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.





Leon Mural: History of Nicaragua



The arrival of the Nahuatl began around 1200 AD. Related to the Aztecs, they migrated to the south when their Nahua empire was destroyed by another tribe, the Chichimecas. Nicaragua takes its name from the indigenous tribal Chief Nicarao, who lived around Lake Nicaragua in the late 1400s.

In 1524, Hernandez de Cordoba, Spanish conquistador, founded the first Spanish permanent settlements in the region, including two of Nicaragua’s principal towns: Granada on Lake Nicaragua, and Leon, located west of Lake Managua.

In 1821, Nicaragua gained independence from Spain and in 1838 finally became an independent republic after briefly joining a part of the Mexican Empire.

The  Spanish conquistadors tried to impose their religion, customs, and culture on the indigenous ethnic groups. For the most part, they were successful. Today, Nicaragua is predominately Hispanic. Spanish became the language of the people, and Catholicism became the almost universal religion.

In 1856, William Walker, a crazy filibuster from Tennessee, seized Granada and declared himself President of Nicaragua.

Walker’s troops and Nicaraguan troops fought a historic battle at San Jacinto hacienda on September 14, 1856, which is now celebrated as a national holiday. In 1857, the Liberals and Conservatives united to drive Walker out of office. He returned to the USA, and after several attempts to return to Central America, he sailed from Mobile in August 1860 and landed in Honduras. Here he was taken prisoner by Captain Salmon, of the British navy, and was surrendered to the Honduran authorities, by whom he was tried and condemned to be shot. He was executed on the 12th of September 1860.

The shadow is that of Augusto C. Sandino, a Nicaraguan general small in statue, but gigantic when it came to patriotic conscience. On January 6, 1927, North American troops entered Nicaragua, arguing that lives and property of U.S. citizens had to be protected. With the support of an army of peasants Sandino showed the world that he was not permitting the exploitation of his free, sovereign country. He was declared hero of the dignity of Latin America, battling against North American imperialists.

A truce was declared in 1933, but unfortunately in 1932, the National Guard was headed for the first time in history by a Nicaraguan military: Anastasio Somoza García. When the U.S. military departed, their parting gift was to set up the National Guard. Somoza was a long-time friend of the U.S. and became heavily involved in assisting the U.S. in developing the National Guard.

The next year, General Somoza, started an evident persecution of old Sandinista soldiers, illegally arresting, hurting, and even killing these men. Sandino complained to the puppet President Sarcasa. Sandino was invited to a gala by the president and the same Somoza. After arranging a compromise of ceasefire, Sandino accepted the offer. On the road, in Managua, the car of Sandino was intercepted by soldiers of the National Guard. The soldiers then escorted Sandino and two of his generals to a place where the hero and his men were brutally shot to death. And sadly, all Sandino wanted was a free country!

Rigoberto López Pérez was known for the assassination of Anastasio Somoza García, the long-time dictator in Nicaragua, who controlled several puppet presidents.  Born in Leon, he was a poet and composer. On September 21, 1956, he infiltrated a party in which Somoza attended, and shot him in the chest. Lopéz was killed instantly in a hail of bullets, and Somoza died a few days later in Panama.

Anastasio Somoza’s son, Luis Somoza Debayle, assumed the presidency after his father was assassinated. He was educated in the U.S. and ruled from 1957 to 1967. Luis and his younger brother, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, shared NO brotherly love. Luis made Anastasio head of the National Guard because of a family obligation, however; Luis wanted no part of his younger brother becoming president. Unfortunately, Luis died of a heart attack a few months before a rigged “election” in which Anastasio Somoza Debayle assumed the presidency.

Anastasio ruled with the power of his beloved National Guard crushing any and all rebellions. By 1970, the general population of Nicaraguans had no love for their leader. After the devastating earthquake of 1972, Anastasio  ripped off all the international funds Nicaragua received to rebuild…and all hell broke loose with the Sandinista Nicaraguan rebels, led by Carlos Fonseca.

