I have never been one to jump off the edge recklessly. Heights scare me. Fear was a soldier I never wanted to defeat. But, there came a time in my life when I had to make friends with my fears, suck-it-up, and jump! For I learned that life began when I broke out of my comfort zone. Nicaragua has a magnetic quality that forced me out of my mundane life, attracted me to the vivacious people, and seduced me with its quirkiness. That’s why we returned to Nicaragua. I may be soaring with a broken wing, but, isn’t that what life is all about?
~ Come to the Edge ~
Come to the edge, he said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, he said.
He pushed them and they flew.
Guillaume Apollinaire (French Poet)
This Is Nicaragua
January 12, 2005 * Important, note the date!
Since Bill’s death, Ron and I have been questioning our purpose here. We sold a house, quit secure jobs, gave away winter clothes, and donated 20 years of school supplies in order to find ourselves. Bill said, “Leave Gringolandia before it’s too late” and “Once you get used to the litter, you’re going to love Nicaragua.” “It’s the land of opportunity.” We tried to fit into his world. We nodded politely at all of his wild conspiracy theories , we catered to spoiled backpackers, we chatted with all of the gringo baby boomers immigrating to Nicaragua on a pension, and we listened, watched, and waited. I guess we were as much as an enigma to Bill as he was to us. He could not understand that we didn’t leave Gringolandia for political reasons, that we didn’t want to become residents of a country we knew little about, and that we couldn’t conceive litter as something beautiful.
Bill loved the country. We love the people. There is a huge difference between the two. I wish I could separate the government from the people, for if I could do it successfully, I would live here permanently. However, Nicaragua is a politically corrupt, abusive, repressive, and impoverished country. I can’t tolerate the greed and uncompassionate power of those in control and it’s only getting worse. While the Sandinistas are plotting to restructure the constitution and increase the executive power of their President, Amente, my neighbor, was plotting, too. She came to our house today with pretenses of picking up the hedge clippers she lent us, but she really came because she was alone and frightened. She was shaking, pale, and vomiting. I told her I would walk with her to her mother’s house, but she was too weak to walk. Her mother doesn’t have a telephone, or a car, just like the majority of people in Nicaragua. She was afraid to go to the hospital because she didn’t have any money.. like all Nicaraguans. So, Ron took Julio on our bicycle to find Amente’s mother. Her mother arrived on a horse and I assumed that Amente went to the hospital, but, then again, she might have just taken her home. I’m worried about her because she was so sick. I hope she went to the hospital, but…. this is Nicaragua.
While Daniel Ortega was dreaming of a revolution and waiting for the right moment to strike, Luvis is dreaming and waiting, too. Her mother was supposed to arrive from Costa Rica today. Like all Nicaraguans, they abandon their country to become slaves to their wealthier neighbor, Costa Rica. It doesn’t matter that they leave behind babies too young to remember their faces because desperate times require desperate measures. Luvis told us her mother bought them a refrigerator…a big refrigerator. “Oh,” I laughed, “So you are going to be a gringo, soon?” Only gringos or politicians have big refrigerators in Nicaragua. She showed me a bottle of spray perfume she was using to disinfect the house. “Mama hates mosquitoes,” she said while demonstrating how the spray bottle worked. In her enthusiasm, she sprayed my eyeball. With one teary eye, I graciously accepted her apology, we laughed, and hugged, and I listened to Luvis’ story about her mother. The night before her mother left, they slept on the beach. “It was rico,” she recalled. “We didn’t need sheets or anything. All we needed was each other.” We waited all afternoon for her mother to arrive. Ron made popcorn, Luvis taught me how to make a sweet juice with the guava fruit, Julio caught little fish in the lagoon with his bare hands, and Oscar, well Oscar is 3 years old, he just giggled and rolled around on my dusty floor all day. Every time their four bony dogs barked, we looked for mama. One car passed, but it wasn’t mama. Tonight, Luvis is still waiting and probably dreaming of that big refrigerator in a perfumy house, but what can I say to alleviate her disappointment….This is Nicaragua?
While the ex-president, Aleman, is imprisoned in his multimillion-dollar mansion, built with stolen money, Lester, is stealing too, but for a different reason. Lester came to our house today, just to hang out. He’s a troubled boy, without a mother, living with an abusive father. Nicaragua seems to have a majority of single parent families. Lester likes to work with his hands. He helped Ron fix his flat tire on his bicycle, and several weeks ago, Ron showed him how to put together a model of a truck, a bonus hidden in our white Bimbo bread. I saw the pride on Lester’s face when Ron told him he was good at building the truck. I think that Ron has become a father figure for Lester. So, it was with great disappointment, but understanding, when we discovered the truck missing from the top of our refrigerator today. We know Lester took it. Crimes of opportunity are common here. What can I say to kids who have no toys? This is Nicaragua?
While the Sandinistas are attempting to legalize their property seizures from their infamous land-grab in the late 1980’s by enacting a new law, Howard is researching property titles, too. Howard and his new Nica wife stopped by our house this afternoon. We talked seriously about buying land in Nicaragua. We found our dream property in La Paloma, and Howard, a US citizen, was seriously debating the pros and cons of rooting in Nicaragua, too. Former Sandinista President, Daniel Ortega and his politically faithful (who are trying to seize governmental control again, with great success) are alleged to have rewarded themselves with as much as $2 billion in seized properties on their way out of office in 1990. This time, with the power struggle swinging in their favor, who knows what will happen to land purchased by ‘rich gringos’. Somehow, I don’t think telling them, “But, you can’t take our land. I have a title. I am a US citizen. This is illegal.” (with AK-47s pointing at your nose) is going to win them over. If this new property law is enacted, it could spell the end of U.S. financial assistance to Nicaragua by as early as July, when the U.S. votes to renew its aid programs. So, we talked about land seizures, while munching on leftover popcorn, and we all concluded that we’d better wait before investing our life savings on Ometepe. After all….this is Nicaragua.
So while the Sandinistas fulfill dreams of power without a conscience, wealth without compassion for the poor, obsessive control without acknowledgment of mistakes in the past, and greed beyond the imaginations of ordinary people, Luvis waits, Amente fears, Lester envies, and gringos debate leaving Nicaragua. We wonder how we will ever be able to leave the people of Nicaragua and return to Gringolandia, the real land of opportunity. Life is such a puzzle. We came here in search of purposeful lives, and although the answer was always with us, we traveled to a primitive island in Nicaragua to discover what we already knew. I found it again while hugging Luvis, while rubbing Amente’s back while she was vomiting, and forgiving Lester for stealing our model truck. We really don’t know where we are going from here. I know our time on Ometepe is short. The political situation is getting tense. I hate that for the Nicaraguans and I wish there was more I could do to repay them for giving meaning back to my once pretentious life. Luvis says we really need to sleep on the beach some night soon. She says it’s rico….and that’s the real Nicaragua.