Weekly Photo Challenge: This is Monumental!

The Weekly Photo Challenge is Monument. “Anything can be monumental as long as it’s imbued with a shared sense of importance.” ~Ben

Yesterday a monumental event occurred near Managua, Nicaragua. There was a 6.4 earthquake, along the same fault line that destroyed Managua in 1972. Read more about it here: Nicaragua Earthquake

Last week, our active volcano Concepcion awoke with eight small tremors. This is monumental.

Mountains are earth’s undecaying monuments.~Nathaniel Hawthorne

IMG_7681Should I worry?  I have our kayak ready if we need to make a hasty retreat for the mainland.
Wait! There is one more monumental thing. Read on.

The Sky’s the Limit

“Do mistakes and you become a good learner.
Welcome ordeals and you become a good problem solver.”~ Riddhi Sharma

Our SKY satellite TV has been on the blink for a month. Poor Ron! He can’t watch the football games on Sunday and I really miss CNN. Playing detective is a necessary part of life on Ometepe Island. We cut branches of trees close to the satellite dish, checked the cable for tears or scrapes, jiggled the dish, wiggled the wires, and rewired the service box…all to no avail.
The only service technicians in the entire country are from Managua, so we called and put in a work order for them to come to Ometepe to fix our TV. Yesterday, they arrived with the SKY truck.
IMG_0611For two hours they jiggled the cable, repositioned the satellite dish, and checked the service box, while the annoying beeping from the TV indicated that there was no signal.
IMG_0612They moved the satellite dish to a wiggly garden post in the hopes of solving the mystery about why there was no signal.
IMG_0619Hmmm…suddenly the signal was strong and clear. It must be the Neem tree blocking the signal. Three years ago, when we installed the satellite dish, our Neem trees were only a foot tall. Now, they are 25 feet tall. I guess we have to take down the Neem tree. Ron to the rescue with his machete.
IMG_0616Meanwhile, as the sun was setting, Black Jack investigated the SKY truck.
IMG_0622With the tree down, the technicians put the dish back in its original location.
IMG_0623No worries. We still have five more Neem trees on our property.
IMG_0624He repositioned the dish for a strong, steady signal.
IMG_0625And voilà! A strong, steady signal…football games and CNN!
IMG_0627By this time, it was dark and the last ferry had already left for the mainland. “Where are you staying tonight?” I asked. “Can we stay here?” the boss asked. “No problemo!” I responded. I was a little embarrassed because the only problem with our satellite signal was the Neem tree. I felt bad that they had to travel a whole day from Managua, across on the ferry, to solve our problem. The boss wanted to know if there were other people on the island that would like SKY TV, since they were here. I quickly sent a notice to all the expats on the island and received 2 responses by the next morning.
IMG_0628What a great crew! They even offered me a job as the SKY representative for Ometepe Island. It was their first time on Ometepe Island. They slept in our casita, took a quick dip in the lake in the morning, and I gave them the phone numbers of the two expats that were interested in installing SKY in their homes.

The SKY’s the limit, as far as our satellite reception goes. Only in Nicaragua! Have I told you how much I love this country?

Timeout for Art: A Species of Writing

This week’s Timeout for Art asks us to reflect on art as a form of therapy, as well as a stress reducer. As a former counselor and special education teacher, I often used art therapy with my students.

“Art can permeate the very deepest part of us, where no words exist.”
― Eileen Miller, The Girl Who Spoke with Pictures: Autism Through Art

I was drawing tortugas (turtles) on my curtains for the Turtle cabin (Las Tortugas Casita), when my ten-year old friend, Lauren, stopped by our house on her bicycle. Ron was taking his Spanish lessons on the side porch. As I waited for my turn, Lauren and I tried to talk, but she spoke so rapidly that I had a difficult time understanding what she was saying. So, I asked her to draw it.
IMG_3253One thing I’ve learned about children in Nicaragua, is that they can’t quite figure out why we don’t understand them. I often wonder if our two and three-year old neighbors think we are just plain stupid. I think Lauren understands that Spanish is our second language, but she gets frustrated and rolls her eyes when I ask her to repeat the sentence just one more time…y mas despacio por favor (slower, please).

