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.

We’re Official!

Our residency cards

After a year of frustration, gathering documents, and bureaucratic nightmares in the USA, we are finally legal residents of Nicaragua. We went to the Office of Immigration in Managua on Monday and picked up our cedulas.

Actually, the process was easier in Nicaragua, than in the USA. Once we submitted all of the paperwork, it was only a matter of waiting, waiting, and more waiting. We paid 5,900 codobas each for our cedulas at one window, had our pictures taken in another small cubicle, and they delivered our cedulas to another window.

Our cedulas are good for five years. By the time we are ready to renew, they will probably change the rules again. Was it worth the hassles? For us, yes because we own property in Nicaragua. It gives us a little more security and just makes the process of living in Nicaragua a little easier. We are no longer perpetual tourists. :-)

We’re Almost There!

                   The Office of Immigration in Managua

After living in Nicaragua for a year, our friend Bill would often say, “You’re almost there.”  “Where?” we would ask. “Wherever you want to be,” he would respond. Since beginning our quest for residency in Nicaragua, Bill’s zen like comment is ringing true. We’re almost there. Residency in Nicaragua is almost complete.

We went to Managua today to visit the Immigration Office. Everything was stamped and approved for our pensionado visas. It was only a matter of waiting for them to issue our cedulas. (Nicaraguan IDs)  We were warned that immigration would probably follow procedures and issue us receipts for our cedulas, instead of the real IDs. What that means is that we would have to return in 3-8 weeks to pick up our cedulas.

However, there was always a chance that we would be issued our cedulas. Nicaragua is in a constant state of flux..rules change daily. Without expectations, we waited in a long, hot line to talk with the immigration officer. He issued us the receipts and told us to come back in July for our cedulas. There was no point in arguing; we knew to expect a long wait and several trips to Managua.

                       Our little paper receipts for our residency.

These little slips of paper with the red stamps are important. Now that we have the receipts, time stops. We no longer have to cross borders every ninety days, and we can open a bank account in Nicaragua. I’m sure there are other advantages to having the receipt, but for us, the biggest advantage is that we are now legal residents of Nicaragua. It simplifies life in Nicaragua when we have official residency and all those little stamps. Nicaraguans love stamps!

I’m on my way to the states for two weeks. The next time I fly out of Nicaragua, I’ll have my cedula and things will change again. First, I won’t be hassled about not having a round trip ticket back to the states. In January, I flew on a round trip ticket from Managua to Miami. At the ticket counter on my return flight, they weren’t going to let me board the plane because I didn’t have a ticket back to the states. No matter how much I tried to explain to them that this was the second leg of my ticket and I lived in Nicaragua…they kept asking to see my Nicaraguan residency card. I pulled out the stacks of documents I had and explained that the reason I came to the states in the first place was to gather all the documents for Nicaraguan residency. That seemed to help and I was released after a chain of phone calls and allowed to board the plane.

When I have my cedula, I’ll have to pay $10 to leave Nicaragua, but I won’t be charged $10 to enter Nicaragua. My border crossing days are over. I am relieved, excited, and proud that we have been persistent and tackled the bureaucratic nightmare of paperwork and golden stamps. Life is good, retirement is better, residency in Nicaragua is priceless.

Crossing Borders

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I’m tired of being a perpetual tourist! Without residency, we must renew our visas every 90 days, which means crisscrossing imaginary lines, waiting patiently in long lines (only to have people shove in front of us because they bribed an official), and providing a fake round trip airline ticket to prove that we will not stay in Costa Rica forever. We have no intentions of staying in Costa Rica forever. First, it is expensive! Prices for everything are comparable to the states. Second, in my humble opinion, the Ticos are so accustomed to rude tourists, that they return the rudeness in triplicate.

Our days of crossing borders are almost over. At least I think so. But, one never knows in Nicaragua. The rules change daily. The Immigration official visited our house last Monday to check our documents for residency. Until our residency is approved, we cross borders and zigzag across imaginary lines, where passports are stamped, bribes are received, and AK 47s are prevalent.

We’ve crossed many borders in our travels. They are all the same in my eyes…dirty places filled with annoying beggars with a screw you attitude and victim mentality. Any type of help requires a hefty fee. I was accosted by teenagers shoving the immigration form in my face as soon as we entered the arena, like a scene out of the “Hunger Games.” When I politely declined, (because the forms are free at the custom window), I was called “pinche” (cheap), which if you know me, I consider a great insult!

Clenching my passport tightly, we prepared for the next onslaught at the Nicaraguan custom window. I smiled politely, filled out my form, and as I slipped it through the plexiglass slot, I felt someone tugging at my sleeve. “Dame moonie,” an old woman  demanded. (Give me money) I tried to ignore her, but she persisted in tugging at my sleeve. When I turned around and gave her the finger wag for “NO”, she indignantly stomped away.

