Weekly Photo Challenge: Love as a Dove


“We must combine the toughness of a serpent with the softness of a dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

IMG_5009High in the rafters of our porch, pairs of doves return during their mating season to display their affection and faithfulness, their love for each other..for doves mate for life. These emblems of love represent our lives on Ometepe Island for several reasons.

First, the dove is a traditional symbol for love and peace. I like to think of myself as a messenger for peace, spreading the word that tolerance and fairness is possible in this troubled world of ours.

Second, we live in the tiny community of La Paloma, which in Spanish means ‘the dove’. La Paloma is a model of peace and understanding. We blend our cultures successfully in our community; I feel that we represent a microcosm of how humankind should respond to one another in our troubled world.

Finally, Ron and I are committed to sharing our lives together. We have been married 37 years…a commitment of love, faithfulness, and trust that is sadly lacking in our troubled world today. Spread your wings..love as a dove..and go with peace and understanding…for that’s what love is all about.

 

Little Things That Go ‘Bump’ in an Expat Night


 

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. ~ Nelson Mandela

Fears! Things that go ‘bump’ in the night! We all have them. How we handle fear determines what kind of life we will lead…shackled or challenged…intolerant or tolerant. Throughout my life, I have learned the hard way; it is much easier for me to make friends with my fears than avoid them or deny that they exist. It hasn’t been easy, particularly living abroad, where a whole new set of fears have been unleashed. The fears that go ‘bump’ in my expat life certainly are different than the fears I faced in the states.

Below are some of the ‘little’ fears, mainly bugs, parasites, and viruses…oh my!, that I have developed in living on a tropical island.  I’m facing them…one at a time…but how does one make friends with some of these wicked things?

A scorpion with hundreds of babies found on our roof tile

Scorpions! I have never seen a scorpion before moving here. Wicked, primitive creatures! Why are they on earth? This one has hundreds of baby scorpions clinging to its back. If they sting, supposedly one’s tongue goes numb. If that happens to me, I couldn’t even cry out a pitiful, terrified call for HELP! Ron says, “Face it, Debbie. Someday, you will be stung!” It gives me nightmares! That’s why I’m raising free-range chickens. My little chicks love scorpions and other nasty creepy crawlies.

A Bot fly emerging from a man’s head

OMG! Parasites! I knew we made a horrible mistake watching, Monsters Inside Me: Animal Planet. Half the world’s human population is infected with parasites. I don’t want to be a statistic. Although we have city water, we sterilize and filter it daily. Once a month, we gulp two yellow parasite pills…just in case. Oh, I’m shuddering at the thought of this Bot fly emerging from my scalp someday.

Chagas Beetle

I guess the Chagas beetle would fit into the category of parasite, but it needs special attention because it is emerging in Nicaragua as the new ‘Aids’. Known as the kissing beetle, it bites the face of a sleeping victim, then defecates in the bite. It leaves behind a tiny parasite that can lie dormant in the body for years and years. There is no cure, but once the parasite takes hold, death quickly follows. Fortunately, only 2% of the population of people who are bitten by the Chagas beetle, have grave symptoms. But, I’m not taking any chances. We sleep blanketed under a mosquito net.

Dengue! Severe dengue is a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics. Transmitted by mosquitoes, there is no known vaccine to prevent infection of the dengue virus. I know at least five expats who have had a a mild form of dengue. When I say mild, I mean severe headaches, high fever, nausea, vomiting, and muscle and joint pains. Severe dengue is a potentially deadly combination because it causes hemorrhaging throughout the body and respiratory distress.

So, how do I make friends with the fear of dengue fever? I take precautions, especially in the rainy season. Fans run constantly in our house to blow away intruding mosquitoes and other flying insects. Yet, we rarely see mosquitoes. I think the reason is because we live on the lake shore and there is a constant breeze. We sleep under mosquito nets. Although it is impossible to have a house completely free from bugs and other flying insects, we have screens on our windows, and shuttered window panes that we can close at night. I’m stocked up on Skin-so-Soft, purchased from my neighborly Avon boy. I swear, Skin-so-Soft works to keep the bugs and biting insects at bay.

We caught two mice in one trap!

During the rainy season, we have a problem with mice and rats. Recently, everyone I’ve talked to on the island is trying to figure out a way to get rid of the mice and rats. We’ve tried traps, but many of the rats take the bait…oh they are very intelligent critters, like the Rats of Nimh. They are eating all of Ron’s soybeans and sweet potatoes in the garden! We can’t poison them because it is too dangerous with our little chickens free-ranging.