Carlos was a Nicaraguan teacher and librarian, who founded the Sandinista Liberation Front (FSLN) in 1963. Known for his poor eyesight, notice the dark framed glasses in the mural.  In his earlier years, he became enamored with politics and idolized Sandino. Between 1959 and 1963, Fonseca and his motley crew of revolutionaries experimented with a variety of organizational forms. He had hoped to model the revolution in Nicaragua after the Cuban revolution. Fonseca fought hard, but died in an ambush in the Nicaraguan mountains in 1976, three years before the FSLN took power.

In 1977, when Jimmy Carter was President of the U.S., he began to press Somoza to change his image, clean up the National Guard, and stop terrorizing the people of his country or face losing U.S. support. On January 10, 1978, Pedro Chamorro, editor of La Prenza and a very vocal opponent of Somoza, was assassinated on his way to work. Resistance and violence to the Somoza regime continued. In May, 1979 the U.S. feared that if Somoza came down, a Communist regime would take its place, and they were prepared to do almost anything to prevent that from happening. So, the U.S. approved an IFM loan of $66 million to the Somoza regime. However, even that wasn’t enough to stop the uprising. By June, 1979, after a televised execution of Bill Stewart, an ABC newsman, by Somoza’s National Guard, the sympathies of the U.S. people had turned to the Sandinista rebels. The U.S. government tried to compromise with the Sandinista rebels, but the FSLN wanted only complete and total surrender.

July 17,1979, Somoza flew to Miami, and the FSLN took control of Nicaragua. Somoza eventually moved to Paraguay, where he was assassinated in 1980 by a Nicaraguan rebel.

From the beginning, Nicaragua has been under attack. Its autonomy and sovereignty are repeatedly impeded. When the Sandinista forces entered Managua on July 20, 1979 hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans celebrated a short-lived ideological freedom.  Since the 1850’s, the U.S. government has intervened in Nicaragua…and once again, in the 1980’s the U.S. reared its bullied head.

As the Nicaraguans worked toward self-sufficiency, President Ronald Reagan, fearing a socialist take-over in Nicaragua, secretly and without approval of Congress, funded the Contra War to undermine the Sandinista government. This disastrous ten-year war cost 60,000 lives, and destroyed the country’s economy and infrastructure with estimated losses of $178 billion dollars.

Still, the Nicaraguans continued to fight for their freedom and their right to self-rule. In 1984, the International Court of Justice ruled in favor of Nicaragua against the United States and awarded reparations to Nicaragua. The ICJ ruled that the U.S. had violated international law by supporting the Contras in their rebellion against the Nicaraguan government and by mining Nicaraguan harbors. But, the U.S. blocked enforcement of the judgment, and prevented Nicaragua from actually receiving any monetary compensation.

After the long Sandinista-Contra War, the country picked up their meager pieces and started to rebuild.

Old statues of Somoza were destroyed. Today, the Nicaraguan people are organizing to help one another survive. The U.S. continues to intervene, but the Nicaraguans continue to push forward with their passion and devotion for sovereignty and autonomy.

It looks as if my simple account of the history of Nicaragua, as interpreted through this famous mural in Leon, has bored the poor Nicaraguan to death. So, with that, I close my turbulent account and end with a poem:

To Roosevelt

The voice that would reach you, Hunter, must speak
in Biblical tones, or in the poetry of Walt Whitman.
You are primitive and modern, simple and complex;
you are one part George Washington and one part Nimrod.
You are the United States,
future invader of our naïve America
with its Indian blood, an America
that still prays to Christ and still speaks Spanish.

You are strong, proud model of your race;
you are cultured and able; you oppose Tolstoy.
You are an Alexander-Nebuchadnezzar,
breaking horses and murdering tigers.
(You are a Professor of Energy,
as current lunatics say).

You think that life is a fire,
that progress is an irruption,
that the future is wherever
your bullet strikes.

The United States is grand and powerful.
Whenever it trembles, a profound shudder
runs down the enormous backbone of the Andes.
If it shouts, the sound is like the roar of a lion.
And Hugo said to Grant: ‘The stars are yours.’
(The dawning sun of the Argentine barely shines;
the star of Chile is rising..) A wealthy country,
joining the cult of Mammon to the cult of Hercules;
while Liberty, lighting the path
to easy conquest, raises her torch in New York.

