Weekly Photo Challenge: Street Life on Ometepe Island


 

The Weekly Photo Challenge is Street Life. Ometepe Island, Nicaragua is a rural, agricultural area with colorful street (or volcanic path) life. Join me on a trip into Moyogalpa with our favorite moto taxi driver.

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More street life ahead.Traffic jam ahead.

Expat Speed Bumps


“We could do it, you know.”
“What?”
“Leave the district. Run off. Live in the woods. You and I, we could make it.”
― Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

Yesterday, we walked to Moyogalpa instead of taking our motorcycle. “Where’s your moto?” many people asked. “We need the exercise,” I lied. There is no way I’ll admit that I am afraid to get on the moto after taking another spill. Wait! Did I just say that I hit a speed bump in our expat life on la isla?

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More expat speed bumps. Keep reading!

Weekly Photo Challenge: One Window of Our Lives


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Window. They are portals into the world’s stories. Glimpses into other people’s lives. Looking out (or into) a window can tell you about where you are — and where you’re not — and mark a particular moment in time, linking you to a physical place. Join me as we peek into one window of our lives on Ometepe Island.

A Barbie doll pink house, a big ole’ cement pila, and a worn window signified the beginning of our quest for a simple and carefree lifestyle culturally immersed with friends and family on Ometepe Island.

IMG_2260When Ron destroyed the big ole’ cement pila our journey began.
knocking out a concrete sinkLight filtered through our window and the only thing we saw was the beauty of things to come.
IMG_2797We pretended we worked in a McDonald’s drive-through, happily dispensing peanut butter sandwiches to our workers through our window. They laughed, not having a clue what we were talking about. Later, we found our sandwiches stuffed in a hole of the Mango tree.
IMG_3080I thought retirement was supposed to be… welI…retiring. Instead, I sanded my soft hands to the bone refinishing the window shutters.
IMG_3118Look! We have a TV!  Steeler football games and a cold Tona after a hard day’s work. What more could we ask for?
IMG_3252As the house progressed, the garden grew. We harvested our first batch of tomatoes.
IMG_3919Then the mangoes began to drop…and drop…and drop. Delicious mango jam is on the menu.
Mango JamThe tropics require drinking lots of water. Ron, I caught you drinking out of the jug again. I won’t nag this time because he built us a pine trestle table in front of the window.
IMG_4044Ron’s table has served us well. Family and friends gather around our table for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even a game of spoons. The table nestled in front of the window houses my collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts and my lending library books.

My cupcake and cookie buddy and I often gather around the window where she displays her marvelous treats.

Life outside our window involves swinging, watching chickens, and making dough balls to trap rats in the garden.
IMG_0527We added a string of lights around the window for a festive look at Christmas.
IMG_1439Our window constantly changes scenes adding to our contentment on our little island of peace. One small portal of our lives, one giant step toward our dreams.
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Marina and Socialized Medicine in Nicaragua


IMG_5793Marina and her family have been our closest neighbors for ten years. We’ve watched her five children grow into loving, responsible adults. Throughout the years, all of her children and their families have lived with Marina at one time or another.  When Jose and his wife and three babies moved into Marina’s one bedroom shack, she just slapped some old tin on the side of the house and made herself a dirt floor bedroom. Every morning, her smoky cooking pot boiled with beans for her grand babies. Every afternoon, she hung the hand-washed bleached white cloth diapers on the barbed wire fence. She’s a hard worker and very proud of her family.
IMG_1441Two years ago, Marina began to complain of a lump in her neck. “Toce aqui,” (touch here) she’d say, while grabbing my fingers to make sure I touched in the right spot. “It hurts,” she complained. That was the beginning of my limited understanding of socialized health care in Nicaragua, and the things I’ve learned through Marina’s fight for equal health care.

1. I’ve learned that Nicaraguans depend on a three-tier health system that reflects the fundamental inequalities of their society. The wealthiest Nicaraguans use private health care, often going to Miami for specialized treatment. A small minority of privileged government workers are served by the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute. The rest of the population, about 90%, is poorly served at public hospitals, usually understaffed, mismanaged, and under equipped. Marina fits in the last tier and her journey has been an eye-opener, for me, into the world of socialized medicine in Nicaragua.
IMG_49772. I’ve learned that the patient can’t choose the doctor in Nicaragua. Marina was shuffled from one doctor to another. There’s little room for shopping around or for switching from one doctor to another when the bureaucrats have to “go by the book”.   She couldn’t afford to go to a private clinic. Her options were limited and so was her economic status.

