The Giver


Jefferson is a weekend philanthropist…a young giver with a heart that invests in people. He came to Ometepe Island seeking a way to help people change their own lives. Not only did he find Mariselda, a ten-year old with polio, he also became engaged to the love of his life while visiting Ometepe.

This is his story…a story of helping unconditionally, loving freely, and simply giving for the joy he receives in knowing that he can make the world a little better one person at a time…one weekend at a time.

Thanks to Jefferson for allowing me to share his story: Buying a Girl a Bike

 

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The Expat Gathering


A gathering…a social affair…an assembly of unique expats convening together for the purpose of fellowship. That’s exactly what Theresa had in mind when she decided to start a monthly gathering of expats on Ometepe Island. Together we can share our hopes, dreams, plans, and projects.

Although our little island is only 22 miles long, with a population of 45,000 people, and about 150 expats, some parts of the island still lack electricity and many parts lack running water. New roads are slowly wrapping around the island, offering easier access to civilization. Yet, for all the progress in the past eight years, we rarely go to the other side of the island and seldom visit with friends beyond our expat internet group.

Theresa organized a pot luck for the end of October at the Cocibolca bar in Moyogalpa. I decorated name tags with orange pumpkins, Ron brought sweet potato cuttings, and we came together for our first, of many ( I hope ), expat gatherings.

What a gathering it was! I met engineers, educators, homeopathic doctors, pig farmers, butchers that make homemade sausages, herbalists, philanthropists, bed and breakfast owners, hotel owners, realtors, agricultural specialists, and retired volunteers. I was amazed by the talents of the expats living on the island…many of whom I had never met.

After introductions, we shared a delicious lunch, and made plans for our Thanksgiving gathering. Sorry to add that I didn’t take one picture of our Thanksgiving gathering. I must have been too busy making gravy and slicing turkey. 🙂 I’m looking forward to our December gathering. The weather is perfect, we are finally feeling almost normal after our bouts with illness, and life is good…for which I am very grateful.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Thankful


 

Recovering from Dengue fever (undiagnosed, but I had most of the symptoms) has left me spiritually, physically, and emotionally drained this month. In my delirium, I had a difficult time finding something for which I could be thankful. My eyeballs felt as if they were going to burst right out of my head and every bone in my body ached. I guess that’s why they call it Break Bone fever. I’d lay in bed moaning, unable to eat, read, or sleep.

But, in a strange kind of way, the little click..click..click of the geckos playing and running up and down the walls were reassuring to me. They kept me grounded and just thankful to be alive. I’d watch them scamper from ceiling to wall, seeking insects and sometimes love. I wondered how they stuck to the walls and what would happen if I covered the walls with grease. Would it become a giant slip and slide?

Did they feel dizzy hanging upside down? Were they aware of my three kittens eying them suspiciously? What would it be like to regenerate a body part? Sometimes, they’d fall from the ceiling to the tile floor with a SPLAT. Did they hurt as much as I did?

Since there was very little I could do, the reassuring click..click..click of the geckos kept me focused on their antics, instead of my pain. It reminded me of using meditation and breathing techniques for natural childbirth…riding the big wave through each contraction…listening intently for the reassuring clicks of the geckos…I’m still here…I’m still alive.

For that I am very thankful. I’m on the slow road to recovery…with a little help from my clicking gecko friends…keeping me grounded…focused…and constantly entertained.

Lost in Translation


It is the season of hope and thanksgiving…the time we profess to care..to love others…to offer help and encouragement. I’ve stepped beyond the words. I’ve lived hope…breathed understanding…and walked a compassionate path. Love is a verb…an action. It requires that we DO something to show our support…our concern…our love for our fellow human beings. Yet, today in the season of hope and thanksgiving, I feel abandoned and betrayed…as if everything has been lost in translation.

My words of hope are swirling out of control…my actions are tainted with a bitterness that is difficult to swallow. I could blame sickness on my feeling of depression. I’ve been sick most of the month of November. It could be Dengue, then again, it could be a horrible case of the flu. I just can’t shake it. It leaves me exhausted, questioning my sanity, and wondering why I am still here.

However, I believe the real cause behind my feeling of despair centers around my loss of faith in people I have trusted on Ometepe Island. In a year of posts, I’ve written about the importance of cultural immersion, humorous daily life with our neighbors and local friends, and living a simple, carefree lifestyle. I debated whether to write this post and click ‘send’ because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a whiner…generally I’m not. If there is one thing I’ve learned while living in Nicaragua, it’s to keep a sense of humor and have the patience of a saint.

