Thursday, March 26, 2015

What a Week

Playa Gigante's fishing vessels, waiting for the next trip.

 Delicious fresh snapper, tostones (fried mashed plantains) and beer.

The crew at Playa Popoyo for sunset.
My, what an amazing week. After a weekend on the beaches of San Juan del Sur, we rented a truck and headed for more of the remote beaches of southwest Nicaragua. In total, we hit five beaches in four days -- San Juan del Sur, Playa Hermosa, Playa Maderas, Gigante and Popoyo -- each with its own special flavor. It's hard to say which one is "better" than any other, because each one is pretty great. After leaving the coast and heading back to Granada, we went to Laguna de Apoyo, the spectacular crater lake just west of the city. This week has been all about water, great food, awesome friends and pretty much non stop fun.

Of course, that also means non stop Toña beers, too much sugar and probably not enough sleep. When hosting friends is over, i'll have to revert to a super-duper healthy lifestyle to make up for all this non stop fun. That means less bread, less beer, less fried cheese. (I'd love to order one of these vegetable spiralizers to make my "pasta" -- how cool is that?)

Since i've been back to drinking soda during this stint, my dentist is also going to get another visit! (If you're in the US and you need an emergency visit, check out Emergency Dentists USA to find one on the road).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

So Fast

O man, my baby is growing up so fast. One minute you're waiting impatiently for their arrival (if you're pregnant and want to count down the days, check out the Your Due Date site -- super handy) and the next they're making you breakfast in bed, taking surfing lessons and just generally being a big kid-almost-teen.

Popoyo Beach Nicaragua. Really, who ever gets tired of sunset photos?

Sometimes i look at her and i can't believe she's not that little baby who needed me to do everything for her. I forget that she's a bilingual girl of the world, living a great big adventure every day, and it's making her so, so strong. But it's happening slowly and all too fast.

Right now, i'm just trying not to miss a moment.


Meanwhile, if you have a baby who's trying to grow up too fast -- which probably applies to most parents -- check out this sweet, wonderfully-illustrated book, The Little Unicorn That Had No Horn, meant to teach kids to appreciate being little while it lasts.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Bringing them Along

When somone arrives here even for a vacation, i think it's easy to start wondering whether you could make it here on a more full-time basis -- or if you're like me, whether you could make this the place you live half the year, when the weather back home is way less than ideal.

When it's a friend who starts thinking that way, i am of course all about it. But then once again i have to bring in yet another dose of gratitude, because not everyone who wants to live here for more than a couple weeks can do so. There's always that thing called the jobbie job that holds people back. Every time i get on my computer -- whether it's the big desktop i lugged down here or this little tablet i now write on, connected to a full-size keyboard, while i look out at the Pacific, i should be doing a mental happy dance for getting this much freedom in my work. Happy daaanncce... 

So when a friend starts daydreaming about how to make it work and to bring her own son (who happens to be great friends with the rebelangel) down here for a year of Spanish and warm weather and dancing, i begin to think about how we could make it work.

How could she make money? There's always online businesses to start, and plenty of people out there to help her start one and be free of the grind of showing up somewhere or having to work on someone else's schedule (if you're looking, check out Long Live the Internet -- with methods of helping people start an online store)

Would she miss out on culture and art and stuff she loves to do? It won't be the same, and if she chose to live on the beach she'd probably miss out a lot of live shows and art galleries so abundant back home (although Nicaragua does have galleries dotted around, and plus there's always online sources for art, like the online gallery

Would traveling with a kid for that long be difficult? Uh, yeah, but also absolutely wonderful -- and one day you'll look at the kid who could barely tie his shoes alone and you'll see a much more grown version who can navigate sticky situations on his own -- and in two languages. (But in case your kid needs help with the shoes thing, check out BOOM laces -- no-tie laces for kids!)

So for every concern a friend might have, i try to have a solid reply...

Friday, March 20, 2015

Through my Friends' Eyes

There are so many annoying and trying things that happen here in Nicaragua, but for the most part, life still is really, really sweet. So sweet that it's difficult to imagine going back to the struggle of living life in a west coast city; its higher rents, its quest for pretension in all things...

