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.




38 thoughts on “Lost in Translation

  1. One family isn’t all of Nicaragua. My advice to people is live in a neighborhood with people who do jobs similar to what you did in the US. If you weren’t friends with from radically different economic circumstances in the US, don’t do it here (tact is equally required of the poorer friend as well as the richer). Get involved in a gift exchange with neighbors, but make sure you don’t over do your part of the exchange. Otherwise, it’s like throwing your money in their faces, to quote someone from rural Virginia.

    Self-respecting poor people may simply decide to avoid you if you’re not their patron, and their relationship with their patron is quite formal. So, if you try to be helpful to some poor family, you can end up with people in your life who see you as easy (I saw a rich woman in NYC get metaphorically eaten alive by arts people because she thought she could buy her way into those circles — people gave away invitations to her parties to young poets and artists who might enjoy the parties and get some free booze and food).

    As with any other place, often the people worth knowing aren’t immediately available, and often the people who are immediately available are that way because everyone else avoids them.

    Same is true of expats, but because they’re from our culture, we tend to read them better.

    • Hi Rebecca,

      You are absolutely right..one family isn’t all of Nicaragua. I was so sick when I wrote this and I felt very betrayed, more because I lost a friendship with a family that I really cared about, than the money. Nicaragua is a very poor country. I’m not sure if you have visited Nicaragua before, but the majority of people live in poverty..extreme poverty. Our closest neighbors have a dirt floor, an outhouse, and they cook with wood. They are lucky if they make 2 dollars a day. My husband and I are retired teachers, and another neighbor is a local teacher in our community school. She makes about $75 a month, that is…when she gets paid. The schools are pitiful, the teachers lack training, and when I visit..most of the time the kids just copy from the blackboard. So, even though we have similar jobs, there is no comparison with our lifestyles. The only way to avoid cultural differences somewhat, would be to move into a gated gringo compound..and we would NEVER live that lifestyle. I love being immersed in the culture. I love the generosity, the graciousness, and the vivaciousness of the Nicaraguan people. That’s what sold us on living in Nicaragua in the first place. Overall..I am most grateful to live in our little all Spanish-speaking community. My neighbor tells me everyday that she is sorry for what happened to us, but don’t be surprised if one day he will pay us back. Maybe…maybe not. All I know is that now that I’ve recovered from Dengue fever, I am back to my old optimistic self and enjoying life on my little island once again. Thanks, Rebecca, for your insightful comments.

  2. In our 6 years here, we have lent money several times. Sometimes to help, sometimes as a deposit for a job that was supposed to be done. Sometimes we have been ripped off (with added bonus theft of our personal belongings!). Several times, after we had resigned ourselves to letting go of the money, the person appeared at our door with cash in hand (including someone who had gone of to Costa Rica without telling us). So, maybe this will turn out to be one of those times… but if not, remember that there are lots of good people here (and you have met and written about many). Most aren’t going to rip you off.

    I am so sorry to hear that you are ill. Two of my stepsons have had dengue in SJdS & it is not pretty. Take care of yourself, and I hope that you feel better soon.

    • Karen, thank you so much for your encouraging words. Secretly..I tell myself that maybe this family will repay us in some way…someday when we have resigned ourselves to losing not only money, but a 2 year relationship with this family. Quien sabe? I can’t lose my hope and my faith in people..no way! But, Dengue has a bone breaking way of killing my spirit…I don’t wish this on anyone…ever.

