All in the Family

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I had just finished cleaning the second story guest house that we built for our son, when Marina crouched under the barbed wire fence with a glass of warm, delicious atol. (a strawberry flavored, sweet liquid pudding drink). “Marina.” I commented between sips, “I haven’t seen you for ages. Where have you been?” “I have been very busy,” she responded. “Jose’s girlfriend and their two babies are living with us.”

If there is one thing that I have learned while living in Nicaragua, it is that few Nicaraguan homes consist only of the parents and children. Typically, one finds the presence of grandparents, aunts, uncles, grandchildren, and a few friends thrown into the mess of people living under one hot tin roof…usually in one bedroom!

Economic factors play an important role in this phenomenon of the extended family; however, I like to think of it as a raucous episode of All in the Family, whose family members become an efficient nucleus, supporting one another, interdependent, and responsible for each others’ well-being. I wanted an extended family, too.

Draped over the barbed wire fence, snow-white diapers flapped in the wind like the Egrets’ nightly ritual at sunset. Marina stoked the cooking fire, while the chop, chop, chop of Don Jose’s ax whittled the mounds of sticks and logs to usable fuel for the fire. Jose’s girlfriend tenderly nursed four-month old Dustin in the backyard, while balancing on a broken plastic chair with only three strong legs. Meanwhile, two-year old Stephen chased the litter of puppies through the dirt-floored kitchen and into the backyard. He dragged one of the yelping puppies around the yard like Pigpen’s blanket. Julio swung a small plastic bucket, as he walked along the volcanic black sand ruts of the beach to the dairy farmer’s house to get milk for breakfast. And his brother, Jose, prepared for work at the water department. Jose’s job is to repair the water line breaks. He always notifies us when he is repairing a water line break because that means that we will be without water for the entire day. Today was one of those waterless days.

Don Jose, the 77-year-old patriarch of the family, waved goodbye to Luvis. She was taking their one shared bicycle into town to deliver breakfast to her sister, who had been sick. Don Jose’s presence emanates throughout the family, although the classical patriarch pattern of a macho man who beats his wife, is not reinforced in this family. Everyone knows that Marina, his wife, is the boss. She is the glue that holds this nucleus together. Every cell in her body oozes strength, fortitude, and persistence.

“Marina,” I asked between sips of the delicious atol, “Cory will be here in a few days. I’d like to find him a Nica girlfriend. Do you know of any good Nica girls?” She grabbed my arm, pushed me into the rocking chair on my porch and said, “Sit and listen to me carefully. We need to have a mother to mother talk.” In my idealistic fog, I expected to hear condolences and thoughts on how she cherishes her extended family and tends to all their needs.

Instead, she admonished, “I refuse to find Cory a Nica girlfriend. You have no idea what will happen, do you?” “No,” I replied naïvely. “But it sure would be great to have a cute Nica grand baby.”

She waved her arms like she was shooing the dogs, cats, chickens, and pigs out of her kitchen. “Fueda!” she shouted. (Out!) “You and Ron will be out! Out of your minds and your house because a Nica girlfriend will bring her entire extended family to live in your house.”

That thought never entered my mind. I shuddered with the thoughts of a Nicaraguan family blowing up my house because they wouldn’t know how to use a propane oven, or breaking all of my electronic equipment that I so carefully protect from the harsh tropical elements, or reprogramming my satellite TV, or burning plastic bags because they know nothing about recycling or protecting the environment. My beautifully trimmed grass would be littered with green and pink plastic bags, and poopey diapers..the national flowers of Nicaragua.The toilet would overflow constantly, with the novelty of a swirling flush…over and over…and over again.

“You are manna from heaven… rich gringos,” she stated like it was a common fact. “But, Marina,” I whined, “we are not rich. We worked very hard for what we have. I can’t help it. I am a gringa.” She laughed, not understanding our economic differences, but fully understanding the implications of a Nicaraguan girlfriend for Cory. “People have taken advantage of you because you are gringos,” she said. “I’ve seen how they charge you ‘gringo prices’ for your house. People, who do not know you, cannot look past the color of your skin. Listen to me, because I know. You are part of our family now. I am telling you the truth,” she whispered in a motherly voice.

