Things I’ve Learned About Life After 500 Blogging Posts


500Yesterday was a milestone day. I wrote my 500th post on my blog. Believe it or not, becoming a blogger was never something I planned. I was looking for a way to network and market my book, Pretiring with the Monkey Lady. But, a strange thing happened along the way in my little corner of the blogging world.

Continue reading

Duped on Ometepe Island?


         “Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools, that don’t have brains    enough to be honest.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
 

 

I think I have been duped! Last week, a Department of Health medical brigade (MINSA) came to Ometepe Island offering medical services. They walked door to door accompanied by a police officer on a motorcycle.

It’s common to see a MINSA medical brigade here. When severe flooding eroded the shoreline, MINSA came door to door passing out free antibiotics for Leptospirosis. During the rainy season, they pass out a poison powder to sprinkle in standing water where mosquitoes may breed. But, they never come accompanied by the police, and they are always local MINSA employees.

Marina was cleaning my house, and I was raking the yard when I saw the medical brigade come to my door. I didn’t catch the beginning of the conversation and my Spanish vocabulary with medical words is severely lacking. Although much of the conversation was lost in translation, this is my interpretation of the conversation that took place:

Male nurse: We are offering free medical exams at the hospital on Friday and Saturday.

Me: Great! Sign up my husband and me.

Male Nurse: No. I can’t do that. It is an exam of your ‘bahena’.

Me: What is a bahena and why can’t my husband get the exam, too?

Me: Is it an exam for your heart? For your stomach?

Laughter all around.

Marina: No. It is an exam of your ‘bahena’ and a papagramo exam. ( she said while holding back a chuckle)

Male Nurse: Laughing, while he pointed to my vagina.

More laughter.

Me: Oh, I get it. You are offering free vaginal exams and Pap tests. Sign me up.

I signed a sheet of paper and included my telephone number so they could call me for the time of the appointment. Friday and Saturday passed, and I never received a call. Then, I read this in La Prensa:

courtesy of La Prensa

courtesy of La Prensa

 

For three consecutive days an alleged brigade of the Ministry of Health, heavily guarded by police, has tried uselessly to get into the communities of Sacramento, Moyogalpa, Ometepe Island, where residents maintain an armed encampment with sticks, stones and even machetes. Alberto Lopez, the county Esquipulas, Moyogalpa, said villagers reject the action of MoH for ordering information and ask their opinion on the Canal.

Here lots of times have been brigades of the Ministry of Health, to vaccinate and dispense medicines and they have never come up with police and military riot police, so people joined and they will not be allowed to come to our communities, Lopez said.

He noted that the communities where the brigade is interested in the survey is in Esquipulas, Los Angeles and Sacramento. People decided to keep them out because we want to tell you that nobody here wants to sell their property, are in our territory and we are defending what is ours, argued López.

Juan Barrios, who lives in the Sacramento community, again reported that island communities have returned to ring their church bells to alert the public when pollsters brigade and police and riot police trying to enter the community.

For three days straight doing this encampment to ask these interviewers leave here and the police will say we are not willing to get us out of our territory. Today (last Friday) morning, the police tried to persuade for maintence, but the response of Sacramento was to leave here said Barrios.Juan Barrios, a resident of the community of Sacramento, said when the brigade withdrew assumptions threatened to not send medicines to the health center of the town and told not to return for that place. Villagers said they will not move until the brigade and the police desist from entering the community to ask personal data on the draft of the Grand Canal.

So what exactly did I sign? Who knows? I had been warned by local friends…after the fact…never to sign my name to anything. Have I been duped? Probably. I may have signed a petition in support of the grand canal. They never asked me any questions about the canal…I suppose that once they figured that I didn’t know what a ‘bahena’ was that I would stupidly sign anything. And, I did!

We assume so many things in living in Nicaragua. I want to believe that the police are here to protect us. I want to believe that the Ministry of Health is only offering medical services that we are unable to get on Ometepe Island. I want to believe that the Nicaraguan government wouldn’t use tricks and treachery to gain support for the Nicaraguan canal.

I’ve learned never to assume anything and never to sign anything without questioning.  Always expect the unexpected while living in the land of the not quite right. Life goes on…but I’ll always wonder what I signed…and probably never find out the truth.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: This is Monumental!


