Drugs, Poverty, Violence, and the Child Migrant Crisis

IMG_0957“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.” ― Herman Melville

Cause and effect! Choices made, whether good or bad, follow us forever and affect everyone in their path.  For several weeks, we have been bombarded with the Central American child migration crisis in the United States. I believe that this crisis cannot be solved without first delving into the causes.
Please read on. Moe ideas about the causes of violence.

Hang In There Faithful Readers

It only seems fitting because I am from the International Storytelling Center of the World, to ask you for your patience in telling my sometimes off the wall stories about living on an island in the middle of the an enormous lake, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America.

This week is ridiculously crazy, so stay tuned for more unusual posts from the land of the not quite right. We’re alive and well, but lately we’ve been consumed with a new adventure. I can tell you it involves the words, “Cut”, “Again”, and “That’s a wrap.”

See you soon! Hang in there. I’ll be back next week with more stories.

That’s a wrap.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Heads Up!

Life is a balancing act. You need to keep your head up and your feet on the ground, while allowing your heart to go wherever it pleases! ~Susan Gale

I spend entirely too much time with my nose to the ground in Nicaragua. There are hidden dangers lurking in the forms of scorpions, red ants, and biting centipedes. Yet, I need to remember that life is a balancing act. There are beautiful surprises awaiting when I choose to hold my head up high!

Coconuts, the life force of Nicaragua.


Hidden among the fronds are vampire bats.
vampire bats 2Our Peras are ripe. A new batch of apple sauce and Pera pie is on the way.

PerasThe bananas have a couple of months left before they are ripe.
IMG_2567If we can only keep the Howler monkeys from nibbling on the bananas!
IMG_1785Our orchid is blooming, strung high in the nancite tree.
IMG_5979Marvin’s welding mask is strung high in the water tower. Our new water supply is almost finished.
IMG_2549My new Moroccan lamp shines colorfully in the darkness reminding me to keep my head up and my feet on the ground, for life is truly a balancing act.

My heart will always be free to roam, wherever it pleases. Thank you, my precious Nicaragua.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Adapting to Climate Change

Poor rural people are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change in Central America. On Ometepe Island, we live on ecologically fragile land and the locals depend on agriculture, livestock, and fishing to make a living.

An increased frequency of uncommon weather patterns has had a wide impact in Nicaragua. This year, for instance, we had an uncommonly dry rainy season. Drought has ravaged farmers, prompting a spike in food prices, as well as water rationing throughout our regional water supply area.

We usually have running water every other day for half a day. This morning, the water pressure was strong enough to fill my washing machine and run a load of clothes  (for the first time in two weeks), but I had to start the washing machine at 5:30 am. It’s a good thing I’m an early riser, because at 9:00 am the water stopped.

Although we have no control over the climatic changes, we do have control over the water supply in our house. Marvin to our rescue! He’s constructing a six meter water tower in our back yard, with a maximum capacity pressurized water tank at the top. That way, even when we don’t have electricity, we’ll have water running throughout our house.

Once the tower is complete, we are going to run a water line to our neighbor’s house, too. I can’t imagine living with three small children under the age of four without access to water. These pictures represent a big change in the making for us. By next week, we should have a steady supply of water for two families.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign Chicken Buses

If you ever ride an eccentric and flamboyant Central American chicken bus, you will begin to understand the term ‘foreign’. These retired American and Canadian school buses are plastered with outlandish stickers, painted in vibrant colors, and anointed with bumper stickers confessing their love for God, Jesus, soccer, and Playboy bunnies. Chicken buses ooze of strange aromas like a mixture of sweat, cow manure stuck on the bottom of flip-flops, rice and beans, and strong perfumes.  There is NO concept of personal space and there is always room for one more…one more person…one more chicken…one more basket of fruit…one more crying baby..one more sack of rice. Everyone and everything can ride on a chicken bus. Discrimination is not a word in a chicken bus’ vocabulary.


Loud music blasts from speakers taped in every corner of the bus. Vendors and beggars board at every stop pushing their way through invisible aisles hawking Flintstone vitamins, Chiclets, alien drinks in plastic bags, and preaching sermons or displaying x-rays of their guts ( or somebody’s guts) for a cordoba or two.


Chicken buses are a wacky form of entertainment for me. I chuckle at the sayings on the Goodwill t-shirts because most of the people that wear them can’t read English. Recently, a bus driver wore a t-shirt that said on the front, “What do you call a woman with PMS and ESP?” On the back it said, “A bitch who knows everything.” Exiting the bus, I told the bus driver that he had better not show that t-shirt to his wife. He just laughed, of course, with no understanding of what I was talking about.


