Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year!

After many tries, this is what I got while trying to write año.

Fireworks are really popular here. When I asked if there were grass and house fires because of them, the reply was simply 'Of course!' and we happily moved on.

At midnight on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, the whole town rings out with mortars and roman candles and little trees (all literal translations of the names of the firecrackers).

It's a tradition made possible by both warm weather as well as the attitude toward community. It's totally normal to step outside an shoot off incendiaries right next to your neighbor.

And if they happen to land on his roof, well, let's hope he doesn't notice (thank goodness for zinc roofing and concrete block walls)!

For my part, I tried to spell out Feliz Año Nuevo and Happy New Year's with sparklers for you.

Finally! A recognizable letter! I wish you a happy 'N'! For New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Bored Toros, Excited Toros, Happy Toros, Sleepy Toros

So I went to my first Nicaraguan Rodeo a couple weeks ago. It runs through the last few weeks of December in a wooden stadium built just for the event (although I believe the materials are not just for the event, they look pretty well used).

Bidder's Box at the Rodeo

You can sit above on an elevated platform that circles the ring and pay just over a dollar, or pay just under a dollar and stand to one side of the ring, or inside the ring.

Yep, that's right. Almost everyone inside the ring (and it's a lot of people) are fare paying public. Nope, I guess they aren't worried about insurance costs.

Negotiations and Instructions

A rider, who is a member of the public and decides he wants to ride a bull for about $5 (depending on the bull) has just negotiated his exact pay with the owner, the man in the red shirt. He gets a little friendly advice before dropping down onto the bull.

It was then I found out while they're willing to ride this bull.

Run, No Seriously!

Other bulls are a little feistier and no one is willing to ride for the price offered.

Each event (there are about three per day), is about three hours long with 5 minutes of 'riding' and 10 minutes of negotiation for each bull.

The bulls all have a rope tied across their torso. I'm not entirely sure what it does but was told it constricts blood flow. When it's released, apparently that makes them a little bit upset... or something, I'm not really sure why the buck a little more after that. But I don't know anyone else who really knows either.

I left before the evening event, which is apparently a bit more raucous (beer bottles flying in a poorly lit arena and much more pickpocketing), but it was still worth every dollar I paid!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Animal Christmas

Joy to the WORLD!

Closed Christmas

PEACE on Earth!

Tejada Christmas

And a Merry Christmas to YOU!

Bar Whiskey Christmas

With Love, Nicole

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dark Days

Hiding Moon
A hiding moon

Literally, yesterday was the darkest day of the year for the northern hemisphere.

Figuratively, things have been somewhat dark around here as well.

Apparently, while Gunther and I were doing our construction coordinator jobs, some within NPHI decided that we should built what they would like us to build. A different home, a different system, with different people.

Some of what they have is good. Some is not realistic. And a small portion is illegal within Nicaragua building codes (Yes! We have a few building codes, mostly earthquake related). But we have been told this is what we are doing, because it is what some within NPHI who have power want.

It doesn't matter that while it is our job to coordinate, plan, contact, present, negotiate (not to make final decisions, that's the National Director's job), we have been kept in the dark about this new plan until just recently.

It doesn't matter that while we've been kept in the dark, we've been doing our job, planning, negotiating, presenting this information to them, spending money and time for what they would now like us to throw out without regard to spent resources, wasting all that has been given.

So we'll see what happens. Nothing within NPH is ever sure. Even once it's been 'decided' what actually happens depends on who criticizes what.

But in the meantime, these days seem a little darker than they should be.

Peek a Boo

Friday, December 19, 2008


Rompope is the eggnog of Latin America (or is eggnog the rompope of the US?). Originating in Mexico, you can buy it just like boxed juice in any grocery store any time of year in Nicaragua.

I love eggnog. Often I'll freeze a cup on Christmas Eve to eat on Christmas morning while opening presents (oh, come on, you all have your own little weird habits too!).

So while there is no eggnog here, there is a convenient substitute!

Although many of the recipes call for ground almonds, that is one item not available here. So since it's listed as optional, my test run didn't include it.


  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 cup finely ground almonds or almond meal (optional, see Note)
  • 12 egg yolks
  • 2 cups light rum or brandy
Combine the milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon stick (and ground almonds, if you are using them) in a large saucepan. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and cool to room temperature.

