Long time in coming – Not lost

For the past two years, I’ve considered myself too busy to post a new blog and to tell the truth, I didn’t think anyone would be interested in what has kept me busy.  Free time has presented itself to me in a rather unusual but global appearance-COVID-19.  Let me explain.

In 2018, a full year of Nicaraguan changes–first political chaos, second Hurricane Nate that flooded much of my municipality creating homelessness and need for community help–I found my life moving from one event to another rather seamlessly, participating whenever and however I could.  In October 2018, I said yes to a more radical event/opportunity.

I was recommended to consider teaching adult English as a Foreign Language (EFL) at FunLimón, the non-for-profit  Mark and Kathryn Ford Foundation site across the road from the Rancho Santana gate here in Limón.  The previous EFL classes were being taught by temporary teachers and volunteers on a 90 day visa basis.  The program was faltering and although it is a government supported, INATEC, program the English speaking success rate of the classes was dismal and very discouraging to the adults who were truly interested in learning to speak English.  After serious evaluation of the previously used books and handouts, I decided to give it a try by basically winging it based upon previous techniques and logic of teaching caregiving to clinicians and families.  Much to my surprise, I loved teaching people who were interested in learning EFL.  After the first 10 week session teaching Levels 1 through 6, one of the Level 6 students and I wrote the first version of textbooks for Levels 1 – 5.  Level 6 which is only taught in English had a different goal at that time.  Two years later, here I am rewriting six textbooks for the fourth time.

You may be wondering why an EFL textbook is a challenge.  My students and I live in very rural areas.  Many of them haven’t ever attended school beyond 3rd grade and some of them are already Nica university graduates is special career fields.  There is no concept of written directions, addresses, cities, and many things that in a city would become relevant when documented in a book.  Given the diverse educational level of students, I decided that, number one the EFL classes had to be relevant to the students or why waste their time and mine.  Another somewhat interesting thing, I learned early on, was that I had to be a tough disciplinarian even though the students are adults.  Other teachers didn’t seem to care about students not paying attention or understanding what they were learning.  Many students entered my class at Level 5 when they could barely pass a Level 1 exam.  My goal was and still is that the students feel confident in speaking English at whatever Level they are in.  So far I’ve had the support of the FunLimón Executive Director and Board.  Hence I continue to rewrite textbooks and have them copied in color, a necessity when referring to pictures for exercises.  Copying a textbook for distribution to 76 students in six levels of classes is both expensive and frustrating–transitioning from one text document to another is often a disaster as well as hysterically funny.  We laugh a lot in our classes sometimes at my Spanish and sometimes at the textbook.  Oh, did I forget to mention that Levels 1 to 4 are EFL taught in Spanish.  Nicaraguan Spanish isn’t the classical Castilian version that I learned umpteen years ago.  First sessions of class are the students learning the English alphabet sounds and numbers.  This process continues every class until Level 3 or 4 depending on the group.  Every student has to repeat the alphabet following the answer to, “What is the alphabet?  The alphabet is: a,b,c, etc.”  Same with the numbers.

As a consequence of the second version of textbook writing and prior to the third version, I decided to get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification – 160 hrs. online during the holiday break last year.  Much to my shock–yes, shock–I was astounded about how much I didn’t know about teaching English. I also found out how much new information there is about learning and teaching.  My respect for teacher’s work notched up considerably.

So back to textbooks, I’m currently in the process of revising Version 4 thanks to the forced break due to social distancing and closure of FunLimón until mid-April or beyond.  This time I am trying to find a format to create a template for future changes and for continuing to add textbooks for Levels 7 through 12.  INATEC vocational certification requires 12 levels of EFL for adults.  I’ll be spending a couple of weeks researching a textbook format that FunLimón can afford to print.  Any recommendations, I’m all ears.

In the past year, I’ve had a series of both family and friends visit in my second and third bedrooms.  I’ve also rented the second bedroom several times to friends for weeks at a time.  Everyone tolerated my 32 hours a week teaching schedule without complaints.  Having Saturday to Tuesday as free time, I could entertain and travel within the area to show off my paradise.