Two September’s ago, when we were building our house, a traveling doctor and nurse came door to door dispensing powerful antibiotics to prevent Leptospirosis. It is a bacterial disease caused by rat droppings, which contaminate food and water. If you really want to be freaked-out by the number of diseases rats carry..check out this website: Diseases Caused by Rats.

I’m chuckling to myself as I write because I have a lot of friends who freak when they encounter bugs, insects, and rats….I don’t think they will be coming to visit us any time soon. But, these are things one needs to know when considering living in the tropics. One can choose to be paralyzed by fear, or accept the many challenges in dealing with the little things that go ‘bump’ in an expat night. This is reality! We learn to take the good with the bad, create inventive ways to prevent the boo-boos and bumps from occurring, and gain more knowledge everyday along the expat road filled with creepy crawlies that go ‘bump’ in our lives.

 

 

Great Expectations


 

 

“There are two ways to be happy: improve your reality, or lower your expectations”
Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes

Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to this article: Migration in the Americas. The first comment asked about the cost of living in Nicaragua, so I responded with information and a link to my blog. Throughout the day, I watched as the hits to my blog steadily climbed. By the end of the day, I had received more than 3,700 hits. Why? Is it because people are desperate to fulfill dreams of sipping margaritas under gently swaying palm trees, while watching the ocean waves lap at the doors of their tiki huts? Is it because of frustration and economic despair that life has so rudely thrust in their paths?

Comments ranged from curious to hopeful, and on the other end of the spectrum, from hateful to distorted with many bitter political viewpoints. Are we all doomed because we dream of a better life with great expectations? Are we fearful of improving our reality or are we expecting too much out of life?

We moved to Nicaragua without too many expectations, for I have learned that great expectations lead to great disappointments. Life has not been easy here. We knew better than to expect an idyllic lifestyle surrounded by margaritas with those cute little umbrellas poked into frosty glasses. Instead, we learned to take one day at a time, and improve our reality without playing the blame game.

I am not a victim of my circumstances. I consciously chose a simple, culturally immersed lifestyle and deal with the challenges it presents every moment of every day. As a result, I’m happy and fulfilled because I chose to be realistic and live without great expectations. Not that I lowered my expectations..I don’t agree with that part at all. I simply don’t have expectations. For me, life is easier without them.

Life in Nicaragua can be described with the Big Brother motto, “Expect the Unexpected.” After building a house in the worst flood in 60 years, encountering daily power and water outages, discovering that I have a severe allergic reaction to ant bites, a frustratingly slow internet, and watching my close friends commit suicide out of hopelessness and despair…I am still here. Why? Because this is….my life…one day at a time.

 

 

 

 

Reflections on a Gift of a Golden Hen


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When Marina saw that Goldie, her hen, was laying on three eggs below our pollo grill, she said, “Now, she is your hen.” We never intended to be chicken farmers, but a gift of a broody hen is very precious in Nicaragua. How could we refuse?

Marina stole eight more eggs from another broody hen, adding to our three from Goldie. Eleven fertile eggs. We tended to Goldie’s needs for 22 days. In the late morning, when the sun had sufficiently warmed the nest, Goldie descended the wooden ramp and clucked loudly at our front doors. Anticipating her call, I threw small pieces of ripe papaya, mango, and sprinkles of bread, rice, and chicken feed to her.

Two days after Easter Sunday, the first three eggs hatched. We wondered how Goldie would get her chicks down from the nest. We also wondered what would happen to the remaining eggs that had not hatched, yet. Goldie waddled down the wooden ramp and camped out under the nest. She gently called to her chicks, but the chicks wouldn’t budge.

“Should we build a slide so the chicks can slide down the ramp?” I wondered. “How about a mini-trampoline? Or maybe if we put a bale of hay under the ramp, the chicks can have a soft landing.” The waiting was excruciating.  The chicks refused to budge.

With helping hands, we carefully scooped up the chicks and placed them on the ground near Goldie. Everyone needs a helping hand occasionally, right? What a dilemma! What would happen to the eggs that were almost ready to hatch? How could we protect the chicks from predators, especially the giant Hurracas ( big blue jays that gobble up baby chicks like cotton candy)?

