Poor By Choice

Shelley had accumulated quite a bit of medical supplies we were hoping to donate to the nurse who travels to the little village next to us (every 8 days - the sole medical support the village enjoys). We were going to ship them to our lawyer, but:


Waste of medical supplies in the US in enormous. A surgical tray will be opened, for example, and only one or two items might be used. The rest cannot be used, so they are discarded. They could be donated for use in another country.

The hospital that Shelley is currently working for was intrigued by this possibility, and even suggested the establishment of some kind of relationship, with pictures, etc. The desire to help others is strongly ingrained in the American psyche.

Just like the guys who were bringing down sports items for the kids, that's the end of that . . .and this. The Nicaraguan government certainly has the right to confiscate donations to their "subjects". And I have the right to stab myself in the eye with a fork. I don't know which makes less sense.

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Follow Up

That's good...

It more correctly reflects a lack of planning and proper procedure rather than a "Confiscation" by the big bad Sandinistas.

I read the title

But the posting has different anecdote than expected. For the title I do not think there is a 'choice'-is the way it is.

Given the 'choice' to get US citizenship and take flight to America-80% of young people would take that offer.


Hell, so would I

As long as I didn't have to give another one up.

That is the point

They would give it up. Nica citizenship is worthless.

Slightly Off Thread

but a couple more of those useless missions:





We have this list....

Feel free to add new ones in the comments at the bottom if they're not already here.... http://www.nicaliving.com/node/8562

Are they useless?

What did you find out about them? Anything we should know?

Not At All


"Useless" should have been in quotes with some more context from another poster's dismissal of the Usanos coming to NicaVille to help out. It was the other poster's comment on the pretty Gringas from NJ with their $6K worth of meds for La Mascota; a comment (I didn't make) that the cost of the trip could have been better spent - a statement that is certainly true on its face.

Granted, some "missions"--- -if we can use that word without the religious connotations, as simply someone or some group wanting to do some good--- are better and much more "efficient" than others. All drop a few bucks for food and lodging, display a good face to the Nicaraguans (mostly), and some even do some serious good. Unfortunately there is a bit of the zoo thing going on, a comment I made not to denigrate Nicaraguans but rather the culturally shocked Americanos who stare and take pictures, --and the Nicaraguans probably pick up on those vibes.

You can't argue with 25 new houses that weren't there yesterday. . . .that's not useless to the 25 families moving out of cardboard shack with a mud floor.

Yes and I have my favorites

Long term, been coming down for years like Vosh Connecticut cos you can see feel and touch the results of a 4 day clinic.

As well, a few quirky ones but a lot of fun...such as the group here last week teaching Nicaraguans Lacrosse.

On the house issue

What happens if the people now are not close to their families and support system? If they have to pay to commute to where they work? Some of the families are living on such margins that making them pay more taxes, more for transportation, means that they don't have the money they did have living in the shack. If they own their solars, they can go from the zinc sided shack to the concrete block building as they can afford it.

One of the things I fought was an urban renewal project where people were going to be evicted from places they'd either paid off or where the mortgage or rent was circa $25 a month US (in the early 1980s). We saved the neighborhood as it was because it worked as a neighborhood for the people who lived there. And they would have had to be subsidized to afford the affordable housing that would have replaced only some of the housing that was slated to be destroyed. I don't know if the Mexicans just got their houses free, or what the rent was, but generally, the zinc sided house or the $800 used house trailer is cheaper than the socially built housing. This lets the family spend some money on something else. Very few of my better Gethsemane Enrichment Project kids came out of the projects -- one was the exception. People do better in neighborhoods than they do in housing projects, something we learned in the US the hard way.

Also, was this simply a way for someone to clear off some cardboard shacks before the squatters could claim imminent domain.

Bluntly, I can argue with anything, but housing in urban areas is something I've really spent time on.

Rebecca Brown

I Can Tell

you haven't been in one of these cardboard shacks with a mud floor and plastic tarp roof There's a lot of them , an entire subdivision of them, across the Pan Am in Estelí..

I met a talented guitarist who lives in one -with his extended family. They do their damndest to stay clean and presentable, but it's hard.

The thing is how many strings come attached to the alternative

A lot of the cities now are crowded by people who left the country for all sorts of reasons.

When I was doing a poverty alleviation job in Virginia, we could offer people free well drilling and setting up septic systems (rural life). One shock was talking to someone, old part Cherokee woman who had been a field worker all her life, and who owned the land and maybe the trailers that her daughters-in-law and her sons lived in. She wouldn't sign for the program, thought it was nasty to do that business inside a house, and didn't much like her daughters-in-law either.

I think one of the trailers they were living in cost $700. Time frame circa early 1990s. Around that time, my father had renters in a cabin on his property, $25 a month, and they often didn't pay that as they were apparently saving up for a house trailer.

It's some better than Nicaragua's cheapest housing, but the renters didn't have running water or even an outhouse.

The "affordable housing" the people in Charlotte were going to be offered was $300 a month. They were paying quite a bit less for shotgun cabins.

Range of issues -- not all easily fixed by people flying in to do a couple months worth of good.

What's interesting is how vehemently people defend "doing good" in cultures they don't understand, to people whose language they don't speak.

Rebecca Brown

I've edited out my own "receiving end of charity" at least twice

...but now I'm going to give it to you: When I was leaving Philadelphia for the DC area and a new job that paid a whole lot better than the best possibility I had as a non-tenure track college instructor, two people volunteered to help me pack my books before the movers showed up. I wanted to use Staples File boxes that I'd used before (and since) that had handles, came in flat packs I could manage on the bus, and which had handles (and which I've used before and since to ship or mail books, too. Oh, no, they had boxes, too.

It was, as charities are, a take the whole package or leave it deal. She'd been a patronizing person trying to get me to teach creative writing at the school where we taught. She tossed me into the middle of a fight I didn't want to be in between people who hated genre fiction and those who thought popular fiction should be part of the curriculum, without asking me if I wanted to be in that fight. No, I'd rather be in Nicaragua, and I'd even rather work for a defense contractor.

