Love Your Country or Leave It?


“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
― Mark Twain

Usually one of the first questions I am asked about being an expat besides the “What do you do in Nicaragua?” or “Are you a missionary?” is “Why did you leave America?”

My response is that I never left America. I am still here. I live in Central America. If that doesn’t piss them off, then I could say that I am a political refugee from the Divided States of America. But, I never say that because first, it is a lie, and second, I love my homeland and I really don’t like to create tension or controversy unless it is a last resort. I am a mediator at heart, I seek peace.

So, when angry people respond to me in a political discussion, “Love it, or leave it!” what is the appropriate response? Why is it that expats are seen as less patriotic than those who stayed in their home country? Can expats be patriotic? If so, how?

Photo credit to Larry Wilkinson

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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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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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Let’s Get Real about Retiring to Nicaragua


“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”
― Dr. Seuss

 

I am grouchy. The April heat is almost unbearable. It hasn’t rained for six months. My internet sucks because too many people are using the bandwidth on my server. The new paint on my plunge pool blistered and we had to drain it. The power and water are unreliable. The entire community of Urbite has run out of water. The city well is dry.  The roaming cows and pigs searching for something to eat knocked down our fence to munch on the sparse tufts of grass that are wilting in our yard. My neighbor had her thyroid removed and she can’t afford the thyroid pills she has to take for the rest of her life. Do you want me to continue?

When I read articles of fantasy such as the one linked below, all I can do is laugh. Fantasy Retirement? Living in Paradise? Let’s get real about living and retiring in Nicaragua. Life here is not all about surfing, drinking Toñas, and watching the beautiful sunsets. Living in Nicaragua isn’t for sissies.

In 2004, we used to enjoy going to San Juan del Sur. It was a quiet, little fishing village. Then, the cruise ships came, the throngs of tourists, and hundreds of expats moved to Nicaragua searching for paradise. Now, prostitutes, thieves, and drug addicts bus from Managua to where unsuspecting tourists are scammed.  Then, they hop back on the buses to sell their loot in Managua. Yes, it is even happening on our little Ometepe Island.

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2004 sunset in San Juan del Sur

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The Decay of Dignity


          “Life is not a matter of place, things or comfort; rather, it concerns the basic human rights of family, country, justice and human dignity.~Imelda Marcos

 I’ve been musing about the decay of human dignity in the United States. I can’t open a website or newspaper without reading about the lack of respect given to President Obama, the life and death of Eric Garner, and other enraged incidents that demonstrate the decay of human dignity in the United States.

However, the decline of human dignity is not isolated to the United States. It’s like a cancer spreading worldwide, eating away at the crumbling foundation of respect for our human race.

When I opened my Facebook page on Black Friday, I saw this post from Lucha Libro Bookstore in Granada, Nicaragua.

homeless boy copy

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What Really Matters?


“As one old gentleman put it,  “Son, I don’t care if you’re stark nekkid and wear a bone in your nose. If you kin fiddle, you’re all right with me. It’s the music we make that counts.”
― Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

 

I am ready to make some music…either that or get stark nekkid and wear a bone in my nose.  We’ve been home a week, and in that time…

  • Our cat, Black Jack, almost died from a urinary track blockage.
  • The police confiscated my new-to-me little orange dune buggy, took it for a joy ride and crashed it.
  • Our lawyer said we have a problem with the title to our property on Ometepe Island…which always involves lots of money.
  • The city put in a new high pressure pump and it blew out some of our water-lines.
  • Ocho, our other cat, was AWOL for five days.
  • The Chinese are measuring property near our new airport for a resort. WE LIVE NEAR THE AIRPORT!  I think it goes along with their plan for the proposed Nicaraguan canal.
  • The library at our local elementary school is ready for me to set-up. HHI wants to return to film us for the library’s grand opening in their new show, HHI, Where Are They Now?
  • And…and…I’m sick. It must be stress related.