Goldie took her newly hatched chicks into the jungle of our yard. They stumbled over dry leaves and rotten mangoes, while the Hurracas circled overhead. I had to stand guard, watching over my precious flock. “That will never work, Debbie,” Marina shouted across the fence. She quickly crossed the barbed wire fence with a long piece of rope. “Grab the chicks, and I’ll get the hen,” she ordered. Before I knew what was happening, Goldie’s leg was tied to the rope and the other end tied to a chair on my porch. I scooped up the chicks and gently placed them beside her. She didn’t look very happy to me. Disgruntled, she eventually settled down and eyed me with suspicion.

We tested the remaining eggs in the nest. Marina shoved the eggs near my ear and said, “Listen!” Amazed, I could hear faint taps on the shells from within. She scooped up the eggs, all except for one rotten egg ( Why is there always one rotten egg in the bunch?), and put them in the nest of her other broody hen.

The next morning, there were eight chicks poking their tiny heads out from under Goldie. Marina had quietly slipped the newly hatched chicks in the temporary nest while we were sleeping. That afternoon, she returned with two more fuzzy balls of downy feathers. Ten precious chicks.

However, the temporary shelter would never work because Goldie got tangled in the rope. We found her with her leg hung in the air and her chicks trying to keep warm under her suspended leg. She looked like an awkward ballerina. Poor Goldie. Ron quickly constructed a new home in the pollo grill and surrounded it with rolls of screen.

Goldie and her chicks are much happier, now. They can peck and chirp and cluck to their heart’s content. In another week, we’ll open the screen and allow them to wander the jungle of our yard during the day, and return them to their screened chicken house at night.

I’ve been researching chicken tractors. I can’t understand why no one in our neighborhood protects their chickens. They are free-roaming and the casualties are great. Finding the eggs is a daily treasure hunt. I already know that I’ll never be capable of eating Goldie’s first hatch. I’ve named them after the elements in the periodic table: Boron, Chlorine, Carbon, Iodine, Lead, Mini-me ( looks exactly like Goldie), Krypton, Calcium, Helium, and Neon. Gender neutral names until we can determine the sex of the chicks. :-)

Everyone, including Ron, thinks I’m crazy. But, I’m really enjoying my first experience as a chicken farmer. A gift of a broody hen is a precious gift in Nicaragua, a gift that deserves only the best of care…my little precious elements are growing rapidly.

 

It’s So Hot and Dry….


It’s so hot and dry in Nicaragua in April that….

The ice cream trucks are melting.

Goldie, our hen, hatched hard-boiled eggs.
The surfers in San Juan del Sur are surfing the web instead.
Our active volcano, Concepcion, retreated.
Our cold water taps supply hot water…when we have water.
You burn your legs sitting on a motorcycle parked in the hot sun.
You work up a sweat getting out of bed in the morning.
You need a spatula to remove your clothing.
Ron’s sweet potatoes cook underground.
The birds pull fried worms out of the ground.
We need snow shoes to walk into town over the dusty layers of sand.
Our flip-flops melt on our black sand beach.
When the temperature drops below 95 F (35C), we feel a bit chilly.
We renamed ‘Friday’….Fryday.
The Jehovah Witnesses on Ometepe Island are telemarketing.
The air smells like someone is ironing.
The fire ants are spontaneously combusting.
The birds are building their nests out of barbed wire.
The Catholics are giving rain checks for Semana Santa week.

The farmers say that the rain will start earlier this year. The rain usually begins in mid-May.  I’m keeping my dry and cracked fingers crossed. :-)

Credit for these jokes goes to many internet searches for hot and dry jokes. I only modified the jokes to fit Nicaragua.

 

 

The House that Francheco Built


Three years ago, Francheco, our Italian friend, built a beautiful yellow house at the end of the proposed runway for the new airport. He hired a trustworthy crew and they worked side-by side to build a house worthy of his talents.

At the time, he wasn’t aware that he would have to tear down his house brick by brick and lovingly unearth his flowers and trees to make way for progress. When the Nicaraguan government came knocking at his door, he was tenderly watering his young saplings. “Your house is at the end of our runway,” the government reported. “This is a problem.”

No kidding! A problem? More like a disaster! After months of negotiations, the government acquired his property, and Francheco assembled his trustworthy crew once again.