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Monument. “Anything can be monumental as long as it’s imbued with a shared sense of importance.” ~Ben

Yesterday a monumental event occurred near Managua, Nicaragua. There was a 6.4 earthquake, along the same fault line that destroyed Managua in 1972. Read more about it here: Nicaragua Earthquake

Last week, our active volcano Concepcion awoke with eight small tremors. This is monumental.

Mountains are earth’s undecaying monuments.~Nathaniel Hawthorne

IMG_7681Should I worry?  I have our kayak ready if we need to make a hasty retreat for the mainland.
Wait! There is one more monumental thing. Read on.

The Sky’s the Limit


“Do mistakes and you become a good learner.
Welcome ordeals and you become a good problem solver.”~ Riddhi Sharma

Our SKY satellite TV has been on the blink for a month. Poor Ron! He can’t watch the football games on Sunday and I really miss CNN. Playing detective is a necessary part of life on Ometepe Island. We cut branches of trees close to the satellite dish, checked the cable for tears or scrapes, jiggled the dish, wiggled the wires, and rewired the service box…all to no avail.
The only service technicians in the entire country are from Managua, so we called and put in a work order for them to come to Ometepe to fix our TV. Yesterday, they arrived with the SKY truck.
IMG_0611For two hours they jiggled the cable, repositioned the satellite dish, and checked the service box, while the annoying beeping from the TV indicated that there was no signal.
IMG_0612They moved the satellite dish to a wiggly garden post in the hopes of solving the mystery about why there was no signal.
IMG_0619Hmmm…suddenly the signal was strong and clear. It must be the Neem tree blocking the signal. Three years ago, when we installed the satellite dish, our Neem trees were only a foot tall. Now, they are 25 feet tall. I guess we have to take down the Neem tree. Ron to the rescue with his machete.
IMG_0616Meanwhile, as the sun was setting, Black Jack investigated the SKY truck.
IMG_0622With the tree down, the technicians put the dish back in its original location.
IMG_0623No worries. We still have five more Neem trees on our property.
IMG_0624He repositioned the dish for a strong, steady signal.
IMG_0625And voilà! A strong, steady signal…football games and CNN!
IMG_0627By this time, it was dark and the last ferry had already left for the mainland. “Where are you staying tonight?” I asked. “Can we stay here?” the boss asked. “No problemo!” I responded. I was a little embarrassed because the only problem with our satellite signal was the Neem tree. I felt bad that they had to travel a whole day from Managua, across on the ferry, to solve our problem. The boss wanted to know if there were other people on the island that would like SKY TV, since they were here. I quickly sent a notice to all the expats on the island and received 2 responses by the next morning.
IMG_0628What a great crew! They even offered me a job as the SKY representative for Ometepe Island. It was their first time on Ometepe Island. They slept in our casita, took a quick dip in the lake in the morning, and I gave them the phone numbers of the two expats that were interested in installing SKY in their homes.

The SKY’s the limit, as far as our satellite reception goes. Only in Nicaragua! Have I told you how much I love this country?

Timeout for Art: A Species of Writing


This week’s Timeout for Art asks us to reflect on art as a form of therapy, as well as a stress reducer. As a former counselor and special education teacher, I often used art therapy with my students.

“Art can permeate the very deepest part of us, where no words exist.”
― Eileen Miller, The Girl Who Spoke with Pictures: Autism Through Art

I was drawing tortugas (turtles) on my curtains for the Turtle cabin (Las Tortugas Casita), when my ten-year old friend, Lauren, stopped by our house on her bicycle. Ron was taking his Spanish lessons on the side porch. As I waited for my turn, Lauren and I tried to talk, but she spoke so rapidly that I had a difficult time understanding what she was saying. So, I asked her to draw it.
IMG_3253One thing I’ve learned about children in Nicaragua, is that they can’t quite figure out why we don’t understand them. I often wonder if our two and three-year old neighbors think we are just plain stupid. I think Lauren understands that Spanish is our second language, but she gets frustrated and rolls her eyes when I ask her to repeat the sentence just one more time…y mas despacio por favor (slower, please).