I scoffed at expat statements: “Don’t get too chummy with the locals.” “They are expert con artists.” “They will patiently groom you and pretend to be your best friend, then rip you off… zooming in for the kill before you know what happened.” Instead, I believed in the goodness of people. I thought we could transcend cultural differences by understanding our similarities. I thought we could form lasting friendships that sliced through cultural norms. I was wrong in one situation.

What do I do when the dawn brings lies..when I awake to a realization that I was used because I am a gringa, not because I am a trusting and compassionate friend? I wanted two things at the same time; I wanted revenge and I wanted to rise above the situation and offer forgiveness to the people who wronged me. But, I could do neither because I saw  half-hearted forgiveness as coming off as condescending in my present frame of mind and revenge would only make me feel as bad as the people who hurt me…who took advantage of my kindness and generosity.

Believe me…I am NO saint. I sent the threatening guilt-laden text messages…”I am contacting a lawyer.” “I am going to the police.” You should be ashamed of yourself for lying to us.” “You are no man, you are a thief.” “May God have mercy on your soul.” Everyday, for two weeks, I sent the horrible translated text messages. It took me hours to translate and pitifully punch in the letters one at a time. I wouldn’t win any prize for texting rapidly. Punch…punch…punch…anger…anger…threaten..shame…shame…shame.

Everything was lost in translation…there was no response. I was a tormented texter…a vile victim…a grief stricken gringa. So, how could I get out of this rut and the feeling of betrayal and emotional pain that accompanied it? Well, I’m still working on it, but here is some advice from a slowly recovering expat realist…me.

1. Never lend money. As an expat living in an impoverished country, the local people are always going to ask for money. The little kids in the barrio down our street are trained by well-meaning tourists to say, “Dame un dollar.” It must work because tourists take pity on them and hand them a few coins. Instead, offer them food or a job for a day or two. Once walking back from town, I was carrying two heavy grocery bags, when one of the kids asked for money. I handed him my heavy bag of groceries and asked him to help me carry it home. Then, I paid him for helping me carry my groceries.

We usually never lend money, but in this one circumstance, after a relationship for two years, we thought that we could trust this family. We had the father sign a notice of debit and made an installment plan for paying back a little money each month. Unfortunately, he lied about the reason for needing the money and has left the country…probably never to be seen again.

2. Face it. It is going to happen someday. You will be ripped-off and betrayed by people you thought you could trust. When it happens, stand back and gain some detachment. View yourself as the helper and not the victim…if only for your own sanity. It’s important to grieve and to feel the pain of betrayal, but chalk it up as a learning experience and move on with your life.

3. Living abroad is challenging. Communication is difficult. Cultural immersion is still a very important part of my life, but it is important not to lose myself, my own cultural norms, values, and traditions. I am a foreigner, I will always be an outsider. I will probably never completely understand or fit into the Nicaraguan culture, nor do I want to be a Nicaraguan.

4. When chaos ensues and you feel like you are spiraling out of control, or homesickness blankets you with melancholy, or a tropical bug bites and infects you with some weird disease, or the heat becomes unbearable, seek a confidant..someone who has survived the same betrayals, illnesses, or homesickness and has come out the other side.

5. Work for a tomorrow that will be better than yesterday. It is all too easy to become fixated and obsessed with being wronged. The obsession and need for revenge can turn a loving, caring person into a bitter, paranoid, and very angry person. Who needs it? Life is too short, there are still many seasons of sweet mangoes to pick.

6. Live in the present and don’t idolize the past. We worked hard to fulfill our dreams of moving abroad. I am blessed with an abundance of beautiful sunsets over the lake every evening, lovely neighbors, and a friendly safe community. I simply won’t let one betrayal or one nasty bug bite, or one day of chaos destroy my dreams.

In the end, forgiveness belongs to those who know how to love in the first place. Nicaragua has shown me much love and once I come to my senses again after this bout with illness and betrayal, I’ll be walking the compassionate path in this season of hope and thanksgiving…living hope…breathing understanding…and offering help and encouragement to others.

Thanks for listening to me..it’s not my usual style of writing..but sometimes, I have to express my vulnerabilities and my fears…my naked truths of living on an island in the middle of a huge lake, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America.