Some friends are here right now and know me as the person who can't always meet for dinner because of a slim budget. Here though, they see me as the person who has the housekeeper and the pool and the kid in private school. I see what they see now, and i know life here is pretty dang good indeed.

All this time i've been here i've had my sights set on the goal of saving for a home -- or at least getting out of the last bits of debt that hang over me qualifying for a loan. I still want that dream, but i worry that i'm not ready to take it all on just get, and that i may need more time here in this less-expensive paradise than my summer departure will allow. I can't make that decision without going home, however, so that means going back to feel it all out and see who i am again, when i'm in my own country.

Having dear friends visit is so great and such a welcome change, but it brings the old you in direct confrontation with the new you -- making both sides duel it out for prominence. We'll see how the contest plays out...


Check out these beautiful floors at BSI Flooring's site! When i do have that dream house, you can bet it will be laid with floors like theirs...

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Power's Out

Yesterday was one of those annoying days in which i question why i'm here. It's also one of those days when my wonderful rebelangel displays more restraint and maturity than me -- demonstrating how we're often parenting one another around here.

I got home from a long bike ride into the mountains outside of Granada around 7:30 a.m. to find the power out. No problem, i thought, i'll just have to jump in the pool. Not ideal, but at least i can cool off. Then came the call from the rebelangel's school, saying they were calling off school because there was no power and no water -- five minutes before she was to be picked up.

The power was still out when i went to the bank to pay the utility bills, where the A/C was still blasting as if nothing was wrong, and a line snaked around the lobby. I had to get the bills paid before going out of town though, so i really had no choice but to wait. Then i forgot my I.D. and almost had to go back to get it to pay the bills.

The power stayed out completely until about 3, when it came on just long enough for me to get half a press release written and unsaved before it cut off again. Then it cut off again at 5, just when i was about to send said release. Meantime the dishes were piling up in the sink and ants swarming. With all the bullshit that this day provided, and the fact that this was my last day to work before my friends arrived for a vacation, it was a wonder that i waited until 5 p.m. to crack my first beer.

Throughout all of this, the rebelangel got out all the craft stuff she had and decided to do a project. She cleaned her room and played with a friend and helped me clean the casita for guests who were arriving. Basically, she took it all much better than me.


If you're a parent who's dealing with teens who aren't quite as helpful and understanding as my tween is, check out the Help With Your Teen program, helping parents learn skills and strategies for the many challenges that can come with parenting a teen.

And the next time the power's out and the nights are dark and scary, snuggle in for some fun reading with your kids, like Nightmare Schmightmare -- a book about dealing with monsters under the bed. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Preserving Childhood

Back home the rebelangel's buddies are all going through the throes of tweendom. Of course, she is going through it too -- but in a lot of ways she's had a stay on all of that. As one of the oldest kids in her small international school, she mostly hangs out with kids who are younger than her -- really only one of her friends is older. She plays silly games in the pool, flops around, colors pictures, makes crafts, and generally does stuff that tweens, when gathered in groups, are just too cool to do.

In that way, being in Nicaragua has allowed her to preserve her childhood just a little bit longer, and to avoid worrying about trips to the mall or whether she can wear makeup at school or even what she should wear at school at all. Since her school has a uniform policy, it's a white polo and navy blue bottoms nearly every day.

I am grateful to get to see her childhood preserved -- but at the same time, i wonder what it's going to be like when she's suddenly in a large classroom again, with the adolescent rebellion in full swing...


For your daily dose of childhood fun, Billy's World offers FREE downloadable nursery rhymes and fun videos. Check it out!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Can of...

Never before have i been quite so happy to open up a can of whoop a#@. And by whoop a#@ i mean a can of aerosol bug killer -- the likes of which i'd probably almost never buy back home. Even here, it's taken these seven months to happen. Yes, swarms of little crazy ants seem to never leave our laundry area, and some other type of ant will swarm around any unclean plate that gets left around. Cats troll the kitchen at night, and spiders live in the corners.
Sunsets. Much nicer than pestilence.

