The Gift of Running Water


On the path to get water

The tree that is beside the running water is fresher and gives more fruit.
~Saint Teresa of Avila

The first time we visited the tiny community of Los Ramos, at the base of Vulcan Concepcion, Francisco’s mother gave us a bottle of Coca Cola and a watermelon. She knew that walking a half mile down the steep and rocky path to their village parched us. Sipping on the warm Coca Cola, we watched Francisco’s grandfather unloaded two large, worn plastic water containers from the back of his horse.

“We don’t think your bodies are accustomed to our well water, so we bought you Coca Cola and a watermelon,” Francisco’s mother replied. We graciously accepted her gifts, hoping that we could eat the large watermelon at her house, because it was a long, steep uphill walk back to the main road to catch the bus.

Francisco’s mother explained to us that they made a four-mile trip to get water, two times a day. An ancient hand-dug well located next to the lake supplied the water for the community of Los Ramos. “Why is the well located so far away?” I asked. She responded, “The community of Los Ramos used to be near the lake, but we had to relocate when the Spanish conquistadors invaded the island.” When the Spanish conquistadors invaded the island??? I thought. “That was so long ago,” I  said. “Why didn’t you move your community back to the lake after the invasion, or dig another well closer to your new place?” I asked.

“Maybe, we were lazy,” she laughed. That was the only response I got, yet I knew this community wasn’t lazy. For hundreds of years, they hauled the water from a hand-dug well to supply their community. Not only was it a time-consuming and back- breaking chore, but the well is located dangerously close to the lake making me wonder about the quality of the water. Many members in the community complain of kidney problems.

Three years ago, the families in Los Ramos decided they were tired of hauling water.  Their family members were getting older and the young ones were moving away. Hauling water two times a day was exhausting. They formed a community association, planned and performed plays of the history of Los Ramos, and requested donations to install water lines and buy a water pump.

Their new water supply will come from a lake in the crater of the dormant volcano Maderas.  Although, many families in the surrounding communities receive the gift of running water through a gravity-fed system, Los Ramos is too far away for gravity to work its magic.

After three long years and months of community effort, children, parents, grandparents, and other relatives dug ditches, installed water lines, bought a pump, and waited patiently for the water to flow into their homes. But, there was an unforeseen problem. The electricity supplying their community was shared on a transformer with too many other communities. The power they received was not strong enough to run the pump. They had to buy a $2,000 electric transformer from the electric company and install it in Los Ramos to see the efforts of all their hard work.

I only discovered their need for a transformer a few days before Christmas. In my grief over a close friend’s death, I tried to channel my sorrow into constructive action. I posted on my blog, called, and emailed close friends and family about the need for a transformer for Los Ramos. The next day, my prayers were answered. Los Ramos received a donation to buy the electric transformer.

How do I thank the loving people who sent the donation that will transform the community of Los Ramos? Words are not enough to simply thank someone for giving the precious gift of water to a community. For two days, I tried to call Francisco with the good news. Last night, I was finally able to reach him. When I asked him if I could go to Los Ramos next week to deliver the money, we were both sobbing over the phone. I was simultaneously filled with joy for Los Ramos and sorrow over the death of my friend, Bobby…a strange feeling.

Next week, I’ll deliver the money to Los Ramos for the transformer that will transform their lives. Think about the word play here!  Francisco said, they will make a trip to Managua to buy the transformer. Hopefully, in a few weeks, they will have running water in all of their homes.

I am overwhelmed and filled with such loving compassion for everyone who made this possible. The gift of running water! Saint Teresa was right when she said, “The tree that is beside the running water is fresher and gives more fruit.” This can apply to many facets of our lives, especially to the wonderful community of people in Los Ramos. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for fulfilling a dream and providing a gift of running water to a community in need.

And, by the way, if you are wondering….Ron and I had to carry the 10 pound watermelon up the steep hill in 100 degree weather. We were drenched in sweat by the time we got to the bus stop. Waiting for the bus, we cracked open the watermelon and gorged on the refreshing fruit with everyone who was waiting at the bus stop with us. I’m a little worried about returning to Los Ramos next week. I have a feeling there will be a couple of big watermelons waiting for us. :-)

If you want to help give the gift of water to local communities, below is a link for how you can help.

Charities give Christmas gift of water – USATODAY.com.

