The Secret to a Young Life


“Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.” ― Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

Since returning from the states the end of June, I haven’t felt like playing. Honestly, I haven’t felt like doing anything. We both got Zika, which is like Chikungunya light. But, Zika amplified our ongoing arthritic symptoms from Chikungunya, which we got a year ago. Sigh! I feel so old and exhausted.

On top of our mosquito borne illnesses, the electricity has been horrible this month. Every other day, the power shuts off at six in the evening and blinks on at nine. Some people suspect that the Ferris wheel is the culprit, others say the new Pali grocery store is consuming too much of the electricity.

Whatever the reasons for our unstable power, sometimes I feel like Nicaragua is killing me slowly. I am tired of playing detective. Who hot wired our dune buggy? Who stole my friend’s bicycle, which was chained to her porch? Is it possible to flip a switch and turn off the electricity in our community when there is a big fiesta or bullfight in the next town? Why is my internet so slow? What tropical illness do we have now…parasites, Dengue, Chikungunya, Zika, Swine flu, food poisoning, Cholera, E coli? We’ve had them all.

Is it Nicaragua or is it me?

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My Place of Solace


“In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.” ― Mark Twain

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People often ask what we do all day since we are retired. One thing is for certain. We have stopped watching world news. It is too depressing. Besides, there is very little we can do about fixing the big problems in the world. But, there are many little things we can do as expats to help make the world a little better for our local communities.

I started a children’s library in our small La Paloma Elementary school two years ago. It has become my solace and place of refuge from this mad, mad world in which we live.
It is my place of hugs, laughter, and wisdom absorbed through my skin.

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When Wal-Mart Comes to Town


“I don’t know what would have happened to Wal-Mart if we had laid low and never stirred up the competition. My guess is that we would have remained a strictly regional operator.” Sam Walton

Wal-Mart entered Nicaragua in 2005 and became Wal-Mart Centroamerica in 2006. The total retail units in Nicaragua are 89 (as of 2015). This includes 64 Pali stores, 16 Maxi Pali, 1 Wal-Mart Supercenter, and 8 La Unión stores.

And now, make that 65 Pali stores because Moyogalpa on Ometepe Island had their grand opening on June 30th.

IMG_2194Wal-Mart has been part of our lives in the United States for over half a century. Debates continue to rage as to the impact on the U.S. economy and society, as well as the positive and negative influences of this powerhouse. Time will tell what impact Wal-Mart has on our little island, but I already see some changes.

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Humans of Nicaragua: Romeo’s Juliets


“Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.” ― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Once there was a homeless dog on the Calzada in Granada, Nicaragua. He loved hanging around the outside café tables, begging for food, playing with the tourists, and sleeping peacefully under tourists’ feet. He was nicknamed Romeo for his charming personality. What a lover he was!

Romeo charmed many people with his sweet personality, but it wasn’t until two very special people came into his life, that he found his forever home.

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Romeo’s first Juliet

The first “Juliet” in his life was Jennifer who works with Granada Animal Outreach-Nicaragua. Jennifer said that Romeo came to her attention because he was always on the Calzada looking for food from tourists.

He was sweet as can be and we became buddies. I noticed he had the mouth issue, constantly moving his jaw. I tried to look in his mouth to see if something was caught in his throat, but saw nothing. He needed to be neutered so that was a great opportunity to have him sterilized and have his health checked out. The vet, Dr. Steve from Canada, the director of World Vets in Granada, described this condition as the symptoms of a previous case of distemper, probably when he was a puppy. This was now his ´´new normal.¨

13617398_10153778440693660_517514316_nAfter his surgery, the area became infected and he was in a lot of pain so I took him to my house to recover. He was pretty much perfect… wanting to please, looking for love and attention. I knew more than ever that I wanted to find him a permanent home. Also, some of the kid street vendors had started to abuse him and hit him with palm fronds… I knew it would not be a happy ending.