  3. The problem is that you don’t understand the Latin culture. You will never understand the Latin culture just as Latinos will never understand your culture. It is something that you are BORN into and so dominates your mind that there is no room, even though you think so, to understand another culture. I am not criticizing you, it’s not your fault, it applies to all cultures you are not born into to. It’s important to listen to others that have been ripped off before you, take their advice and always be on your guard. Never lend, lending means a gift. It’s a cultural thing. I’ve been living in Central America since 1995. In 1996 I visited Ometepe, a beautiful island with two volcano’s. Living in Costa Rica at the time I thought that I would relocate to Ometepe but I knew that I couldn’t exist there with so much poverty in that country. I married a Costa Rican woman, a beautiful Latina. We moved to Panama in 1999, after one year she wanted a divorce because she couldn’t integrate into the Panamanian culture, she believed that she was better than Panamanians. How crazy is that!!! Latin culture in both countries but different. My best friend in Costa Rica, Ronnie Connolly, married a girl from Ometepe, after a few years moved to Ometepe as he was enchanted with the Island. A few years later I learnt of his death, suicide. I didn’t try to find out the details. I am sorry that you experienced being ripped off. You have to remember that most of your neighbors are born into poverty with no or slim chance to escape it and it is not perceived as a moral crime (rip off) to better themselves off a rich (compared to them) Gringa.

    • Patrick, exactly! I believe everything you have said. The problem is that I don’t want to become jaded and bitter. When we lived on Ometepe Island 8 years ago, we took a young friend back to the states with us for a 3 month visit. We sat down with him and showed him our monthly bills and our monthly income and after all the bills were paid, we had little money left. But, he could NEVER see beyond our cars, our motorcycle, and our big house. NEVER! To him…we were rich although we are definitely part of the 47% and couldn’t afford to take early retirement and
      live in the states. I’m sorry to hear about your friend. We’ve lost 3 expat friends in
      2 years..one to suicide…one to a heart attack on Ometepe Island…and another to
      cancer. So very tragic..but it happens everywhere in the world. Life goes on and
      I’d better readjust my attitude..I’m not going to play the victim game. Thanks for your honesty Patrick.

  4. You crack me up, my friend. Missionaries ended up in the cooking pot! Hysterical! I just hope my mom doesn’t read this post…she continues to tell people that we are missionaries in Nicaragua. 🙂 I’m so glad to have you as a neighbor and friend. You are my confidant and have helped me in so many ways…I cherish our friendship.

  5. I believe as your body heals your spirit will too. This must have been hard to write but hopefully it felt cathartic. You’ve accomplished much while living in Ometepe. I’m sure you have touched many lives and have been a positive influence in this community. This one set back in trust and relationships has taught you that you can still be the loving and compassionate person you are. Happy Thanksgiving and blessings to you and Ron.Do get well, soon!!!

    • Thank you so much, Lynne. It was cathartic and I am so blessed to have such wonderful caring blog friends and family. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I’m regaining a little appetite. If I had Dengue, which I really think I did..it is wicked and has been very draining. But, today I made three loaves of banana bread…so I think I’m slowly regaining my strength.

  6. Hi there! This is just to let you know that because I enjoy your posts, I’ve nominated you for the Reality Blog Award. I hope you’ll consider this good news – but even if you aren’t interested in accepting, I hope you may see some increased traffic as a result! The acceptance rules are at: http://wp.me/p2ekZU-ZC. All the best!

  7. Lo Deb, I can only join with the others, offering you sympathies for the betrayal you suffered from your generosity and honest desire to help others, as you say, you were warned not to go that route, but you tried. That said I and likely most ‘foreigners’ have encountered something similar in one way or another, for myself, I am a very slow learner, so had to go through the process two or three times before getting a little wiser, and a bit more cautious. What is life without some risk! We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have some sense of adventure in our lives, learning to live with the unexpected, ready to face another day – straight ahead, don’t look back, let the feathers fall where they may, and the ‘worst’ of all cliches – life goes on, and on – most important, be sure to keep at least a little reserve space in the back of your mind for those that screwed you, just to allow that extra bit of caution for the next time, for surely there will be another next time. Chin up, into the breach, hope you shake loose that thing, see you on the upswing — anything else that may apply? Cheers!

