Chloe Markowitz is our Director of Youth Programs at the Y. Besides being great to work with and amazing with our afterschool and youth sports kids, Chloe holds a masters degree in Clinical Mental Health, speaks Spanish as well as English, and is as well traveled as anyone we’ve ever met! We’ve reposted a blog that she wrote for the blog ‘global circle’, about a service trip that she took to southern Nicaragua. It’s a touching and interesting read, and tells you a lot about Chloe!
T-shirt Baseball Memory Making
Rutgers students travel to Nicaragua with AJWS Alternative Break program.
On a trip to India a few years ago, my sister, mom and I took a seven-hour drive to Agra to see one the great wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal, and it was the biggest upset ever. No offense to the architects, as it is a masterpiece, but on our visit it was cloaked in a thick blanket of fog making visibility utterly impossible. Disappointed, feeling like we wasted our precious vacation time, we got back in the car and drove another seven hours back to Delhi.
Fast forward a few years, and I am standing in the heat of the midday sun, breaking from my worksite, playing a pick-up baseball game with some new friends. The players are from an American Jewish World Service Grantee organization, Servicios Medicos Comunales, located in Boca de la Montana of Southern Nicaragua. I am serving as the Group Leader for a week-long AJWS Alternative Break Program with 14 spirited Rutgers students, when I realize that this is my Taj Mahal.
Our task is to work on the construction of a vital Adult Literacy Center. Every day we wake up at 6:30 a.m., eat a breakfast of rice and beans, sing a working wake up song and go off to the worksite to mix cement, haul buckets of water, and hammer wooden beams together. On day two, I notice the workers ripping up an old t-shirt and crafting it into the shape of a ball. It seems that they are prepping for their lunchtime activity, the great Nicaraguan pastime, baseball. I ask Gyorgi, the boss, if we can play too, even the female participants, to which he replies, “Claro, es para todos!” Of course, it’s for everyone! And thus begins a new tradition. The first inning is Rutgers VS. Nica. We fumble with the homemade bat and the t-shirt ball (which turns out to be just as good as a regulation made ball), so I suggest that we mix up the teams because we are getting our tuchuses kicked. One by one we learn nicknames through play, Machillo, Wifi, Chantifla, Chato, Sin Sangre, and even the boss, Gyorgi, of Bulgarian origin, who is known as El Bulgaro, gets into the action. We are even bestowed with our own nicknames. I am affectionately called “La Flijey Flijey” after a girl they know who is always smiling.
Hence every day forward, we build wooden beams and we play baseball. (I mostly just watch in subsequent games as I am more of a cheerleader than an athlete.) One of our participants who does not speak Spanish, Zach, is so taken with their ingenuity and creativity of making a baseball from scratch that he learns the technique. He even decides to make a baseball for them as a parting gift, and a stand out of old wood scraps. It takes him two hours and many blisters to finish, but it’s beautiful and full of heart. He asks every participant what the plaque should say and we all sign it and present it to the workers on our last workday. The Sabbath rolls in and we all breathe a sigh, our first chance to rest.
Hand crafted bat signed by all the workers of Servicios Medicos Comunales
The men still work on Saturday and, at lunchtime, Chato comes to ask me to join them in the workshop as they want to say goodbye. Our site supervisor, Edgar, who has had the patience of a saint over the course of the week as we learn how to hammer, presents our group a meticulously carved and lacquered wooden plaque with two baseball bats intertwined. Each of the men has signed it. My eyes mist as they explain that the two bats signify our bond, intertwined and connected in our work and commitment to their community. There are no words, just hugs and the hopes that each one of us will return to see the center finished.
The great travel writer Paul Theroux once wrote, “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” This has become my travel mantra as I feel that truly great travel is serendipitous and cannot be measured by checking things off one’s list. We didn’t know at the outset that baseball would fill in the gaps where language could not, but it definitely made for one heck of an adventure.
Chloe Markowitz is a graduate of the Hunter College School of Social Work where she received a Masters in Clinical Mental Health. She currently works as the Director of Youth Programs at the 14th Street Y. Chloe is an alumni of the AJWS Volunteer Corps and is one of the founders of Global Circle where she serves as the Nominations Chair.