Back on the horse…

Not really sure why I am choosing this moment in time to start to write again but I am. I realized how much I missed writing and having a platform to be able to share my thoughts and stories. I believe it is both healthy for me and for the reader. Over the course of the next month, I hope to share with you all some of the most impactful stories from my 2.5 years in Nicaragua and then translate that experience to my current life, a grad student in Nashville, TN. How did I get from Granada to Nashville….who knows….but it happened and thus the journey continues.

A quick story. The last few weekends I have gone to different neighborhoods in Nashville to do recruiting for an after school tutoring program that is funded through the No Child Left Behind act. Basically, there is a lot of money out there for companies to help tutor kids who are on free or reduced lunch in order to prep them for the state´s exam. So I have been to a mainly Hispanic neighborhood, a low income projects (all Black), and a mixed low income apartment complex (primarily Black). The comparisons and contrasts between the neighborhoods (housing projects) are worth noting.

Hispanic – lots of houses with just the mother inside. Generally a broken car in the driveway. Certain mothers wanted to take to their husbands before signing up their kids. Did not ask that many questions about the tutoring but seemed a bit skeptical. I felt extremely comfortable in the environment….mainly Spanish spoken. Some men outside drinking.

Project – Set up as almost a campus, green spaces, townhouses. Lots of people outside on porches. Homes smelled of smoke, alcohol, drugs. Usually multi generational. Lots of screaming going on between adults and children. Felt very out of place and that people did not trust me due to race. Probably my own insecurity. Still felt pretty safe in complex. Lots of space between housing units.

Apartment Building – Felt more unsafe, more trash, more deterioration in the buildings, really steep staircases to get up to either 2nd or 3rd floors. Loud music outside….group of guys playing dice and betting. Lots of pimped out cars. Lot of people playing outside (it was a nice day). Felt more comfortable as I guess my first experience in the projects helped. Felt as if parents just wanted their kids to stay after school so they wouldnt have to deal with them….not sure if this is true, just a hunch.

Anyway, the cultural similarities and differences were interesting between the low income black community and the low income immigrant community. Also in many ways I felt like I was back in the barrio in Granada but the colors and language had just changed.

Recent Thoughts

While I was home visiting my family, I played basketball with my little brother only to lose to him for the first time EVER. In the midst of this loss, I also hurt my knee, dont know how it happened, but it began to hurt and has continued to hurt for the past two weeks.  And dont worry the knee is not an excuse for the loss, I had a chance to win with a three and just missed it. So in a bit of comic/not so funny relief, as I returned to Nicaragua, walking with pain, Granada’s taxi drivers decided to go on strike! So not only cannot I not walk well, I also cannot get around Granada as there are no taxis! There is a public circular bus that I have used but it does not go everywhere so in the end Ive bummed rides and walked really slow.

And now to make this whole situation even better, yesterday I fell into a 4 foot manhole on the street and bloodied up my shins nicely. Nicaragua is well known for just having uncovered holes in their sidewalks and finally after two years of living here, one got the best of me. This one actually had a top on it and I happened to step on the top, the top flipped up under my massive weight and i went straight down. Lots of blood, lots of bandaids, ugly bruising, but no breaks or serious injuries.

And the taxi strike continues here……

My best friends from UF are coming to visit me! 3 day trip down to Nicaland in May….I am super excited!  So time’s running out people, book your tickets now.

I am trying to decide about my post Peace Corps plans and right now everything is an option. I think I am stressing out over this all and have enjoyed not having to think about this for two years. I am definitely staying in Nicaragua until mid August and after that well the world is my oyster (I think thats the expression). I actually really like my lifestyle here but I am ready for my next challenge whether it be a new language, a new place, or a new business.

It is hot down here. The affordable a/c could do for the third world what it did for Florida. Hey…maybe I should invent this.

Just had my COS (Close of Service) Conference at the beach. Got to spend three days with my entire group while we discussed future plans and hung out on the beach. I was really lucky to meet some great people here and will definitely miss them.

