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Home Again Home Again

It’s the night before our return departure from a weeklong business retreat in Nicaragua. I am excited to go home. I always am at the close of these trips – not because they’re not wonderful, but I’m a sucker for missing my wife, son, and stinky pooch.

This trip differed from many previous. We do this every quarter, and they’re generally pretty consistent. Where we usually drown in the minutia of spreadsheets, and ponder possible futures; this trip saw 22 hour code sessions, stress filled squables, and a strange and somewhat wonderous 2 days spent with Managuan developers at their inaugural WordCamp.

Retreats are often about clarity. It’s a chance to step back from our business and take stock of how it is impacting our lives, and what our intentions are for it. The drive from Managua to Rivas very clearly illuminated that clarity would not be on the agenda.


Nicaragua is beautiful. Surprisngly, it didn’t actually take long to escape the city. We dodged the hustle and bustle that comes with driving in a country that has less than strigent traffic laws, and quickly settled into our 2 hour road trip to Tola. We were delighted by the rambuctious rickshaws, and the aimless foals that wandered the sides of the streets. Steel sided shacks, and aged plaster buildings, once painted brightly, speckled the rural landscape, broken up on occaision by a small town defined only by an increase in density of the steelshacks and a fast food chicken place. I quickly fixated on a meme of documenting the many chicken joints that we would pass – Tip Tops, Narcy’s, Pollos Frit. A fun distraction.


We stopped for groceries in the city of Rivas. Visiting grocery stores in foreign countries is one of my favorite things. Pali, the Nicaraguan variety, was the smallest and simplest I’ve visited lacking in many of the packaged products that we had found in Liberia, Costa Rica last year. We grabbed some fruit, plaintains, sugared kids cereals, and a twelve pack of Tona – the local version of Budweiser. We didn’t stay long, and found the paved roads quickly gave way to gravel as we headed towards Tola and our beach destination.

It was this stretch of road where the level of poverty became hardest to miss. The rough roads often slowing us down, the lack of development highlighting the broken down homes that somehow managed to still stand – and be inhabited. Chickens, and pigs are all about. There are horses everywhere that stroll the streets casually, and cattle wandering where ever they please.

Everywhere, there are children.

They are always smiling, running, and playing. But often through trash lined gulleys, and homes that couldn’t possibly hold a bed for all that lived inside. I catch a glimpse of a naked boy, likely only a few months older than my own son. He’s playing in the dirt next to a small cot which is probably his bed.

The dusty roads, and sun soaked landscape, partched from the long dry season, give way to an ocean view. An ocean view that replaces the poverty view. Buena Onda – Good Vibes. Our home for the next week.


We work incredibly hard for the next seven days. The first day is 22 solid hours scouring many thousand lines of code. I am not an apologist for our businesses success. We acknowledge and appreciate the hand we were dealt, and strive to justify that headstart by doing good work in a respectful way. But I can’t shake the poverty out, it sits in the back of my head and makes it hard to focus on the task at hand.

We bicker and squabble. This is not uncommon for us. We’re opinionated and passionate people who trust each other enough to get snippy on occaision. We’re all more stressed than usual. Six months of overwork is starting to catch up with each of us. The tension is palpable, but it is broken and deflated with trips to the beach to surf.

The beaches are the things of Bruce Brown videos. A ‘crowded’ beach has a handful of people for every half mile of rich and sumptious black marble sand. Everyone seems tanned and toned, as waves at Popoyo draw dedicated surfers. Being neither taned, toned, nor a proper surfer adds to the out of body experience of it all. I successfully catch 2 waves the first outing. Earning each one by paddleing over, and often through the powerful white wash. Don’t picture me as Patrick Swayze – I’m barely to my feet on each one. But it is thrilling. Watching those who’ve dedicated their life to it from shore, surfing is graceful and even peaceful. It is very different from inside the wave. It roars around you. There is a single quiet moment. Right as the wave catches you. You are weightless. And then the roaring.

I’m able to video chat with Darice and Huck everyday. Seeing them, even choppy and pixelated, is wonderful. We’re not far enough into the technology for me to take it for granted. Huck overwhelms me with smiles when Facetime kicks in. He kisses the screen, and plays with the window that reflects back his own face. I’m not sure if he recognizes the face smiling at him as Papa or if it’s enough that I’m a goofy smiling face, but I choose to believe that he’s excited to see me. It’s Apple marketing at it’s finest.

