Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign Chicken Buses

If you ever ride an eccentric and flamboyant Central American chicken bus, you will begin to understand the term ‘foreign’. These retired American and Canadian school buses are plastered with outlandish stickers, painted in vibrant colors, and anointed with bumper stickers confessing their love for God, Jesus, soccer, and Playboy bunnies. Chicken buses ooze of strange aromas like a mixture of sweat, cow manure stuck on the bottom of flip-flops, rice and beans, and strong perfumes.  There is NO concept of personal space and there is always room for one more…one more person…one more chicken…one more basket of fruit…one more crying baby..one more sack of rice. Everyone and everything can ride on a chicken bus. Discrimination is not a word in a chicken bus’ vocabulary.


Loud music blasts from speakers taped in every corner of the bus. Vendors and beggars board at every stop pushing their way through invisible aisles hawking Flintstone vitamins, Chiclets, alien drinks in plastic bags, and preaching sermons or displaying x-rays of their guts ( or somebody’s guts) for a cordoba or two.


Chicken buses are a wacky form of entertainment for me. I chuckle at the sayings on the Goodwill t-shirts because most of the people that wear them can’t read English. Recently, a bus driver wore a t-shirt that said on the front, “What do you call a woman with PMS and ESP?” On the back it said, “A bitch who knows everything.” Exiting the bus, I told the bus driver that he had better not show that t-shirt to his wife. He just laughed, of course, with no understanding of what I was talking about.


Riding a Central American chicken bus is certainly one of the most exotic and foreign experiences I have ever had. Truthfully, I’m addicted. I’ve held sleeping babies, crowing roosters confined in rice sacks, and birthday cakes dripping icing in the tropical heat. I’ve even balanced my backpack on my head because there was no place to sit…for hours! Life on a chicken bus brings the world smack dab in front of your face…it’s a macro of foreign, the stupendous of strange, and the ultimate alien experience.

Peeking at Poverty

Yesterday, a guest blogger wrote an article for The Nicaragua Dispatch. It infuriated me because of her overly simplified view of poverty in Nicaragua and the United States. Blaming the poor for their circumstances offers no real solution and only perpetuates the fallacy that all one has to do to rise above poverty is to work a little harder and not succumb to the temptation of accepting hand outs.

I try to avoid rants. I really don’t like controversy, but there are times when my ire gets the best of me. This is one of those times.

“Do Handouts Really Help Anyone in Nicaragua?” Click here for the article. I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Trickling Up: An Expat Economic Theory

The U.S. Trickle-Down economic theory sounds hopelessly pessimistic to me. The word “down” used as an adjective reflects negativity and is downright depressing. It defines a lower position ( Nicaragua has a down economy.), something unable to function (Our electricity is always down!), and someone who is sick. ( My neighbor is down with the flu.)

Therefore, with optimism and enthusiasm, I am going to attempt to explain my expat economic theory of Trickling Up. Just the word “up” sounds so much more encouraging, don’t you agree? If there is one thing I have learned while living in Nicaragua, it is to always be optimistic and encouraging, and lend a hand up when possible.

When we moved to Nicaragua, we received advice from everybody… from how to purify our water to how to bargain like a Nica. Some of the advice was well-received. Other advice, I couldn’t help but wonder about. For example, I was reprimanded by other expats for providing a free lunch for our workers, tipping too much at local restaurants, and paying too much for a taxi. They said, “You are driving up the cost of everything by paying gringo prices willingly.” Or, “The workers will expect the same treatment and pay from us, too.”

I look at it this way. Trickle-Down has never worked in impoverished countries because huge sums of money allocated to government officials never reach those who need it the most. What is wrong with reversing the system of aid by trickling up? The average Nicaraguan earns five dollars a day! Even in Nicaragua, that is well below a level of poverty that defies my understanding of how hard-working families exist.

