Nicaraguan Superstitions


“What we don’t understand we can make mean anything.” ― Chuck Palahniuk

Isn’t that the truth? You probably have a few of your own superstitions. I know I have many. I’ve skirted around the ladder propped up in our backyard when our workers were on our roof. I always find pennies or cordobas on the road. If they are heads-up, I take them because they are good luck.  If they are heads-down, I ignore them.

Yet, why do we behave this way? We learn superstitious behaviors through a simple reinforcement process. If a certain action appears to lead to a desired outcome, we do it over and over again. And why do we repeat these actions? Because we like to have some semblance of control over uncertainty in our lives. If we are unsure about an outcome, we try to find a way to control it. Thus superstitions are born.

Nicaraguans have many superstitions, too.

Our friends visited us with their newborn. He was wearing a bracelet with a red band and two seeds on the bracelet. I’ve seen these before on newborns, so I asked about the significance. Apparently, one of the maladies parents must watch out for is called calor de vista. Babies get feverish and sick when people who have been drinking alcohol gaze at the baby. The new Papa explained to me that even families and friends who drink too much can pass on their oncoming hangover instantly to the baby. The bracelet is protection for the baby against drunks.

OH NO! A drunk must be nearby! Quick, hold up your bracelet!

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Pondering Progress in Nicaragua


“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Economic growth is one of the main factors in determining the progress of a country and its potential to satisfy the wants of individuals in their society. I am convinced Nicaragua has made significant progress in utilizing their abundance of natural resources to produce more efficient wind and solar energy. Technological development has played a role in Nicaragua to connect the population to the outside world through fiber optic internet cables. Ometepe Island public parks now have free wi-fi access due to a fiber optic cable strung under the lake from the mainland.

Yet, I wonder if all progress and advancements I see in Nicaragua truly benefit the majority of the people living below the poverty line. Are we adding to the abundance of the minority of Nicaraguans who have so much, and are we providing enough to the majority who have so little?

Last week I traveled to Managua for my regular check-up with my eye doctor. Arriving at the port in San Jorge, I noticed a new ferry, a desperately needed ferry because many people on Ometepe Island must travel to the mainland daily for work. This progress benefits everyone. And I have seen much growth in transportation with new airports, shuttles, taxis, and lots of cute tuk tuks that buzz around newly constructed roads like little mosquitoes.
The San Jorge port had a magnificent facelift. Restaurants, vendors, hotels, and major work on the sea walls benefits everyone, too.
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Humans of Nicaragua: Ever and Blanca Build New Lives Together


“It is such a happiness when good people get together — and they always do.”
― Jane Austen

Valentine’s Day was also the wedding day of Ever and Blanca. I’ve written about Ever before in Humans of Nicaragua: Ever Builds a New Community. And now, Ever and Blanca are building their new lives together.

img_5018For me, Nicaraguan weddings are a wondrous act of simplicity, creativity, and love. The whole family pitches in to create an atmosphere tingling with joyful camaraderie.
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Weekly Photo Challenge: My Quest for Cultural Diversity and Immersion


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Quest

“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

This is a perfect photo challenge for me because my blog focuses on cultural diversity and cultural immersion. My quest for cultural diversity and cultural immersion plopped me smack dab in the middle of an all Spanish-speaking community in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of a giant sweet sea, in the middle of Central America.

What have I learned in my quest for cultural immersion in Nicaragua?

I’ve learned that there is significant diversity in religious beliefs and practices. As a result, I am more informed, tolerant, and appreciative of various religions. I feel a deeper and thoroughgoing appreciation of the different religions; their infinite variety becomes a source of fascination and enrichment for me.
img_1291I’ve learned that children are children throughout the world. They all want to belong, to be loved, and to be appreciated for their unique qualities.
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2016 Semana Santa Statistics


lifeguard quote copySharon, my friend in Granada, reported that it was eerily quiet over the long Easter week holiday. Usually there are endless “bombas” or firecrackers that only make loud and annoying booms. So, she wondered what was up with the lack of bombas. Her Nicaraguan friend said, “We have to save all our money to get drunk. We have no money for bombas.”

That about sums up Semana Santa madness around Nicaragua. Go to the beach, get drunk, go swimming, or drive drunk. We stayed home this year, not wanting to deal with the drunks and crazy drivers over the holiday. But, if you are wondering how crazy it gets over Semana Santa here are a few statistics.

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Practicing Gratitude on Dia de los Muertos


“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

 

While children devoured the last of their Halloween candy, parents rationed and hid the mounds of treats, and frustrated teachers pulled their hair out with kids overdosed on sugar in their classrooms in the U.S., we were totally immersed in the cultural tradition of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on Ometepe Island.

