Reverse Culture Shock


“When you travel overseas, the locals see you as a foreigner, and when you return, you see the locals as foreigners.”
Robert Black

“Reverse culture shock is the emotional and psychological distress suffered by some people when they return home after a several years overseas. This can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country, now that the previously familiar has become unfamiliar.”

I wouldn’t say I am distressed, but it certainly is different from life on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.

You know you have reverse culture shock when…

1. There are an overwhelming number of choices

I am lost and bewildered when I enter a grocery store. Yesterday, I stood in front of the canned baked beans and cried…10 different types of baked beans? In Nicaragua, it was always fun to shop; I never knew what unexpected treasure hidden among the shelves I would find. Dill pickles, pretzels, and dark chocolate were treats. Now, with too many choices, it is more of a frustrating experience.

2. The leaves change color!

Oh how I love fall! In Nicaragua the leaves crumble and fall off the trees without changing colors. The gorgeous displays of the Maple leaves are eye-popping.

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Love Your Country or Leave It?


“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
― Mark Twain

Usually one of the first questions I am asked about being an expat besides the “What do you do in Nicaragua?” or “Are you a missionary?” is “Why did you leave America?”

My response is that I never left America. I am still here. I live in Central America. If that doesn’t piss them off, then I could say that I am a political refugee from the Divided States of America. But, I never say that because first, it is a lie, and second, I love my homeland and I really don’t like to create tension or controversy unless it is a last resort. I am a mediator at heart, I seek peace.

So, when angry people respond to me in a political discussion, “Love it, or leave it!” what is the appropriate response? Why is it that expats are seen as less patriotic than those who stayed in their home country? Can expats be patriotic? If so, how?

Photo credit to Larry Wilkinson

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Peeking at Poverty


Yesterday, a guest blogger wrote an article for The Nicaragua Dispatch. It infuriated me because of her overly simplified view of poverty in Nicaragua and the United States. Blaming the poor for their circumstances offers no real solution and only perpetuates the fallacy that all one has to do to rise above poverty is to work a little harder and not succumb to the temptation of accepting hand outs.

I try to avoid rants. I really don’t like controversy, but there are times when my ire gets the best of me. This is one of those times.

“Do Handouts Really Help Anyone in Nicaragua?” Click here for the article. I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Leon Mural: History of Nicaragua


 

 

The arrival of the Nahuatl began around 1200 AD. Related to the Aztecs, they migrated to the south when their Nahua empire was destroyed by another tribe, the Chichimecas. Nicaragua takes its name from the indigenous tribal Chief Nicarao, who lived around Lake Nicaragua in the late 1400s.

In 1524, Hernandez de Cordoba, Spanish conquistador, founded the first Spanish permanent settlements in the region, including two of Nicaragua’s principal towns: Granada on Lake Nicaragua, and Leon, located west of Lake Managua.

In 1821, Nicaragua gained independence from Spain and in 1838 finally became an independent republic after briefly joining a part of the Mexican Empire.

The  Spanish conquistadors tried to impose their religion, customs, and culture on the indigenous ethnic groups. For the most part, they were successful. Today, Nicaragua is predominately Hispanic. Spanish became the language of the people, and Catholicism became the almost universal religion.

In 1856, William Walker, a crazy filibuster from Tennessee, seized Granada and declared himself President of Nicaragua.

Walker’s troops and Nicaraguan troops fought a historic battle at San Jacinto hacienda on September 14, 1856, which is now celebrated as a national holiday. In 1857, the Liberals and Conservatives united to drive Walker out of office. He returned to the USA, and after several attempts to return to Central America, he sailed from Mobile in August 1860 and landed in Honduras. Here he was taken prisoner by Captain Salmon, of the British navy, and was surrendered to the Honduran authorities, by whom he was tried and condemned to be shot. He was executed on the 12th of September 1860.

The shadow is that of Augusto C. Sandino, a Nicaraguan general small in statue, but gigantic when it came to patriotic conscience. On January 6, 1927, North American troops entered Nicaragua, arguing that lives and property of U.S. citizens had to be protected. With the support of an army of peasants Sandino showed the world that he was not permitting the exploitation of his free, sovereign country. He was declared hero of the dignity of Latin America, battling against North American imperialists.