So, there we were in my house with giant boxes that would hold 50 lbs. or more of books (my Staples boxes held around 25 to 30 lbs), with them telling me that helping people pack was part of their church's missions (and it was gay-friendly, too, maybe). So, while the movers, all young musicians and artists who moonlighted for Mambo Movers (my favorite Philly movers) could lift these things, and the guy who'd helped me get the job and who rented me a room in his house could lift these things, I couldn't lift the boxes at all. Sort of the woman's last revenge charity/trying to help me/assuming I saw things her way attack. I would have liked their help packing my books in my boxes, but their charity bit included their over-sized boxes that I couldn't move myself.

My friend in Alexandria gave me help. I paid back the loan for the moving, I gave him a bunch of furniture when I left for Nicaragua, and I still like him, and if he ever needs to get away from the DC area for a while, he'd be welcome here. He's still an on-line friend; she isn't.

When I moved to Nicaragua, I dumped most of my library off at the Salvation Army, took a couple of bags of books to Acorn (and my need was to see what had happened there since I left and the books were an excuse, however welcome), and so forth. People get amazingly defensive when anyone points out that the charity is about the giver -- I've had this exchange or a variant of it from a guy who insisted he had the right to help the poor, and who gave as a example NJ kid who went to Mexico every year to build houses for the poor.

It's not like Mexican don't know how to build houses. They build most of the ones in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, and are probably building them further north as I type.

Charity almost always is about the needs of the giver rather than the receiver. Sometimes, the receivers are happy enough with the gifts; sometimes, they'd rather have had something else for the energy expended. One of the things the "I Give A Damn" people did was descend on a Brooklyn community and wash their stoops. This wasn't appreciated at all. I understand that some African churches get painted five times a year because they have to give the short term mission people something to do.

You have this obsession with hot showers --- which cost, according to Phil's estimates, something like $5 a month per person. Nicaraguans might rather spend that money on one of the cheaper internet connections (mine at $34 plus IVA is currently the most expensive; $10US plus IVA gets you something). In my scheme of things, the internet is more valuable than a hot shower. It's the tropics here; the water is just never that cold.

Some people do help well, but as one of my friends said when we discussed this on Facebook, there's something about the Lady Bountiful giving to the poor that makes my skin crawl. I don't mind living in a world where I give when I have it with the understand that I'll get when I need it. I really don't want other people deciding what I need without asking me.

People do all sorts of things to feel good about themselves and get their names in the newspapers. Most of those things, but not all, are about them, just as your obsession about hot water is about you, and not what Nicaraguans might want (I don't know any neighbors who don't have a TV; I don't know any neighbors who have a heated shower head).

The Japanese military were told that they were liberating fellow Asians from European colonization. Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere and all that. When the Chinese didn't appreciate it, the Japanese committed atrocities. Lather, rinse, repeat for the US in Vietnam, with much fewer but not zero atrocities.

Christianity has had a rather unpleasant track record for killing people who refused to convert, or even murdering people for believing in the wrong flavor of Christianity. This isn't to say that other religions are innocent, but being determined to help other people needs to be balanced with what they want, as well as what their circumstances are. If they want to farm and all the good farmland is owned by vacationers, then land reform or a more liberal adverse possession law may be the best thing to do, not maids jobs.

Two questions: Is this something people have told you they need or want to do? If you're not allowing them to chose how they're being helped, you're trying to compromise their agency, their independent existence as human beings. Second: Is this me trying to compensate for my own failings without addressing those failing? Kinda classic that some big radical professors treat the secretaries like crap, that ministers have troubles with their own families, that some people go into teaching for the pleasure of beating children. People who are failing to be good human beings in one area of their lives can't really make amends for that by being massively charitable. Charity is self-medicating for things that can't be fixed by self-medicating. It's probably a better sort of self-medicating than drinking or using drugs, though.

Books for children seem scarce on the ground in Jinotega, but I found some in Matagalpa (for my own use in learning Spanish). Why don't children read? The idea that we can do campaigns for getting people to read doesn't work well. My students, with a few exceptions, did not admit to reading either fiction or poetry for pleasure. They'd had books thrown at them, teachers impressing them into reading experiences, and it still wasn't making happy, voluntary fiction or poetry readers of most of them. What they did read was what the teacher denigrated: Harry Potter, other fantasy.

So, yeah, someone riding across the UK to raise money for books for here is probably useless. I thought the worst mistake the academics made in teaching literature was to put it in opposition to the things their students did read voluntarily, that trying to kill their love for the reading they did like and replace it with reading that even a lot of faculty considered work (but good for you) was simply pointless. But everyone doing this was convinced that what they did was good for the students.

People accept help that lets them achieve their own goals. You or I might disapprove of those goals, but trying for force one's goals on other people was why the FSLN had trouble with the campesinos who wanted their land, not better jobs on someone else's land, even if that land was the state's and theirs in a round about way. It's why the US had had trouble with a range of other countries who wanted to control their own resources and their own destinies. Why China has trouble with Tibet even after reducing the infant mortality rate and increasing the life span. We know better than other people about our own internal lives, why not extend that courtesy to them about theirs?

If you're one of those Catholic latent saints like Odorico d'Andrea who goes and lives somewhere, learns the language, respects the people in the community, finds out what they want and looks for ways to deliver it, more power to you, but that's a life-long calling, not a visit to the poor zoo. (Ben Linder is probably the left example, but he did apparently make some FSLN people nervous -- excessive helping is also sign of a CIA cover, apparently, see Tom Dooley in Vietnam).

Rebecca Brown

Whew, Long Post

I'd rather have a hot shower than a TV, but would prefer both. Your Nicaraguan neighbors can choose which they prefer, with my blessing. I get to make my choice about what I'm going to do with my money, just as they get to.

If I were going to be a saint I'd be St Augustine. But, it's too late for that now. I admit a quiet fascination with the RentAGirl guys, but I know intellectually that it's a dead end and not for me.

The Contra who shot Ben LInder hid out for a while thinking he was going to be killed. The one rule of engagement the Contras had was: "Don't kill any Gringos". The guy thought Ben was a Cuban, and that he had scored big. Ben WAS carrying a weapon, after all. FSLN was just nervous about everyone; and their own intelligence efforts were not shabby.

No questions the givers get as much as more than the recipients. "It's better to give than to receive" speaks to that. I had an Iranian friend in So Cal who came out right before the revolution, we used to spend a lot time together. One day Ray stops at the bottom of a freeway ramp and hands the guy with the "Will Work For Food" sign a few bucks. As we drove off, I said, "Ray, he's just going to use that money for alcohol or drugs".