We eat in a thatch covered dining room. The same two Nicaraguan women are at the counter and kitchen every day. It takes three days of my clumsy spanglish to get a smile. We get a mix of Nicaraguan food and typical American fair. One day I dine on a ham and american cheese sandwhich made on one of those triangular sandwhich presses I had in college, amazed that that piece of technology made it this far. The accents around us come from Europe, Australia, and Brazil – and of course there are more Californians beyond the two I brought with me.


I fall victim to the stomach issues that all travelers dread. My delicate American consititution not up for something that I took in. If Darcie had been with us, she certainly would have the hippie clay pills I poke fun at but so desperately need. The 24 flu actually serves as a nice break. It aligns with a random power outage through the whole area. The forced downtime gives us a chance to stop ‘doing’. The break from doing gives a chance to get past the stress bickering and we come out the other side productive and happy.


Our stay at the beach ends, punctuated by the first of the rainy season downpours. We make the drive back to Managua. Back to the city, back to work and WordPress and code and pixels. I’m not looking forward to it, spooked by a warning about the violence in Managua, and seeing our visit there as a distraction from peaceful focus on work that we found on the beach. We’re in Managua to participate in their inaugural WordCamp. This is one of many that I will attend and speak at this year: Atlanta; Minneapolis; Winnipeg; and Chicago.

Norman and his wife Doris pick us up at the hotel to bring us to dinner, but they need to stop off at home first. They are warm and inviting, and offer us a drink made of water, cocoa and cinnamon. Doris disappears to the back of the home seemingly to dress for dinner, and Norman wanders off leaving us to sit in their living room and take in our surroundings. It’s a modest home. It is at once open and airy, but also locked off from the rest of the city. There are a handful of mis-matched love seats, and small tchotchkes about. Norman is a sys admin, and sys admins are the same the world over. Laptops, cables, and drives cover a small desk. When contrasted with our own current search for a new home, where we debate over whether or not we need 2,000 square feet of space for three people, it leaves me feeling both lucky and wasteful.

We leave Norman’s for an asado – a traditional bbq. There we meet the rest of the organizers, and Karen Arnold the other American who has come to speak at the event. The anxiety of the day dissapates quickly. The people are friendly and warm. My lack of Spanish doesn’t seem to bother anyone. The food is delicious; a plate of grilled meats, rice and beans, and sweet plantains – one of my favorite foods. We all drink Tona, the beer of Nicaragua, and it is delicious and refreshing on the muggy night. Only 1-2 of the people there are WordPressers, which seems odd. They are all Debian folks, but each one references being involved with free software which is cool to hear. We bond over Drupal jokes, and tease the sys admins – the same things that happen at all WordCamps. Shane, always working, askes about needs and freelancing, while Peter just entertains with his big smile and goofy ways – stabbing two chunks of beef and dancing them across the table.


I’m speaking at the WordCamp. I hadn’t inteded or requested the opportunity, and my anxiety about not speaking the language kept me from being excited the morning of the event. Slowly but surely, a small crowd trickles in finally numbering about 60. I can follow enough of the presentations to know that they are detailed and smart. I make an internal commitment to giving my talk the same as I would in front of an english speaking crowd, but a short minute before I am to present, Karen sits down and tells me the organizer has asked her to translate for me. What would have been a 40 minute talk became a 17 minute stilted synopsis. It’s more of a Laurel and Hardy routine with Karen and I, but the concept gets across and I think that we come off as funny. I was able to include some screens that I knew were created by people who would be in attendence which prompts laughs and high fives.

There are handful of people in the audience who are obviously well versed in WordPress and if in the States would likely run or work at agencies we consider peers. Overwhelmingly though, it seems to be young people who are just curious. There is a father who saw an interview with Karen on TV and had brought his son – maybe 8 years old. The son fidgets with a phone, but is quiet and respectful for the entire afternoon. Shane runs through a heady presentation on using WordPress as a business in full Spanish. I know the content of the talk, even if I can’t follow along, and know that the message it contains is every bit as valuable here as at home.

After the event, we end up going out for Salvadorean pupusas and beer. Like any other conference, everyone seems relieved when it’s complete, excited to hang out and enjoy each other’s company without the anxiety of performance and organization hanging overhead. Being perfect hosts, they invite us for drinks and dancing after dinner but the three of us are done by that point. Cooked by a week of sun, socializing, work, and WordCamp, we find our way to the mall and grab tickets for the new Star Trek sequel. We close the week laughing to the “hablas klingon?” subtitles, suddenly finding the whole thing very funny.