Speaking with Smiles by Stefani Drake

I love to travel. I love to experience new places, cultures, people and getting lost in a city I know nothing about. My husband and I will find any excuse to get on a plane – the more remote the better. We usually never take the time to research a country before we go because who wants a list of expectations on an adventure? Not me.

That is exactly what happened on a recent trip we took to Nicaragua. We received a phone call from an organization we greatly admire, Palmetto Medical Initiative, asking us to volunteer on an upcoming medical trip. Josh (my main squeeze) was asked to document the trip using his gift of photography, and I was just there to help out wherever a non-medical person can on these types of trips.

NicaPorts106

My only experience in Central America had been volunteering at an orphanage in Honduras. I assumed Nicaragua would be just like that, but I should know better than to make assumptions.

 The best way I can describe our trip is by explaining the beauty of the people that we met.

In general, Nicaragua is stunning. Ocean views, gorgeous volcanoes, lush forests, charming little colonial towns, what’s not to love? But an overview of the scenery doesn’t do it justice.

NicaPorts-53The first week we were in country, we were serving in remote villages to address health care needs. The communities we worked in were more than accommodating- they often opened up the church in town and set up chairs for all the doctors and patients waiting to be seen. But what struck me the most were the smiles I saw. The faces of abuelas that were weathered by time, but oh so beautiful and kind. The children laughing as I showed them pictures of my tiny dog back home and how I spoil him rotten. One child even went home to retrieve his pet rat and his face beamed as he showed me his spoiled one. I can barely speak Spanglish so I found it best to communicate through a smile or nod of encouragement.

NicaPorts-125In Nicaragua, you can easily make friends. Friends with the local baker, friends with children playing futbol and friends with a mother who appreciates you taking the time to help her round up her children.

My husband is careful when taking photographs, as he never wants to assume that someone wants their photo taken. He respects the developing world and seeks to take portraits of strength and hope amongst adversity. I was amazed as I watched him- time and time again each person he asked to take a portrait was not only willing, but rushed to tell him their story.

Stories of hope, stories of war, grandchildren, love. All the good stuff and some of the bad. Throughout the villages we traveled, nearly everyone wanted the world to know about Nicaragua. About its beauty, culture, local treats and how, even though many people we met had nothing by our standards, they were full of life, love and contentment.

NicaPorts6As we finished our week at the clinic, Josh and I stayed to enjoy the ocean, hike a volcano and visit historic churches. While those experiences were all worth it, what I took away from our trip were the people I met and connected with through a simple smile.

Nicaragua touched my soul in a way that I hadn’t expected – the beauty of a people who value relationships, community and love are forever etched on my heart.

I first met Stefani and Josh through my husband – who worked with Stefani in the Africa division at IRI. After sharing an evening of great food and warm conversation, I fell in love with both of them and we are now great friends. They are two of the best and most talented people I know – working hard everyday to bring the kingdom of God to this world. 

Stefani  Drake is a Communications/PR Consultant and currently lives in Charleston, S.C. with her husband, Josh Drake and their rescue pup Canoli. Josh is an industrial and editorial photographer and (like Stefani) has a deep passion for people and travel. All the photos shown above are his and you can see more of his work here Follow Stefani and Josh on Instagram at @zimms and @joshudadrakephoto

Click here to see more of the good things PMI is doing around the world. You can also follow them on Instagram and Twitter at @palmettomedical

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