Weekly Photo Challenge: My Sweet Sea


Lake Cocibolca, Nicaragua’s largest fresh water lake cradles my island home. The Spaniards called it La Mar Dulce (the sweet sea), and how sweet it is!

Lake Cocibolca

Ometepe Island rises magnificently out of the sweet sea. Its two volcanoes jut out of the lake and can be seen for miles. What an impressive sight!

Arriving and departing from our island, one must take an hour’s ferry ride. It’s always an adventure, especially when the lake is choppy.

What does the sweet sea mean to me? Fish, fishermen, birds, and an occasional fishing cat sustain their lives from La Mar Dulce. Even House Hunter’s International was impressed with our sweet sea when filming Ron fishing.

What do we do for fun on the sweet sea? We kayak daily, and once we followed a huge floating island as it drifted toward the mainland.

The sweet sea means tranquility, peace, and glorious sunsets from our front porch.

Goodnight, my beautiful sweet sea. Until tomorrow.
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How Long Would You Work for a Jar of Pickles?


At the current $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage has become a poverty wage. A full-time worker with one child lives below the official poverty line.
Bernie Sanders

Yesterday, we hit the jackpot when shopping in Rivas, on the mainland. For the first time in Nicaragua, I found a jar of whole dill pickles, French honey mustard, and Snyder pretzels. Today, I received my first Social Security deposit. I’m officially old and lovin’ every minute of it. Yet, both of these events got me thinking about the poverty level in Nicaragua.

Do Nicaraguans think they are poor or do we, who were born into a capitalistic society, only perceive Nicaraguans as poverty-stricken? Do Nicaraguans prioritize their lives around how much things cost? To help answer my philosophical ramblings, I asked myself, how long would a Nicaraguan have to work for a jar of dill pickles?
pickles copyOn the average, a full-time Nicaraguan employee earns 100 cordobas a day. That’s the equivalent of $4 a day at the current exchange rate. My jar of dill pickles cost 135 cordobas, which means the average Nicaraguan would have to work more than a day to buy a jar of pickles.

To put this into perspective, a minimum wage worker in the states would have to work about 42 minutes to buy a jar of pickles. Of course, pickles are a luxury item here, so the cost is much higher than in the states. My neighbor kids love mayonnaise. They beg for mayonnaise when they come to visit because it is pricy and out of reach for most wage earners in Nicaragua.

Honestly, I seldom look at the prices of most food items in Nicaragua. We buy very little processed food, but there are certain treats like peanut butter, mayonnaise, pretzels, chocolate and pickles that we enjoy when we can find them.

Out of curiosity, I’ve compiled a list of how long a Nicaraguan would have to work for various items that we normally think nothing of purchasing.

One day of work would buy: 100 cordobas or $4.00
1. 1 jar of mayonnaise
2. one giant Hershey bar
3. A week of telephone minutes ( depending on how long one talks and if calling a Moviestar phone from a Claro phone)
4. 4 pirated DVD movies
5. 4 bottles of Tona beer
6. almost a jar of pickles

One week of work would buy: A work week is 6 days. 600 cordobas or $24
1. A month’s Claro internet plan for a dongle modem
2. 3 jars of peanut butter…very expensive in Nicaragua
3.  A tank of gasoline for a motorcycle
4. A cloth hammock
5. 2 bags of cement

One month of work would buy: About 3,000 cordobas or $120
1. Rent under $120 a month for a small house.
2. One double mattress thick and padded
3. A used bicycle
4. 4 baby piglets
5. Two taxi rides to Managua from Rivas

One year of work would buy: 36,000 cordobas or $1,440
1. A cheap Chinese motorcycle
2. A refrigerator, a washing machine, a bottle of propane, and a small two burner cook top.
3. 2 rt airline tickets to Miami , plus the cost of the visas
4. A manzana of land for grazing cattle on the volcano
5. 2 fiberglass canoes

Compiling this list put a lot of things into perspective for me. Now I understand why the prices for most furniture, appliances, electronics, and vehicles are listed first in monthly installments with the full price at the bottom. Most Nicaraguans buy on credit with little understanding of interest rates. Usually, they will buy an item on credit, and if they can’t make the monthly payments, the repo man visits. The repo men are very busy in Nicaragua.

Now, I understand why most young families live with extended family members. Who could afford to rent a house? Even on Ometepe Island, where the rental prices are still reasonable, a small house with a tiled floor, one bedroom, and a flush toilet will run about $150 a month unfurnished.

