The Concept of Just One in Nicaragua

Just one step. Just one mile. Just one dollar. Just one kiss. Just one person. When we look at life through the lens of ‘one,’ everything becomes that much more attainable. ~Mark Ebeling

The other day, I ran out of ink for my printer. Since there was no ink available for my printer on Ometepe Island, I sent Maxwell, my librarian, to the mainland to buy ink. It is time to make him a new work contract, so I figured he would be happy to ferry to the mainland so I could print him a new contract…and he was!

I gave him an old cartridge and asked him to buy just one black cartridge. He called from the mainland to ask me, “Do you want the $13 cartridge or the $35 cartridge?” “What’s the difference?” I asked. “One cartridge is 1/4 full of ink and the other is full of ink,” he said.

I laughed because I had never heard of selling an ink cartridge only 1/4 full. I told him to buy the $35 black ink and a 1/4 full tricolor ink because who knows when we will have to replenish the ink supply and make another trip to the mainland.

Yet, it made me think about the concept of ‘just one’ in Nicaragua. $35 is the average weekly salary for people in Nicaragua. Very few people can afford to buy a full cartridge of ink, if they even have a printer, because that is 1/4 of their monthly salary…for an ink cartridge! So, HP in Central America makes ink more attainable and affordable by selling 2 oz in a cartridge.

Nicaragua caters to the poor by selling ‘just one’ of almost everything. I always have to check the 4 pack of butter because sometimes there are only two or three sticks of butter in the box. You can buy one egg, one cigarette, one stick of butter, one pill, one pencil or pen, one soda, one beer…and the list goes on.

In the U.S. have you noticed the label on multipacks that says, “Not to be sold separately?”

My understanding is that this isn’t a contractual term, but rather a warning that the items don’t satisfy legal requirements for individual sale. The seller and manufacturer likely don’t care whether you resell the items, but the government does.

In the U.S. at least, regulations of the Food and Drug Administration require that (with certain exceptions) food items sold at retail must be marked with a Nutrition Facts label, showing calorie counts, fat and sugar content, and so on.

For example, if you buy a big multipack of tiny (“fun size”) candy bars, the manufacturer usually won’t have printed Nutrition Facts on each candy bar’s wrapper (because it’s too small). There will instead be a label on the outer bag. As such, you can’t legally resell the candy bars individually, because they don’t meet labeling requirements. In fact, the FDA says that manufacturers are required to print “This unit not labeled for retail sale” on individual items if they don’t have Nutrition Facts labels.

Multipacks exist in Nicaragua, but generally, you can remove one of the items from the container if you only want to buy one. Speaking of multipacks, Pali has started selling their eggs in sealed plastic containers of 6 to 12 to 30 eggs. There is no way to remove ‘just one’ egg from the container and this makes me very sad.

In Nicaragua, buying in bulk generally doesn’t save you money, unless you are shopping in Pricemart. For example, in Pali when they ring up my items purchased, they list each stick of butter separately on the receipt. I’ve been in the banana bread mode of baking for Christmas, and I needed three boxes of butter, with four sticks in each box, for my baking needs.

When I checked my receipt from Pali, each stick was listed separately…12 separate butter stick purchases. Now, I’ll bet they always buy the $35 ink cartridge for their machines. My point is that buying in bulk makes no price difference in Nicaragua in most stores.

The ‘just one’ concept in Nicaragua is alive and well…in most cases. It allows everything to become more attainable and affordable, especially considering the average monthly salary is $150-$200 a month.

When we look at life through the lens of ‘just one’, everything can be achieved through ‘just one’ small step at a time: purchasing one thing to fulfill your needs, fulfilling dreams, overcoming fear…anything you wish to be different from the way it is. That’s what life in Nicaragua is like…one small step ‘just one’ at a time…hopeful, encouraging, and fulfilling.


13 thoughts on “The Concept of Just One in Nicaragua

  1. Your story made me laugh – how funny that you had the option to buy a partly-used cartridge!

    Recently I drove the half hour to buy materials for staining and varnishing frames. I went to a paint store with the sidewalk-check out counter and slowly gave them my list of items. He showed me the various options for stains, and I selected one.. He then asked how much would I like and gave the option of putting it in a throw-awak soda bottle. Ditto for the varnish, thinner and also for the dark-blue paint! I was especially pleased to buy only what I needed of the varnish, since it evaporates fast even in what seems to be a well-closed container…

    There are times – like with your ink cartridge, and with the paint store options, that it’s so refreshing to live in cultures where they give you what you need!

    • Great story! It is totally refreshing to buy only what we need. But, Maxwell, my librarian asked me, “How do you know the $35 cartridge is really full?” Hmmm…I guess I just have to trust that it is. Funny thing is, when I bought the printer they told me the cartridges were refillable. You should have sen Ron and I with a hypodermic needle trying to refill the black cartridge. Then, the printer wouldn’t recognize that it was full of ink and it was useless until I bought a new cartridge. I don’t think this printer has refillable cartridges. Sigh!

  2. I love your optimistic tone, Debbie. Instead of Super-size – one-size! I remember buying eggs individually in Guatemala and carrying them home (very carefully) in a plastic bag. For many of us expats who have so much, it really is important to remember the true cost of things and how little we really need! Anita

    • So true, Anita. I wrote a post once about what Nicaraguans could buy for the cost of one jar of dill pickles. Dill pickles were scarce in Nicaragua, and they were expensive. Now, we can find them much easier, but they are still expensive. And those single eggs! I have to carry them carefully in my purse along with a loaf of bread to protect them since they don’t come in containers.

  3. Beautiful post. Just one small step 🙂
    I can totally relate. Growing up in India, we were used to buying only as much as we needed. Some of it is probably to do with how easily food goes bad in hot and wet climates I think. But things like pencils and pens were also sold individually. It was really hard for me to get used to the U.S. way of life, buying in excess and storing.

    • Krithya, I never thought about only buying as much as we need pertaining to the climate, but that is exactly right! Most of the locals go to the little stores daily for their purchases. Many of them don’t have refrigeration, and trying to store food bought in bulk never works because if the humidity doesn’t get it, the insects will. Good thoughts!

  4. When growing up in the Caribbean we school girls would go to see Miss Ann….the local sweets lady just outside Convent School grounds….there from her wooden tray i would purchase 1 cent of tamerind stew….served on a torn up piece of brown paper….it was heavenly….sweet and sour at the same time….yes…power in cents….i was back recently and now notice very…very small bags of chips etc…very sterile in a hot country….i never remember anyone getting sick from food growing up….people were very careful about that

    • Tamarind stew outside Convent School grounds, reminds me of my childhood, except we had a spicy peanut salad vendor outside our school who sold them in small paper pouches for 2 Indian rupees ~ 3.1 cents. My sister and I used to walk home instead of taking the auto-rickshaw and spend that money to buy the peanuts. Fun times. 😀

      • How sad that they have been replaced. At our elementary school, the mothers still prepare gallo pinto and dish it out to the children at their snack time. They also added a little snack store, and most of the items are cheap to buy, but they are junk food like candy, lollipops, and chips. Plus that horrid red soda that is like drinking sugar water! Yuck!
        We still have to tell the kids who like to visit the library at snack time, that they can’t eat their food in the library. They get the books all sticky and usually spill that horrid red soda.

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