An Expat Life: Nicaragua Blues and Ruse

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Don't Bring Me Down

Most of you reading this will try to understand what I'm saying. It'll be tough though, as living in Nicaragua poses a set of challenges rarely encountered by those of us fortunate enough to live in U.S. or Europe.

Now, with that caveat, let me say that I live the 'enchanted life'. Drinking smoothies in the morning by the pool, going to the gym, tennis lessons, practicing my guitar, I have the schedule/life of a teenager. I come and go as I please. In essence, I'm a 'kept man', enjoying the talents and good fortune of my wife's position in society. I work when I want, my schedule is flexible enough to allow me to literally watch my son grow up before my eyes.

So, what seems to be the problem?

Well, in Nicaragua can be heavy. Like any other foreigner, we employ a staff (in our case 2) of employees to help around the house. Whether needed or not, it almost seems like the right thing to do, as unemployment is rampant in Managua, and one is constantly reminded of the poverty and despair in what is the 2nd poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. As such, I constantly feel like a walking ATM machine, a microcosm of the relationship between Nicaragua and the outside world in general. As I weave in and out of traffic in my little privileged neighborhood of expats and wealthy Nicas, driving Mercedes SUVs and other fortresses on wheels, I am reminded just how profoundly different my life is from the majority of the world.

I was reminded of this fact again on Saturday, when Brodie's nanny was mugged by 4 young men, unemployed and thirsty for rum, as she left the stratosphere of our safe little haven and upscale neighborhood, to the streets of Managua. As is common here in Las Colinas, every Saturday, domestic employees embark on their long journeys back to the countryside, where they often have small children, families that they have left behind for the good part of 6 days a week. Our situation is no different, as Josefa shows up at work on Monday morning at 8am, staying with us until Saturday morning, before returning to her two young daughters, aged 9 and 14. At the middle and end of each month, the customary 'pay day', it is not uncommon for young men to lie in wait, at bus stops, and outside the entrance of neighborhoods such as ours, like sharks waiting for the sea lions to inevitably enter the water, knowing that the domestic employees, mostly women, are carrying two weeks worth of salary, at the very least.

Well, it happened to Josefa on Saturday morning, as she lost 2 weeks' pay, health insurance money, and clothes and food we had given her. Most of all, she was traumatized by the prospect of unfettered violence that awaits her every time she leaves our neighborhood. You see, the police will do nothing. They are merely here to collect bribes, as they are more or less a tax collecting device of the state. Anyhow, Josefa and her ilk make up a demographic of the country, well over 90% that simply doesn't matter in the eyes of the police. And, it's getting worse. Since the Sandanistan takeover of power in November, foreign investment has waned, businesses are beginning to fold, and the overall state of affairs is disintegrating. I sense that the scene that unfolded on Saturday morning will only serve as a precursor, symbolic of more heartache and sorrow for Nicaraguans in the coming year.

The United States, and the 'developed' world in general, has a legacy of providing financial aid to Nicaragua for a long time. Indeed, the relationship between the two has been acrimonious and unhealthy for decades. Unfortunately, most of the goodwill and aid that is sent here has ended up lining the pockets of the 0ligarchal government and its cronies, rarely making it to its intended use. Worse still, the Ortega regime has reversed course on improving transparency of government, tightening his grip on power, and overall, making it less hospitable to donate in the country. Its truly frustrating, as Ortega and his 'Bolivarista' counterparts in Venezuela and Bolivia bemoan the disparity of riches in the Americas, while any attempt to help is met with disdain and suspicion. The rest of the world simply wants accountability for the money it donates. While it is difficult to sit and watch people suffer, it is unacceptable to continue to give aide to a corrupt government that has a long history of graft and large scale theft.

So, I've come to the conclusion (my personal belief only) that Nicaragua needs tough love. So what if Ortega makes a lovely world tour of Algeria, Iran, Cuba, and Syria, decrying the American Imperialism and whatnot. So what if left-leaning organizations tout an idea that the United States is cruel and lacks compassion. Who cares if America loses yet another public relations battle in the world. It's simply the right thing to do. To Ortega and his cronies, Josefa and the rest of Nicaraguans exist only as a concept of working class proletariat. Who's going to help Josefa get home safely without being mugged? Who's going to provide the jobs needed to keep unemployed bands of young men off the streets and out of trouble? Expats are some of the best employers in Managua, that's a fact. Who's going to fill the void when they all leave, frustrated with the hostile stance of a government living in the past?

This place really brings me down.....The irony is, I often write here about the bluesmen of the American South, the hard times of my countrymen throughout American history. But, in the end, I have no concept of the blues, other than a cosmetic shell of geographic and cultural empathy. I don't know what its like to lose 100 dollars and wonder if I must put my children out on the street for lack of food. I cannot imagine this reality. But, in a way, it's heavy for me, knowing such a world exists, reminded of it everyday. The frustrating thing is, the more I try to help, the more I perpetuate the idea of entitlement from everyday Nicas. There is an attitude of "Ah, you are a Chele (European or American), so you are Daddy Warbucks.....give me a dollar". So, any act of charity only exacerbates the problem. If I give away a pair of shoes today, that person will dog me for a new pair tomorrow.

There is a traffic light that I must traverse on my way to the local supermarket to buy the things only a foreigner or wealthy Nica can afford. You know, meat, granola bars, yogurt, etc...As you may imagine, this is prime real estate for the desperate poor, and otherwise, to besiege motorists for handouts and charity. Well, generations of Nicas have laid claim to this intersection, and the seed of cultural charity has already been sown. For the children that stand here, in lieu of school, this is their education. The idea is perpetuated that foreigners are rich, Nicaraguans are poor, therefore, the foreigners should give money, no questions asked. So it goes with the Ortega goverment. At some point, we have to stop giving away shoes and force the government to make its own.

That prospect truly brings me down.


Anonymous said...

Cuantas veces he visto esos semáforos. República Dominicana, Haiti, Honduras... semáforos de la deseperación. Unos son mulatos, otros negros, indios o mestizos pero siempre el mismo plato de arroz. Si, amigo Jamie, que duro es ser espectador directo de la pobreza. A mi tambien me deprime.

Anonymous said...

Bo, you are a wise man with a big heart. I know I've griped about your blog not being overly light-hearted at times. You'll get no such complaints from me today.

p.s. Eight ball in the side pocket.