Humans of Nicaragua: The Life and Times of Don Cabo


“Deep under our feet the Earth holds its molten breath, while the bones of countless generations watch us and wait.”
― Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies

We met Don Cabo 12 years ago when my ESL student, Francisco, invited us to his cousin’s sixth birthday party. We were in charge of making the birthday cake. At the time, we didn’t realize how immensely this large extended family would entrench themselves in our hearts, and especially Don Cabo, the patriarch of the family.

Here is the story I wrote about The Birthday Party in 2005.
DSCN0694Don Cabo is 83 years young and full of delightful stories. One of my favorite stories is about the bull horn in the photo above. I Wish For to Have Happy

 

Don Cabo started our interview with a short autobiography: Continue reading

Practicing Gratitude on Dia de los Muertos


“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

 

While children devoured the last of their Halloween candy, parents rationed and hid the mounds of treats, and frustrated teachers pulled their hair out with kids overdosed on sugar in their classrooms in the U.S., we were totally immersed in the cultural tradition of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on Ometepe Island.

For me, a little appreciation for family traditions goes a long way in Nicaragua. I am filled with gratitude to be a part of the custom of visiting the graves of loved ones, instead of experiencing a highly commercialized, sugar-overloaded, and hangover holiday of which I can find no altruistic reason to partake.

                 Practicing Gratitude on Dia de los Muertos

Gratitude strengthens relationships. Marina and her family have been our neighbors for over 10 years on Ometepe Island. At times, our relationship has been confusing and mysterious simply because our customs, language, and traditions are so different. Yet, we all count our blessings that we can share our lives together.
IMG_9453Marina sits on the grave of her husband, Don Jose, who died last October. She recalled sweet remembrances of their lives together raising five children. I believe that gratitude is about shifting one’s perceptions. No one has a perfect life. Marina and Don Jose struggled through poverty and sacrificed to provide for and to raise five strong, healthy, and good children. For this, I know she is very grateful.

IMG_9478We shared the benefits of gratitude today by appreciating what we have… as opposed to a consumer-driven emphasis on what we want.

IMG_9479One of the most powerful ways to raise grateful children is likely to be grateful adults. Raising grateful children means raising our own gratitude levels as well. Luvy, Marina’s daughter, is a perfect example of a grateful daughter.

IMG_9471We now have four friends buried in our local cemetery, two foreigners and two local Ometepinos. We visited their graves and gave thanks for their friendships.

IMG_9498At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. Albert Schweitzer

IMG_9463The cemetery was a hub of flowers, rakes, shovels, and families visiting their loved ones.

IMG_9500The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.
– WIlliam James

IMG_9491Families decorated the graves and tombs. Children played while the tinkling bell of the ice-cream vendor floated softly through the cemetery.

IMG_9465 Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. – Marcel Proust

IMG_9489He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. – Epictetus

IMG_9494Practicing gratitude opens the heart…even for a very small heart like Piglet’s.

IMG_9504Gratitude is an emotion of connectedness, which reminds us we are part of a larger universe with all living things.

IMG_9514As we left the cemetery on Dia de Los Muertos, our gratitude led us to feelings of love, appreciation, generosity, and compassion, which further opened our hearts to this lovely day. Now, time to eat pizza with our extended family in Nicaragua. 🙂

IMG_9515Dia de los Muertos…the day that helps us rewire our brains to fire in more positive and compassionate ways.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Family Through the Eyes of a Niña


The Weekly Photo Challenge asks us to capture an image of family. I lent my camera to Luvy when her mother returned to Ometepe Island for a short visit. Her mother worked in Costa Rica to support her family for most of Luvy’s young life. “Luvy, take some pictures of your family while your mother is visiting,” I said.

Family through the eyes of a niña…in her words with her photos.
“The night before my mother left for Costa Rica, we slept on the beach together. It was rico.”

DSCN0722“My mother is beautiful. She brings us many gifts from Costa Rica.”
DSCN0750“My brother, my nephew, and I sleep together. They like to wrestle and they wake me up.”
DSCN0751“We have one photo of my nephew, Oscar. He is proud of that photo.”
DSCN0718“Oscar doesn’t like to take a bath. He cries when I pour water over him. This is his favorite truck. I give it to him after I give him a bath and he is happier.
DSCN0621“My Papa is very old. I cook for him.”
DSCN0748“My brother, Julio, wants to be a veterinarian. He takes care of all the sick animals.”
DSCN0626“Julio is very silly. He was very tiny when he was born.” ( Luvy explained that Julio was like their smallest puppy in their latest litter…a runt.)
DSCN0760“He likes eggs. He is very good at finding the chicken eggs in the tall grass.”
DSCN0767“My big brother, Jose, is cool. He likes music, girls, and thinks a lot.”
DSCN0735” Here are my cousins. They live next door. We play together every day.”
DSCN0758“Congreja had puppies. She always has new puppies.”
DSCN0784“Julio took my picture. We don’t have a mirror in our house. I was showing him how to use your camera.”
DSCN0743

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.