 

 

 

My Top Ten Gratitudes this Holiday Season


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10. I am grateful for generators. Our Puesta del Sol neighbors rented a generator for their premier film festival. It was a good thing, too, because the electricity was out for hours that night. Over 100 people attended the premier of ten short films created by a group of Quebec film makers.

9. I am grateful for sugar…brown and powdered. Even though we had to cross the lake to buy bags of powdered and brown sugar, I couldn’t have made my Christmas cookies without them. Sweet treats for all my wonderful neighbors and friends.

8. I am grateful for cool tropical breezes. Ron and I bought kites for the neighborhood kids for Christmas. December is a windy month…just right for sailing kites over the lake.

7. I am grateful for a Miami IP address. For days, I had been unable to get access to my blog or any WordPress website. I was frantic! Fortunately, with the purchase of a Miami IP internet address, I can reach my blog, as well as Pandora and Hulu, which are blocked from other countries. Unfortunately, my speed is still too slow for streaming video.

6. I am grateful for Skype. Six years ago, communicating with family and friends in the states was difficult. We had to walk over a mile and a half along a rutted black sand beach path to town. Then, we had to call from an internet phone to reach our family. Now, we have the internet in our house, and we can make daily Skype calls to our families.

5. I am grateful to be living in a place where tolerance and respect for different lifestyles is accepted and welcomed…where drag queens provide the entertainment at Christmas celebrations and people of all races, nationalities, and cultures dance together.

4. I am grateful for running water. Our extended Nicaraguan family in Los Ramos walks over two miles, one way, to get water from a well. In six years, they have been able to save enough money to run water lines, buy a pump, and prepare for running water in their homes. Now, they need to buy a $2,000 transformer from the electric company to run the pump. They are performing historical plays about Ometepe Island and asking for donations for their plays. It will take them forever to collect enough money to buy a transformer! I am detemined to help them, so that they can have running water in their homes soon! If you would like to make a donation for the transformer, or if you know of an organization that gives money to help rural communities supply running water to their homes, please contact me.

3. I am grateful for the opportunity to experience an old-fashioned, traditional Latino Christmas. My senses are bombarded: The church bells peal, the bombas explode with acrid smells of gunpowder, parades composed of drummers and trumpets march through the streets, radios blare Jingle Bells and traditional church music throughout the community, children dress in their frilliest clothes, and colorful Christmas pinatas sway in the wind in all their glory.

2. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of my local community. Several days ago, friends walked to our house from town. They asked Marina, if she could direct them to the gringos in La Paloma. Marina pointed next door and said, “Debbie and Ron live next door, but they are not gringos. They are Nicaraguan and part of our family.”

1. Finally, and most important, I am grateful for my family and friends throughout the world sharing love, compassion, and peaceful understanding this holiday season.

Feliz Navidad


                                        Feliz Navidad

The Passion of Nicaragua

Rivers run through me

mountains bore into my body

and the geography of this country

begins forming in me

turning me into lakes, chasms, ravines,

earth for sowing love

opening like a furrow

filling me with a longing to live

to see it free, beautiful,

full of smiles

I want to explore with love……

By Gioconda Belli

       

This poem is by a Nicaraguan poet; however, everyone in Nicaragua claims to be a poet.  It shows our feelings for this wondrous country perfectly.  This holiday season Ron, Cory, and I send you gifts of tropical breezes, passionate beginnings, fulfillment of dreams once thought impossible, and peaceful understanding in a world full of smiles.

Explore with love……

Debbie, Ron, and Cory

 

Technical Difficulties


For the past five days, I have felt invisible. A close friend of mine passed away in Nicaragua on Wednesday. I wanted to share my grief, and turned to my Facebook friends. For days, no one responded to my posts. “Cory and Ron,” I asked, “Am I dead?” “Can you see me?”
“Mom, why would you say anything like that?” Cory responded. So, I explained that no one was responding to my posts.
Today, Cory checked my Facebook status and discovered that I had my posts set to private. Well, that took care of one problem and I feel so much better sharing pictures of my close friend. I’m going to miss him terribly.
However, for the past five days, I have not been able to access my blog either. In fact, I can’t access any WordPress site. In order to make this post, I had to go through a proxy server in Texas. Go figure. Please be patient with me. I’m not invisible. I’m here and desperately wanting to share my life with you this holiday season. Hopefully this is a server problem in Nicaragua and it will be corrected after the holiday is over. But, then again, who knows? It is Nicaragua. I have a Nicaraguan poem to share with everyone, but I’ll have to wait until this technical problem is solved. Meanwhile, feliz navidad to everyone!