But our own America, which has had poets
since the ancient times of Netzahualcoyotl;
which preserved the footprint of great Bacchus,
and learned the Panic alphabet once,
and consulted the stars; which also knew Atlantic
(whose name comes ringing down to us in Plato)
and has lived, since the earliest moments of its life,
in light, in fire, in fragrance, and in love–
the America of Moctezuma and Atahualpa,
the aromatic America of Columbus,
Catholic America, Spanish America,
the America where noble Cuauhtémoc said:
‘I am not in a bed of roses’–our America,
trembling with hurricanes, trembling with Love:
O men with Saxon eyes and barbarous souls,
our America lives. And dreams. And loves.
And it is the daughter of the Sun. Be careful.
Long live Spanish America!
A thousand cubs of the Spanish lion are roaming free.
Roosevelt, you must become, by God’s own will,
the deadly Rifleman and the dreadful Hunter
before you can clutch us in your iron claws.

And though you have everything, you are lacking one thing:

Ruben Dario


Walls as Weapons



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“A wall is a very big weapon. It’s one of the nastiest things you can hit someone with.” ~ Banksy (Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall)


Leon street murals represent the identity of the city. They are visual historical accounts of political activism, proclamations of unity, and stories of injustice. Street art fascinates me. It spreads information to the illiterate, visually represents cultural pride, and expresses passionate reactions to social, economic, and political turmoil.

Banksy was right! A wall is a very big weapon. Personally, I would defend a war of walls, over weapons of mass destruction any day!

Enjoy the slideshow. I’ve thrown in a few paintings from the Museum of Culture, too. The painting of Ronald Reagan sitting on the shoulders of a peasant woman is particularly haunting to me. I can identify Henry Kissinger as the little joker on the bottom left, but who is the joker with the dagger on the bottom right?


¡Viva la Revolución!

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Leon, a city of revolution fever, where bullet holes pierced decaying cathedrals and adobe walls during the Sandinista Revolution of 1979. We visited Leon to gain an understanding of the history, culture, and traditions of our adopted country. We left with a greater appreciation of the sacrifices made, and the impact of the controversial Sandinista Revolution. In one year, Nicaraguans went from being ruled by a strict right-wing Somoza dictatorship, to being controlled by left-wing idealistic revolutionaries.

On the western side of town is one of the Sandinista’s strongholds, a rather decrepit looking building that now houses the Asociacion de Combatientes Historicos Heroes de Veracruz, or better known as the Museum of Revolution. The building, which has not seen any renovations since the revolution, housed the former Palace of Communications of Somoza. Riddled with bullet holes inside and out, I felt as if I was walking through a recent battle site. The walls oozed smells of gunfire and the whispers of the wounded cried out from beyond their graves.

Our guide, Dionisio Meza Romero, a former Sandinista soldier, sorrowfully pointed out photos of friends with whom he had fought and who had died for the cause. In one old photo, he proudly pointed out his picture, as a very young and idealistic soldier smiling for the camera. Then, to our surprise, he lifted his t-shirt and showed us the shrapnel wound in his back. This was his badge of courage.

The intimacy of this first-person gesture and the passion he demonstrated for the revolution, made the experience REAL and unforgettable. It reminded me of the time I visited the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Museum in Hiroshima, Japan. Surrounded by twisted children’s lunch boxes and photos of charred bodies, I began to weep with uncontrollable sorrow. A young Japanese woman sensed my despair and silently wrapped her arms around me to comfort me. She whispered in my ear and patted me on the back until my tears stopped flowing.

We climbed to the third story of the building, out a window, and on the tin roof where we were greeted with a spectacular panoramic view of the city. Busy streets full of people, volcanoes in the distance, and cathedrals in all directions dotted the landscape. Where in the world can a person visit a museum and be treated to a roof top perch of the city?

Returning to street level, as another Sandinista soldier chased after us hoping we would  buy a painting of Sandino,  I was reminded why we chose Nicaragua as our adopted country.  Like the museum, it is raw, real, and passionately unforgettable.