So, she posted this on the Granada Animal Outreach Facebook page:
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I had received numerous messages about him from people that had met him on the Calzada…. like maybe 5-6 people but no one ever followed through. I was feeling really down. And then Laura came along…..
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The Best of Reverse Culture Shock


Traveling from Ometepe Island, Nicaragua and landing in Las Vegas, Nevada was surreal.  We knew to expect a bizarre reverse culture shock which I can only describe like the scene out of a Crocodile Dundee movie. Yet, there is something to be said about embracing the shock when returning to a place that one used to call home.

Articles have been written about the effects of reverse culture shock and ways to combat the adverse effects. But, I am of the persuasion that it is better to embrace it, than fight it and below are my reasons why….

1. The euphoria of feeling out-of-place in your own culture.

Las Vegas is not a city that anyone feels “in place” in our culture. It is the land of excess, overwhelming choices, immigrants, and a city that never sleeps.

When I asked our taxi driver at the airport where he was from he said, “Guess. I will give you a hint. It is where coffee was first produced.”
I guessed correctly on the second try, which really impressed our taxi driver. “Ethiopia!”
I think I created a warm, fast-paced relationship with our Ethiopian taxi driver after that because for the rest of the ride, he told me all about his country, the family he left, and how proud he was that he could provide for them.

Returning home gives me another opportunity to embrace and respect the diverse culture in the U.S. There was no better way to start our journey than the euphoric feeling of being out-of-place in our home country.

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Humans of Nicaragua: Francesco and the Elements


“That man who is more than his chemistry, walking on the earth, turning his plow point for a stone, dropping his handles to slide over an outcropping, kneeling in the earth to eat his lunch; that man who is more than his elements knows the land that is more than its analysis. But the machine man, driving a dead tractor on land he does not know and love, understands only chemistry; and he is contemptuous of the land and of himself.”― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath 

 

Francesco is a philosopher. I’ve known him for over 12 years, and until I interviewed him for my Humans of Nicaragua piece, I never knew his philosophy of life that binds him to Nicaragua.  He is a man who is more than his chemistry. He is an artist, a master craftsman, a farmer who kneels in the earth to eat his lunch, and a loving father and husband.

Francesco came to Ometepe Island in 2001. He had everything stolen in a hostel, so he stayed until he could recuperate his loses. According to Francesco…
And the rest is history

He’s seen many changes on Ometepe Island since 2001. He said that when he first arrived, he had to find work to replace everything that was stolen.

It was difficult to find people that spoke English, so I stayed and worked in the hostel because I spoke English, Italian, and Spanish. 

My theme for his interview was his new dome home that he built, but I got so much more! I’ve written two pieces before about the beginnings of his dome home and why he had to tear down his other house piece by piece.

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Let’s Get Real about Housesitting in Nicaragua


“Whenever you go on a trip to visit foreign lands or distant places, remember that they are all someone’s home and backyard.”
― Vera Nazarian

our houseHonestly, we have never had a problem finding housesitters. Who wouldn’t want to stay on a tropical island in the middle of a sweet sea, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America?

In fact, as you read this, we are in the United States and we have another awesome housesitter. We travel often and because we have a dog and two cats and a home in a developing country, we always have a need for responsible sitters.

After several years of planning for housesitters, I have the housesitting routine down pat. So, let me share with you some of the things I have learned when preparing for sitters.

Let’s Get Real about Housesitting in Nicaragua

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Spare Me a Trip to the Dentist!


The Weekly Photo Challenge is spare.
Oh! Please! Spare me a trip to the dentist. It isn’t easy when I have a toothache.
It involves catching the early ferry for an hour’s trip to the dentist on the mainland.

The extra boats are lined up at the dock waiting for passengers later in the day.
IMG_0221There is ample room at the beachfront laundromat near the dock for the women to launder their clothes early in the morning.
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Maid in Nicaragua


Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 8.50.47 PMTwo times in my life I hired a maid and two times in my life, I had to let them go. The first time was when I lived in the states. I was working two jobs and my obsessive house cleaning routine got the best of me. A friend recommended a professional domestic housekeeper that cleaned for her. She wasn’t cheap and she was bonded, which made me feel better about hiring a housekeeper. She also told me to leave a list of the things I wanted done on a weekly basis.