Now it makes sense to me why mayonnaise is “rico” and gallo pinto for breakfast, lunch and dinner is the life force of Nicaragua. I can see why they cook with wood instead of propane because a bottle of propane costs about $15.

Now, I understand why the Nicaraguans barter, beg, or steal. They are their best when bargaining for a good deal. It’s accepted practice to never take the first price offered. In fact, it’s a performing art to watch the thrifty Nicaraguans bargain.

Now it makes sense why most Nicaraguans live a stress-free life and why making money or getting rich is not a main goal in their lives. I understand why they don’t have a clue about budgeting because they live day-to-day with little extra money to budget.

Finally, I understand what it is like to live like a Nica. Money is not high on their list because they have so little of it. They creatively make do with what little they have. They work hard, play hard, and laugh often. They don’t think they are poor. Their birthplace determines their future, and in my opinion, it has little to do with money. They prioritize their purchases depending on immediate needs, not wants. If their basic needs are met, then they buy luxury items on credit, or barter and bargain for them. Do I think the Nicaraguans would work a whole day to buy a jar of dill pickles? Not a chance!

 

 

 

Gringos: The People from Off


“Are you offended when we call you a gringa?” my neighbor asked.
“No. Actually, never,” I said. She surprised me when she asked because Nicaraguans have a totally different perspective of the word offensive than ‘gringos’.

It never occurred to me that gringo/a was an offensive term in Nicaragua because Nicaraguans define a person’s characteristics, nationality, and race with descriptive words like “gorda/o” (fat), “gordita/o” (chubby), negro/a (black), gringa/o (a foreigner), or “chele”     ( light color skin).

When I returned from the states a few noticeable pounds heavier, my neighbor said, “Oh, tu estas linda y gordita.” (You are pretty and chubby.) I’ve learned not to take offense to these words of description because they are not meant to be malicious or mean-spirited. They are simply a way to identify someone…nothing more.

This morning, I found this video, Why Costa Rica Hates Gringos-Explained. He describes gringos as only people from the United States. However, most Nicaraguans refer to anyone from another country as a gringo. In fact, I think our Arkansas neighbors could have called us gringos when we lived in the hollows of the Ozark Mountains. Most locals referred to us as “the people from off”, mainly because of our different customs, way of talking, and ‘otherness’  ( described in the article Who, Exactly, is a Gringo? linked at the bottom of the page).

Although I agree that some foreigners act this way, I find that more people from off tend to be compassionate, optimistic, and friendly.  He makes the term ‘gringo’ sound ugly and offensive, which is no surprise because he’s from Gringolandia, where the tiniest error is assumed to be offensive and politically incorrect. Although there is a grain of truth in what this ‘gringo’ says in his video, one has to look at it from the perspective of a Nica or Tico, not a person from the United States or a person from off.

Generally, most Nicas don’t think that way, and I suspect that most Ticos don’t either. In Latin America, it is all about saving face. Nicaraguans avoid confrontations with people from off. They don’t want to offend anyone because they don’t want to be offended. They will go out of their way to give you directions. Even if they don’t know the directions, they make up something to please you. They don’t want to appear stupid. If they don’t understand your Spanglish, they will try to avoid you, so as not to embarrass you or themselves.

Here’s a good example of avoidance to save face. The other day, the meter reader rode by our house on his bicycle. He stopped at our neighbor’s house for the umpteenth time to deliver our electric bill. “Marina, why doesn’t he deliver our electric bill to our house?” I asked. “Because he doesn’t understand you when you speak Spanish,” she said. “But, you understand me,” I said. “Quien sabe?” ( Who knows?) she laughed as she threw up her hands in amusement.

Honestly, Nicaraguans don’t have the same perceptions of the word “offensive” as we do. Julio was watching a movie with us and someone said, ‘honky’.
“What does honky mean?” Julio asked. “Well,” I tried to explain, “It’s used by an African-American to describe a white person.” The next day, a young foreigner walked by our beach. Julio shouted across the fence to me, “Honky on la playa,” while laughing hysterically because we usually shout, “Gringo on la playa.” Julio forced me to explain that honky may be interpreted as an offensive racial slur in the United States. He looked at me with a puzzled expression, not having a clue what I was talking about. To this day, he still shouts, “Honky on la playa” because he likes the word to describe a foreigner better than the word gringo. Oh! What have I done?

Take a look at this video below while you’re listening to Honky Tonk Badonkadonk, then read the article below. I would be very interested in reading your impressions and thoughts about what is considered offensive in Latin America vs North America. Maybe I should add a disclaimer at the bottom: The opinions expressed within this post are the sole opinions of the author, which may or may not hold true for all readers. 🙂

Who, Exactly is a Gringo?