Expat Extremophiles

In August, a U.S. expat chopped up his Nicaraguan translator and drinking buddy in Jinotega, Nicaragua. He stuffed Harley’s dismembered head and other assorted body parts in garbage bags and placed them on the curb for the garbage truck. When the police arrived, they found the confessed murderer calmly eating lunch and surfing the web. Basil Givner, 56, confessed, ” I couldn’t stand him anymore.” See article here.

I posted this article on Facebook because  I met this confessed murderer in Jinotega when we were visiting last September. He had just returned from the states and was staying at our hotel until he found another house to rent. He appeared to be friendly and talkative, which led me to wonder about the masks of sanity that some expats wear and why we become expats. One of my local friends commented,” This may slightly change the way some Nicaraguans treat their foreign neighbors, don’t you think?”

What do I think? I responded to my friend, “I’m more afraid of some of the expats in Nicaragua, than the Nicaraguans.” Are we all expat extremophiles? Extremophiles are microorganisms that live life on the edge. They are adaptable and flexible organisms, which have made extreme environments their home. Some are cunning escape artists, who through the process of natural selection, have adapted to incredible worlds of extreme hot or cold, radiation, darkness, or other harsh environments in which humans could never hope to survive. They had no choice: It was survival of the fittest.

As human beings, we like to think that we are flexible, adaptable, and capable of thriving in a variety of environments. As expat extremophiles, we do have choices. We consciously choose to expatriate and settle in environments very different from our former habitats. Like the microorganisms, we adapt to extreme changes in our environment. Unlike extremophiles, we can move on if things don’t meet our needs.

  • But, why do we choose to live life on the edge? Why have we left family, friends, security, and all comforts of familiarity to move to an alien environment that challenges us daily? We are not political refugees, although I know many expats who use the term to describe their reason for expatriation. Join the forums, NicaLiving or The Real Nicaragua, and you can find many political refugees wrapped in blankets of conspiracy theories.
  • We are not pedophiles. Walk the streets of Granada and you can find places nicknamed, “Pedophile Perch”, where old demented gringos lie in wait to buy young, underage Nicaraguan boys or girls. In their sick expat extremophile world, they believe they are helping to support an impoverished family. See recent arrest here.
  • We are not criminals or cult leaders, like Pierre Doris Maltese. We’ve never been arrested or convicted of money laundering, murder, or drug offenses. I got a couple of speeding tickets in my lifetime, but I don’t think that counts.
  • We aren’t trying to escape from a heinous past. We aren’t victims of our life experiences…nor are we bitter, jealous, or revengeful.  We are not alcoholics, or drug addicts. We don’t stumble through the streets of our local town disheveled and dirty,  looking for our next connection or our next fix.
  • We are not medical refugees…knock on wood! I know several expats who were forced to move to Central America because they were denied health insurance for pre-existing conditions. They found affordable health care here at a fraction of the cost in the states. I admire these expat extremophiles because they aren’t afraid to explore alternative health care in the form of herbal remedies and homeopathic care options.
  • We are not International Real Estate developers, like most of the International Living folks. We don’t buy ocean front properties for pennies, kick out the locals, and then hire them to be our maids and gardeners.
  • We don’t want to start a hostel or an eco-friendly resort, or develop programs in permaculture or a surf camp.
  • We are not Peace Corp, missionaries, or NGOs, another admirable type of expat extremophiles.
So, who are we? Why have we moved to Nicaragua? I don’t think we fit into a group of expat extremophiles. Not that it matters anyway. We just want to live comfortably, simply, and cheaply immersed in a new culture….one more adventurous journey around the sun…one day at a time.
I guess the closest we could come is to be categorized as economic refugees who thrive on challenges of growing a tropical garden, helping our neighbors and friends, and exploring the mysteries a new culture presents. We are just your normal expat extremophiles…and that is an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

Gypsy does Cocibolca

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We haven’t taken our kayak, Gypsy, out for a while. It’s mango season again, and I’ve raked rotten mangoes for a month. Yesterday was a beautiful day, so we took Gypsy on a short excursion. Someday, I’d like to kayak around Ometepe Island. I think it’s doable. We can take a tent and camp along the way, or dock at a hostel on a beach. So many plans, so little time.

