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.

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Playing Possum


Animals, even plants, lie to each other all the time, and we could restrict the research to them, putting off the real truth about ourselves for the several centuries we need to catch our breath. What is it that enables certain flowers to resemble nubile insects, or opossums to play dead, or female fireflies to change the code of their flashes in order to attract, and then eat, males of a different species?
— Lewis Thomas

 

Ron yelled into the house, “Debbie! Come quickly and bring your camera.” When I arrived at the corner of our fenced property, I asked, “What am I looking for?” Jose, our yard worker said it was a giant rat called El Zorro.

“Oh, there it is,” I pointed. It looked kind of like a tiny kangaroo frantically trying to find a hole in our fence so it could make a quick escape from our prying eyes.

It was a cute intruder with big brown eyes and tiny hands that could grasp the chicken wire fence to inspect for holes.  It had a long tail, similar to a giant rat, and two large white spots above its eyes. But, I had no idea what it was.
After some research, I concluded that it was a Brown Four-eyed Opossum. Now it made sense why it looked like a tiny kangaroo because it is a pouchless  marsupial. Jose said they used to be very common on Ometepe, but now they are endangered.

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Five Business Skills We All Need


“The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.” ― Nolan Bushnell

Luis, our 15-year-old yard worker, wants to go to his cousin’s quinceañera in Costa Rica in November. Although, he only works for us on Saturday, he wanted to work after school to save money for his trip. We are preparing for a new roof in November, and we needed someone to remove the old roof tiles.

“Luis, how would you like to make enough money to travel by removing our old tiles and selling them?” we asked him.

Thus began the lessons in entrepreneurship and starting a business.

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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.

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Tropical Storm Nate in Nicaragua


“Never lose hope. Storms make people stronger and never last forever.”
― Roy T. Bennett

A storm is brewing! “Beware!” the zopilotes caw from the tree tops. The U.S. Embassy warned us about tropical storm Nate. We didn’t think much about it because the storm was supposed to pass to the east of us along the Caribbean coast. We’ll get some rain and maybe a little wind we said to ourselves.

It rained all night Wednesday and we woke to the sound of the wind howling through our bananas. The waves crashed to our shore and all ferries were suspended. The relentless rain pounded our house horizontally, drenching our bathroom through the screened windows. The lights flickered and snap…all was dark and foreboding.

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Our Road Less Traveled


“Look for chances to take the less-traveled roads. There are no wrong turns.”
― Susan Magsamen

We have always tramped the road less traveled. It keeps us young and energetic. When we moved to Ometepe Island permanently in 2010, we built our house during the worst flood of the century. The lake rose into our property beyond our coconut trees. 👇

As a result, the road in front of our house was destroyed and never repaired. We dealt with the inconvenience by shoveling, ditching, and filling in holes and ruts with rocks and coconuts. All by hand! Our road less traveled became a hindrance and impossible to maintain without heavy road equipment.

Last week, we had an amazing surprise. Cappy ran to our gate and barked at the tanker truck, the road grader, the dump truck, and the bucket truck roaring back and forth in front of our house. What in the world was happening? And who was paying for this?

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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


Update December 2019:

On a sad note, we left Nicaragua mid July 2018 due to the Civic Rebellion that continues to this day. On a good note, I had to have another eye surgery and my doctor in the states said my Nicaraguan retina specialist had done a wonderful job with my last surgery. I wish I could tell him, but he fled to Costa Rica during the Rebellion as did most of the good surgeons and doctors.

 

“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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