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The Foreign Becoming Familiar

Eleven thousand people were killed and twenty thousand injured on December 23, 1972 when a 6.3 magnitude earthquake shook Managua, Nicaragua. I was reflecting on the scale of such an event as I stared out toward the volcano Momotombo from my 8th floor hotel room in Managua. I had experienced a small earthquake from the same spot a year earlier while on a conference call in my room and knowing the history of the area it got my attention.

As a child Nicaragua was a world away. While only a three and half hour flight from Atlanta, it was a place shrouded in political chaos and danger. From 1981 to 1988 the Contra War encapsulated the country, and it became a conflict of legend thanks to Oliver North and others.

A Gen Xer like me would never have imagined going to Nicaragua, nor in the 1980s would we have had any interest. Yet here I was.

Three years ago, we landed at MGA and stepped into a unique country. The first person we met was Luis Payan. He would be our driver in Managua and would take us to the many places we would need to go in order to complete the process of building and opening a service center. We learned there was a wealth of talented people in Nicaragua looking for opportunities as the country was opening itself up more each year to international businesses.

Luis would become a cherished friend.

This was not our first foray in Central and South America. We had offices in Honduras and Peru, and would later add Nicaragua and Mexico to the organization. But, Nicaragua soon became my favorite place to visit.

This country that seemed so distant for decades would soon became a comfortable place to be.

Over countless business trips my colleagues and me would stay over the weekends and set out on various adventures. This was before the tourist boom last year, which the latest unrest has all but eliminated.

We hiked in the cool hills to the southwest, floated the lakes of the south, swam in the surf in San Juan del Sur and climbed the surrounding hills. We learned of the poetry of Ruben Dario and walked the storied streets of Leon. We took in the vistas in the north and slid down the volcanic ash of Cerro Negro. With locals, we dined in Granada and strolled its cathedrals and colored streets. We ventured to Omotepe and hiked in the thick jungle and under angry monkeys far from civilization. The country and its people became close to our hearts.

Nicaragua was now a second home.

In April of this year the political situation in the country erupted like one of its historic volcanos. Through all of the death and disruption our fellow team mates have remained committed and consistent. I returned with coworkers just last week to a Managua that looked the same but felt tense. Tourism ceased with the unrest and the countless number of gringos that poured in over the last year were gone. Our hotel was at less than 30% occupancy and the streets silenced after dark. The people of Nicaragua covet your prayers for a return to a consistent and comfortable peace.

When travel focuses on people, travel comes alive. It has meaning when relationships are added for it is no longer about you, but others. The love of places leaves the inanimate and becomes an intimate relationship with individuals. Their unique experiences leave you with so much to learn.

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