So, I have to ask myself…What really matters? If I don’t, you’ll probably find me stark nekkid, running around my yard with a bone in my nose.

Read more to find what really matters to me.

Let the Good Times Roll?


“No one has ever become poor by giving.”
― Anne Frank, diary of Anne Frank

 

let the good times rollRecently, I’ve been bombarded on my Facebook news feed with videos of the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. The ALS marketing strategy is brilliant and has raised over $30 million dollars for ALS research and created an awareness of ALS throughout the world. Letting the good times roll by donating to a reputable charity AND having fun while doing it is exhilarating.
Keep rolling. More good times ahead.

Grieving For My Homeland: An expat’s political musings from the campo


IMG_3644There was a time when I thought, “How lucky we are to have the best of both worlds.” We own property in Nicaragua and the U.S. We are legal residents of two countries far apart in their ideological worlds, yet we can overcome these differences and live a culturally immersed life…coexisting peacefully with the similarities that unite us…a collective consciousness of human beings transcending political differences.

Yet, today, after a week of the U.S. government shutdown, I realized that this is not possible…not possible among the citizens of my own country…not possible among the citizens of the world. I am grieving for my homeland, desperately seeking a solution to stop this madness, and feeling quite helpless.

                                    Five Stages of Grieving for My Homeland

Talking Heads, Silent Hearts

                                                       Talking Heads, Silent Hearts

1. Shock and Denial: the initial paralysis
My initial reaction was one of politics as usual with checks and balances governing the United States of America. It won’t last long. They will all come to some agreement. I can’t worry about this because I have chickens to feed, sweet potatoes and peanuts to harvest, cows and pigs to shoo out of my property, and life goes on in the campo in Nicaragua regardless of what is happening far away in my homeland.

2. Anger: Frustrated outpouring of emotion bottled up for decades
Living in the campo, on a small isolated island in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America, leaves few options to express my anger and outrage about the shenanigans of political terrorists holding my homeland hostage. Thank goodness my internet is working and I have a strong signal…most days. I confess. I used Facebook and other online media sources to express my anger…blaming anyone and everyone for the impasse.

3. Bargaining: Seeking a way out of this mess
Once I realized that there was no way one person’s comments on Facebook or another online media source would make a hoot of a difference, I became obsessed with researching facts to find solutions. My beachfront lawn became a tangle of overgrown weeds, tropical ant hills grew with millions of neglected little ant terrorists… garden produce rotted offending my olfactories, and a huge boil grew on my butt…the result of sitting on a plastic chair in the humid tropics for hours on end researching:
1. What are John Boehner’s motivating factors?
2. The effects of polarized media on political beliefs
3. Who is Ted Cruz?
4. What is a Discharge Petition?
5. Studies of the mindset of Republican and Democrat ideological bases
6. The Hundredth Monkey Syndrome and its effects on changing political beliefs
7. Why a clean CR vote is or is not an option
8. Daily polls on political dissatisfaction
9. Unbiased news sources…of which I could find NONE… Even BBC is biased.
10. Expats and the Affordable HealthCare Act
11. and finally…checking our stocks and retirement funds daily.

4. Depression: Final realization of the inevitable
This morning, I awoke to this statement in the Washington Post by Ezra Klein.

At this point, it’s almost cliché to say Washington isn’t working. But the truth is harsher: Washington is actively failing. It’s failing to craft policies that make the country better. And it’s failing to avoid disasters that make the country worse. It’s nice to imagine these failures are temporary or aberrational. It’s comforting to believe that they’re the result of bad people, or dumb people, or incompetent people. But the truth is more unnerving: The American political system is being torn apart by deep structural changes that don’t look likely to reverse themselves anytime soon. A deal to reopen the government won’t fix what ails American politics. ( Klein, E., The Washington Post, published October 7, 2013).

And, that folks, is the cause of my depression and current state of my emotional upheaval. I grieve for my homeland.

