We Give Back


“Help others without any reason and give without the expectation of receiving anything in return.” ~Roy. T. Bennett

I’ve been in a funk this season of giving. Maybe it is because of the political situation in the U.S. Possibly it is because of the crowdsourcing scams I’ve seen in Nicaragua and my island home of Ometepe. And then again, it could be because lately I’ve been disappointed in people in general.

Whatever the reason for my funk, the only way I know how to get out of it is by stressing the goodness of people, the selfless acts of giving, and promoting people who give without any reason and without the expectation of receiving anything in return.

For this reason, I would like to introduce you to two expats on Ometepe Island who give back selflessly to their communities.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Building Our Way to Hell?


“Excessive gentrification destroys the biodiversity and ecosystem of a community.” ― Khang Kijarro Nguyen

We are in the process of big renovations to our house: a new roof, drop ceilings, repainting, new electrical wiring…the works. It is long past due, however I wonder what our neighbors think? Are they upset or jealous or angry that we have the money for renovations to our house? Do they resent us because they live beside “rich” foreigners?  Will we be less accepted because we may be perceived as flaunting our “wealth”? Are we flaunting, taunting, or demonstrating that we are better people because we are not living in poverty? Do we want to live like Nicas?

The big bad G-word is gentrification. By definition it is the process of renovating and improving a house so that it conforms to middle-class taste, or since we live abroad…to gringo taste. Although gentrification is a term applied to urban areas, I believe extreme gentrification can be used to demonstrate “building our way to hell” all over the urban, rural, underdeveloped and developed world.

I don’t like the words extreme gentrification because it has a bad connotation. Instead, I prefer integration. The difference is that we have integrated into our all-Spanish speaking community. We have simply moved from one place to another. Extreme gentrification on the other hand, is kicking poor people out and replacing them with rich people.

Gentrification is happening, especially in the coastal towns and colonial cities in Nicaragua.   And some areas have experienced extreme gentrification. Some cities are suffering with growing tourism and no regulations for short-term rentals. Rent prices are completely unaffordable for the average Nicaraguan. Landlords are evicting people to start touristic businesses everyday, and land speculators are buying land for peanuts that has been in families for generations and then selling outrageously expensive housing compounds to foreigners forcing the local people to move to the outskirts of cities or towns.

Extreme gentrification is happening in cities all over the world. Take a look at some of the major cities throughout the world where the G-word is a bad word. “We are building our way to hell”: tales of gentrification around the world.

Continue reading

Can Expats Live Without These Things?


“If all you do is think about what you need, you’re no better than an animal in the woods, and no smarter either. To be human, you’ve got to want. It makes you smarter and stronger.”
― Dan Groat

Ron is always telling me I want too much. But, I agree that to want makes me human. It makes me smarter and stronger.  I remember the argument we had about buying an oven when we moved to Nicaragua. We both like to bake, so why was it so difficult to convince him that I wanted an oven?

Now, I do understand the difference between wants and needs. Yet, as an expat there are 14 things I can’t live without. Tropical Storm Nate convinced me that my wants usually lead to my needs.

1. Shelter

We’ve made a comfortable boomer nest in Nicaragua. But, when Nate roared through Ometepe our roof struggled to maintain its composure. The old tin roof tried its best over years with fruits pounding on the hot tin and constant leaks during the rainy season. But, it is time for a new roof.

If you watched our House Hunter’s International show, you know I like “funky”. A new roof is a ‘need’, but I have many ‘wants’ to paint, redecorate, and spruce up our little nest. We are still debating on whether to sell our place and move to more adventures. Meanwhile, I want a comfortable, low maintenance home base. And if we do decide to sell, our beautiful property will be ready for new owners.

Continue reading

The Expat Art of Friendships


“We can count on so few people to go that hard way with us,” ~Adrienne Rich

If you are living abroad, how many true friends do you have?  Finding true human relationships is an art that I have yet to master, especially as an expat. I have oodles of acquaintances, expat and local, yet very few that I consider true friends, those that we can count on to go that hard way with us. I guess that is normal, right?

Truth be told, it has been a learning process for me. I have had a difficult time cutting ties with negative, dishonorable people, whether they be expats or locals. Why is that? Because we all want to belong, to be a part of something…kind of like our tribe?

Perspective is necessary for me to understand the depth and breath of true friendship. The illusion of friendship is a frame, a shallow arrangement of shapes on a flat surface..two dimensional. True friendship is the lava deep beneath the crust of daily life…and it takes a lot of digging and peeling the layers back to find it.

Continue reading

Let’s Play Ball!


“Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game!” ― Babe Ruth

It should also be noted, never let the lack of a proper field or uniforms keep you from playing the game. Baseball is revered in Nicaragua. Our La Paloma team just received new uniforms and they look so jazzy!
Ron and I donated money for two uniforms and they put our names on the back. Ron’s name means rum in Spanish and when they showed us our names to be printed on the back of the uniforms, they wrote “Rom” instead of Ron. It took me a minute to realize that they were trying to spell “Rum” on his shirt. Haha!
Continue reading

Lasting Impressions of Cuba


“Anarchy is like custard cooking over a flame; it has to be constantly stirred or it sticks and gets heavy, like government.” ― Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Anarchism as a social movement in Cuba held much promise for the working class during the 19th and 20th centuries. I won’t go into the sordid details, you can read the history here Anarchism in Cuba.