Running of the Jews

I got back to Nicaragua after visiting my family for Passover and after a tiring 4 hour sleep, I got up to go visit my Nica family in Masatepe for the annual Good Friday “Running of the Jews”. Note…there is no proper translation in Spanish. My family had already told me about this event and I wasnt sure what to expect. I thought I would see something similar to what I saw in Antigua, Guatemala with a parade, people dressed up as Romans and Jews, and reading the decree of Jesus getting sent to the cross. It turns out that the event was done Nica style completely. As you will see by the photos, the Jews, Los Judios, looked nothing like real Jews. I was expecting big noses, curly hair, stunning good looks, and maybe a few kippahs. At the minimum, I was expecting cloth robes, Roman style hats, and Jewish stars. However, as you will see the Jews frankly just dressed up in women’s clothing, tshirts, and paper mache hats. There was also no reading of a decree just groups of 20 guys or so chaining either Judas or Jesus up and then running down the street at full speed while dragging the person in the middle of the group. I even saw guys running with their little babies! It was a bit chaotic but no one seemed to get too too hurt and the locals enjoyed the show. I hope you also enjoy the photos by clicking below.

Running of the Jews

Extending Peace Corps?

I officially have six months left of my Peace Corps service. I have enjoyed almost every minute of it and have grown a lot as a person during these past two and a half years in Central America. I owe much of that development to the people of Guatemala and Nicaragua. I now have a better understanding of poverty, Latin culture, power politics, and international development. I am bilingual (most of the time), have bona-fide teaching experience, and have acquired many transferable skills that will surely help my future professional and personal life.

Truth be told, I really, really enjoy my current lifestyle and job. It isn’t too stressful. I get to help other people and have a highly reputable organization backing me up. I spend lots of time with young people, have a flexible work schedule, and have free health care. I have a cute little house, good friends, and live in a cool city. I get to go baseball games, have a daily basketball game I can join, and live around the corner from the best fritanga (serve bbq chicken and cabbage salad over fried plaintain chips all wrapped in a banana leaf) in the country. So why wouldn’t I just stay with Peace Corps for another year or so. What is wrong with my life?

I was speaking with some of my Nicaraguan colleagues the other day and they mentioned to me that I only had six months left. What was I going to do afterwards? I let them know that I really was not sure right now and was considering various options. They then asked me why I did not want to stay. I thought it about it for a second, then a few seconds more (thinking of all the reasons above), and finally came up with the most honest answer I could give them. The money.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that the principal reason for not wanting to extend my contract is the dollars. I also need a break for the constant skin rashes, heat, and insects, but I could deal with that. So to quote the late great Big Pun, “It’s all about the cordobas, baby.” Or something like that. I believe that if Peace Corps were to give me a raise then I would definitely consider staying for another year. How much of a raise? It would need to be in the hundred dollar range. I think that’s reasonable.

I have now been making 250 large ones for the past 20 months and during the previous six months made no money and spent a lot. Truthfully, I have not saved one penny since I moved to Washington, DC three and a half years ago. And I love saving money! And even though this subsistence living has taught me a lot, I am pretty much over it. I am tired of spending more money than I make. It sucks not being able to take my girlfriend out to a nice dinner and to constantly be having to worry about how much money we are spending. It is a bit embarrassing that whenever I have visitors, they have to pay for my portion of their trip as well due to the fact that I just don’t have the money. My parents have to buy my plane tickets home to visit them and recently had to buy me new shoes. I haven’t bought new clothing in over two years, and I try to wear clothing twice just so I limit how much money I spend on laundry. I scrape around for free food like a college student inviting myself over to friends’ houses. The list could go on and on.

To be fair, I still live a great life. I drink beer and rum often and enjoy one or two meals out per week. I travel around Nicaragua (cheaply but still) and have sweet set of wheels (it’s a black bicycle). I have cable tv, a laptop, digital camera, lots of clothes that I saved from college. I always have food, have a great network of people in Granada to help me out whenever, and stay entertained. I also have parents who continue to support me when it is absolutely necessary.