    • Eric, I thought of you when I was writing this post. I knew I was going to have to eat my idealistic words someday…I just never expected it to happen. Like you, I’m slow to learn, sometimes naive and idealistic, and too trusting. The lessons have to bop me over the head a number of times before i get it. lol Being really sick didn’t help my frame of mind, either. But, I think I’m on the slow road to recovery, now. Thanks, Eric for your kind and encouraging words. One of these days, we’re going to have to come to the mainland to visit you. 🙂

  8. I checked on you several times to see if I had missed some posts. “Hmmmm,” i thought, but i never thought you were going through difficult times. I guessed that you were busy with friends or on a road trip! When someone borrows money and doesn’t pay it back, i try to smile and then say, ‘well i don’t ever have to worry about them asking to borrow money again!’

    i’ll never forget when i returned from a trip to nicaragua and discovered that someone had felled one of my favorite trees on my property! the massive logs had been pulled to the middle of an open area, and were there to say, ‘welcome home.’ my neighbors smiled and shrugged as if they had no idea how the tree was destroyed. weeks later i was told that it was the son of a good friend, who is in the timber business. i was so angry, so disenchanted – every mood possible except for joy filled my soul. something ‘died’- that inner spark and my love for that community, because again, apathy prevented anyone from speaking up. i have yet to see the guy who cut down the tree… i fear i will lose my honor and say things i will regret. thankfully i am now in ecuador and don’t have to cross paths. it was not the trigger to nudge me forward in life, but it certainly played a role in cutting the strings.

    i am most disenchanted when i count on others and they let me down,

    long ago i had dengue fever, and wow, i totally understand if you’re recovering from that. it took another month for me to regain my strength. hang in there amiga.. smiles will replace your disenchantment. you’re too positive and too good of a person to let this beat you spiritually!

    hang in there,

    • Z…I think you hit the nail on the head when you talked about apathy preventing people from speaking up. After this experience, I had several people tell me that they would never trust this family and they have taken advantage of many foreigners on the island before. Why didn’t they speak up before??? Sometimes, I will never understand, but it can happen anywhere. I’m learning. As far as Dengue…I have never been so sick in my life. I’m still weak. I think I lost 10 lbs overnight..no appetite and my bones still hurt. All I could do for a couple of weeks was lay in bed and moan…I was pitiful. Little by little, though..I’m regaining my
      strength. Thanks for being my friend, Z.

      • Si, every cell in my body seemed to hurt, especially my eyes. As you know, dengue is also called, ‘Break Bone Fever.’
        I ran 104 temp and hallucinated a bit, and if i stood up for more than a minute or two, i would get faint..
        you have my complete sympathy.
        Keep mending!

  9. Hola Debbie,

    Didn’t want this comment posted, but needed you to know…. thanks for your post, unfortunately I was not as strong as you and ended up leaving the island because of this happening over and over. I walked away leaving among many things a brand new refrigerator only to be told later that the grandmother does not like it as it adds to her electric bill, even though she is now using it to sell ice and juice. I understand your jadedness. Hope you feel better soon.

    Nance (formally from Altagracia)

    On Tue, Nov 20, 2012 at 11:30 PM, Rewired and Retired in Nicaragua wrote:

    > ** > Rewired and Retired in Nicaragua posted: “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 actio”

  10. Oh, my heart aches for you. Betrayal is deep and creates a pain that feels as though you have been poisoned in your heart. But, alas as time goes by we are healed by the loving kindness , generosity, and strength of the many GOOD people who surround us! It’s so good that you had the power and wisdom to share this nasty ouch with all of us! I for one am honored to walk beside you and help you carry the overwhelming sadness you are feeling! Sometimes people suck! But luckily many times people are so awesome! You know this to be true especially after receiving so many supportive, loving, caring responses from your beautifully honest , deeply sad post. I feel drawn to send you encouraging words and I’ll be sending healing energy to you and I know the sun will shine brighter soon! Don’t let this terrible experience change anything about you! Your a good person! Thanks for being YOU💛💙💜

