Because I can’t seem to combine the deep, soul-stirring, life-changing, lessons from my trip with the hilarious stories, I will separate them.  Hilarious comes first.

As anyone who has tried to plan and actually GO on an international trip knows that nothing will go as planned.  The only thing you can expect, is the unexpected, as they say.

I find it really amusing that the level of safety in the United States is so very intense while the rest of the world seems light years apart from the minimum standard here.  I remember in Ethiopia, thinking how crazy it was that I was holding my 7 month old son on my lap while bouncing around in a van with no seatbelts whatsoever, driving in bumper to bumper traffic where no one seemed to be following any sort of traffic rules at all.

The inside of our bus. Kevin, in the orange is standing in the aisle that becomes seating once they're flipped down.

Similarly, in Nicaragua, we traveled as a group in a van/bus  that had two seats on one side, and one on the other side of a narrow aisle.  Once those seats were filled, it was time to flip down the aisle seats, making room for three more people, at the same time creating a horrific fire hazard and certain traumatic injuries should an accident occur.  Oh, and no seatbelts either.  Of course.  While the transportation was questionable, compared to Ethiopia, there were far fewer cars on the road, and there was an order to things, with people obeying traffic laws.  And I must say, it really brought our team closer together and many good conversations were had as we bumped along the streets of Managua.

We arrived to tropical weather which was absolutely heavenly compared to the snow, ice, and biting winds of Chicago.  We  piled into the van/bus and headed to a fast food place called “Tip Top”, which is like McDonald’s, only they specialize in fried chicken.  And no, that doesn’t mean it was like KFC instead.  It’s what McDonald’s would look like should they serve fried chicken.  They have play areas and kids meals so you can understand why it was the pick for this trip, since we had kids with us.  It was most enthusiastically recommended by a 5th grader on our team who was desperate to go.  And here I thought I’d be losing some weight and the first thing we eat is fried chicken?  Oh well.

The room Craig and I stayed at in our Quinta.

After lunch, we went to our guest house to unload our luggage and freshen up from the plane.  It was then that we discovered the plumbing issue.  Something had lost connection or broken somehow and we were getting a mere trickle out of the sink faucet.  The next morning it wasn’t fixed yet, but I decided to do what I could to scrub off the travel yuck.  The pressure was hardly existent, and the water was cold.  Not ice cold, but cold enough to make you scrub small areas of your body at a time, out of the water trickle and then rinsing as fast as humanly possible.  I felt a bit like Buddy the Elf in the movie scene where he was still living in the North Pole.  He had to fill his hands with water and splash it over himself to get a thorough cleansing.  But while the shower was not ideal, it was a brisk awakening for the day and I didn’t mind overall.

I can deal with the shower situation, it was the toilet situation that was a bit more difficult.  Because the water wasn’t working properly, the toilets weren’t flushing properly either.  Apparently, not everyone got the message because once as I went in and lifted the cover, I stared back at a swamp of nastiness.  That’s when I play the “damsel in distress” card and alert the men to the issue and that they should do a “Nicaraguan flush”, which is pouring a gallon of water into the toilet to flush it down.  Now, mind you, if I HAD to do it, I would.  But why not give someone else the pleasure?  I just want to provide opportunities for others to grow, you know?

On Friday, we headed out to a community called Tipitapa.  It is an extremely poor community and they only just recently had a well dug and wires run for electricity.  One of those wires was taken down by our bus, as it was extremely tall.  But that’s not the most interesting story from Tipitapa.  As we bumped along the dirt road to get there, we passed a group of tin shacks that served as homes for another group of people.  As we passed, a young man began sprinting after us.  We thought that he was just goofing around, wanting to hitch a ride on the ladder on the back of the bus.  As he jumped aboard, we quickly noticed he was climbing the ladder….to the suitcases up top filled with donations.  As he climbed, we saw the GIANT knife in his hands.  It looked like he was ready to cut loose the ropes tying down the suitcases and make off with them.  We yelled to the driver that he was climbing up, and the driver stopped just as we heard “thump” up on top of the bus.  The driver jumped out and much yelling in Spanish happened, with the young man looking like he wasn’t ready to back down.  He had jumped down from the roof, but was certainly challenging the driver.  So the driver went back to his door, and then turned around again and because I was sitting on the left side of the bus at the window, I saw his gun.  He was pointing it down and to the side, but make no mistake, he made sure that young dude saw it, while he continued to yell at him.  Young dude backed down pretty quickly then.  I’m sure I was a sight to behold as I could barely scrape my jaw up off the floor.  I kept saying, “Did you see his gun?  He had a gun!  Oh my word, a gun!”.  Can you tell I grew up in the suburbs? 

Waiting for the scorpion to be captured. Notice how far away from the bus the ladies are! hahaha!

The last remarkable story from my Nicaraguan adventure (that I will share right now), happened as we were trying to get to the airport to fly home.  Monday morning we had stopped at Hogar de Fe (the orphanage) once more to say goodbye to the kids.  As we left to load up on the bus one last time and head to the airport, all heck broke loose.  I was one of the last people on, and I sat down in my seat.  All of a sudden, I heard screaming and I looked back and everyone was standing on their seats.  I had no idea what was happening, but you can bet that I jumped up on my seat as well!  I stood there screaming, “What’s happening?!?  What’s going on?!?”.  All it took was hearing one word for me to make a bee line for the door.  Scorpion.

One of the men had left his hat on the bus and as he picked it up when he was sitting down, he opened it and saw what he thought was a lizard.  “Oh!  A lizard!”, he said, and our team leader, Marcia, went to grab her camera to take a picture.  As he opened up the hat again, someone else got a better look and said, “That’s not a lizard!  Scorpion!!”.  Hat was dropped, no one saw where it went, and so we all ran off the bus.  The driver, his assistant, and a couple other brave souls began the search for the scorpion.  After 5-10 minutes, the little bugger was still eluding capture and we HAD to get to the airport or we would miss our flight.  So with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, we got back on board, many of us keeping our feet up off the floor.  Thankfully, we made it to the airport without incident.

There will be more stories from Nicaragua to come.  It was a fantastic trip that feels like the start of something wonderful.