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.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: What Are You Waiting For?


“For a while” is a phrase whose length can’t be measured. At least by the person who’s waiting.” ― Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

The Weekly Photo Challenge is Waiting. 

We do a lot of waiting in Nicaragua. Right now, I am waiting for my eye to heal and there is an epidemic of pink eye on the island, so I am quarantined in my house until the epidemic is over.

We remain in readiness for the next eruption of our active volcano, Concepcion. The last time she awoke was in 2010.

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What’s in an Expat Fridge?


“Drink from the cup of life, you will be fulfilled.
Yet…
drink from the milk container in the fridge,
and your wife will make you wish that you had drunk from the cup of life.”
― Anthony T. Hincks

I am on a housesitter’s forum on Facebook because it helps me get contacts for good housesitters. Also, as a homeowner, we sometimes get trashed on these sites because housesitters complain that our homes are too dirty, or our fridges are full of rotten, moldy food, or our pillows are too soft or too hard, etc. Sometimes I feel like I have to defend the homeowners.

A housesitter posted a list of questions she asked prospective owners. Most of the questions were reasonable like, “How many pets do you have? Are they up-to-date on their vaccinations? Is the closest town within walking distance?”

But then I read this, “Post a photo of the inside of your refrigerator.”

Hmmm…So I asked why. And she responded,

It’s something we ask after getting surprised one too many times with refrigerators not sanitary in any way, shape, or form. We’re not looking to see what you have per say, as much as the condition you keep your fridge because we’ve found that to be a good indicator as to how clean you keep your home as well. It really sucks when the first thing you have to do upon arrival to a home is spending 4-6 hours cleaning the fridge just to make sure you don’t get food poisoning. Not to mention, quite often the rest of the home is just as dirty. And we aren’t there to be your house cleaners. After experiencing three like that in a row, we now ask to see what the fridge looks like. 

I thanked her for her response and checked her off my list as a potential housesitter.

Although this post isn’t about housesitters, I became curious to know what is inside expat fridges because they do represent a different way of eating and storing food, especially in the tropics.

So, here is a picture of what’s inside my fridge. Notice, it is clean, no rotten food, no mold, nothing that would cause food poisoning. Although, I have to admit that were notorious for keeping some moldy leftovers in our fridge in the states.  But, living on a tropical island has changed our fridge contents and our respect for food drastically. Let me explain why.


1. Sanitary conditions

 Living in the tropics, nothing is sacred to the infestation of bugs that swarm annually. Everything must be sealed tightly and even then, the tiny insects can always find a way to ruin your prized pumpernickel bread you found at La Colonia. All perishables go into the fridge or freezer.

Currently we have an infestation of tiny book lice. Fortunately they don’t like my food, but they are building nests inside my Kindle. ( And yes, they are really called book lice! ) Their only entrance is through my charger hole, so I had to find a way to deter them. After shaking hundreds of tiny book lice gently out the charger hole, I discovered that a drop of neem oil around the charger hole keeps them at bay.

Things rot quickly in the tropics. We experimented keeping our tomatoes out of the fridge or inside. They rotted within two days outside the fridge, and stayed rock hard inside the fridge. Nicaragua doesn’t have a good selection of tomatoes anyway, so we chose to refrigerate them so they would last longer.

All fruit is either refrigerated, processed and frozen, or canned. We freeze mangoes, water apples, Jackfruit, and Suriname cherries from our trees and bushes. We used to make mango jam and salsa and can it, but unless we started at 4 am, the day was too hot to keep the water boiling on the stove for canning.

Milk comes in cardboard containers and when we open it, the container goes into the fridge. We keep our eggs in the fridge, too. I know that is not custom here, but if we don’t put them in the fridge, we need a safe spot so our kitties won’t swipe them onto the floor. They are little rascals like that!  Continue reading

Tale of Two Surgeries


“If I save my insight, I don’t attend to the weakness of my eyesight.” ~Socrates

 

For six months, I lived in a blurry world. Although it was difficult to attend to the visual world due to weakness of eyesight, I gained an accurate and deeper intuitive understanding of people, places, and things. Instead of relying on outsight, I gained a better appreciation of my world through insight. 

Since I had my first eye operation in the United States and my second eye operation in Nicaragua, I thought it would be interesting to compare the surgeries in two vastly different countries. Both surgeries were similar. I will try to withhold judgment, but I can guarantee that if you are concerned about having a delicate or major surgery in a developing country, I will put your worries at ease.

A Tale of Two Surgeries Through The insightful Observations of an Expat 

A look at my island from the taxi window as I was on my way to the hospital in Managua.

Surgery in the United States

1. Facility

The facility where I received my vitrectomy in the U.S. was modern with all of the latest equipment. Johnson City Eye Clinic Website

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Gypsytoes or Stickytoes


This says it all about our lives on Ometepe Island. We want the best of all worlds. How does one decide to stay or go? Is it possible to have Gypsytoes and Stickytoes  together? If so, how does that work?

Here are some of our considerations in deciding to stay or go.

Financial

 

We grow a lot of our fruits and vegetables.

In 2016, we traveled to Colombia, Fiji, New Zealand, Las Vegas, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. We accounted for all of our expenses and income for 2016, and we actually saved money and came out ahead when we balanced income vs expenses.  We own two homes, we have no mortgages and no expenses for our home in the states. Our trusted friends live in our house, collect our mail, and they even took care of our old cat, Tokyo, until she passed away this year. The small amount of rent goes into a special account which we use to pay our property taxes, rental insurance, and for repairs on the house.