Lauren rolled her eyes, and tried to describe a sparkly thing that sits on top of a King or Queen’s head. “You know…YOU KNOW,” she said, “Una corona. UNA CORONA.” After I looked at her picture, the puzzling Spanish pieces fell into place.
IMG_3264“You are my best friend among all my friends,” Lauren said. “That’s why I gave you a crown.” Ahhh..how sweet, I thought. “Now, can we make cookies?” she asked. Hmmm, I knew there was an ulterior motive. “Lo siento, mi amor,” I responded. It’s almost time for my Spanish lesson and I need to buy more chocolate chips.  Art can be used where no words exist…too bad I ran out of chocolate chips, though. :-)

“Talking about Art is like trying to French kiss over the telephone”. ~Terry Allen

I had just started my Spanish lesson, and Lauren and Ron were blissfully drawing in my place, when Carlos, the local artist arrived. “Patricia said you wanted to see some of my paintings,” he said. I was thinking about starting an art class at my house and interested in looking for a good instructor.
IMG_3258Carlos has over 30 years of experience as an artist.
IMG_3255IMG_3260Attempting to talk about art was like trying to French kiss over the phone. I needed to see it, feel it, and touch it. I’m still not sure that Carlos and I will be a good match. Communication will be difficult, but his art revealed his love for Nicaragua. He’s very talented and his personality shined through his paintings.

“Art is communication.”~Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

IMG_3261 Living in Nicaragua with Spanish as my second language has convinced me that art is communication. Art reveals personalities, reduces stress, and sometimes even persuades me to make chocolate chip cookies for my favorite ten-year old.

The School for the Deaf on Ometepe Island

Yesterday, I visited the school for the deaf in San José del Sur on Ometepe Island to see if they would be interested in participating in my mobile lending library project. Helping Hands with Hearts for Christ (H3C), was founded by Mike and Joan Vilasi three years ago. While they are in the states, Gael and Rosemary manage the school.

I  interviewed the gracious host, Gael, and asked about the history of the school.
IMG_3193I had a difficult time finding the school because it was tucked into a small cove on the beach with a lush walking trail leading to the school from the main road. “The next time you get lost,” Gael said, “just ask for Quincho Baraletta.” “This used to be an orphanage for girls, but when Volcano Concepcion erupted three years ago, the orphanages abandoned the island for the safety of the mainland.” This made sense to me because Nicaraguans  either use landmarks that disappeared years ago, or refer to a place by a previous name.

My blog friend, Tamara, shows off the beautiful flower- lined lane at the school.

My blog friend, Tamara, shows off the beautiful flowery lane at the school.

H3C new banner hanging above the entryway.

H3C new banner hanging above the entryway.

There are 37 deaf people living on Ometepe Island. Twelve children are school aged and attend H3C. A few of the children attend schools for the deaf on the mainland. Before the school opened, most of these children received no services and did not attend public school. Now, thanks to the generosity of The North Point Community Church in Maine, USA, they receive donations to run the school.

“Kindness, a language deaf people can hear and blind see. “- Mark Twain


The school has two full-time teachers and an interpreter. The nicest surprise was that one of the teachers is my neighbor in La Paloma. Who knew?


“Signs are to eyes what words are to ears.” ~ Ken Glickman

The teachers at the H3C school.

Nicaragua has a unique sign language developed by the deaf children themselves. The video below explains how the Nicaraguan Sign Language began. I am returning to the school next week to deliver my lending library books. It’s awesome to be able to share my love of reading with this school.

How can you help? Visit Helping Hands with Hearts for Christ

Other resources:
1. Deaf Children in Nicaragua Teach Scientists About Language
2. The History of Nicaraguan Sign Language
3. Mayflower Medical Outreach in Nicaragua
4. The Deaf People of Nicaragua Electronic survey report


Strange Habits I’ve Picked Up

Living in Nicaragua, I’ve picked up some strange habits…at least to me they are strange, but to all Nicaraguans, they are quite normal.

