The Case of the Dangling Tennis Shoes

Nick Wiebe/Wikipedia

Traveling through Urbite, on Ometepe Island, I noticed a string of tennis shoes dangling from the electric lines. Were they a sign from a gang of thugs marking their territory like dogs defending their boundaries? Were they a warning for low-flying aircraft or UFO’s? Were they slung by bullies taunting defenseless kids? Francisco, who lives in Urbite, believes they were thrown over the electric lines by naughty little kids seeking attention.

All over the world, people encounter tennis shoes dangling from electric lines. Theories abound about what the dangling tennis shoes signify. No one knows for sure. But, I have a new theory. It hit me like a zap of electricity when our wires were crossed by a large wind gust.

Last week, our electricity suddenly blinked off. Now, this isn’t anything to get excited about in Nicaragua because it happens daily. However, when Marina shouted across the barbed wire fence that our electric lines were tangled together and we were the only two houses that lost our electricity, we had to find a creative solution to untangle the wires temporarily.

With each gust of wind, sparks flew throughout our entire community. Neighbors were frantically pulling the plugs to refrigerators, irons, and electronics. Danellia called the electric company, but they were in Masaya ( on the mainland), so there was no telling how long we would be without electricity.

Suddenly, it dawned on me that an easy way to untangle the two electric lines was to place a weight on the bottom line so they could separate easily. A vision appeared of the dangling tennis shoes in Urbite. Quickly, I grabbed my tennis shoes, tied them together and handed them to Ron. “Here!” I ordered. “Throw my tennis shoes over the bottom wire and the weight will separate the lines until the electric company gets here.”

“You want me to do what?” Ron responded with a puzzled look. “You will sacrifice a $90 pair of tennis shoes?” “Anything for electricity,” I replied frantic with worry. “It could be days before the electric company comes to repair the lines.” “This is Nicaragua,” I stated matter-of-factually. “We have to take control of our own lives.”

Although, the thought of dangling tennis shoes separating the electric lines was good, we couldn’t figure out how to throw the shoes over the wire without causing more problems. Ron’s aim had to be perfect, and there was no guarantee that the shoes would land in the correct spot on the line.

Instead, Ron rigged a long plastic PVC pipe with the plastic hook off of our new garden hose, and carried it up the path to the tangled wires. After several wobbly attempts, he hooked the bottom wire, separating it from the top wire, pulled the wire tight, and tied the PVC pipe to a coconut tree. Voila! Electricity!

The electric company arrived at 4 pm. This simple act astounded me! Same day service? Unheard of in Nicaragua! Unfortunately, the man who carried the ladder to the pole was attacked by Marina’s dog. He threw a large coconut at Tyler. It hit him in the shoulder and he yipped in pain. Marina got into a shouting match with the worker and said she was going to call the police. “There are laws, you know, about hurting dogs,” she shouted to the angry worker. I’ve never seen her so mad!

Well, this would never do! I had to come up with a plan to sweet talk the electric workers…and quick. I wanted to keep them on our side. You see, two weeks earlier  Arsenio arrived on his bicycle to shut off our electricity. We hadn’t paid our bill since the new meter was installed in February. “But, Arsenio, we never received a bill,” I reasoned. “Yes,” he responded with his Latin logic, “that’s because the fat guy on the bicycle quit and stopped delivering the bills.” “But, it’s not our fault,” I pleaded.

After a little sweet talk, he said that if Ron would pay the bill immediately, and return with the receipt, he wouldn’t cut off our electricity. While Ron rushed into town, I gave Arsenio an English lesson on our porch. Twenty minutes later, Ron handed Arsenio the receipt, and all was well in the world of Latin logic.

Out of the three workers who were there to untangle the wires, Arsenio was the most upset with Marina. What could I do? We didn’t have any cash on hand…we used all of it to pay our electric bill two weeks earlier. I ran back to the house and grabbed several packets of Chiky favorite. “I’m sorry about the neighbor’s dog attacking you,” I said. “I really appreciate you responding to our electric problem rapidly.” I handed each of them a packet of cookies and said that I was sorry I didn’t have more to offer for their help.

Henry, one of the workers, turned to me with a big smile and said, “The cookies are small, but your heart is big.” Problem solved. Electricity restored. Everyone, except Marina, appeared to be happy.

So, the next time you see tennis shoes dangling from electric wires, they may have been placed there to restore electricity from crossed wires…well at least in Nicaragua. Case solved.


No Hay Luz

We ordered a new electric meter over one year ago. Our meter stopped working over six years ago. Finally, last month the electric company replaced our meter.

The new meter was installed on our tree trunk by the beach, and we anxiously watched the meter numbers turn,  hoping that we didn’t receive a “gringo” meter. That means that the meter spins faster than the amount of electricity we are using.


For several weeks, the wind has howled and we have lost our electricity. “Hay luz?” I shout to our neighbors. “Si, hay luz,” they respond. That means something is amiss on our line.

Two houses away, we spotted the problem. When the electric company installed our new meter, the only way they knew to stop the power was to cut our line. Apparently, they forgot to wrap the wire tightly around the line, because it was dangling precariously by a few threads. Every time the wind blew, Ron tramped up the road with our long fruit stick and jiggled the wire. “Hay luz?” he shouted. “Si, hay luz,” I yelled back.

Well, after a dozen times tramping down the road to jiggle the wire with our long fruit stick, we decided it was time to take action. Cory and Sam carried our heavy handmade ladder to the neighbor’s house, and Ron was going to fix the damn thing by himself.We knew it was senseless to call the electric company because first, you have to go to Altagracia (over an hour away) to put in a work order. Then, you have to wait, maybe a year, for the problem to be fixed.