Still, that’s the point. It sucks that you almost have to spend more money in Peace Corps than you make. The only way to avoid running a budget deficit in Peace Corps is almost never leaving your site, going out very infrequently, and cooking all of your own meals. It definitely is doable, and you can still have a fun life, but it is very difficult. You can forget about a trip home to visit your family; the airplane ticket is far too expensive. You can forget about going out to that cool disco (with a five-ten dollar cover) and sharing a nice meal out with your friends. You say that your clothes are fading and ripping. That sucks, better go to the local bargain bin. If you want to go to the beach, you better stay in the cheapest, dirtiest hostel and buy all your food in the market.

I would bet that if you surveyed all PCVs at the end of their service and asked them if they spent their own savings, 90 percent would say that they did. The normal amount would probably range between $500 and $1000. At least that’s the case in Nicaragua. Maybe other countries are different and it is easier to get by with the salary Peace Corps gives. True, we get a decent amount of money upon completing our 2 years ($6000 pre-tax) but a lot of that will go toward moving expenses and starting the next phase of our lives.

In the end, I feel like a spoiled brat for writing all of this but the point that I was trying to make is that is difficult to stay in Peace Corps for longer than 27 months if you like to visit your family, have a girlfriend, and use the internet frequently.

And I am not pining for a raise at all. I think that as PCVs that do pay us the right amount. They want us to live a very humble lifestyle and really be able to connect with our co-workers, neighbors, and local communities. They want us to have to worry about money, not be able to go out a lot, and not be able to travel often. The idea is that it keeps us in our site, working, and building relationships with our communities. And it works! If we were to get more money, Peace Corps would just become another international development agency where their people come down to help poverty while living in big houses, eating at fancy restaurants, traveling in cars, and experiencing a different world from those they are trying to help. Initially, I even told all of my friends that they should lower our salaries (this was before a girlfriend and visitors) and I still somewhat stand by that statement.

Does this all make sense? Should they give us raises to encourage us to extend our service or does that defeat the purpose of Peace Corps? Should they buy us one ticket home to visit our families during service? What do you think?

Mission Accomplished

What exactly is the ultimate goal of Peace Corps? Is the gran meta (as they say it español) world peace as the name Peace Corps implies? Is it improving relationships between the people of the United States and other countries? Is it actually to help others to meet their own personal and societal goals? Or I am just a pawn of the US government teaching people to become more comfortable with the Western/American way of life so it becomes easier to create a global empire?

Idealistically, it would be to bring world peace. Cynically, it would be the creation of the global empire. So let’s be realistic and decide that it is both to engage in intercultural exchange and work with host country nationals to help them meet their own goals. After all, those goals are in fact Peace Corps stated goals. I promise, you can even look it up.

However you look it, during my almost two years here, I have engaged in efforts (consciously and unconsciously) to work to meet all those possible goals. I have naively and passionately discussed how we can bring about world peace and believe I am doing my small part right now. I surely have created many meaningful relationships with Nicaraguans, shared my culture, and learned much about theirs. Through my work, I have tried to help the Ministry of Education implement entrepreneurship training courses and worked with various other business owners and organizations to help their meet their respective goals. And I have also done my part to help spread the seed of capitalism (semi-consciously) through my business ideas and advising, preaching higher profits and free trade; and surely I have forced others to become more comfortable with the Western way of life.

Of course, I am proud to have established what will be life long relationships with certain Nicaraguans but with my attractive (and humble) personality that was expected. I find myself most proud of being able to work together with Nicaraguans to meet their own goals. To do it not individually, but part of a dedicated group of volunteers and project that has been working in Nicaragua for decades, makes it feel even better.

