Humans of Nicaragua: Ever Builds a New Community


“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage

On October 8, 2014 Ometepe Island, Nicaragua had heavy rains that caused rock and mudslides to slip off Concepcion Volcano and destroy the lovely indigenous community of Los Ramos. A five year-old girl was swept away in the strong current. Their homes were inundated with 2 ft. of mud and water supply lines were crushed by heavy boulders. There was no electricity, and their fields of plantains and beans were destroyed. They lost everything. My post Broken Lives.

My dear friend Ever Potoy was part of the destroyed community of Los Ramos. I have known Ever for about 10 years, yet it wasn’t until my son Cory and his friend Sam, worked with the community of Los Ramos to help them develop cultural tourism programs in 2012, that I really got to know Ever.  Here is my post about their work in Los Ramos: Tourism: Embrace the People, Not Just the Place.

Ever is 27 years old and an only child. He is the director of the Los Ramos Cultural Tourism programs and has a degree in English. Several generations of Potoys lived in Los Ramos, with his grandfather being one of the founders of the community many years ago.

Ever described his community as friendly, close, and hard-working. His mother was an elementary school teacher in Los Ramos. His father is a farmer and works in agriculture. He plants beans, rice, corn, wheat, plantains, and watermelons. His father inherited the land in Los Ramos from his father and continues to carry on the tradition of farming in this predominantly agricultural community.

More than 600 people lived in Los Ramos before the landslide. It was a good place to grow up because it was safe.

When Ever was young, his first job was to walk two kilometers to the lake to get water from the well, then haul it uphill to his house.

When I was young, I had to walk to get the water, but when I got older, I took a horse.

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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

Los Ramos Says Many Thanks!


The Help Los Ramos Rebuild donation website has been extremely successful. Thanks to YOUR support for this lovely indigenous community, you have given them hope and encouragement to rebuild their community of 125 families who were affected by the October 8th landslides on Ometepe Island.

 

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Goodie Bags for Los Ramos


It’s not often that one gets to see immediate results of their donations or knows that all of the money received goes directly to those who need it the most. For $800 we bought over 1,000 pounds of food for 125 families. That averages out to be $6 for each goodie bag.  Thanks, Kris, for figuring that one out for me. 🙂 No overhead costs, no administrative costs…all the money goes directly to these lovely families of Los Ramos.

On Saturday, Ron and I walked…and sometimes climbed, scooted, and tramped over boulders to get into Los Ramos to help distribute the food bags to each family. See my earlier post.

When we arrived, Ever’s family was busy scooping rice, pouring cooking oil into small plastic bags, and packing the bags for 125 families living in Los Ramos. Landslides destroyed their community.

"Say Pizza," I say as I snap a photo. "Pizza? Where's the pizza?" they all laugh.

“Say Pizza,” I say as I snap a photo. “Pizza? Where’s the pizza?” they all laugh.

Ever's uncle has the slippery job of scooping the cooking oil and pouring it into plastic bags.

Ever’s uncle has the slippery job of scooping the cooking oil and pouring it into plastic bags.

Ever's mother organizes all the bags, and says "Hello world. Thank you for everything."

Ever’s mother organizes all the bags, and says “Hello world. Thank you for everything.”

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Travel Theme: Broken Lives


“This planet is a broken bone that didn’t set right, a hundred pieces of crystal glued together. We’ve been shattered and reconstructed.” ~ Tahereh Mafi

Broken lives…125 families forced to reconstruct their lives from the devastating rock and mudslides on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua. Yesterday, Ron and I tramped over boulders and through mud to reach the Los Ramos community to deliver supplies to the families. Take a walk with us so you can see for yourselves Mother Nature’s powerful and destructive forces.

Supplies were delivered at the top of the hill. “So far, this doesn’t look too bad,” I said encouragingly to Ron.
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Keep reading. You can’t believe the destruction ahead.

A Lesson in Real Humility


“Life is a long lesson in humility.”
― J.M. Barrie

 

I was raised in the belief that one should always be humble, which I interpreted as being meek, never accepting a compliment, and certainly never acknowledging a gift or a talent one might have. But, this week, I learned that I have completely misunderstood this virtue.
Instead of an eyes cast down, submissive, weak, breast-beating virtue; I discovered within me an ability to take an honest appraisal of my abilities, and accept responsibility for the good and not-so-good things that I have done.