 

 

 

The Sacrament of Confirmation


At Alba Ligia’s confirmation, touch became the language of communication. Mothers lovingly knotted their sons’ new ties, while fathers gently patted their children’s backs in encouragement and pride. Parents combed, fluffed, and plastered gel into unruly hair. Hands held smaller hands and led them to the entrance of the church to await the Bishop.

Once a year, the Bishop arrives from Granada to confirm all of the faithful teenagers on Ometepe Island. This year, three towns and hundreds of teenagers prepared for their confirmations. Alba Ligia’s family arrived at the church in Urbaite on the back of a pick-up truck dressed in all their finest. All the young girls wore panty hose for the first, and hopefully last time. I wondered where they even bought panty hose on the island.

After much anticipation, the Bishop finally arrived. We filed into the highly decorated church festooned with palm leaves and smokey incense. Since Ron and I were Alba Ligia’s sponsors and Godparents, we were hoping for a good seat. However, by the time the line finally cleared, all the plastic chairs were taken and we ended up standing through a long, exceptionally hot and crowded service.

After what seemed like several hours of kneeling, and watching young acolytes wipe sweat from the Bishop’s forehead and redirect the fan to his sweat drenched face, it was time for the confirmation to begin. Sponsors lined up behind their teenage charges and we slowly shuffled to the front of the church where the Bishop individually blessed each confirmed student. Alba knelt before the Bishop, Ron and I laid our hands on her shoulder, and she was anointed with chrism, an aromatic oil that has been consecrated by the Bishop. “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” the Bishop chanted.

An hour later, after pictures with the Bishop, and a procession of gift filled baskets of fruit and toilet paper for the visiting dignitary, it was time to celebrate the confirmation in each family’s home. I was more excited about finding a bottle of water because it had been a long, hot day in a crowded church filled with rituals and rites I knew nothing about. I’m just grateful I didn’t have to wear panty hose. 🙂

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A Pre-Columbian Pottery Shard Turtle


I know I’ve said this before, but Marvin is so talented. He is an artist and a perfectionist, with an eye for design. He made most of the furniture in my house. All I had to do was show him a picture of what I wanted.  See Marvin’s masterpieces  here  and  here  and  here.

Since Marvin is building an addition to our guest house and I have mounds of Pre-Columbian pottery shards piled on my porch, I asked Marvin if he could help me design a turtle mosaic to put above our new door. “No problemo,” he said. In a matter of minutes, we collected the shards scattered in bowls around my porch and fit them, like a puzzle, into the shape of a turtle.

“Look!” Marvin laughed. “These little round shards can be the turtle eggs.”  Marvin reminded me that this month the turtles are laying their eggs on our beaches. “In honor of the female turtle, I will design her laying her eggs,” he said with a kind of reverence because he loves turtles.

Pure joy radiated from Marvin’s face as he laughed and whistled while he plastered the shards together to make one of his beloved turtles. Today, the turtle is waiting patiently to be cleaned, polished, and then a layer of transparent varnish applied for protection.

This was so much fun that we decided to make a crocodile for the side wall. I finally found a use for my collection of pottery shards. I’m thinking of naming our guest house “La Tortuga” in honor of Marvin’s love for turtles. Enjoy the slideshow.

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Election Day Madness


Today are the Nicaraguan municipal elections throughout the country. Sober voters will march to the polls after church because the government suspended all liquor sales on Saturday at noon. It is impossible to buy liquor until Monday at noon. Too bad because with all of the election day madness in the states…I need a stiff drink!

Last week, I received an invitation to the U.S. Presidential election celebration held at the U.S. Embassy in Managua. The reason I received the invitation is because I am the U.S. Embassy Warden representative for Ometepe Island. Basically, it is a fancy title for a messenger. When the U.S. Embassy has a message for U.S. citizens, they email me the message and I relay it through our expat Google group on the island. It’s just a matter of copy…save…paste.

Yet, I was really excited to attend this celebration and honored to be invited. I started making plans for Ron and I to attend. We needed fancy clothes, new shoes, and a safe hotel in Managua. My friend, Theresa, was going to let me rummage through all of her fancy party clothes since we are about the same size. My baby needed a new pair of shoes. We knew this was going to be a challenge finding appropriate shoes on the island, but we were ready to tackle any and all obstacles that got in our way of attending the gala.  Excitement flowed through the air at our house like static electricity.

I emailed my RSVP to the embassy. “Yes, my husband and I will be attending. Thank you so much for the invitation. We are excited to attend.” However, the emailed response I received shattered my plans like a glass machete. “Your husband is not invited.”

