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A description of real life experiences from the streets of Granada, Nicaragua
I sat with my back against the rented house that I shared with my parents and six

siblings and looked up and down Calle la Libertad, one of the main streets in the

town of Granada, Nicaragua. It was just after dark and and almost every native

Nicaraguan sat outside their homes, chatting with friends and neighbors. Occasionally

perfect strangers would stop while walking by to offer their opinions on the matter being

discussed, with or without invitation from the others - typical of the outgoing attitude of

the natives.

I had been taking Spanish classes from a nearby school for several weeks, and felt that

it was time to practice the language on native speakers. Sitting on the street curb

seemed like a good way to meet people, but at the time I had no idea as to all that it

would entail. The first experience gave me a taste of what was to come.

I hadn't been sitting there long before a stoutly built man in his mid fifties weaved his

way up and sat down beside me, a half-empty can of Tona, the native brand of beer, in

his hand.

"Quieres probarla?" ("Do you want to try it?") Was the first thing he asked me, holding

out the beer in an unsteady hand. Being a responsible sixteen-year-old, and more than

a little unsure as to the cleanliness of the mouth of the can, I refused, and gently tried

to get him to leave me alone.

I had many pre-conceived ideas about the character of the people I would meet, partly

because I was young, and partly because I had never done anything like this before and

didn't know what else to expect. I believed that the streets were crawling with people

that were just waiting to take advantage of me, and needless to say, I wrote off this

man as one of them - some drunk, probably homeless, looking for money or a place to


However, as I listened to his slightly drunken Spanish, I came realize that the situation

was almost the opposite. It turned out that he was one of the neighbors, who despite

his drunken state, had noticed me sitting there alone and had come to invite me to his

house for the night, assuming that I had no place to stay.

For me it was a lesson in humility to see that this guy, who had little money and a tiny,

run-down house, was ready to take in a perfect stranger while I, who had enough cash

money inside the house to feed a Nicaraguan family for a year, would never consider

doing such a thing. I refused his generous offer, explaining that I lived in the house that

we had our backs against. After that we began to discuss Nicaragua and what I

thought of it. I asked a few questions about it which he eagerly answered, proud that

he could teach me something about his country.

The experience was, at least for me, unique and interesting. I went out to sit on the

curb every night afterwards. The more interesting people I met, the more addicted I

became to the culture. Practicing my Spanish became a by-product; now I went out

there to see what experiences would come my way. I met all the neighborhood kids

that were too poor to go to school, and instead spent the day prowling the surrounding

area in search of entertainment. Often this involved watching my family through the

open windows and offering unsolicited comments and advice on whatever we were


I met a drug dealer about my age that offered me marijuana, and after I refused it, sat

down to talk to me for half an hour. I met a young man, little older than I who was the

head of his family. His father, he told me, had left his mother for another woman.

(something that happens all too often there). He came talk to me every night and

became a good friend.

I played soccer in the street with the kids, gave money to a woman to buy insulin for

her diabetic mother, refused to "take a walk" down back streets with a "friend" at night

after refusing to give him money, went fishing from an "authorized personnel only" pier

that required silence and a climb over a ten foot wall to get past the security guards,

and went swimming in the filthy water of Lake Nicaragua.

In spending so much time with the natives I learned rather quickly that of my former

beliefs, the opposite is true. The streets are crawling with friendly, helpful people that

are as eager to learn about you as you are to learn about them. Of course there are

people that will swindle you if they get the chance, but it only adds to the unique

experience of travel. And you can't really blame them for trying to get a few extra dollars

from someone that, by comparison, has so much. The fact is, Chicago, New York or

L.A. are more dangerous than foreign countries and cities, if not as culturally different.

I learned many amazing things on that trip, but the one that stands out the most came

one night while talking with a man that drank so much that even when sober his mind

didn't function as it should. His speech was nearly incomprehensible, and everyone he

came into contact with treated him with contempt, ridiculing everything he said and how

he said it. It was saddening to discover that my first instinct was to treat him the same

way. In thinking about it, an important question arose: Who was I to judge people by

their actions and appearances? Couldn't that man, if his circumstances were different,

have been healthy and respectable? We are so conditioned to judging people by their

outward appearance that we forget to notice the beautiful, innocent person that lies

beneath, untainted. My perception, I decided, was far too limited and flimsy a thing on

which to base my attitude towards others. Instead of following that first instinct I

treated that man with respect. He immediately lit up, having finally found someone

that would listen to him (even if I did understand very little of it, as slurred as his speech

was). Within five minutes he was calling me his friend, and he came by almost every

night afterwards to talk to me. I was honored. If all I had to do to win his respect and

friendship was to listen to him, I would do it, and gladly. I only wished I could do more.

Maybe what people need most in this world is to be listened to.
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