Less than one month ago (in the first weeks of January) the 7-8 years of work that Peace Corps Nicaragua’s Small Business Development Project has been doing in the school system came to fruition when the Ministry of Education officially implemented “La Empresa Creativa” into the national curriculum. Bravo! Bravo! Eight years ago, MINED gave the go ahead for Peace Corps Small Business Volunteers to train and work with Nicaraguan teachers in providing entrepreneurial education to high school students through a course called La Empresa Creativa. It proved to be a successful experiment as the project has grown and developed year by year, volunteer by volunteer, culminating in this decision by MINED to add it to the national curriculum for this school year.

La Empresa Creativa is officially DEAD. Muerto. It is now part of the area Orientacion Tecnica y Vocacional (Technical and Vocational Orientation) and a course called Emprendedurismo (Entrepreneurship) will be given during the second semester of 4th year (juniors) and the entire 5th year (senior year). A few of my colleagues and friends worked with MINED and a Spanish organization during the past six months to design the curriculum and further adapt La Empresa Creative to work on a national scale with MINED’s guidelines. Now in my hands, I have the official course book for Entrepreneurship. Pretty cool, eh?

As Peace Corps Volunteers, we are still continuing our work with the Nicaraguan teachers and I imagine we will be for the next few years as we help to train all the teachers with no experience in teaching the subject. Yet, a huge shift has taken place. This is no longer a Peace Corps project. It is an official, nationwide course that has the full backing of MINED. Every single student will receive the course, and every school must assign a teacher to plan and implement this course. We are now purely in a support role and will probably faze ourselves out over the next few years.

Pretty awesome if you ask me, and an ideal example of a successful Peace Corps development project. MINED, the participating Nicaraguan teachers, PC Volunteers, and staff (mainly Georgia, my boss who has been with this project from day one) all deserve huge kudos. This is how it’s supposed to work folks.

Happy New Year 2010…one month late

Over one month has passed since I have last written or posted anything to this blog. 2009, one of the more interesting years in my short life, has left us making way for a new decade. 2010 surely has already made its mark, effectively destroying the most impoverished country on this side of the hemisphere. It has been great to see the world’s governments and organizations come together to help Haiti recover; it is obviously needed. My only question is why does it always take a true life or death crisis to bring communal, dedicated efforts to alleviate horrible situations? Imagine what we could do as a world if we put forth the same effort and money to actually provide food, shelter, health, and education to those who desperately need it on a daily basis. It seems that the rich countries and organizations seem to only be willing to give a full effort when death is literally staring them in the face. Imminent death, as in the case after the earthquake, provokes action, but slow death through hunger, disease, and inhumane living conditions, provokes animated speeches and false promises.

On that note, happy New Year 2010 to everyone. I hope that your resolutions are still intact and that the gym membership recently purchases is still being used. I, for one, made zero resolutions for this upcoming year. I am not sure why…I just didn’t. Sin resolutions, I still feel extremely positive about this year for my personal life, however not so great about our world, my own country, or my now adopted country of Nicaragua.

In my life, this year should be sunny. Six more months of Peace Corps to spend helping out Granada, spending time with quality people, and enjoying all that Nicaragua has to offer. Soon thereafter (and after receiving my readjustment check from Peace Corps), I should be able to spend time with my family and friends, and travel a bit down here in America Latina. And most importantly, I will get to start a new chapter in the book of my life. Will it be titled, “Entrepreneurial Beginnings”, “Back at Home with Mom and Dad”, “Sleepless Nights in NYC”, or “50 countries-One Year?”

The prospects for the USA and Nicaragua seem more gloomy. On American soil, it seems that Mr. Change President is having a hard time of accomplishing his goals and in the end may not be able to accomplish anything more that getting back to the status quo, which I am sorry my fellow Americans, was not that great. The more time I spend away from the US, the more I realize that lots of other countries are developing rapidly, both socially and economically, while we are developing at an ever slower pace. Mexico City, just passed gay marriage laws. Many places are decriminalizing marijuana. Even more regions are learning how to be environmentally friendly and successful at the same time. Yet, we remained a vastly conservative country, where we cannot even establish a universal health care system, trying to hold onto our place as a superpower instead of leading the world into a new era. I really hope that we are able to actually take this lead or I fear we will end up a shriveled old man talking about the glory days.