Cory arrived the following Monday. He and his friend, Sam, moved into their new second story casita. They will be here for six months, taking Spanish lessons, exploring Nicaragua, and developing cultural programs. This morning, they walked past Marina’s house on their way to a weekend trip to San Juan del Sur, a touristy little fishing village on the Pacific coast. I overheard Marina shout to them, “Adios mi familia. There are a lot of beautiful gringas in San Juan del Sur. Have fun and good luck.”

I just had to laugh! For in my search for an extended family, and beautiful Nica grandchildren, Marina had given me a precious gift. We are part of her extended family. I can visit those beautiful grandchildren of hers any time and share our stories of love and compassion for our families, as only mothers know. I think I have the best of both worlds, now….I just have to keep it all in the family.

These Boots Aren’t Made for Walkin’

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Cowboy boots….romance…mystique…adventure.  If you grew up in the 50’s, you probably wore a miniature ten gallon hat and a pair of cowboy boots, and toted a Red Rover or Daisy BB gun. Chances are good that you watched The Lone Ranger and were intimately familiar with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Your tin lunch box probably displayed Tonto,Trigger, Roy Rogers, or Hopalong Cassidy. Mine did!

Entering the cowboy boot shop in Esteli, Nicaragua brought back vivid memories: delicious smells of tooled leather, sharp, shiny spurs, bowed legs supporting pointy boots, and a sense of rugged individualism and self-reliance that could only be obtained by slipping on a pair of handmade cowboy boots.

Snake skins, alligator skins, and rustic boot molds adorned the shop. The sounds of ,tap-tap of the leather tools embossing star designs and inlays resonated throughout the shop. One boot maker can complete a pair of cowboy boots in a day. And the prices are absurdly cheap for a handmade pair of cowboy boots. They range from $50 – $200.

One thing for sure, these boots aren’t made for walkin’, they are made for showing off the talents of the laborious boot makers in Esteli. Enjoy the slideshow.

The Lorax vs.The Once-ler

I don't want to be a twat!

~ quote by Banksy on a dumpster

The other day, my 10-year-old neighbor was reading The Lorax to me, while the incessant beep, beep, beep of the one antiquated grader and dump truck were working on the new airport a quarter of a mile from our house. I thought, how ironic that The Lorax pleads to save the Truffula trees from the evil Once-ler’s plan to produce and sell Thneeds, while the trabadores (workers) frantically clear-cut the proposed runway.

Can a ten-year old make the connection between the plight of the environment and economic progress in the name of tourism? For that matter, can an island of 35,000 poverty-stricken inhabitants understand that the invasion of wealthier tourists, who can afford a flight to the island, doesn’t necessarily mean economic progress…especially for the locals.

I’ve tried to warn them, “Be careful, watch out. You are going to end up being the dishwashers and maids for the foreigners who buy all your land for pennies and flip it for handsome profits.” The demise of our ‘oasis of peace’ is quickly approaching. The greedy Once-ler has destroyed Boquete, Panama, most of Costa Rica,  and Salinas, Ecuador in the name of economic progress. Is La Isla de Ometepe next?

I shudder to think what may happen in the future. Usually, I’m an optimistic kinda gal. I fight for the underdogs and take action to right the wrongs for those who cannot do it for themselves. Yet, I tread a fine line here. I am a guest in their country. I have no right to interfere in their plans to boost a flailing economy…even if I can foresee the writing on the dumpster.”You can’t eat money.”

So, I will do the one thing that I have been trained to do…EDUCATE. Slowly, I’m building a library of children’s books in Spanish on topics of environmental protection…like The Lorax. I’ll set up a small mobile library in every school on the island and train the teachers how to read to their classes, while providing activities that go with each book. Education is the key…it’s the Lorax vs. the Once-ler… the literary element of personification battling reality… the true lies of progress. It’s the only way I know how to stop the madness consuming our troubled world.

