Everyone in town knows that in order to get to the ball field, you must pass through Mama Reyna’s neighborhood, a heavily shaded ring of dilapidated houses filled with fishing nets and yappy dogs. Mama Reyna’s house is the sturdiest, as it should be, and ironically her husband, Don Tucho, happily sleeps outside in a hammock. “Mama Reyna” literally translates to “Queen Mother” and it is here, on any given afternoon, that you will find the neighborhood kids playing baseball with rocks and sticks underneath those skyward reaching trees. I used to be so mesmerized by these games as I passed by and that little girls who had an awkward appearance could hit a baseball like no one I had ever seen. This is what sets Nicaragua apart from all of Central and South America…in Nicaragua, Baseball rules.
Mama Reyna carries grand respect in this community for many reasons, but one particular
thing that sets her apart from the others, is her love for baseball. Her and Don Tucho donated the land where the field resides today, all of their kids and grandkids play, and she attends every game with great spirit and support, far greater than any of her Gigante neighbors. She named the field after her grandson Luis, who we lost two years ago to Leukemia, and Sweet Water’s reason for inception, and so when the opportunity came to host a group of American softball players spreading the word of cancer prevention… she was all in.
I reluctantly agreed to play softball with the girls three years ago after they asked me to join the team. I had seen them play, and although I loved the sport, I feared that I wouldn’t be good enough. After a good year of fumbling through missed grounders that hit rocks and catapulted towards my face, twisted ankles through holey outfields and mastering the art of not looking down as you run through cow pies, I became the only Gringa in the league. One of the main reasons I loved playing so much is the fact that out there on the field, I am just a player. I am not a boss, I am not in charge, and in fact, I can’t really even understand half of the slang words muttered on that field, and I am one hundred percent okay with that. I also love the passion that these girls have, naturally, without coaching, without being forced by their parents; just a natural desire to play, and they are damn good at it too.
I had dreamed about the possibility of having an American women’s softball team come down and visit and play with the Gigante girls. After seeing that our coach doesn’t actually coach, and our girls don’t know the first fundamental or form in Softball, I thought it would be a great interchange of cultures and a learning experience for everyone. A frequent visitor to Gigante, Douglas Jenkins, was able to connect me with the lovely Kris Knox of Salem Oregon who not only plays on a softball team, but plays with reason. Kris is the founder of the Linda L. Vladyka foundation, a breast cancer survivor and founder of the Play for a cure softball tournament in Salem Oregon that raises thousands of dollars for breast cancer research every year. Kris is kind in nature, soft spoken, with a big heart and organized as hell. This made her the perfect leader for the group of incredible individuals that visited Gigante after an entire year of planning and pursuing our goal.
January is the dry season, cooler than normal, still hotter than anywhere in the states, and with strong offshore winds. This was what our traveling softballers expected when they showed up in Gigante, fresh from a new snow in Oregon, sixteen in tow and full of life. We had three events planned for the week: a Self-breast exam training session, a softball technique clinic, and to finish it off, a women’s softball tournament with three Nicaraguan local teams and the Americans. As one can imagine, the softball tournament was a riot, although a rough one for everybody as temperatures soared into to high 80’s and the winds hit us in gusts of up to twenty-five knots. It was the first time in Gigante’s history that we had a tournament, an official scoring announcer, a live DJ, spectator benches and legit dugouts that Sweet Water built in the weeks prior with help from dozens of volunteers and funding from several Sweet Water supporters including Kirfaid.org. Our field was finally starting to shape up like an actual baseball field and we provided seating and shade for spectators and players for the first time in its history.
The tournament was a success, with the exception of the three cases of heat stroke, one broken wrist and a broken collarbone! Regardless, the interchange of cultures was priceless, and so memorable to see each powerful, strong group of women line up on each base line of the field and have our dear Americans present each player with their significant “Play for a Cure Nicaragua” apparel. The Americans learned how to say “Suerte” which means “Good Luck”, and that set the tone for a good day of fun and some seriously fabulous displays of women athleticism. It was also a great moment to see the entire town of Gigante come out to watch, support their team and cheer on their women. We also had spectators purchasing beverages and food from our local women vendors, thus providing job opportunities and fulfilling one part of Sweet Water’s mission. It was truly one of our proudest moments in the evolution of this inspired village.
When the idea of creating a softball tournament and to intertwine two completely different
cultures through baseball came to mind, I never knew that it would be accompanied along with breast Cancer education. The fact that these players had much more than baseball technique to share and to see their intense impact on the women of town, made the actual outcome that much more incredible. The breast cancer self exam training was held at the church for the local women to get educated on self exams and to have a chance to consult with a Breast Cancer Specialist, Dr. Beth Dayton. About twenty-five local women of all ages showed up and were extremely eager to learn. This surprised the ladies and Dr. Beth, who after spending a year and a half in Guatemala had assumed that the women might be a little more timid. The local word on the street is that Gigante women are strong and proud. This was deemed obvious when before the clinic even started, the ladies were ready to talk about their boobs, other boobs and just about anything else in between!
