Hello, readers! I am writing you from the beautiful community of Masatepe, Nicaragua. My name is Mandy, and while I am a Director for the Board of Right Turn Ministries working in Honduras, I am also the Short-Term & Empowerment Teams Coordinator in Nicaragua, where I currently live, working with an organization called International Teams. Our vision is to see lives and communities transformed by the power of God. I’ve been here for nearly a month now and though adjusting to a new culture is always a challenge, I am loving my new home.
I’d like to invite you to take a moment to think about the word “luxury.” What comes to mind for you? Maybe a five-star hotel in New York City. Maybe an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean.
What if I told you that it’s all relative, and that maybe, to a vast majority of the world, luxury is actually…where you find yourself right now?
That may sound crazy to you, but stick with me. I want to put some things in perspective.
At home (for me in Illinois), we never lack for water. Sure, sometimes there are droughts, but as far as water for drinking, cleaning, cooking, clothes-washing, showering…we never lack. Not only do we never lack, but we can have it at any time, at any temperature. Need an ice-cold water before walking out the door in the morning? Got it. Need to cook dinner at 5:30pm? You’re good. Need to take a hot shower at 9:00pm? Got it. Forgot that your child needs their sports uniform clean for the next day until midnight? You can wash it at the touch of a button. AND DRY IT.
The water situation here in Nicaragua is slightly different. Generally speaking, we have water twice a day. In our community, these times are from about 5:00-8:30am, and 3:00-5:30pm. If you try to turn on the water any other time of the day, nothing happens. Now, to be fair, some people do have water tanks in their home. When my teammate and I move from our host homes into our own home in a couple months, we will likely be getting a water tank, which refills during those two times a day and allows us to have a limited amount of water available as needed for most of the day. However, these are a luxury, and most homes do not have them. The water comes out at one temperature, generally cool, and that is what you use for dishwashing, showering, cooking, cleaning, and washing your clothes.
Back home nowadays, it is rare to find a home without central A/C, or at least some type of window unit. In Nicaragua, air conditioning is an extreme luxury. I have not yet been in a home that has it and to be honest, we do okay without it. This week has been challenging as the daily high reached 92, and my family told me that next month will be warmer. However, windows are nearly always open, and fans are a nice bonus as they can be afforded. Just last night, I was sitting outside with one of my host aunts. She was recounting her experience visiting one of her sons who now lives in the United States. In Spanish, she told me this:
“In your country, everything is air-conditioned. Living room: air-conditioned. You walk to your bedroom: air-conditioned. You walk to the bathroom: air-conditioned. Laundry room: air-conditioned!” she went on, “Then you walk outside and are hot for a few seconds. Then you hop in your car and…air-conditioned!’’ I laughed, slightly ashamed, as I remembered just how privileged we are (as a whole) in the country I come from.
In a similar conversation to the one above, last week I was talking with my host uncle who lives with me. I was telling him how I needed to do my laundry soon. The coffee shop that our ministry has here has a space attached to it that has a washer and dryer, where you can pay to have your clothes washed for a few dollars. However, that too, is a luxury in a country where most households do not bring in more than $200/month. Many families wash all clothes by hand.
I told my uncle that although I took my laundry to the coffee shop here the first time I needed it done, that I wanted to improve my ability to wash my clothes by hand, the way that most Nicaraguans do it. He seemed surprised, but I told him that just because most Americans choose to do it the faster (and in our minds easier way), and that maybe in the future I would choose that option, too, that I wanted to learn to do things the way that most of the locals do. I’m thinking of maybe washing shirts and thinner articles of clothing at home, and taking more challenging things like jeans and bedding to the café as I continue learning. How can I live alongside Nicaraguans and strive to see ourselves as equals if I don’t even try to understand their “normal?’’
My uncle thought for a minute and then reflected a bit on the differences of life here and in my country. He said, “When I need to wash my clothes, you know what I do? I take them outside to the pila (outdoor concrete sink for washing clothes and dishes), and I wash them. In your country, you throw them in a machine, what do you call it?”
“Lavadora (washer)…” I responded.
“Right. You throw them in the washer. Clean. Then you throw them in another machine. Dry!”
I laughed nervously as he continued.
“And here, we need to clean the floor and so we take the mop, and we scrub,” he says as he pretends to mop the living room floor.
“You all have a machine that just goes ‘bzzzzhhhh,’” as he imitates an American zipping around with a vacuum, something I’d never before even considered to be a luxury. He laughed and smiled as he made his point, and I did too.
“Tio, I’m laughing because you are so right!” I told him.
Friends, today I invite you to reconsider what luxury means, and the fact that you may already be living right in the middle of it. Please don’t take me as claiming to understand everything about life in this part of the world—I have such a long way to go! However, God has taught me so much over the last several years of weeks-long trips and months-long visits to work and study.
Here in Central America, we don’t have water every hour of the day at the temperature of our choosing. But we have water. We don’t have ice cold air set to the exact temperature of our liking in every room and every space. But we have air. And we don’t have mechanical/automatic everything. Yet, we have everything we need. I want to encourage you today, the next time you take a deep breath and think about how much better things might be if you earned just a little more, had just a little larger of a home, a little fancier of a car, I want you to remember…luxury.