Lauren rolled her eyes, and tried to describe a sparkly thing that sits on top of a King or Queen’s head. “You know…YOU KNOW,” she said, “Una corona. UNA CORONA.” After I looked at her picture, the puzzling Spanish pieces fell into place.
IMG_3264“You are my best friend among all my friends,” Lauren said. “That’s why I gave you a crown.” Ahhh..how sweet, I thought. “Now, can we make cookies?” she asked. Hmmm, I knew there was an ulterior motive. “Lo siento, mi amor,” I responded. It’s almost time for my Spanish lesson and I need to buy more chocolate chips.  Art can be used where no words exist…too bad I ran out of chocolate chips, though. :-)

“Talking about Art is like trying to French kiss over the telephone”. ~Terry Allen

I had just started my Spanish lesson, and Lauren and Ron were blissfully drawing in my place, when Carlos, the local artist arrived. “Patricia said you wanted to see some of my paintings,” he said. I was thinking about starting an art class at my house and interested in looking for a good instructor.
IMG_3258Carlos has over 30 years of experience as an artist.
IMG_3255IMG_3260Attempting to talk about art was like trying to French kiss over the phone. I needed to see it, feel it, and touch it. I’m still not sure that Carlos and I will be a good match. Communication will be difficult, but his art revealed his love for Nicaragua. He’s very talented and his personality shined through his paintings.

“Art is communication.”~Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

IMG_3261 Living in Nicaragua with Spanish as my second language has convinced me that art is communication. Art reveals personalities, reduces stress, and sometimes even persuades me to make chocolate chip cookies for my favorite ten-year old.

The School for the Deaf on Ometepe Island


Yesterday, I visited the school for the deaf in San José del Sur on Ometepe Island to see if they would be interested in participating in my mobile lending library project. Helping Hands with Hearts for Christ (H3C), was founded by Mike and Joan Vilasi three years ago. While they are in the states, Gael and Rosemary manage the school.

I  interviewed the gracious host, Gael, and asked about the history of the school.
IMG_3193I had a difficult time finding the school because it was tucked into a small cove on the beach with a lush walking trail leading to the school from the main road. “The next time you get lost,” Gael said, “just ask for Quincho Baraletta.” “This used to be an orphanage for girls, but when Volcano Concepcion erupted three years ago, the orphanages abandoned the island for the safety of the mainland.” This made sense to me because Nicaraguans  either use landmarks that disappeared years ago, or refer to a place by a previous name.

My blog friend, Tamara, shows off the beautiful flower- lined lane at the school.

My blog friend, Tamara, shows off the beautiful flowery lane at the school.

H3C new banner hanging above the entryway.

H3C new banner hanging above the entryway.

There are 37 deaf people living on Ometepe Island. Twelve children are school aged and attend H3C. A few of the children attend schools for the deaf on the mainland. Before the school opened, most of these children received no services and did not attend public school. Now, thanks to the generosity of The North Point Community Church in Maine, USA, they receive donations to run the school.

“Kindness, a language deaf people can hear and blind see. “- Mark Twain

 

The school has two full-time teachers and an interpreter. The nicest surprise was that one of the teachers is my neighbor in La Paloma. Who knew?

 

“Signs are to eyes what words are to ears.” ~ Ken Glickman



The teachers at the H3C school.

Nicaragua has a unique sign language developed by the deaf children themselves. The video below explains how the Nicaraguan Sign Language began. I am returning to the school next week to deliver my lending library books. It’s awesome to be able to share my love of reading with this school.

How can you help? Visit Helping Hands with Hearts for Christ

Other resources:
1. Deaf Children in Nicaragua Teach Scientists About Language
2. The History of Nicaraguan Sign Language
3. Mayflower Medical Outreach in Nicaragua
4. The Deaf People of Nicaragua Electronic survey report

 

Strange Habits I’ve Picked Up


Living in Nicaragua, I’ve picked up some strange habits…at least to me they are strange, but to all Nicaraguans, they are quite normal.