After the horrifying mud and rock slides that consumed the indigenous community of Los Ramos, I took a hard look at what I could do to help this community. What was I good at doing? What was I ridiculously silly at attempting to do?

I’m too old to be digging boulders out of their road. My Spanish isn’t good enough to go door to door and collect money for the community. I can’t drive a straight nail. Truth be told, I hate driving at all. I don’t have a green thumb. I’m embarrassingly clumsy.

Yet, all false modesty aside, I am a great organizer. I can write well, and my computer skills are excellent. I have a large network of family, friends, and bloggers all over the world. It dawned on me that I could confidently use these skills to help Los Ramos rebuild.
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Part Two: Natives With Netiquette


Globalization, as defined by rich people like us, is a very nice thing… you are talking about the Internet, you are talking about cell phones, you are talking about computers. This doesn’t affect two-thirds of the people of the world.
Jimmy Carter

Part Two in a series of travelers vs tourists. The first part was: Codes of Responsible Travelers. In this post, I explore the problems that arise with sustainable and cultural tourism through the eyes of the indigenous community of Los Ramos.

Ten years ago, we gave our cell phone to Francisco of the Los Ramos indigenous community because we were returning to the states. For generations, this community lacked any means of high-tech communication. Grandpa Cabo announced special events in the community with his ancient bull horn.  With my used cell phone and a tall tree, the people could now climb to the top of the tree to receive a stronger signal…and voila…they were connected to the world. Although, it worried Francisco when his grandmother became trapped in the tree and he had to rescue her…picture a cat in a tree meowing frantically… the cell phone signified a new beginning for this isolated community.

DSCN0694Years later, progress in Los Ramos advanced rapidly. With generous donations, they bought an electric transformer…yes, you have to buy your own transformers in Nicaragua…to run a pump from the well located two miles down a long, sloping, dusty path to the beach. Now, they had running water in Los Ramos. Their lives became a lot easier.

Getting water in Los RamosThis agricultural community continued planting and harvesting their frioles, plantains, and sesame seeds. However, they were losing their young people to Costa Rica and other more cosmopolitan places in Nicaragua. There were no jobs to keep this community intact. Something had to be done to help their young families bring in the hay.

Bringing in the hayEnter sustainable/cultural tourism in Los Ramos. With the help of many knowledgeable and professional tourism people…including my son, Cory, and his good friend Sam…they compiled lists of available resources in Los Ramos, developed 12 cultural tourism programs, created brochures and a website, and perfected their programs with ‘fake’ travelers. Zac, the Peace Corps volunteer, helped them create a budget and worked closely with the community to develop an accounting system.

Front page of BrochureWord spread quickly about the authentic cultural programs in Los Ramos. Los Ramos hired their local son, Ever, as their new tourism director. They have a well-organized system of accounting, preparing, and planning for their programs. Yet, cultural tourism isn’t without its pitfalls. This indigenous community has learned that there is a fine balance between providing authentic cultural experiences and maintaining, yet improving their lifestyles, culture, and traditions passed down through generations.

First, they have learned that marketing their programs requires computers, cell phones, and internet access. Grandma can’t climb that tree anymore to call the world. It’s a dichotomy of development… a clash of cultures. The world was suddenly at their fingertips, if they learned how to boot-up the computer.  They had to quickly become natives with netiquette to run their programs.

Second, they experienced language barriers. More travelers passing through their community, meant they needed someone who could speak some English. Fortunately, Ever has the skills to explain their programs, provide answers to questions, and help tourists limited to English only.

Third, more visitors = more money for the community. More money = more ‘conveniences’ for tourists, as well as their own families. Does providing authentic cultural experiences mean that they can’t buy microwaves, big refrigerators, open an internet café, start a smoothie bar, or buy a big flat-screened TV or iPhone? How do they balance authentic experiences with wanting to offer more comfort and ease for everyone involved in their lives? They are beginning to understand the dilemmas they face. Tourists seek authentic cultural experiences, then they complain about lacking a comfortable mattress, a hot shower, wi-fi, or ice cubes in their freshly squeezed orange juice. Where’s the balance?

