Jenny Shen’s perspective:
Sometimes the most significant source of growth arises from unfavorable conditions. As co-Student Leader of the Day, I found myself grappling with internal conflicts, group responsibility, and human existence. There’s a common saying in the States about not being fit to judge a person until one has walked a mile in that person’s shoes. Well, for Working Like a Local Day, I learned I couldn’t assume a cause and effect relationship between hard work and earned profit until I stood in a sweaty, dimly lit corner for one hour, trying to sell goods.
The day began for the student leaders—Andy and I—at 5:00 AM. Tangerine streaks brushed across the sky and as poetic as the crack of dawn can seem, it felt way too early. Nonetheless, we needed to do what we needed to do and at 6:00 AM, we woke up the group. By breakfast time, we were met with groggy, scrunched faces and slightly irritated teenagers…resulting in just the right combination of angst to kick start the rest of the day. After breakfast, we walked towards the Central Market, or Estaciòn, where we faced narrow streets and precarious crossings. To combat the bustling streets, Andy and I each focused on half of the group and took caution to ensure that everyone would cross safely in the face of motorcycles and cars that suddenly obstructed our way. Once at the market, groups of two or three people that were randomly decided in the morning went to an assigned vendor where they would attempt to sell goods and experience the life of a local. There was a twist though: the groups would compete against each other to see which group earned the most.
For me, I was paired with Eric and we helped a woman named Dora sell rice, beans, eggs, bread, and sugar at an intersection within the market. Luckily, despite being inept at Spanish, I knew enough to ask Dora how to pronounce certain items such as eggs in addition to the pricings of the items. Eric and I’s lack of fluency proved difficult though when we had to encourage complete strangers to check out the stand. Here are the tactics we employed:
- Greeting people by saying, “Hola amigo/amiga, coma estas?” which translates to, “Hello friend, how are you?” It’s treating people with care that turns more heads.
- Waving people over (without seeming creepy). This was mostly Eric’s doing, but by seeming like he had something important to show, people were inclined to come over to hear what he had to offer.
- Speaking Mandarin. Mama Juju, AKA our GG coordinator Judith, told us that a student from the last delegation who worked with Dora experienced success by speaking Chinese. Yet when I tossed out some “Ni hao-s” (Hellos) and “guo lai, ze hen hao” (come here, this is really good), people turned away with strange smiles. The message seemed clear after a few awkward and embarrassing attempts at drawing people in with another language: people crave connection and if they couldn’t understand me, it would be difficult to connect.
- Smiling. Looking like we were ecstatic to be mopping away sweat from our brows in the midst of shoving people also contributed to people noticing us, besides looking like we clearly did not belong there. There’s nothing quite like positive, infectious energy.
In the end, people were most attracted to the vibes Eric and I gave off. To be fair though, I’m sure Dora had already built a well-respected reputation because many people purchased items that Eric and I were not advertising and it was humbling to see Dora add in more grains of rice despite the exact amount displayed by the scale. Even though she needed to support her own family, Dora still provided more to her customers than physical materials—she also provided compassion. And that competition the whole delegation participated in? Eric and I happened to win but spending a little more than an hour with Dora felt better than the ice cream we received as our reward.
Though we continued with our normal activities afterwards—meals, English tutoring, and the Nightly Meeting—I can’t stop thinking about that little stand. Can’t stop thinking about Dora’s small smile and nod whenever I turned around or the way she patiently sat without clucking her tongue or scowling. Waking up early each day just to work and hope to sell as many goods as possible, from six to five, isn’t exactly the most riveting job. However, if there is one thing Dora emphasized indirectly to me, it’s that in the end, even after working so hard, the profits earned do not necessarily equate to success or more specifically, to happiness. Our circumstances do not define us nor are they concrete but it is by being mindful and modest in our duties that negates any complaints about how hard work absolutely should result in greater profit, because that places too great of an importance on money in correlation to success.
I am so glad I am growing and learning with everyone in this group. Thanks Mum, Dad, and Joe for the support throughout this trip!
I never imagined that being a leader of 20 of my peers could be so difficult. Before today I had scoffed at the other leaders for being so stressed out and worried throughout the day. But after I was able to experience being leader myself I have to say, I am so sorry to everyone that I disobeyed. But moving on, today we experienced what it was like to work as a local of Leon, Nicaragua.
We started the day off by waking up quite a bit earlier than usual, around 5:00 A.M. The sunrise in Nicaragua is gorgeous, glowing orange and purple in the distant horizon. I was too tired, however, to appreciate its beauty at that moment. Jenny (my co-leader) and I went up onto the balcony in order to prepare for the long day ahead. We tried to multi-task as we simultaneously brushed our teeth and got ready for the wake-up call.
At 6:00 A.M. it was time to wake everyone up from their beauty sleep and officially start the day. As everyone sluggishly congregated into the common area, Jenny and I passed out slips of papers we had prepared whilst on the balcony. There were 22 slips of paper, with each slip having a number between 1 and 11 written on it. Numbers were only duplicated twice. When everyone had received a number, we grouped people up with the person they shared a number with. Each pair would be sent to a different local vendor within the market we were going to work at. However this was not going to be just a few hours of relaxed teenagers trying to get away with doing as little manual labor as possible. In order to spice things up, the Global Glimpse coordinators decided to create a little competition between groups by saying that the people who sold the most goods and made the most money would receive prizes.