Education: The Bridge from Poverty to Hope


“Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.” ~ Kofi Annan

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    The average years of schooling for adults in Nicaragua is 4.6 years. After attending four graduations this December, we will never again assume that all Nicaraguans have the opportunity to graduate from high school. Guillermo, our head contractor, is a good example of the fortitude, initiative, and desire needed to transform one’s life through education.

   Guillermo walked a long road, filled with insurmountable obstacles, enabling him to graduate from high school last Saturday. His mother died when he was a boy growing up in the gold mining territory of Nicaragua. Since compulsory education only requires schooling for six years, Guillermo quit school to work in the gold mines beside his father. He had just completed sixth grade. At 12 years old, he and his father worked side-by-side extracting gold dust from the pulverized rock. When he turned 18, he enrolled in the Nicaraguan army. For the next two years, Cuba became his home.

  Life happens. Guillermo fell in love, married a woman from Ometepe Island, and started his family. When we hired him last year to build our house, he had been unemployed for eight months. Previous to that, he had to leave his family on the island and return to work in the gold mines with his father to support his family.

  Guillermo’s dream was to become a building contractor. He realized that he lacked the mathematical skills and educational background necessary for steady employment, so at the age of 37, Guillermo returned to school to finish what he had started several decades ago.

  Last Saturday was graduation day for Guillermo and his daughter, Fabiola.  Ron and I were both honored to be their escorts across the bridge from poverty to hope. Their educational journeys have only begun. In February, Guillermo and Fabiola are attending the university on the mainland. Fabiola is studying to become a lawyer, Guillermo…an architect.

  Education is a human right with immense power to transform. It is a tool for daily life in a modern society, as well as a bulwark against poverty. It is the means through which every human being can realize his or her full potential. I am immensely proud of Esther, Julio, Gloria, Guillermo, and Fabiola for taking the difficult and sometimes nearly impossible steps toward a beautiful metamorphosis. Life does indeed happen, but for these determined graduates it has given them a bridge to cross from poverty to hope.



The Christmas Tree: Life’s triumph over death


Our Island Christmas Tree

The winter solstice was a day of reckoning for ancient people. When the Egyptians noticed the nights getting colder, and the days getting shorter, they were afraid that the sun was disappearing and the Earth would freeze. They looked around and noticed that some of the plants and trees remained green. Believing that these evergreens had magical powers and would appease the gods, they brought them into their homes.

Not having evergreen trees, the Egyptians cut green date palm leaves and scattered them throughout their homes to symbolize life’s triumph over death. And…the Christmas tree was born! Now, living on a tropical island presents some problems trying to find a suitable Christmas tree. Like the ancient Egyptians, we have no evergreen trees either.

I was lamenting that there were no Christmas trees on the island, when I saw our young friend, Izzy, carting a strange, yet beautiful pole to our house. “You said you wanted a Christmas tree, so I made you one,” Izzy said as she handed me her amazing creation.

Delicate newspaper cranes, dried mango leaves, and an assortment of tropical bird feathers adorned the tree. “Izzy, it’s perfect!” I said, kind of teary eyed at the thoughtfulness of her gift. “Let’s make some more ornaments.”

I’ve collected Pre-Columbian pottery shards that wash up on my beach for years. With some copper wire and ribbon, we wrapped the ancient shards and hung them on the tree. I returned from the states with one wire of twinkling lights and a star from the Dollar Store. We hung the shining star above the tree, as a symbol of bringing forth the light.

Life’s triumph over death hit close to home on Sunday. A very close friend of ours was involved in a horrific motorcycle crash on the island. Robinson escaped with his life, but one of his friends wasn’t as fortunate. Robinson was transferred to a hospital in Managua, across the lake in a small ponga boat. For two days, he could only speak in English, not understanding his native language. The mind works in mysterious ways.

He’s recovering comfortably at home today. I think I’m going to keep my Christmas tree up year-round to remind me of the precious gifts life has to offer. Life is so short…it can change in an instant. Like the ancient Egyptians, my little handmade Christmas tree will be an everlasting symbol of life’s triumphs over death.

