“You’ll learn, as you get older, that rules are made to be broken. Be bold enough to live life on your terms, and never, ever apologize for it. Go against the grain, refuse to conform, take the road less traveled instead of the well-beaten path. Laugh in the face of adversity, and leap before you look. Dance as though EVERYBODY is watching. March to the beat of your own drummer. And stubbornly refuse to fit in.”
― Mandy Hale,
This is the second in my series of Humans of Nicaragua: Single Expat Women. I started with single expat women because Sharon and Theresa are excellent examples of being bold enough to live on their terms, to go against the grain, and take the road less traveled.
Enjoy my interview with Theresa. Next in the Humans of Nicaragua series, I have some wonderful interviews lined up with Don Cabo, an 83 year-young friend of mine, who has lived on the island all of his life, and Wilber, a young Nicaraguan man who is dedicated to improving his life for himself and his family.
Interview with a Single Expat Woman
How long have you lived in Nicaragua and how did you make the decision to move to Ometepe Island?
I first arrived in August 2009 for a one week vacation, so it’s 6 years ago now, with a friend and loved it right away. I felt it was accessible to the mainland, Costa Rica, and the Pacific Beaches, yet not in a high density tourist area, good safety record and I love volcanoes! That was the principal reason I made the decision to live here. I rented a home, left for three months to wrap things up and returned, retired and happy.
Describe a typical day in your life on Ometepe Island
I arise with the roosters, usually around 5 am and make the coffee. Watching a new day being born is always a moment for my reflection and I usually say :: here I am again :: to the rising sun. After that, I open my book and read till light. I listen to the sounds around me, and there are many, and hear my mama pigs grunting in pleasure as they feed the piglets. My good friend Wilber arrives around 7am and we have coffee and catch up on village news of the day. It may be a teaching day so two other students will come and together we have coffee, cookies, and chat for two hours. Should I need groceries, Wilber or I go to the village shops for supplies. I mostly read for a while and later will check emails or hand wash some items for the sun line. Naps are important, so a midday siesta is very welcome in the hottest part of the day. It is an easy day, allowing interruptions of the barrio kids wanting a band-aid, a spoonful of Peanut butter or a jump on my mini trampoline. The quiet pleasures come from observing and noting the comings and goings of my neighbors, buying green peppers or tomatoes from a visiting seller or catching an escaped pig. Evening comes and so does veggie soup. I have that every day for supper. Some TV if I want to see something in particular and off to bed around 8.30pm. with a book. Of course, the occasional evening out is rare, but can happen. A full day!
Is cultural immersion important to you? If so, what are the challenges and rewards of cultural immersion?
It is the only way for me to live in a foreign country, to be living with the local people, else why come?? Expats often cluster in communities together and are deprived of the new ways of being and thinking: the paradigm shift of non-Caucasian western thinking brings a new awareness to everything and a deeper understanding about why the neighbor lady is sweeping the dirt, raising a cloud of dust, for example. Challenges are ever-present and comprised mostly of local dialect as opposed to formal Spanish, how to relax in trust that things happen when they happen, not always being on deck in full anticipation of a future event, but to perhaps just relax and see if what one thinks will occur, will in fact occur. This is mostly to do with the physical world, like a fence falling or a dangerous tree will collapse. The reward comes mostly in the form of really feeling like you really did leave your own culture and entered another. Not just more of the same living in a gated community or having daily coffee with one’s own cultural folks.. Why do that when you seldom did it in your home country? For me, I do not feel Outside the local culture, but right Inside and an Honorable Nica.
What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment on Ometepe Island? Your biggest failure?
I take great pride in having successfully taught English to three people who are now fluent and to see their self-esteem rise over the years is a heart-warming gift. My biggest failure is that I am still not taking advantage of the big open spaces and haven’t really developed a taste for regular exercise. But I will!!
What are the most important skills that a single woman needs to have to retire abroad in a rural area?
You need to be respectful of the neighbors and know what they signify by curious behaviours you may not understand. Why place all the rice on a tarp on the ground? Why kill Hurracas for soup? Why music hymns play at 2 or 3 am on some mornings?? Know the culture is first. Second, I would learn to wield a machete and ties knots in ropes. Third, the skill of quiet politeness and patience with delays and no shows, and the ability to understand the insect and animal world and how they help or hinder growing veggies.
Comparing your life now to when you first moved to Ometepe Island, what have you learned?
I have learned many small things, but avoiding becoming a gossip is actually the hardest and wisest thing to so. Gossip destroys and wrecks peace, discussing others without facts and making conclusions can harm others and truly can disturb a life. It is tempting as it’s a form of being in the know, but it wreaks havoc so I learned not to do it. I also learned to be a pig farmer and walk in the dark without fear.
What advice would you give to a single woman who is thinking of retiring abroad in a country setting?
Find good helpers in the beginning and be discreet with resources in an impoverished land. Please do not flaunt wealth and possessions. Listen quietly before rounding in with opinions and know that you are not judged by the color of your skin but by the content of your character!!! Leave your stuff at home and begin simply buying items that wear well in tropical climates and asking questions of local people will gain respect. Of course, speaking the language helps, but try even if you are a beginner as it is highly appreciated. Mostly, I would rely on good old-fashioned values of respect, honesty and patience. Works every time!!
Many thanks to Theresa for her lovely interview. She dances through life with grace, humor, curiosity, and compassion. She is also a writer. Download her touching book:
Little Chicken: A Story of Courage.