This week we’re going to take a mini-vacation to Leon and the beaches near Leon. I’ve wondered about the significance of the Gigantonas. They appear in every parade in Nicaragua. A Gigantona is a giant doll with dark hair carried by a person inside the doll while wearing stilts. A ‘big head’ follows the Gigantona drumming and dancing. There is a museum in Leon, the Museum of Legends and Traditions. I know this will be the place to satisfy my curiosity about the Gigantonas.

Gigantona and Big Head

Enjoy my slideshow, Gypsy does Cocibolca.


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“When going back makes sense, you are going ahead.” ~ Wendell Berry, The Gift of Good Land

Adioska brought her new baby boy home yesterday. She delivered her baby by C-section in Rivas.  They now have four boys…all under the age of six! “Ron, we have to help this family,” I pleaded. “They are living in a shack with no running water, a dirt floor, one bedroom, and an outhouse.” “Debbie, have you forgotten what our lives were like when we brought Cory home from the hospital?” Ron asked. “Oh, that’s right!” I laughed.

In the early 80’s, we were part of the back-to-the-land movement. It was a lifestyle choice for us. We lived in a 1952 school bus in Wade Hollow, on 40 acres in the middle of the Ozark Mountains. Ron built a sleeping loft over the bus engine, a friend of ours made a white oak basket for Cory’s bed, and we nestled cozily together above the homemade barrel stove for warmth during the long, cold winter.

When we needed water, I strapped Cory to my back, grabbed two five gallon buckets, and walked a quarter of a mile to our spring. Our outhouse was behind the bus. During a major snowstorm, the electricity went out for three days. Unaware of the outage, we went about our normal days generating our electricity with a little portable generator.  Life was simple and fulfilling. Cory thrived in this environment until he was school-aged. Then, because we felt Cory needed more stimulation…and civilization…and because I craved pizza delivery…we moved and became back-from-the-landers.

Our lives in the Ozark Mountains prepared us for our move to Ometepe Island. There are striking similarities. In the Ozarks, we lived comfortably with much less. We raised a huge garden in the summer, built a timber-framed house nestled in the hillside with huge window panes facing south to catch the solar rays. We bought a composting toilet, but it never worked well, so we built another outhouse close to our timber-framed house. Our well water contained a lot of iron, so we still had to take our clothes to the laundromat in town 12 miles away on a long, dirt road.

Adioska’s new baby boy will be raised in an environment very similar to Cory’s Wade Hollow life. He will be loved, play outdoors free from electronic distractions, eat the food that grows on the island, and lead a simple, fulfilling life. Yet, I still had to help this family because Adioska looked pretty worn-out the day she returned from the hospital.

I made a big pot of chicken noodle soup and a pineapple upside down cake for the HUGE extended family who gathered around the newborn. Ron decided to entertain the kids all day so that Adioska and her husband, Jose, could rest in peace. Lourdes helped me make the cake, while the younger boys helped Ron shell soy beans and cashews. Then, we all chased chickens and butterflies until it was time to go swimming. Whew! I have definitely forgotten what it is like to entertain young kids all day.

Wendell Berry is right! ” When going back makes sense, you are going ahead.” I heard a revival of the back-to-the-land movement is taking place. It makes perfect sense to me. There’s no better place to revive the movement than on a tropical island, in the middle of a huge lake, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America. Life is good!

Dos Mangos

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What a difference a year makes! Last year at this time, our Italian friend was living in our house while we were in the states. He had to tear down his house block by block because it was sitting in the middle of the proposed runway for our new airport. His Italian girlfriend broke up with him, leaving him heartbroken.

This year, he built a new house, opened Dos Mangos, married an adorable local girl, and they are expecting a baby boy next month. I am thrilled for him! Life is always full of surprises in Nicaragua and the challenges are many. However, if one can approach life here with an open mind, a positive attitude, and lots of patience, it is possible to live a rich, fulfilled life.