“The most disheartening thing about this, is that I have to pay the same crew who helped me build my house, to tear it down….brick by brick,” Francheco lamented. All is well that ends well…at least we think! Francheco bought beautiful property near the Punta Jesus Maria. Wire, toilets, bricks, and other building materials are slowly reuniting at his new site.

The other day, the Pellas family helicopter flew to the island. Rumor has it, they bought the Punta Jesus Maria and are planning to build a resort. After all, when the rich tourists fly to Ometepe Island, they must have proper accommodations befitting their lifestyles.  Francheco can’t escape progress. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about the latest turn of events. Time will tell. Francheco may be digging up his saplings again.

Francheco's yellow house to the right, nestled in front of Vulcan Concepcion

Walking to Francheco's house along the beaten path of the proposed runway

Today, no sign of the beautiful yellow house

Where is Francheco's house now?

Going Bananas!


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We harvested Bobby’s bananas today. Actually, Sam wanted to cut the banana stock with a machete since he just learned how to harvest plantains, but a strong gust of wind blew over the heavy bunch of bananas before Sam could show off his machete skills.

The baby banana sprout was a gift from my close friend, Bobby. He passed away in December. The day after his death, the bananas started to blossom. I don’t believe in coincidences. Serendipity is a better choice for my feelings because it’s a talent for making fortunate discoveries, while searching for other things. I sat under Bobby’s bananas daily, talking to him, trying to understand his despair. A few days before the harvest, I could hear Bobby’s whispers in the wind. I think he was trying to tell me, “Don’t go bananas over my death. Enjoy my gift with acceptance and love.” Truly a serendipitous moment.

Bobby was a creative and talented gardener. To honor Bobby’s harvest, below are a few questions I had for Bobby about bananas, and his answers. GO BANANAS!

1. What do I do with this banana tree, Bobby?

Well, first, Debbie, it’s not a banana tree. It’s a plant. It’s a giant herb in the same family as lilies, orchids, and palms. Do you really want me to tell you what to do with it? I knew better than to say ‘yes’! Bobby was very creative, and I could imagine a dozen possibilities, none of which involved actual planting.

2. Where are the banana seeds?

He smashed a banana, and had me look for the seeds. “They are exceptionally tiny, because I can’t find one,” I said. So, he handed me his binoculars and made me sift through the banana mush, meanwhile he had a silly grin on his face and I knew I had been HAD!

The banana plant doesn’t grow from seeds. It actually grows from a bulb, a rhizome. The rhizomes sprout new shoots each year until the plant dies. Once the babies shoot up, only the daughter and the granddaughter should be grown and cultivated from the mother plant.

3. How many bananas will we get?

More than you can possibly eat. Again, his creative juices began to flow as he told me what I could do with a stem of bananas. I won’t go into his possibilities here, because many of his ideas are not for the public. When ten or more bananas grow on a stem, they are known as a hand. Individual bananas are called fingers. A stem can have up to fifteen hands or over 150 fingers. I think we must have a couple of feet and lots of toes on the banana stem we harvested today.

4. How will I know when the bananas are ready to be harvested?

Don’t worry, we talk almost everyday. I’ll tell you when to harvest them. True to his word, he arrived like the wind, the stem gently swayed and dropped to the ground when they were ready to harvest. Another serendipitous moment. They should be ready in three to four months after they blossom. I’ll tell you when to harvest them…don’t worry.

Our banana stem was so heavy, we had to use a wheelbarrow to get them to our bodega where we hung them up to ripen. My guess is that they weigh over 100 pounds. Since they all ripen at exactly the same time, I’m going to go bananas trying to figure out what to do with over 100 fingers. Bobby and I are going to have to have another chat. Tomorrow, when I sit under the shade of his daughters and granddaughters, I’m going to ask him, “OK, what do I do now?” He’ll chuckle in the wind and I’ll have a hundred possibilities…all whispered with love.

No Hay Luz


We ordered a new electric meter over one year ago. Our meter stopped working over six years ago. Finally, last month the electric company replaced our meter.

The new meter was installed on our tree trunk by the beach, and we anxiously watched the meter numbers turn,  hoping that we didn’t receive a “gringo” meter. That means that the meter spins faster than the amount of electricity we are using.

 

For several weeks, the wind has howled and we have lost our electricity. “Hay luz?” I shout to our neighbors. “Si, hay luz,” they respond. That means something is amiss on our line.

