Pondering Progress in Nicaragua

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Economic growth is one of the main factors in determining the progress of a country and its potential to satisfy the wants of individuals in their society. I am convinced Nicaragua has made significant progress in utilizing their abundance of natural resources to produce more efficient wind and solar energy. Technological development has played a role in Nicaragua to connect the population to the outside world through fiber optic internet cables. Ometepe Island public parks now have free wi-fi access due to a fiber optic cable strung under the lake from the mainland.

Yet, I wonder if all progress and advancements I see in Nicaragua truly benefit the majority of the people living below the poverty line. Are we adding to the abundance of the minority of Nicaraguans who have so much, and are we providing enough to the majority who have so little?

Last week I traveled to Managua for my regular check-up with my eye doctor. Arriving at the port in San Jorge, I noticed a new ferry, a desperately needed ferry because many people on Ometepe Island must travel to the mainland daily for work. This progress benefits everyone. And I have seen much growth in transportation with new airports, shuttles, taxis, and lots of cute tuk tuks that buzz around newly constructed roads like little mosquitoes.
The San Jorge port had a magnificent facelift. Restaurants, vendors, hotels, and major work on the sea walls benefits everyone, too.
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The Decay of Dignity

          “Life is not a matter of place, things or comfort; rather, it concerns the basic human rights of family, country, justice and human dignity.~Imelda Marcos

 I’ve been musing about the decay of human dignity in the United States. I can’t open a website or newspaper without reading about the lack of respect given to President Obama, the life and death of Eric Garner, and other enraged incidents that demonstrate the decay of human dignity in the United States.

However, the decline of human dignity is not isolated to the United States. It’s like a cancer spreading worldwide, eating away at the crumbling foundation of respect for our human race.

When I opened my Facebook page on Black Friday, I saw this post from Lucha Libro Bookstore in Granada, Nicaragua.

homeless boy copy

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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.

Expat Speed Bumps

“We could do it, you know.”
“Leave the district. Run off. Live in the woods. You and I, we could make it.”
― Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

Yesterday, we walked to Moyogalpa instead of taking our motorcycle. “Where’s your moto?” many people asked. “We need the exercise,” I lied. There is no way I’ll admit that I am afraid to get on the moto after taking another spill. Wait! Did I just say that I hit a speed bump in our expat life on la isla?


More expat speed bumps. Keep reading!

What Does Your Looking-Glass Reflect?

“The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice.”
― William Makepeace Thackeray

IMG_0634I have often wondered why mirrors are a prized possession of the poor in Latin America. We all have mirrors, but in Nicaragua mirrors are a luxury. They are very expensive and there are many mirror salesman that travel the dusty, cow manured roads in search of buyers for their precious portals. My neighbor has a large, faux gold framed mirror in her living space. It hangs high on a dilapidated wall, the only shining adornment in her dirt-floored shack… if you don’t count the picture of Jesus beside the TV, which is wobbling against the cement block wall.

In the Mesoamerican culture, mirrors were used as a portal to another realm. I imagine them gazing into this mysterious portal, unable to interact, yet performing time-worn rituals to call forth the gods of love, health, and riches. This venerable tradition evolved from their early beliefs that the smooth surface of water could be used as a potent tool for divination, seeing the unknown, portals to the sacred caves, conduits of the supernatural forces, and as synonyms for the power of the sun. Before mirrors, bowls of water were used to examine the reflections of sick children. If the child’s reflection was dark then his soul, or tonalli in Nahuatl, had escaped from his body. I wonder, were the ancient ones frustrated because they couldn’t enter nirvana…constantly chanting “Beam me up, Scotty?” Or, were they satisfied in the powers of divination only with the ability to see the unknown?

This novelty of reflection continues in my little community. Peering into the mirror, the children let out a burst of giggling glee. They have the same reaction when I show them the digital photos I’ve taken. Then, I begin to realize that for people who have next to nothing, a mirror is an unattainable luxury. I am dumbstruck. It is hard for me to imagine a world where self-reflection is an unattainable luxury.

IMG_0651 But, mirrors, as well as digital photography, can change that. They enable the poor to see the world through different eyes. I experience a moment of pure bliss in watching the children look at their reflections in the mirror and on my camera. They laugh at it and with it, considering it to be a kind of jolly companion. Pity and sympathy for their impoverished lifestyles vanish with the revelation that they are truly happy. This family chose to look at the world with optimism and joy. The world is their looking-glass, and gives back to them the reflections of their triumphant faces. This simple moment changed my perspective of poverty. Their looking-glass reflects hope for this troubled world in which we live. 

                                     What does your looking-glass reflect?


Fishing: A Perpetual Series of Occasions for Hope

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The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.
John Buchan

Early this morning, at the crack of dawn, two brothers borrowed our kayak and paddled offshore to place their net below the shallow waters of Lake Cocibolca. Within five minutes, they hauled up a huge fish, similar to a Sea Bass. It is the chicken of the sweet sea, a type of Guapote, with enough meat to feed a large family.

Fishing on Lake Cocibolca is not a sport: fishing sustains life here. Julio and Jose are among the many young men on the island in pursuit of what is elusive, but attainable. Fishing is hope…hope that they can feed their families…hope that they can haul in a big catch…hope that they can make life a little better for their families.

Fishing gives them daily opportunities to pursue what is attainable, because there are many things that are out of reach for the poor in Nicaragua…a college education…a secure job…quality health care..comfortable housing….to name a few.