But yesterday was a whole new level in pestilence. I went into the indoor/outdoor bathroom of our casita, the little house-room we use for guests or for blasting A/C and binge-watching cable TV (it's the only TV in the house), to clean it out for some guests who were set to arrive in less than an hour. Normally it only takes me about 30 minutes to sweep, change the sheets and mop the place (yes, sometimes i do it instead of our housekeeper) so a whole hour was supposed to be plenty.

EXCEPT, when i walked into that bathroom, a literal swarm of tiny white gnats assaulted me. They covered the white bathtub like a carpet. They hung out on the wall near the toilet and all along the corners of the ceiling. There were so many it was impossible to comprehend. The good news was that while they looked like little tiny mosquitoes, they were not -- they were just damn annoying.

There was really very little i could do with so few minutes to prepare, so i cleaned the place as i normally would and kept the bathroom door closed. When the guests arrived i had to placate them with gifts of beer and free A/C (sometimes i hide the remote because otherwise people blast it all night) and tell them it was happening all over the city and that i was sorry but i hadn't yet developed the super powers to conquer Mother Nature (and i didn't have my can of whoop a#@ yet).

So then i had to haul a#@ to the store to find the right can of bug killer -- which, despite my still-inadequate Spanish, i was able to choose correctly. It worked so quickly that within seconds that swarm lay like a blanket of gnat all over the bathroom floor. Hallelujah for cans of whoop a#@!! 

In hindsight it would have been nice to have the kiddo along, because after being in a Nicaraguan school for all these months, she's well-versed in the Spanish words for all types of pestilence. In case you're wondering, piojo means flea, but it also means louse. No details about that to be given -- but let's just say it's been a buggy week all around...


One of my goals while we're living in Nicaragua: Learn Spanish better every day. I am getting there through experiences like yesterday's! If you're in need of encouragement on your goals, check out Voloe -- a social network for people with goals. 

Not a total foreign language beginner over here, but if you are, you can get some help with first words in several languages with the Baby Tweets app.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The EPO Route

When we started our Electric Powered Odyssey project, we came up with this photo and map:

Now though, we're working on something better that lets you see exactly where Thomas is at any given time, or at least where he's just been...

Check out the Track Kit website and app, which lets you share your travel maps with your people. Nice!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Always on Vacation -- Kinda

When we first arrived here in Nicaragua i have to admit i kinda felt like i was on perma-vacation. There's a pool in my yard and people are constantly passing through Granada on their epic Central America vacations... so naturally i wanted to be part of that action.

We still act like it's vacation a lot of the time -- taking the kiddo out of school for her beach "education" and such... but really, a lot of the days are still all about work and work and work around here. It makes me want to escape back to the beach, where life is always better.
Watching baby turtles head for the ocean after hatching -- that's education, right?
Still, i'd like to think that just having a pool i can swim in at any moment and someone to do my laundry does sorta make me on perma-vacation... and why are we going back this summer, again, exactly?!


If we really were on perma-vacation, i'd probably have lots of time to play smartphone dice games like the Flipping Dice game -- totally addictive and a way to while away an afternoon in a hammock!
Or maybe we'd be reading more books together -- like Leena's Notebook, a story about a little girl who loves sports...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

At the Beach Again

Gorgeous Playa Mahagual, north of San Juan del Sur
Every couple weeks or so we have to escape the city and get to the beach. In Nicaragua you have lots of beach to choose from, and pretty decent services when you're there. There's everything from expensive, high-end condos to rent near San Juan del Sur, to inexpensive guest houses that are farther out but right on the beach and gorgeous.

This weekend we opted for the inexpensive guest house, so we could meet up with our cousins, hang out and of course get out of the noise and chaos of the city. The rebelangel finally got on a surfboard and loved it!

Matilda's guest house entrance on the beach.
The surfer girl!

 Of course, sometimes the chill feeling you get from the beach is wiped away when you sleep in a guest house with shared bathroom, and the people next door keep loudly unlocking and unlocking the bathroom door late at night, or when the towels and floors and beds get covered with sand and the power goes out.

It may be wiped away a little more when you take the chicken bus back home and deal with the heat and the people shouting on their mobile phones next to us, the workers standing in the rows smelling like barnyards, and on and on with the follies of the chicken bus.