Ray responded, "John, I don't do it for him, I do it for myself". I think that's true of everyone.

Motives may be suspect, but the fact remains that a few extra bucks come into Nicaragua, and they don't go directly into some rich guy's pocket.

Books ARE very scarce in much of Nicaragua. If Nicaraguan kids had easy access to books, a lot of them would probably read. Therefore, riding a bike to raise money to buy Nicaraguan kids books (OR WHATEVER) is not "useless" A+B has to equal C, or Aristotle has been wrong all these years.

Funny, I can buy books in more places here without driving

...than I could in the US. As everyone (except for me) says, this is Podunk, Nicaragua, and I've bought books at three different stores in a short radius of my house. I could have bought Joyce Carol Oates's short stories in Spanish if I'd wanted to (probably could still buy that book). A guy comes through the Cafe Soda Tico (now under a new name) selling Kafka; the Art Center has a number of books for sale, including a history of Jinotega that I bought and some books of poetry that I didn't buy.

Aristotle has been wrong -- life isn't an either/or equation. Who's going to get the books? How are they distributed? Why will Nicaraguan children read them?

People don't read absent a cultural context. If their friends are reading something, if the book provides a way of talking about things that matter to them, they read. (I'm not listing all reasons for reading, just some).

A lot of Nicaraguan kids who can afford a phone text each other, so that's reading, but not the reading that has cultural value among people our age (when I bought my phone, the version with the pull out keyboard was what the young woman selling me the phone recommended). A rather large number of them are on Facebook, so at least those aren't illiterate.

Jinotega does have a library, though books can't be checked out. I don't know how many of them are children's books, or even if children who do read bother with children's books after about age 10. There are cultures where children who are avid readers read adult material within a few years of learning how to read. I think I read Moby Dick for the first time in the fourth grade, certainly read Uncle Tom's Cabin by the fifth grade because the racist teacher threw a fit over it.

Do the parents read to their children? That's actually somewhat of a harder thing to jumpstart, but probably more critical than simply shipping in books and hoping for the best.

Real life is always more complex than theory. As far as I know, Kafka's Metamorphosis in translation is children's reading material here (the illustrations are actually rather amusing).

One of the problems with some big problems is that they're somewhat circular. People don't read if people around them or people important to them don't read.

Bribing people with stuff to get them to buy into your religion is so contemptible it's not worth discussing.

Rebecca Brown

I make a point

to recycle my magazines and books to people who are likely to use them. In the extended family, there is one who will browse and one who will read. Nat Geo in Spanish is one of the few quality mags available here. The rest I give to the public library or to professionals I know. English language mags are tougher, but I have a short list of Nicas who read English. I also give mags to relatives sitting in the hospital with instructions to leave them there when done with them.

I would guess the average house here has zero books, mags, and newspapers other than the Bible. The few who want to read are hungry for anything; to the rest it is just more wastepaper to burn or let rot.

"You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality." Ayn Rand


The action by the government us quite appropriate.

They did say they may release the drugs in two days.

We cant have every Tom Dick and Harry bringing down meds for donations in their luggage.

Can I do that coming int the States? Just show up with a suitcase full of Meds for the poor kids in LA?

Proper Procedure

I have been involved with medical teams coming to Nicaragua for years. You have to submit your inventory and get approval ahead of time to bring in medicines. Lots of paperwork. It is a very tedious process. Everthing has to be in the original packaging. Expirations dates are checked. That has been a problem in the past with expired meds being brought into the country. I once tried to slide in a few boxes that didn't have the preapproval and they were confiscated but were released after 5 days. I wish there was a dedicated agency/NGO in the US that folks could go use to get supplies where they are needed in Nicaragua. I no longer assist with the teams coming from my town because I agree it is very inefficient the way medical missions come haphazardly into the country.. I agree with Rebecca that the monies spent on travel and lodging for these groups could be better used.

The Good, The Good, and The Good


I took a lot of flack for the title of this thread. Two other titles I considered were "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" and "Race To The Bottom".

So, we had a US doctor make his way to MGA on his dime to lecture Nicaraguan medical students, some US kids who raised five times the Nicaraguan per capita GDP to buy meds for Nicaraguan kids (instead of going to the beach and watching Jersey Shore re-runs), and some grateful parents who will be able to buy a piece of meat or new shoes instead of the meds their kids need.

Granted, the US kids got more out of this than the Nicaraguan kids, but I wouldn't describe the effort as "useless". Like Hugo and DO denouncing the massive US effort to aid Haiti after the earthquake as "an invasion", many US ex-pats will do whatever they can to diminish their own country's image, its people, and the value of its contributions.

Nicaragua is a beautiful country with unlimited potential; the only question (for investors as well as the Nicaraguan people) is when will it realize that potential?? La Vie En Rose it is currently NOT. Just ask Lisset Sequeira . . . . .

Its 'Flak' no C and IMO you deserved it....

(a short version of the German word "Fliegerabwehrkanone" meaning anti-aircraft or air defense gun.)

Think about it Key West, this stuff was no more confiscated than it would have been if I was trying to bring it into LA undocumented or documented incorrectly.

A two day delay and they were on their way as an example to other groups to please get it right.

Checked today to see what the further news was....

...and the drugs were released, just as it was suggested they would be.

Also, investors and Nicaraguan people are not, repeat not, disjunct sets.

Rebecca Brown

I Didn't Use

the word "confiscate"; the writer of the article did. It was great that there was a follow up article describing the release, and subsequent delivery. That was one positive piece of news to come out of Nicaragua this week. Luckily, Lisset Sequeira's story didn't go anywhere. She's not nearly as photogenic as the young kids from NJ, especially after she was beat up.

Whether the meds were released in accordance with aduana regulations after filling out the proper paperwork, or simply because the light of day was shined into what seems like a very dark corner of Nicaragua government, or because someone was quietly greased to facilitate the release, well, we'll never know. I'd like to believe it's the former.

I agree that the title of the thread was harsh, unfair to the Nicaraguan people in general, and I apologized.

I won't apologize for standing up for the kids, their purpose, and their industry, and their good intentions. Here's their site:


I emailed them the NicaLiving site info, and asked them to let us know when they plan their next trip. I, for one, appreciate their effort, even if the money they are spending is not as "efficiently spent as it could be". But to paraphrase what I told the "junta" in Lagartillo, "it's their money and they are entitled to spend it as they please".

