After a three-week holiday break, MPI Nicaragua's Program Directors (PDs) have returned to the Manna house. Returning to a place that is at once foreign and familiar has been a surreal experience. By now, we are accustomed to dodging ox carts, potholes, and horses on the highway. Here, it is completely normal to be offered a duck for 20 córdobas ($1) while waiting at a red light. It is also accepted to ignore those lights when convenient.
Six months in, we know that no explanation is necessary when you don't feel a stoplight clown or windshield wash is deserving of a cookie or a few cents; a smile and a joke will do just fine. We know that no offense is meant by a public observation of weight gained or the shade of your skin, and that none is taken when the answer to a request is "no."
When your instinct is to feel you and your country are judged when you deny a dollar to someone who begs it, you may be called "pinche," or stingy, but follow with a high-five and a laugh and you will find it reciprocated. When a family appears intimidating, know that they would gladly welcome you into their home and offer you the national dish and drink of gallo pinto and pinolillo. If you are fortunate enough one day to find yourself in Nicaragua, save a bit a mental stress and trust in the frankness, the humor, the resilience, and the kindness of its people.