When my son, Aaron, his girlfriend, and an older friend of ours were here last October, we talked about my Guasacate house project.  We came up with the idea of completing the house and making it an assisted living place–an idea I’ve had for many years but not at my house.  With great advice from some trusted friends, I formed a real estate limited partnership.  It is now a legal entity, Mi Casa Con Corazon Cia LMTD.   Grace, Aaron’s partner, and I are the two initial partners.  We are seeking at least three more investment partners for $50,000 each and at 8% per share each in the business.  I’ve written a five page business plan with financial projections for two phases of the partnership.  This global hiccough has pointed out two interesting facts.  That there is interest and would be clients already if the project were up and running; the second phase that includes a medical tourism component is more interesting to some potential investors.  I know that this is a project unique to Nicaragua and see it as a private model for living a safe and pleasant life in one’s own space with trained caring attendants.

Another successful event in December was right eye cataract surgery at Vivian Pellas Hospital in Managua by a great ophthalmologist/vitreologist, Dr. Luis Bustamonte who practices at the VP Clinic.  During the one week before and after surgery I stayed with my driver Ricardo, who also acted as my nurse for the routine drops, at a friend’s house in Managua.  I worked on textbooks after day two at my friend’s house in the bedroom that used to be his twin daughter’s room–two desks, great light, comfortable bed, one to sleep in one to hold papers. You see, I’m well taken care of here.  Ricardo was the most punctual nurse, I’ve ever seen.  He set his phone alarm to remind him of my drops.  He could also teach cleanliness techniques to many of the nurses I’ve seen over the years.

There is one more event that I’m involved with ongoing.  I’ve become an El Centro de Especialidades en Adicciones (CEA) Board member.  This organization was founded almost 30 years ago by the friend whose home I used during cataract surgery.  David Stadthagen had been running the 30 bed CEA treatment center with the doctors and therapists without advisors and helpers.  In January, David and his co-founder Juan Manuel Caldera, decided to form a Board of Directors to help them get the organization stabilized administratively.  Hence, I’m the oldest and only female advisor.  It’s a great facility for both private and non-paying addicts with all variations of disease.  The global COVID-19 hiccough has curtailed the international clientele who basically have been subsidizing the non-paying patients.  CEA is internationally noted for their consistent positive rehab results.  I don’t know how David and Juan Manuel have been able to keep up with all the things they had to oversee in the past.  As a CEA Board member I’ll be going to MGA monthly for meetings, btw, conducted in Spanish.  Not a bad thing for me as I can use the day for my monthly essential shopping.  I’m very lucky in that I’ve always had a monthly shopping list and can survive any long period of time with things I have in my cupboards.  PriceSmart is our Costco.

Since I’m now basically up to date with information about my Life In Nicaragua, please keep me up to date with your lives.  Remember Only Love Prevails – Solo el amor prevalece.

Katherine and MF English Class Promotion
Kathy, my Level 6 student who helped write the first textbooks.

Sorry, I can’t post more photos at this time.

 

 

Navidad in Nicaragua

Many years ago Lennie Wilker, my first husband, and I wrote an annual “Holiday Letter” that updated our friends about the latest happenings in our family.  Sometimes it was sent before the end of December.  Occasionally it wouldn’t get written or sent–yes, in an envelope with a stamp–until later by a couple of months.  I thought it would be nice to update my Blog with a new Holiday Letter.

The Holiday Season beginning with Thanksgiving and continuing until the day after the New Year is a festive time for me.  Here in Nicaragua it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas too.  Now that most of the rural homes have electricity, those families that live above the survival level are decorating their homes with a few lights.  Other families have small cardboard images of Santa Claus and other commercial Christmas figures hung on their doors or stuck on palas (sticks) in their yard.  It is surprising to me to see how fast the commercialism of the US has spread to us here in rural Nicaragua.

Managua is a whole other level of splendor and Holiday paraphernalia.  The rotundas are decorated with gigantic figures of Nativity scenes, Christmas trees–all metallic–and Santa with Elves.  There isn’t enough money in the government treasury to pay for employees but somehow there is funding for these elaborate displays.  OK, that statement is out of line for a cheery holiday spirit.  Needless to say it bugs me though to see this dichotomy of resources.

My tribute to the Holidays is to do a little decorating at Condo 1B.  My roommate/tenant, Sherry, helped me make a wreath with greenery from around the yard and a pine cone that I purchased at Sinsa, the biggest hardware chain in NI.  I also picked up a little wooden stick Christmas tree that has tiny lights.  It is battery operated so we can see the tree and lights from almost everywhere inside and the front terrace.