  11. Deb – thanks for being so honest and true about your feelings. You know that I understand how painful it is to be betrayed by someone you loved and trusted. There seems to be a profoundly deeper sense of disappointment when the act of kindness, generosity and compassion represents our love, hope and trust that a better world can be created. In other words, I understand how BIG your love is. Hurt like this can cause people like us to expand our mourning outside of our own personal circumstances (though our lives are important) because of our global hearts. We are mourning for many, while suffering personally.
    I have not yet recovered, financially, from my experience of four years ago. I also still feel the sadness that comes with betrayal; however, that sadness is not deep within my being anymore. It is merely a “knowing” at this point in time, that someone has hurt me and others by his actions. I also know that this experience has strengthened my bonds with my Nicaraguan friends whom I trust and who have stayed by my family’s side. They also share my hurt, and they feel a personal sense of betrayal, as well. Their hurt is compounded by the stigma that they have to bear because of the actions of other Nicaraguans. They are embarrassed, saddened, angered and sometimes shamed.
    As far as the “ladron” (Carlos Vargas) in my life, I truly believe his soul is suffering. He not only hurt my family, but he hurt a struggling campesino family with children. Carlos cannot truly enjoy his time in Granada because so many people know his reputation. He can also be arrested by the police for not fulfilling a legal promise he made to repay. He lives on the run and in hiding, although with the facade that he is happy and partying and an artist. It is easy to drink away your wrong doings and use the excuse of being an artist. Sadly, Carlos is not welcome into the beautiful mountain pueblo that he loved so dearly. He stole from a community of loving people. Perhaps your “ladron” will pay his debt in ways other than money. Knowing you, your love will only grow stronger for the people who are true and your wisdom will grow deeper. You are one STRONG, LOVING AND POWERFUL MUJER!! Sure hope you feel better SOON. I can only imagine how tough it is to be so physically run down while this occurred. It is too much.
    Abrazos y besitos,

    • Paulette, I thought of you the entire time I was writing my post. I know that you understand. It wasn’t so much because of the money,( although, it sure would be nice to have it back) but the betrayal and the feeling of being used and taken advantage of that really got to me. I think I could have handled it better if I wasn’t so sick…scary sick, but too weak to even think about getting on a ferry and then taking a taxi to the hospital in Managua. Pat had Dengue and we have been comparing our symptoms. It has left me completely drained..emotionally and
      physically. You are a wonderful friend. Thank you for your encouragement and

  12. Thank you for taking the time and emotional energy it took to write this blog..it had to have been difficult. Sometimes it helps to voice the anger, hurt and frustration from deep with-in and I hope this helps cleanse out the negativity so you can start to heal , emotionally and physically. You’ll be in our thoughts and prayers.. have a blessed Thanksgiving .

  13. Hi Deb,
    Wow, what a post. I hope you continue writing your blog. I have followed for about a year or more now. It is hard to believe that last year we spent your American Thanksgiving in Granada, visited our friend in Rivas, tripped about Ometepe, and met Sam and many other wonderfull people on the isle. I think we even exchanged hi’s to you and Ron one morning, out for a walk near the airport.
    You are gifted with an ability to turn ordinary, extrodinary, and everyday life experiences, into quaint interesting blogs.
    Only on three occations, wandering away from that have I been left bewildered.
    One was the comment about some journalists perception of Nic.
    Second was , what if everbody cared! Left me pondering for a long while, coming to the conclusion, everybody does, just not about the same things.
    And now this post.
    I think we all tend to reap what we sow,to an extent. I am sure you also recieved some benefits, which otherwise you would not have. Can only read between the lines as to what happened, but felt encouraged when you said,
    “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.”
    I hope you do, and get back to using your gift.


  14. I’m sorry you had been deceived. There are genuine people and sometimes we can never tell. Can we not trust our instincts or shall we give in to cynicism? We should have faith. Although there are many a times I would prefer to not bother. But as humans we tend to always give people a chance unfortunately. We venture forth never knowing what it’ll bring. That’s is the grand adventure of life? Money is always a taboo topic I’ve been told. I’ve been told when helping someone where money is involved be careful. Hope to meet you soon. Take care

  15. This is a beautiful post for its honesty and humanity and typifies why I love your blog. You are thoughtful, insightful and, most importantly, always real. Thank you for having the courage to post this and I truly am sorry that happened to you. Feel better soon 🙂

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