Timeout: Difficult Lessons


“That’s the thing about lessons, you always learn them when you don’t expect them or want them.”
― Cecelia Ahern, If You Could See Me Now

Crimes of opportunity. We should have known better than to leave our Brazilian hammock swinging on the second story porch of our casita. Rain pounded on our tin roof muffling all sounds, our hammock swayed lazily in an unprotected and dark area, our dog too was sick to bark at intruders…all were signals for an opportunistic ladrón (thief).

We should have known better. In a three-year period, we’ve lost a bunch of bananas (over 50 pounds of bananas), a long hose snaking through Ron’s garden, a sharp machete, Ron’s new hiking boots, an iPhone, and now our Brazilian hammock. These petty crimes of opportunity make me want to cry!

IMG_3425Though, we should have known better. We installed a bright light on the casita porch, took down our rope swing hanging from a mango tree, rolled up the remaining hose, and stored assorted rakes and our kayak on the gated porch of our main house….a real fortress. “What about this old mop and the broken plastic bucket?” I asked Ron. “Debbie, if some thief wants that old mop and bucket..let them have it,” he laughed.

I’ve followed trails of bananas and washed out partial footprints in the sand…all leading to a dead-end. I’ve warned all the neighbors that a ladrón is in our neighborhood. They have all had experiences with petty crime, too. In a way, it reassures me that we aren’t targeted because we are foreigners. Yet, it infuriates me that a stranger invades our private property.

The advice from the locals is to: get a mean dog or two or three, lock everything up at night, and spotlight the property with bright lights. It won’t help to install a high razor topped fence around our property. First, it is too expensive, and second, if a thief wants something bad enough, they’ll find a way. If they can easily shimmy up a coconut tree, a fence will not deter them.

We should have known better. But, we got lazy and didn’t expect a ladrón. That’s when things happen…when you least expect them. Lesson learned…again and again. It could have been worse. I won’t live in fear, but I’ll sure keep everything locked up tightly in our house from now on.

I still want to cry. The hammock was given to us as a gift when we visited Brazil. In Zeebra Designs and Destinations this week, Lisa quoted Kahlil Gibran, “I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind;  yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers.”

I’m working on learning to be grateful for these lessons…but, sometimes you just gotta cry.
A friend sent me a picture she took of her toddler when she laid her down for her nap. Her expression is priceless and demonstrates the feelings I had last week. I’m practicing sketching hair..I still have more practice to get it lifelike. YouTube had some excellent lessons on drawing hair.

Born Out of Necessity


Necessity is the mother of taking chances.
~Mark Twain

Satisfying one’s basic needs..and a few wants..while living on a primitive island in the middle of a huge sweet sea, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America can be quite challenging at times. Many things on Ometepe Island are born out of necessity due to lack of reliable infrastructure, transportation, and supplies.

But, that certainly doesn’t stop the creative and motivated people who live here.

I. Shelter
With our gift of two bags of cement for Christmas, our neighbors made a new addition to their kitchen. Shade is a necessity on our beach….always. Homemade ladders and handmade metal reinforced columns help to complete our casita.

II. Transportation
What do you do with a broken Jet ski? Of course, you make it into a fishing boat. Mechanics rebuild motors in the ferries with spare used parts, while a creative entrepreneur designs a tandem bicycle out of used bicycle parts to rent to tourists. Handmade carts haul wood for cooking fires and the ferry transports a mummified horse for the local rodeo.

III. Utilities
Tall water tanks supply gravity fed water during water shortages and everyone is an electrician when the lines get tangled or we need 220 v. Just hire a neighbor to climb the pole to fix the electricity in the neighborhood.

IV. Flood Insurance?
In 2010, while we were building our house, the lake rose to the highest levels seen in 60 years. It rose into our yard and washed out our road. Materials had to be carried on our heads as we sloshed through the lake. We crushed old roof tiles for a stronger road bed and hired a tractor to deliver bricks. The tractor got stuck, but with the help of many strong men and several attempts, we were able to push it out of the lake to get the bricks to the house. There is no such thing as flood insurance, so this idea was born out of blood, sweat, and tears to build our house.

V. Communication, Banking, and Free Luggage
My woktenna was born out of a need for a faster internet…and it works great! I even won third place in a contest for the most creative way to get online. Have you ever seen a tent bank? Born out of necessity, this bank opened in a tent until construction was completed on their new bank. Disgusted with paying high prices for your luggage on airlines? I needed a way to transport my books for my lending library, thus my homemade travel vest was born…and it’s free. I can waddle through airports with 40 pounds of books in it..no questions asked.