For me, a little appreciation for family traditions goes a long way in Nicaragua. I am filled with gratitude to be a part of the custom of visiting the graves of loved ones, instead of experiencing a highly commercialized, sugar-overloaded, and hangover holiday of which I can find no altruistic reason to partake.

                 Practicing Gratitude on Dia de los Muertos

Gratitude strengthens relationships. Marina and her family have been our neighbors for over 10 years on Ometepe Island. At times, our relationship has been confusing and mysterious simply because our customs, language, and traditions are so different. Yet, we all count our blessings that we can share our lives together.
IMG_9453Marina sits on the grave of her husband, Don Jose, who died last October. She recalled sweet remembrances of their lives together raising five children. I believe that gratitude is about shifting one’s perceptions. No one has a perfect life. Marina and Don Jose struggled through poverty and sacrificed to provide for and to raise five strong, healthy, and good children. For this, I know she is very grateful.

IMG_9478We shared the benefits of gratitude today by appreciating what we have… as opposed to a consumer-driven emphasis on what we want.

IMG_9479One of the most powerful ways to raise grateful children is likely to be grateful adults. Raising grateful children means raising our own gratitude levels as well. Luvy, Marina’s daughter, is a perfect example of a grateful daughter.

IMG_9471We now have four friends buried in our local cemetery, two foreigners and two local Ometepinos. We visited their graves and gave thanks for their friendships.

IMG_9498At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. Albert Schweitzer

IMG_9463The cemetery was a hub of flowers, rakes, shovels, and families visiting their loved ones.

IMG_9500The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.
– WIlliam James

IMG_9491Families decorated the graves and tombs. Children played while the tinkling bell of the ice-cream vendor floated softly through the cemetery.

IMG_9465 Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. – Marcel Proust

IMG_9489He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. – Epictetus

IMG_9494Practicing gratitude opens the heart…even for a very small heart like Piglet’s.

IMG_9504Gratitude is an emotion of connectedness, which reminds us we are part of a larger universe with all living things.

IMG_9514As we left the cemetery on Dia de Los Muertos, our gratitude led us to feelings of love, appreciation, generosity, and compassion, which further opened our hearts to this lovely day. Now, time to eat pizza with our extended family in Nicaragua. 🙂

IMG_9515Dia de los Muertos…the day that helps us rewire our brains to fire in more positive and compassionate ways.

The Nicaraguan Piggy Bank


Have you ever wondered why the pig is associated with saving money? Some say the origin of the piggy bank was derived from the type of clay 15th century European potters used, called Pygg Clay. In the early 20th century, potters began to shape the clay in the form of pigs and people would save their loose coins in the pygg jars.

However, in Nicaragua, the piggy bank is literally a piglet. They call their pigs, the Bancos de Chanchitos, which means piggy banks. The Nicaraguans buy the piglets when they are 8 weeks old for about 800 cordobas ($30). Then, when they are 9 months old, they are ready to butcher for Christmas nacatamales and chicharrón, a dish generally made of fried pork rinds.

Earlier this year, we bought Marina one of Theresa’s piglets. The piglet is now 9 months old and ready to be butchered for nacatamales and chicharrón for the Christmas feast.
Raising piglets for Christmas dinner is a long tradition in Nicaragua.

The process starts with an hembra (female) in heat. Chela, Theresa’s huge hembra, is ready for Barracho the Boar.

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The Pilgrimage to Popoyuapa


Religion points to that area of human experience where in one way or another man comes upon mystery as a summons to pilgrimage.~Frederick Buechner

 

Two weeks before Holy Week in Nicaragua, rural ox-pulled carts travel to Nandaime, where they gather for their annual pilgrimage to the Popoyuapa sanctuary, in San Jorge, Rivas.
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Read more about the traditional pilgrimage.

Part Two: Natives With Netiquette


Globalization, as defined by rich people like us, is a very nice thing… you are talking about the Internet, you are talking about cell phones, you are talking about computers. This doesn’t affect two-thirds of the people of the world.
Jimmy Carter

Part Two in a series of travelers vs tourists. The first part was: Codes of Responsible Travelers. In this post, I explore the problems that arise with sustainable and cultural tourism through the eyes of the indigenous community of Los Ramos.

Ten years ago, we gave our cell phone to Francisco of the Los Ramos indigenous community because we were returning to the states. For generations, this community lacked any means of high-tech communication. Grandpa Cabo announced special events in the community with his ancient bull horn.  With my used cell phone and a tall tree, the people could now climb to the top of the tree to receive a stronger signal…and voila…they were connected to the world. Although, it worried Francisco when his grandmother became trapped in the tree and he had to rescue her…picture a cat in a tree meowing frantically… the cell phone signified a new beginning for this isolated community.