I’ve meant to link my library needs to my blog…but life on La Isla is unpredictable and other things have unintentionally taken priority. Thanks to the many people who have already donated children’s books in Spanish through my posts in the Thorntree forum of Lonely Planet, the volunteers that built an Earthbag house in my community, and my friends, family, and former colleagues in the states.

Stay tuned for my page, Ventanas del Mundo ( Windows to the World) and ways in which you can help conquer the Once-ler.

Sometimes Paradise is Hell: An Oxymoron Story

This day is really bugging me!

“Well, this is a fine mess,” I shouted while sweeping an accurate estimate of a bazillion dead insects out of my house this morning. There was a hatch last night, sprinkling gargantuan lilliputian mounds like a quiet hurricane, blanketing my priceless junk with a fine dusting of carcasses.

“Good grief,” I muttered,” I have too much to do today.” It was 6 am and almost safe enough to run my washing machine. So, after a big sip of coffee, I unplugged all the electrical appliances from their outlets, and took a calculated risk that there would be enough amperage to run the washing machine. All loaded and ready to go….the electricity cut off exactly at 7 am. Clearly confused, I kept pressing the “on” button…nada. My initial conclusion was that I had done something wrong and blown a fuse.

“Hay luz a su casa?” I yelled over the fence to my neighbors. “No hay luz,” my abundantly poor neighbors replied. “Hmmm…not a good sign,” I thought to myself. The unanticipated electrical outage would probably last all day. So, I unloaded the clothes and prepared to wash them by hand in the kitchen sink.

An hour later, hanging in the clean air, my white socks looked better than new. Suddenly, the cheap clothesline snapped and all my freshly washed clothes took a crash landing in the dirt. “Holy hell,” I cursed with my best profanity. “This is not domestically blissful day.”

Another hour passed, although this is not an exact estimate because the battery died on my watch. Finally again, my clean clothes were swaying  on a rope strong enough to hold 20 acrophobic rock climbers. This day was quickly going nowhere.

Wearing long shorts and a long-sleeved t-shirt, with a garlic bulb in each pocket, and tons of Deet, I was prepared to have some serious fun with my rake. The garlic bulb was an unspoken suggestion from my neighbor to be used as a weapon of peace for the insects that have unmercifully attacked the trunk of my body. It was a just war in retaliation for the hundreds of bites that were now turning an awfully pretty purple, black, blue, and brown on the front of my back. Marina was among the first to take a peek at my back. In an almost surprised voice she gasped, “Fea…fea.” (Ugly..ugly)

I consider myself a brave wimp. Living on a tropical island, in the middle of a huge lake, in the middle of Nicaragua I was prepared for an active retirement, but my life has become one big oxymoron after another. Almost done with the raking, I spotted the lake water creeping to our gate. In 30 minutes, it had risen over 3 ft. Soon our beach would be gone. “Damn,” I muttered all alone. “No,” I thought, “dam.” I apathetically urged Ron to help me build a temporary dam that would hold back the lake…at least for the day. In the bright rain, we piled bricks near the gate wishing for a miracle.

As bad luck would have it, my clothes were still hanging on the fortified clothes line. No one said there was a hundred percent chance of rain. I was wishing for a quick reboot to this perfectly horrible day.

Covered in dirt, I looked like a recycling dump. I came to a rolling stop in the bathroom when I was headed for the shower. The toilet had overflowed…again. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the rustic elegance of our place, but, it was starting to resemble a sanitary landfill.

Half naked, I jumped in the shower. There was new trouble in paradise. “Hay agua?” I shouted to our neighbors. “No hay agua,” they shouted back. No water…only the sound of silence.

With authoritarian anarchy, I ran to the lake, which was now a foot from our gate, and jumped in the water. I swam with a somewhat balanced insanity trying to wash the day away.