1. Strange gestures
a. The Lip Point  In the states, we use our fingers to point. Nicaraguans use their lips. Lip pointing requires puckering up like you are going to kiss someone, and redirecting the pucker toward a person or an object you want to point out. Examples: That woman over there (lip point) is a monkey lady; I just saw a duende (lip point) climb that tree; That man (lip point) is loco.

b. The Finger Shake  I love this gesture and it really works. If you are eating at a restaurant and someone comes to your table for the hundredth time and tries to sell you a whistle, or pottery, or Flintstone vitamins, put your finger out in front of you and shake it back and forth. You can add an annoying facial gesture, too. It’s the Nicaraguan gesture for “No!” Examples: Give me un dollar.(Me: finger shake); Obnoxious drunk: Buy me a drink. (Me: finger shake + annoying facial gesture)

c. The Nose Scrunch This gesture means “I don’t know what the hell you are talking about.” I’ve gotten the nose scrunch repeatedly when I try to explain something in my Spanglish. To do this gesture effectively, scrunch your upper lip to your nose, like you smell a dead mouse. Examples: Me: Where can I buy polyurethane? Nica: (nose scrunch); Me: What’s the Spanish name for hemorrhoidal cream? Nica: (nose scrunch)

2. Feel guilty about flushing toilet paper down the toilet
Nicaraguan sewer systems leave a lot to be desired. The lines to the septic tanks are tiny and most places have a sign asking you to put your toilet paper in a garbage can instead of flushing it down the toilet. I think that is gross! Sometimes, the garbage cans overflow. Sometimes there are no garbage cans and worse yet, no toilet paper. I confess! I usually forget to throw the toilet paper in a garbage can. Instead, I flush it and always feel guilty.

3. Call people and hang up, so they can call you back.
This used to annoy me, until I discovered the purpose. It’s called cheap. When I check my minutes on my phone and I only have a few minutes left, but need to have a longer conversation, I’ll call someone, hang up, and hope that they call me back. That way, they can use their minutes to return my call. Everybody does it.

4. Move closer…personal space
My personal space in the states was much wider than in Nicaragua.  Nicaraguans like to get up close and personal. I mean so close that you can feel their breath on your face or your back depending on which direction you are facing. I’ve learned to get up close and personal, especially when standing in a line. Any extra space between you and another person is a personal invite for someone to squeeze in front of you.

5. Haggle all the time
Who knew that you can haggle for anything and everything in Nicaragua.  It’s expected behavior. If you don’t haggle, you’re a sucker for a gringo price.

6. Wear Flip-flops for all occasions
I never wore flip-flops in the states. But, in Nicaragua, I have flip-flops for every occasion. I have my going out to feed the chickens flip-flops, my inside the house flip-flops, my shower flip-flops, and my dress-up flip-flops.

7. Sleep in the middle of the day
This is my favorite strange habit. Siestas are a necessity in the tropics. The stores close at noon, the houses are eerily quiet, and everyone snoozes for an hour or more.

8. Be politically incorrect
I have friends whose nicknames are “Gordo” (fatty), Loca (crazy), and Gordita  (chubby). No one takes offense to these nicknames. It is an accepted way to identify someone. When I returned from the states last week, my neighbor called me Gordita because I usually pack on several extra pounds of good eats. I just laugh and say, “Es verdad.”
( That’s the truth.)

9. Ask, How much did it cost?
When I was in the states, I forgot about this strange habit I have and caught myself asking everyone, “How much did that cost?” Everyone asks that question in Nicaragua. Examples: My neighbor: “How much did those shoes cost? Me: Oh, they were cheap. I got them on sale. Another Nica friend: “How much did your TV cost? Me: Oh, it was cheap. I got it on sale.

10. Use AY to express anger and Ya to say you’re ready
AY. Who left the door open? YA, I’m ready to go. When Marvin erected our tall water tower, he would ask, “Listo?” Six strong men pulling on ropes would reply in unison, “YA!”
Dustin, our two-year old neighbor ate a magnet off my refrigerator. “AY!”, I responded. Poor baby. I scared him and he started to cry. But, at least he spit out my refrigerator magnet.

11. Applaud when the plane lands
   I caught myself clapping when our plane landed in Nicaragua. I remember the first time I heard a plane full of Nicaraguans applaud a landing. It was so funny! But, now it’s second nature for me to join in the applause.

12. Drink coconut water for every ailment.
Have diarrhea? Drink coconut water. Coming down with a cold? Drink coconut water. Tired? Yep! Coconut water does the trick. Nicaraguans say they have coconut water running through their veins. I believe them.

13. Iron…everything
When Ben Linder built a small hydroelectric plant for a rural village in Northern Nicaragua, he had to remind them constantly not to use their irons all at the same time or it would overload the system. Nicaraguans love their planchas. They can go without running water, a flush toilet, and a refrigerator, but they must have their irons. Now, I’ve picked up their strange habit of ironing everything. Maybe it is because the clothes never dry in the rainy season, and an iron helps to keep damp clothes from molding.