But still, life is good!


Every time we go to the beach i ask myself whether we should move there -- but the school thing always trips me up. If we were to live near the beach, it would likely be home school for the rebelangel. Online options abound -- including Smart Heads geared toward middle schoolers. Hmmm... 

Of course, when we get home from the bus and the sand, i am more than ready to bask in the sweet feeling of my very own shower in my clean(ish) bamboo house. Triana Miami Skin Care has a ton of cool and natural products to bring back that clean city feeling -- including an exfoliating cream i'm stoked on.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

International Living with Pets

It used to be that when you wanted to travel or move abroad with your pets, you'd have to submit to having them quarantined for weeks or months. A lot of people still think that's the case, because they ask us about it a lot.

Meanwhile, the locals love our little man -- most call out "que linda!" or "que precioso!" how pretty, how precious, when we pass. Then they ask if he bites. Since he's here as our guard dog, i say "a veces." Sometimes. It's a funny response to most people, but it's actually also true...

Restaurants, bars... this guy goes everywhere with us.
While this is only our experience, this is what we had to do to get our cute lil guy into Nicaragua:

- A visit to our vet back home to get paperwork filled out, verifying he'd had his rabies shot. Cost: about $75.

- Sending that paperwork to the Department of Agriculture's regional office to be signed and stamped within 10 days of our departure. Cost: about $40

- Paying a fee of $150 for him to fly with us in a little doggie duffel bag in the airplane, stashed under the seat. Warning: call ahead to confirm that the airline allows this, and let them know when you book the flight. Some airlines don't allow in-cabin pets.

- Going out of security and back in in Atlanta, so the dog could go pee, carrying a LOT of carry on baggage. Ever needed a cart for your carry ons? We did.

- Filling out a short piece of paperwork and paying $10 for his entry fee. All told, they asked more about the dog than they did about my daughter, who was traveling only with one parent (i had that custody paperwork handy too though, just in case...) If you're confused about the process, just ask your vet back home if they process international paperwork. If not, ask for a recommendation for a vet who does, and they'll help you with the process.

Now this little guy goes everywhere we go -- on boats and buses, to the beach, inside restaurants and stores. Unless the place has A/C and closed doors, there's usually a stray or two wandering in places, so our little dude is also more than welcome. Overall, having a dog with you acts as an added layer of protection, makes you look less like a tourist, and brings an added layer of sanity and a home-like feel to the whole experience. Now if only we could have brought our big Akita girl in the cabin of the airplane too...


This dog is my comfort and my sanity in an insane world. If you're in need of a little dose of that and you don't have a friend like mine, check out the Choose Online Counseling site to find someone to talk to! 

Friday, March 6, 2015


In Granada it is so easy to take really cool photos. It's partly the gorgeous light we get in this town, but it's also just the place itself. There are so many stunning churches, brightly-colored colonial buildings and bustling people going about doing their thing... selling bananas, fixing watches, cooking up quesillos -- tortillas with cheese -- honking and driving fast, toting horse carts around... it's a feast for the eyes.

You could simply save all those cool shots in your photo app on your computer, but i just discovered this new, fun way to play around with them and catalog them. With the Garagua app, you can sign up for various "challenges" that guide you to choose photos in certain categories. It's pretty fun!

This is just one of those unforgettable moments, walking to the rebelangel's school dance with some friends, with yet another gorgeous church behind us...

Thursday, March 5, 2015

On Hiding Away

There are days when i love it here and think i could live here full-time. Mostly, it's when i'm out in the natural areas, far from the city.

There are other days when i want the hell out, like yesterday. Mostly, those are when the neighbor's roosters are erupting with a cacophony all damn day, or the telephone workmen are working on the pole near my window and yelling at the other workers down the street, or when the party bus with its giant speakers puts our street on its route. City things.
Life is better in the shade of the mountains...

This morning we were mountain biking near Laguna de Apoyo yet again -- really the best part of my entire week -- when we came upon a new yellow road blocker thingy on the dirt road near the top of the crater. Obviously, new expensive homes are going to be built there soon. My friend -- an American -- remarked how she didn't understand how people could move into a country and then totally block themselves off from the rest of the people in the country.