DSCN0694Years later, progress in Los Ramos advanced rapidly. With generous donations, they bought an electric transformer…yes, you have to buy your own transformers in Nicaragua…to run a pump from the well located two miles down a long, sloping, dusty path to the beach. Now, they had running water in Los Ramos. Their lives became a lot easier.

Getting water in Los RamosThis agricultural community continued planting and harvesting their frioles, plantains, and sesame seeds. However, they were losing their young people to Costa Rica and other more cosmopolitan places in Nicaragua. There were no jobs to keep this community intact. Something had to be done to help their young families bring in the hay.

Bringing in the hayEnter sustainable/cultural tourism in Los Ramos. With the help of many knowledgeable and professional tourism people…including my son, Cory, and his good friend Sam…they compiled lists of available resources in Los Ramos, developed 12 cultural tourism programs, created brochures and a website, and perfected their programs with ‘fake’ travelers. Zac, the Peace Corps volunteer, helped them create a budget and worked closely with the community to develop an accounting system.

Front page of BrochureWord spread quickly about the authentic cultural programs in Los Ramos. Los Ramos hired their local son, Ever, as their new tourism director. They have a well-organized system of accounting, preparing, and planning for their programs. Yet, cultural tourism isn’t without its pitfalls. This indigenous community has learned that there is a fine balance between providing authentic cultural experiences and maintaining, yet improving their lifestyles, culture, and traditions passed down through generations.

First, they have learned that marketing their programs requires computers, cell phones, and internet access. Grandma can’t climb that tree anymore to call the world. It’s a dichotomy of development… a clash of cultures. The world was suddenly at their fingertips, if they learned how to boot-up the computer.  They had to quickly become natives with netiquette to run their programs.

Second, they experienced language barriers. More travelers passing through their community, meant they needed someone who could speak some English. Fortunately, Ever has the skills to explain their programs, provide answers to questions, and help tourists limited to English only.

Third, more visitors = more money for the community. More money = more ‘conveniences’ for tourists, as well as their own families. Does providing authentic cultural experiences mean that they can’t buy microwaves, big refrigerators, open an internet café, start a smoothie bar, or buy a big flat-screened TV or iPhone? How do they balance authentic experiences with wanting to offer more comfort and ease for everyone involved in their lives? They are beginning to understand the dilemmas they face. Tourists seek authentic cultural experiences, then they complain about lacking a comfortable mattress, a hot shower, wi-fi, or ice cubes in their freshly squeezed orange juice. Where’s the balance?

Fourth, more money coming into the community always partners with jealousy and power. Host families have to offer safe, comfortable housing for their guests. When non-host families see the money coming into their neighbors’ host homes, they want to become host families, too. Yet, their only accommodations are the pig sty behind their house or the chicken coop. Then, little fights break out, feelings are hurt, and jealousies erupt like the active volcano looming at the top of their community.

Sustainable tourism, in my opinion, is a viable option for Los Ramos, especially considering the alternatives…high rise resorts, where the locals become the maids and gardeners…young men moving to Costa Rica to find jobs to support their families left behind…or cleaning houses in foreign gated communities. I have no doubts that this lovely community will be able to resolve these problems…poco a poco. They are resourceful, creative, and oh…the places they can go with a little help from their friends. This vivacious community of natives with netiquette are learning as they progress to…keep their traditions close to their hearts…proudly share their lifestyles with the world…and most importantly, love their neighbors.

Los Ramos Mi Casa es tu Casa website.
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Where’s the Quince Girl?


IMG_3894                                                         Our Invitation

Alba Lugia’s prom-like gown was the highlight of her quinceañera tradition, but it wasn’t the only fancy dress featured in the celebration. Quinceañera custom calls for 14 damas, or maiden attendants, to accompany the quince girl and symbolize the past 14 years of her life. Then, each dama needs an escort, which means the quince girl must select 15 chambelans, or male attendants in suits or tuxedos.

Extensive preparation included lots of powder puffing…
IMG_0915applying lipstick…
IMG_0918Holding still…
IMG_0933Buckets of hair gel…
IMG_0936And patience while waiting for the quince girl…”Are you ready, yet?” he texts into the next room.
IMG_0905“My aunt is helping me with the final touches,” she texts back.
IMG_0924Awwww…she’s gorgeous…and so much pink!
IMG_0939A beautiful smile...
IMG_0943Let the procession begin!
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