My biggest event for the season will be a piñata party at my Guzmán Family’s compound in the village.   I got a large white headless angel piñata and will fill it with the carmelos (candies) that are usually expected with a piñata.  I decided that the headless angel was a better idea than beating to death a piñata that looked like a real angel figure.  Last year the circular Santa face piñata that I found was filled with 5 cordoba coins and no candy.  It was truly fun and every child in the compound under 12 years old also got a piggy bank to put in their found coins.  This year isn’t going to be as lavish an event as I made last year.  I can’t afford that extravagance again, however, I did a lot debating before deciding against a repeat performance.  The party will be in the afternoon on Christmas Day.  I know everyone will enjoy the cake and juice and the kids will knock each other over in the scramble for the piñata candy.

I’m spending many hours most days working on the English as a foreign language (EFL) textbooks that I am writing with Kathy Ramirez.  Two books completed five to go before January 11th.  So I’m stopping this blog now and getting back to work.

Happy Holidays to EVERYONE.

Only Love Prevails.  Solo el amor prevalece.

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News from My Abode in Nicaragua

This is a special holiday weekend for me.  Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday of the year.  It is always a time for thankful gatherings of family and/or friends.  My life in Nicaragua hasn’t changed my passion or  pattern of thankfulness and celebration.

One of my friends always hosts Friendsgiving dinner prior to Thanksgiving.  They provide the major meal and the rest of us bring our own drinks, side dish etc.  This year there were about 70 people at their home.  Such a beautiful event.  On Thanksgiving Day I and seven friends enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving Dinner at Finca y Mar, the Rancho Santana restaurant, again a great gathering.  There were several seatings for the repast. Being part of the senior population here, my friends and I were seated at 5:00 pm.

My ESL classes ended on November 10th.  There were 25 students total from all of the classes that finished the whole ten week course.  ALL of the students passed to the next level without too much coaching.  I am a somewhat different teacher than the students have had in the past which made many drop out in the first few weeks.  My goal–and the Fun Limón director Bismarck’s–was to teach courses that would help them learn enough conversational English to participate with gringos and enhance their opportunities for employment.  Many of the students were laid off during the “troubles” in Nicaragua.  This category of students was given full scholarship to ESL classes.  Hence I wouldn’t allow the students in any of the four levels to use their textbooks or cell phone translators to answer questions during class participation.  I told them early on that they won’t be carrying their textbooks around with them to have a conversation and that although they do carry their cellphones, it isn’t always possible to use the translator features for a conversation in English.  My WIN-WIN at the end of the class was that all the students could repeat the English alphabet which they finally memorized and that they had a concept of creative thinking.  Thanks to my daughter, Rivka, who went to Spanish Immersion School from kindergarten to sixth grade and continues to study Spanish from a College Profesora friend, I was finally able to change my textbook teaching format.  When I mentioned to Rivka that I was frustrated by the inability to have the students attempt more conversions, she told me that her teachers had the students  write stories together in class.  This concept worked for me even when there were only two students in the class on a particular day.  I wrote what I called Little Stories which they had to read and then answer questions as the example of a Little Story.  After that they had to collaborate and write a Little Story–always no more than five or six sentences–then one of them read the story to the class and I would ask the questions about the story.  WOW, that seemed to work and chase away the fear of embarrassment to participate in conversation.  YEAH!  All collaboration had to take place in English.

I am so grateful for this opportunity to teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL) not ESL.  The students are teaching me so many new Spanish words, some that are unique to Nicaragua.  When I have a hard time explaining a lesson, I ask one of the students to explain in Spanish and then I have them write the new words to me on the board so that I can better learn my Spanish conversation.  I am a visual learner and find it nearly impossible to hear what the new words are.  We have a good time in class and I’m proud of these adults who come after work and give up family time to attend the classes.

As a result of the “textbook” issues I had this session, I convinced Bismarck and the Fun Limón Board to continue to pay my meager monthly salary for the next 10 weeks to write textbooks that we could use for our classes.  Katherine, Bismarck’s wife, who was my 6th Level student, is working with me on the project.  We have seven levels of textbooks to write before classes begin again on January 8th.  After that I’ll be adding one textbook for every session from Level 8 to Level 12.  INATEC, the government department that certifies the language vocational programs, requires twelve levels of instruction.   So far Katherine and I have about half of the first book in conception and I do all the input for print.  No eating bon bons for me.

The editing work for Continua is always fun for me because it requires some research.  I hope that the latest project for the Florida Board of Nursing Application is accepted by the FL Board.  Think positive thoughts for us here.  A new venue for Continua sales means more work for me.