Some of the best run businesses I've seen in Nicaragua have been owned by Nica returnees. With $900 million in annual remittances ( a bigger and probably much more "efficient" contribution than that of Tio Hugo), they could provide the investment engine that would drive Nicaragua's future. With 30 years of capitalism under their belts they would enjoy a tremendous competitive advantage over their fellow countrymen, who have been steeped in a murky tea of socialism and handouts over the same period of time. Think West Germany vs East Germany in the 60's and 70's. And unlike their fellow countrymen they won't have to sell their votes for three zincs and a pig.

Many Nica refugees from the Sandinista conflict did not take advantage of the 1986 Reagan general amnesty. It was either too soon, or they came in after the amnesty. They are not at risk of being deported, but if they leave, there is no mechanism for easy return to the US I know a woman in Florida who has four children in Managua. The oldest daughter would be about 19 or 20 now. The children can't come to the US; if she goes back to Nicaragua to see them, then she can't return.

There will have to be some clarification of their status if they are to return to Nicaragua in large numbers, as investors.

Um, do you know that from 1989 to 2006

...the country was under a series of neo-liberal regimes with one honest leader (who apparently surprised everyone)? And nobody has since brought back Socialism (The FSLN appears to be turning into investors, but they're a party, not the state). The post 2006 handouts have been, for the most part, supplies that one had to do something with: breed chickens, put the tin on the roof, raise pigs. More WPA than welfare, frankly, building roads and markets. With perhaps some exceptions -- best sidewalks in Jinotega are in an otherwise poor FSLN neighborhood.

Simply wanting to throw a monkey wrench into the political process without having leadership, party infrastructure, and all that tends to be not a tremendously productive thing to do -- politics left or right. Occupy in the US is criticized for precisely the same thing as the kids who are trying to stop the mayoral elections, and has also gotten some of the same rough treatment from the police (this go-round, not from hardhats who now aren't making good wages from a war).

Someone else told you that Customs delayed an earlier drug shipment that wasn't accompanied by proper paperwork, but did release it.

Let's say, roughly, 5 million people -- $900 million in remittances is $180 a head. Obviously some people got more than others. Not all of the money is coming from the US. Around $100 million comes from Costa Rica. Some interesting figures here:


and here:


I suspect that the US is creating the problems for people who want to be able to travel freely between the US and Nicaragua. Why can't the children come to the US?

Rebecca Brown

Children Can't Come

with any preference because the status of the Nicaraguans who left during the conflict has never been clarified. Congress passes legislation routinely to extend their residency in the US; no one has ever suggested that they be sent back. They are in a better position than many: they can work, get driver's licenses, have access to the system. Children of the lady in question would have to get in line behind everyone else.

The remittances are not evenly divided among Nicaraguans. Only those who have relatives in the US, Europe and family working in CR get the money. The majority get nothing. When I was living in CR I was told that fully 25% of the CR population was Nicaraguan refugees. My driver was Nicaraguan. The Costa Ricans speak with pride about how they took the Nicaraguans in, helped them, enrolled the children in schools. Most Nicaraguans speak of the Ticos with great disdain .. .perhaps it's with the frustration that their country is so much richer, and they are so much poorer than their CR neighbors..

I've never had any difficulty in traveling between Nicaragua and the US, either way. Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorenos visit the US with great difficulty because historically so many did not go home when their visa expired. It's true a lot of other people live in the US illegally, (lot of Brits in Florida).

I'm not the one alleging irregularities -and outright fraud- in Nicaraguan elections. The rest of the world is doing it and a lot of countries have withdrawn their aid in response.

The CSE is widely considered to be corrupt. Selling cedulas is probably just the tip of the iceberg. Some parallels can be drawn between the Occupy goals in the US, and the small bunch in front of the CSE. A few US occupy people have gotten their heads cracked when they confronted and provoked the police. The kids in Managua are being arbitrarily beaten. There are a lot of chronically homeless, mentally ill, druggies, opportunists, predators, associated with Occupy in the US. The kids in Managua look pretty clean cut and articulate.

I take an admittedly cynical position on all of this: the publicity continues to be very detrimental to Nicaragua, and much of the negative publicity is unnecessary. The negative publicity diminishes both tourism and investment, and paints the Nicaraguan people in general in a poor light. I understand Ortega's lip service to Syria, Iran and Venezuela: It lines his pockets. Perhaps as Ortega continues to consolidate his power he will address these issues from a position of strength. He may yet turn out to be the Bolivar of Nicaragua. Or the next Somoza. That book hasn't been written yet.

The US State Department breaks up families, then.

So this problem comes from a US State Department position, not a Nicaraguan position. One of my acquaintances is very proud that Nicaragua has allowed travel in and out of the country even in war-time. Basically, anyone who wants to come back can, as far as I know.

The US has rarely accepted economic reasons for immigration to the US as being valid.

I can see why strictly illegal aliens are a potential problem. If immigration is outlawed, only outlaws immigrate. However, a freer immigration policy would be only fair since capital can go where ever it wants. Labor should be as free as capital, otherwise, we're not talking free market but oligarchic control of labor.

If immigration to the US was as easy as immigration to Nicaragua, then more people who are just normal people could go to the US either as tourists or as immigrants, and the US could concentrate on keeping out people who actually were criminals. Likewise, if everyone decent who was living here got a cedula, Nicaragua could do more aggressive deportations of people who overstayed their tourist visas as they would be more likely to be problematic.

One of the Nicaraguan papers quoted from a Costa Rica fascist website (translation by Suzanne) that described Nicaraguans as "a volatile mix of whites, indios, blacks, Arabs, and Jews." These happen to be all my favorite people except they missed the Chinese and Central Asians (the Russian vet here is actually Central Asian and there are Chinese families here, too).

From what I've read, Costa Ricans treat Nicas as the help. Even well-educated Nicaraguans tend to feel that the Tico attitude toward Nicaraguans is a bit off, especially since many families have had members in both countries for over a century. Some of this sounds like Southerners talking about saving the Africans from Africa. Do Nicaraguans become Costa Ricans, have positions of power in the local government as Jewish immigrants have had in Nicaragua's government? Do Nicaraguans work as doctors and dentists in Costa Rica with Tico patients? Or are they mostly the dark-skinned help?