I detest the begging mentality! Bluffing and smirking have become forms of pressure exerted by beggars at every border, bus stop, and crossroad throughout the world. I swear they take classes in begging techniques, trying to outdo one another. Women approach benevolent looking people by exploiting the looks of innocent children under the age of five, toothless old men with tattered clothes hobble around on one wooden crutch, and insolent teenagers offer to guide fearful looking tourists through the maze of border crossings.

We avoided eye contact, pretended we didn’t understand Spanish, and walked rapidly through the maze of beggars, officials with AK 47s, and travel weary tourists to the Costa Rican border. The heat of the day engulfed us. We were drenched in sweat. I wondered how the hoards of backpackers lugging surf boards and 50 lb packs survived the long walk to the Costa Rican border. I wondered what that horrible stuff was they were spraying on the trucks as they passed through a large truck wash contraption. I was nauseated from the fumes of the spray.  How do older tourists ( like us), lug large suitcases almost a quarter of a mile to the border? My flip-flop blew out and I got a cramp in my toe that caused excruciating pain. I was dehydrated. I’d make a fine beggar at this point in my border crossing experience!

We were stopped several times at passport checks and offered same day entrance and exit stamps for a sum of $25. We graciously declined because we like going to Liberia, CR for an evening of air-conditioned luxury. We knew, after countless border crossings, that the rule is 72 hours before returning to Nicaragua. We also knew, after countless border crossings, that rules are made to be broken for a price.

At the Costa Rica custom’s office, we waited impatiently in another long line. I knew from previous experience that the custom officials in Costa Rica may ask to see a round-trip ticket either back to Nicaragua or back to the country of origin. Since most tourists don’t carry their return tickets with them, it’s another way for custom officials to collect money, since they don’t charge an entrance or exit fee in Costa Rica. The guy in front of us didn’t have a return ticket, so he had to go outside and buy a fake TICA bus ticket for $25 that he probably could never use.

I was prepared with my fake airline ticket. I just copied and pasted an old airline reservation into a Word document, changed the dates, and printed the reservation form. The custom’s agent asked to see our return ticket. I proudly handed her our fake ticket, our passports were stamped and we were on our merry way to Liberia, home of our favorite restaurant, a McDonald’s mocha frappe, and air-conditioned luxury.

Expect the unexpected! In Liberia, our favorite hotel was full, our favorite restaurant closed about a month ago, and McDonald’s stopped selling mocha frappes. We ended up paying $70 for a hotel with a pool and air-conditioning. It was a disappointing trip. My only purchase was a new pair of flip-flops at a huge dollar store because all prices were comparable to the states, maybe even a little more expensive. A bottle of Herbal Essence shampoo cost $6. I used the bar of hand soap in the hotel to wash my hair. I felt like Ayala, of the “Clan of the Cave Bears.”

The reason that you are not seeing a slideshow of the border crossing is because I was afraid to take pictures. Once in the Tokyo International Airport, I whipped out my camera while standing in the custom’s line and was reprimanded by a Japanese police officer. I can’t imagine what would have happened at the Nica/CR border. I suspect they wouldn’t be as polite. Not wanting to end up in prison or have my camera confiscated, I only took pictures of the bus ride back from Liberia.

At the 6 KM marker, long lines of trucks were parked and waiting to cross the border. Truck drivers were napping in hammocks strung under their trucks, barbecuing, and peeing along the side of the road. I heard that they wait days to cross the border with their trucks. Don’t they run out of gas? We passed many air-conditioned trucks that needed to keep their produce cool. How do they stand it? It must have been over 100 degrees in the shade. They wait days?

Finally, an hour and a half later, we reached the border and did everything again, only in reverse order. I hope our days are numbered for the border crossing. I’m getting too old for this! But, then again, you never know..rules change daily…people continue to cross imaginary lines…bribes are received…and beggars accost benevolent looking tourists standing in long, tiring lines. It’s what makes the world go round..and round…and round. Sometimes, I think many of our problems could be avoided if we lived in a borderless world! Don’t you agree?

Part Three: One Step Closer

The Nicaraguan Consulate in Miami

If you research the location of the Nicaraguan Consulate office in Miami, you get three addresses and dozens of phone numbers. None of the phone numbers work, so it’s a crap shoot as to which address will lead you to the office. Tomas, the owner of the Miami Guest House, graciously offered to drive us to the Nicaraguan Consulate. The first address was non-existent, the second address led us to an empty room. Fortunately, we hit the jackpot with the third address. Located in a section of Miami called Little Havana, a string of waving Nicaraguan flags welcomed us to the pink and blue Consular’s office.