Nicaragua is still in a state of sadness for us.  The lack of compassion by our leaders who refuse to tell the truth to themselves and the people is astounding and foolish.  Tourism is still minus 0 and universities and businesses are still closed.  Here in our “little rural bubble”, the biggest problem is lack of tourists that used to fuel the economy of small and some large businesses.  In some respects the crisis was a good thing.  The “troubles” curtailed the rampant rise of greedy investors who saw Nicaragua as a goldfield of opportunity and were “mining” with our cheap labor pool.  Now the government is running out of money so the opportunists can’t get the government services for licenses, permits, and development.  Banks aren’t giving credit of any form–loans, credit cards–and haven’t been doing so for several months.  Bank customers are pulling large sums of money out of the banks leaving enough to keep accounts open but not enough to warrant global credit and interest.  This Nicaragua isn’t “normal” as the government media are defining it.  Most large towns basically shut down at dark.  One reason is for safety, another is for defiance and resistance to participate as the publicized normal.

I have two big real estate sales that will be coming to closing status before the end of the year.  For this I am very grateful.  It has been a rough month for me financially.  My Nica daughter, Carmen, had to have a C-Section for a her one month premie baby–Alicia.   She was born at 5 lbs. but had pulmonary hypertension in her little heart and lungs and ended up in the Premie ICU at the private Vivian Pellas Hospital in MGA.  In order to keep her there, we had to scramble together to make a $7000 deposit for Alicia after Carmen was released post surgery.  Alicia was able to come home here a week ago.  I went to the pedie cardiologist with Carmen this week and was delighted to see–with the latest technology ultrasound–that Alicia’s heart and lungs are functioning normally now.  My slight concern is that her neuro system is lagging behind somewhat but that may catch up to normal in a couple of weeks when she would have been a full-term birth.  I’m praying for this.  Carmen and Alicia’s dad are dedicated parents to both of their children.  Their son, Sebastián, wasn’t very happy about the new intruder in his mother’s space so I told Carmen to get him a doll that he had to take care of while she was attending to Alicia.  He is recovering after a week of divided attention.

All else is running smoothly here.  I got a new set of headlights for my “truck”, the term that they use for a 4×4 SUV.  Now oncoming cars don’t have to be blinded by the diffusion from the severely pitted headlights.  I was always getting the bright light signal when I wasn’t using the brights because the diffused light was terrible.  Autos down here have to be sturdy and resilient, my 2006 Toyota 4Runner is perfect.

As in the US, the stores have been promoting Christmas stuff since October.  This year, I think it will be not so “over the top” as it was last year.  My room mate and I need to discuss what we may or maynot do about decorating the house.  Since Sherry is a hermit anyway, I don’t think I’ll do much inside the house.  I may make some kind of wreath for the door though or buy an artificial wreath and decorate it with beach shells and glass.  Yes, that would be a good project.

It looks like I’ve run out of sensible information so I’ll stop now.

Take good care of yourselves wherever you are.  Life is precious.

Katherine and MF English Class Promotion

Katherine and I at the Promotion Celebration.  Unfortunately no one told me that I was going to be a participant so I’m not appropriately dressed for the occasion for sure.

Yes, I’m Alive in Nicaragua

It has been six months since I last posted a blog.  I’m sorry for the lack of attention to the news from my paradise.  Some of you may not understand the reason for my being out of touch and there are several causes.

In mid-April, the troubles (my friend from So. Africa calls it) began in Nicaragua.  The troubles affect us physically out here in rural Rivas Department in much the same manner as it is affecting the folks in the large cities and other parts of the country.  The September issue of the New Yorker magazine has a wonderfully accurate article titled Fake News: Crisis in Nicaragua written by a reporter who came here to see for himself and write about it.  I recommend that you read the story online to understand some of my angst.

Rancho Santana among most of the other tourist areas all over the country is suffering greatly by the cessation of travelers.  More than 90% of the businesses in our area are closed temporarily and some of them permanently.  This, of course, has meant that many people are out of jobs.  I am proud to say that the owners of Rancho Santana and the RS department managers have done their best to keep the Nicaraguan staff working, while sending the “gringo” employees back to their countries where they have job opportunities.  Other businesses that are still open have thinned their staff and reduced the salaries of those still employed.  This same situation is occurring in all Departments. Soy triste.

Although I consider myself Nicaraguense now, I commend USA Ambassador to Nicaragua, Laura Dogu, for her clear headed guidance and information posting to US citizens.  The STEP alerts are non-judgemental and factual.  So much for Reason #1.

