I met a man in the grocery store tonight. To be precise, I met a gringo with his two sons in one of the nicer grocery stores. We talked about what he considers Nicaragua’s best export (that would be rum), then swapped info, as often happens in these conversations:
“How long have you been here?”
“Two years. You?”
“This is our fifth year.”
“Huh. How do you like it?”
“It’s taken a while, but it feels like home now. You?”
“I’m ready to go.”
He proceeded to tell me about some things he dislikes: driving, power outages, customer service (oh, wait, that was me), and then we compiled a list of good things about living here: lower cost of living, less demanding pace of life (he said he had 80-hour work weeks in the U.S.), our kids becoming fluent in Spanish.
I tried to share with him our informal motto, “Flexibility and humor,” encouraging him that getting angry when things don’t work the way we expect really does not help, but learning to laugh and roll with it really does. He seemed unconvinced. If I had to summarize his position, it would be “This place DOESN’T WORK RIGHT!”
Saturday, yesterday, was a day that Kim jokingly described as “The Universe conspiring against us.” She said it with humor because she said it today. Yesterday, no one was laughing. Trying to leave for ultimate, we discovered that our van had two flat tires. One of our dogs had vomited everywhere, including all over the trampoline (you know how trampolines aren’t actually a solid surface? Yeah.). All the lights and outlets inexplicably stopped working in the kitchen and nothing we did with the fuse helped. Our internet was on day 4 of being out.* We have three phones and none of us could even make a call (we buy calling time by the minute, and we had all three run out). I was trying to finish a sermon that I stepped in last-minute to cover for someone else, and I was not experiencing precisely the peaceful, meditative mindset that lends to efficient sermon writing. I was not experiencing a mindset that lends to any sermon writing whatsoever.
My son started begging me to play Stratego. I initially rebuffed him, explaining “Dad has lots of work to do, and blah, blah,” then amended that to “Sure.” Because a)he had helped me clean up dog vomit, voluntarily, and b)composing a sermon in that frame of mind might have led to my excommunication. So we played. And had a blast. And he came close to beating me.
Kim came home from successfully buying new tires, which really weren’t in our budget, but neither was having a blowout followed by a head-on. To our great surprise, the massive communications multi-national corporation sent their repair guy out five hours into their promised forty-eight hour response time–this after Kim had fought through three levels of “customer service,” mind you–and we were back online. That makes sermon writing easier, especially when you live in the land of I-can’t-transport-my-reference-library-here.
By today, the dog had stopped vomiting, the kitchen power is–again inexplicably–working just fine, no steel belts are showing on our tires, I can work on this blog, and we can even make phone calls. The sermon went fairly well, I think, though God gets to make that judgment. Someone gave us a gift, totally out of the blue, that covered a chunk of the tire expense.
Ready for the connection, you who noticed that I went on a big tangent? I hated living here in Year Two. I mean, really hated it. I probably told people, in conversations like that, how ready I was to move back, and certainly I told myself in my head, if I didn’t say it out loud. I could see exactly where I was then, reflected in his eyes. And now I’m here. We have The-Universe-Lays-Siege days and by the next day, we’re laughing about it. I didn’t laugh during year two. Maybe twice, and both times bitterly. If I’d had a longer conversation, I think I might have told the guy all this, an extended version of “hang in there.” But that may not be right for him.
Here is what I know today: I no longer expect for everything to work the way “it’s supposed to.” I don’t go cheerily along while cleaning dog vomit or frantically trying to change a tire while I and my daughters are scheduled to be playing ultimate–I NEED my fix–but it no longer reinforces a mindset that everything just sucks and I would gladly leave in approximately the time it takes me to pack a suitcase and drive to the airport (barring tire blowouts).
We’ve bought four (I said “four”) sets of tires in less than five years here. I’m not counting the ones the van had when we bought it, so two new sets, two used sets. A set of new tires costs $500 here, and those are nice Firestones. We’re putting maybe 6,000 miles a year on our car. The roads eat tires. Ravenously. And the driving surface in front of our home now would likely not fit many folks’ definition of “road.” I give you this as an example of how differently things work here.
I don’t think things have changed that much in Nicaragua since I’ve gotten here. But something has changed in me. Maybe several things.
I don’t feel entitled as much as I used to. I believe, I mean really believe in my bones, that I am very fortunate, regardless of how difficult things get for us here, because I have seen what real suffering looks like, and it wasn’t our Saturday.
This probably needs its own post, but I have learned to live around suffering without having it make me insanely angry, guilty, or miserable. I might be getting calloused, but the thing is, if you can’t find a way to bear it, you can’t stay. I think I’ve found a way to bear it that isn’t numb or indifferent. So that is a breakthrough.
I’ve internalized “flexibility and humor.” It took a long time. I said it a whole bunch of times while I was actually seething internally, but I knew I needed to believe it. I’m not saying I roll with every punch or laugh off every mishap, but this is my general mindset: It isn’t going to work the way I expect, Plan A is a fantasy, and I may as well laugh about it because ulcers and high blood pressure just don’t help.
I know some people got to where I am in much less time, and likely far beyond. Other people left. It took me a long time to say this, but I’m glad I didn’t.
*We lost our internet because someone arrived outside our home wearing shirts that said the name of our internet provider, proceeded to set up a new connection for someone living close by but in an area unlikely for anyone to be paying monthly for internet, and somehow that zapped ours out of function. It was clearly cause and effect. We asked the workers to see about making ours reconnect and they nodded and said okay, and then left. When Kim described this on the phone while making her push to get it fixed, the person confirmed that was the problem and explained, “Oh, those were vendedores. If you see that happening again, take a picture of them and give it to us.”
Uh-huh. We probably won’t do that.