VI. Creative Outdoor Living
Aware of crimes of opportunity, we can’t leave hammocks or other lawn furniture outside unprotected. In fact, I got lazy and left a hammock outside two weeks ago, and it was stolen! Sigh…but that’s another story. With leftover bricks, I made outdoor furniture. The workers building our casita were so impressed with my outdoor furniture, that they made a mini-brick ferry.

VII. Health

Walter, our local mosquito exterminator, fumigates the houses with his homemade fumigator gun. Johnson lifts weights made of two tin cans packed with concrete.

Necessity is the mother of invention. That holds true on Ometepe Island. It involves taking risks, but great things are born out of necessity.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unleashing the Carefree Child


A carefree child loves with reckless abandon, trusts completely, and is free from anxiety or responsibility. A carefree child is freedom from the ties that bind us to reality.
IMG_0476A carefree child runs, splashes, giggles, skips, builds forts, and finds delight in every moment of life.

A carefree child loves dressing up….

and getting down and dirty!

I used to be a carefree child once…easy going…happy-go-lucky…laid back…and radiantly free. What if I unleashed the carefree child within me…let her run free, love with reckless abandon, and throw caution to the wind? I’m going to ponder that for a while. What if?

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Timeout for Art: Teachers


“Because teachers, no matter how kind, no matter how friendly, are sadistic and evil to the core.”
― Heather Brewer, Eighth Grade Bites

Normally, I wouldn’t post a sarcastic quote about teachers, but this is different. Walter White was a milquetoast chemistry teacher who broke bad when he was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. He turned to crime by producing and selling methamphetamine with a former student in order to leave his family financially secure when he died.

Breaking Bad is a popular television drama series, and I am addicted to this show. Walter is: a protagonist turned antagonist, a nerdy middle-aged high school Chemistry teacher turned murderous drug lord, a villain seeking redemption by ignoring his past sins, and a monster because he has rationalized it all.

Shrouded in his crystal meth, Walter represents our dark sides. I often ask myself, “What would it take to break bad?” A terminal illness? A diseased brain? A fight with a family member? Do we all have the potential to break bad? How would I respond if I was diagnosed with a terminal illness?

IMG_3388 2 Breaking Bad brings out the best and the worst in me. The best, in that I can ponder the philosophical questions about life….the really important questions like; Are we human only because of chemical equations in our brains? When is it justified to kill another human being? What baggage do we carry on the road to redemption? What governs my life choices? Is it emotions, personal motives, or consequences of my actions? Without memories are we still human?

On the other hand, Breaking Bad can bring out the worst in me. I can rationalize poor decisions, react impulsively out of revenge, justify my wicked thoughts by blaming others, and cuss like a hurracca when my feathers are ruffled.

Simply put, I’m human. My dark side stays safely tucked away most of the time. Unlike Walter White, I don’t expect to break bad anytime soon. But, the potential is there. When Hank (Walter’s brother-in-law) confronted Walter and said, “I don’t know who you are anymore.” Walter responded, “If you don’t know who I am, then maybe the best course would be to tread lightly.”

Here’s to treading lightly, enjoying each day as it comes, living fully and compassionately, and keeping that dark side safely tucked away!

 

 

Dr. Google and Cyberchondriacs


“Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”~ Mark Twain

Without a doubt, the internet fundamentally alters all aspects of health care. Dr. Google has been my reliable internet physician since we moved to a small, isolated tropical island in Nicaragua. Online information empowers passive patients of the past, like ourselves,  where symptoms can be diagnosed with the click of a key, a bonanza of data appears instantly, and treatment options are dispensed freely.

Yet, sometimes, I feel like a cyberchondriac. I can find a wealth of worse-case scenarios for my symptoms, all leading to …You’re gonna die. If I have a sore throat…I’m going to die of throat cancer. Dr. Google diagnoses a minor stomach ache as an infestation of cyclosporiasis, the same rare parasite called Cyclospora cayetanensis, that sickened 466 people in 15 states. I’m sure this must create a major new headache for doctors throughout the world. A bit of information can be a dangerous thing.

I’ve decided that the only way to cure cyberchondria is to have regular health check-ups with real doctors. Ron and I bought the Silver Plan health discount for Vivian Pellas hospital last year. Health Care for Expats in Nicaragua  Since we’ve had the health discount for over 6 months, we received a 30% discount for extensive health exams. So, we made an appointment with Arlen Perez at Vivian Pellas for our super-duper exams last week.

