How £2 Taught Me My Biggest Life Lessons of 2016

People say I worry too much, I over think every little detail, I’m too sceptical of strangers, but that’s only because for whatever mystical reason, sh*t like this only happens to me! I swear, if this isn’t true,let me know if this has ever happened to you…

So it started off from the moment I was in Pali (a popular Nicaraguan supermarket) with my C$500 (£14) note to buy a banana that costs C$2 (less than 1 pence!). As you may be thinking, what a large note for such a low cost item. It’s like using a £50 note to pay for 22p Tesco value biscuits. But I was desperate to get rid of Nicaragua’s highest domination of bank notes from my purse as no one ever (and I mean ever) seems to have change for 500 Cordobas.

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How street vendors look at you when you bring out that C$500 cordoba note to pay for that small bag of mangoes

So I thought what a better place to handle such a risky transaction but at a safe and secure supermarket, right?  But as I approached the intimidating looking cashier lady, I just envisioned her giving me  that look  upon noticing my large note. This is then likely to be followed by a possible attempt to communicate something to me in Spanish, which I probably wouldn’t even understand therefore leaving me to look and feel embarrassed in front of everyone (okay, so maybe I’m jumping to conclusions and being a little bit paranoid but I’m not one to take such chances!)  So in my desperate bid to avoid any sort of awkward eye contact & incomprehensible exchange of Spanish words, I decide to take the easy way out and hand over a smaller, more modest C$10 (3 pence) note instead. Okay, so I dodged another attempt at engaging in any sort of awkward eye contact and possible incomprehensible Spanish conversation, but what I didn’t know is that I had created an even bigger problem for myself…

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Nicaraguan Cordobas

I’m on my way leaving Masaya to really begin my Nicaraguan journey. I have secured a work-for-stay job in the popular student city of Leon. But it’s a lot more up north from where I am, which means it will take several buses and hours until I arrive. I get from Masaya to  the capital city of Managua relatively easily and take a taxi from one bus station to another to catch a bus heading towards Leon. I’m about to hand over the C$500 to the taxi driver to pay for my C$90 (£2.50) taxi journey, but he gives me the same look that I anticipated from the cashier at Pali.  “No tengo cambio” (I don’t have change). So there I was, forced to pay the guy with all the smaller notes that I had left and now I was stuck with this C$500. The next person better have change ’cause that’s all I have!

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Managua Bus Station. The yellow school bus that transports Nicaraguans and locals around the country is also referred to as the “chicken bus”. I still don’t know why though…

“LEON! LEON!LEON! LEON! LEON! LEON! LEON! LEON!”- screams the bus driver. This is Nicaragua and this is how it is communicated to let potential passengers know the direction the bus is heading. So I know I’m in the right queue. I’m worried that I look like a such a tourist with my backpack and suitcase. I’m hoping to God that my black skin can blend in with all these young Nicaraguan students on the bus heading towards the university town. Now the thing about looking like a tourist is that you get ripped off, everywhere! And I mean everywhere! A woman tried to rip me off the price of ice-cream when I could CLEARLY see the real prices in the shop! Okay, so me being my sceptical self,  I kindly ask one of the students on the bus “how much does the journey to Leon cost?” to avoid the driver trying to tell me something ridiculous. “50 cordobas” she responds. This is probably the only time in my life where I wish something would be more expensive than it was, because I was unsure if they would even have change for my beloved C$500 note. But surely they would on a packed bus right?

Surprise, surprise, I have no luck again.  Turns out the guy right in front of me handed over the driver the same infamous C$500 note so by the time I hand over the driver my C$500 note, he gave me the same infamous look that the taxi driver gave me and gestured that he’d be right back to hand me my change. So I wait…and wait. The bus hasn’t moved and I’m guessing he’s is still searching for change. I’ve heard some pretty scary stories of random people in Nicaragua pretending to be bus conductors and running off with people’s money so as you can imagine I’m pretty worried at this point.

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I’m here peeping out the window thinking is this guy even coming back?

It’s been 10 minutes of waiting so I’m pretty relieved to see the familiar face of the driver heading back towards the bus. He hands over a pile of notes to me through the window, and hurriedly heads over to the driver’s seat and gets the bus rolling. So as a dyslexic person, adding up money is my worst nightmare.  “C$350,360,370…and 380? Wait, is that it!?”. This a**hole shortchanged me. I KNEW THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN!

Okay, so I know what you’re thinking. I got cheated out of C$70 (£2), which isn’t even  a lot of money. But bear in mind that I barely have any money in Nicaragua (if you’ve read my previous posts, you would know that I left London without any savings and my budget quickly depleted in the first 10 days!) To put it into perspective the loss of 70 cordobas is one WHOLE day’s worth of food here y’all! Above all, it’s the dam principle! So I spend the rest of the next few hours of my journey contemplating how I’m going to confront the  driver -I’m rehearsing my best Spanish of course

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“Hijo de tu puta madre, dame mi dinero ahorita!”