We felt as if we were back in Nicaragua. Long lines of people, a waiting room full of crying babies, a couple of people grilling chicken outside the office doors, posters of Granada and Ometepe Island, and one overworked receptionist greeted us. “Proximo,” the receptionist repeated. (Next) After a half-hour wait, we presented our papers and were told to take them next door to copy the packet. We returned to another long line and a half-hour later we submitted our packets, paid $50 in cash only, and were told to return between 1 and 3 pm to pick up our packet.

Starving, we searched the streets of Little Havana, hoping to find a good Cuban restaurant. Tomas told us that the area was called Little Havana, but we wouldn’t find any Cubans in Little Havana. Apparently they all lived in another neighborhood. He was right. We ended up in a funky Chinese restaurant where the menu was in Spanish and Chop Suey came with a tortilla, rice and red beans.

Wandering the streets on two hours of sleep, with bellies full of Spanish Chop Suey, we decided to return to the Nicaraguan Consulate and wait for the authentication of our documents. Two hours later, the receptionist wagged her finger for us to come to her desk. “They should be finished with your papers,” she said. “Let me see if I can find them.” She must have felt sorry for us because I’m sure we looked frazzled and stressed.

The authentication stamp

Our packet of documents was authenticated. We both looked at each other in amazement. “This was too easy”, we said simultaneously. I suspect that all we had to do was to take our original documents next door to have them notarized, certified, and then copied. Florida does understand Latin logic! After three long, frustrating months our documents are authenticated and we can return to Nicaragua for the next step in getting our pensionado visas.

We fly back to Nicaragua tomorrow. I am so ready to return home. Like Paul Harvey used to say….” and that’s the rest of the story.”


Part Two: The Quest for the Golden Ticket

The Gold Seal

Monday morning…frantic.. tracking our UPS delivery like a deer hunter… breathing deeply….chewing fingernails ragged….trying to stay positive….exploring options in case the Golden Ticket is delayed…too much coffee…unbearable waiting…waiting….waiting….

After three months in pursuit of a state seal certifying the notary, our quest is over. Below are things NOT to do in search of a gold seal to legalize documents for abroad.

1. Do not copy and notarize your birth certificates. That is illegal in most states. Instead, request at least four certified long form birth certificates for each person.

2. Do not send more than one notarized document to the office of the state’s apostille and certification department. Remember, you only need one certification letter from the secretary of state. If you send them all of your notarized documents, they will be REJECTED. Instead, send one notarized document, preferably the doctor’s statement of good health because it is not a legal document like a police report, an income verification form, or a marriage license.

3. Do not assume that the notary knows the correct way to notarize a document that you will send to the state office of apostilles and certification department. The first doctor’s report we sent to the state department was rejected because the notary did not use the correct notary form required by the State Department of Florida. We spent $44 just in postage fees to overnight the document two times, once for the notarized copy, then again for the redo of the notary’s mistake. Fortunately, we could call the notary into the office because he had started his vacation and was flying to Oregon later in the day. If we would not have been able to find our original notary, we would have had to redo all the documents with a different notary because all the documents need to have the SAME notary.

4. Do not assume that when you pay $20 extra dollars for UPS Saturday delivery, that you will receive your package on Saturday. My mother lives in a gated community in Florida. The Saturday UPS delivery guy didn’t know the gate code, so he didn’t deliver the package on Saturday.

5. Do not forget to ask for the UPS delivery tracking number. We used a courier service that is only open on weekdays. They called us last Friday to tell us that our redo document was at the State Department and they requested a $20 fee for Saturday delivery. We never thought to ask for the tracking number. When it wasn’t delivered on Saturday, we could have saved ourselves much grief if we would have had the tracking number.

We are on our way to Miami early tomorrow morning to hand deliver the certified documents to the Nicaraguan Consulate of Miami. They will check our documents, check the certification from the Secretary of Florida, and authenticate our documents. Then, we can fly back to Nicaragua for the next step in the process.  I am hopeful that the most challenging part of the process for residency in Nicaragua is over. Surely the bureaucracy in Nicaragua won’t be as profoundly confusing as in the states. But, then again…you never know. Stay tuned for Part Three.

Ometepe Six Years Ago

Ometepe  Click on the link to open the Powerpoint presentation.

When we left Ometepe Island in 2005, we helped our friend and Spanish teacher get a visa to visit the United States with us. It was no easy task. The Nicaraguans have to apply for a visa. First, they apply for an application and pay $100 for an opportunity to talk with an immigration officer of the US Embassy. The $100 fee is non-refundable. That means if they are denied a visa, then they lose their money and have to reapply at a later date….of course paying another $100 fee.   But, wait there’s more