The ladies were ecstatic that the Americans would travel all this way to educate them on something that could potentially save their life. Kris opened the session with a heartfelt recount of her battle with cancer, one that took her mother, and ultimately took two of her own breasts. It was her mother’s teachings to Kris that allowed her to find her own cancer and beat it before it went too far. This story was moving to the women and after Kris was finished, one woman pulled me aside and said “Please tell Kris thank you so much for sharing her story with us. If I could give her my breasts, I would”. After Dr. Beth did her introduction and brief instruction on the self check (in perfect Spanish by the way) the ladies grouped together branching off with some Americans and Nicaraguans to show in more detail with cancerous breast models, how to do the self check. You would never know that there was a language barrier by glancing around the room at the smiles and interactive conversation. After doing the self check, a
few of the ladies wanted Dr. Beth to give them a second opinion and lined up outside a spare room in the pastor’s house to have Dr. Beth’s expertise. One of the older women who attended, had a lump that caught the doc’s attention and suggested she chat with the doctors attending the next clinic in Gigante and even wrote a letter with her diagnosis to help it along.
As the clinic wound down, the women lingered, donning their brand new t-shirts, posing for photos and asking last minute questions. All these women so different, yet so thrilled to be a part of something. These are the heads of the household, the leaders of their family, the future of their children, the women of Gigante. After being embraced by the local women, and exchanging words with the older woman who had just found a lump in her breast, Kris began to cry. “I am just so happy” she whispered, realizing how far her mother’s words of encouragement had brought her and how she was now positively affecting the rest of the world, not just her local neighborhood.
By the end of the trip, when the ladies loaded up in their bus to head back to the first world, everyone in town knew who they were. The locals waved at them everywhere they went, asked how Ally’s collarbone was doing, and little kids just wanted to be near them. They were small town celebrities and no one would ever forget the lessons that they were taught, Twyla dancing on the baseball field, watching Katie pitch a ball faster than they’d ever seen, learning how to hold a bat properly, talking with Dr. Beth, and experiencing the true gracious, kind, loving spirit of the American woman. “They are so friendly” one local woman exclaimed, “and I’ve never seen women with such confidence and passion”. These ladies were truly an inspiration for a nation. I was able to witness one sweet moment in which Mama Reyna broke down with Kris, translated by Dr. Beth, succumbing to the memories of their lost ones to cancer. In this moment it was obvious that love knows no boundaries, no color, no language. These two completely different women have their strength in common, something that has inspired each of their own separate communities thousands of miles apart, and their passion is continuing to move the people around them each day. This passion for sport, for health and for life is something that we are so proud to be a part of and something that Sweet Water lives and breathes each day.
Thank you Kris, Dr. Beth, Kim, Melanie, Caroline, Denise, Faye, Ally, Erin, Monica, Danielle, Twyla, Regie, Wendy, Katie, Jennifer, Keleen, and Corky for working towards our goal of positive change in our inspired little village!
And thank you to our amazing volunteers and donors for the ball field! Yosi Ohayan, Kirfaid.org, Pauline Mefford, Richard Cowen, Mike Kramer, Denise Dozah, Lynne Maher, Bootsie Boddington, Lindsey Sherman, Benjamin Love, Dave Lovekin, Troy Barltrop, Dave Stinson, Lisa Cowan, Mike Friedseas, Shawn Hardesty, BJ Maksymyk, Ivana Cerni, India Reinartz, Jason Maguire, Leah, Kevin Cortez, Martin Mora, Doña Reyna, Martita, Tanya, Julio, Chico Mora, Junior, and Cynthia.
Story by: Kassidy Mefford Love
Photos by: Nile Reinartz
Become a Sweet Water Ambassador like these awesome folks!
Thank YOU to our awesome Donors for the BALL FIELD!
Yosi Ohayon - New York, NY
Pauline Mefford - Phoenix, AZ
Richard Cowen - Martha's Vineyard, MA
Mike Kramer - New York, NY
Denise Dozah - Casper, WY
Lynne Maher - Aqua, Nicaragua
Bootsie Boddington - Crested Butte, CO
Lindsey Sherman - Iguana, Nicaragua
Mark & Angela Kirwin of Kirfaid.org
Jim Norton - Chesapeake, VA
Sweet·wa·ter [sweet-waw-ter,] –nounIn Latin American coastal towns, known as agua dulce, Sweet water is a local term for fresh water. Fresh water tastes "sweet" compared to salt water. It's rivers are usually the life blood of Latin communities, in which most are built off its fertile banks. Sweet water is the basis for vegetation, growth and life. The Sweet water effect is a representation of movement toward satisfying a hunger of knowledge and good health, an inspirational, positive growth in community, and an improved life for everyone.
Board of Directors
KASSIDY MEFFORD - Photographer, writer, Owner/Operator of Dale Dagger Surf tours Nicaragua, and Sweetwater Founder
PEGGY LOVE - Founder of Full Circle International Relocations Inc., President/ Education Services of Dwellwork, LLC and incredible motivating contributor
DEBRA MEFFORD - Dental Hygienist, Emergency medical technician, beautiful philanthropist and land owner in Nicaragua
DONA KOPOL BONICK - Photographer, gardener, fabulous creator and doer of all things possible
JOHN BONICK - Photographer, painter, and poet with a grand appreciation for fine Nicaraguan cigars
RYAN MAHER - Accomplished freelance painter, eccentric artist, inspirational teacher and storyteller
LYNNE MAHER - Registered Nurse and volunteer with MINSA, devoted scuba diver, traveler and Nicaragua resident with infectious good spirit