14. Shake shoes, towels, hammocks to kick out scorpions and spiders
I have become a constant shaker. I don’t think an explanation is necessary, especially after I describe the huge, hairy tarantula that I shook out of the hammock recently.

15. Always have the correct change and make sure the dollar bills are clean without any marks.
Before I left the states, I exchanged old, ink-stained, and slightly ripped dollar bills for new ones. No one in Nicaragua accepts dollar bills that have even a tiny mark or miniscule rip. I also made sure that I had small bills of córdobas for my trip back to Ometepe Island. Just try giving a Nicaraguan a 500 cordoba bill and asking for change. It ain’t gonna happen.

16. If someone asks for your address, use vivid directions including something that isn’t there anymore
There are no street names or house numbers in Nicaragua. Recently, I had to order a new remote control for my Sky TV. They are going to deliver it to my house. When they asked for directions, I responded, Two kilometers south of Moyogalpa, on the beach near where the giant tree fell down 3 years ago, in the community of La Paloma, past Puesta Del Sol.

Snowden in Nicaragua?

“US fugitive Edward Snowden has abandoned his request for political asylum in Russia after learning he would have to stop leaking intelligence reports, the Kremlin said Tuesday, as the American awaited asylum decisions from 20 other countries.” (Dmitry Zaks, AFP, July 2, 2013).

According to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, other countries in which Snowden may seek asylum include China, Cuba, France, Germany, Italy, India, Nicaragua and Spain. Nicaragua??? My expat home?  I’m torn with conflicting emotions if Nicaragua were to accept Snowden.

On the one hand, I believe that Snowden is a whistleblower, not a traitor. A traitor is someone who gives information to the enemy. Are ‘We the People’ the enemy? Don’t we have a right to know about our government’s secret surveillance program, especially if it is ‘We the People’ who are being watched?

Certainly, it is no secret because George W. Bush authorized warrantless wiretapping of international communications after the September 11, 2001 attacks as part of the war on terrorism. In 2005, public disclosure ignited the outrage of the potential misuse of data mining of e-mail messages and telephone call records in the NSA call database. We’ve known about this for years.

I’m siding with Snowden on this issue.  He is not a traitor, only a concerned citizen who risked his life and his professional career to inform us of the potential dangers of warrantless wiretapping and government surveillance of its own citizens.  Let’s face it, we all know that we are being watched, not only by our government, but by the marketing media who records every click, every ‘like’, and every internet move we make in the digital age.

The other day, I was researching metal detectors and protest music. Weird combination, I know, but sometimes in my mind works in mysterious ways. In looking for protest music on YouTube, a little ad at the bottom of the video tried to direct me to metal detectors. What??? How could they possibly know that I was researching metal detectors? Honestly, browser snooping scares me. It unnerves me to think that my every move on the internet is recorded for marketing purposes.

Yet, what frightens me more are the potential problems for Nicaragua. If Snowden were to receive asylum in my expat country would I offer him my guest house as a reprieve from the mad warlock hunt? Impulsively, I would say, “Yes”. I admire his bravery and his tenacity.  On the other hand, I imagine this scenario or nightmare…your choice:

Snowden snuggles peacefully under the mosquito net in our guest house, while unidentified flying objects circle the periphery of our property. Strangers disguised as lone fishermen, paddle around the lake wearing night goggles and Google glasses. Economic sanctions by the U.S. prohibit the export of Nicaraguan coffee, gold, and beef. The United States, Nicaragua’s main trading partner who bought 29% of Nicaragua’s exports in 2012, stops trading with Nicaragua. All U.S. expats and tourists are stopped at every border crossing, strip searched and aggressively interrogated. Legal expats can no longer leave or enter Nicaragua without special permission from the U.S. Tourism comes to an abrupt halt. Fear overwhelms the local people struggling to make a living because all trading has stopped. NGOs are prohibited from sending donations and supplies to Nicaragua. Nicaragua, my beloved adopted country, quickly loses all economic gains it has made in recent years.