 

 

A Nacatamale Christmas


Christmas nacatamales, candy, and iguana

Six years ago, I was invited to share in the making of Christmas nacatamales, while Ron and Cory climbed Vulcan Concepcion. Grandma arrived in a green polyester suit with frayed sandals, the heart of our neighbor’s Christmas tradition.  While she was mixing the fresh pork with rice and vegetables, Luvis cleaned the pig head that had been slaughtered early in the morning.  The little kids were soaking the banana leaves that Papa gathered, Gloria was stirring a big smoky pot of pig rinds, and I was embellishing the wrapped nacatamales with big banana bows of gratefulness.

They were the most delicious treat of the holiday season, but more than that, the family accepted me as part of their family tradition.  Right there in the middle of bloody pig guts, chickens pecking on the dirt floor, a piglet eating slop from an inverted Frisbee, four bony dogs salivating at the smell of greasy pork skins, and the pallid head of a dead pig staring at me, I knew that this was Christmas at its finest.  I had been given an opportunity to be fully immersed in a foreign culture.

To honor the annual Christmas tradition of the national snack in Nicaragua, and the most lavish tamale in Latin America, I have a revised, gringo recipe below.

Pork and Marinade
2/3 cup long-grain white rice
1 cup cold water
1 clove garlic minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup sour orange juice or 6 tablespoons lime juice and 2 tablespoons
orange juice
1 pound lean pork loin or boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Masa
1/2 onion, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups warm chicken broth
1 cup warm skim milk
2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3-4 1/2 cups masa harina

Filling
8 pieces banana leaves, plantain leaves (12″ X 12″ each)
or aluminum foil…your best bet if you live in the cold country
1 potato, peeled and cut into 8 slices
1 onion, peeled and cut into 8 slices
1 tomato, peeled and cut into 8 slices
8 pimiento-stuffed green olives, halved
8 sprigs of mint
You can add prunes, raisins, too

To make the pork marinade: In a small bowl, combine the rice and water. Let soak for 4-12 hours. Drain.
In a medium bowl, stir in garlic, salt, pepper, and sour orange juice. Add the pork or chicken and turn to coat.
Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
To make the masa: In a large bowl, combine the onions, bell peppers, garlic, chicken broth, milk, oil, salt, and pepper. Using a wooden spoon, stir in 4 cups of the masa harina to obtain a soft, thick, pliable dough. The consistency should resemble Play-Doh; add some more masa harina, if needed. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let stand for 20 minutes.
To assemble: Slice the pork or chicken into 8 slices, reserving the marinade.
Arrange the banana leaves, plantain leaves, or foil on a large work surface. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Place 1 piece in the center of each square. Pat it into a rectangle.
Tuck a slice of potato, onion, and tomato under each dough rectangle. Press the dough on top of them. Place 1 1/2 tablespoons rice, 1 slice pork or chicken, 1 olive, and 1 sprig of mint on top of the dough. Press into the dough. Drizzle the reserved marinade on top. Fold the left side and right side of the leaves or foil over the dough, then fold over the top and bottom to form a neat package. Wrap each piece in foil. Tie the bundles closed with strips of banana leaves, or string. Be sure to make a pretty bow to top off the nacatamale. :-)
To cook: Place the packages in a large pot and set over medium heat. Pour in water to cover by 4″. Simmer for 3 hours, adding more water as needed to keep the packages submerged.
Transfer the packages to a colander and drain well. Remove the string and foil and serve in the packages.
Makes 8 nacatamales

Enjoy! If anyone makes nacatamales this holiday season, be sure to tie a bow of gratefulness and share with your neighbors.

 

 

 

 

 

He’s Baaack!


Marvin finishes another baker's rack for my kitchen.

Marvin, my iron man, returned yesterday with two new pieces for my kitchen. A week ago, he was peddling his bicycle in front of our house and stopped to visit. “I have a new job at the airport,” he commented. “It is much responsibility because I am a contractor for the airport terminal.”  Alarmed, I asked, “Marvin, when do you start your new job?”  He responded, “At the end of December..gracias a dios. (Thanks to God)

Selfishly, I wanted Marvin to make two new pieces for my kitchen before he started his new job. “No problemo,” he replied. That same day, Ron and I  made crude drawings, while Marvin measured the dimensions in my kitchen. “I will complete them in a week,” he said to my utter delight.