The tourist industry is obviously going to be part of the Nicaraguan economic reality, but I really don't want to see Nicaragua overwhelmed by retirees as parts of Costa Rica and Panama and certain Mexican cities have been. Better if the tourist industry is most Nicaraguan-owned rather than foreign-owned, too.

Costa Rica has stopped some of the programs that attracted retirees, and the country has worse economic disparity than either the US or Nicaragua. There's a point with these programs where a region or country isn't helping their own people but letting other people with more money replace them. Who does Nicaragua want to see retire here and how many of them? How much tourism, with who running it, and where? And where do the displaced poorer Nicaraguans go and what do they do once they get there?

Rebecca Brown

Not only cynical

Not only cynical....but a little confusing.

Not long ago you announced that you Nicaraguan plans were on hold. You had reservations about making any more of a commitment to this country.

What changed? How come the tourist project is now full steam ahead? If it is, why the constant criticism and sarcastic comments on Daniel Ortega and his government? Its a free country, maybe, but if I was about to make a "substantial investment" as you called it....I would like to think that I would feel happier about it the place I am about to make that investment than you seem to be. Business Plan wise, you may have had it right to hold back but then you decide to "Break Ground" so to speak. Nicaragua is not going to change for you or any individual investor, pensionado or anyone marrying into it.

I can understand the comments but only in the context of "I have ruled out Nicaragua because...

Not "I have chosen Nicaragua BUT....."

On doing business deals, especially acquisitions, my old boss used to say "You have to love the deal enough to walk away from it"....where you are at reminds me of that comment. Leaving it standing at the aisle could be cheaper and use up less heartbeats than marrying it and getting it wrong.

One of the dumbest lines I have ever heard here (and there have been many) was a gringo, in response to my comment " You must be really excited about the lot you just bought"....he said "Well, its not what I had in mind but I can work with it"...

So...of all the "brides" in Nicaragua to pick from, he chose one that he "thinks he can change to fit"....

I Had Some

personal issues that delayed my plans, but I've continued to move on. I bought more land, and I'm negotiating for another 8 Mz. I've said many times that I have nothing against DO. I think the Al Jazeera article has him pegged perfectly:


Nicaragua won't change specifically for me, but I do hope it changes. ."..the US and Nicaragua are like two dogs barking through the fence . . ." or maybe more appropriately, from Macbeth:

". . . . .it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing."

How would YOU have handled the meds shipment if you were the acting customs supervisor? I would have sought the advice of the doctor from La Mascota as to the nature of the drugs, their viability, since he was already there, had my picture taken with the smiling and photogenic Gringas and the doctor, and told them they had to come back tomorrow to fill out the paperwork and pay any necessary duties.

The headline would have read: Nicaragua Welcomes Aid To Children's Hospital and everyone would have had a warm and fuzzy feeling about Nicaragua, instead of the feelings engendered by the "Confiscated" headline. Of course, any publicity is better than no publicity. At least the NJ people reading the article now know where Nicaragua is. They may even buy a bag of coffee from me.

I know exactly what your friend was saying about his lot: You never find perfection in life, but you do your best with what you have. If Che were responding to the post he'd quote the Rolling Stones' ..you don't always get what you want, but you get what you need . ." It's up to you to do the rest.

"Brides " is an apt analogy. Think about it and tell me you haven't made any "changes to fit . ." But just like the guy with the lot, it was worth it in the end . . I'll fit in, and be accepted, but in my own way, with minimal pandering.

Nicaragua IS a free country. It has a bright and beautiful future. It's enjoying an annual growth rate 3X that of the US. Social infrastructure is being built. It lacks opportunity and investment to soak up the available talent and provide employment for all those young kids. Presenting a more favorable face to the world would encourage more investment.

It's not JUST a tourist project. I want some adventure to fill out my remaining years, would like to re-discover my mid-western roots, grow my own food, maybe re-discover my Catholicism before I die, transfer some skills. I'll sell some primo coffee in any case -like Rob- and if the tourist project pans out I'll have some interesting people to talk to. Mostly, I want to have some fun, and that includes a bit of head-butting. I don't expect to win all the head-butts, but I would like to win the war.

I have no idea what DO has in mind for the future. I've never accepted the allegations of his step-daughter, and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on his intentions for the country. Much of my branding is designed to capitalize on the romance of the revolution. I just wish he'd quit doing dumb things that, to me at least, are not in Nicaragua's (and my) best interests.

Does that clear up some of the confusion?

Fair enough response

Good luck with it all.

I've watched a man who was quite impressive,

an internationally known furniture designer, move to a small county he adored who was also sure he could change the area. He thought all sort of things would happen that didn't happen and left in six years. It took at least another decade to to sell all the property he'd bought (he had made significant investments there, including doing major redesigns of the buildings he'd bought, and nobody local could afford them). He didn't understand the culture, the people, or even the East Coast furniture designer culture (nobody moved in to the county because he was there, and he was paying to fly designers in). And that was one guy with significant money trying to change 14,000 without any understanding of how local culture worked, and he spoke the same language they did.

If this is a gamble that you can afford, as the furniture designer could afford his gamble, then fine.

Rebecca Brown

The Stuff We

accumulated were not meds, but items mainly from the OR (like partially used surgical trays and paper products like drapes). Lots of sutures, forceps, scissors, that kind of stuff. The hospital was more excited than we were; they are moving to a new facility and had a bunch of used equipment in the old building that they talked about releasing to us. If there is a central donation point somewhere in the US we will send what we've got there. Otherwise, except for items for our own medical kit, we'll just chuck it.

Shelley was excited about some medical involvement, working with one of the Nicaraguan traveling nurses, but we have reconsidered. If something were to go wrong, her fault or not, she might wind up like Jason Puracal. Or that Bulgarian nurse who was raped repeatedly while she was awaiting trial in Libya:



I brought a big bucket of baseballs down the trip before last, which were gratefully received. I had no trouble bringing them in. I've brought a variety of other small gift items in, including a laptop for a student who wouldn't have been able to afford her own.

At this point, it's probably better to just stand down and wait for the tide to change. Planting coffee sounds pretty safe.

