We achieved what we set out to do – namely to become social impact entrepreneurs and we moved from the periphery of “expat observers.” As a result of this full engagement in Nicaraguan society, we interacted with a population we would never have encountered had we not committed to an impact-agenda. We met young architects and engineers, Mayagna indigenous community leaders, poor farmers, established businessmen, NGOs, Government officials, journalists and European philanthropists who joined us in our bamboo crusade.
Part of our strategy was also to use Nicaragua as a base for travel. Through bamboo, we traveled to Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Haiti. Again, we were not just “tourists”, but combined our desire to travel through the prism of our bamboo adventure. From Colombia we learned about high-end bamboo construction; From Ecuador we learned about bamboo housing for the very poor. The biggest challenge to our new life came from Haiti. In 2012’s 35-second earthquake, 200,000 Haitians died and over 1,000,000 become homeless. We were moved to flex our newly developed bamboo muscle and try to contribute to Haiti’s reconstruction. Not one to be deterred by the chaos that reigned in Port au Prince, Ben dove into the aid ecosystem, brought rare Nicaraguan bamboo seeds to launch small bamboo plantations with the participation of Haitian farmers, hired and trained a team of Haitian builders, and built two demonstration homes. Ben spent the better part of two years with one foot in Nicaragua and the other foot in Haiti to try to break into the reconstruction initiatives that were mired in NGO bureaucracy.
Sadly, the vision of a nomadic lifestyle as empty nesters started to look increasingly like the stress-filled jobs we had left behind in Chicago. We reached a tipping point when the business became just that – a business, with all its trappings of responsibility and time-consuming management obligations.
At the same time, my globe trotting fantasies started to rev up. The desire to travel far and wide cropped up increasingly frequently in our conversations. I started to dangle the prospect of carefree travel in Southeast Asia – the food, the architecture, the new cultures, and the adventure of new discovery… It became time to reboot and return to the initial vision for our Green Global Trek. We turned the business over to our Nicaraguan associates, so that they could continue the bamboo dream.
A full-on engagement through impactful projects, like the one we committed to in Nicaragua, is not for everyone. It does not yield a traditional retirement “chill” lifestyle. It does however yield a rich and rewarding formula for life as Empty Nesters.
We have now developed an “Empty Nesters consultancy” activity, taking advantage of Ben’s strategic planning skills and my psychology background, which continues to provide some insights to like-minded pseudo retirees eager to combine the discovery of new lands with the desire for impact.
After 6 wonderful, tumultuous, exciting and impactful years in Nicaragua, we have now embarked on the second leg of our Green Global Trek, in Asia.
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