Posted Online: March 15, 2011, 2:44 pm

Trip to Central American changes outlook on life

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By Greg Aguilar

I was told that after a trip to Nicaragua, my outlook on life was going to be different and that I would come back a changed person. To be completely honest, I didn't think it would happen to me since I have been to some very rural parts of Mexico and I knew what I was getting into, I was wrong. No experience could possibly prepare me for the highs and lows of traveling to Central America. I have been back in the states for five days now and I have never felt so changed after a trip in my life.

The changes are not drastic and have not affected my overall being; I'm still the same person I have always been. The big change has been because of all the small changes that have come over me, especially in the way I see my everyday life.

When I woke up to go to work, I did not have the same mentality of, "Oh great, it's Monday and I have to go to work." Instead I thought of the people I served in Nicaragua, who said they work outside under the hot sun in the fields and only on days that there is work available. For them it is a privilege to clock in for a day's work and only get paid around $2.50 for five hours of work.

When I drove on the paved roads in the states, I did not complain about the potholes or the traffic. Instead I thought of how many people I met that had to walk down rocky dirt roads for miles to get to town. Those who can afford to will take a bus but many cannot. What should be a five-minute commute in a car becomes 30 minutes because of the roads and distance they have to travel.

After work when I went to the grocery store, I did not complain about the $100 I had just spent on food. I was thankful that I had enough money to buy the food that I wanted to eat and was very careful about how much I bought because I did not want to be wasteful. Many of the people I met in Nicaragua still cook on rugged grills using small sticks to create the fire that will cook the food. When I asked a local if she cooks at her stove every day, she bashfully replied, "Only on days when I have food to cook."

I didn't complain when I balanced my checkbook because even though I may not have all that much left over this month, I can afford everything I have and still have a bit left over. I thought about how blessed I am that I don't have to decide whether I am going to buy food or pay for some much-needed medications for myself or my child.

When I washed three loads of laundry I did not complain about how much time and work it took to wash and fold my clothes. Instead I thought back to the people of Nicaragua and how they wash their clothes by hand in nearby rivers and streams. Those who are lucky can use a washboard in their house but not all of them have the luxury of running water.

When I woke up to eat breakfast, I realized that I did not have my co-workers or student friends surrounding me to discuss the upcoming day. I realized that my happiness is in being surrounded by people who can share experiences with me and who love and care about me. Happiness does not come from what kind of car I drive or the things I have.

Being accompanied in life with friends and family is truly the greatest joy and blessing one can have on this earth. I hope that you all reflect a little bit about how lucky we truly are to live and work freely in a nation that offers us the greatest opportunities in the world.

Greg Aguilar, director of multicultural services at Augustana College, lives in East Moline.