Fourth, more money coming into the community always partners with jealousy and power. Host families have to offer safe, comfortable housing for their guests. When non-host families see the money coming into their neighbors’ host homes, they want to become host families, too. Yet, their only accommodations are the pig sty behind their house or the chicken coop. Then, little fights break out, feelings are hurt, and jealousies erupt like the active volcano looming at the top of their community.

Sustainable tourism, in my opinion, is a viable option for Los Ramos, especially considering the alternatives…high rise resorts, where the locals become the maids and gardeners…young men moving to Costa Rica to find jobs to support their families left behind…or cleaning houses in foreign gated communities. I have no doubts that this lovely community will be able to resolve these problems…poco a poco. They are resourceful, creative, and oh…the places they can go with a little help from their friends. This vivacious community of natives with netiquette are learning as they progress to…keep their traditions close to their hearts…proudly share their lifestyles with the world…and most importantly, love their neighbors.

Los Ramos Mi Casa es tu Casa website.
Trip Advisor Reviews

Women’s Soccer in Nicaragua


“Soccer isn’t the same as Bach or Buddhism. But it is often more deeply felt than religion, and just as much a part of the community’s fabric, a repository of traditions.”
― Franklin Foer, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization

Las Divinas de Los Ramos

Las Divinas de Los Ramos

This year, the indigenous community of Los Ramos on Ometepe Island started a women’s soccer team. Twenty-two young women ages 12-31 joined Las Divinas. And, oh how divine this team is! Their lack of uniforms, soccer shoes, and proper equipment didn’t hold them back. They ran in bare feet and practiced with a homemade goal constructed with a large PVC pipe, while onlookers held their babies and cheered for this determined group of women.

Sports, in general, are great motivators to help people around the world to connect with one another and become united. The community of Los Ramos recognizes the potential for soccer to help improve their young women’s lives through fostering teamwork, teaching the importance of hard work, dedication, and cooperation with others. They believe that the humble beginnings of The Divine Women’s Soccer team can effect positive social change in their community, as well as play an important role in the fight for gender equality in Nicaragua.

I would like to help this team buy uniforms and equipment for their next soccer season. With your donations, we can help them fulfill their dreams of a brighter and divine future for women in the Los Ramos community.  They have compiled a list of needed items, the costs, and where they will buy their uniforms. Any extra money received, once the goal is met, will go to purchase soccer balls, nets, and other equipment these deserving young women will need.

Here is the YouCaring donation page: The Divine Women’s Soccer Team

All donations will go directly to The Divine Women’s Soccer team. I’ll be sure to update you with pictures, team scores, and profiles of some of the women that you have supported. Thank you so much in advance for your generosity.

A little information about Nicaraguans and the internet:
The soccer coach visited my home several times, and gave me a carefully compiled list of what they need, the costs, and the places where they will buy the soccer uniforms and equipment. He also compiled a list of all the women, their ages, and showed me all of their identification cards. Then he said, “Can you put this on the internet for us?” I silently chucked to myself because they don’t understand how the internet works. It’s a mysterious miracle to them. In exchange for a bag of beans, two watermelons, and lots of hugs and thank yous, I said, “I will be glad to put your soccer team on the internet for you.”

Women’s Soccer Exchange
Our Women’s Soccer Team
Soccer Without Borders in Nicaragua

Faces of Los Ramos


Family faces are magic mirrors looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present, and future Gail Lumet Buckley

 

Faces in the community of Los Ramos. Thanks to Santiago and Ever for the photos.

 

“Masks beneath masks until suddenly the bare bloodless skull.” ― Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses
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“His dress told her nothing, but his face told her things which she was glad to know.”
― A.A. Milne, Once on a Time

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“For a moment at least, be a smile on someone else’s face.”
― Dejan Stojanovic, The Sun Watches the Sun
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“Age should not have its face lifted, but it should rather teach the world to admire wrinkles as the etchings of experience and the firm line of character.” ― Clarence Day
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Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow. ~Helen Keller
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When I look at the smiles on all the children’s faces, I just know they’re about to jab me with something. Dan Castellaneta
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“Every child needs a champion.” ― Hillary Rodham Clinton
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