and spin around. My dad is here? How in the world is that possible? In a moment, I realize that Kelly is referring to the father of my Nicaraguan family. I look out the door of the office in the clinic to see Alvero standing there. He smiles and waves. A lot of people are smiling today. Dr. Ross is here.

We have just finished eating lunch on Monday afternoon. Doc will begin seeing the people in just a few minutes. Ashlee and I completed the initial assessment of our family this morning and decided that Alvero’s chest pain needed further investigation at the clinic. We are both relieved to see that our dad is here. And I am glad to know that my Dad is still in Pittsburgh. That would have been too weird.

The clinic has only been open for a few minutes, and already the desks on the porch are filling with patients. We have divided the duties of the clinic into four categories: pharmacy, triage, observation, and playing with the children. Every hour, we rotate positions. Today, Ashlee and I are assigned to the children first. I walk out onto the veranda to see how the triage process is working. Normally, our plan for the day goes down the drain within the first half hour. It’s the difficult reality of third-world healthcare. But we always work as a team, and eventually, all the patients are assessed, educated, and sent on their way with the medications they need.

Somehow, in the end, it all works.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice David sitting by the gate by himself. When we are working, he often sits patiently and simply waits for us to finish. I don’t have much to do at the moment, so I walk over. I have been looking for an opportunity to ask him about something since seeing him on Friday.

“My friend, you are not working?” he asks as I sit down beside him.

“I have a few minutes. I wanted to ask you about your trumpet.” On my first trip in July, David had taken me home to his house to show me his most prized possession, a beautiful trumpet. He played it for me and described his dreams of one day being in a band. We decided to call that band The Barrio Boys. Not long after I returned home, I received an email from David. His house was broken into and his trumpet was stolen by a neighborhood gang. He was heartbroken. David’s smile fades quickly when I ask him about it now.

“Yes, it was stolen,” he says. “I am sorry I cannot make the band now. I still want to be in a band though.”

“Who stole it from you, David? Do you know the men who stole it?” Here in the barrio, violence and theft runs rampant through the night. It is the upstanding young people like David who are often the victims.

“Yes, I know them. They came right through our door in the middle of the night. They took so much, but most of all, they took my trumpet. I am sorry, my friend.”

“You don’t need to apologize, David. It’s not your fault,” I reply, patting him on the back. “Can I ask you how you got the trumpet to begin with? Did you pay for it? Or did the university lend it to you?”

“Oh no. I pay for the trumpet. I save for a year.” He catches himself. “I’m sorry, I say in the past tense, yes? I saved for a year.”

“You saved over an entire year for it? How much was it?”

“Yes, yes. In dollars, it was one hundred and sixty dollars.” I shake my head in disbelief. I have seen the place where David lives. I know what he gets paid. It must have taken him hundreds of hours of hard work to put that money aside for such an expensive instrument. “Yes, I was going to be in a band. You remember? The Barrio Boys, yes? But now I have no trumpet, so I cannot be in the band. Now I just sit and watch them play.” My heart is breaking for him.

“Did you try going to the police? Is there anyone who could help you?” I ask next.

“I did go the police. But you know they are… how do you say?….corrupt?”

“So they did not help you?”

“No, there is no help for burglary. It happens so often. I am just so sad. It is sad to save for so long and so hard, and then all is gone in just one night.”

I shake my head as I listen to him. I am visibly upset. This eighteen-year-old boy has been the victim of so much injustice during his short life. His father left when he was young. His best friend was killed when he was twelve years old. And now his escape hatch into the world of music has been taken from him as well. But shockingly, David does not show the slightest sign of bitterness or resentment. On the contrary, he is more concerned about me than he is about himself.

“My friend, why you look so sad?” he asks with genuine concern in his voice.

“I’m just upset, David. I know how much that trumpet meant to you. You deserved to have it.” His next words to me are said with such conviction, it makes me wonder how I have ever found the nerve to complain about the petty hardships of my padded existence.

“Do not worry about it, my friend!” He smiles and puts his arm around me. “My life is good!”

It’s in this moment that I have never been so happy to fulfill a promise in my life.