Yet, because their needs are simple, they have no hopes and dreams for the unattainable. They happily fish through life with a sense of realism that astounds me. They are satisfied with what they have,and live without expectations for the unreachable. Therefore, they have few disappointments in life. A great day is one big, fat Guapote, or a net full of smaller, bony fish.

I wonder about this simple philosophy of life. Is it better to have a perpetual series of occasions for hope, than hope for that which is unlikely to occur? I think of the times I bought lottery tickets hoping that I would win the Powerball. Even winning a dollar on a lottery ticket was a disappointment to me. I was hoping for the unattainable.Now, it seems like such a waste of energy and worry.

What I have learned from watching Jose and Julio fish in the calm waters of our sweet sea, is that hope and reality are brothers in life. It’s like taking baby steps…one little step at a time…leading to the big catch. It involves taking a realistic view of one’s life, pursuing those elusive, but attainable Guapote, and having a perpetual series of occasions for hope.

I’m not Poor…I Have a Washing Machine

My new lavadora

The other night, Jon Stewart did a segment on the conservatives’ contradictory views about the rich and poor when it comes to deciding how to lower the deficit. Fox News reported their break down of what constitutes “Poor.” According to their break down, “If you have a refrigerator, you probably don’t need any financial assistance.” The Poor’s Free Ride is Over.

I wouldn’t have found that statement so absurd if they were discussing Nicaragua because it’s true…only the rich have refrigerators. Living in La Paloma, surrounded by poverty, I constantly think about what constitutes “Poor.”  Ron and I are by no means rich, yet, to our neighbors who live in a little one room shack with a dirt floor, we are wealthy beyond their wildest imagination.

It’s all relative, but try to explain that to our neighbors when we came home three days ago with a new motorcycle and a washing machine. I tried to explain to Marina that Ron sold his Harley Davidson in the states and that’s how we could afford to buy a new motorcycle and a washing machine. Of course, the first question all Nicaraguan’s ask is, “How much did you pay for that?”  Our automatic response is always, “It was on sale, so we got a good deal.”

Marina’s family has joined the ranks of the rich, now. We did get a good deal because not only did we buy a washing machine and a motorcycle, we bought a small refrigerator for Marina’s family at the same store. We are learning the art of bargaining! They practically threw it in for free when they saw us with cash-on-hand for the total purchase. Credit and small monthly payments are king in Nicaragua. Credit cards are an unheard of luxury! La Curaçao clerks said we are their best customers. It’s no wonder because it is practically the only place on the island where we can use our credit card.

Marina loves to cook and we thought that if she had a way to refrigerate food, she could cater to the workers building the new airport down our road. Now that I have a washing machine, Marina needs a new job. The refrigerator is a small one, so it won’t use much electricity.That is when we have electricity! Lately, Disnorte-Dissur, the distributors of our electricity have been in a rationing mode. Like clock-work, we lose power from 6 pm to 8 pm every night.

Our refrigerator is full of food that Marina brings over to our house almost hourly! She trimmed Ron’s mustache and cut his nose hairs yesterday. I am grateful for my new washing machine, and Marina is grateful for her new refrigerator. Things are looking up in our little community of La Paloma.

Ahh...the first load of clothes from our new washing machine.

Hanging my first load of freshly washed clothes on our clothesline, it dawned on me how to fix the debt crisis dilemma. What if all the rich people would buy the poor people new refrigerators? It may be a simple solution to improving the lives of the desperately poor. After all, according to Fox News, “If you have a refrigerator, you probably don’t need financial assistance.”


Please hang in there with me while I am in travel mode. I’ll try to post every other day, until we return to Ometepe, next week. In the meantime, enjoy a story I wrote in 2004 about our neighbors.

Our Sandinista neighbor's house in 2004


September 10, 2004

            Our neighbors lack what most of us would consider necessities in life. They have no indoor plumbing, no carpeted or tiled floors, and no kitchen appliances. When Luvis and Julio awaken each day, their feet hit the dirt floor and they part a large, black plastic curtain that separates their sleeping quarters from their living area. The smoke escapes through the many holes in the lean-to kitchen signaling Papa’s preparation of fried rice and beans, a staple in their daily diets.

While Papa is preparing breakfast, Julio and Luvis run to the lake’s edge.  Ron and I watch them from one of our three front doors as they shed their clothes and dip into their enormous bathtub clad only in their underwear. Julio’s freestyle stroke is improving daily with Ron’s guidance. His long, thin arms slice through the water as he chases his younger sister. They laugh and wave to us from the lake’s edge, a child’s dream.  Papa moves his pigs around in the morning. The grand pig, the one he bred with a neighbor’s small female pig, is tethered in the choicest area in the front yard. We save our daily scraps of food for this magnificent creature. He is Papa’s source of pride. When Papa feels that the pig is deliciously plump, he will board the ferry and sell his pig at the market in Rivas. It should give him enough money to live on for the rest of the year.

Sometimes, I feel like I have been embedded in a nursery rhyme, like Papa’s fat pig. (off to market, jiggidy jig) Life on the island has a magical quality that I can recall from the old nursery rhymes my mother read to me as a child. Like Little Bo Peep, Luvis tends to her four dogs and the baby doves that have fallen from their nests. Julio is the Pied Piper enticing all the neighborhood boys with his new wooden top. Papa reminds me of old Mother Hubbard. The kids tell us that Mama is working in a hotel in Costa Rica. She has been gone for four years. Papa relays another version of the story. Of course, both versions could be lost in translation. Without a good grasp of the Spanish language, life remains a mystery.            wait, there’s more