You have to hand it to us; we have never yet managed a trip to Nicaragua without a few mistakes. Here are a few new ones-
How about wearing sandals to a construction site? We went to Ojochal to build a platform for the water tank and to repair the roof of the preschool with our new friend, Doug, the carpenter from Invermere. So what could be more obvious than putting a few minutes' thought into what we were wearing? We remembered the sunscreen but forgot to look down at what we were wearing on our feet. This didn't become immediately obvious until we realized that climbing a home-made ladder to get onto the tin roof of the preschool would have been a lot easier in shoes! Needless to say, Doug did not make this same mistake.
Here's another one-Nicaraguans love parties almost as much as they love speeches. On every trip we make, we know this always happens. So are we prepared? Do we have something ready to say when we are asked to speak (and we are always asked to speak). No, of course not! Instead, we are thrust into the spotlight where we stumble and stutter and attempt to say something coherent and almost never succeed. The moral here is to always be ready to speak before a large crowd when you go to Nicaragua. We have Veronica to thank for always making sure we have this opportunity. We'll be ready next time, Veronica-we promise!
We know how important it is to always keep in mind that the people we work with on our projects have a very different culture than our own. However, we still struggle with preconceptions and misunderstandings pretty much all the time! One of the earliest examples of this was our failure to recognize the importance of school uniforms in Nicaragua. The year before we started our foundation, the Nicaraguan Government had changed the rules about the need for school uniforms to accommodate poor families who could not afford them. However, even though it was no longer necessary to purchase uniforms, parents were still insisting that their children should have them. Initially, we were baffled by this. Why spend money on uniforms if you didn't have to? After all, our own children certainly didn't wear them back home in Vancouver. It slowly dawned on us, however, that it was a question of pride. If your child wasn't wearing a uniform, it meant that you couldn't afford to buy one. As well, to Nicaraguans, school is seen as more of a privilege than a chore; wearing a uniform is a sign of respect.
We also occasionally imposed our own needs and beliefs on the people we worked with. An example of this was when we were setting up Los Pipitos, we bought a fan for the classroom. The people who were helping us set up the class said no, that wasn't necessary. This was inconceivable to us as we felt it was so hot in there. We went ahead and bought one anyway. It wasn't until much later, when we saw the fan was not being used, that we realized that although we found it hot, they were used to the temperature and felt that it was fine. Aha, we said. Now we get it.
Another hard-won lesson was to bring cash, not items. After several attempts to lug heavy suitcases full of things we could have bought at a fraction of the price in the Rivas market through customs at the Houston Airport, it finally became clear. Now, unless it's something we can only buy in Canada, we bring American dollars. Far easier!