Yet, what I would like to discuss are my lasting impressions of Cuba. First, Che is everywhere. Forty-five years after the death of Ernesto “Che” Guevara — the Argentine doctor who led the 1959 Cuban Revolution alongside Fidel Castro — his portrait is the most reproduced image in Cuba.

His face appears repeatedly on murals, water tanks, billboards, and even plates, t-shirts, coffee mugs, beach towels, and bikinis. While extraordinarily popular as a figure of revolution where children are taught to see him as a hero from a very young age, his image is used to promote commercialism in Cuba. My impression is that he has become a pattern and a design to sell to tourists, and I think they have gone too far and misrepresented Che. Would you buy a bikini with Che’s face on the butt of a bikini bottom?

Continue reading

Santeria: Cuba’s Worship of the Saints


“All is indeed a Blessing
IF you can just see beyond the veils; for it is ‘all’ an illusion and a test, and one of the greatest Divine Mysteries of this life cycle.”
This IS my constant prayer, my mantra, my affirmation, reverberation, reiteration and my ever-living reality.”
― The Divine Prince Ty Emmecca

 

 
While visiting Sandy’s extended Cuban family, we had the honor of meeting the Madrina. The Madrina, or Godmother, is a term of respect used to refer to the person who initiated someone into the Santeria religion.

The Madrina has been through the initiation process and completed all the required rituals to be a priestess in the Santeria religion. I had no idea what the Madrina was talking about, but I discovered after much research that Santeria is a complicated and fascinating religion.

Santeria has its roots in Western Africa and is a recognized religion in Cuba. Although some think it is witchcraft and sorcery, it is nothing like that at all. Santeria promotes a connection between the divine, the human, and the natural world by teaching us how to live in harmony.

The slave trade brought many Africans to Cuba, where they were forced to convert to Catholicism. However, the ingenious slaves found a way to incorporate Santeria into Catholicism secretly so they could continue to practice their religion. A common misconception is that Afro-Cubans blended the two religions into one, but since the Afro-Cubans saw no contradictions between the two religions, they synchronized them.

The Catholics had their saints. The Santeria had their Orishas. There is one supreme God in both religions, who like the Holy Trinity in the Catholic Church has three representations and three names: Olodumare, Olofi, and Olorun. Olodumare is the Supreme Being, the Father, the Creator of all things. Olorun is represented by the sun. Olofi is the one who communicates most directly with the Orishas, teaching them what humans need to know to lead healthful, moral, respectful lives on Earth. The Orishas act as intermediaries between human beings and God.

Continue reading

Part II: Renting a Guagua or Waawaa We Go!


Life is similar to a bus ride, or in the case of Sandy’s Cuban family, a guagua ride. (pronounced waa waa)
The journey began when Sandy rented a guagua to take us to Havana for an evening of entertainment. You see, her extended family is so large and no one owns a car, so it was impossible to treat them to an evening of fun in Havana without renting a guagua.

Thirty dollars bought Sandy an evening with a guagua driver and enough room for the entire community to go to Havana to watch the cannon ceremony.

Continue reading

Cultural Anthropology: Semana Santa in Mexico


“It may be in the cultural particularities of people — in their oddities — that some of the most instructive revelations of what it is to be generically human are to be found.”
― Clifford Geertz

 

The cultural peculiarities of our humanness, especially when studying religions of the world, fascinate me. Mexico has many virgins, and Dolores or Our Lady of Sorrows is particularly intriguing to me.

Although Dolores is an advocation of the Virgin Mary, she represents the sorrows of the mother of Jesus, and is usually depicted with seven daggers piercing her heart, which represent the sorrows all mothers go through when losing a child.

The altars are erected on the streets the Friday before the beginning of Holy Week. Called the Friday of Sorrows, the symbols on the altars help the faithful share her pain and grief, and remind them of the great sacrifice Mary made to become the mother of martyrs.

In Patzcuaro, Mexico, where we are enjoying refreshing highland weather for the month of April, I watched the construction of the shrines, processions, and reenactments of the crucifixion of Jesus, with a healthy dose of skepticism, yet awe for the pageantry.

From the perspective of a cultural anthropologist…as I like to call myself,  I questioned everything, as well as reflected on the religious traditions, how they originated, and their significance to their faithful followers.

Continue reading

Part I: A Day with a Cuban Family in the Barrio


“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”
― Plutarch

When Sandy took us to meet her large extended family in Marianao, Cuba, I had no idea what to expect. We had only been in Cuba for one day and I had no understanding of life in a communist country. My understanding of communism was that everyone in the Cuban society received equal benefits derived from their labor. I thought that it was a classless society where the government controlled everything and where wealth was redistributed so that all are of the same social and financial status.

NOT. SO. 

We arrived in Marianao surprising Sandy’s family because she had told them that she would visit the following Monday. The matriarch of the family, wrapped in her worn cotton dress, limped to the door and showered hugs and kisses on Sandy. Then, she showered us with hugs and kisses, too!

She is 97 years young and still going strong thanks to socialized medicine in Cuba. She lost a leg many years ago, but she received a plastic leg that enables her to walk. All medical care is free in Cuba…or so we thought. The matriarch’s daughter showed us a plastic bag filled with medicines for her and her mother. She said that she has to pay for them, and that medicine is dispensed on a sliding scale depending on the finances of the family. Since she is a teacher, she has to pay for the medicines.

Continue reading