IMG_3368We arrived in Managua at 7:30 am. Within a few minutes, Arlen met us in the lobby with a printed schedule of our procedures for the day. She took us to the lab where we gave blood and other bodily fluid samples. Then, Arlen’s new medical tourism partner, Maite Soto, filled out a questionnaire for us in Spanish.

Maite spent the rest of the day with us, translating, attending meticulously to all of our needs, and taking us from lab to lab. After our blood samples, we had EKGs and stress tests on a treadmill, then ultrasounds, chest x-rays, and I had a mammogram. What astounded me was that we could ask the technicians, “How does it look?” and “Do you see any abnormalities?” Try that in the states and you will get a response such as, ” You will have to wait until the doctor reads the tests and you’ll find out in a couple of weeks.” Instead, the technicians reviewed the exams with us and reassured us that everything looked fine.

At noon, we finished the major procedures. Maite took us to the cafeteria for our free lunch and COFFEE! Since we had to fast the night before, I missed my morning coffee. Then, we had an hour to wait for our consultations with the doctors, and my gynecological exam.

We walked around the well-manicured grounds, where I discovered the children’s burn unit. You must read the experience of Vivian Pellas and why she started the children’s burn unit. Love Without Limits: Health Care in Nicaragua

IMG_3369A friend, who lives on the island, took her small son to Vivian Pellas Children’s Burn Hospital for a badly burnt foot. Poor little toddler accidentally stepped on a ground fire. She was very impressed with the care and attention he received and all expenses were free.

Our private consultations with English-speaking doctors were held in the afternoon. They carefully reviewed all of our test results and gave us plenty of time to ask numerous questions. The only test result that wasn’t available was my Pap test because I had just completed my gynecological exam 30 minutes earlier.  But, not to worry. They would scan the results and email me within two days. ( AND…they did! )

Now, I know you are curious about the cost of these exams. What would be your guess?
The public price for the Male over 40 Physical is of U$ 350
With the 6 months discount (30%) is of U$ 245
With the 3 months discount (25%) U$ 262.50

The public price for the Female over 40 Physical is of U$ 420
With the 6 months discount (30%) is of U$ 294
With the 3 months discount (25%) U$ 315

We were at the hospital until 5:00 pm. All exams were professional and we received same day results! They sent us home with hugs and packets complete with our x-rays, ultrasound pictures, EKGs, thoroughly reviewed blood analysis’, and most importantly recommendations for improving our health as we age. Although, I am proud to announce that we are in excellent health for two aging baby boomers. 🙂

Was it worth it? Absolutely! Would I recommend Vivian Pellas to other expats? Without any doubts! Their medical tourism program is growing rapidly. Many foreigners come to Vivian Pellas for hip replacements, cosmetic surgery, and other procedures at 1/4 of the cost of procedures in the states.

Does this mean that I’m abandoning Dr. Google? No, of course not. But, now I can make more informed decisions about my health care because of the thorough services I received at Vivian Pellas. Is my cyberchondria cured? Yes! Thanks to the attentive, caring doctors and staff at Vivian Pellas. It is very reassuring to know that we have an excellent expat hospital, same day results, and hospitable staff available in Nicaragua. Have I told you how much I LOVE this country?

My Past. It Lives in a Tuff Shed.


My friend, Mary, wrote a powerful piece on letting go. This is especially true for expats and those who downsize after retirement. Thank you Mary for reminding us to ask, “Does this item bring me joy?”

¡La Vida Es Rica! ~ Life is Delicious!

Monsters under the bed.

Skeletons in the closet.

My Past lives in a Tuff Shed.

I’ve come to believe that at a certain point, life creates a dichotomy.

A dilemma.

Do I maintain my safe, comfortable, familiar life — remain with status quo?

Or.

Experience the life I dream of?

Things I’ve enjoyed throughout my life: Linens. Shiny baubles. Rusty gadgets. Christmas ornaments. Funky hats. Books. The unique, the no-longer-produced, the weird and the wonderful. Hand-crocheted nut cups from the 1940s. Rosebud Haviland china. Depression glass. Silver-plated pewter. Rosepoint crystal. Ginny dolls (predecessor to Barbie). Headboard beneath which my great-grandmother was born. The round 54” claw-foot table that expands to seat 21 at which my grandmother fed a multitude of harvest hands at Threshing Time — at which I fed a multitude of Fab Fam and friends for numerous Thanksgivings. A lovely home nestled in the foothills of the Colorado…

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