Nicaragua comes to Taneytown

November 28, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

With a warm smile, a youth minister from Nicaragua introduced himself with a song to the fourth grade at Taneytown Elementary.

"How many know 'La Bamba?' " asked Eddy Moncada, a minister at Mision Cristiana in Managua, the nation's capital. Hands shot up instantly at the mention of the familiar Spanish tune, and the children joined loudly in the chorus of his lively rendition.

The children then played a question-and-answer game with Mr. Moncada and his pastor, Rogelio Morales.

The two Central American visitors spent last week in Carroll County as guests of the Westminster Church of the Brethren -- the church that established a sister relationship with the mission about two years ago. Last year, a group from Westminster JTC visited the church in Nicaragua.

"You got any famous people in Nicaragua?" one Taneytown student asked.

"We have Dennis Martinez who pitched for the Orioles," a smiling Mr. Moncada said.

The children never stumped the men, who relied on help from a translator.

The Rev. Christy Waltersdorff of the Westminster church said she wasn't surprised when the visitors' friendly manner captivated children.

"We met them last year, stayed in their homes and became friends," she said. "We returned the invitation to maintain our relationship, promote understanding and give them a taste of life here."

Speaking of tastes, the children asked about favorite foods.

"We don't have canned foods, but we do have McDonald's and sodas," Mr. Moncada said.

The men fielded an hour of questions on the history, economy, climate and geography of their homeland, which they said is about the size of Connecticut.

"How do you keep warm?" is not so much a question in the subtropical country as "How do you keep cool?" they both said.

Dressed in a heavy wool sweater, Mr. Morales, 41, drew a laugh from the children when he said, "For me, it's cold when the temperature dips to the mid-70s."

Although the visitors often laughed, too, they replied thoughtfully to serious and light-hearted queries.

"What kind of sharks do you have in Nicaragua?" one child asked.

Mr. Moncada explained that the predatory fish are indigenous to the surrounding oceans, but that Nicaragua also has freshwater sharks in its larger lakes.

"How do you write?" another child asked.

"En Espanol," Mr. Moncada said. He scrawled a few familiar Spanish words on the blackboard and helped the children pronounce "ninos" (children) and "escuela" (school).

"Let's see if I am a good artist," he said, as he drew a map to show the location of his country and its proximity to the United States.

The children wondered, too, what similarities exist between them and their young neighbors to the south.

"We are a country with muchos ninos -- lots of children," Mr. Moncada said. "Most families have five or six who go to school, play sports and games, even some electronic games like you."

The youth minister was quick to point out the disparities and "the problems in Nicaraguan society," where a majority of the people live in poverty.

"Lots of Nicaraguan children have no family and live on the streets," he said. "They are abandoned, often hungry and can't go to school. They have to work for food."

Although public education is available, children must provide their own books and supplies.

"Some children must carry seats and desks from their homes every day," Mr. Moncada said.

Nicaraguan teachers often have 60 students in their classrooms, he said.

The Taneytown children responded with a stunned, "Wow."

Mr. Moncada handed the toughest question -- "What do Nicaraguan children think about Americans?" -- to Mr. Morales, the father of three daughters.

"They think children here live a lot differently," Mr. Morales said. "They realize there are limitations in Nicaragua."

In the days before Thanksgiving, Mr. Moncada told the Taneytown children to be grateful for their opportunities.

"Take advantage of what you have," he said. "Then, when you grow up, you can help the world and people in other countries who don't have your advantages."

As the children collectively said, "Gracias," Mr. Moncada answered, "You are welcome."

He said he didn't have to check with the translator on that one.

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