However, not all is bad in the US, much is still great and prospering. I cannot say the same for Nicaragua. We seem to be moving backwards down here. A corrupt government seems to moving towards a dictatorship again, there are still no jobs to be found, and society is static. Of course, daily life continues as normal but I do fear for the future and hope that the people will demand a change in how their government treats them.

Now for a deep breath….whew. I was not expecting that introduction above when I began writing but my fingers just could not control themselves. I meant to just update you a little bit on life down here and then add some other posts talking discussing some awesome happenings.

So when I last left you, I was sitting at an Einstein’s Bagel in a mall in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. After that I spent a wonderful weekend, seeing one of my best friends get happily married, and then going to a Jaguars game which unfortunately did not turn out as well as the wedding. I was able to spend a couple days with the parents after that, and then made my way back to the Nicaraguan heat and to do little work and have lots of vacation time.

December in Nicaragua is a great month. All salaried workers get double salary, people busily prepare for the holiday season, and work slows down to a stop. As a teacher down here, there is no class at all, and my other work as a Peace Corps Volunteer was also limited. I hung out with some friends, went to the beach, and had a sleepover with my host sister here in Granada. Fatima had rarely spent a night away from home and her mom trusted me enough to host for a night in Granada. We did a walking tour of the city, ate hummus, falafel, and pita, and went to the Purisima processions in the city. She had a great time and we are hoping to do it again sometime soon.

I then got the wonderful opportunity to take care of my friends’ house for two weeks. Jonathan and Tamara are here living with their two sons for the year to get away from Seattle, enjoy Nicaragua’s beauty, contribute to Granada’s community in many ways, and provide me with a free meal once or twice a week. We have developed a solid friendship over the past 5-6 months and they have truly been invaluable to both my personal and professional life here. So I was asked to take care of their 3 bedroom house with a/c, internet, and a pool. I had to think about it for a few days but then reluctantly let them know that I could make the time. After a couple nights in the house, Christmas Eve was upon us.

I was invited to spend Xmas with my girlfriend’s family in Managua. My third consecutive Xmas spent in Central America. I have never celebrated Christmas in the US so cannot really compare the two but I do enjoy celebrating it down here. People visit their families, there is an incredible firework display at midnight on the 24th (literally everyone shoots off fireworks lighting up the sky for a good 30 minutes, seriously you have to see it one year), and the food and liquor are a plenty. Regina’s family was less devoted to the religious aspects of the holiday than to the food and liquor which suited me just fine.

With both a food and drink hangover, I headed back to Granada to my luxurious house and prepared for the arrival of two of my best friends’ from the US. I met Michael in kindergarten and Jacob in first grade, and we have remained best friends since. Our parents are friends, we always see each other even when living far away, and plain and simple they are my boys. And finally, they made it down to visit me in Nicaragua. They were really just looking forward to spending time on the beach in nice weather so we took it easy. We did a cigar tour and rolled our own cigars, had a NYE party, went to Laguna de Apoyo and the isletas, and then headed down to San Juan del Sur. We spent 3 nights on the beach (2 nights in the exact same house where I was with my family a year prior), partied a bit, got tan (I promise I did a little bit), and then Michael, Ashley (another friend visiting), Regi, and I learned how to surf our last day there.

We went to Playa Maderas, an absolutely stunning beach (not bad for surfing either), boards in tow, and battled the waves. I think they were like only like 2-3 feet but good for us beginners. I got up on my first try and then realized it really wasn’t that hard to stand on the board. I guess all my athletic abilities didn’t hurt. But we were just riding the waves after they had broken in the shallow water. As soon as we moved out to the deep water, it became way more difficult. We learned how to paddle and how to identify a wave, and in the end I did catch one wave, staying on it for approximately 10 seconds before falling down. It was a lot of fun, and with a few more days of practice, I think I will be ready for my first competition….NOT.