There is no question that the money these mission groups spend could be put to more targeted and efficient use. But, would it be? One of the first maxims I learned is, you can't give money to one Nicaraguan to give to another. It will never get there. The same undoubtedly holds true for money tendered as donations. It won't go any further than that first pocket. I think a lot of the missionary groups, - many of whom do this repeatedly summer after summer- understand that all too well

I also agree that motives are somewhat suspect: It's often more about the kids coming south, their development, their cultural discovery, than it is about Nicaragua and Nicaraguans. It's an adventure and a vacation, and a bit like going to the zoo. Really strange and different stuff for a kid growing up in St Louis, MO. If they do build that ball field, or the room added to a school, or a house for someone, it's not all bad.

It's the "Like going to the zoo" part that is disgusting

When I first saw Jinotega, which I now rather love, I had instant culture shock. It takes living in a place to understand how people in it decide to allocate their resources, how things improve over time (more mosquito fogging this year than the first year I was here), what it's like to actually live in a place.

Seeing Bowery and streets around it was precisely like a visit to the zoo for the little "I Give a Damn" kids -- they didn't understand what they were seeing, didn't hear the bums cursing the artists for driving many of them out, were frightened by most of what they saw as they were marched around. The mission kids here don't talk to Nicaraguans -- they can't speak Spanish, they move in groups, and it's not the same kids this year who were here last year.

The people we overhear on the street say things like, "I thought there would be more chickens on the street" and "I think the people here have lost their sense of mysticism."

This is the best thing on short term mission groups I've ever read:


One of my friends said that people who are doing fairly serious extended work here say that less that four months is useless.

Rebecca Brown

Not a new issue here

This has come up for as long as I have been trying to do things for Nicaragua -- pretty much 30 years. Usually there is something that creates an issue, there is a knee-jerk reaction and then things tend to sort themselves out. My feeling is the current knee-jerk is a result of aduanas attempting to follow the law but there have been other issues with medical supplies.

I have a friend who got pregnant (with her second kid) who claims it was because of out of date contreceptives. My guess is that this was not the reason but it is a convenient excuse. In many cases, I expect medications are damaged by mis-handling with lack of refrigeration being at the top of the list but the only response which makes sense is a general one.

There are organizations which send medical supplies to Nicaragua (and elsewhere). While I am sure it feels better for some group to bring something with them, it seems like going through an NGO that has done the footwork is better for all involved.

" ..The action by

the government was quite appropriate .."

Maybe, maybe not. Certainly they have the power. In any case these kids are not going to bring any more medical supplies to Nicaragua. I hope the drugs DO get released to the hospital, and not sold to some pharmacy. We'll never know, will we?

This wasn't meds going to kids in Managua, the donation was to a hospital. There was a US doctor along for the ride, and a doctor from La Mascota came to the airport to receive the meds.

That guy who was bringing down baseballs, bats, and gloves for the kids is probably finished as well.

I can't begin to tell you how utterly useless I think

...short term missions are. "Wow, let's take a bunch of kids down to Central America at $600 RT (more or less) plus hotels at generally $70 a night so they can personally hand over some medical supplies they have decided should go to Nicaragua without following the procedures in place for donating medical supplies."

There's a certain thing about these kinds of short term missions and "exposing the children to poverty" that is really problematic. And because they're on a mission, following proper procedures isn't necessary.

When I lived two blocks from the Bowery in NYC, we used to get the "I Give A Damn" school buses of kids who wore the button and didn't have a clue what they were seeing (a neighborhood that was rapidly gentrifying and which had pretty much completed the process last time I was in NYC about 30 years later) and who probably went home, grew up and voted for Reagan. Hugely ridiculous waste of taxpayers money and I suspect some of the lofts they passed in front of on Macdougal were worth more than their parent's houses.

If there's a real need for medicine, save the money that's put to exposing kids to things they really won't have enough time to understand and send more medicine through the proper channels.

It more makes Nicaragua look pathetic that American high school students must help it than it does for Nicaragua to say, "Wait a minute. You need to follow proper procedures with drug donations."

Of course, nobody felt they had to ask about how to go about making a donation because they're Americans and Nicaragua is their back 40.

That said, yes, I hope the drugs get released, but next time, ship fewer 16 year olds and more meds.

Rebecca Brown


Your personal experience may differ but I have seen lives changed by short term missions. Nothing monumental, but free child-care and a house to go with it are not "useless."

And it is anything but useless for those attending the trip. I can still vividly recall my entire week on a mission trip in Juarez when I was 14. There was so much I learned. Even as a purely practical example, I learned that just because you're dry doesn't mean you aren't sweating. Put another way, try standing in the shade for 2 minutes; you'll be soaked in sweat.

I'll edit this post later and expand it when I have the time. For now, I couldn't disagree with you more. There are more efficient uses of the money in terms of materially benefiting the Nica's but that's not the only way of measuring the success of these missions.

We all agree that the main beneficiaries are the

...humanotourists, especially the teenaged ones.

Rebecca Brown

I don't think you addressed my disagreements

Why the vitriol?

The receivers benefit in whatever they receive (free house, zinc roof, pig, childcare, education, medical supplies, w/e). The givers benefit in being able to travel, learning community involvement and organization, being exposed to another culture, learning strategies for raising money/sales, being exposed to/learning about poverty...

I recall that you recently posted about how your pen gave you perspective. Being exposed to poverty can do the same thing. I've got personal experience with that.

In a week, bluntly, you're exposed to another culture

...in a way that tends to inoculate you from it. The point isn't that these things are utterly wrong; it's that people don't learn much about a culture in a week. I could recognize the same sorts of people who descend on the poor parts of the world in a week. I'm still learning about my neighbors.

Being exposed to poverty is like being exposed to prostitution by hooking once or twice. Most poor people tend to see people from away as people to ether keep at arm's length -- the comment the woman made to me on the bus about how she sees very few white people in a month and really doesn't have dealings with any of them is one way. The other way is to shuck and jive -- and there are Nicaraguan variants of this, too.

Being poor is very different from being exposed to poverty. I've got personal experience with that, though I wasn't brutally poor as an adjunct. I had some weeks in Berkeley where I was selling plasma to get by while looking for a job. That's poor in ways that most middle class American kids don't experience and what I learned from that is when you're in those circumstances, you deal with things on a very short term basis.