Beat the egg yolks until thick and lemony. Remove the cinnamon stick from the milk mixture, and gradually whisk the egg yolks into the milk mixture. Return to low heat and, stirring constantly, cook until mixture coats a spoon. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Add the rum or brandy to the mixture, stir well. Transfer to a container and and cover tightly. Refrigerate for 1 or 2 days before serving. Makes 1-1/2 quarts.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chocolate PepperMints

Mints Marching
Cold PepperMints

What is more Christmasy than cold weather?

The pure whiteness of snow of course, the twinge of a cold breath of air, the red noses, the quick, yet careful steps across slippery parking lots, I miss it all!

To replicate that sensation, just take of breath when you pop one of these in your mouth!

Super cold, super pepperminty.

Pure Peppermint
Pure Peppermint

The recipe is from The Kitchn.


2 cups powdered sugar
1.5 tbsp softened butter
2 tsp peppermint extract
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp cream
8 ounces (about 1-1/3 cup) dark chocolate, chopped
1 tbsp vegetable shortening

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper or a silpat. In a blender, cream together the sugar, butter, extracts, and cream on low speed. After the ingredients are combined, raise the speed to medium-high and beat for an additional 1-2 minutes until mixture holds together very well and is creamy, not powdery.

Using a teaspoon, roll the candy into small balls and flatten them on the wax paper or silpat with the palm of your hand into patty shapes. When done, put them in the refrigerator to chill for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the chopped chocolate and the shortening in the microwave or over a double boiler.

Using dipping tools or two dinner forks, dip the patties into the chocolate one by one. Drag them across the lip of the bowl to remove any excess chocolate. Return them to the wax paper or silpat, and place back in the refrigerator to set the candies. They should be ready to eat in a few hours.

And that's it! Due to the dairy ingredient, these need to be kept in the refrigerator. Layer the patties between sheets of parchment in an airtight container. They'll last for a month.

My personal notes are that I used salted butter, I'm sure not the intention of the recipe, but it's all I have and it worked just fine.

I also substituted milk for cream and actually had to double the amount to make the mint innards creamy enough to mold.

I also used milk chocolate chips (kindly brought to me from the states by my sister!) for the outer layer.

It made about 36, but I shaped my smaller than a real York's Peppermint Patty.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Robbed of a Happy Birthday and a Lot More

San Jorge police station. Jail cells through the open door.

I can't write this post in a way that truly conveys the moment, but I'm sure you can imagine...

Roberto's birthday was last Sunday. He left my house that evening at six, on his motorcycle carrying carefully wrapped birthday cake in his backpack. After shutting the entrance gate, I went happily to the kitchen to enjoy another piece of it myself.

Outside, about 100 yards down the road, one man stepped out of the darkness with a rock in his hand. Another man just behind the first flung his arm and weight against Roberto and threw him off his motorcycle.

An elderly lady who lives across the road yelled for them to leave him alone. But there wasn't anything she could really do.

Photo taken from outside the gate to the house, everything happened within the road you can see in the photo.

Roberto got up and ran, with now four men chasing behind. He made it halfway up the rocky dirt road in pitch black and then fell. The other men yelling for him to stop or they'd kill him quickly closed in, kicked him in the stomach and put a long knife to his throat.

They stole his backpack, his wallet, his cell phone, and then Roberto ran back to the house and they ran off through the banana fields.

Only then did the adrenaline start for me.

I heard him outside, yelling with desperation and hitting the entrance gate (my house has 9 foot walls all the way around), "Nicole, Nicole! They've robbed me! I don't know if they're following me! They've stolen everything!

By this time I had run out to the gate, fumbling with my keys in the darkness to find the right one to let him in and back into safety.

He ran for the telephone to call the police and grab a machete, I ran to get the car out (at the time I thought they had stolen his motorcycle). We both moved quickly, but it felt like forever. As I was pulling out, someone yelled from the property across the road, but I didn't know who it was or what they said.

The unknown reigned.

Roberto raced to the police station, I notified all our neighbors. There aren't very many and they're not very close to the house, but I felt they were our best bet for finding anything.

As I told them what had happened (and began to tremble from the realization), one woman brought me water. Some of them listened. Many of them told me it was dangerous where I lived and that I should live in town. They all meant well, but comfort in a time of crisis can be very culture specific.

One of the neighbors who works at NPH and I drove around our block (which is huge and mostly banana and sugarcane fields). I didn't have any hope that whoever had done this would be hanging out in the road, Roberto's backpack in hand, but it also felt better than doing nothing.

By luck, we all reconvened back at the house at the same time with a few extra family members and neighbors in tow. After standing outside and covering everything and all the extra possibilities a few more times (a Latin American tradition), Roberto went to cancel his bank cards.

