Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 17 February 2006


It is the end of a very hard week here in Jinotepe. Aside from the chaos of classes starting in the English Lab at Juan Jose, abuelita fell very ill, and we just received news that she passed away this afternoon. May she rest peacefully, and may her wonderful family begin to heal together.

On Wednesday morning she was transferred to the military hospital in Managua. She had previously been cared for in home by my host mom (a retired nurse), Jamileth. Tio Julio is a colonel in the Nicaraguan army, so she was admitted to what is arguably the best hospital in Managua. It is especially good right now, because all the doctors in Nicaragua are on strike demanding higher wages (which they deserve, in my opinon). Had she been sent to an understaffed government hospital, she very likely would have passed away before her family could see her and say their goodbyes.

On Wednesday evening, 25 of us crammed into a microbus (built for about 15 “comfortably”), and went to visit her in the hospital. It was hard to know my place in this situation, but the family kept reassuring me that they considered me part of the family and that they wanted me to be able to say goodbye to her as well. I was really grateful for the opportunity.

Leopoldina was the matriarch of the family. She was the mother of ten, grandmother to at least thirty (I have no idea how many there are for real), and great grandmother to a handful. “Mamita” to all, regardless of generational status, will be greatly missed. The family is understandably very grief stricken right now. But I know that they are also relieved to know that she is no longer suffering.

I have been thinking so much about my own family this week, and my own elderly grandmother in particular. I have also been thinking about what family means to me. I am often asked here in Nicaragua (where the family unit is the most important thing), how I can live so far away from my family. My answer varies widely, because, with an extended family as large as mine is, I have never really been all that far from a relative. And also, because I define my family as the people that I love unconditionally…a love that has nothing to do with genetics or biology. I have been so blessed in my life to have so many different families to rely upon. Not the least of which is the Vilchez family of Jinotepe, that has opened their home and their hearts to me in this most difficult time in their lives.

Below is just a small collections of images that say “family” to me. It is by no means comprehensive. What the harddrive of my iMac lacks is by no means a measure of unimportance…if that makes any sense. So many people have touched my life, and I wish I had the internet time to be able to recognize all of them, but alas, time is on the march. And there is nothing quite like the passing of a loved one to remind you that both time and family are precious–however you may define them.

I hope you are all well, wherever you may be. And please, keep the Vilchez family in your thoughts over these next few days and weeks as they begin to heal and remember a wonderful woman…



  1. beautiful, sis.

  2. Hel, Given how far away you are right now, it is incredible how close I feel to you and your experience. Reading your entries and seeing your pictures, you have brought nica alive! As I sit on the couch with my foot elevated, I almost feel like I am eating bananas on the beach with you… well, almost 🙂

    Anyway, I am proud of you. So, chica mia: Come, Tome, Ensena y Vive!!

    Miss you,

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