I also worked for University Year for Action, where the premise was that a 19 year old middle class child had important lessons to teach middle aged poor people. It was complete bollocks. I was in my 30s, and had had some experiences with the world and a better education, and found it deeply ironic that I, left of center person, was working to save people's property rights against another equally federally funded program. This was something that should have been done by Republicans (and one Republican in Roanoke,Virginia, did try to save his constituents' properties against a similar land grab there). And my side won, as the Cherry Community had won earlier. I didn't know for years that we had won -- afraid to look, afraid that we hadn't.

My big mistake was not continuing on that work because I was actually rather good at it.

The government here gives away zinc, pigs, education, and health care, yet at least some of the posters here see this as bogus and manipulative. Consider the possibility that both are bogus and manipulative, but the government has more money for more pigs and zinc.

I learned strategies for organizing stuff when I did neighborhood plays and fun houses at 10, but everyone was horrified that they'd let a girl boss them around, and that all stopped when we reached puberty.

My perspective on poverty is that the people who are in it are dealing with things that I would have trouble dealing with myself. If that's what you got, that your circumstances, more than anything else, made you not poor (born to people who were not poor) and them poor, then you got something good out of it. A friend of mine had a whiny alcoholic sister who changed dramatically when she worked in a soup kitchen and realized that she was not any different from the people she was serving, that luck and circumstances played a huge part in who she was, the cushions she hadn't earned against being as badly off as they were.

My guess is that most people don't get that very easily because they want to believe that if they'd been born poor, they would have transcended their circumstances. Some do, but most of those remember the transition as difficult, as having to learn how to be middle class, or intellectual, or whatever else. In societies without much social mobility, the outsider middleman tends to be the one who gets the middle management jobs -- you have to leave home for that. The person who has to leave one community with friends and family and all that to make a better life often is the less social person.

What has taken me a while here, and very much more than a week, is to see that most of the people who are critical of the Nicaraguans giving them gringo prices, who think Aduana is corrupt, and all that, are the real people to watch out for. Most Nicaraguans are just living. The little vendor who cheats Gringos apparent also cheats Nicaraguans -- and I didn't learn that might be the case until watching someone wave her off. I've had to tell two different drivers to slow down here -- and one of them complains about the traffic cops. Don't ride with people who complain about the traffic cops and you'll breathe easier.

So, you come in on a poverty mission and the only people you meet will be the poor and their local explainers. You're not likely to meet lawyers who are taking graduate classes in clinical psychology, landowners who post the new minimum wage law posters for their workers, caterers, computer repair kids, and the whole range of people who just live their lives being neither rich nor brutally poor, even more in Mexico than here, but even here.

The pen incident was the second month I lived here; two years after I'd moved here, I figured out precisely what had happened.

The thing I enjoy is watching how defensive people get over their dabbling in charity. Take your Nicaraguan girl friend's advice and marry her and move her to the US. That doesn't do much for all of Nicaragua, but that's one person who couldn't have gotten out without you. For at least some Nicaraguans, that's the best thing that can happen to them, as getting out of rural Virginia was for my father.

I basically like Nicaragua, but know someone who was about to be dragooned for the Literacy Campaign in the early 1980s when she was in college. She said she didn't really want her education disrupted and left to finish college in the US.

It's a whole lot more complicated on the ground than it is in right or left wing fantasies.

Rebecca Brown

For the record

The only thing my girlfriend hates more than the US, is being dependent on me.

Way off the mark on that one. So far off the mark it would take integer multiples of the time it took you to write that to explain why.

But here goes...

She's never asked me to marry her. There's no way in hell (her words, not mine) she'd ask me to marry her for economic reasons. She cries anytime she has to use the CC/debit I left for her. It makes her feel awful to take something from another person. She also has a bachelor's degree in electronics. If she could find an employer to sponsor her, she'd have no issues getting a visa. In fact, she'd have several routes to pursue a visa as I understand it, with decent chances of getting one because there are (in some categories) a per-country limit. The only thing holding her back right now is that she a US scholarship that requires her to stay out of the US for at least 2 years on work-permitted visas (fine print: "even a change in marital status does not affect this requirement"). Not that she'd ever want to go to the US. She likes two things about it, me and the feeling of safety. Ironically, the reason she feels this way is probably because she ran into far too many bigots. I can't be sure which part of the bigotry she hated, so I'll only say that I know she hated the racism (maybe that's not the right word when it's targeted at a nationality). The "well you guys are ok, but let me tell you what's wrong with X people and how your country should be run" attitude.

I also doubt that she'd agree I'm the best thing that could happen to her. :p Although to be fair, you qualified that with "for at least some Nicaraguans."

There´s always an ulterior motive, good or bad

¨The government here gives away zinc, pigs, education, and health care, yet at least some of the posters here see this as bogus and manipulative.¨ I believe that a favor or help, such as giving zinc and pigs are manipulative tactics used by the government to buy the peoples vote. With tag lines like El pueblo es presidente and the like the government is trying to make those that haven´t a penny to their name believe that they have a champion on their side. Then you have those that ride along and fly whatever flag benefits them best, these are the people that play for whomever is on top. Education and health care and the paving of roads and assuring a peaceful and lawful life for all its citizens is not any government´s favor to its citizens, but the government´s, any government´s duty to its citizens. I like to point out this things because some people, based on what they been told and sometimes the information they get is biased, don´t really know how things were then and how they are now. It happens that our opinions or views about something or someone will be influenced by our experiences in life, but often we ignore the factsor romanticize about certain things. Politicians are boring and most of the time dirty, and unfortunately most of the time they give you an inch to gain a foot. If you talk to Somocistas they will tell you that things were great under their great general Somoza, their words and sentiment not mine. Talk to a Sandinista, Orteguista, Chamorrista and on and you´ll hear the same, praise for their patron and damnation for the rival. Think about it, who in their right mind would want to be associated with Somoza or any other politician that one way or another did more harm than good when everything is weighed on fair balances. Only those that are Chupando la Teta. I don´t want the government to give me anything that is not my right and I don´t want the government to barter with me for my support in exchange for a favor. A favor with strings attached is no longer a favor, it´s become a compromise. All this stemmed from an act of good will from some american kids that decided to do something different for a change. Why do we do good things if not to get something out of it. Most of us give or do something good for someone because at the very least is going to make us feel good about ourselves and help someone along the way. I say is a win=win proposition in the end. We should listen and follow the old wise Nica saying Si no van a Ayudar mejor no Estorben. In the end big or small any help is better than none at all.