5. Testing and Acceptance: finding realistic solutions that work.
I feel disconnected from my government and worried about our future. I’ll end with a quote from Benjamin Franklin.

“We’ve spawned a new race here … We’re a new nationality. We require a new nation.” — Benjamin Franklin speaking at the Continental Congress, 7 June 1776

Something to think about.

 

 

 

 

Pedophile Perch Takes a Powder?


In Granada in 2005, there was a local bar nicknamed Pedophile Perch. The porch overlooked a main street, and everyone knew that this was the place where the foreign pedophiles hung out. Since then, many things have changed in Nicaragua. Pedophile Perch still exists, a little less obtrusive, and now, on a side street, but most expats know where it is located. Yet, with the arrest and deportation last month of Eric Toth, a former 3rd grade teacher in a private school in Washington D.C., my hopes are that Pedophile Perch will take a powder.
Eric Justin Toth Caught in Nicaragua

I’m proud of Nicaragua for taking a stand against foreign sex predators. Eric Toth was on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted list for two years, before a tourist recognized him in Esteli, Nicaragua. What I’m not so proud of are the comments of some expats and foreign tourists defending sex trafficking and blaming the locals for their circumstances.

In 2005, I wrote a post to a Nicaragua expat forum (big mistake!) about an incident that occurred between an underage Nicaraguan boy and an older gringo man. Instead of creating an awareness of the increasing problems in Nicaragua with foreign sex predators, the discussion ( if you can even call it a discussion) led to pointless posts with statistics thrown around like fast balls. The gist of the garbage slung on the forum was blaming the locals for their cultural silence, their need to prostitute themselves for their families, and personal attacks on me for broaching the topic of foreign sexual predators.
Here are a few jewels from this sparkling conversation:

“In the last few months one takes note of how many more “little boys” have arrived from Managua to make their business…but, generally, these “little boys” are not underage..but it happens…but christ, it happens in the White House every day…gypsy toes…wanna go work the coffee fields at 3 dollars a day..try it. You wouldn’t last one year..you wouldn’t last one week. I shan’t continue…my monthly supply of Guinness came yesterday….”

“I think that you are talking bullshit”

“Get a “frigging” life.”

 ” I’ve been in Nicaragua for 15 years and I don’t want to hear this thing here about child abuse on the “Atlantic Coast”. This thing does not happen here.”

“My wife and I feed hungry children every day. Please keep your stupid opinions to yourself; because you do not know what you are talking about when you post.”

“***** says that “Gypsy Toes” & ***** are probably Catholic and support their pediphile priests and bishops.”

Tim Rogers, of the Nicaragua Dispatch wrote an excellent three-part series on Sex Trafficking in Nicaragua.

1. New Beginnings: chronicle of a serial rapist.

2. Sex predators find easy prey in Nicaragua

3. Nicaragua’s culture of silence

Yet, reading some of the comments posted to his articles, made me wonder why some expats and foreign tourists still continue to defend this horrendous act? Is it denial?

“Adult prostitution is legal here and the women here are definitely not being trafficked although as the article says the ones that work here come here from other cities, and I suspect the girls from here go to other cities when they want to work in the sex trade. I have seen one underaged girl trying to work here and she had no takers.”

“As far as trafficking the women arrive here on buses and play on the beaches and do as they please and go home on the buses when they are want to. They have no handlers and do not even seem professional with few exceptions. They tend to be mothers with children to feed.”

“There is a double standard with the age of consent between the Nica men and us foreigners. Its also true that the Nica guys pay them very little or nothing at all. Its a national sport here and they call it “chavaliando”. Also girls from other cities do flock to SJDS, seeking the Euro/ Yankee dollar and of-course not to be judged in their home towns. Im sure there are some crimes committed involving under aged girls and trafficking but for the most part its locals committing them.”

Denial… a psychological defense mechanism that enables us to lie to ourselves. It’s a normal way of protecting our fragile egos. Yet, when denying reality facilitates the continuation of a harmful situation (i.e. pedophilia, sexual tourism, sex trafficking), it affects our choices and prohibits us from finding solutions.