Here’s an example of my trickling up theory. We are building an addition to our guest house. We hired Marvin to build a bathroom, dig a new septic tank, and add a new kitchen/living room area…nothing fancy…just small and comfortable for our guests. First, we had Marvin make a list of all the materials he would need and give us a list of the costs of materials. Then, we told Marvin that in the U.S., we usually figure labor costs based on the cost of materials. Labor is usually the same amount as the cost of the materials. The carefully prepared list of materials came to $2,000, so we told Marvin that we would pay him $2,000 for his labor. “That is not how we do it in Nicaragua,” Marvin honestly replied. “We charge $10 a day for the contractor and $5 a day for the helpers.” If we did it Marvin’s way, he and his helpers would make much less and take more time to complete the job.

We wrote up a contract, specifying the payments in six weekly installments. Marvin orders the materials with our approval and we pay the bill at the local hardware store. It is a win-win situation for all of the families. Marvin will have enough money to buy more tools and supplies for his business, and meet the needs of his growing family. His son and another friend are his helpers. Marvin can decide how much of a percentage to pay them and knowing Marvin, he will be generous with his percentage.

Marvin and his crew

Trickling up is a fair and sound economic system for expats. We can live comfortably on our retirement savings because the cost of living in Nicaragua is about 1/4 of the cost of living in the states. Our money goes a lot farther here, so why not invest in the future of Nicaragua? Trickling up makes sense to me! With a simple system of accountability and fairness in good labor practices, everybody is happy.

Binders Full of Nicaraguan Women

Thanks to tumblir for the picture

Mitt Romney’s faux pas during the second Presidential debate would NEVER be understood in Nicaragua. When he claimed to have been presented with “binders full of women”, my only thought was of the plight of Nicaraguan women. There are many dusty binders of Nicaraguan women stacked on police officers’ shelves, only they are full of  reports of domestic violence, abuse, exploitation, and sex trafficking…certainly not women’s resumes.

How do I explain equal rights to my impoverished neighbor with three children under the age of three, who washes dirty diapers by hand in the lake, cooks every meal over a fire, while sweeping the trash from her dirt floor into the street, and tending to the needs of her invalid father-in-law? Adioska doesn’t have a clue about resumes or equal pay in a country where the average take-home pay for men is $100 a month. She lives in survival mode daily… from one crisis to another.

What can I tell her? It’s your duty to fight for women’s rights? Last October, a 12-year-old girl, who was raped and impregnated by her step-father, gave birth to a five-pound baby boy.  “According to the Strategic Group of the Decriminalization of Therapeutic Abortion, 1,453 of the young girls (ages 10-14) who were raped in Nicaragua last year were forced to give birth due to Nicaragua’s total ban on therapeutic abortion.” See article here. Under Nicaraguan law, the 12-year-old mother was denied access to a therapeutic abortion, becoming a poster child for the Sandinista government’s ban on abortion in all circumstances.

Gender-based violence is a serious problem in Nicaragua. Poverty, close family ties, and a lack of basic education contribute to thousands of victims’ inability to escape abuse and exploitation. Although the majority of Nicaraguans oppose gender-based violence              (including men), the challenge is what to do once the abuse has occurred. But, not all remains dire in the binders of Nicaraguan women.

On January 26, 2012, the Nicaraguan Parliament unanimously approved a Comprehensive Violence Against Women’s Act.  This law recognizes femicide ( killing of women) and other violence against women as criminal acts and punishable under Nicaraguan law. The government established a commission, strengthening government agencies that provide services for women and children, as well as providing training and information for all government officials and the general public. Female police officers specializing in domestic violence are available in every department of Nicaragua. We even have a trained specialist in our little port town of Moyogalpa! Of course, funding for human service programs is a universal problem.

Domestic violence safe houses are popping up in local communities. The Solidarity House, a shelter for women and girls, is located in San Juan Del Sur. It is one of five shelters in Nicaragua that provides assistance to women and young girls. The other shelters are in Managua, Waslala, Ocotal, and Puerto Cabezas.

It is a fledgling beginning. Meanwhile, the little 12 year-old who gave birth to her stepfather’s child, is living at home. Her mother lives with the rapist of her daughter, as if nothing happened. She has been robbed of her childhood…her self-esteem…her life. Adioska continues to nurture and care for her family. She’s too busy to attend the rallies advocating for women’s rights, but she is aware and encouraged by the attention and focus given to women in Nicaragua.

