Similar But Different

Canada and Nicaragua are different countries. This may seem redundant to point out, but it’s always good to start with the truth.

These two countries have different national languages, different climates, different histories, different economies, different political structures, and even different flags. Even with all these differences, they are similar in that they both have these common marks of a country. These two nations might be different in almost every possible  way, but it is also possible to see similarities in the struggle for progress that both possess. I will try to highlight three of these differences/similarities below.


Transportation

One thing that you can reflect upon when
traveling outside Canada is on our use of technology. When we board a bus or other public transportation, you can purchase a ticket ahead of time and it might even stamp the time that ticket was purchased. This makes it easier for the driver as he doesn’t have to worry about collecting fares. This is doubly true if a Canadian utilizes a monthly bus pass; then all that person has to do is flash it to the driver and move on
board.

In contrast, Nicaragua uses a person in photoplace of a machine. On our morning bus ride to work, each person would get on the bus and either find a seat or stand. After a few minutes have passed, a man (I never
saw any females doing this job), like the one in the photo, would walk through the aisle and collect the fare, which was 4 cordoba, or about 16 cents. The fare is a flat rate to ride the pass and it travels in a loop.

The Nica method has some interesting benefits. For one, the fare taker will help an elderly or pregnant women get off the bus, if they need it. They will take over for the driver, if need be. And they (along with another helper) will tell the driver when to leave. This last one is very handy if you are racing to get on and don’t want to be left behind.

It also is a tough job when the bus is 110% full and they have to walk from the front to the back with an aisle full of people, bags, and whatever else is brought on board.


Commerce

If you walk through Esteli, you will see a variety of commercial establishments. Some are massive, with everything you would ever need. Some are small roadside stores selling a single product, like shoes or clothes. And some might be just a man and a cart, selling vegetables or phone accessories.

It’s even more surprising when you see all ophoto (2)f these within a few feet of one another, as in the photo to the right. PALI is a chain of supermarkets, owned by Wal-Mart, found throughout Nica. There are even larger MAXI PALI stores that are on the outskirts of town which have more room for parking.

In North America, we can sometimes romanticize the memory of “Mom and Pop” stores where you could walk in and speak with the owner. They would answer your questions and in doing so, you would build a relationship with your retailer. This is still a reality in many developing countries, where the worker behind the counter is usually the owner as well. But due to globalization and open markets, the large transnational corporations are also able to get a piece of the pie. It is an interesting contrast between large and small entrepreneurs and one that affects Canada as well.


Construction

One final contrast I found was the way construction happens.

Small-scale building, like a house or school imageblock, is more labour intensive in Nica versus the machine-intensive style you would find in Canada. Many people are skilled at construction tasks, such as excavation or building. I believe this is owed to the high cost of machinery in Nica as compared to the high cost of labour in Canada.

It is also important to note that the building
materials are different. In Canada, you find a lot of wood used in framed homes and in hardwood floors. This is a result of our easy access to lumber. In Nicaragua, the vast majority of urban homes are constructed from concrete – a mixture of sand and cement.

(On the build site, we mixed 1 bag cement : 9 buckets sand : 7 buckets gravel for foundation concrete. To make mortar for the beams and touch-ups, it was 1 bag cement : 7 buckets sand; no gravel. Both cases required water to mix.)


I highlight these examples as a means to show that all people have a shared humanity. It is easy to identify differences, but it’s just as important to consider the common thread that links different parts of the world together. We have a shared drive to improve our lives through hard work and determination.

We all have family and friends.

We all experience love and loss.

We all share this planet and are connected to one another.

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2 comments

  1. Very moving conclusions, Spencer! Can you comment a bit on the role of women within commercial establishments? You mention that sometimes you see a “man and a cart”. I was curious of implications for women’s economic stability and if it is common for women to be the worker and owner behind an establishment as well.

    1. Thanks for the question!

      I used the phrase “a man and a cart” as I more commonly saw men in instances that a mobile sales cart was concerned.
      In general, I find that there are areas where men are more prominent, others where women are more visible, and many that could be either male or female. For instance, where sales are more directly focused at women (child care/clothes, cosmetics, or salons), you will find women working and owning these establishments. Similarly, stores selling construction materials, motorcycles, or other sectors commonly labelled as “man’s work” will be owned/operated by men.

      From the experiences I’ve had, I find that developing countries are more tailored to female entrepreneurship, as there are more small enterprises than what you would find in Canada or the USA. You don’t find a massive Home Depot; instead you find many small shops scattered throughout town. By having more shops, you need more business owners, and this leads to more opportunities for women to be involved.

      One other sector that is largely female driven is food and restaurants. Since women dominant cooking for their families, it would follow that they are more skilled to open a restaurant. But I am not sure what the ownership split would be, as it is possible that a husband/wife might be equal owners, or the man might hold ownership in many cases.

      Something to explore further.

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