3. The doctor can’t choose the patient. Under socialized medicine, there are few referrals made to another doctor. Marina needed a specialist, but it screwed up the system. Because medical services are free, demand for them goes up, patients are put on long waiting lists, and doctors quickly become overbooked and overworked. It took two long years before Marina received a specialist who was able to diagnose her problem.

4. The patient doesn’t get consoled or consulted. “Marina, what did the doctor say?” I would ask after every trip to Managua. “I don’t know,” she would always say. “He just gave me a slip of paper for another appointment. He doesn’t talk to me.” My understanding of the role of a healer is to always give comfort, support, and encouragement to a worried patient. This is not the case in a public hospital in Nicaragua. I’ve accompanied several local friends to public hospitals in Nicaragua, and it’s more like going to the Waffle House, where the doctors are short-order cooks, dispensing cheap aspirin in a cookie-cutter, uncompetitive state-run way.

5. The patient doesn’t get well. Marina suffered for two years waiting for an operation when the tumors growing on her thyroid could be removed. She was scheduled for her operation in December, but after a long, expensive trip to Managua, she was sent home with orders to return in January because the hospital was full of patients with Dengue. Don’t you think they could have saved her a costly trip with a simple phone call? The truth is, Nicaraguans go on long waiting lists all the time because the right equipment, or medicines, or doctors are not available when they need it the most. Thus, these patients become chronically sick as a direct result of the above four points.

The only consolation in Marina’s case, is that she received her operation this week…two years after her first symptoms. There won’t be a bill, and her loving family members are gathered around her, tending to her every need. She returned home yesterday, a day after her five hour delicate operation. Julio harvested our basil leaves and Gloria mixed  a refreshing tea bath of basil, alcohol, and warm water. When I walked into her house to give her a warm bowl of tapioca pudding and strong pain pills, her daughters surrounded her, pouring basil leaf tea all over her body. The warm water pooled over the dirt floor, while the girls tenderly bathed their mother and grandmother. Marina’s mother gently walked her to the outhouse, and the rest of the family members followed behind, hands holding hips, as the little train of compassion chugged to the outhouse. Touched by the compassion and loving care of their cherished mother, I tried to hold back my tears.

IMG_5506“There’s a story behind everything..but behind all your stories is always your mother’s story..because hers is where yours begins.”
― Mitch Albom, For One More Day

Observing the tender care Marina’s children bestowed upon her, I learned that our mothers’ stories are where ours begin. It takes courage and compassion to raise loving children. Marina is one of the most courageous people I know, therefore her children carry on her legacy.  It’s a shame that economic status determines the type of health care one receives in Nicaragua. Yet, knowing Marina and her children, I have no doubts that she will recover quickly.

Christmas Traditions…Bah Humbug?


“Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course.”
― Lemony Snicket, The Blank Book

I’m not one for holding too many traditions. We had a Christmas tree until Cory graduated from high school, then we ditched the live tree mainly because we ran out of room on our property to replant our Christmas trees.  My Christmas tree ornaments, which I so carefully bought over many years, are still stored in our garage in the states. Bah Humbug, some may say, but, honestly it simplified my life and I could concentrate on the really important aspects of the Christmas holidays like visiting family and friends and baking cookies.

Below is my Bah Humbug list of Christmas traditions we’ve discarded for a simpler life, or we have been forced to discard because we live on a tropical island far from the mainstream:

1. Presents: I used to make all my Christmas gifts. Each year I had a new theme: batik, gift baskets, homemade dog and cat biscuits, those little mason jars filled with layers of brownie mix or hot chocolate, homemade jams, Scherenschnitte pictures and frames,        which means paper cutting in German, watercolor paintings, and gift bags from our travels around the world. Now, I bake cookies and give them to all our friends and neighbors on Ometepe Island. It is a real treat because most of my friends don’t have ovens and ( if you can believe this) they have never eaten a chocolate chip cookie.

2. Shopping: I was never one for going to the malls in December, and I only attended one Black Friday event. The invention of internet shopping became my sole way to shop for Christmas presents. I love Amazon, but even that is something I can only dream about in Nicaragua. 