The electric and water finally came back on. The workers were cutting the limbs away from the electric lines today. In their fuzzy Latin logic, it is easier to turn off the electricity to the entire community. I feel like a big baby, but sometimes life in paradise is hell. Today was a day of controlled chaos with many lessons in crisis management. I’m dreaming of high ground tonight and holistic healing for my bites. Hopelessly optimistic, tomorrow will be a better day. 🙂






Don’t Underestimate the Force!

What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we’ve been fighting to destroy?

PADME AMIDALA, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

It may seem rather strange to use a Star Wars quote to begin a piece on the death of Ben Linder, but I’ve thought about the forces at play that undermine a peaceful coexistence on our planet. Politically speaking, a peaceful coexistence among countries requires mutual trust, understanding, and the ability to negotiate rationally when resolving disputes. In order to coexist peacefully, all countries must recognize each others’ rights to choose the political and economic systems that meet their needs, whether they be socialism, capitalism, or communism.

The way I see it, the political “isms” were the downfall of Ben Linder. It was the classic battle of capitalism vs. socialism. The United States violated all aspects of a peaceful coexistence by ignoring the sovereignty and territorial rights of Nicaragua in the 1980’s. But, why did this happen? What were the forces at play that led to the senseless slaughter of 40,000 Nicaraguans and one young U.S. engineer, from which all weapons, land mines, and Contra soldiers were funded by the United States of America?

The sad truth behind the U.S. bullishness in Nicaragua, as well as many other countries, originates from the “ism” of capitalism. In my humble opinion, the major force at play was, and still is, greed. When Anastasio Somoza, the U.S. backed tyrannical dictator, was overthrown in 1979 by the Sandinista left-wing socialist party, the U.S. was terrified. For the first time, the Nicaraguans had a government that cared about its people and enacted successful reforms to abolish the inequalities among its citizens through land reform acts, socialized health care, and increased agricultural and educational opportunities.

The U.S violently protested against this new political model. “Back in 1981, a State Department insider boasted that we would “turn Nicaragua into the Albania of Central America” – that is, poor, isolated and politically radical – so that the Sandinista dream of creating a new, more exemplary political model for Latin America would be in ruins.” (Noam Chomsky) Under the threat of a good example, the U.S. terminated all projects and assistance to Nicaragua, President Reagan supplied the Contras with weapons to bring down the Sandinista Party to the tune of $30 million U.S. Congress apportioned funds,  and mined the Nicaraguan harbors.

In the 1984 case of the Republic of Nicaragua vs. the United States of America, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in favor of Nicaragua and against the United States of America and awarded reparations to Nicaragua. All 16 final decisions were based on the United States of America’s violations of contributing to a peaceful coexistence among countries on our planet. What did the U.S. do? They poo-pooed the entire verdict. “It’s not fair. It was done in self-defense. We don’t owe Nicaragua anything and we refuse to comply with this verdict,” they whined.

So, Ben Linder, a 27-year-old peaceful supporter of a new political model, a clown and avid unicyclist, a young engineer who’s only goal was to bring clean water and electricity to the peasants in the highlands of Nicaragua, was assassinated by U.S. funded weapons, gunned down, his brains splayed out on a rock near the small hydroelectric dam he was beginning, in the name of what? Greed? Fear of a new, maybe better “ism”?  I wish I knew.

Ben was honored by being buried in the local cemetery in Matagalpa. There is a foreign cemetery across the street, the only foreign cemetery in Nicaragua, built for the German immigrants who started the coffee cooperatives in the highlands of Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega gave a moving eulogy to thousands of mourners who lined the streets of Matagalpa.

In it he said, ” Ben did not arrive in a flight full of weapons, or with millions of dollars. He arrived in a flight full of dreams, which were born, in his belief that the ethical values of the American people were much greater than the illegal policy of the United States.” He quoted Earnest Hemingway’s, For Whom the Bell Tolls, recounting the names, occupations, and ages of 10 foreigners senselessly gunned down, and ended with ” May the blood of the innocents move the conscience of those who govern the United States, so that the bells no longer toll, so the aggression ceases, so that the military maneuvers end, so that dialogue with Nicaragua will be accepted. No to war! Yes to Peace. Benjamin Linder‘s blood cries out, so that the bells no longer toll in Nicaragua.”