As they squeezed under the barbed wire fence, a local guy, repairing another neighbor’s barbed wire fence, asked what we were doing. “We’re going to fix the wire for our electricity,” Ron responded. “Have you ever done anything like that before?” he asked suspiciously. “No, never,” we said.

We must have looked like novices. Before we could put the ladder on the pole, he offered to fix it for us. “Isn’t it dangerous?” I asked. “No, I’ve done this many times,” he laughed.

You are probably wondering about the electrical system in Nicaragua. Honestly, I wonder about it, too. Lines are thrown over the main lines haphazardly. Between the wind and the rain, lines are always breaking. The self-sufficient Nicaraguans shinny up the poles, like they are picking coconuts, and fix the wires with ease.

Five minutes later, with my nails bitten to the quick,  our wire was secured tightly to the main line. “Do you want 220, too?” he asked nonchalantly like a server at McDonalds would ask, “Do you want fries with that?”   The bottom line delivered the 220 volts, and he was kind enough to offer us a 220 line while he was dangling off our homemade ladder. “No thanks,” Ron said. “We have to buy more wire for that.”

We live in a crazy world..a world where you have to fix your own electric lines and pay for your own transformer. I was so grateful that he offered to light up our lives once again. We paid him 200 cords, about $8 for his work. He must have thought he had died and gone to heaven. The average pay is 70 cents an hour. For 5 minutes of his time and effort, he received a wage for two days of work and we received the gift of steady electricity.

On a side note, we’re exploring solar panels. Electricity is expensive and sporadic in Nicaragua. When it rains, no hay luz. A little wind, no hay luz. Sometimes, I swear they ration electricity, too. If you have any information on solar panels, where to buy in Nicaragua, cost, type, etc. please send me more info.

Sometimes Paradise is Hell: An Oxymoron Story

This day is really bugging me!

“Well, this is a fine mess,” I shouted while sweeping an accurate estimate of a bazillion dead insects out of my house this morning. There was a hatch last night, sprinkling gargantuan lilliputian mounds like a quiet hurricane, blanketing my priceless junk with a fine dusting of carcasses.

“Good grief,” I muttered,” I have too much to do today.” It was 6 am and almost safe enough to run my washing machine. So, after a big sip of coffee, I unplugged all the electrical appliances from their outlets, and took a calculated risk that there would be enough amperage to run the washing machine. All loaded and ready to go….the electricity cut off exactly at 7 am. Clearly confused, I kept pressing the “on” button…nada. My initial conclusion was that I had done something wrong and blown a fuse.

“Hay luz a su casa?” I yelled over the fence to my neighbors. “No hay luz,” my abundantly poor neighbors replied. “Hmmm…not a good sign,” I thought to myself. The unanticipated electrical outage would probably last all day. So, I unloaded the clothes and prepared to wash them by hand in the kitchen sink.

An hour later, hanging in the clean air, my white socks looked better than new. Suddenly, the cheap clothesline snapped and all my freshly washed clothes took a crash landing in the dirt. “Holy hell,” I cursed with my best profanity. “This is not domestically blissful day.”

Another hour passed, although this is not an exact estimate because the battery died on my watch. Finally again, my clean clothes were swaying  on a rope strong enough to hold 20 acrophobic rock climbers. This day was quickly going nowhere.

Wearing long shorts and a long-sleeved t-shirt, with a garlic bulb in each pocket, and tons of Deet, I was prepared to have some serious fun with my rake. The garlic bulb was an unspoken suggestion from my neighbor to be used as a weapon of peace for the insects that have unmercifully attacked the trunk of my body. It was a just war in retaliation for the hundreds of bites that were now turning an awfully pretty purple, black, blue, and brown on the front of my back. Marina was among the first to take a peek at my back. In an almost surprised voice she gasped, “Fea…fea.” (Ugly..ugly)

I consider myself a brave wimp. Living on a tropical island, in the middle of a huge lake, in the middle of Nicaragua I was prepared for an active retirement, but my life has become one big oxymoron after another. Almost done with the raking, I spotted the lake water creeping to our gate. In 30 minutes, it had risen over 3 ft. Soon our beach would be gone. “Damn,” I muttered all alone. “No,” I thought, “dam.” I apathetically urged Ron to help me build a temporary dam that would hold back the lake…at least for the day. In the bright rain, we piled bricks near the gate wishing for a miracle.

As bad luck would have it, my clothes were still hanging on the fortified clothes line. No one said there was a hundred percent chance of rain. I was wishing for a quick reboot to this perfectly horrible day.

Covered in dirt, I looked like a recycling dump. I came to a rolling stop in the bathroom when I was headed for the shower. The toilet had overflowed…again. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the rustic elegance of our place, but, it was starting to resemble a sanitary landfill.

Half naked, I jumped in the shower. There was new trouble in paradise. “Hay agua?” I shouted to our neighbors. “No hay agua,” they shouted back. No water…only the sound of silence.

With authoritarian anarchy, I ran to the lake, which was now a foot from our gate, and jumped in the water. I swam with a somewhat balanced insanity trying to wash the day away.

The electric and water finally came back on. The workers were cutting the limbs away from the electric lines today. In their fuzzy Latin logic, it is easier to turn off the electricity to the entire community. I feel like a big baby, but sometimes life in paradise is hell. Today was a day of controlled chaos with many lessons in crisis management. I’m dreaming of high ground tonight and holistic healing for my bites. Hopelessly optimistic, tomorrow will be a better day. 🙂