A truce was declared in 1933, but unfortunately in 1932, the National Guard was headed for the first time in history by a Nicaraguan military: Anastasio Somoza García. When the U.S. military departed, their parting gift was to set up the National Guard. Somoza was a long-time friend of the U.S. and became heavily involved in assisting the U.S. in developing the National Guard.

The next year, General Somoza, started an evident persecution of old Sandinista soldiers, illegally arresting, hurting, and even killing these men. Sandino complained to the puppet President Sarcasa. Sandino was invited to a gala by the president and the same Somoza. After arranging a compromise of ceasefire, Sandino accepted the offer. On the road, in Managua, the car of Sandino was intercepted by soldiers of the National Guard. The soldiers then escorted Sandino and two of his generals to a place where the hero and his men were brutally shot to death. And sadly, all Sandino wanted was a free country!

Rigoberto López Pérez was known for the assassination of Anastasio Somoza García, the long-time dictator in Nicaragua, who controlled several puppet presidents.  Born in Leon, he was a poet and composer. On September 21, 1956, he infiltrated a party in which Somoza attended, and shot him in the chest. Lopéz was killed instantly in a hail of bullets, and Somoza died a few days later in Panama.

Anastasio Somoza’s son, Luis Somoza Debayle, assumed the presidency after his father was assassinated. He was educated in the U.S. and ruled from 1957 to 1967. Luis and his younger brother, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, shared NO brotherly love. Luis made Anastasio head of the National Guard because of a family obligation, however; Luis wanted no part of his younger brother becoming president. Unfortunately, Luis died of a heart attack a few months before a rigged “election” in which Anastasio Somoza Debayle assumed the presidency.

Anastasio ruled with the power of his beloved National Guard crushing any and all rebellions. By 1970, the general population of Nicaraguans had no love for their leader. After the devastating earthquake of 1972, Anastasio  ripped off all the international funds Nicaragua received to rebuild…and all hell broke loose with the Sandinista Nicaraguan rebels, led by Carlos Fonseca.

Carlos was a Nicaraguan teacher and librarian, who founded the Sandinista Liberation Front (FSLN) in 1963. Known for his poor eyesight, notice the dark framed glasses in the mural.  In his earlier years, he became enamored with politics and idolized Sandino. Between 1959 and 1963, Fonseca and his motley crew of revolutionaries experimented with a variety of organizational forms. He had hoped to model the revolution in Nicaragua after the Cuban revolution. Fonseca fought hard, but died in an ambush in the Nicaraguan mountains in 1976, three years before the FSLN took power.

In 1977, when Jimmy Carter was President of the U.S., he began to press Somoza to change his image, clean up the National Guard, and stop terrorizing the people of his country or face losing U.S. support. On January 10, 1978, Pedro Chamorro, editor of La Prenza and a very vocal opponent of Somoza, was assassinated on his way to work. Resistance and violence to the Somoza regime continued. In May, 1979 the U.S. feared that if Somoza came down, a Communist regime would take its place, and they were prepared to do almost anything to prevent that from happening. So, the U.S. approved an IFM loan of $66 million to the Somoza regime. However, even that wasn’t enough to stop the uprising. By June, 1979, after a televised execution of Bill Stewart, an ABC newsman, by Somoza’s National Guard, the sympathies of the U.S. people had turned to the Sandinista rebels. The U.S. government tried to compromise with the Sandinista rebels, but the FSLN wanted only complete and total surrender.

July 17,1979, Somoza flew to Miami, and the FSLN took control of Nicaragua. Somoza eventually moved to Paraguay, where he was assassinated in 1980 by a Nicaraguan rebel.

From the beginning, Nicaragua has been under attack. Its autonomy and sovereignty are repeatedly impeded. When the Sandinista forces entered Managua on July 20, 1979 hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans celebrated a short-lived ideological freedom.  Since the 1850’s, the U.S. government has intervened in Nicaragua…and once again, in the 1980’s the U.S. reared its bullied head.