I agree with that in theory. But when i have to wear headphones (why didn't i think of this before??) in order to hear myself think because of other people's loud lives, i can see why people hide themselves away. Living in a Nicaraguan city is never going to be a quiet experience, and as much as i make attempts at assimilation, i am never going to enjoy roosters 10 feet from my bed or trucks with no exhaust controls and speakers blasting or workers who yell to have a conversation.

If i were to stay here more permanently -- or even live here part-time on a more permanent basis -- i would probably have to hide myself away more frequently too. Of course, because i am not free to parent my child without paying heed to the other parent, i don't really have the option to live here full-time anyway...

And speaking of that -- check out Andrew Armacost's new book, The Poor Man's Guide to Suicide, about a non-custodial father fighting for this children -- and his will to live. Life here really isn't too bad!

Another thing we can't do here: Get quality kids' clothes!  Check out my friends at LilJellyBeans -- a fashionable kids' consignment store having a big SALE right now!  Get 30% off the first order (Use Code: MOMFORUM) -- or -- Get Free Shipping on Orders $25.00 or more (use code FREESHIP23) Both offers expire April 1, 2015.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Electric Powered Odyssey: USA to Patagonia on an Electric Motorcycle

Yesterday i went to my friend Thomas' house, where he was packing up the remainder of his belongings and having them delivered to storage via horse-drawn cart. That's how it gets done here in Nicaragua. 

For the past couple months, Thomas and i have been working to launch a big project that i'm excited to tell you about today. In a few short weeks, Thomas will be on the road on a Zero S motorcycle, an electric motorcyle with a range of about 150 miles, heading from the U.S. to the tip of South America.

So far no one has done this 12,000-mile trip on an electric motorcycle, so Thomas will be the first. He'll have to stop a couple times a day to plug in and charge the motorcycle, meaning he'll have lots of cool adventures meeting local people and sharing the experience with those he meets. Exciting!

Along the way i'll be arranging video shoots and promoting the trip, while Thomas is meeting with motorcycle enthusiasts and checking out how the electric grid is fueled in each country. The idea is to make a documentary film that explores the topics of eco tourism, responsible tourism and adventure motorcycling. I'll be helping by spreading the word as far and wide as i can manage -- including periodic updates here on Raising a Revolutionary. When he passes through Nicaragua, i may even join him on the road for a while!

Check out this quick video of Thomas loading his "moving van" yesterday.


If you're interested in getting even more updates, check out the Electric Powered Odyssey Facebook page, or follow ElectroMotoRecord on Twitter.


And since working on this project means i'm going to be spending even more time at my computer, i'd love to have this workout-slash-monitor tower for my desk so i don't miss my workouts. Check out the OffyT and help those folks get their workspace workout aid off the ground.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Playing Tour Guide and Tourist

One of the joys of working from home and working for yourself: when your friends or family comes to town, it's no big deal to take a couple days off and to show them the best your city has to offer. This week our cousins arrived for a trip that ended up being way too short for us -- we wanted them to stay longer!

We went on a boat tour of the little islands of Lake Nicaragua
Checked out the city's many gorgeous churches and towers
And had a couple water fights!

 Granada is a place that's not yet on everyone's radar, but it's only a matter of time before it is. Every time i get out and take some time off from my regular day-to-day in front of this computer, i am amazed at everything the area has to offer. If you're the work-online or work-from-home type of person, there's no reason you can't bring yourself and your kids down here for a year of fun, sun and adventure! Your schedule is your own, so what do you want to do with it?

(My friend at Me My Journey is doing just that -- owning her schedule and working from home. Check out how she's doing dropshipping to make a great living.)

And even as i play tour guide and have a great time, real life still seeps in and demands my time. So after being out late and enjoying Laguna de Apoyo as long as we possibly could, the next morning i was up before the dawn to be the adult chaperone for Empowerment International's bike club. I love the morning smells, the views of the mountains, and touring around with these kids. I was the adult in the group, but they're the bike experts and i learn so much from them!
Some of the incredible views of Lake Cocibolca and Granada in the distance

Who knew my workout crew here would be a group of teens?