I followed her advise and included in the list, “Clean the baseboards and the ceiling fans.” The next day the new housekeeper unloaded on my friend, showed her my list, and said that I was a slave driver and she was not a servant. I had to let her go.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I felt extremely uncomfortable hiring a domestic housekeeper. It stemmed from the collective uneasiness many women have in the U.S. of the idea of hired household help. We think it sounds nice, but maybe a little indulgent. I wondered if I would seem snobby, entitled, and spoiled. After all, I was a middle-class woman with all the modern and time-saving devices that made multi-tasking a breeze.

But, most of all, I felt guilty. I read the book The Help, I saw the sexy maid costumes at Halloween, and Downton Abbey sure didn’t help to change my perceptions of servants.
In my mind a servant, a maid, and a domestic housekeeper were all the same. The terms all had a derogatory feel to them. They brought up the same bad connotations, regardless of which word I used to describe them. And letting go of the housekeeper I had for one day confirmed my perceptions.

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Let’s Get Real About When Tourism Can Kill


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Warning: This is a rant. No beautiful photos of dreamy sunsets will go with what I have to say. Yet, I have to get this off my chest…When irresponsible and uncontrolled tourism leaves a wake of destruction in its path   It. Isn’t. Pretty

The truth is that irresponsible tourism can kill. It kills unsuspecting people, cities, small towns in pristine places, and our fragile environment. It kills morale and self-confidence, replacing them with fear and denial.  In its wake, it leaves us bewildered, confused, frustrated, afraid, and angry…oh so angry.

Irresponsible tourism affects everyone from the locals who are displaced to the business owners to the foreigners who have chosen to retire and live abroad. It affects us in Nicaragua and we are all responsible for the consequences of our irresponsible actions. No one gets off the hook easily…not anymore.

Yet, exposing the dirty side of irresponsible tourism in Nicaragua is a big NO! NO! Those who are courageous enough to speak out are harassed, shunned, and/or blocked from expat forums. Why? Well, I suspect a number of reasons, the biggest reason is economic. Responsible and sustainable tourism can provide direct jobs to the community and indirect employment generated through other industries such as agriculture, food production, and retail.

Responsible tourism can bring about a real sense of pride and identity to communities. By showcasing distinct characteristics of their ways of life, history and culture, tourism can encourage the preservation of traditions which may be at risk of losing their unique identities and cultural heritage.

Nicaragua relies heavily on tourism. Visitor expenditure generates income for the local communities, which can lead to the alleviation of poverty. The benefits of responsible and sustainable tourism are great, yet what about the problems that irresponsible tourism brings and how do we solve those problems without creating an awareness of them first?

I have written about the Codes of Responsible Travelers and I think that if we are responsible travelers we are aware of the effect we have on the places we visit. Yet, there is another side of tourism that is rarely discussed. What responsibilities do the locals have, the business owners, the local government, and the foreigners who have chosen to live in the high tourist areas? Do we escape accountability for when bad things happen?

I have given this much thought, and although I do not have a business in Nicaragua, I see the effects of the good and the bad practices daily. In discussing my thoughts, I want to make sure it is presented in a context where I don’t place anyone on the defensive or create emotional turmoil. I read about the problems on expats of Nicaragua forums, and I talk with many local and foreign business owners. These are only my thoughts on the problems. I place no blame on any group, but I think it is time that we ask ourselves some important questions to help our tourist communities be safe, enjoyable, and unique places for tourists to visit.

With the influx of foreigners moving to Nicaragua and starting businesses, are we loving Nicaragua to death? So….

Let’s Get Real About When Tourism Can Kill with six important questions we should ask ourselves as expats.

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