1. Strange gestures
a. The Lip Point  In the states, we use our fingers to point. Nicaraguans use their lips. Lip pointing requires puckering up like you are going to kiss someone, and redirecting the pucker toward a person or an object you want to point out. Examples: That woman over there (lip point) is a monkey lady; I just saw a duende (lip point) climb that tree; That man (lip point) is loco.

b. The Finger Shake  I love this gesture and it really works. If you are eating at a restaurant and someone comes to your table for the hundredth time and tries to sell you a whistle, or pottery, or Flintstone vitamins, put your finger out in front of you and shake it back and forth. You can add an annoying facial gesture, too. It’s the Nicaraguan gesture for “No!” Examples: Give me un dollar.(Me: finger shake); Obnoxious drunk: Buy me a drink. (Me: finger shake + annoying facial gesture)

c. The Nose Scrunch This gesture means “I don’t know what the hell you are talking about.” I’ve gotten the nose scrunch repeatedly when I try to explain something in my Spanglish. To do this gesture effectively, scrunch your upper lip to your nose, like you smell a dead mouse. Examples: Me: Where can I buy polyurethane? Nica: (nose scrunch); Me: What’s the Spanish name for hemorrhoidal cream? Nica: (nose scrunch)

2. Feel guilty about flushing toilet paper down the toilet
Nicaraguan sewer systems leave a lot to be desired. The lines to the septic tanks are tiny and most places have a sign asking you to put your toilet paper in a garbage can instead of flushing it down the toilet. I think that is gross! Sometimes, the garbage cans overflow. Sometimes there are no garbage cans and worse yet, no toilet paper. I confess! I usually forget to throw the toilet paper in a garbage can. Instead, I flush it and always feel guilty.

3. Call people and hang up, so they can call you back.
This used to annoy me, until I discovered the purpose. It’s called cheap. When I check my minutes on my phone and I only have a few minutes left, but need to have a longer conversation, I’ll call someone, hang up, and hope that they call me back. That way, they can use their minutes to return my call. Everybody does it.

4. Move closer…personal space
My personal space in the states was much wider than in Nicaragua.  Nicaraguans like to get up close and personal. I mean so close that you can feel their breath on your face or your back depending on which direction you are facing. I’ve learned to get up close and personal, especially when standing in a line. Any extra space between you and another person is a personal invite for someone to squeeze in front of you.

5. Haggle all the time
Who knew that you can haggle for anything and everything in Nicaragua.  It’s expected behavior. If you don’t haggle, you’re a sucker for a gringo price.

6. Wear Flip-flops for all occasions
I never wore flip-flops in the states. But, in Nicaragua, I have flip-flops for every occasion. I have my going out to feed the chickens flip-flops, my inside the house flip-flops, my shower flip-flops, and my dress-up flip-flops.
IMG_3109

7. Sleep in the middle of the day
This is my favorite strange habit. Siestas are a necessity in the tropics. The stores close at noon, the houses are eerily quiet, and everyone snoozes for an hour or more.

8. Be politically incorrect
I have friends whose nicknames are “Gordo” (fatty), Loca (crazy), and Gordita  (chubby). No one takes offense to these nicknames. It is an accepted way to identify someone. When I returned from the states last week, my neighbor called me Gordita because I usually pack on several extra pounds of good eats. I just laugh and say, “Es verdad.”
( That’s the truth.)

9. Ask, How much did it cost?
When I was in the states, I forgot about this strange habit I have and caught myself asking everyone, “How much did that cost?” Everyone asks that question in Nicaragua. Examples: My neighbor: “How much did those shoes cost? Me: Oh, they were cheap. I got them on sale. Another Nica friend: “How much did your TV cost? Me: Oh, it was cheap. I got it on sale.

10. Use AY to express anger and Ya to say you’re ready
AY. Who left the door open? YA, I’m ready to go. When Marvin erected our tall water tower, he would ask, “Listo?” Six strong men pulling on ropes would reply in unison, “YA!”
Dustin, our two-year old neighbor ate a magnet off my refrigerator. “AY!”, I responded. Poor baby. I scared him and he started to cry. But, at least he spit out my refrigerator magnet.

11. Applaud when the plane lands
   I caught myself clapping when our plane landed in Nicaragua. I remember the first time I heard a plane full of Nicaraguans applaud a landing. It was so funny! But, now it’s second nature for me to join in the applause.