I Read Rebecca's Post

three times trying to understand what relevance her personal experiences earlier in life, her dislike of driving fast, her wariness of ex-pats who accept the world view of Nicaragua's current government, and her advice to someone to marry his Nicaraguan GF, -has to do with the argument as to whether people -of whatever stripe- who come to Nicaragua with the idea of doing some "good" are "useless".

Anyone of intelligence can agree that some 'missions" are more efficient, more effective, than others. We've seen the exposition of quite a few operations here and in immediately accompanying threads (question of whether Nicaragua can benefit from book donations). They are all impressive. Some are amazing. I knew about the children's library in SJdS, but " library" does not describe what that effort means to the kids there.

Useless is a pretty strong term. It means that the money spent by the people who came down for a week or two or three -or longer- does not benefit the hotel they stayed in, the restaurants they took their meals in, the shops they bought their souvenirs in, and so on. I find that very hard to believe.

Even if you discount the value of some volunteers reading and working with Nicaraguan children, visiting some kids in the hospital, or helping to dig a foundation for a school, that money spent for accommodation and food makes a big difference to a lot of people.

If no one does anything, there will never be the opportunity for change. The mission school that gave your African friend the opportunity to attend Harvard probably started with one individual's trip, and a desire to make some changes.

It's easy to be amused by the matching T-shirts and the Rah, Rah, Go Team attitude of the groups on the planes down -and I am. But when you engage them in conversation you see that -despite other possible motivation, like saving the odd Nicaraguan soul- they are very sincere in their desire to help. Little by little it makes a real difference: The soccer field, the house or two, the school.

Beyond that, the attitude of "useless" demeans those who do want to "do some good" . "..Dabbling in charity . . where exactly does the "dabbling" stop and serious accomplishment start? All of the above begs the question: What have you done besides "pontificate"? And that's your word, not mine.

So negative

I wish there was an ignore feature on this site!! Some people are just negative, negative and negative. After awhile, no matter how well of a writer that person may be, you sort of just disregard everything that she says!!

Not Only That . .

but the "useless" simply won't stop:


and the "humano-tourists" don't stop coming. Interesting comments from the kids about their experience.


Ignoring your politics (there's a lot there, and frankly I find politics incredibly boring), you really only made a few points. I'm not a particularly good reader, so forgive me if I miss something (or five).

"The point isn't that these things are utterly wrong; it's that people don't learn much about a culture in a week."

Absolutely. There's a lot to soak in. My point was that when you've got no knowledge, even a little bit can be effective for change within that person. And I believe you gave them a name, "humanotourists," that sounds like it's supposed to have wholly negative connotations. Was there another message I was supposed to get?

My actual point was not that short term missions are the best thing since sliced bread. My point was that you cannot dismiss an entire class of humanitarian work because you haven't seen it work personally, or have some kind of negative emotions associated with your experience. At least, you can't do that if you're trying to make an argument.

"If that's what you got, that your circumstances, more than anything else, made you not poor (born to people who were not poor) and them poor, then you got something good out of it."

That is what some people get out of it. Is it "bad" if that's not what some people get out of it? What constitutes "bad?" It sounds like your objections so far have actually come from experience in the US -- it sounds like you've yet to have a bad personal experience with charity in Nicaragua. Is there a difference?

"What has taken me a while here, and very much more than a week, is to see that most of the people who are critical of the Nicaraguans giving them gringo prices, who think Aduana is corrupt, and all that, are the real people to watch out for. Most Nicaraguans are just living."

It could be said that these guys are just living too. Maybe a little too much free time to pontificate, but we are all part of that, aren't we? :) They have a right to an opinion just as much as you do, even if you think (nay, know!) they're wrong. It's no excuse for name-calling and vitriol.

More importantly, that is not relevant to my post.

The Queen of Pontification....

You are quite right James but Orchid Lady thought Vitriol was Geritol and bought a case load.


I don't buy in to all the broad sweeping generalizations I read on this site.

I live in Nicaragua; it's not my hobby or a money-making

fantasy for me.

This is a real country, with real problems. Various of us watch the various groups come in for a week or two, and spend maybe two days doing what they were here to do, and the rest of the time visiting Granada, Omatepe Island, and San Juan del Sur on charitable contributions. Nice scam if you can get it.

The people who actually do good work here are in for the long haul -- one man told a friend of mine that any commitment of less four months was useless. The people who come down here need to know Spanish.

Again, there are people who have skills that aren't common here, who do things that are useful. One of the guys who comes with the school for the deaf group knows electrical wiring and has re-wired the school and the Sollentuna Hem (so that everyone could have hot showers at the same time without blowing fuses). The medical team that did gynecological repairs in San Raphael del Norte, good people.

We've also had some roving con men -- like one guy who does Transformative Body Massage which he is sure will cure the Nicaraguan people's post traumatic stress disorder from the civil war, stuff like sustainable agriculture projects where the person running them has nary a clue about agriculture, but it's an "anti-poverty project."

The other interesting thing is that these people don't do anything where they're from comparable to what they do to the Nicaraguan people. There was a eye surgeon who did free cataract operations in Latin America, came down for years. He decided that he'd offer free surgeries to his referring doctors in Greensboro and towns near-by in Virginia. He had too many people asking --- too many people fell between Medicaid and regular insurance -- to be able to do all of them, so he just did operations for people in his county.

Now, this wouldn't happen in Canada, but it does happen in the US. I had catastrophic insurance at the time, but one doctor had put the cataract on my chart, and that pre-existing condition wasn't covered. I was blind in one eye for years until I got on an HMO program in Philadelphia and had the surgery. Couldn't drive at night except under street lights or in the country where traffic was very light.

These are people who have decided that the poor in the US deserve it, or they don't know how to connect to them, and it's just not as much fun as going to Granada, Ometepe Island, and San Juan del Sur and doing a day or two of unskilled labor to justify the donations.

Are there groups that do something useful -- yes, but they're people with very real skills who can bring something that isn't available locally. And to do anything really useful, you have to be in it for the long haul -- like the guy who came home to run a library and book program in Granada. Most of the programs ask for a commitment of several months and at least intermediate Spanish. This is not what I'm referring to as humanotourism.

Rebecca Brown

That's nice Rebecca. You

That's nice Rebecca. You still don't speak for me.

I wouldn't dream of speaking for you

I've sat through a lot of county administrative meetings listening to people like you.

Rebecca Brown