It's funny to me that i've exchanged a room full of dancing women (Zumba) for a small group of teens as my workout partners. But they're awesome and i can't think of a better group to join when i go from being a tour guide to the tour-ist!

Two really cool workout-related things to tell you about: First, check out PlayEnable -- a site to find the workouts and fitness classes you want when traveling (or at home) and to sign up instantly. Super cool!

Also check out Mom Meet Mom, where moms can hook up with other moms who have the same interests and want to get out and do stuff. Mountain biking anyone??

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Border Crossings

Sometimes, it's just good to get away.

When you're a temporary resident of a country -- also known as a long-term tourist -- the way you stay in the country of choice is by leaving said country every three months or six months or however long your tourist visa is valid. Here in Nicaragua, the 90-day visa they grant non-residents means we have to go to Costa Rica every three months to renew that 90 days, and that's a good thing for my sanity.
Playa Ocatal, Guanacaste Costa Rica

Across a simple border that's really just a metaphorical line in the dirt, so much is different. Where Nicaraguans are loud and rough around the edges and more likely to attend a hipica -- a rodeo -- on the weekends, Costa Ricans are quieter, more reserved and more likely to wear surf shorts and head to the beach to catch some waves. In Nicaragua the public buses are converted school buses imported from North America; in Costa Rica they're public transit buses like you'd see in North America, plastic bucket seats and all. None of them are really "public," but you get the idea. Near our home on the lakeside of Nicaragua, the air is fresher and cooler at night; in Costa Rica, it's damn hot. Nicaraguans are more likely to eat at the local cafetins, at the local streetside fritanga, or at home; in Costa Rica, chain restaurants like Subway and McDonald's are not an uncommon sight. Nicaragua is really affordable; Costa Rica's prices rival those in the U.S. -- and sometimes go above.

Of course, there are also similarities -- they both love gallo pinto -- beans and rice -- but in Costa Rica the beans are black; in Nicaragua red. Men whistle at the ladies. They're surprised when you can actually do more than count to ten in Spanish.

After so long in one place, it's good to get this type of perspective, and to get the chance to teach the rebelangel a few things about human transit. Like how to suddenly start converting a new form of currency into dollars, or talking about why we have to cross the border every three months, and whether people who are not from the U.S. have to do the same thing if they want to stay in our country.

She asked whether a Nicaraguan had to do the same thing in the U.S. -- and it was a complicated conversation. I tried to explain that they're not necessarily allowed to enter the U.S. at all, and that they're not allowed to simply cross into Canada or Mexico to renew the visa again. How can i begin to explain that as U.S. citizens we're allowed more freedom of movement worldwide than most people? And what to say when a child asks "Why?" Dios mio.

Of course, getting out means a lot more vigilance than i've become used to -- not letting the rebelangel out of my sight... even in a relatively tranquilo hotel. It means grabbing her arm in the street so she doesn't go dashing out into traffic... reminding her that she can't brush her teeth with the water, because there's new bacteria, and all the stuff that comes with being strangers once again.

So while it's good to get out, it's also good to get home and relax. After two days and many buses and much learned, we're finally back home, enjoying the sweet breezes of Lake Cocibolca again.

I suppose if i really wanted to keep an eye on the rebelangel while i'm sitting in a hammock on the patio of the hotel, i could download this handy app that Nick created -- which turns your smartphone or tablet into a baby monitor. Traveling parents -- Baby Phonic seems totally up your alley!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Busting Out

After a few weeks of just plain living, i am ready for a little change.

While we need to stick close to the homestead most of the time so the kiddo can go to school, those four walls are not the only place where learning is found. Here, everything is an experience.

I was talking with a friend about busting out of Nicaragua for a couple days and going to Costa Rica. I was thinking we'd have to be back Sunday night, because of course the kiddo has school... but then my friend pointed out that the rebelangel's education was not only wrapped up in that school. Her education is also everything she's experiencing... every time she rides a packed bus and someone gives her a seat, every time she sees turtles nesting on a beach or snorkels for the first time, she's learning.