12. Drink coconut water for every ailment.
Have diarrhea? Drink coconut water. Coming down with a cold? Drink coconut water. Tired? Yep! Coconut water does the trick. Nicaraguans say they have coconut water running through their veins. I believe them.

13. Iron…everything
When Ben Linder built a small hydroelectric plant for a rural village in Northern Nicaragua, he had to remind them constantly not to use their irons all at the same time or it would overload the system. Nicaraguans love their planchas. They can go without running water, a flush toilet, and a refrigerator, but they must have their irons. Now, I’ve picked up their strange habit of ironing everything. Maybe it is because the clothes never dry in the rainy season, and an iron helps to keep damp clothes from molding.

14. Shake shoes, towels, hammocks to kick out scorpions and spiders
I have become a constant shaker. I don’t think an explanation is necessary, especially after I describe the huge, hairy tarantula that I shook out of the hammock recently.

15. Always have the correct change and make sure the dollar bills are clean without any marks.
Before I left the states, I exchanged old, ink-stained, and slightly ripped dollar bills for new ones. No one in Nicaragua accepts dollar bills that have even a tiny mark or miniscule rip. I also made sure that I had small bills of córdobas for my trip back to Ometepe Island. Just try giving a Nicaraguan a 500 cordoba bill and asking for change. It ain’t gonna happen.

16. If someone asks for your address, use vivid directions including something that isn’t there anymore
There are no street names or house numbers in Nicaragua. Recently, I had to order a new remote control for my Sky TV. They are going to deliver it to my house. When they asked for directions, I responded, Two kilometers south of Moyogalpa, on the beach near where the giant tree fell down 3 years ago, in the community of La Paloma, past Puesta Del Sol.

Snowden in Nicaragua?


“US fugitive Edward Snowden has abandoned his request for political asylum in Russia after learning he would have to stop leaking intelligence reports, the Kremlin said Tuesday, as the American awaited asylum decisions from 20 other countries.” (Dmitry Zaks, AFP, July 2, 2013).

According to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, other countries in which Snowden may seek asylum include China, Cuba, France, Germany, Italy, India, Nicaragua and Spain. Nicaragua??? My expat home?  I’m torn with conflicting emotions if Nicaragua were to accept Snowden.

On the one hand, I believe that Snowden is a whistleblower, not a traitor. A traitor is someone who gives information to the enemy. Are ‘We the People’ the enemy? Don’t we have a right to know about our government’s secret surveillance program, especially if it is ‘We the People’ who are being watched?

Certainly, it is no secret because George W. Bush authorized warrantless wiretapping of international communications after the September 11, 2001 attacks as part of the war on terrorism. In 2005, public disclosure ignited the outrage of the potential misuse of data mining of e-mail messages and telephone call records in the NSA call database. We’ve known about this for years.

I’m siding with Snowden on this issue.  He is not a traitor, only a concerned citizen who risked his life and his professional career to inform us of the potential dangers of warrantless wiretapping and government surveillance of its own citizens.  Let’s face it, we all know that we are being watched, not only by our government, but by the marketing media who records every click, every ‘like’, and every internet move we make in the digital age.

The other day, I was researching metal detectors and protest music. Weird combination, I know, but sometimes in my mind works in mysterious ways. In looking for protest music on YouTube, a little ad at the bottom of the video tried to direct me to metal detectors. What??? How could they possibly know that I was researching metal detectors? Honestly, browser snooping scares me. It unnerves me to think that my every move on the internet is recorded for marketing purposes.

Yet, what frightens me more are the potential problems for Nicaragua. If Snowden were to receive asylum in my expat country would I offer him my guest house as a reprieve from the mad warlock hunt? Impulsively, I would say, “Yes”. I admire his bravery and his tenacity.  On the other hand, I imagine this scenario or nightmare…your choice:

Snowden snuggles peacefully under the mosquito net in our guest house, while unidentified flying objects circle the periphery of our property. Strangers disguised as lone fishermen, paddle around the lake wearing night goggles and Google glasses. Economic sanctions by the U.S. prohibit the export of Nicaraguan coffee, gold, and beef. The United States, Nicaragua’s main trading partner who bought 29% of Nicaragua’s exports in 2012, stops trading with Nicaragua. All U.S. expats and tourists are stopped at every border crossing, strip searched and aggressively interrogated. Legal expats can no longer leave or enter Nicaragua without special permission from the U.S. Tourism comes to an abrupt halt. Fear overwhelms the local people struggling to make a living because all trading has stopped. NGOs are prohibited from sending donations and supplies to Nicaragua. Nicaragua, my beloved adopted country, quickly loses all economic gains it has made in recent years.

