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A missive from Bainbridge's sister island
Allow me to introduce myself and this column, which thereafter I hope will capture your interest. My name is Maggie Pettit. I write to you as a fellow islander, born and raised on Bainbridge, but I write to you from an island far away. Imagine two volcanoes jutting out of a freshwater lake, forming an hourglass-shaped island in the heart of Nicaragua called Ometepe, which has been your sister island for the past 21 years. I will be living and working here for one year with the Bainbridge-Ometepe Sister Islands Association (BOSIA).
Did you know you have a sister island? The average Bainbridge Islander might become fraught with confusion when first hearing of BOSIA. But when remembering the golden bags Cafe Oro de Ometepe coffee they have glimpsed in the aisles of Town & Country or the school supply donation boxes that appear every spring in their children’s classrooms, the concept becomes a little more tangible. If you attend BHS, you have most definitely heard rumors of the lucky 24 students selected each year to travel to Ometepe for two weeks in the spring semester. Or perhaps while filling your reusable bag with fresh produce at the Farmers Market, the aroma of genuine shade-grown coffee has wafted your way from the BOSIA information table. Hopefully (or not) you saw me, festooned in the Ometepe burlap coffee sack, marching in the Grand Old Fourth parade with the One Call For All contingent.
Whether or not you have encountered BOSIA in the past, I am introducing it to you now as the organization that connects me with my sister island and grants me the opportunity to fully experience this relationship. Kim and Ela Esterberg founded BOSIA in 1986 with the following purpose: to encourage mutual understanding, education, friendship, cultural and peaceful exchanges between the people of Bainbridge Island and Ometepe Island. This humble goal has translated into student exchanges, water systems, libraries, nutrition programs, college scholarships, dance costumes, teacher training, school supplies, and more – all coordinated via the office that I now write to you from on Ometepe.
I first came to Ometepe with the student delegation as a junior at BHS in 2003. I then served on the BOSIA Board of Directors as a senior, returning to Ometepe with the student delegation again in 2004. Although moving away to California for college made it more complicated to keep in touch with both the board and my sister island, I took advantage of winter and summer break, to get updated on the happenings of BOSIA and to send letters to my Ometepe host families. A part of me always knew that I would apply for the Ometepe Office Volunteer position, and in the midst of a year-long senior thesis at Scripps College, I knew that come graduation day I would be yearning for a change of pace, a change of culture,
I am basking now in the warm company of Dora “Dorita” Gutierrez and Maria Estela, coworkers and native Nicaraguans, both of whom have contributed more than 15 years of dedicated work in BOSIA’s Ometepe office. Dorita teaches English in the local high school, then comes by in the afternoons to work alongside me. Maria Estela is the scholarship coordinator, meeting with all the students receiving a college scholarship through BOSIA.
Since my arrival on July 7, I have experienced a whirlwind of change. Step by step, I adapt. I have a new job, a new workplace, a new “family,” a new home, a new culture, new challenges and goals. Luckily, all these changes are accompanied by three constants I always associate with Ometepe – hospitality, compassion, and sense of community. For the people of Ometepe, I embody Bainbridge; I am their sister island. With this comes the pressure to best represent my community, but, above all, an overwhelming sense of pride.
The office is the epicenter of the BOSIA relationship. Realizing this during my first few days, I found myself proposing ideas to improve the office space, to open it to the community even more. On my first working day, we received a cabinet we had ordered from a local carpenter. Its arrival instigated a full cleaning and organization campaign of all the suitcases of donated school supplies, historical files and the like. Amongst the mayhem, I discovered that the office keeps a hard copy of every book the organization donates to local libraries, both as a precaution and perhaps also a goal to one day have a library here in the town of Altagracia.
After conversing with my coworkers, we decided that opening a library in the office would be an excellent use of the books, and soon the Sister Islands Library opened its doors to the people of Ometepe. To date, 17 members have checked out books and returned them – including several blind students who are very excited about our Braille selection! As the unofficial librarian, I will never forget the feeling of loaning the first book – “The Flora and Fauna of Ometepe” – to Armando Potoy Flores. A sense of joy enveloped me. This is what it means to be sister islands.
Maggie Pettit will be writing a monthly column during her year-long stay on Ometepe Island. Please visit www.bosia.org to learn more about the sister island relationship and how to get involved.