Reason #2.  In June, Rivka and Brian Bent sent me a ticket to come to San Juan Capistrano, CA to house and dog sit for them while they traveled to the Wheels and Waves Event in France and Spain.  This is the fifth year that Brian was invited to participate as a performer and he took Rivka and Esther along for the fun this time.  I was thrilled with this great opportunity to see my CA families who came down to SJC to see me.  Also I connected with many friends who I haven’t seen in 20 years.  Since I was in charge of a five bedroom house, I could invite friends to spend a sleepover with me. The weather was GRAND.  I didn’t have to wear three layers of clothing to stay warm.  I was able to visit with the Bents upon their return for a couple of days before I ventured back to my home in Nicaragua.

While I was away, an Australian friend stayed at my condo for a couple of weeks to be away from the troubles that were severely affecting her house in Laguna de Apoyo.  It was definitely a win-win for both of us.

Another win-win is that I now have a permanent roommate, Sherry Long.  Sherry is my friend Abby Smith’s mother and had been living in Granada for one year.  When the troubles began, Abby didn’t think that Sherry was safe where she lived and that was the case.  Sherry has a dog.  It became impossible for her to walk Rue in the area around her home.  So now I have a roommate and friend.  Sherry is somewhat of a hermit which works great for both of us.  She stays in her room most of the time and doesn’t mind the series of dinner guests that parade in and out of my home.  I believe we definitely have a win-win.

Since my decision was made to no longer rent my condo on Airbnb or to others than Sherry, I finally decided to empty the “personal locked closet” where I stored all the precious items that I didn’t want used by renters.  It took me a whole day to empty the crates, rearrange most of the kitchen, sort out and give away duplicates, and then work on a redecoration project.  I now have new sofa cushions and pillows, new pictures on the walls from my stored stash and a sense of contentment that I haven’t felt since I moved from CA five years ago.  I’ve got my feet on the ground again.

OK, so that you don’t get the idea that I am sitting here eating bonbons, I have taken on a new 5 day a week job.  I’m the ESL teacher for the INATEC certificate program for adults at Fun Limón.  I have four levels of classes–one beginner’s, two level three and four, and one level six.  I teach Tuesday through Friday from 1 to 6 with an hour break between two levels.  On Saturday, I teach a new group from 8 to 12.  Classes began on August 28th and will continue for 10 weeks.  The salary is a pittance but this keeps me off the streets and is fun.  Since most of the students except level six have very little English skill, I am using a lot of Spanish and they are helping me when I need to be corrected–another win-win.

I will continue to review and edit online medical courses for Continua because I have my mornings free to research, study, and review the medical stuff.  All of this keeps me thinking positively about our future here.

Please stay in touch and if you want to follow what is going on in Nicaragua, I recommend the website news http://www.confidencial.com or #sosnicaragua.

The quilt was one of my Aunt Hilda’s.  I don’t know how old it is but I think it is probably at least 60 years old.  It’s all sewn by hand.

The I AM calligraphy hung in my houses in CA since the 1970s and I’m happy to see the George Bernard Shaw quote back up on the wall here along with Brian’s early paintings and the water color that Greg did when he was about 6 yrs. old.

The modern lady is a painting by my roommate Sherry Long.  The collage is done by students at Una Escuelita compiled by my friend Pope Noell, the owner of Una Escuelita.

Hope you all enjoy.

Solo el amor prevalece.

Delays in Nicaragua

Here it is, another holiday in my Nicaragua paradise. For Christians, it is Good Friday. For Nicaraguans beginning with Thursday, it is Semana Santa. Nicaragua has many holidays and this is one of their most important. Many communities from the largest to the smallest have special traditions and rituals that are practiced during this special week.

In Las Salinas, one of the towns in Tola municipality near me, the Catholic church there performs a Passion Procession sometime in the week preceding Semana Santa with men and women dressed in biblical costume. One man is given the privilege of carrying a very large cross made of tree trunks for about two kilometers along the dirt road with others filing before and after him. I saw this parade several years ago and can only say that I was in awe of the dedication to this local tradition.

Last week when returning from Managua on one of our very rural back roads, I witnessed another such procession from a tiny village. However, in this procession four men were carrying a small platform with a 15 inch statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe surrounded by flowers. This procession of ten people was going to walk about 5 kilometers to the nearest church. The group seemed to be having a good time and weren’t concerned that it was beginning to get dark and would soon be somewhat dangerous processing along this road.