As the Nicaraguans worked toward self-sufficiency, President Ronald Reagan, fearing a socialist take-over in Nicaragua, secretly and without approval of Congress, funded the Contra War to undermine the Sandinista government. This disastrous ten-year war cost 60,000 lives, and destroyed the country’s economy and infrastructure with estimated losses of $178 billion dollars.

Still, the Nicaraguans continued to fight for their freedom and their right to self-rule. In 1984, the International Court of Justice ruled in favor of Nicaragua against the United States and awarded reparations to Nicaragua. The ICJ ruled that the U.S. had violated international law by supporting the Contras in their rebellion against the Nicaraguan government and by mining Nicaraguan harbors. But, the U.S. blocked enforcement of the judgment, and prevented Nicaragua from actually receiving any monetary compensation.

After the long Sandinista-Contra War, the country picked up their meager pieces and started to rebuild.

Old statues of Somoza were destroyed. Today, the Nicaraguan people are organizing to help one another survive. The U.S. continues to intervene, but the Nicaraguans continue to push forward with their passion and devotion for sovereignty and autonomy.

It looks as if my simple account of the history of Nicaragua, as interpreted through this famous mural in Leon, has bored the poor Nicaraguan to death. So, with that, I close my turbulent account and end with a poem:

To Roosevelt

The voice that would reach you, Hunter, must speak
in Biblical tones, or in the poetry of Walt Whitman.
You are primitive and modern, simple and complex;
you are one part George Washington and one part Nimrod.
You are the United States,
future invader of our naïve America
with its Indian blood, an America
that still prays to Christ and still speaks Spanish.

You are strong, proud model of your race;
you are cultured and able; you oppose Tolstoy.
You are an Alexander-Nebuchadnezzar,
breaking horses and murdering tigers.
(You are a Professor of Energy,
as current lunatics say).

You think that life is a fire,
that progress is an irruption,
that the future is wherever
your bullet strikes.
No.

The United States is grand and powerful.
Whenever it trembles, a profound shudder
runs down the enormous backbone of the Andes.
If it shouts, the sound is like the roar of a lion.
And Hugo said to Grant: ‘The stars are yours.’
(The dawning sun of the Argentine barely shines;
the star of Chile is rising..) A wealthy country,
joining the cult of Mammon to the cult of Hercules;
while Liberty, lighting the path
to easy conquest, raises her torch in New York.

But our own America, which has had poets
since the ancient times of Netzahualcoyotl;
which preserved the footprint of great Bacchus,
and learned the Panic alphabet once,
and consulted the stars; which also knew Atlantic
(whose name comes ringing down to us in Plato)
and has lived, since the earliest moments of its life,
in light, in fire, in fragrance, and in love–
the America of Moctezuma and Atahualpa,
the aromatic America of Columbus,
Catholic America, Spanish America,
the America where noble Cuauhtémoc said:
‘I am not in a bed of roses’–our America,
trembling with hurricanes, trembling with Love:
O men with Saxon eyes and barbarous souls,
our America lives. And dreams. And loves.
And it is the daughter of the Sun. Be careful.
Long live Spanish America!
A thousand cubs of the Spanish lion are roaming free.
Roosevelt, you must become, by God’s own will,
the deadly Rifleman and the dreadful Hunter
before you can clutch us in your iron claws.

And though you have everything, you are lacking one thing:
God!

Ruben Dario

 

Don’t Cut Off Aid to Nicaragua!


We are in perilous times. Nicaragua is one of 28 countries to which the United States will be suspending financial aid this year. Quoted below is part of the letter that you can send to your Representatives, Senators, and State Department.

“I would like to remind you that the US still owes Nicaragua an estimated $17 billion in reparations after being found guilty by the World Court for mining Nicaragua’s harbors and committing other Crimes Against the Peace under international law in the 1980s. For a Democratic administration to be even more hostile toward Nicaragua than a Republican administration is simply not acceptable.” ~NicaNet

The article below explains some of the tumultuous background of US involvement in Nicaragua. Good reading!

Thank you for your support and concern.  Here is the link:   NicaNet

 

Don’t Underestimate the Force!


What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we’ve been fighting to destroy?

