It doesn't seem real to say that I have been gone for 4 days already. Mostly, it seems like much longer. I left on Thursday afternoon for the airport, where I met two other of my Enactus teammates for our first flight from San Francisco to Houston, en route to Nicaragua. After clearing security, we had a little excitement when our names were all called over the loudspeaker to see the gate agent -- it turned out that the flight to San Fran was overbooked and they wanted to put us on a direct flight to Houston. We eagerly accepted, and were even more thrilled when we heard about the $150 voucher they were giving us. We landed in Houston at 7 pm, at which point reality set in since our flight to Managua wasn't leaving until 9 am the next morning. Thus began our LONG night in the Houston airport. We found some dinner -- rushed attempts to get some American food before restaurants closed and we would begin 6 weeks of Nicaraguan cuisine -- and then settled ourselves outside the United club entrance where the only free wifi was to be found. Annalee and Dawson watched Netflix while I put some hours in on my OSU research. Around 1 am we went scouting for good places to sleep and ended up finding a deserted gate to uncomfortably pass a few hours in almost sleep (not real sleep, since we were constantly woken up by the night crew's vacuum and the 24 hour news on TV. I gave up around 5 am and went to utilize the wifi again to send some last emails, and soon it was time to board. Three others from OSU, including our assistant faculty advisor, made it to Houston around that time and joined us on our flight to Managua.
I had been a complete wreck with nerves getting slowly worse every day last week, which I thought I hid pretty well, but leaving Houston that morning I felt sick to my stomach. I had no clue what all this summer would entail, and it was a long time away. Again. And I know what 6 weeks feels like now, which makes it harder. God knew I needed a bit of reassurance and so He seated me not only in an exit row (yay for extra legroom!), but also next to a Nicaraguan man who wanted to talk. He asked what I was doing in Nicaragua and then all about our microloan program and Enactus projects before telling me all sorts of foods I needed to try while I was in his country. Somewhere in there I mentioned how I was interested in microcredit systems and how I've thought about a future in Haiti or Jamaica with my church, and then he began asking about that. Without hardly a comment from me, he began telling me about how a few years ago he realized that he needed a Savior and that he began reading the Bible and counseling with a minister and how he has totally turned his life around. We ended up having a wonderful conversation about the importance and miraculousness of God working in our lives. I immediately felt God's closeness -- He is everywhere I go, and always will be, no matter what.
We landed around 11 am and felt the heat wave. Low 90s with 95% humidity means that you are instantly dripping with sweat at all times. It's pretty fun. More about that later. Then began driving the 2 hours to to Leon, the second largest city in Nicaragua with 200,000 people (after the capital, Managua), where we were to immediately meet with Hal, one of our new partners. Hal is a retired businessperson who decided to start a foundation to help this rural community called La Calle Real, and he is currently beginning work to build a commerce/ community center to bring together local artisans to sell crafts and food (and attract tourists). He is also at least 70 years old but has the energy of someone half his age. He brought along one of his board members and we sketched out the work our team has done for the commerce center so far and how we will help in the next few weeks. Though we were visibly exhausted after 36+ hours of traveling at that point, we then drove another hour to see La Calle Real. Hal had some of the local high schoolers act as tour guides to practice their English, and -- shock of shocks -- by the end of the tour, my tour guide had already asked if I had a boyfriend. Clearly it doesn't matter what culture, this is always a question. Her English was actually very spotty, so after saying no and immediately getting the follow-up question, I got to explain IN SPANISH about faith-based marriages. ...I thought I did a pretty good job for not using my Spanish for the past four years!
After La Calle Real, we drove another 2 hours to Esteli, which is up in the mountains and where we would be staying for the weekend. Travelers to Esteli pass by La Calle Real and so our days here were really to evaluate the potential market for Hal's commerce center (plus, as an added bonus, it is MUCH cooler in Esteli than Leon because of it's location. This bonus we only realized on Sunday when we made it back to Leon and realized how unbearably hot it is. Yay). We had some drama with our hostel reservation and a car-and-motorcycle accident that happened literally 20 feet away, but finally we were able to unload our bags and head in search of dinner. Since it was 8:30 at night it was hard to find good places open, so we ended up at a slightly American place where some of us ordered burritos (yes, I did -- be impressed) while others ordered hamburgers. It was here that I was really introduced to the full measure of what traveling to Nicaragua is like.