Another annual tradition associated with Semana Santa and beginning two weeks prior is the procession of carretas from Managua to a special Catholic church in Potósi, a small town in Rivas Department outside of the city of Rivas. The carrettas begin with oxen carts followed by horse drawn carts. Whole families are packed into their cart and camp alongside the road for the two week trip. The route goes through Granada and proceeds along the Pan American Highway from there. Police are hired to monitor the one way traffic that creates at least a 30 to 40 minute delay to normal travel time. Many towns are represented by their decorated and bannered carts. Each town’s cart processes within their specific group. I discovered, after encountering the carretta procession twice in two weeks on trips to Managua, that each cart has more than one family participating to fulfill the journey. One set will spend one week traveling and camping and be relieved by a second group of participants for the second and final week. Each cart not only carries the people and their camping gear but also has to carry feed and water for the animals. Along the Pan American Highway the carrettas are allowed to travel for two hours in mid-morning and two hours in mid-afternoon. Traffic gets backed up for at least a kilometer if not more. Survivors could take lessons from these carretta participants.

This is a fascinating procession although somewhat frustrating to those travelers trying to get to Managua in a hurry. Thank heaven, I didn’t have scheduled appointments for my two trips to Managua. As I have learned, here one learns patience and then more patience. I am including photos of the carrettas from my two trips—the first ones are along the Granada Highway, the second ones are along the Pan Am with the carrettas and animals camped.

Time seems to fly by each day or else I am slowing down daily, although I don’t think the latter is true. I have had renters in the condo numerous occasions since the Christmas holidays. This, of course, means that I am moving in and out of the condo to various friend’s homes. In between and during the temporary lodging sessions, I am still entertaining the many friends who come to their Nicaragua vacation homes during this beautiful dry season. Thankfully, some of the friends where I stay don’t mind me having dinner parties at their homes. Actually I do this to show off their homes which may produce future renters for them.

Over the past three months, I met several new Rancho Santana homeowners and therefore increased my list of potential couriers to bring me my mail and stuff that I order from the US. People inclined to come here, many of them surfers, are willing participants in the quasi-community that we develop as ex-pats to ferry goods back and forth.  I also met multiple Rancho Santana guests who have incredible stories to share.  A couple of these visitors, the Harveys, have undertaken to sponsor a young classical and jazz violinist to go to the Berklee Conservatory of Music in Boston this July.  Marvin Amador, the young man, is an extraordinary musician reminding me of Stefan Grappelli who I saw in concert several times in the US.  I have helped the Harveys by introducing them to resources that help their endeavor. When Marvin ever gets a YouTube video online, I’ll post the address in a short blog.

There is much construction activity going on in the Tola area these days. New businesses, large and small, and many new homes are being built by the local folks as well as ex-pats from all over the world. I am delighted to see that my favorite local craft beer makers—Campo Brew—have finally moved from their house into a building in Limón #2 and opened a brew pub. The pub is open from 11 to 7 three days a week. Food can be purchased from a food truck that is parked nearby on the property. Entrepreneurship is evident by lots of gringos who are planning on making this their home.

The Great Wall—the retaining wall and reservoir— at my Guasacate house is almost completed and I believe will be ready to receive rain water when the rains finally start. Sadly, I think I will sell my property and the unfinished house, although I am still daily debating this option. Storm Nate in October taught me that I need to have a community of supporters nearby to be safe. Unfortunately there isn’t much of a permanent community in Guasacate at this time and it may be at least five years before such develops. My condo in Rancho Santana, although it doesn’t have the glorious hilltop views and sound of the ocean and surrounding foothills, it does have a small permanent community. Of more importance, however, there is my Nica family in Limón #2 and the many workers at RS who know me and help me in any way if I need help. One day this past month I found myself talking to an older friend in RS, when I was staying at her house, telling her that she needed to be safe. I then realized that I should also be taking my own advice since I am nearly her age. Living alone in Guasacate is not a good idea. Hence the decision to sell.

With this sad news, I’m ending today’s blog.

Happy Semana Santa to family, friends, and readers near and far.

 

My Holidays in Nicaragua

Living away from my family at holiday time is normal for me. Our household had many holidays because we practiced both Jewish and Christian traditions for many years. My favorite of all the holidays was and still is Thanksgiving a tradition related to gratefulness and love.

When my children were young we traveled to their grandparents home from our home in southern to northern California for Christmas holidays. Now living in Nicaragua where it is warm and beautiful, I prefer not to travel in the cold and to spend the seasonal holidays here.

Several friends come to their homes in Rancho Santana every year during the cold weather. As a result those of us who live here have developed some traditions of our own.