So it's also OK to let her -- and me -- have that education in the world and to break out of our everyday routine often.

A good friend and her son are coming here soon too -- so it's going to be great to see that boy's eyes open to all the new experiences, and for us to get to see Nicaragua like a stranger once again. Traveling with kids -- especially in Latin America -- kind of gives you an advantage, because mothers tend to be so respected here and kids are pretty much allowed to be as free as they want to be. I'd say we all have it pretty good!


I love what Mark Wadie is doing with his book about rites of passage for boys passing into manhood. "How a Boy Becomes a Man" teaches boys to use their passions, to be protective nurturers, and to at the same time be strong men. Check out the book, coming out next week!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Things to Do: Everyone Loves a Parade

We have a lot of down time in Nicaragua, and that's a good thing for an American kid who tended to be overscheduled in her old life. Still, we do tend to suffer from a lack of things to do. If we had a car or wanted to pay a driver, there's plenty of beautiful countryside to see -- but that's not always feasible and it would be nice to have more things to do right in the city. Heck, even a fun toy store to poke around in would be fun, even for this tween.

So when there is something fun to do, everyone comes out in droves. Yesterday a parade came down the main tourist strip and of course we went. It happened to take place on Ash Wednesday -- and it looked like it could be a Mardi Gras parade, Nica style, but supposedly it was really a parade celebrating the International Poetry Festival that's currently in Granada. In any case, there was lots to see...

The traditional Baile Folklorico dancers
Jokers and tricksters, making noise

Kids taking a break, but putting on their costumes just for me
Güegüeguense Gigantes, cool but kinda creepy

So there's not always nothing to do besides eat and drink in Granada...

If we had access to a virtual toy store -- any toy store, dang it! -- we'd probably be letting one of these cool light up night copters fly over our pool and beyond. Send me one!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Going to the Dentist in a Developing Country

Back home in the U.S., if someone brings up the topic of medical care in a foreign country, it's usually met with a shudder. "Sure," we think, "our country has a long way to go in figuring out how to make it less expensive and accessible to all, but we've still got it pretty good, right -- I mean better than those developing countries, at least." Maybe.
Smooching my kiddo, even with a sore jaw.

Now that i am living in a developing country, it was only going to be a matter of time before something required medical attention. This time, it was my teeth. A dull ache started in my outer jaw this past weekend and wouldn't go away. Of course the first things to come to my mind were that i had come down with Dengue fever or Chikungunya -- both mosquito-borne illnesses which tend to manifest in joint pain first. I don't get bit by mosquitoes much, but jaws are joints, so i was worried... but nope -- just a good old fashioned toothache.

A friend recommended a good dentist in Managua, urging me to go there first because three of her teeth had been lost to a less-than-skilled guy in Granada -- so off i went on the chicken bus. I hopped off the highway, sweaty and hair blown from the long ride, and walked a few steps to the glittery offices of my Nicaraguan dentist. Inside the air was cool and the counters were marbled. The receptionist had me fill out the same medical history forms i'd fill out back home -- but of course these ones were in Spanish and i was glad i'd brought along my dictionary just in case.

On the walls of the office were plaques from the American Acedemy of Periodontists and other accolades that told me this guy knew was he was doing -- and i have to admit it soothed me a bit. Horror stories of friends losing teeth were not what you wanted to hear when you had had a four-day toothache and had been drinking a lot more soda these past months than you'd normally drink. What can i say? It's hot and bubbly beverages are appealing. (In hindsight, i probably should have been taking better care and paying better attention to my nutrition; Zeal for Life probably would have helped!)

After about one hour, i had a brand new white filling to replace the metal one that had cracked. There was no rescheduling me to come in for the work; once i was in there i didn't even have to leave the chair -- not even to get the X-rays or whatever kind of scan the dentist did by pulling out tube-like thing on the side of the chair to take images of my mouth. No one left the room during the scans either...which made me wonder if they were getting exposed to radiation?

Basically though, the dentist hooked me up with a better filling than i had before, didn't mess around with a lot of time-wasting later appointments, and cleaned my teeth better than i've had them done in a long while. Yes, it hurt a little, but it was a good kind of hurt. The grand total: $80. Yes.