My new iron pieces

Ron and I spent the day rearranging our kitchen. Marvin starts his new job next week. When I hear of the unemployment crisis in the states, I remind myself to be grateful for Marvin, the many jobs available to our local craftsmen and craftswomen, and the opportunity to share the goodness, as well as spread the wealth in our local community on Ometepe Island.

For Whom the Bells Toll


The ice cream cart in front of our gate

The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.  ~George Elliot

I was raking mango leaves when I heard the soft tinkling of bells. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I began to salivate. I ran into my house, grabbed my cordobas, and headed for the beach. Five jingling copper bells signaled the arrival of the ice cream man’s cart.

The ice cream man stops at my beach three times a week. He pushes his cart over a mile and a half along the rutted volcanic sand path to La Paloma where he sells ice cream to all of the vacationing school kids. He knows he has a gold mine with me because I usually buy enough ice cream to stock my small refrigerator freezer for a week.

Yesterday, he arrived with 12 ice cream sandwiches for me. A few days ago, he sold all his ice cream sandwiches to the guests at Puesta del Sol before pushing his cart to our beach. Not wanting to disappoint me again, he returned with a bigger supply.

“You are an angel,” I said gleefully. “Yes, I am,” he responded. Then, he pulled out his wallet to show me his cedula (ID card). Proudly, he showed me the first name printed on his laminated ID: Angel.

The golden moments in the stream of life pass by us in a blur. In that one golden moment, I saw beyond the sand.  Five tinkling copper bells signaled the arrival of my Angel. Nibbling at the edges of my ice cream sandwich, I learned that it’s the simple pleasures in life that call forth the angels.

 

My Expat Christmas List


All I want for Christmas is.....

Seven years ago, I could easily compose a list of ‘wants’ for Christmas. Ometepe Island was a primitive island with few expat novelties. There was no ATM, peanut butter, whole wheat bread, internet dongle, sufficient cell phone coverage, books in English, or rat traps. When Cory came to visit at Christmas, all we wanted were books in English, rat traps, and a squeegee mop.

Now, Ometepe Island is thriving and growing like the huge papayas in Ron’s garden. We have four ATM machines, an airport which will be completed in 2012, and two grocery stores that cater to the exotic tastes of foreigners. I can download and borrow hundreds of Kindle books from my public library in the states. With a little creative ingenuity, my homemade woktenna delivers a steady internet signal to my dongle. Sky satellite TV broadcasts world news, my washing machine spins with authoritarian control, Ron’s year-round garden supplies us with green vegetables, and Skype allows me to visit daily with my family and friends back in the states.

What more could I want? My expat Christmas list this year isn’t as tangible as it was seven years ago. After much thought, here is my 2010 list:

1. Children’s books in Spanish.
I am determined to give the gift of reading for pleasure to the children on the island. My collection is growing slowly for my mobile lending library. If you are traveling to Ometepe Island over the holidays, please consider dropping off a children’s book in Spanish at the Corner House Cafe, Mar Dulce, or the American Cafe and Hotel in Moyogalpa. Tell them the books are for the book lady in La Paloma.

2. More Time in the Day
The sun rises and sets in the tropics at 6 am and 6 pm. We are early risers, but with all of our daily chores, we seldom have time to stop and ‘smell the roses’ until the sun sets. Retirement is all about fulfilling passions and dying with no regrets. Santa, please stuff my stocking with more time this Christmas.

3. Lots of anti-itch cream
I am definitely allergic to ant bites. The only relief is the anti-itch cream with Benadryl. Santa, please fill my stocking to the brim with anti-itch cream.

4. Simplicity
I have a house full of ‘stuff and junk’ back in the states. It is an anchor in my life. When I return to the states, will you come to my yard sale? It’s time to empty my boomer nest and give it all away.

5. Fluency in Spanish
Although I can understand and respond simply to most conversations, I want to be fluent in Spanish. We are culturally immersed in an all Spanish-speaking community. Santa, please give me the gift of fluency in Spanish. It would be helpful if I could wake up one morning and speak fluently. I’ve practiced patiently for over eight years, yet I still sound like a third grader. Please?

I struggled making this expat list. Honestly, my life has changed so much that I am not tuned in to the frantic Christmas pace and capitalistic mentality of my younger years. Realistically, Santa, if you can’t deliver my expat Christmas list, it’s no big deal…there’s always manana.