There is still a long way to go before women’s rights are fully recognized in Nicaragua. Yet, the binders are slowly filling up with new laws protecting women and children. Maybe someday, we can hope for binders full of women’s resumes, instead of reports of violence. That’s my wish for Nicaraguan women and children. Poco y poco.


The Ometepe Tourist Fair

Last weekend, Moyogalpa held a tourist fair showcasing activities, traditional dances, bands, products, hostels, and hotels for tourists visiting Ometepe Island. When I think of the county fairs I have attended in the states, I recall wisps of roasted peanuts and pulled pork filtered through barnyard smells of heifers and freshly sheared sheep. I recall the faint chill of sweater weather and goose bumps as I’m stalled on the ferris wheel high above the fair grounds almost touching the twinkling stars. I taste sawdust, hear the shrill calls of the game masters daring one and all to test their strength and tossing skills, and watch the faces of children as they bounce and fly through the air with eyes as big as pumpkins.

The Ometepe tourist fair was unlike any fair I had attended in the states. The smells of sweat and gallo pinto mingled among the fair goers and participants. Hair gel plastered sweat drenched hair, taming it like a wild horse. Tourist booths, decked in tropical fruits and garnished with baskets of vegetables, homemade wine, and miniature garden displays, enticed fair goers. Children waited eagerly for the plastic dog house to inflate…the only ride in the fair. Music boomed from gigantic speakers. Recycled plastic water bottles morphed into flowers, turtles, and garbage cans. Displays of solar panels, water purifiers, and crafts abounded. Professional brochures of hostels and hotels fanned heated guests.

Enjoy my slideshow of the Ometepe Tourist Fair! It is definitely a keeper!

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What would happen…if everyone cared??

Weekly Writing Challenge: And Now For Something Completely Different

My friend, Bobby, always told me never to lend money to Nicaraguans. That was always my philosophy, too..never a lender or a borrower be. But, what would happen…if no one cared? Marina would go without a needed operation to remove a cyst on her thyroid gland because the public hospitals, where treatment is free, use dirty machetes to cut out unwanted tumors. (only a slight exaggeration)  A building contractor would pass on a terrific opportunity to be the jefe (boss) of a construction crew in a $250 million dollar resort because he couldn’t afford to be bonded. A pig farmer would have to let the pigs starve for lack of food. A taxi driver would not be able to provide for his family because the taxi drivers were on strike. When faced with these situations…what would you do? Would you care?

I wonder what would happen…if everyone cared. Would it make our world a better place, or would the passion of caring destroy us all…or at the least send us to the poor house?

My Top Ten Scenarios: What Would Happen…If Everyone Cared??

1. We’d have stories with happier endings.

2. We’d be dead in days. We should be grateful some are apathetic.

3. We’d be eating cat food because no one returned our money.

4. Real heroes would be redefined. There would be a rush on the sale of red capes.

5. We would all become insomniacs. Worrying about everyone would be exhausting.

6. Causes would quadruple.

7. We would all take responsibility for our own lives. The “Blame Game” would disappear like eight track tapes.

8. Politicians would stop sabotaging the economy, our environment, and our rights as human beings on this planet.

9. Chaos would ensue! Too many people caring about one another would be confusing. How would one prioritize the cause?

10. Passion would be the hallmark of our lives.

As you can see, there is a ying and yang to caring. I’ve never used a poll on my blog before. This is something completely different to me. Do you care enough to take my poll and add to my list?

The third option covered by the palm tree says, “I don’t know and I don’t care”
Since this poll is new for me, I don’t know how to fix it, yet. 🙂

If you are wondering whether we will have our money returned, I believe that people are inherently good. The contractor had a lawyer create a document that stated if he did not return the money he borrowed, his motorcycle was ours. Our taxi driver is paying us back by giving us free taxi rides in exchange for the money borrowed. Marina’s operation was successful, and she will pay us back the first of November….she always does. Baby piglets are on the way. As soon as they are sold, we will have our money returned. Living in Nicaragua is good…retiring abroad is better… caring for others is priceless.