If Edward Snowden knocks on my door in my little oasis of peace, I’m afraid  I would have to say, “Sorry, Edward. I admire your bravery, but I am a coward with too much at risk. Please find another country for political asylum.” For you see, I love Nicaragua more than I admire Snowden’s courageous whistle blowing. Life is all about making informed decisions. Every choice has a consequence whether good or bad, right or wrong, bitter or sweet. Laurie Buchanon says, “The life we live is an expression of the choices we make.” I chose Nicaragua before, and I will choose Nicaragua again. Surely, Snowden understands that individual choices can have global consequences. I wish you the best, Edward Snowden. Safe travels in your search for peace and political asylum.

Snowden in Nicaragua?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sometimes You Just Gotta Smile!

In this week’s photo challenge I couldn’t help but post a collection of signs from the Land of the Not Quite Right. The challenge is really called, The Sign Says, but sometimes you just gotta smile at the goofy signs.

On the ferry I noticed this sign. Now, I just have to find a child older than five.
IMG_0591A new recycling method?
IMG_1767Well, this helps for those who lack Spanish and need to find the bathroom…quickly!
IMG_4563You want me to camp where???
IMG_1717Does this mean I can’t get my hair cut?
IMG_4777Could it be that the pizza wasn’t delivered hot?
IMG_0278Watch out for those swindlers!
IMG_5485And what do I do all the time in the “Land of the Not Quite Right?


Taking the Cultural Plunge

cookin class copy 2I started my blog to explain my passion for cultural immersion and to increase cultural sensitivity. As a teacher, I taught my students how to look beyond cultural borders enabling them to create authentic and effective relationships across cultural divides. In our rapidly transforming world, the skills needed to be compassionate citizens and knowledgeable leaders extend beyond imaginary borders. I want to affect a change, develop a sense of cultural competency, and open windows to the world. Simply, I want to share our experiences in looking at the world with eyes without borders.

I teach by modeling. We took the cultural plunge, but it hasn’t been without its pitfalls. Language, socioeconomic status, gender roles, and cultural norms sometimes temporarily halt us in our quest for understanding, but we keep plunging deeper to find solutions to problems we encounter with cultural differences.

The tools I use to affect and change cultural attitudes are compromise, modeling, focusing on our similarities, and most of all…finding humor in daily challenges. Sometimes, I feel like I’m trying to balance on a slack line (Cory’s latest fun activity). I wobble a lot trying to keep  my balance, and sometimes I fall off. But, I get right back up and try it again…and again…and again. All I need are a few reassuring and helping hands. That’s life, right?

I’ve learned not to compromise my values, though.  For example, when a producer for a popular TV show contacted me through my blog, I said that maybe we weren’t the right people for the show because, although I love the show, they place an emphasis on granite counter tops, crown moulding, coffee on the veranda overlooking the beach, and gated communities. We only agreed to the production if the film crew would spotlight the talented local people and we could be shown culturally immersed in our community. We wanted to give hope to the many retirees searching for an affordable place to retire abroad, while living on a small fixed income.  I think it’s going to be a ground breaker and I’m thrilled that we could be a part of the new wave of cultural immersion.

I’d like to offer my readers a challenge. Are you willing to take the cultural plunge? I’d like to start a monthly cultural plunge challenge.  My goals are to:

1. Challenge one to have direct contact with people who are culturally different from oneself in a real life setting.
2. Gain insights into characteristics and circumstances of a culturally different group
3. To experience what it is like to be very different from most of the people one is around
4. To gain insight into one’s values, cultural biases, and how they affect attitudes
5. To offer ways to affect change for cultural competency

It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’m sure if you are up for a challenge..it will be an eye opener to the possibilities of living in a world without borders. Stay tuned for more details on taking the cultural plunge.


Facebook for Expats: Friend or Foe?

As an expat, I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. There are days that I gratefully turn to Facebook to solve mysterious Latino customs, or sift through mountainous responses to my questions with the help of my local and expat friends. Other days, I threaten to unsubscribe, cutting myself free from the time-consuming burden of ‘liking’, ‘defriending’, ‘befriending’, ‘hiding’, ‘status updating’, and ‘sharing’.

According to HSBC’s 2011 Expat Explorer Survey, a majority of expats use Facebook as their social network of choice. Even in countries where only 3-4% of locals use Facebook over half of expats are on the site a couple of times a week.

I confess that I am an Expat Facebook junkie. Awareness is the first step to overcoming an addiction. Honoring my newly found awareness, I have compiled a list of Facebook friends and foes for expats.