Next it was off to Quiero Mas, just like every other day, for breakfast. As we were not used to waking up this early, several people were quite grouchy and irritated. Many of my peers believed it would be funny to try to annoy me as well as make my duties more difficult by not paying attention and back talking whenever I had an important announcement to make. As I was just as tired as everyone else and charged with the responsibility of everyone’s safety, I was quite displeased. But I made due with the situation and we moved on to the Central Market, which also goes by the Estaciòn, as it used to be a train station.
The market reminded me almost exactly of the underground markets of China. It was dark, poorly ventilated, and smelled of sour odors that… took time to adjust to. Unfortunately not all the vendors who had agreed to take Global Glimpse students under their wing had arrived, so many of us had to stand breathing in the hot, sour air as we tried to avoid bumping into the many merchants and customers weaving through the narrow walkways. I had been paired with my friend Cordelia, but of course I was sent off to a new vendor who had just arrived. The vendor was only able to take one helper due to the lack of space she had in her stand. So there I was, sent to work with a young girl and her mother who spoke little to no English – well, I spoke about the same amount of Spanish. One of the hardest things about visiting Leon is the enormous language barrier between most of us and the people here. Through my subpar Spanish I was able to converse with the girl, who introduced herself as Hazel, and learn that she was still attending high school. She goes to work in the market with her mother in the morning and went to school in the afternoon. Seeing her work so hard and still smile so often really made me appreciate my own school and the comparatively easy life I have back in the U.S. Sadly, after only maybe 30 minutes of helping Hazel shelve rice, sugar, and other common food stuffs onto the handmade wooden shelves that displayed the goods, Hazel had to leave and I was sent to work with another group.
At last I wasn’t alone, and better yet, I was paired with Stelly, who spoke perfect Spanish. She even spoke with the rolling r’s that only native speakers have when they speak. Although the amount of work we had to do at first was small—carrying bags of rice for people, putting purchased snacks in plastic bags, etc—when business picked up, the workload did as well. This stand was larger than the one I worked at with Hazel, and therefore had enough people to attract and sell the goods (snacks) to customers. Because of this, Stelly and I were unneeded and were sent to the back to hang up bags of snacks onto several rows of metal racks. This was much harder than it seems. The snacks were contained in bags that were connected to each other. Most of the time 7 bags were connected to each other with a small cardboard piece at the top of the first bag. Our responsibility was to punch holes into this cardboard piece and hang the bags onto the racks based on what kind of snack they were. All the snacks were some form of chips, much like the ones back home in the U.S. But instead of Lay’s and Doritos, we were hanging up chips by the names of Centavitos, Elotitos, Churritos (these were essentially Nicaraguan Cheetoes), etc.
After 2 more hours of hard, sweaty, and excruciating hot work, our Working Like A Local activity was over and we said Adios to the hardworking vendors who had taken us in. It was time to return to our hostel and discuss what we had just done. Many people, including myself, gained a new found appreciation for those that work hard at low paying jobs to support their families. The amount of time and energy put in shouldn’t equate to such low wages. We came to the conclusion that it wasn’t fair, but it’s how the world is. Many people said they would try to make a difference, no matter how small, but avoiding large corporations and buying goods from local businesses. In doing this they know they will be supporting someone’s livelihood rather than fluffing up someone’s paycheck.
After that we continued with our regular activities, including English tutoring, my favorite part of the day. Today’s English tutoring session was especially special because I had a very interesting conversation with one of my students, Javier, on corporations. Javier is a 23 year old Nicaraguan male who has surprisingly good English for someone who started learning English in January of this year. We talked about Yazaki, a Japanese automobile parts company that he said was paying workers ridiculously low wages to make their machinery. According to him, Yazaki employees were making a mere 800 cordobas a week, which is roughly 30 U.S. dollars, under horrible working conditions. These workers have only 30 dollars to pay for rent, food, water, and other daily necessities, as well as tend to the needs of their families. It really got me thinking about just how privileged I am. I have always considered my life stressful and full of hardships. How can I keep up in school, are my grades good enough to get into this college, when should I learn how to drive, as well as other “first world problems.” But here in Leon, there are people who just can’t afford to go to college. There are people that aren’t worried about learning how to drive but about if they can feed their families tonight. There are people struggling to survive.
After English tutoring was the Nightly Meeting, and now as I am writing this blog entry, I realize that today I was exposed to the real world. The world is harsh, and sometimes it just isn’t fair. But I learned a lot from today, and I think I will take many things home with me. I learned that to be a better leader, I would have to be able to tell people to stop joking around even when I don’t want to. I learned just how lucky and privileged I am to even be able to worry about the small trivial things I worry about. Any excuses I come up with for not working hard and using the opportunities I have to the fullest are now inexcusable. Any complaints about anything being too hard are now invalid. From now on I will try to live my life with persistence, reinforced effort, and undaunted respect for the hard workers.
I am so glad that I was able to go on this trip and experience the things I’ve seen in Nicaragua. I can honestly say that this place has changed me and I hope that it is for the better. When I return home I hope to be humbler, more caring, and have a broader, even global perspective on how the world truly is.
“Hard work spotlights the characteristics of people”. – Sam Ewing