Ben Linder’s grave..who is going to weed it?

Standing at Ben’s grave, I was haunted by the forces at play that undermine a peaceful coexistence on our planet. What will it take to end the evil forces that dictate domination, subjugation, and exploitation of our human race? What if Padme Admedala is right? What can we do so that the bells no longer toll, the blood no longer oozes an evil trail of “isms”, and peaceful coexistence exists in our troubled world? I only wish I knew!

A Walk Through the Black Jungle

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My pictures don’t do justice to the Selva Negra Coffee Estate. I felt as if I was transported into the Bavarian countryside. Everything about this visit was magical. Plus, I slept snuggled under two heavy blankets…in Nicaragua! What a treat!

Coffee Politics

Selva Negra Arabica coffee beans

One evening after a dinner of wiener schnitzel at the Selva Negra Coffee Estate located in the highlands of Matagalpa, Eddy Kühl’s wife (descendant of the original German immigrants who began the coffee plantation in 1890) told me, “Nicaragua is a great place to live if you don’t get involved in the politics.” I suspected that there was more behind her comment, so I gently encouraged her to explain coffee politics.

Coffee and politics are synonymous in my book. Throughout history, coffeehouses have been venues for political activism and even revolution. ” Author Mark Pendergrast‘s book Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World [Basic Books, 1999] traces the pairing of revolution and caffeine across the centuries, on down through the Beats of the ’50s to the bongos and tribal-art tattoos of today’s post-Beat coffeehouse crowd” (Gaines, S., Mountain Express, 2004). Coffee culture reigns supreme from our morning coffee and the newspaper, to coffee dates and coffee breaks. My daily rituals revolve around a good cup of java. And I know I’m not alone, with more than one-third of the world’s coffee supply consumed by North Americans.

So, when Mrs. Kühl explained her views of coffee politics, it dawned on me that my little tour of the coffee farm earlier that day was a significant historical event. I viewed, first hand, the complex web of international relations that swirled in each cup of coffee consumed throughout the world.

A painting of the coffee workers in the fields.

The complicated process begins with the poor workers. who get paid about nine dollars a day to pick and clean the coffee, to the Rainforest Alliance, who certifies that the coffee is organic, to the middle men, who export the coffee, and finally to the large corporations that buy the green coffee beans, roast and package them, and distribute them to the consumers, most of them who are blissfully unaware of the disparity between the “haves” and the “have-nots” when sipping their morning lattes.

“It’s just not fair,” commented Mrs. Kühl. “The Rainforest Alliance has a different set of rules for certification for Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We provide housing for our workers, schools for the children, and comply with all of their requests.” She went on to explain that the people who certify their coffee are Rainforest Alliance employees from Costa Rica. Here is where the politics come in to play. Costa Rica and Nicaragua have notoriously been at political odds for decades.For example, if Costa Rica coffee plants needs two shade trees for each plant to receive certification, then Nicaragua requires six shade trees for each coffee plant.

“Well,” I asked, “if the Rainforest Alliance is unfair, why don’t you go to another organization for certification, such as the Fair Trade organization?” She responded that it wasn’t that easy. The Rainforest Alliance markets their coffee certifications all over the world. They are powerful and strong. In reviewing the Rainforest Alliance website, I read that in 2004, their certified coffee went mainstream with Millstone Rainforest Reserve Coffee sold in most of the major grocery chains in the U.S. Kraft launched the Rainforest Certified Coffee in the UK, and international markets are expanding their lines of the Rainforest Certified coffees.

Today, Rainforest Certified coffee appears to be the leader in certifications. What coffee producer can afford to lose the valuable markets offered through the Rainforest Alliance certifications? Certainly not Selva Negra or any of the other small coffee cooperatives in Nicaragua. So, while the Selva Negra Coffee Estate struggles to comply with the unfair certifications, we sip our morning coffee, blissfully unaware of the complexities and politics surrounding a little bean.