Around 10 we were called to the police station to identify some guys they had picked up. While I still don't have a ton of confidence in the police, I suppose them not searching the banana fields does make sense when they know they can just hit up a bar, pick up the same guys as usual and probably be right.

Although the banana field security company did a search of the field and found a drunk man with really bad timing trying to steal bananas.

Roberto walked into the station where the guys were just sitting on a bench. He walked back outside with the police (a distance of only about 15 feet) and said that they were 3 of the 4 guys.

He also voiced some concern that the guys saw both of us as well and the police said that was just a sacrifice the victim has to make.

The next day, we started the process of replacing things, motorcycle documents, insurance, license, national ID, medical insurance card, bank cards, etc.

We went to the police station again, filled out paperwork, forensic clinic, regular clinic, bank, ID office, bank again and on and on. At the police station, the mother of one of the boys was crying.

All three who are currently in jail are minors. Nicaraguan law for minors is very lax (no comment on the juvenile offender system in the US), even if they commit murder, the sentence could be no time in jail.

The police have shown Roberto a photo of the fourth man (the man who Roberto and I are both of the opinion organized the whole thing) and Roberto confirmed his identity. The police haven't found him yet to arrest him, and probably won't.

As time has passed, we've both had a chance to relax and just be grateful things weren't worse. That what could have been a moment of showing off, or anger, or anything for an out of control teenager and resulted in life altering loss, will remain to us simply a strong lesson.

We've both laughed as we've pictured someone trying to sell a 250 GB external hard drive (it was in the backpack) in the middle of banana fields. Even though they could sell it for more than $100 to some one in the city, most of these guys have never even used a computer. It would just look like a little red plastic box with a cable coming out. Or a doorstop. Or a paperweight.

We're very aware, however, that our lives will never be the same. When Roberto decided to press charges, he did so knowing that this isn't a very big town. And that your best protection is your family.

All the boys in jail will be there for at least a few months, but they are also all part of the largest gang in San Jorge (ok, it's pretty much the only gang in this little town). So in the end, I decided to move, at least temporarily, to Roberto's mother's house in Rivas. Different town, different gang, lot's more family.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Insider's View

To be God
The view from on top of the water tank at the new property

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. My friends and family can all attest to one moment or another when I was a little too trusting.

And for that reason it has taken me a long time with NPH to commit to this blog some of the little daily frustrations.

For example, I received a phone call last week from the phone company. My account was expiring that day, so they need payment or my service would be cut.

Now this isn't my personal phone. This is my NPH phone, used to accomplish NPH things, but apparently not very important to NPH accounting.

Also, I generally receive these calls every month. As I understand it, they cut my service most months because my payment due date is before the bill normally arrives in the mail.

The most fun is when I arrive at the airport in Managua fresh from a trip to help support NPH and I discover I have no phone service because my bill hasn't been paid and it wouldn't be a problem except the office has forgotten what time my plane gets in (7 PM) and isn't there to pick me up.

After I visited the phone company and was assured that they could not sent the bills out any earlier and I couldn't pay online because I needed a number on the bill to do so, the only option was to go each month and pay in person.

Since I am not part of the payment department at NPH, I can't do that, but I worked it out with someone who would. And so for 3 heavenly months I didn't get my service cut off. Then the worker went on maternity leave and for 3 additional mysterious months, I didn't get my service cut off.

But of course, it couldn't last.

So when I received the call I went to the accounting department to ask if they had paid. I learned well long ago that just because they say they're going to cut off your service, it doesn't mean you haven't paid.

Accounting said they haven't paid because they didn't receive the bill. They also made sure to let me know it wasn't their responsibility to pay bills that didn't come in. So I asked whose responsibility it was to track down these bills, and I was informed that it was the responsibility of the company that is billing.

Ok, so I've lived here for a short while, but I'll let you in on what is apparently a secret, the companies don't always sent the bill on time! Incredible! I know! But apparently the people in the NPH accounting office don't know! Shhh!

So I was told I was welcome to go to the phone company myself that day(although there was no transportation available) and get the bill.

I decided to decline the exciting field trip like so many other similar opportunities I've been given (got to draw the line somewhere or I wouldn't have time for construction!) and let them figure out what to do because I've got a secret weapon. The director's phone account expires the same day mine does and sometimes he gets slightly better help than I do.

So all the accounts will be paid in the end. Whether or not there is a fine this month is yet to be known.

