Nari Malkhasyan is a PROBAR ambassador, a chemical engineer, yoga instructor, runner, blogger, vegan and traveler. Her recent trip to Nicaragua with Habitat for Humanity was life changing. Here’s her story.
Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, right after Haiti. But I’m not sure that I had realized what that meant prior to landing in Managua for my Habitat for Humanity trip there in June. Having myself grown up in the poverty of post-Soviet Armenia and having done Habitat in Guatemala in 2013, I knew this wouldn’t be easy. What I didn’t realize was that this trip would change my life.
I came for what I thought was just the good deed of helping a family in need build a house. Yet, what I was building the whole week was my own heart.
For a week my team worked side by side with Sonia’s family to give her and her children a sturdy, clean home that would hold up to the rains, offer secure shelter, and a concrete floor, which can be instrumental in preventing diseases and parasites in children. This was a tiring week of carrying blocks, carting gravel, sifting sand, and mixing mortar and concrete in extreme heat. I relied heavily on daily snacks of PROBAR Fuel and gallons of water to keep up with the physical challenge. I was waking up with sore muscles that I didn’t previously know existed. But the physical exhaustion pulled me out of the trap of my own mind. I was too tired to plan, do busy work, and keep myself occupied: behaviors which I learned I use to mask my feelings of vulnerability. I had no choice but to be with my emotions.
As the week wore on I started to see beyond the obvious poverty: it looks the same everywhere. I started to see the joy on the face of the children as our van pulled up to the work site: it is also quite universal! Their eyes glowed each time we spent time with them playing soccer, making beaded bracelets, looking over their English homework. What I learned in this one week was to give my presence fully. I may not have understood what the kids were saying to me, and they may not have understood me, but when we spun and giggled and danced nothing else existed. My mind was not rushing off to the next task, but present, delighting, filled with the resonating laughter of the children.
I collapsed on my bed every day after the build, feeling physically and emotionally raw. And as I lay there, trying to parse through the emotions that were surfacing, I learned that the love that budded within me towards the people I was connecting with could only be cultivated if I loved and accepted myself. The love would grow only if I gave them my most vulnerable, authentic, and imperfect self, rather than the image of the “best I can be” that I typically try to achieve in my daily life. The family that I was building for, the children I was playing with, they didn’t care about my weight, the size of my waist or my paycheck, my pace per mile, or my alignment in some fanciful yoga pose. I was there, giving them my effort, my time, my presence, and my love, and they loved all of me for just that!
“You are enough.” As a yoga teacher I must have said those words a dozens if not hundreds of times. And yet I was clueless as to the meaning until my Habitat for Humanity trip to Nicaragua.