Thanksgiving, although the US date isn’t the same as the NI date, is a big event. Even Nicaraguense join in to the celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Rancho Santana always has a traditional feast in the restaurant that is excellent and fun. The day before Thanksgiving Day one of my RS permanent resident friends has started the Friendsgiving dinner. There is the traditional turkey feast with guests bringing extra dishes to delight the palate. This year I think there were 50 people of all ages enjoying the dinner and evening. A lot of folks who we know come from other towns to join the fun. Friendsgiving Day is my newest favorite holiday.

This year the Friendsgiving hosts are also having an Italian Christmas Dinner and White Elephant party on Christmas Day. This is a good thing for me because I do miss Christmas morning at the Leah and Tim Smith’s house where the piles of presents are passed out and then opened one after another. My Friendsgiving hosts are Joanne and Kenny Smith. A perfect coincidence Christmas Day for me to attend.

On the 22nd I hosted a Christmas Piñata Fiesta for my Guzmán Family at their campo. We are a group of 53 family members that range in age—me being the oldest—to the youngest of six months. The piñata, that I bought in the store that makes them in Managua, was perfect for my idea of a piñata. No carmelos in this piñata as I dislike the idea of more candy for kids with the little candy wrap papers flying all over. I put 200 coins—5 cordoba—into the piñata. There were 18 children under the age of 10. We paired the older children with one of the little ones as an ayudante (helper). When the piñata finally broke and yesterday it didn’t, it fell from the rope after many beatings, all the kids piled after the coins. The ayudantes were the ultimate collectors for their partner. The coins were counted and put into a piggy bank, called an alcancía, that each child received and had their name written on. The ayudante was also given a bank with their name and the same number of coins was deposited into their alcancía. Although there was much skepticism about this piñata and how it would work, in the end everyone especially the kids, thought it was great fun. There was much noise from bank rattling until the parents told their offspring to take their banks to their homes on sight in the campo. I think the concept of saving money little by little was a new idea for the parents and older children. Hopefully savings will grow as so many other ideas have done in my Nica family.   Afterward we all had Christmas cupcakes and juice—pure juice not the sugar flavored water that prevails. The adults, all 34 of them, received a small wrapped gift for the females or a special Holiday card for the men with some money. This family is as dear to me as my amazing biological family. They both take care of me and I love them all.

For the past six weeks, I’ve had a roommate. Katie Phelan is a three-month pastry consultant at the Rancho Santana restaurant. She has been working 12-hour days so I didn’t see her very much except for the very few breakfasts or dinners we had here at the condo. Katie left today and I’ll be moving the day after Christmas to my friend Gail’s house for a week as the condo is rented. I’ll be back to the condo for one week and then off again for a month for another renter. It will be nice when the condo sells, I can finish building my house, and won’t have to keep moving around with food and office.

The Guasacate house construction has focused the past two months on the Great Wall—retention and water reservoir—on the ocean side of the house. Now as the wall is almost completed, the inside of the house can receive the construction work.

I continue to work editing online courses that is such fun for me and is keeping me busy enough as well. In the beginning of December I taught my Cuidadores de Personas class for two days in Granada. That was stated to be successful for the four attendees. I enjoyed staying at my friend Terry Leary’s home around the corner from she and her sister Nancy Bergman’s hotel Casa San Francisco. The class was held in Terry’s home but I ate all my meals at the hotel restaurant Bocadillos that they lease to a young couple. All these owners are from the SFO area and it feels like home when I am there.

Now it is time to visit with more friends and celebrate the season.

So Happy and Peaceful Solstice, Christmas, Hannukah, and New Year to you all.

Sent with MUCH LOVE.

Piñata with 2 yr. old Sebastián

After the storm called Hurricane Nate

I am currently sitting in the CREA building waiting for folks to come and pick up the mattresses (colchones) that were ordered for them. More later about why I am involved in a mattress project. It is a miracle of dedication and hard work that CREA is open and working as a community library and learning center that is CREA. Four weeks ago this building was 4 feet underwater from one of the several rivers near the property that run through Rancho Santana and the villages of Limón #1 and Limòn #2. Storm Nate—later named Hurricane Nate—damaged CREA severely. CREA opened in August and had hundreds of books, new computers, and workspaces for various ages of children and young adults. Most of the books were damaged and the computers totally gone. After the water receded, CREA was left with almost two feet of mud and silt. So I am sitting at the table of a miraculous recovery.