Riding a Central American chicken bus is certainly one of the most exotic and foreign experiences I have ever had. Truthfully, I’m addicted. I’ve held sleeping babies, crowing roosters confined in rice sacks, and birthday cakes dripping icing in the tropical heat. I’ve even balanced my backpack on my head because there was no place to sit…for hours! Life on a chicken bus brings the world smack dab in front of your face…it’s a macro of foreign, the stupendous of strange, and the ultimate alien experience.

When the Well is Dry

When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, (1706-1790), Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1746

dry lips : Thanks to Varbak website for the photo.

Two days ago, I received an alarming text from a friend: Tonight I really need your help. I’m so down. My bebe is dieing. He’s been 4 days now with diarrea now. We’re heading to the hospital. Please help me. I beg you for god sake. Please.

Dr. Juan José Amador, Director of Health Systems and Technology in Nicaragua at PATH:

During my childhood in Nicaragua, I used to see a shocking sight: Groups of people  carrying child-size coffins through the streets toward the cemetery. Families-usually the poorest in my community-mourning the deaths of their youngest members. Almost always, diarrhea disease was the cause. (2009)

Recently, Nicaragua began vaccinating newborn babies against rotavirus, the most common cause of severe diarrhea disease among young children. Hospitals are better equipped with new saline solutions and educational programs offer families information about hygiene and clean water. As a result, infant mortality rates have been cut in half in Nicaragua.

But, there is still much work to be done. Although the local people have abundant knowledge about natural medicines, they know little about preventive health care. Their knowledge of preventive health care consists of rural legends, such as “keep a newborn away from drunks. If a newborn is near a drunk, he will get sick.” There may be a grain of truth, but it is a miniscule grain without any scientific understanding of how diseases spread and how to prevent them from spreading ( except, of course, to keep newborns away from drunks).

Frantically, while I searched the internet to see how I could help, baby Sayid was rushed to the hospital and an IV was inserted in his tiny arm. Within an hour, he was showing improvement. Yet, what could I tell this loving family to prevent this from happening again? That’s when I discovered Oral Rehydration Therapy.

A very simple recipe for oral rehydration: a liter of boiled water, 8 tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. salt. Mashed bananas, lemons, or orange juice can be added for taste. I translated the recipe into Spanish, gathered all of the ingredients, and headed to the hospital to see baby Sayid, where his mama was gently rocking him to sleep.

One of the major problems, besides a lack of understanding of preventive health care, is the lack of money. Although hospital care is free, the poorest families have no money to buy medicine (such as pedialyte) to prevent severe diarrhea. Hopefully, next time baby Sayid is stricken with diarrhea, this family can start the oral rehydration therapy immediately, maybe preventing a trip to the hospital and a painful IV inserted into his tiny arm.

Dehydration is a killer! Until we moved to Nicaragua, I never gave clean, accessible water a thought. Now, I’m obsessed with water filters, drinking gallons of water daily, and researching symptoms of parasites. Last month, this newspaper headline piqued my curiosity about the prevalence of kidney disease on the island: Mystery Epidemic Devastates Central American Region.  

Medical researchers at first suspected the cause of chronic kidney disease to be a result of agricultural chemicals. Agricultural workers lack understanding of the need to wear protective gear when using toxic chemicals on the fields. Now, however, they are making more links to chronic dehydration as the culprit. Scary!

Maybe my next project should be to issue liters of oral rehydration therapy, included with recipes, to all the agricultural workers and families on the island. It seems to me, to be a simple, inexpensive way to prevent chronic dehydration. First, there is no lack of plastic liter bottles. Second, it would be easy to attach directions and the recipe on each bottle, so they can refill the bottle.

Benjamin Franklin was a smart man. He understood the importance of clean, abundant water. I will never take clean water for granted again. It is the source of life and health.

All in the Family

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I had just finished cleaning the second story guest house that we built for our son, when Marina crouched under the barbed wire fence with a glass of warm, delicious atol. (a strawberry flavored, sweet liquid pudding drink). “Marina.” I commented between sips, “I haven’t seen you for ages. Where have you been?” “I have been very busy,” she responded. “Jose’s girlfriend and their two babies are living with us.”

If there is one thing that I have learned while living in Nicaragua, it is that few Nicaraguan homes consist only of the parents and children. Typically, one finds the presence of grandparents, aunts, uncles, grandchildren, and a few friends thrown into the mess of people living under one hot tin roof…usually in one bedroom!

Economic factors play an important role in this phenomenon of the extended family; however, I like to think of it as a raucous episode of All in the Family, whose family members become an efficient nucleus, supporting one another, interdependent, and responsible for each others’ well-being. I wanted an extended family, too.