PADME AMIDALA, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

It may seem rather strange to use a Star Wars quote to begin a piece on the death of Ben Linder, but I’ve thought about the forces at play that undermine a peaceful coexistence on our planet. Politically speaking, a peaceful coexistence among countries requires mutual trust, understanding, and the ability to negotiate rationally when resolving disputes. In order to coexist peacefully, all countries must recognize each others’ rights to choose the political and economic systems that meet their needs, whether they be socialism, capitalism, or communism.

The way I see it, the political “isms” were the downfall of Ben Linder. It was the classic battle of capitalism vs. socialism. The United States violated all aspects of a peaceful coexistence by ignoring the sovereignty and territorial rights of Nicaragua in the 1980’s. But, why did this happen? What were the forces at play that led to the senseless slaughter of 40,000 Nicaraguans and one young U.S. engineer, from which all weapons, land mines, and Contra soldiers were funded by the United States of America?

The sad truth behind the U.S. bullishness in Nicaragua, as well as many other countries, originates from the “ism” of capitalism. In my humble opinion, the major force at play was, and still is, greed. When Anastasio Somoza, the U.S. backed tyrannical dictator, was overthrown in 1979 by the Sandinista left-wing socialist party, the U.S. was terrified. For the first time, the Nicaraguans had a government that cared about its people and enacted successful reforms to abolish the inequalities among its citizens through land reform acts, socialized health care, and increased agricultural and educational opportunities.

The U.S violently protested against this new political model. “Back in 1981, a State Department insider boasted that we would “turn Nicaragua into the Albania of Central America” – that is, poor, isolated and politically radical – so that the Sandinista dream of creating a new, more exemplary political model for Latin America would be in ruins.” (Noam Chomsky) Under the threat of a good example, the U.S. terminated all projects and assistance to Nicaragua, President Reagan supplied the Contras with weapons to bring down the Sandinista Party to the tune of $30 million U.S. Congress apportioned funds,  and mined the Nicaraguan harbors.

In the 1984 case of the Republic of Nicaragua vs. the United States of America, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in favor of Nicaragua and against the United States of America and awarded reparations to Nicaragua. All 16 final decisions were based on the United States of America’s violations of contributing to a peaceful coexistence among countries on our planet. What did the U.S. do? They poo-pooed the entire verdict. “It’s not fair. It was done in self-defense. We don’t owe Nicaragua anything and we refuse to comply with this verdict,” they whined.

So, Ben Linder, a 27-year-old peaceful supporter of a new political model, a clown and avid unicyclist, a young engineer who’s only goal was to bring clean water and electricity to the peasants in the highlands of Nicaragua, was assassinated by U.S. funded weapons, gunned down, his brains splayed out on a rock near the small hydroelectric dam he was beginning, in the name of what? Greed? Fear of a new, maybe better “ism”?  I wish I knew.

Ben was honored by being buried in the local cemetery in Matagalpa. There is a foreign cemetery across the street, the only foreign cemetery in Nicaragua, built for the German immigrants who started the coffee cooperatives in the highlands of Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega gave a moving eulogy to thousands of mourners who lined the streets of Matagalpa.

In it he said, ” Ben did not arrive in a flight full of weapons, or with millions of dollars. He arrived in a flight full of dreams, which were born, in his belief that the ethical values of the American people were much greater than the illegal policy of the United States.” He quoted Earnest Hemingway’s, For Whom the Bell Tolls, recounting the names, occupations, and ages of 10 foreigners senselessly gunned down, and ended with ” May the blood of the innocents move the conscience of those who govern the United States, so that the bells no longer toll, so the aggression ceases, so that the military maneuvers end, so that dialogue with Nicaragua will be accepted. No to war! Yes to Peace. Benjamin Linder‘s blood cries out, so that the bells no longer toll in Nicaragua.”

Ben Linder’s grave..who is going to weed it?

Standing at Ben’s grave, I was haunted by the forces at play that undermine a peaceful coexistence on our planet. What will it take to end the evil forces that dictate domination, subjugation, and exploitation of our human race? What if Padme Admedala is right? What can we do so that the bells no longer toll, the blood no longer oozes an evil trail of “isms”, and peaceful coexistence exists in our troubled world? I only wish I knew!