But, why? Is there increased security at all U.S. Embassies throughout the world because of acts of terror? When I called the embassy, they told me that there simply wasn’t enough room in the small embassy for my husband. It reminded me of the time we took our small dog camping with us. When we registered, the receptionist asked us if we had any pets because they were prohibited in the campground. “Yes, but he is only a little dog,” I replied.

I’m disappointed. I don’t feel comfortable going to Managua alone and certainly not traveling by taxi at night to and from the embassy. I politely expressed my disappointment and declined the invitation for the U.S. Embassy U.S. Presidential election night celebration.  It looks like we will celebrate our own Presidential election day madness here on the island…but, on the upside…we’ll be able to buy beer and rum …wear flip-flops…and shout at the TV…as long as we have electricity. 🙂

Weekly Photo Challenge: Geometry


This week’s photo challenge is about the shapes and rhythms of geometry that make up our world.  Geometry is the study of relationships of points, lines, angles, and surfaces. It is an arrangement of objects or parts that suggests geometric figures.

I can think of no better way to demonstrate my love for geometry than to photograph points, lines, angles, and surfaces of places I love. Arranging and integrating the photos, I have a photographic representation of meaningful places in my travels…and I’ll never forget the names of those places.

This first interpretation of geometry is for my son, Cory. He is an interpretive naturalist in Yosemite National Park. He just arrived on Ometepe Island for seven months, where he will be working on sustainable tourism programs for several local communities here. I’m so excited to have him back home!

This second photo composite was taken on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. My nephew rented an enormous house called the Wild Horse for his wedding.

I do have a photo composite of Ometepe, but I have it in a slide show format, here.
This challenge reminds me to work on more of my interpretations of geometrical patterns in Nicaragua. Stay turned for more of my favorite places in Nicaragua in geometric patterns.

 

 

 

A Piñata Kinda Day


Sayid turned one year old in October. In honor of his first birthday, we were invited to a modest celebration, which included his initiation into the world of piñatas. His mother made a small orange carrot piñata. But, when she showed it to him the morning of his first birthday, he burst into tears and wailed like a pig going to slaughter.

I can understand his fear because according to the Catholic interpretation of the piñata, it symbolizes man’s struggle against temptation. The traditional piñata has seven points, which represent the seven deadly sins. To me, it resembles Sputnik, whirling around in space forever reminding us of our greed, sloth, pride, envy, gluttony, lust, and anger. No wonder the Nicaraguans named the famous land grab of the Sandinistas  “La Piñata”. After losing the 1990 election, the Sandinistas frantically confiscated property and government funds sharing their bounty among themselves.

With preparations for the fiesta underway, balloons “chimbombas” inflated like the rising cost of frioles, cooks flipped tortillas like IHOP professionals, and a political rally down the street seduced party goers with ear-piercing music and fireworks minus the sparkling fire. But, they soon returned when they discovered there was no piñata. For the piñata is the life of the party… the soul hidden among clusters of candy… seducing and reminding good Catholics everywhere to heed temptations that could lead to a life of misery.

Adults with sharp machetes whittled sticks of various sizes for the fiesta clad participants. When it was time to begin the celebration, Sayid swung his miniature stick at the swaying piñata with glee and determination. Older children, blindfolded to represent their faith, wiggled their hips to the ear thumping music, while adults tuned them in circles several times to represent the disorientation that temptation creates.

Whacking the piñata over and over, symbolically portrays the struggle against temptations and evils. When the piñata finally broke, the forlorn look on the children’s faces said it all. Where was the prize, the treats that represented keeping the faith? Ron and Francisco frantically searched through the shredded piñata and discovered the candy tightly wrapped in the head of the carrot. A few more strong whacks, and the candy showered the faithful children. The day was saved!

Some say that the piñata has lost its religious significance, but I don’t agree considering how many birthday parties I’ve attended in Nicaragua. Birthday parties ooze religious significance. After the broken piñata, the mountains of food, and the exceptionally long birthday song over Sayid’s first chocolate chip cake, I asked Francisco why the gifts were not opened in front of the guests. He said without a thought,  “It is a sin.” “I don’t understand why it is a sin,” I questioned. His response was, “We believe in the act of giving regardless of how small the gift. We would never embarrass anyone who offers something small, for all gifts, regardless of size, are gifts from God.” Now, that’s what I call a piñata kinda day!