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I’m back in Nicaragua, on an 11-day Goizueta Business School mid-semester module trip. MSM’s are where a group of a dozen or two late-20-something b-school students travel to foreign countries like Turkey, Japan, or Atlanta to ostensibly study some specific aspect of business while really being a giant tourist. True story: One of the local Atlanta modules at GBS itself is actually named “Communication Skills for High Potentials.” I think if I were a “high potential,” I would “communicate” it by not letting anyone know I had enrolled in “Communication Skills for High Potentials.”

This particular trip to Nicaragua is all about social enterprise. We are working with three organizations here involved in various forms of do-goodery – a community development organization, an education foundation, and a sustainably operated coffee farm with an eco-lodge. I’m in changemaker heaven.

Yesterday we painted a school – a really rewarding experience, but I can’t help but feel like a stereotype even speaking about it. By which I mean that “painting a school” feels like it’s up there on the list of can’t-fail first-date stories with “building homes for refugees” and “teaching English lessons to cute, non-American children” – two other experiences I happen to have. What items on this notional list have I yet to complete, you ask?

- Painstakingly caring for Chilean fishery eggs to help repopulate the South Pacific waters’ decimated sea bass population

- Building a Roman-style aquaduct to bring water to a rural Indian village

- Fomenting a feminist revolution in Guatemala (with a battle cry of: “No Machismo, Si Feminismo!”)

To be clear, I am only making fun of the culture of how feel-good accomplishments can too-easily alchemize into transcendental essay answers to prompts like, “Tell us about a cross-cultural experience and how it has changed you.” 3 hours of volunteering and 6 hours crafting the essay into a tight 500 words. We can do better.

So it is in this meta-aware context that I am spending my time here in Nicaragua. It’s too easy for a tourist group to swoop in, learn a few choice words of Spanish, and get the first-date story without, say, trying to better understand (1) the structural causes of poverty, (2) the decades of unfulfilled government promises, or (3) the mixed story that is international aid. Perhaps *I* can do better. Keep an eye on this space for updates on this one.

And to close, a funny little story. We’re driving to Masaya Volcano National Park. (In Spanish, this is Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya – each word happens to be in reverse order from the English.) Our minibus stops at a Texaco. Steven takes out his Life Is Good Frisbee, and a few of us toss it around in the Texaco parking lot, eliciting not a few curious stares from the gas station attendants and truckers stopping through.

After a bit, one of my errant Frisbee throws ends up on the roof of the free-standing bathroom building. Like a cat climbing a tree, I immediately scampered up the adjacent fence to get it, and my click-happy travel-mates took a few pictures of me standing awkwardly on the roof of a Texaco bathroom in Nicaragua wondering what the heck I was doing up there. It was pretty funny.

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4 COMMENTS
Jean Paddock
February 28, 2010
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I love hearing a perspective rarely stated.

Aunt Susan
February 28, 2010
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So, Drew, up there on the top of the bathroom (men’s room or women’s?) you look a little like your father and a little like mine, doing mischief. We used to say remember the Alamo; now we say remember the Avatar. Maybe Nicaraugauans can explain to you why they conduct business the way they do; make sure you listen before you try to change it. Nevertheless,I think you, and they, are safe for 11 days of do goodery. Remember to rest on the 12th. Love, Susan

Cousin Daniel
February 28, 2010
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Words well put! Welcome back to the blogosphere, it’s been too quiet too long and well…damn it…you’ve got something to say!
Now get down from there before you break something!

Laura J
March 1, 2010
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Glad to see you’re maintaining a realistic and humble perspective on development work. I hope you’re getting ample opportunity to meet the local folks who can teach you about those important points you raise.

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