First, you don't drink the water. This means you always must order water in a bottle and don't slip up and drink the ice they give you. No putting your lips on the glass Coke bottle either. Also, no eating fresh fruits or vegetables that have been washed in the water. Watch out for the meat and the cheese, but you will probably be fine. You can't flush toilet paper because their septic systems aren't built for it. It is somewhat dangerous -- as exhibited by the car/motorcycle accident (no serious injuries, thank goodness) and the fact that driving after dark means you could get stopped by a road barricade (of lawful or unlawful people). And it is a third world country. The poverty in the streets and the condition of the cities, houses, and villages are crazy. Yet many houses still boast satellite dishes atop their tin or cement block structures, and people who live in dirt floor houses still have a cell phone. Billboards and posters for the cell phone carriers plaster the city, and it is even possible to find logos from well-known corporate chains like Burger King and Payless Shoes.
It was pretty overwhelming all on that first day. My stomach stayed in knots and that whole day and night I felt like I had overestimated my capabilities and why did I ever think that I could do this. It is hard to see the difference that we can make when the problems are just so big. And talking to the Nicaraguan man on the plane, who kept saying (about us and the 2 church groups on the flight) that "It is nice that you people are coming to help us", made me wonder how much help we really are doing. His statement awkwardly connotes that his country needs fixing and we must be the ones to provide the assistance, educated locals like himself can't do it themselves. And this is the western superiority attitude that we do NOT want to be promoting! Anyway, all of the newness and heat and dirt made me extremely disheartened about the summer and wondering what I was doing there. On that note, I fell into a (wonderfully clean and private) hostel bed that night and prayed that it would get better.
Well, clearly this is turning into a book. But I'll continue.
The next morning was Saturday and we got to sleep in a little before booking a "trek" out to see one of the nature reserves that is again, typical of the tourists that visit this area. We were hoping to see what there is to see and also talk to the guides about what is the usual market audience for these activities and this area. Annalee tried to book us a hiking trek through the rainforest, but the combination of a phone conversation and less-than-fluent Spanish meant that we actually embarked on a rappelling trip. As in, rappelling down the 110 ft Estanzuela waterfall (the height we did not know until later). Since we had done some business plan work for the non-profit in the past, we trusted that the trek would be great anyway and headed out by car to the Estanzuela nature reserve. Once arriving, we took a short hike to the top of the waterfall where our OSU group exclaimed over how beautiful (and high) it was while the guides began setting up the equipment. By "equipment", I mean two ropes looped around an immense boulder and then thrown over the waterfall. One of them was to be harnessed to us, the other held by one of the guides who would be treading water at the bottom of the waterfall. After witnessing about 20 minutes of set-up and growing increasingly apprehensive, and then hearing how we were to hold the ropes and lower ourselves down, we finally said we needed to pull the plug: we were NOT going to rappel down the waterfall. All of us had rock-climbed before and the equipment needed for this kind of adventure was simply not to be found with a rope and a guy treading water. The guides were gracious and we ended up just hiking to the bottom and swimming under the waterfall ... still a pretty awesome trek. When have I swam under a rainforest waterfall before? While swimming, I was asking one of our local guides some questions about the work he does with environmental education and what the understanding was among Nicaraguans, and the conversation again turned spiritual. He likened the importance of just one person's example of being environmentally respectful to one person's light for Christ -- you can be just one person and can light a whole room. In broken English/ Spanish, we ended up talking for a long time about the importance of faith and being that one person even if you are standing alone (but with Christ). That day, too, made me feel so thankful and blessed for God's reminder of His omnipotence and power the world over.
After Saturday's "fun" day of catch-up sleep and market research, we got down to real work. But it is already midnight tonight so I will have to leave those stories for later. For now, I can say it is getting better and I don't feel so lost and so hopeless, and I can see (through the heat and the danger and the bugs) why I am here.
I'm a twenty-something from the Pacific NW making home in new places as I follow where God leads.
My intent is to show Christ's love to the world and use business to solve some of the social problems we face: hunger, illiteracy, healthcare, economic hardship. For now, I'm in a stage of learning. A little adventuring, a few books, some good friends, and a whole lot of prayer and life runs on.