We finally landed in Leon and I’m ready to give this driver a peace of my mind. But then my heart sinks with fear and my nerves kick in as the reality of the confrontation actually hits me. So I purposely wait for all the other passengers to get off the bus first, so know one else would witness what was about to be the weakest confrontation in history and even worst, in terrible Spanish.

“Excuse me, you overcharged me?”-Me
“No, the journey was C$120” – driver

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ME

Okay so this isn’t going how I planned it would in my head it. I knew he just told me a blatant lie. After all, I did see all the other passengers paying C$50 with my own dam eyes! But I literally did not have anything else to say in English, let alone in Spanish! So I just got off the bus empty handed..

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So long to all the rice and beans I could’ve bought with that C$70

And the drama did not stop there. Whilst I was talking to the bus driver this random guy tried to run away with my luggage! I already just got off the bus feeling sad, only to find someone attempting to put my backpack and suitcase in his car boot!!! As you can imagine, I went BALLISTIC. All the fear I had before suddenly went out the bloody window in a split second as I envisioned how I was possibly going to survive without all my clothes and laptop.

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Nuh-uh I’ve already lost so much, back off my suitcase b*tch!

Okay, so upon my extremely verbally aggressive confrontation, it became apparent that this random guy was in fact just a taxi driver using his unique method of ensuring he had a customer by taking the ‘initiative‘ to put my stuff in his boot.

Conclusion

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So what’s the moral of the story you may ask?

Throughout the rest of my trip, every time I was short of change, I always remembered that my purse would have been C$70 heavier if I had done the following. In other words, here’s what I learnt from this experience

I should not care about what other people think of me especially strangers

If one actually analyses the factors that led up to me being ripped off, one will find that such  unnecessary loss of money could have well been prevented if I had just initially paid for the banana in Pali supermarket with my C$500 note. Thus enabling me to have change by the time I was at the bus station. Okay, yes you’re probably thinking I’m giving way too much importance to this incident than it deserves. However, I didn’t realise how much I cared about people judging me until I allowed my self to be inconvenienced by holding onto a C$500 note  that I already knew would be difficult to get change for.  What kind of person am I turning into? Why did I care so much that the cashier would judge me for using such a large note to pay for such a small item. Well in reality, she probably doesn’t even care.  And even if she did, so what!?  It would’ve crossed her mind for 2 seconds and then her life would have continued as usually.

This enabled me to reflect on all the times that I have put too much importance into what other people think about me, the amount of times I have purposely altered my words or actions to prevent others from passing judgement on what I really think or what I want to do. I realise that I do this a lot more than I thought, with my own friends and family…but I must have hit an all time low when I’m over thinking what a bloody supermarket cashier thinks of me! (Absolutely, nothing against supermarket cashiers, they do a wonderful job!)

Stop inconveniencing myself to make other people happy

I hate to admit it, but I’m a bloody people pleaser very selfless person. The total opposite of the definition of selfish.  I can’t help it. I honestly derive joy and happiness from making others happy. It’s in my nature. That’s why I made such a bloody dam good PA for over a year! But there is a fine line between making others happy to the point that you are even denying yourself of your own happiness. As silly as it seems in retrospective, I assumed that the cashier wouldn’t have had enough change in her cash till for my C$500 note, thus would possibly have to ask a supervisor or another cashier for extra notes…therefore holding up the queue leaving the other customers to be temporarily inconvenienced (yeah, I over think too much!) In my own paranoid logic, I was trying to prevent a potential cash crisis in the supermarket, so I thought it would be easier to just pay with my smaller notes. Therefore, leaving me to deal with my own crisis trying to break into the impossible C$500 note and you know by now how that ended up! But from now on I am going to be putting myself first, whether it be in the workplace or the supermarket.

I need to stand my ground

This point links into the previous points. That time the taxi driver told me he had no change, well that’s his problem not mine! I should’ve kept my smaller notes for the bus journey to Leon rather than giving it to him. Yet I took the non-confrontation route which ultimately led to me being ripped off. That time the bus driver lied that the journey was C$120, next time I will not let such things go so easily. If I know something is wrong or could be done differently, I shouldn’t have a fear of advocating for alternative actions. So this is more than just being ripped off, but it routes back to my fear of speaking up when I want change (no pun intended!)

I knew the importance of all of the above before. Putting myself and my feelings first is one of the main reasons why I quit my job and came out to Nicaragua in the first place. But God has a funny little way of enabling certain values to really sink in. Who would have thought that loosing C$70 (£2) would allow me to critically analyse my thought processes and the things I am willing to accept in life. I don’t mean to sound cliche, but it was like I became a whole new person after being ripped off. Literally, the very next day I even quit a job in Leon that I travelled over 5400 miles for (find out why next post!).  

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I ain’t taking no more bullsh*t, 2017 I’m ready for ya!

But there is also something else that I discovered from this whole incident regarding what my friends had told me…

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Am I really paranoid?
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Okay…maybe my friends are a bit right
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