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
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
"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.