Michael was still here for a few more days so we hung out in Granada, checked out the Masaya market, and went zip lining on Volcan Mombacho. I think my friends left very satisfied with their Nicaraguan vacation. So six more months people. Make your plans. Come visit me, I promise you will love it! Guaranteed.

Throughout the rest of January, I hosted lots of different couch surfers from the US, Colombia, Poland, France, and Russia. It is always great to meet all of these people and share conversations and ideas with them. I get to learn about lots of other countries and societies without having to travel and at the same time am able to been an ambassador for Nicaragua sharing my thoughts and experiences. Most of the travelers are doing short term trips or trips throughout Latin America but one of the guys was doing a 2 year bicycle trip around the world. I shared with him that I could never do that on a bicycle and we he told me that the bicycle company was sponsoring part of his trip, I quickly reconsidered….haha.

That pretty much brings us up to date. In the midst of all the fun I just described, I did actually work but I am saving that for its own post. It deserves it as you will see. And just this week the schools opened again meaning back to a busy work schedule.

Holidays Savings!

It is Christmas season and I am sitting in the middle of capitalism hell. That’s right folks… I am in the United States of America, state of Florida, city of Ft. Lauderdale, and sitting down in a mall food court surrounded by the heavenly stores of Super Target, TJ Maxx, and Old Navy. Most that know me agree that I am very tight with my purse strings, mainly because my purse is quite small, but at this very moment even I am having trouble keeping my credit card in my wallet. Everywhere I look there are cool things to buy, new shirts, new shoes, gadgets, Christmas/Hanukah gifts, pizza, Chinese food, the list goes on and on. And all at very reasonable prices. It is amazing how anyone in this country keeps a savings account.

In my opinion (obviously you know it’s my opinion but still I decided to open with that line), what I am seeing and feeling right now is the ugly face of capitalism. Surrounding me are many consumer products, that although are cool and fashionable, are totally and completely unnecessary. Within the three square miles surrounding me there must be more aggregated wealth than in the entire country of Nicaragua. I am right next to Ft. Lauderdale Beach where hundreds of millions of dollars are spent daily by tourists, old people, and the wealthy locals. Could this money be put to better use?

Last night while hanging out with my friend Joey at a swanky wine bar, I witnessed the luxury than so many people have to just spend hundreds of dollars on wine. Then driving in his car, we passed by million dollar mansions, high rise condos, 100 foot yachts, and more boutiques and cafes than I can count on the legs of a centipede. This is upscale America.

Then Joey and I started talking. Joey was in my Peace Corps group and unfortunately had to leave early for medical reasons. He is now temporarily working at a fancy steakhouse on Ft. Lauderdale Beach and tells me that clients regularly buy 500 dollar bottles of wine and routinely spend 150 dollars per person on dinner. This is shocking to both of us and although he receives great tips, he also finds it incredible how much money is spent on food (hopefully great food). I admit that I have spent 60 dollars on a dinner one time in my life but that’s about my limit….150 dollars no sir. And when you really think about it, no steak can ever be worth THAT much.

The conversation moves to money and happiness and the world distribution of wealth. This may not be a common topic around your dinner table, but around the Peace Corps table, it is like talking about your day at work.

Is capitalism at fault for our problems? Are rich people greedy and selfish? Are wealthy people happier than poverty-stricken ones? Are we all in control of our own wealth?

Those of us that are less knowledgeable or more spontaneous will answer yes or no but that would be irresponsible. The more responsible answer would fall somewhere in the many shades of grey. Yes, there are many rich people who are greedy and selfish but there are also many who are extremely generous with their wealth and distribute it amongst all layers of society. Yes, there are rich people who are very happy but there are others who are just sad corpses held together by the weight of their billfolds. The same applies to those of us with less money; some are happy, others miserable, some generous, and many selfish.

So Joey and I continue talking and we come to an agreement on what is wrong with capitalism, consumerism, and wealth in the United States. We believe that it has caused us all to have a warped sense of the good life TM (I already trademarked this term, don’t try stealing it). Allow me to explain.