If Edward Snowden knocks on my door in my little oasis of peace, I’m afraid  I would have to say, “Sorry, Edward. I admire your bravery, but I am a coward with too much at risk. Please find another country for political asylum.” For you see, I love Nicaragua more than I admire Snowden’s courageous whistle blowing. Life is all about making informed decisions. Every choice has a consequence whether good or bad, right or wrong, bitter or sweet. Laurie Buchanon says, “The life we live is an expression of the choices we make.” I chose Nicaragua before, and I will choose Nicaragua again. Surely, Snowden understands that individual choices can have global consequences. I wish you the best, Edward Snowden. Safe travels in your search for peace and political asylum.

Snowden in Nicaragua?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sometimes You Just Gotta Smile!


In this week’s photo challenge I couldn’t help but post a collection of signs from the Land of the Not Quite Right. The challenge is really called, The Sign Says, but sometimes you just gotta smile at the goofy signs.

On the ferry I noticed this sign. Now, I just have to find a child older than five.
IMG_0591A new recycling method?
IMG_1767Well, this helps for those who lack Spanish and need to find the bathroom…quickly!
IMG_4563You want me to camp where???
IMG_1717Does this mean I can’t get my hair cut?
IMG_4777Could it be that the pizza wasn’t delivered hot?
IMG_0278Watch out for those swindlers!
IMG_5485And what do I do all the time in the “Land of the Not Quite Right?
Smile

 

Taking the Cultural Plunge


cookin class copy 2I started my blog to explain my passion for cultural immersion and to increase cultural sensitivity. As a teacher, I taught my students how to look beyond cultural borders enabling them to create authentic and effective relationships across cultural divides. In our rapidly transforming world, the skills needed to be compassionate citizens and knowledgeable leaders extend beyond imaginary borders. I want to affect a change, develop a sense of cultural competency, and open windows to the world. Simply, I want to share our experiences in looking at the world with eyes without borders.

I teach by modeling. We took the cultural plunge, but it hasn’t been without its pitfalls. Language, socioeconomic status, gender roles, and cultural norms sometimes temporarily halt us in our quest for understanding, but we keep plunging deeper to find solutions to problems we encounter with cultural differences.

The tools I use to affect and change cultural attitudes are compromise, modeling, focusing on our similarities, and most of all…finding humor in daily challenges. Sometimes, I feel like I’m trying to balance on a slack line (Cory’s latest fun activity). I wobble a lot trying to keep  my balance, and sometimes I fall off. But, I get right back up and try it again…and again…and again. All I need are a few reassuring and helping hands. That’s life, right?

I’ve learned not to compromise my values, though.  For example, when a producer for a popular TV show contacted me through my blog, I said that maybe we weren’t the right people for the show because, although I love the show, they place an emphasis on granite counter tops, crown moulding, coffee on the veranda overlooking the beach, and gated communities. We only agreed to the production if the film crew would spotlight the talented local people and we could be shown culturally immersed in our community. We wanted to give hope to the many retirees searching for an affordable place to retire abroad, while living on a small fixed income.  I think it’s going to be a ground breaker and I’m thrilled that we could be a part of the new wave of cultural immersion.

I’d like to offer my readers a challenge. Are you willing to take the cultural plunge? I’d like to start a monthly cultural plunge challenge.  My goals are to:

1. Challenge one to have direct contact with people who are culturally different from oneself in a real life setting.
2. Gain insights into characteristics and circumstances of a culturally different group
3. To experience what it is like to be very different from most of the people one is around
4. To gain insight into one’s values, cultural biases, and how they affect attitudes
5. To offer ways to affect change for cultural competency

It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’m sure if you are up for a challenge..it will be an eye opener to the possibilities of living in a world without borders. Stay tuned for more details on taking the cultural plunge.