Draped over the barbed wire fence, snow-white diapers flapped in the wind like the Egrets’ nightly ritual at sunset. Marina stoked the cooking fire, while the chop, chop, chop of Don Jose’s ax whittled the mounds of sticks and logs to usable fuel for the fire. Jose’s girlfriend tenderly nursed four-month old Dustin in the backyard, while balancing on a broken plastic chair with only three strong legs. Meanwhile, two-year old Stephen chased the litter of puppies through the dirt-floored kitchen and into the backyard. He dragged one of the yelping puppies around the yard like Pigpen’s blanket. Julio swung a small plastic bucket, as he walked along the volcanic black sand ruts of the beach to the dairy farmer’s house to get milk for breakfast. And his brother, Jose, prepared for work at the water department. Jose’s job is to repair the water line breaks. He always notifies us when he is repairing a water line break because that means that we will be without water for the entire day. Today was one of those waterless days.

Don Jose, the 77-year-old patriarch of the family, waved goodbye to Luvis. She was taking their one shared bicycle into town to deliver breakfast to her sister, who had been sick. Don Jose’s presence emanates throughout the family, although the classical patriarch pattern of a macho man who beats his wife, is not reinforced in this family. Everyone knows that Marina, his wife, is the boss. She is the glue that holds this nucleus together. Every cell in her body oozes strength, fortitude, and persistence.

“Marina,” I asked between sips of the delicious atol, “Cory will be here in a few days. I’d like to find him a Nica girlfriend. Do you know of any good Nica girls?” She grabbed my arm, pushed me into the rocking chair on my porch and said, “Sit and listen to me carefully. We need to have a mother to mother talk.” In my idealistic fog, I expected to hear condolences and thoughts on how she cherishes her extended family and tends to all their needs.

Instead, she admonished, “I refuse to find Cory a Nica girlfriend. You have no idea what will happen, do you?” “No,” I replied naïvely. “But it sure would be great to have a cute Nica grand baby.”

She waved her arms like she was shooing the dogs, cats, chickens, and pigs out of her kitchen. “Fueda!” she shouted. (Out!) “You and Ron will be out! Out of your minds and your house because a Nica girlfriend will bring her entire extended family to live in your house.”

That thought never entered my mind. I shuddered with the thoughts of a Nicaraguan family blowing up my house because they wouldn’t know how to use a propane oven, or breaking all of my electronic equipment that I so carefully protect from the harsh tropical elements, or reprogramming my satellite TV, or burning plastic bags because they know nothing about recycling or protecting the environment. My beautifully trimmed grass would be littered with green and pink plastic bags, and poopey diapers..the national flowers of Nicaragua.The toilet would overflow constantly, with the novelty of a swirling flush…over and over…and over again.

“You are manna from heaven… rich gringos,” she stated like it was a common fact. “But, Marina,” I whined, “we are not rich. We worked very hard for what we have. I can’t help it. I am a gringa.” She laughed, not understanding our economic differences, but fully understanding the implications of a Nicaraguan girlfriend for Cory. “People have taken advantage of you because you are gringos,” she said. “I’ve seen how they charge you ‘gringo prices’ for your house. People, who do not know you, cannot look past the color of your skin. Listen to me, because I know. You are part of our family now. I am telling you the truth,” she whispered in a motherly voice.

Cory arrived the following Monday. He and his friend, Sam, moved into their new second story casita. They will be here for six months, taking Spanish lessons, exploring Nicaragua, and developing cultural programs. This morning, they walked past Marina’s house on their way to a weekend trip to San Juan del Sur, a touristy little fishing village on the Pacific coast. I overheard Marina shout to them, “Adios mi familia. There are a lot of beautiful gringas in San Juan del Sur. Have fun and good luck.”

I just had to laugh! For in my search for an extended family, and beautiful Nica grandchildren, Marina had given me a precious gift. We are part of her extended family. I can visit those beautiful grandchildren of hers any time and share our stories of love and compassion for our families, as only mothers know. I think I have the best of both worlds, now….I just have to keep it all in the family.

Crimes of Opportunity

How Central America’s Crime Wave Has Spared Nicaragua, So Far.

  Photo of the Sandinista Revolution in Esteli

According to the article linked above the photo, Nicaragua has dodged the wave of violent organized crime sweeping Central America. They attribute the low crime rate partly to the socialist structures put in place during the Sandinista Revolution. All communities had neighborhood watch organizations, which are still prevalent today.

Our neighborhood watch organization consists of many mean dogs that alert the neighborhood of possible intruders. Violent crime does not exist on Ometepe Island. Instead, we have crimes of opportunity. Simply stated, you don’t leave anything outside your house at night, or it will be gone the next morning. It can be as small as a coffee cup or a spoon, or as large as a hammock swinging in an open rancho.