Hurricane Nate was the Perfect Storm that hasn’t occurred in this area for more than 70 years. We had hurricane force winds, torrential rain, full moon, high tides and humongous waves that lasted for almost three days.   Although it was a bit scary at times, I stayed in the condo. Water was pouring through the small cracks in the window and door sills that resembled spouting fountains. Lidieth Alvarez Guzmán, one of my Limón family members thankfully was staying with me for a week. She and I each took a room and kept stuffing towels in the cracks changing them about every two minutes for a day. Having a washer with a good spin cycle that I used constantly and then tossed the towels in the dryer helped keep me from having a lake in my bedroom and living room.   The last night of the storm Lidieth and I went to the Rancho Santana hotel at the request of the staff because the river was rising next to my condo. There was no electricity in the villages for about a week. We in the Rancho Condos are fortunate to have a generator that ran constantly for a week. Trees were down along the main roads between Rivas and our area that pulled concrete posts and electrical wires with them.

I am a fortunate person to have great friends both in the villages and at Rancho Santana that seem to take care of me. There were not many homeowners or guests at RS during that storm which was a blessing in many ways as only relief crews were going out with high-wheeled trucks to cross the rivers. So many people from the communities and expats pulled together to provide shelter to those families who totally lost their homes or couldn’t go back inside until the knee-deep mud was shoveled out. A loosely organized group was formed named Tola Community Watch (TCW) that took a census of needs in the communities far and wide and a priority list was developed from this list. Many businesses and NGO groups participated in this effort. There were probably some 20 villages that were devastated and most of them were counted by number of people in the village or campo and how severe was their damage. Besides drinking water and some clothing that were distributed almost immediately, the priority of where to spend dollars was developed. Many GoFundMe pages were initiated at the very beginning and funds were coming in for the purchase of food and water and water filters. The Nicaragua government did contribute with supplies at the local level and even sent teams from Managua to distribute food and water.

The first wave of help was shelter with food and water. Next wave was cleaning the homes that were salvageable of the mud—CREA among this group. Shortly thereafter wells were cleaned and pronounced free of contamination. At the same time Rancho Santana road crews were repairing the roads first in RS then in the surrounding communities. The electric company was removing trees, replacing posts and restoring energy to most of the areas. Needless to say I was without phone service or internet for almost a week—at least I had my tools. Many families lost everything but the clothes on their backs. Fortunately as far as we know there were no deaths as a result of this event.

So how did I get involved with mattresses? My Zavala friends, who also had mud in their Guasacate casitas, pitched in immediately with help from Managua. Ana Z made a deal with one of her vendors Casa del Colchón in MGA to sell us mattresses at the vendor cost. The foam mattresses were high quality foam covered with sturdy water resistant canvas with a zipper. I became the organizer of the Zavala Colchón Project, collecting donations, taking orders, paying the vendor as I placed the orders. Yesterday, the first three orders were delivered—103 mattresses to five different drop off spots with a combo of twin, full, and queen that were allocated to families by their donors or in a few cases by people paying for their own. Last night I could have used a good stiff drink but was too tired to think about anything but a bite to eat and a bed. The Project will continue on for probably the next month as more people see what the mattresses look like and wish to order now too. A sidebar plus for me was dusting off my ExCell capability with multiple spreadsheets in several workbooks. Always making lemonade.

My next adventure in a week or so is to participate in a TWC meeting with the Tola Mayor—mayoral elections at the end of next week. A subgroup of TWC requested this meeting to hear what Disaster Plans exist in the Rivas Department and specifically the Tola Municipality. If there aren’t any, how can we help develop something sustainable. The TCW subgroup has experience in living through disasters of flood and drought here in NI. I am anxious to listen then offer my many years of study in community development. We’ll see how that goes, or at this point if we can get an agreed upon date for a meeting.

Unfortunately I was always too busy to take photos of the damage and the photos that were forwarded aren’t easily put into this blog. The good thing for me is that Ron Urroz, Ana’s husband and builder of our houses, is a fantastic engineer and builder. The Great Wall on the hill in front of our houses didn’t budge an inch while other retaining walls in the many areas either collapsed or are leaning over. Again I am grateful for this. Several families in Guasacate went up to our houses on the hill for shelter and slept in my house on the dirt since it doesn’t have floors, doors, or windows. Ana and Ron’s house next door is finished  and locked so my house was the refuge point. The damage to the oceanfront businesses in Guasacate was very bad. It will take months before some of them will be able to dig out, repair and reopen.

So this is my story for this blog. Hopefully, I’ll have some photos in the next writing and some normalcy back in my routine. So far, that isn’t happening.