Facebook Friends

1. Connections
I make Facebook friends with people all over the world. One of the great things about living on Ometepe Island is that the world comes to us. We may live on a small island, but it is a world-famous Biosphere Reserve drawing thousands of tourists every year. Sipping my mocha latte at the Corner House Cafe, I make international connections with like-minded people almost everyday. Once we establish a face-to-face connection, my next question is, “What’s your Facebook name?”
2.   Information Gathering
Lacking vets, biologists, seismologists, geologists, and ornithologists, and practically all other special ‘ists’ on our island, I turn to Facebook for answers. I can post pictures of injured animals I find, seek identification of snakes, fish, and other creepy crawlies…and I always receive an immediate response to my questions from my Facebook friends.

Before Facebook, I joined forums, such as The Real Nicaragua and NicaLiving  seeking answers to questions pertaining to a potential or a new expat. I discovered that these forums always get dominated by aggressive, territorial types who make every thread into a chest-puffing exercise. I’m not surprised that people are getting sick of them. At least on Facebook you can block out the people who don’t add any value to information one is seeking.

Help me! What should I do for this injured bird?

My neighbors call it a Coral Negro. Is it poisonous?

This caused a ruckus on our beach today. The locals are afraid of this fish. Why?

3. Technology
Facebook is free! That’s a big plus for expats. It has a user-friendly interface, making it possible to post videos and pictures, chat with friends instantly, and promote my blog about compassionate cultural immersion and volunteer projects with one simple click. I’ve even turned on my teenage neighbors to Facebook..but, with a price. Check out the foes of Facebook technology.

4. Maintaining Family Connections

Our families are spread out all over the USA and Canada. I enjoy seeing the latest photos of newborns (especially baby toes…I love baby toes!), family reunions, travels, and heartwarming discussions of our families’ adventures through life.

Facebook Foes

1. Connections

Really…how many Facebook friends can one have and still be attentive to their posts? It takes up so much of my time scrolling and responding and trying to be a good Facebook friend, when I should be raking mangoes instead. I’ve continued my routine from my Gringolandia days… morning coffee and Facebook first. But, living in the tropics, I really need to change my routine. If I rake my mangoes and attend to my outside chores any later than 9 am, I’m a heat stroke victim.

See what I’m talking about?

2. Information Gathering
Yes, Facebook is a wonderful source of news and information. I have hundreds of pages and groups that I ‘like’. But, let’s face it, during an election year in the USA, the political posts are annoying as hell.  Battles ensue daily. If I feel the need to respond to a particularly offense political post, which I OFTEN do, I have to spend the time fact checking, wading through propaganda, and exploring the media for an unbiased article. We ALL know that’s impossible. I try to ‘hide’ posts that get my blood boiling, but even that doesn’t work most of the time. I ask myself, “Why do I bother?” I live in freakin’ Nicaragua, a socialist country. *sigh* I really need to rake my mangoes! The fermentation and the sickening sweet aroma of rotten mangoes is making me sick as I fact check.

3. Technology
I thought I was opening the world to my teenage neighbors by helping them join Facebook. Instead, my house has become an internet café. My impoverished neighbors don’t have computers, let alone internet. What was I thinking?

Is this really progress? What have I done?

Plus, my internet connection is spotty. I had to make a special Woktenna to hold my dongle. Sounds intriguing doesn’t it? Check out my post, here. My Woktenna.
I feel like a pusher and I’m addicting them, too. Naturally, when they joined Facebook, they have to check it, right? Sometimes, they come to check their Facebook at the most inopportune time.

Sometimes, I lie to them. “No hay internet hoy. Talvez manana.”  Then, I sneak onto Facebook…and have it all to my own. Shameful, right?  I’ve resorted to lying to my impoverished neighbors…all in the name of Facebook.

4. Maintaining Family Connections
I have to choose my status updates carefully. Not many of my family members were overly thrilled with us retiring in a ‘third world country’, or at least their perceptions of a third world country. I can’t post that Ron has parasites because he doesn’t wash the mangoes that drop to the ground. I can’t post that I had to wash and dress a dead gringo because there are no funeral directors here. Nor can I post that I’m afraid the volcano in our backyard is going to erupt any day now because it’s long overdue. They would worry. And, besides, they never read my blog, only Facebook.

So, there you have it. My friends and foes of my love/hate relationship with Facebook. I’m curious to hear from other expats. How do you feel about Facebook?