The first time we lived on Ometepe Island, someone stole our hammock. We left it swinging in the rancho. Ron also had a homemade fish trap bobbing in the lake that disappeared with the hammock. Things got lost in translation when I told Don Jose…or tried to tell him that someone stole our hammock and fish trap.

Don Jose jumped on his bicycle and peddled into town to tell our landlady. She and our friend Franchesco arrived at our house all in a tizzy. According to Don Jose’s story, someone broke into our house, threatened us with a machete and stole our four plastic chairs. There was no mention of our hammock or the fish trap.

They were very concerned with our safety because a home invasion is unheard of on the island. Once we mimed the account of the robbery, you could see relief sweep over their faces. We laughed, they shrugged their shoulders at our stupidity, and we chalked it up to our ignorance of crimes of opportunity.

When Cory and his friends visited, we were almost done with our house. I told the boys not to leave their iPods, iPhones, and other small things out in the open because the temptation is too great. I trusted our Motley crew, but I also knew to watch carefully and keep my valuables hidden.

Our head contractor, Guillermo, hired a new worker. His job was to paint under the kitchen counters. Aaron’s iPhone was charging on the kitchen counter…yes, you know where this is headed. The next morning, it was missing. In questioning all the workers, they denied taking the iPhone. Everyone helped us look for it, except the new worker. Santiago said, “Debbie, this is not only bad for you, it is bad for us, too.”

The next day, Ron was searching for his new Columbian hiking boots. They were missing in action, too. “No, we have not seen Ron’s shoes,” the workers replied. I decided to take matters into my own hands. I was pretty sure that the new worker took our missing items. I slipped a note under his hat which said, “I know who you are and I know what you did. I have a gun and I know how to use it. It would be nice if you would return the iPhone and Ron’s shoes, but I doubt that you will. Tell Guillermo that you are quitting today. You are not welcome in our house. If you return to work tomorrow, remember I have a gun and I know how to use it.”

The next day, there was no sign of the new worker. Aaron never found his iPhone, Ron never found his shoes, but I did have some satisfaction in knowing that my instincts were right. Oh, and by the way, I don’t have a gun and I don’t know how to use one.

The second theory as to why Nicaragua has a low violent organized crime rate is due to the poverty in Nicaragua. The big drug cartels need a strong economy in which they can move money around easily to purchase weapons and launder the drug money. Nicaragua’s economy represents only six percent of Central America’s GDP. Strategically, it pays to be a poor country.

The last paragraph of the article concerns me. Nicaragua is growing, the infrastructure is improving ( well…it’s all relative), and the country is catering to wealthier tourists. Therefore, I suspect it is only a matter of time before the drug cartels infiltrate Nicaragua. Living on a tropical island has it’s advantages. We are a small island community an hour’s boat ride from the mainland. Right now, we are an oasis of peace. If things change, you can be sure I’ll have a gun and know how to use it.




Stop Leaning Against the Wall…It’s Wet!

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We have returned from our first trip to Northern Nicaragua where we slept snuggled under two heavy blankets, visited coffee farms and cigar factories, hiked through the Black Jungle (Selva Negra), and talked with a lot of cowboys…real cowboys!

I am overflowing with stories of the wild North. Until I compose my tales, enjoy the slideshow of the city of murals in Esteli, Nicaragua. I think Banksy was writing about Esteli in his quote below.

Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw wherever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colors and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall- it’s wet.


Somoto Canyon

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Somoto Canyon was only discovered in 2004 by a group of Czech Republic and Nicaraguan scientists. Ron told me that when he was in Geography class in 4th grade, he cried because he thought everything had already been discovered. To appease Ron’s sorrow, we are headed to Northern Nicaragua tomorrow to discover for ourselves this unique and unusual area.

After this magnificent discovery, Nicaragua declared Somoto Canyon a National Monument and it has great tourist potential. In February, Cory and his friends meandered down the Coco River on inner tubes, through narrow gorges with cliffs extending upwards 120-150 meters. They jumped into deep, refreshing pools and scaled the cliffs searching for bromeliads, orchids, and iguanas that inhabit the crevices.

Although we can’t float the Rio Coco in the wet season due to flash floods (It’s dangerous at this time of the year), we are going to explore Matagalpa, Jinotega, and Esteli. These are the lands of expansive coffee plantations, black pottery production, mountainous terrain, pine forests, and former Contra territory.

I’m reading “The Death of Ben Linder”, and I hope to visit his grave in Matagalpa. I’ll return in a week with new stories, lots of photos, and a greater appreciation for the unique country in which we live. Meanwhile, enjoy Cory’s float trip through Somoto Canyon.

See you in a week!