But one thing I HAVE learned!

If I don't worry about all the little things that happen every day like this, nothing would get done!

On the other hand, if I do worry about all the little things that happen every day like this, I won't get anything done!

And I would get an ulcer. Trying not to worry wins!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gingerbread Squatter's Residence

Ahhhh..... the traditions of Christmas.

The scent of pine is in the air (I have a candle to remind me). Festive music is ringing out (thank goodness for ipods!). The Christmas tree is regaling standing in the corner (the Germans had a fake one left in the closet). And the scrumptious foods is taking the bite out of the chill (ok, no chill, but I'm doing my best with the foods anyway!).

Being the incredibly talented construction manager that I am, along with my love of all things sugar, I have always look forward to making gingerbread houses.

Now, as this talented construction manager, I am acutely aware that as you build in different cultures and climates, the styles and materials of the building also need to change correspondingly. However, gingerbread houses are rather confined in their options. Generally, you would go with gingerbread, although many go with the generic version - graham crackers.

Since I completely lacked molasses, actual gingerbread was not to be. So beginning with the graham crackers, I planned out a traditional nicaraguan ranch house.

At first when the porch roof started collapsing under the weight of the licorice, I thought to myself, well, this is going to be a bit more authentic than I was thinking! But in the end, when I realized that graham crackers in Nicaraguan humidity loose all structural value within 5 minutes, I had to 'value engineer' this baby down to the traditional squatters shack instead.

While it is still completely traditional (even little 'stones' on top to keep the laminated roof from blowing off! (nails and structure to nail to are too expensive to maintain when they're always rusting away)), it's a bit more humble than I was originally hoping (or maybe just more homely).

But I suppose that's the best Christmas reminder we could have going into this season. This year maybe a little different, not the same picture perfect of years past. But that will make no difference in how much I enjoy it, nor in how special it is.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I Thought This Day Would Never Come

Happy day!

After only 14 months of requesting, wheedling, threatening, cajoling, persuading, complimenting and coaxing the head of the accounting department and the National Director, I have all the documents showing everything we've spent and what others have spent for us in the name of construction for NPH Nicaragua.

I know how much we've spent and how much we have left to spend (within $2,000)!

At least for today.

Susie is a good example of how tickled I am!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Always the Same, Always Different

Same, but Different
Broken undermined steps that lead from the house to the beach (although it's not much of a beach right now)

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I suppose at this point in our history, each one of you has your own thoughts that spring to mind when that phrase is uttered.

I've taken hundreds of photos of Volcanos Concepcion and Maderas as they sit in Lake Nicaragua, and they're all different. I could probably take a hundred more and it would be the same story, all the same, but all different.

I'm thinking about how much the little world around me has appeared to change in the last couple years. Not that it has actually changed at all, just that my understanding of it has changed as I've learned how to interact with it and discovered just how little it changes regardless of how much I would like it to sometimes.

The more we change, the more we stay the same.

Kinetic Water

Monday, December 8, 2008


Purisima Details

Today is a holiday! Nope, we don't celebrate Christmas really early, it's PURISIMA!

Purisima is the celebration of the announcement by the angel Gabriel that Mary is pregnant with the Messiah.

It isn't exactly a day of celebration, though. It's been celebrated every night for the last nearly two weeks, with neighborhoods taking their turns decorating with bows and ribbons and carting their Mary to the church in Rivas (Ok, really it's a slow procession).

Purisima Float 2007

Lot's of music, lot's of reason to get together, it's almost all the things Nicaraguans love in a party!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Disappearing Island

Disappearing Island
The ferry approaching the San Jorge dock

Even though we're in the dry season, it's been unusually cloudy lately. Most of last Sunday there was no island at all. It started to appear near sunset.

Loaded Ferry

Apparently everyone wanted to leave the disappearing island on the last ferry. I'm not sure what their carrying capacity is. I'm not sure they know either.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Break for Family

My sister and I chatting while I finish giving Amelia her ear infection medicine. (photo by Kamweti Mutu (my brother-in-law))

Thanksgiving is all about family, right? And this year it was for me too!

It was so wonderful to have my family here, visiting the home on the island, the new homes we're building and Nicaragua as a whole.

There's two words in spanish that siginify 'to know'. One of them, saber, it to know generally, for example to read in a book. The other, conocer, it to know more intimately, to actually visit a place or meet a person.

So after nearly two years of living in Nicaragua, it feels good to have my family not only 'know' about where I live and who is important to me here, but to 'know' them.