Our First Nicaraguan Thanksgiving

I am in travel mode again. I’m headed to Florida with my mother and step-father, then back to Nicaragua. While I am traveling, enjoy a story I wrote about our first Thanksgiving in Nicaragua in 2004.

Seven years later, many things have changed, while many things stay the same. I’m hoping that I will be able to buy a frozen turkey on the mainland this year. A new airport is almost finished where the old airstrip used to be. Norman still drives his truck around broadcasting the local news. Tourists still die climbing our volcanoes. (The two boys lost on Vulcan Maderas in 2004 were found dead, three weeks later) Our electricity is still sporadic. Yet, for all that remains the same…I wouldn’t trade it for a mansion or a million dollars. Home is where the heart is…and my heart is embedded on Ometepe Island.

Our 2004 Thanksgiving Dinner

A Nicaraguan Thanksgiving

November 24, 2004

            The biggest problems we have encountered in living on Ometepe are speculation and rumors.  Lacking a local newspaper, radio station, or television station, the islanders have to rely on information from an outside source to keep them abreast of current conditions on the home front.  If there is a death, birth, wedding, political rally, or a new bank in Moyogalpa, someone hires Norma’s son to broadcast the announcement.  He hops into his beat up old Nissan truck with two giant speakers in the bed and travels the rutted roads blasting the news, which is gratefully appreciated by even the most auditory challenged listeners.  However, Norma’s son only delivers local Moyogalpa news, so anyone needing information about other parts of the island has to rely on media that isn’t always accurate.  Such was the case on Thanksgiving Day.

A week before Thanksgiving, Ron and I were on a wild chompipe chase, ‘a wild turkey chase’.  I wanted a turkey for Thanksgiving, even though we have no oven to cook it.   Necessity is the mother of invention, so I had a plan to roast it in a big hole that we would dig in the sand on our beach.  Things didn’t turn out as I had planned because, although we found a live turkey, Ron wanted no part of my plan and refused to bother with such a massive production.  However, a day before Thanksgiving, Francisco, my dedicated English student, and now a good friend, came to our rescue with a 5 to 6 pound Guapote that his Uncle Foster caught in his fishing net.

While wandering the streets of Moyogalpa looking for a chompipe, we heard Norma’s son broadcasting the opening of a new bank.  We’re getting rather good at identifying the shish kebob of Spanish words in context and are now able to get the drift of most conversations if we know the subject.  We stopped at the Hospedaje Central for a cold beer and listened to a discussion about the two lost hikers on Vulcan Maderas.   A tourist asked if they found the boys and Valeria launched into a tirade about the stupidity of hikers that refuse to spend ten dollars to hire a guide to trek the volcanoes.

Thanksgiving Day, a week after the boys were lost, Ron and I were disassembling our broken fan to get parts to make a grill for our Guapote, when we heard a helicopter flying above our house.  The only other time we saw anything flying above Ometepe was in early November, right before the elections.  Daniel Ortega hovered above our house and landed in the La Paloma playground near the elementary school.  He campaigned hard for the Sandinista mayor and handed out US dollars to all the kids at the school.  Previously, the islanders had seen one plane in February, 2004.  A prop plane flying from Columbia to Guatemala lost altitude over Ometepe and their choice was to dump their cargo or crash into the lake.  They opted to dump their load, which consisted of many kilos of cocaine dropped from the sky like manna from heaven.

We dropped our fan pieces and ran out to see the helicopter flying in the direction of Vulcan Maderas.  All the neighbors were jumping and running excitedly to catch a glimpse of the novelty.  We wondered if it was the old Sandinista helicopter hired by the US boy’s parents to search for their son.  It looked exactly like the helicopter that Daniel Ortega flew in… an old, army helicopter painted in camouflaged colors.  I wondered who was piloting the antiquated thing and if it was an old Sandinista pilot who had both of his legs blown off in the war.  I wondered why there wasn’t a helicopter hired to search for the El Salvadoran and if the boys on Vulcan Maderas were still alive.

A few minutes later, a new Piper Cub buzzed our house.  It circled four times headed for the old landing strip near our house.  We all hopped on bicycles and peddled frantically to the old landing strip to see if it would land.  Julio clung to the handlebars, Luvis straddled the rear tire, Ron panted as he wove through the rutted, black sand road, and I ran along the side.  At the old air strip, everyone from La Paloma had gathered to watch the event.  I really don’t know if the landing strip had ever been used and after a heavy rainy season, the volcanic sand had washed most of the strip into the lake leaving crevices large enough to park a Mac Truck inside the holes.  The islanders watched in fascination as the shiny bird circled four more times, each time getting lower to inspect the potential landing site.  But, to the disappointment of all, it was unable to land and it sped off across the lake toward Managua .

