Posted by: meaghaninwaslala | January 19, 2010

Doña Rita and Community

By Meaghan Gruber, Water for Waslala Field Manager in Waslala, Nicaragua

There is something so strong in community here that inspires me to my core.  I decided to stay in Waslala last January (my fourth visit to the Country) after feeling a sense of magic in my previous visits. While I couldn’t always pinpoint the cause, in the past year I have grown to learn what it is that touches me so deep here: the realness of community.  I have been a part of various communities in the past and had pondered exactly what community means, but I didn’t quite understand it until one day last year in Waslala.

Dona Rita and I

It was a beautiful sunny day after many days of rain.  For Virginia and I, it was an odd day of sorts.  We found ourselves in Managua taking care of Doña Rita, Virginia’s mother-in-law and the wonderful woman I used to live with here in Waslala.   Doña Rita was dying from liver cancer and had only found out two days prior; her days were numbered. Her children were by her side in Managua and hoped to bring her to Waslala to spend her last days.

Our day began at 3 a.m. when we began making plans and working out arrangements to bring Doña Rita and her family to Waslala. We got her out of the hospital mid-morning and ensured she had enough pain medicine for the ride home and that she would feel comfortable during her journey.  We began our journey in two trucks. Doña Rita was accompanied by Virginia and some of her family in one truck and Father Anelio and I were in the other truck with the rest of the family. After two hours we arrived in Matagalpa to change vehicles.

Upon leaving Matagalpa, the truck ahead of us stopped. Virginia got out and called for Anelio to come.  Father Anelio and I ran over to watch Doña Rita take a short breath and then another short breath a second later.  I held her arm, Father Anelio whispered the last words to her and she drifted off.  A complete sense of calm, peace, and trust blew over me.  I knew I had to be strong and care for her daughters and Virginia who were suffering so deeply and get us all back to Waslala.

Just before 9pm that evening we arrived in Waslala where there was no electricity (a very common occurrence).  After driving through a completely dark and quiet town we made our way to Doña Rita´s house.  Approaching the house I was completely shocked by what I saw: lights, tents, food, chairs and benches, hundreds and hundreds of people waiting for our arrival.  The town had heard that she was sick, dying, and the day beforehand organized everything to ensure the family would be taken care of. The body was then taken to the hospital to b prepared for her services and burial. The town put together an all-night prayer vigil to mourn her loss, which continued throughout the following day and night until morning.

On Sunday a beautiful mass was held at the Parish. The church was full of people eager to celebrate a wonderful woman with a huge heart that had touched so many. Doña Rita inspired us all through her hard work, passion and dedication for the Parish and the elderly home in town.

Following the mass, thousands processed from the parish to the cemetery – an hour long journey. It appeared as if it were a parade with hundreds of flowers following the casket in the pickup truck.  Following the procession, Doña Rita was laid to rest at her burial site. Despite the incredible heat, huge crowd and suffering, I felt an incredibly close and communal experience. I truly felt beauty in life, sharing, and being together in unity….in the community.

I am still mourning the loss of one of the most prominent, energetic, lively women I have ever met.  When we lived together, Doña Rita would tell me stories of the past. She reminisced of the times when it used to take three days to walk down to Matagalpa (it now take 5 hours in the bus), the moment when electricity came to the town, the period of incredible growth in Waslala,  and her days of service at the Parish.  Doña Rita was always concerned about the people that lived in the elderly home in Waslala. Just days before her death she asked to make sure that they were taken care of.

The magic here IS community.  There is a coming together here, a shared connection that is deeply understood that can teach us a lot.  People stayed up for nights and nights talking, reminiscing, and cooking to ensure that no one went hungry during the days of mourning.  This is the magic that I have been trying to understand:  It’s in the cup of coffee that is offered the second you step through the door.  It’s in the smiles.  It’s in the best piece of bread offered to you as the guest in someone’s home.  It’s in the church. It’s in the families and the individual people, and it’s in the love shown through service and gratitude.



  1. Meaghan…thank you for putting into words a feeling that I always get when I visit Waslala.

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