Two houses away, we spotted the problem. When the electric company installed our new meter, the only way they knew to stop the power was to cut our line. Apparently, they forgot to wrap the wire tightly around the line, because it was dangling precariously by a few threads. Every time the wind blew, Ron tramped up the road with our long fruit stick and jiggled the wire. “Hay luz?” he shouted. “Si, hay luz,” I yelled back.

Well, after a dozen times tramping down the road to jiggle the wire with our long fruit stick, we decided it was time to take action. Cory and Sam carried our heavy handmade ladder to the neighbor’s house, and Ron was going to fix the damn thing by himself.We knew it was senseless to call the electric company because first, you have to go to Altagracia (over an hour away) to put in a work order. Then, you have to wait, maybe a year, for the problem to be fixed.

As they squeezed under the barbed wire fence, a local guy, repairing another neighbor’s barbed wire fence, asked what we were doing. “We’re going to fix the wire for our electricity,” Ron responded. “Have you ever done anything like that before?” he asked suspiciously. “No, never,” we said.

We must have looked like novices. Before we could put the ladder on the pole, he offered to fix it for us. “Isn’t it dangerous?” I asked. “No, I’ve done this many times,” he laughed.

You are probably wondering about the electrical system in Nicaragua. Honestly, I wonder about it, too. Lines are thrown over the main lines haphazardly. Between the wind and the rain, lines are always breaking. The self-sufficient Nicaraguans shinny up the poles, like they are picking coconuts, and fix the wires with ease.

Five minutes later, with my nails bitten to the quick,  our wire was secured tightly to the main line. “Do you want 220, too?” he asked nonchalantly like a server at McDonalds would ask, “Do you want fries with that?”   The bottom line delivered the 220 volts, and he was kind enough to offer us a 220 line while he was dangling off our homemade ladder. “No thanks,” Ron said. “We have to buy more wire for that.”

We live in a crazy world..a world where you have to fix your own electric lines and pay for your own transformer. I was so grateful that he offered to light up our lives once again. We paid him 200 cords, about $8 for his work. He must have thought he had died and gone to heaven. The average pay is 70 cents an hour. For 5 minutes of his time and effort, he received a wage for two days of work and we received the gift of steady electricity.

On a side note, we’re exploring solar panels. Electricity is expensive and sporadic in Nicaragua. When it rains, no hay luz. A little wind, no hay luz. Sometimes, I swear they ration electricity, too. If you have any information on solar panels, where to buy in Nicaragua, cost, type, etc. please send me more info.

Pizza Dreams


Pizza and calzone

It may not seem like a big deal to you, but pizza delivered to our door on Ometepe Island is an exceptional treat! In fact, when we moved from the Ozark Mountains to the Smoky Mountains, we searched for a place where pizza could be delivered to our house. No kidding!  In the Ozark Mountains, we lived 60 miles from the closest red light and beer distributor. Pizza delivery was only a spicy dream. Moving to a tropical island in Nicaragua, we had no expectations of fulfilling our dreams for a hot, spicy pie loaded with anchovies and delivered to our door, until we met Francisco.

Francisco dreamed of pizzas, too. Six years ago, he worked in a local restaurant in Moyogalpa making pizza pies. He learned the art of making pizza from an Italian visiting the island…and he’s never stopped perfecting his craft. For five years, he saved every penny (cordoba) to buy a pizza oven. Then, last year he opened his own pizza parlor, Pizzeria Buon Appetito.

It’s been raining steadily for a week. We are inundated with rain and holed up in our house watching movies, wearing long-sleeved t-shirts, and sharing our Gortex rain coats with our neighbors. “Cory, please run up to Carla’s pulperia and see if she has any chicken for sale,” I begged. But, he returned empty-handed. “No hay pollo,” he said.

That’s when I pulled Francisco’s business card off my refrigerator magnet. “Do you think he will deliver pizza to La Paloma?” I wondered. I ran outside with my cell phone to get a stronger signal. Sheltered from the rain under our closest mango tree, Francisco answered my frantic, hopeful call. “Francisco, my dear friend, can we have a pizza delivered to our house?” ( Francisco used to live in our house before we bought it, so he knew where we lived.)

“Of course, no problem,” he responded. Thirty minutes later, in the downpour, Francisco delivered a steaming hot pizza and calzone to our door on his dirt bike. You gotta love Nicaragua! Where else in the world do pizza dreams come true?