Like the fish kill in September, speculation and rumor abounded.  Everyone thought these unusual sightings of novel flying machines had something to do with the boys lost on the volcano.  One onlooker said he just heard on the radio that one of the boys had been found alive.  Another said, “No.  All they found so far was a wallet.”  Everyone agreed that it was a huge event because the lost boys  were gringos.  Although the other boy was from Great Britain, all the islanders called anyone with white skin a gringo. Technically, that term is reserved for citizens of the USA because during the war with Mexico, when the Mexican soldiers saw the green uniforms of US soldiers, they said, “Green, go” in other words, “get your asses out of our country.”  But, the islanders use the term affectionately and we don’t find it offensive.

Where was Norma’s son when you needed him?  We didn’t know what to believe about the lost boys.  We returned to our house and it began to rain, so instead of grilled Guapote, Ron made a delicious Guapote Thanksgiving stew.  I think it topped the turkey.  We sipped a bottle of Chilean wine and toasted our lives on this wondrous primitive island lacking any hint of tourism infrastructure.  We gave thanks for the many blessings bestowed on our lives and prayed for the safety of the boys on the volcano.  We drank to our generous neighbors, whose family has increased now that Papa’s two older daughters and their little niños have moved back home ( another long, sad, story) , and thanked them for translating the TV news that evening using slow, well pronounced words for our benefit.  The Managua station said there is no new information.  It’s been ten days now and the boys still haven’t been found.  We’re all dreading the news that maybe they didn’t survive and wondering what the effects of these deaths will have on tourism on Ometepe.

Sideline:  Sorry, this letter is so disjointed.  We’ve been without electricity 2 days now, and tonight (Sunday) our neighbors who own the little palm leafed bar down the road have somehow bypassed the transformer that blew up so they could have electricity for cold beer and loud music.  Lester’s Papa sent him on his bicycle tonight to tell us that we’d have electricity until 3 am .  With lots of sign language and pictures on our white board, we figured out that the temporary line is dangling dangerously close to the lake water and we have to shut off the power to our house before we go to bed so we don’t get a dangerous power surge.  Anyway, that’s the best I can make of it.  It has been a relaxing change without power.  I’ve read, painted a beautiful watercolor scene looking out our front door, and Ron’s been busy in the garden… which I promise will be the next newsletter.  We had our freezer full of chicken, Guapote, and hamburger.. so today we had a big feast with the neighbors.  We grilled hamburgers, made two types of delicious fish and cheese stews, and ate delicious grilled chicken and plantains.  Lourdita, the 3-year-old, wore her red party dress, which she tore on the fence; we danced, drank lemon/rum drinks, warm beer…, and sang lots of Spanish songs.

It’s almost December and we’re looking forward to many celebrations.  Cory will be here Dec. 9th, Julio’s birthday is the sixth, ( now, he and Luvis have told me that Papa looked at The Paper and said that Julio is only 11 and Luvis is only 10 ) go figure….no one seems to know how old they are here!!  Our neighbor’s daughter at the local bar is getting married this month, and many French Canadians have flown in for the wedding, because Eric, the groom, is from Quebec .  We feel like we are becoming a part of the community now.  I even helped to birth Don Jose’s litter of piglets.

Today started a festival of the Immaculate Conception.  Apparently, they take the Virgin Mary out of the church and she sleeps in various homes for the next eight days.  Everyone gets to hunt for her at 7 o’clock each evening.  When they find her, the house owner has to give everyone presents, like fruit, candy, and little toys.  Then, the home owner has to cart her back to the church and they start all over again.  Ron and I are hoping that she doesn’t end up at our house because we’ll have to buy lots of toys and candy and she’d be very heavy to carry a mile back to town.  We can’t quite figure out how the Immaculate Conception occurred on Dec. 8th and Jesus was born on Dec. 25th.

Well, I’m really rambling, now…trying to fit it all in and copy it before we shut off the power to the house.  I’d better close this before I really get carried away.  I’ll write a better letter when I have reliable power.