3. Decorating the house for Christmas: Oh, the collection of snowmen, those little ceramic Christmas trees, nativity scenes, wreaths, and hopelessly tangled Christmas lights and icicles I have given away in yard sales. This year, my 10-year-old friend, Lauren, made me a wreath to hang on my door out of Styrofoam cups. Since I wanted something a little twinkly to add beside the wreath, I took four used rum bottles, steamed the labels off, added some water, green and red food coloring, and set them on my porch railing beside the hanging wreath. It adds a festive touch to my entrance when the tropical sun shines through them. However, it confuses my hummingbirds. They’ve been buzzing around the red bottles with a puzzled and very determined look.

4. Christmas cards: I gave up that tradition long ago when the cost of a stamp was more than a small homemade gift. We don’t have mail delivery on the island, so that settles any thought of buying Christmas cards… which I’ve never seen here anyway.

5. Trips to see the Christmas lights: At the Bristol Motor Speedway, they have a fantastic collection of Christmas lights and scenes. What made it so cool was that we could drive our car around the speedway to see all the light displays. Now, very few homes have Christmas lights, and the ones that do are only lit up for a short period because 1. Electricity is expensive here 2. We don’t want to take our motorcycle out after dark because there are too many obstacles on the dirt paths and the few paved roads. 3. When electric demand is high, those who have the power ( literally) ration our usage. For example, there was a huge techno concert the other night. The surrounding towns were cut-off from electricity so the techno concert could go on without missing an eardrum shattering beat.
speedway in lights

Ometepe Island still maintains its simplified Christmas traditions. Here are a few.

Church is still very important. The Virgin Mary statue is paraded around town for La Purisma for the first eight days of December accompanied by loud firecrackers and pipe bombs.
IMG_0685Nativity scenes abound…but where is baby Jesus? Traditionally, the manger is empty until Christmas Eve, then baby Jesus is tenderly placed in the manger.
IMG_0684Traditional handmade gifts are given…twig brooms, arts and crafts, fans, hats to shade one from the tropical sun, cloth dolls, handmade baskets and toys, and always lots of fruits.
IMG_0681Nacatamales..the traditional midnight Christmas Eve dinner.
IMG_0786Beautiful Christmas cakes adorn special parties.
IMG_0712Gift giving is traditional, and the gifts are usually given at midnight on Christmas Eve, but they open their gifts in private because they don’t want to embarrass the humble gift giver. Below are some of the gifts we received this year…bread fruit, lots of watermelons, underwear, socks, jewelry, a Christmas wreath, and precious Pre-Columbian pottery that my friend, Mitchel, dug out of a construction site where he was working.

In return, I keep up one tradition…my annual Christmas cookies. It seems fitting to me to continue this tradition because homemade cookies are scarce in Nicaragua, and I love sharing a tradition I have held for many years with my island friends and neighbors.
IMG_0725I hope your holiday is overflowing with family, friends, and lots of sweet things this year.

Tonight is the Night


HHI on TV  2Although we won’t be able to watch our House Hunters International episode until we are in the states next week, we hope you can watch it. Enjoy the show, and if you find that you are really embarrassed for us, don’t tell us. LOL

I have lots of stories to tell. They are patiently waiting for me to hit the publish button on WordPress. Stay tuned for “Tito Crosses Over: The life of an illegal immigrant” and many other stories. I’m not sure how often I will be able to post during the month of November, meanwhile, enjoy the show.

 

Foreign Philanthropy


Inspired by Jefferson’s philosophy and practice as a Weekend Philanthropist and because we got paid for our gig on a TV show (well, not yet…but soon),  I decided to dabble in a little foreign philanthropy myself.

Although philanthropy isn’t foreign to me, the sense of caring for, nourishing, and enhancing a love of humanity, is fading quickly in our troubled world. Read some comments on a Yahoo article or Facebook and I’m sure you’ll agree. But, what exactly is philanthropy and how does it differ from charity?

When I was a working woman, I used to give to charities, mainly because I had more disposable income and less time. But, I found charities to be impersonal. Charities relieve the pains of social problems, such as food, clothing, etc. for natural disasters and other societal pains, but it is temporary relief. On the other hand, philanthropy attempts to get to the root of the problem. I like the thought of getting up close and personal to a problem and trying to solve it from the inside out.