Eating: An Agricultural Act



“Eating is an agricultural act.”
Wendell Berry, What Are People For?

After reading Wendell Berry’s essay on the Pleasures of Eating, I doubt that I will ever be a passive food consumer again. Living on Ometepe Island, we are intimately involved with our food. It is a loving, complex relationship from planting to eating… from a terra firma cradle to an acidic churning grave.

We are active participants in the process of food production. Our lives revolve around planting, picking, fishing, harvesting, and nourishing. We’ve formed profound connections between the land and eating, between the rainy and dry seasons, and the lunar planting and harvesting calendar. We know what we eat! And, I’m beginning to think that we are what we eat… healthy fruit loving, vegetable chomping, fresh egg hunting, fish catching, food lovers.

What we can’t grow, a Friday morning vegetable truck delivers to our house. Depending on the season, we choose broccoli, cauliflower, avocados, Chinese lettuce, cabbage, and hot chili peppers from the back of our favorite vegetable truck. “Do you have bananas?” I ask. “Not today,” they respond, “but, we will bring them next Friday.”  It is like stepping back into the 1950’s here. This is the way to shop for vegetables.

Carla, a single mother of two, has a tiny grocery store (a pulperia), four houses away. When we want fresh homemade sweet bread, chicken, or the occasional Coca Cola for our rum drinks,  I walk up our sandy path to visit Carla. I play with her baby, we talk about the latest news in our community, and I return home with my bag full of cheap goodies to supplement our meals.

For the rare times that we eat out (usually on a shopping trip to Moyogalpa), we usually buy breakfast at The Corner House. Gary and Laura serve wholesome, organic food and fruit smoothies. Everything is homemade and delicious. Their cranberry scones are out of this world!

Seven years ago, we had to leave the island to buy peanut butter, chocolate, spices, whole wheat flour, brown rice, and other ‘gringo’ foods. Now, Hugo’s grocery store makes bimonthly trips to Price-Mart in Managua. They email me before they leave, and I send a list of items, of which chocolate chips are always at the top of the list. Everything else we need, we can get at our local Mini Super in Moyogalpa. Guillermo, the owner of the Mini Super, is a savvy business owner catering to the needs of the expats and foreign tourists on the island.

Wendell Berry states, “Eating with the fullest pleasure — pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance — is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world.”  I totally agree. My connections with the land grow stronger daily. Enjoy my food photos!



Weekly Photo Challenge: Happy Masks

“I wish everyday could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks.” ~ R.J. Palacio

Masks fascinate me and make me happy.  They are reflections of unique cultures, worn like bridges from the outer phenomenal world to the inner person. Embossed with bold colors and expressions, masks evoke many reactions to the beholder, but for me, they always make me smile in wonder.  Masks are the poetry of a culture, the exquisite spirits of the past, and entertaining portrayals of our inner emotions.

Enjoy the masks of Nicaragua. I hope they make you smile. 🙂

And this just in! Nicaragua is the 8th happiest country in the world! Click here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Mine

I must admit that I am a bit possessive about the view from our front doors on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua. When our double doors swing open early in the morning, we encounter unique and wondrous sights throughout the day. What is mine, is yours as I share our wondrous views from morning to night. Enjoy!

The Che Ferry chugs past our front doors early in the morning.

El Ferry is the umbilical cord of the island, transporting people, materials, and vehicles back and forth.

During the rainy season, we are treated to rainbows.

Sometimes, whole islands float by our front doors. This is called a gamolote. It is about the size of a football field.

A variety of birds search for food near sunset along our shoreline.


The sunset plays and dances with the clouds on the mainland.

A sunburst of sunset.

The Che makes its last trip to the mainland for the day.

Will there be a green flash tonight?


The moon sets over the lake in the wee hours of the morning.

But, wait there is more! Wait until you see our view from our back door.

Active volcano Concepcion peeks through the trees behind our garden.

As we close the doors, and snuggle under our mosquito net to dream of tomorrow’s sights, I close with “Good Night Moon” over volcano Concepcion.

Good night super luna.