If we were to sell our house on Ometepe Island, we would be free to travel the world, but it would come with a price. We would continue to live only on our monthly income, and try not to dip into our savings, yet it would be difficult because we would have to pay a monthly rental fee, which we don’t have to now. Traveling is expensive. We aren’t backpackers anymore, and we like to stay in Airbnbs throughout the world. It is doable, but will take some work to stay within our budget.

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Random Rants about My Country of Birth


Random ranting is always good for the soul. It is like a pressure cooker value releasing steam. A good rant is cathartic. Sometimes ranting keeps me sane. And living in Nicaragua as an expat, I have some frustrations about my country of birth. It has been a while since I’ve ranted, and Anita of the blog No Particular Place to Go inspired me with her rant-a thon, so here are a few of my random rants.

U.S. Health Care Rant

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate having Medicare, but we can’t use it abroad! With my first eye surgery in the states, single payer was quick and easy. I paid 20% of the total cost of the doctor, facility, and anesthesiology. When I told my doctor that I needed to fly back to Nicaragua, he said he would have to replace the vitreous in my eye with silicon oil, which necessitates a second eye surgery to remove the oil.

“I am going to see if a doctor in Nicaragua can remove the oil in my eye,” I said to my surgeon. “Good luck with that,” he responded. “I doubt that you will find anyone as competent in Nicaragua as eye surgeons in the states.”

What is it with doctors’ arrogance? Waiting for surgery in the gurney, I watched as a train of gurneys were moved in and out of the operating room. “How many retina surgeries do you do here in a day?” I asked the attending nurse. “Usually 15 per doctor per day,” she said. I quickly calculated that the doctors each made $1750 per surgery X 15 surgeries a day = $26,250 a day!!! That is just the doctor! It doesn’t include the facility or anesthesiology fees.

I made an appointment in Managua at Vivian Pellas Hospital to see a retina specialist. Dr. Juan Rivers gave me a through exam and patiently answered all of my questions. When he said my eye was still extremely swollen, he asked, “Why didn’t the surgeon give you steroid shots to reduce the inflammation before injecting the oil?” I said that the doctor told me oil and water don’t mix, so he couldn’t put steroid shots in my eye. “Well, that is what we do before we inject the oil or gas,” he said kind of irritated. He shook his head and said that I would have to keep the oil in my eye for three months, which could have been avoided if they reduced the swelling first.

Through my tears… in only one eye… I thanked him for his patience and his TLC and scheduled another eye appointment for the end of August. His initial consultation cost $160.89. The surgery to remove the oil and replace my corroded lens will cost $3,000 for everything. Since we have international health insurance, we weighed the cost of airline tickets, a rental car, and at least two weeks of expenses to repair my eye in the states in a train of gurneys vs the cost of surgery with Dr. Juan Carlos Rivers at Vivian Pellas. I opted for a competent, caring doctor in Nicaragua. I can file claims with my international insurance and get some of my money back.

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Not my Circus! Not My Monkeys!


I watched the talking heads on CNN the other night and suddenly realized that I was screaming at the TV, “Not my circus! Not my monkeys!”  When my anxiety decreased, I became aware that these two simple phrases have a lot of meaning in my life lately. Then, I burst out laughing.

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Out of Nicaragua


“One does not travel by plane. One is merely sent, like a parcel.” ― Karen Blixen

We’ve been out of Nicaragua for three months. It is the longest time we have been away in the seven years that we have permanently lived here. Three countries, 16 airplanes, two trains, three ferries, two rental cars, too many buses to count, and one eye operation later…we are finally home!

My impressions of the countries we visited are dependent on many factors such as economic, political, climate, and most important…the people we met from all walks of life. In every country we visit we ask,”Could we live here?” The answer often surprises us. Yet, it helps us to form lasting impressions of the country.

Could we live in Cuba?

Foremost, we are grateful we had the opportunity to visit Cuba in March before Trump’s Cuba policy redefined “good” U.S. tourism. We are and always will be independent travelers. In most packaged tours and cruises, you see what the tour companies want you to see…predictable, expensive, and unsustainable tourism. Instead, we like to explore as detectives searching for clues about why people live as they do, what the real culture is like, and what makes a country tick.

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My First Experience with Medicare


“One quarter of Medicare beneficiaries have five or more chronic conditions, sees an average of 13 physicians each year, and fills 50 prescriptions per year.”
― Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator’s Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care

I went to see my eye doctor in Tennessee the other day. When the nurse entered my information into the electronic files, she asked me, “Are you sure you don’t take any medications?” I replied, “Yes. Nothing.”

She couldn’t get over the fact that I had no pre-existing conditions, took no prescription medications, and had no medical history other than my appendectomy and tonsillectomy, which were removed when I was a teenager.

“I have to put something in the spaces,” she commented. “Do you take any vitamins?”
“Once in a while I take glucosamine,” I replied. With almost a sigh of relief, she asked me how many milligrams and how often I took glucosamine. “You are the best and easiest patient I have ever had,” she said. “But, you aren’t normal.”

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Wanderlust: A belly aching fire


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Wanderlust.

I know some of my readers wonder why I include posts about our travels to other countries besides Nicaragua. After all, my blog is supposed to be about living in Nicaragua.

Yet, my gypsytoes ache for travel. Because we live in a country where the cost of living is low, we can afford to travel, especially during the most brutal and oppressive heat of March through May.

Currently, we are in the mountains in Patzcuaro, Mexico. We were in Cuba in March and are headed to the states next week for the month of May. No matter where our wanderlust takes us, it is always great to go back home!

“The Wanderlust has got me… by the belly aching fire”
― Robert W. Service, Rhymes of a Rolling Stone

Cuba

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