Below are links to the fabulous Selva Negra Coffee Estate, and the impressive Rainforest Alliance.

The Selva Negra Coffee Estate

 The Rainforest Alliance




Crimes of Opportunity

How Central America’s Crime Wave Has Spared Nicaragua, So Far.

  Photo of the Sandinista Revolution in Esteli

According to the article linked above the photo, Nicaragua has dodged the wave of violent organized crime sweeping Central America. They attribute the low crime rate partly to the socialist structures put in place during the Sandinista Revolution. All communities had neighborhood watch organizations, which are still prevalent today.

Our neighborhood watch organization consists of many mean dogs that alert the neighborhood of possible intruders. Violent crime does not exist on Ometepe Island. Instead, we have crimes of opportunity. Simply stated, you don’t leave anything outside your house at night, or it will be gone the next morning. It can be as small as a coffee cup or a spoon, or as large as a hammock swinging in an open rancho.

The first time we lived on Ometepe Island, someone stole our hammock. We left it swinging in the rancho. Ron also had a homemade fish trap bobbing in the lake that disappeared with the hammock. Things got lost in translation when I told Don Jose…or tried to tell him that someone stole our hammock and fish trap.

Don Jose jumped on his bicycle and peddled into town to tell our landlady. She and our friend Franchesco arrived at our house all in a tizzy. According to Don Jose’s story, someone broke into our house, threatened us with a machete and stole our four plastic chairs. There was no mention of our hammock or the fish trap.

They were very concerned with our safety because a home invasion is unheard of on the island. Once we mimed the account of the robbery, you could see relief sweep over their faces. We laughed, they shrugged their shoulders at our stupidity, and we chalked it up to our ignorance of crimes of opportunity.

When Cory and his friends visited, we were almost done with our house. I told the boys not to leave their iPods, iPhones, and other small things out in the open because the temptation is too great. I trusted our Motley crew, but I also knew to watch carefully and keep my valuables hidden.

Our head contractor, Guillermo, hired a new worker. His job was to paint under the kitchen counters. Aaron’s iPhone was charging on the kitchen counter…yes, you know where this is headed. The next morning, it was missing. In questioning all the workers, they denied taking the iPhone. Everyone helped us look for it, except the new worker. Santiago said, “Debbie, this is not only bad for you, it is bad for us, too.”

The next day, Ron was searching for his new Columbian hiking boots. They were missing in action, too. “No, we have not seen Ron’s shoes,” the workers replied. I decided to take matters into my own hands. I was pretty sure that the new worker took our missing items. I slipped a note under his hat which said, “I know who you are and I know what you did. I have a gun and I know how to use it. It would be nice if you would return the iPhone and Ron’s shoes, but I doubt that you will. Tell Guillermo that you are quitting today. You are not welcome in our house. If you return to work tomorrow, remember I have a gun and I know how to use it.”

The next day, there was no sign of the new worker. Aaron never found his iPhone, Ron never found his shoes, but I did have some satisfaction in knowing that my instincts were right. Oh, and by the way, I don’t have a gun and I don’t know how to use one.

The second theory as to why Nicaragua has a low violent organized crime rate is due to the poverty in Nicaragua. The big drug cartels need a strong economy in which they can move money around easily to purchase weapons and launder the drug money. Nicaragua’s economy represents only six percent of Central America’s GDP. Strategically, it pays to be a poor country.

The last paragraph of the article concerns me. Nicaragua is growing, the infrastructure is improving ( well…it’s all relative), and the country is catering to wealthier tourists. Therefore, I suspect it is only a matter of time before the drug cartels infiltrate Nicaragua. Living on a tropical island has it’s advantages. We are a small island community an hour’s boat ride from the mainland. Right now, we are an oasis of peace. If things change, you can be sure I’ll have a gun and know how to use it.




