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Bainbridge sisters’ island, Ometepe

Amy Jordan, center, with two of the many friends she made on Ometepe. She and her sister Anne recently returned from a year-long stay on Bainbridge
Amy Jordan, center, with two of the many friends she made on Ometepe. She and her sister Anne recently returned from a year-long stay on Bainbridge's sister island in Nicaragua.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Jordan family

Jordan girls return from a year abroad.

A four-month trip to Ometepe turned into a year-long stay for Eagle Harbor High School senior Anne Jordan.

Anne and her sister Amy, a sophomore at EHHS, returned in mid-August from Ometepe, Bainbridge’s “sister island” adopted 17 years ago by Bainbridge Ometepe Sister Island Association.

Anne Jordan had traveled to Ometepe with a BOSIA delegation over spring break during her sophomore year and again as a junior – but the short junkets weren’t enough.

So she conceived the notion of a longer visit. On her second trip, she spoke with Soliaedad Amador, the elementary school principal in the Ometepe town of Sacramento – population 250 – about the idea of returning as a teacher.

“I told her I wanted to teach English,” Anne Jordan said, “and she was really enthusiastic and excited about the idea. I wanted to find out about the culture and have my sister come.”

Before she left Ometepe, Jordan had also lined up a host family – but she still had to convince her own.

Her parents, Martha and Chip Jordan, met Amador, and even took her sailing on the 45-foot wooden sailboat that the Jordan family calls home.

Knowing Amador made it easier to say yes to her daughters’ proposed year-long visit, Martha Jordan says. That, and her own well-developed sense of adventure – Martha Jordan and her husband, Chip, completed a round-the-world sailing trip before raising a family.

Her sister Amy was only 14 and spoke no Spanish. “I was really nervous,” Amy acknowledged.

Convincing her father was harder, but ultimately Chip Jordan was won over – in part because of the contained nature of Ometepe with its many Bainbridge ties.

“It wasn’t like we were sending them off to Managua,” Chip said.

Although the trip was inspired by the BOSIA connection to Ometepe, the Jordans traveled independent of the organization.

But the group was ready help in what way it could, BOSIA founder Kim Esterberg says, once the girls were there.

“Although we carefully defined roles, we gave it our blessing,” Esterberg said. “It was a very special situation; as one of our a board members told us, we were dealing with a very unusual family, an international family.”

Extended stay

While the Jordans acknowledge the contrast between the Central American country and their home on Bainbridge, not all the comparisons favored the United States.

“The islands are an extremely poor place,” Anne said. “I felt like we had so much more. But they shared with anyone who came to their door. There was just this amazing generosity.”

Amy Jordan’s host mother ran an informal school for children too poor to purchase the mandatory school uniform.

The girls were enthusiastically welcomed by the Ometepe community. Amador even threw a Quinceanera, the ceremony and party for a girl turning 15, for Amy Jordan.

As elaborate as a wedding, the ceremony involved a march through the village by 28 attendants clad in formal attire to the church, where Amy was blessed. A whole pig was roasted for the party, sponsored by the Jordan sisters but organized by Amador. The entire village turned out to dance until the morning.

Martha and Chip Jordan had flown in for the occasion.

“They had all these blond Barbies on the cake,” Martha said. “They had collected every blond Barbie in the village.”

The following month, January, was to be the last of their stay, but the Jordan sisters weren’t ready to leave.

They convinced their parents to agree to another half year on the island.

“Every letter said, ‘We really, really miss you, but we aren’t ready to come home,’” Martha said. “Once we got there and we saw how connected they were to the community, it wasn’t hard to convince us.

“Obviously there was a hole with the girls gone, but it was worth their absence.”

Anne continued to teach, but Amy, who had been attending school, decided she wanted to do more for the Ometepe communities. She moved to a nearby town, San Jose, to work at the Quincho Barrilete orphanage.

Amy worked half-days at the orphanage, helping girls from abusive backgrounds learn to sew, and teaching the boys to bake bread, sold to purchase school uniforms.

Coming back to Bainbridge has been a big transition, the sisters say. Not only have they become unused to the cold climate, but they’ve fallen away from the culture of consumption.

“I just feel like everyone gets wrapped up in trivial things and they just put a lot more important on material things,” Anne said. “That was something I definitely learned, not to put so much importance on that.”

The trip has had a lasting impact. The sisters will volunteer at Casa Latina, a Seattle community-based organization helping Latino immigrants, and Anne is considering a stint as an AmeriCorps volunteer after high school.

Anne won’t graduate with her class, but taking the year to live on Ometepe has been a priceless teaching tool, the family believe.

“So many people here asked. ‘Aren’t you worried about them falling behind in school?” Martha Jordan said. “I told them, ‘No. They’re learning.’”

* * * * *

Amy and Anne Jordan are collecting donated sports goods and school supplies to send to Ometepe. Call 780-0684 for more information.

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