Ron and I went to the grand opening of Dos Mangos yesterday. I think it is going to be our new lunch spot on Ometepe Island. It is close to our house, near the Punta Jesus Maria. The food is prepared with love…hand tossed authentic Italian pizza, delicious homemade banana cake, and plans for weekly Sunday specials. He wants to keep the costs low, so that he can cater to everyone, particularly local families.

Congratulations, my friend! I am so happy for you and your new life. We will definitely be regular customers at Dos Mangos.

Confessions of a Sentimental Hoarder



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“There is no greater sin than desire, No greater curse than discontent, No greater misfortune than wanting something for oneself. Therefore he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.” – Lao Tzu

I am a sentimental hoarder. Our house in the states is packed with my grandma’s china, grandpa’s oil paintings, my great grandma’s quilts, and ‘things’ passed down throughout generations. In addition, I saved all my travel mementos such as Japanese Saki cups, Brazilian hammocks,  Portuguese dolls, Moroccan rugs, German cuckoo clocks, and Peruvian Alpaca sweaters. We never bought new furniture; instead, we roamed the aisles of the Goodwill stores in search of cheap chic. Before we moved to Ometepe Island, the only new piece of furniture we ever bought in our 36 years of marriage was a big overstuffed couch, which our new puppy shredded the first night we ‘trusted’ her out of her sleeping crate.

The dilemma, of which I have no answer, is what do I do with a lifetime of sentimental possessions? They are an anchor in my life, which I need to alter, or at least start thinking of altering. We had yard sales and culled most of our unsentimental possessions, like hundreds of Tupperware containers, wobbly old furniture, and an assortment of holiday decorations. I made a website and tried to sell my collections of tins, pottery, and assorted knickknacks. Then, the recession hit and the competition was outrageous. I refused to sell my things dirt cheap.

That left us with a three-story house, all of my sentimental possessions stored in every closet and nook available, and trusted friends living in our house rent free. It has been two years now and it’s time to decide what to do with our house and my sentimental hoard. I honestly don’t miss any of my possessions from my earlier life. But, it wears me out just thinking about how to sell everything, including the house. And should we sell out?

There are some advantages to keeping our house. I can store our collections for free. We can buy things on Amazon, have them delivered to our house, and anyone coming to Ometepe can bring them to us. We still have a U.S. mailing address enabling us to keep our stateside credit card. Our friends open our important mail and tell us if something is amiss. Last week, we received a notice from the IRS that we owe more taxes for our 2010 year. We were expecting it because we forgot to include a Schedule D form for our investments. With a little creative ingenuity, they took photos of the forms, emailed them to us, and we printed them. Then, we corrected our errors and met a friend on the island, who is returning to the states and will mail our corrections for us.

Most importantly, our house in the states means security. Should the volcano or political turmoil erupt, or serious health issues arise, which would require a quick exit from Nicaragua, we have a mortgage-free place to live. Our son still has all of his stuff stored in our house, too. He inherited our wanderlust, never settling down in one spot. I tell him, “Someday, when we are gone, this all will be yours…BAAAAAH,” I repeat with an evil laugh. At least his hoarding tendencies are mostly digital. He has thousands of digital movies, books, photos, and music. Too bad I wasn’t born into the digital age. It would have eased my anxiety and stress about collecting sentimental stuff.

I am content and very happy living in Nicaragua with much less. Possessions have never defined who I am, only where I came from. They are shards of memories left behind…tangible pieces of my heritage and other world cultures. I’m beginning to believe that once a sentimental hoarder, always a sentimental hoarder.  Now, I look around my house in Nicaragua and the truth is everywhere…in the hundreds of Pre-Columbian pottery shards piled on shelves…in my collections of Nicaraguan art and sculptures….in my handmade furniture…my collections of maps and guide books…it’s everywhere. Marina sums it up well, ” You have so many chanches ( I think it’s a word for knickknacks), but you’re not pinche” (cheap). Coming from my closest neighbor, that’s a huge complement. 🙂