The comments posted above are good red flags for denial. They send a message that condones these horrendous acts and fools us into believing that sexual predators, prostitution, and pedophilia are accepted norms in Nicaragua. Don’t be fooled into believing that these commentators have control over the situation and we are helpless to affect a change.

We have to change! We have to confront the harsh realities and make an effort to pull our heads out of the holes in which we have been blissfully surrounded. Pay attention to the statements of deniers because they contain very negative recurring themes ( i.e.” for the most part it’s the locals committing them”, “This thing does not happen here.”, or my favorite…”wanna go work in the coffee fields at 3 dollars a day…try it.”)

Keep deniers on your speed dial, especially if you think differently than them. Confront them with reality and question their assumptions. For we must change our attitudes to protect the innocent in Nicaragua and in the world.

As a side note: I’ve been writing this piece for several months…a word at a time. I think I’ve been afraid to post it because I don’t want to sound preachy. But, I am! And, I’m angry, which always fuels my writing rants. I hope I’m not just preaching to the choir. Foreign sexual predators are becoming a huge problem in Nicaragua. Basically, I think it’s all about supply and demand.

Thanks to Third World Orphans for the information about supply and demand.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO WOMEN AND CHILDREN?

SUPPLY

* Devaluation of the girl child and discriminatory practices.
* Perceived responsibility of women and children to support families.
* Lack of educational, employment and vocational opportunities.
* Fragmentation of families: death of parent/s, husband, increases homeless women and children.
* Economic conditions, especially rural poverty, fueled by economic development policies and the erosion of agricultural sectors.
* Rural to urban migration and the growth of urban industrial centers.
* Move from subsistence to cash based economy and increased consumerism.
* Lack of laws and law enforcement.

DEMAND

* Criminal networks who organize the sex industry and recruit the children.
* Law enforcement /governmental complicity in the sex trade.
* Demands of foreign sex industries creating international trade in girls and women.
* Fear of AIDS, leading customers to demand younger girls.
* Early marriage and child marriage.
* Traditional and cultural practices, including the demand for virgins, the cultural practice of men patronizing prostitutes, inter-generational patterns of girls entering prostitution.
* Employers using the debt-bond (slavery) system, forced labor and child labor.
* Demand of sex tourists, pedophiles and the migrant labor force.
* International promotion of the sex industry through information technology.


Lost in Translation


It is the season of hope and thanksgiving…the time we profess to care..to love others…to offer help and encouragement. I’ve stepped beyond the words. I’ve lived hope…breathed understanding…and walked a compassionate path. Love is a verb…an action. It requires that we DO something to show our support…our concern…our love for our fellow human beings. Yet, today in the season of hope and thanksgiving, I feel abandoned and betrayed…as if everything has been lost in translation.

My words of hope are swirling out of control…my actions are tainted with a bitterness that is difficult to swallow. I could blame sickness on my feeling of depression. I’ve been sick most of the month of November. It could be Dengue, then again, it could be a horrible case of the flu. I just can’t shake it. It leaves me exhausted, questioning my sanity, and wondering why I am still here.

However, I believe the real cause behind my feeling of despair centers around my loss of faith in people I have trusted on Ometepe Island. In a year of posts, I’ve written about the importance of cultural immersion, humorous daily life with our neighbors and local friends, and living a simple, carefree lifestyle. I debated whether to write this post and click ‘send’ because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a whiner…generally I’m not. If there is one thing I’ve learned while living in Nicaragua, it’s to keep a sense of humor and have the patience of a saint.

I scoffed at expat statements: “Don’t get too chummy with the locals.” “They are expert con artists.” “They will patiently groom you and pretend to be your best friend, then rip you off… zooming in for the kill before you know what happened.” Instead, I believed in the goodness of people. I thought we could transcend cultural differences by understanding our similarities. I thought we could form lasting friendships that sliced through cultural norms. I was wrong in one situation.