Real Cowboys Drink Guaron

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I know nothing about cowboys except for watching the reruns of Bonanza and the movie City Slickers. My perception of cowboys was tainted with visions of sitting around smoky campfires sharing dirty jokes, ten gallon hats shading sweaty bodies from the scorching sun, gun fights at the OK Corral, rollin’ the Bull (rolling Bull Durham cigarettes), and saving damsels in distress.

So, when we arrived in Matagalpa, where their annual Hipica (horse parade) was prancing through the puddled streets, I expected to rekindle the memories of the old reruns.To my surprise, real Nicaraguan cowboys cannot compare to the horseback sissies on TV.

La Hipica is a machismo event of handsome, rugged caballeros proudly parading their best steeds through the meandering streets of the city. It reminds me of a mancation on steroids. Riding tall in the saddle, the vaqueros (cowboys) display their riding expertise by how little beer or Guaron (homemade moonshine) sloshed out of their plastic cups, while their horses dance a high-step trot to the beat of deafening trumpets.

Bosomy women draped in colorful ribbons, lace, and leather follow the handsome vaqueros, while mini-vaqueros ( little boys) demonstrate their damn good riding skills on ponies…or on saddled cows. Squished between the macho and the seductive are roving bands on truck beds. The trumpets blare and the gigantic speakers transmit thumping vibrations, like a small earthquake, that shiver through our bodies.

La Hipica is a parade of pride, a raucous display of everything that represents a real cowboy. It is a bombardment of the senses, not to mention that it was pouring rain during the parade, which added to the excitement. Nicaraguan cowboys are now at the top of my A list. They have a rugged mystique about them, which I’m sure I will fantasize about for weeks to come. This loca gringa ain’t no city slicker no moe!

Culturally Correct Chic

There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.

                          ~Robert Lewis Stevenson

Walking down the street in Esteli, I spotted the Negro Barber Shop. It was early afternoon and the shop was empty, except for a black dog and a black barber. I wasn’t shocked at what would be deemed in the states as offensive and racist because the reality of Nicaragua is that color, physical characteristics, and lifestyles define everyone.

Nicaraguans are bluntly direct about physical characteristics and color. If you are not chele (white), then you are probably moreno (brown). All white foreigners are gringos or gringas. Asians are chinos. And if your skin is darker than moreno, then you are called negro. If you happen to be fat and black, then you are nicknamed gordo negro. If you are black and fat, and crazy as well, you are called el negro gordo loco. I’m not kidding!

I was watching the local news one day. There was a fight between two women. The camera rolled and the reporter gave a blow-by-blow description of the two women. Words scrolled across the bottom of the screen as the reporter announced, “A crazy, fat woman fights an old, ugly woman.” The crazy, fat woman tore off the blouse of the old, ugly woman exposing her breasts on the news…and the camera continued to roll like it was an everyday occurrence. Who knows? Maybe it was. Nothing surprises me anymore in Nicaragua.

On our way to Matagalpa, I asked our taxi driver to stop at the next gas station so I could use the restroom. I had no problem finding the bathroom because of the culturally correct chic signs posted above the doors.





Nicaraguans are generally accepting and tolerant of all lifestyles. Although the people are predominantly conservative in their views of homosexuality, it is my opinion that gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are naturally accepted in their communities.Their sexual orientation is simply a way to identify and name people. Every parade I have seen includes drag queens. In the Hipica (horse parade) in Matagalpa, this drag queen was the hit of the parade.

When we were invited to an elementary school dance and song program, two drag queens lit up the stage with their glittery costumes and dances!

I have joined the ranks of the culturally correct chic…and I love it. It’s reality in all its truthful glory with no offense taken or intended. Skin color, physical characteristics, and sexual orientation are simply a common way people identify one another. There is no need to redress historical injustices in matters of race, gender,or sexual orientation. No one appears to be overly concerned with ‘political correctness’ to the exclusion of other matters, like in the states. Life is simple, true, and real here, in the opinion of this loca gringa in La Paloma.