It’s day one of our grand adventure in Nicaragua and we’re on the way to our first training site in Jinotepe. Our team, or “my girls” as I call them, had only landed a few hours earlier in Managua. We hustled them to the hotel, fed them fried chicken from a local convenience store (only the best for these ladies!), and off to bed we went.

A few hours later, we would find out if we could really take three strangers with no Spanish-speaking skills to a foreign land and teach an entire country about the importance of activities for elders.

We arrived in Jinotepe right on schedule to find no one there. I had forgotten from my prior trips that 1 p.m. in Nicaragua means “whenever people show up.” I panicked, thinking no one was going to come. By 2 p.m., instead of the 20 people we had planned for, 58 showed up — residents of the Jinotepe hogare, local volunteers, the mayor, the press, and others I can’t recall.

Suddenly, I looked around and we were in full swing. I, of course, was totally out of control (which, as you know, I HATE). Erica Johnson from Liberty at Wilmington was teaching a crowd about exercise and rhythm therapy and the joy of “stretchy bands” (which build muscle). Brenda Zimmerman of Lutheran had two tables of crafts going on and quite a crowd. Jamie Phillips of Avante of Wilkesboro was doing something with another crowd of elders. And 1/3 of our crowd was sitting in chairs, doing nothing.

If you’ve never tried to teach elder activities to 58 people in a foreign country (when you planned for 20), in an outdoor rotunda with one interpreter and three teachers, then you haven’t lived. If you like structure and organization, like me, then forget it. It ain’t gonna happen. Instead, you have to innovate, create, and keep moving.

As I watched these three scenes play out in utter pandemonium, amid my own sense of panic, my little Carron Suddreth, all five foot two of her, grabbed one of our team members and said, “Go do a song with everyone who is not exercising or doing crafts.” “Do a song?” I thought. “None of us speak or sing Spanish.”

But, right on cue, one of our team members grabbed our only interpreter and that’s when I heard it:

“You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out, you put your right foot in, and you shake it all about.”

“You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself about, that’s what it’s all about.”

Every single senior, volunteer, staff member, government official, and member of our team was suddenly Hokey Pokey-ing. It was a HIT and we were a hit! English to Spanish, legs moving, butts shaking, people twirling, interpreter doing his thing, and everybody having the most marvelous time.

For the rest of our seven days in Nicaragua, every place we went, no matter what we had planned or how we had to improvise for larger crowds or limited supplies or physical impairments, we did one thing every time — the Hokey Pokey. Whether we were teaching abandoned elders, hogare staff, government officials, university professors, or kids, they all had one thing in common — they LOVED the Hokey Pokey! They all asked us to send them the words in Spanish. I do believe we made the Hokey Pokey go platinum in Nicaragua.

In our American world of political sensitivity, creature comforts, and video games, we tend to forget a universal truth. Sharing, in whatever form, the simplest things we have to give — our time, our attention, our creativity, the child within us — remains the greatest gift of all.

I have to admit, when our team first began the Hokey Pokey on Day one, I was sort of horrified. After all, I’m a well-known, respectable lawyer. By Day seven, in Managua, I couldn’t wait to start the Hokey Pokey because I knew I’d see something really special — everybody — old, young, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, pretty, and ugly — sharing five minutes of delirious, childlike, laugh-out-loud joy as we put our right hands in, took our right hands out, put our right hands in, waggled our butts ridiculously, put our “whole selves” in, and shook —em all about.

By the way, if you haven’t done the Hokey Pokey in a while, say, since childhood, I highly recommend that you close the blinds, turn off the phone, make sure you are alone in the house, and throw down on some Hokey Pokey. It will do your soul good. Then do it with your friends. You are gonna LOVE it!

To our amazingly creative, inventive, flexible team of activities professionals from NC, thank you for reminding me how to shake it all about. I think I feel a song coming on.

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