I’ve heard people describe the differences between charity and philanthropy as: charity gives a man a fish and philanthropy teaches a man to fish. Or charity=giving and philanthropy=doing. Either way, charity’s Latin roots and philanthropy’s Greek roots are both based on meanings of loving kindness and generosity. Both are admirable and make a difference in our troubled world. Yet, I lean towards philanthropy because; I have less disposable income and more time, and philanthropy addresses the root causes of why people are vulnerable in the first place.

Although there is a blurred line in the distinctions between charity and philanthropy, the important thing is to do something, right? So in the interest of doing something, I’d like to share with you some of the organizations and people, to which I am paying forward loving kindness and generosity.

1. Johnson Cruz Races for Funds
I have written several posts about Johnson, and I will continue to support him in his quest of becoming a Nicaraguan Olympian.

2. El Carizo Sustainability Project
A friend of mine is empowering a small community in Nicaragua to break the cycle of poverty through organic agriculture, environmental protection, education, and intercultural exchange.

3. OutMore Adventures
My son and his business partners created cultural tourism programs for the indigenous community of Los Ramos, which I will always support. In fact, the TV show filmed them, which was lots of fun. We made nacatamales in their cultural cooking class and filmed the process. The TV crew gorged themselves on the delicious nacatamales. :-)

Of course, I have more books to buy for my mobile lending library, my neighbor needs running shoes so he can compete in local races, and I’d sure like to help our local hospital with donations of latex gloves (I’m going to stock up on boxes of latex gloves when I go back to the states).

I’ve only begun on my philanthropic journey….with miles to go before I sleep. Yet, when I do sleep…it’s with peaceful, loving thoughts and dreams of what I can do tomorrow.

Weekly Photo Challenge: In the Background


This week’s photo challenge is to take a picture of yourself as a shadow, a reflection, or a lesser part of the scene, making the background the foreground, the center of attention.

     I’ve learned that our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become” ~James Rhinehar
IMG_20130509_082857Two weeks ago, a film crew came from the USA to film us for a popular TV show. Although it looks like we were the center of attention…we really weren’t! The focus was on the background: the many talented local people, our background story of searching for a place where we could be totally immersed in a local culture, the spirit of paying forward the many blessings we have received, and daily life on our oasis of peace. Our backgrounds influenced who we are, but cultural immersion changed who we have become.

 

 

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.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: When a Kiss is More Than Just a Kiss


A kiss is almost always more than just a kiss. It is a language with its own grammar…a recipe of love with unique ingredients. People actually have careers studying kissing; they are called philematologists. Kisses are classified into three categories: the “basium,” for the standard romantic kiss; the “osculum,” for the friendship kiss; and the “savium,” the most passionate kind, sometimes referred to as a French kiss.

But, in Nicaragua I’ve encountered another kind of kiss, which I’ll call “desolo” or the Latin word for abandoned. Eight years ago, I lent my camera to my 10-year-old neighbor, Luvy. Her mother was visiting from Costa Rica where she was working as a maid to support her family on Ometepe Island. When Luvy’s mother returned for a short visit, I told Luvy to record her most precious moments on my camera and I would print the pictures for her.

DSCN0725For most of Luvy’s young life, her mother lived in Costa Rica. Luvy’s elderly father cared for her and her household of siblings and extended family members.  At the age of seven, Luvy bent over the cooking fire preparing meals for her family, as well as tending to the daily needs of her younger nieces and nephews who lived with them.

When Luvy was a teenager, her mother returned to live with them. Sadly, Luvy still lives with a feeling of abandonment, as do most of the younger Nicaraguan children whose parents leave them to find work in Costa Rica. Luvy turns 19 next week. She is following in her mother’s footsteps by moving to Costa Rica to find work. I desperately wish we could stop this perpetual cycle of abandonment.

IMG_1676The photo above has a happier ending. This is Bobby’s dog, Luna. Bobby died a little over a year ago abandoning Luna. She was placed in a loving foster home for a short time, until the woman could no longer care for her. Finding loving homes for pets in Nicaragua is not easy. First, most Nicaraguans don’t understand the concept of pets. Second, Bobby pampered Luna, again something unheard of in Nicaragua.

My friend, Carol, came to the rescue. She lovingly opened her home to Luna. Last week, when we were visiting Granada, we stopped in to say hello to Luna. Very grateful and sloppy Luna kisses smothered Carol with love.

Next time you happen upon kissing, remember that a kiss may look deceptively simple, but a kiss is almost never just a kiss.