What do I do when the dawn brings lies..when I awake to a realization that I was used because I am a gringa, not because I am a trusting and compassionate friend? I wanted two things at the same time; I wanted revenge and I wanted to rise above the situation and offer forgiveness to the people who wronged me. But, I could do neither because I saw  half-hearted forgiveness as coming off as condescending in my present frame of mind and revenge would only make me feel as bad as the people who hurt me…who took advantage of my kindness and generosity.

Believe me…I am NO saint. I sent the threatening guilt-laden text messages…”I am contacting a lawyer.” “I am going to the police.” You should be ashamed of yourself for lying to us.” “You are no man, you are a thief.” “May God have mercy on your soul.” Everyday, for two weeks, I sent the horrible translated text messages. It took me hours to translate and pitifully punch in the letters one at a time. I wouldn’t win any prize for texting rapidly. Punch…punch…punch…anger…anger…threaten..shame…shame…shame.

Everything was lost in translation…there was no response. I was a tormented texter…a vile victim…a grief stricken gringa. So, how could I get out of this rut and the feeling of betrayal and emotional pain that accompanied it? Well, I’m still working on it, but here is some advice from a slowly recovering expat realist…me.

1. Never lend money. As an expat living in an impoverished country, the local people are always going to ask for money. The little kids in the barrio down our street are trained by well-meaning tourists to say, “Dame un dollar.” It must work because tourists take pity on them and hand them a few coins. Instead, offer them food or a job for a day or two. Once walking back from town, I was carrying two heavy grocery bags, when one of the kids asked for money. I handed him my heavy bag of groceries and asked him to help me carry it home. Then, I paid him for helping me carry my groceries.

We usually never lend money, but in this one circumstance, after a relationship for two years, we thought that we could trust this family. We had the father sign a notice of debit and made an installment plan for paying back a little money each month. Unfortunately, he lied about the reason for needing the money and has left the country…probably never to be seen again.

2. Face it. It is going to happen someday. You will be ripped-off and betrayed by people you thought you could trust. When it happens, stand back and gain some detachment. View yourself as the helper and not the victim…if only for your own sanity. It’s important to grieve and to feel the pain of betrayal, but chalk it up as a learning experience and move on with your life.

3. Living abroad is challenging. Communication is difficult. Cultural immersion is still a very important part of my life, but it is important not to lose myself, my own cultural norms, values, and traditions. I am a foreigner, I will always be an outsider. I will probably never completely understand or fit into the Nicaraguan culture, nor do I want to be a Nicaraguan.

4. When chaos ensues and you feel like you are spiraling out of control, or homesickness blankets you with melancholy, or a tropical bug bites and infects you with some weird disease, or the heat becomes unbearable, seek a confidant..someone who has survived the same betrayals, illnesses, or homesickness and has come out the other side.

5. Work for a tomorrow that will be better than yesterday. It is all too easy to become fixated and obsessed with being wronged. The obsession and need for revenge can turn a loving, caring person into a bitter, paranoid, and very angry person. Who needs it? Life is too short, there are still many seasons of sweet mangoes to pick.

6. Live in the present and don’t idolize the past. We worked hard to fulfill our dreams of moving abroad. I am blessed with an abundance of beautiful sunsets over the lake every evening, lovely neighbors, and a friendly safe community. I simply won’t let one betrayal or one nasty bug bite, or one day of chaos destroy my dreams.

In the end, forgiveness belongs to those who know how to love in the first place. Nicaragua has shown me much love and once I come to my senses again after this bout with illness and betrayal, I’ll be walking the compassionate path in this season of hope and thanksgiving…living hope…breathing understanding…and offering help and encouragement to others.

Thanks for listening to me..it’s not my usual style of writing..but sometimes, I have to express my vulnerabilities and my fears…my naked truths of living on an island in the middle of a huge lake, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America.