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Trial by Firework

The explosions began at 3 a.m., whistling through the air and cracking overhead in sudden

staccato. They startled me from an already uneasy sleep. It was my first night in Esteli, and although I was terrified the conflict outside would enter my tiny peach house, I was mostly annoyed that I might die having lasted only four hours in Nicaragua.

After three years of marketing international development work, I wanted to experience it for myself. I wanted to know what I was selling. I spoke Italian, not Spanish, and I had to double-check a map first, but Nica was available for product demo.

When I successfully survived to the next morning, I learned that my arrival fell on Liberation Day, and that when Nicaraguans weren’t expressing themselves in rambling stories, they were often doing so with bombas - fireworks.

That first night set the tone for my next 11 months in Central America: expect interruptions.

Some interruptions were consistent. The “Aguacate Man” who broke the early morning quiet by shouting about his avocados for sale. The resounding echo of a doorbell ring against tile floor and the pleading “Buenas!” that followed, announcing a stranger in need of directions.

Others were occasional inconveniences. No running water when we hadn’t made our office coffee yet. Wifi that flicked off and on, giving us hope enough that our connection could sustain an important call with remote co-workers - before cutting them off completely. Clouds of mosquito repellent that barreled through the office windows as a Department of Health worker began spraying for Zika without warning.

And some interruptions were downright maddening. A surprise shortage of shovels that left families with unfinished concrete floors and wasted an entire day of volunteer labor. Clients who received incomplete legal consultations when our instructions got lost in translation. Community members who felt insulted when a schedule change cut short the welcome celebration they’d prepared for our staff.

People ask how my time was in Nicaragua and still, nine months later, I falter for a tidy answer. To be sure, I honed the skills I sought to improve. Seeing projects on the ground added context to my understanding of development work. Witnessing people feel empowered to take control of their lives added truth to my writing.

But perhaps most importantly, I adapted. I learned how to pick things back up again when they’re so unexpectedly halted. How to make cookies without vanilla and find common ground in another language and weave compelling stories with no budget.

And as much as my cookie baking has improved since returning, it’s the last of these three lessons that has proved most valuable. Because when people lack resources, they are forced to find different solutions, and in this environment, entrepreneurs are born. In Central America, I noticed this factor at play in my daily life - but most profoundly in my work. And I marveled at it in others.

When people overcome these challenges to execute their ideas, they can have a global impact. I’m excited for where my work will lead me because I now understand what it means to think like an entrepreneur. To put systems in place where none were before. To recognize where money can be saved and spent. To let mission drive me and inspire others. To recognize that every idea worth pursuing faces trial by fire. Or - perhaps more fittingly in my case - by firework.

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