We look at a 10 million dollar yacht and think, “Wow.” We look at a big mansion in the middle of a beautiful landscape and say, “I want that.” We see the Lamborghini pass by us and wonder how awesome that life must be. We mistakenly believe that if we had that much money and had those cool toys that we, too, would be living the good life. But what is the good life? The good life in the United States generally means having a lot of money, a big house, cool toys, time to travel, and that we will be happy and fulfilled. But really all that most people want is to be HAPPY AND FULFILLED and they think that more money will allow that to happen more easily.

Yet we all know from thousands of studies, and hundreds of self-help books that equating money with happiness is wrong. We know that yes, you do need a certain amount of money to increase your happiness….say the minimum amount to feed, clothe, and support yourself and your family and to maybe take a family vacation once a year. I remember reading that the figure is something like $50,000 per couple in the USA. However, after that quantity, your happiness only oh-so-slightly increases as you obtain more money until it does not increase at all. Or better said, there are many, many other things that will make you happier (such as family, friends, outdoors) than money once your basic needs are met.

Using this research, Nicaraguans are screwed as many do not even have their basic needs met. On the other hand, Americans are equally screwed because we have more money than we need and still aren’t that happy or fulfilled as a nation. We have a warped sense of the good life TM.

I can also safely tell you that many Nicaraguans also have a warped sense of the good life in that they also believe that money alone will make them happier. Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans (and millions worldwide) leave their families, their children, their parents, and their homes in order to immigrate each year and try to achieve the good life. Yet, so many of these same people, regardless of whether they return home, come to realize that the warped version of the good life isn’t so good. They come to realize that most people work really hard for their money, and that maybe their life of sitting on the porch with their family poor but well fed was a better life after all.

So how do we bend back this warped sense of the good life? I think many people have already figured it out to a certain extent but most still cannot truly accept the fact that money is just not that important. Most of us know that we should spend time with our families, surround ourselves with good friends, enjoy all the beauty the earth has to offer, explore new things, and do what in your heart you know what will make you happy. But at the same time, we just get trapped in the consumerism culture and think that buying things and having things will somehow fulfill us. And if we continue to acquire newer and better goods, then we will continue to be fulfilled. 

We really just need to learn how to appreciate what we already have and get rid of our lust for more. Rich or poor, appreciate what you do have and that your basic needs are met. Once the basics are met, the rest is just gravy. And for those of us, who have been fortunate enough to receive a good education, count your blessings every night. No one can ever take that away from you. And I think that if at the beginning and end of every day you are able to remember what is really important in life (hint…its not money!) than you also will be happy and fulfilled.

Authors Note: Sorry if that just sounded preachy or corny…it is what it is.

I also want to quickly address the huge issue of distribution of wealth. I repeat. Within three miles of where I am sitting right now there is more aggregated wealth than in the entire country of Nicaragua. And in the entire world (probably just the US) there is way more than enough money to ensure that everyone has their basic needs met, food, clothes, shelter, education. Do I advocate redistributing this wealth and sending half of it down to Nicaragua? Well… yes and no. 

While it is true that Nicaraguans do not have enough money to meet their basic needs, the answer is not just to give them money. The answer is never to just give money. The real answer would be to take half of the money here in Ft. Lauderdale, send it down to Nicaragua, and design an education system that teaches every child from age 4 and up, how to serve society and your family as a worker, friend, and human being. The answer is to use that money to pay for all of these kids to receive an education and ensure that they know how to develop jobs and work for future generations. Oh, and make sure the money actually gets to those who will utilize it wisely instead of those who will steal and abuse it.

Basically, what I just described is the conundrum in which international development and aid finds itself. Who is smart enough to find a solution? Could it be you or me, or has the solution already been found? I think we all should take more responsibility in being part of this solution.

As Linda Richman once famously said, “Rhode Island is neither a road nor is it an island. Discuss.”