I'll soon be going back to get ALL of my metal fillings taken out -- why have them in my mouth giving me potential mercury poisoning when it costs $40 to take them out and have them replaced? Developing nation medicine: WIN.

Of course, the free health care that is accessible to most people without cost here in Nicaragua is not nearly as good -- or at least that's what i hear. But for this single parent who was frightened of developing world diseases and hasn't had a teeth cleaning in a couple years because she can't afford to pay out of pocket back home, this was a total WIN.


Speaking of hurting a little, i love the message that authors Karen McMahon and Lisa Brick are sending with their book "Stepping Out of Chaos," a guidebook for those dealing with divorce. One big message in the book: pain can lead to personal transformation. Indeed it can!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What Makes a Successful Expat?

I've been thinking about the people who do the expat thing long-term and how they manage to survive and thrive doing it.

This is one successful expat.
There are lots of expat archetypes out there... the ones who are running from trouble back home, the ones who make a career of drinking, those looking for young girls (or boys) to exploit, those looking for a less-expensive lifestyle -- sometimes so they can simply offer their families the schools and activities they want, other times so they can feel lordly and lord around a place, chests puffed up feeling good about looking down at everyone below. There are the do-gooders who start NGOs, the investors who start enterprises to take advantage of the cheap labor, the sun gods and goddesses who can't deal with winters in Ohio or New York or Pennsatucky, the linguists, the English teachers, the just plain wandering souls who ended up here, after much wandering. There are those who embrace learning the local language and culture, and others who hardly speak a word after decades.

There are plenty of other types, but those are a few. I'm probably a mix of a few of those.

But among those who stay, i often wonder whether they like feeling like strangers. Or even if they do. Are they OK with knowing that they'll never be "one of them," and that's what they like about it?

I think the ideal situation for an expat is to learn the local language -- which should go without saying but doesn't -- and to make friends in the community. At the same time, that successful expat has to be sure in her own skin and to know about her own culture, so she can have an identity that is her own. A lot of travelers i know get down on those expats who only hang out with other expats -- but there's reasons behind it, beyond just not wanting to embrace the local culture.

People need to preserve their original identities -- at least somewhat. They need to be around people who understand who they are and where they came from. So the successful expat, in my mind, has friends on both sides. It's no good to never mix with the locals and to never get to know them, but it's also no good -- at least for me -- to be so immersed that you're disoriented when you do go back home, even if it is for a time. A friend pointed out to me that in U.S. cities, there's often a Chinatown or a Little Italy or other enclaves of recent emigrants who are sticking together. We accept it back home, but then we bag on other expats for doing the same when they go abroad? And don't get me started about the people who loudly proclaim "immigrants better learn English," but then shout loudly in English to their Central American hosts when they come down here.

Being an expat is all about learning to be an insider, while also being an outsider and being OK with that. Sometimes i long for "normalcy" -- which as an American means having good chicken wings  and cheese and India Pale Ale, and every international cuisine at my disposal. It means having a car and a garage i can park it in (if you're the type who's forever losing your keys or your garage door opener -- there's an app for that now! Check out the Garage Beacon) and a list of friends a mile long, ever asking me to this event or that one, where i'll be able to understand all of the conversations around me without straining. My Spanish is getting better every day, but i still have to make an effort to understand things.

"Normal" also means being around people who are activists and thinkers -- which probably happens here too, i just don't have the language skills -- and who hotly debate things like whether vaccines cause autism (btw Laminine is a supplement meant to support kids with autism -- check out the reviews of the product on the site), whether we should condemn this pipeline or that one, or whether this form of energy or that one is better. We talk about scientific approaches to growing tomatoes or racism in our home towns, and then we climb to the top of the nearest local mountain and look out at the beautiful view.

For those reasons i don't know if i'll ever be the long-term expat. I love my country and its people; however over-informed, whiny and demanding they can be, they can also be dreamers, doers and downright friendly folks.  I can see myself being a half-timer there, and a half-timer somewhere like here someday -- so then i guess i'll still have to get good at being a successful expat...