Community Organizing: A Bio

I asked my friend Darrell Bushnell to talk about his work in the community and his life in Granada, Nicaragua:

With the sun rising over the lake, the green parrots begin awakening. A large family of them has nested in the roof of our colonial home in Granada, Nicaragua. Their chattering attracts more parrots from the fruit trees of our neighbors. Granada is known for its many colonial homes painted from a palette of bright pastel colors and lies on the western shore of Lake Cocibolca, one of the largest fresh-water lakes in the world. Many of the expatriates here refer to Granada as the city of doors since most homes have massive wooden doors which seems appropriate considering the walls of the homes are often three feet thick, probably due to the many years of resisting pirate attacks. You may open a door and enter a hovel of a poor family or open a similar door to enter a restored colonial home fit for a king.

Our own home is a relatively new, restored colonial built over 150 years ago. We like it because it is on a corner facing the lake winds and it has a large garage which is rather rare here. While the bedrooms are enclosed, our living area is a large patio that wraps around the pool and the courtyard. Even the kitchen is outdoors though under a roof.

My wife and I had traveled to many countries, read all of the living overseas books and we knew we would retire eventually overseas but in early 2006 we decided we did not want to wait until the normal retirement age. Since we would be leaving the USA earlier than expected we had to find a country with a low cost of living and there had to be opportunities since neither of us was ready for the rocker. Many of the countries of South and Central America attracted us but we kept coming back to Nicaragua. Remembering we only had one life to live; we sold everything in Charlotte, North Carolina, moved to Nicaragua and never looked back.

One of the oldest rules in retiring overseas is to live in your chosen location for several months before buying anything. We ignored the rule, bought a house on the Pacific Coast, spent four months watching the surf and became thoroughly bored. We sold the house and moved to Granada where there were more expats and many more activities. Different strokes for different folks!

Many of the expats here are very community oriented. I am probably more active now then when we lived in the states. I work with the first lending library, Puedo Leer, in Granada where we try to bring the love of reading to Nicaraguan children. There are so few books here including very few school text books. Among library activities I help deliver books to 21 schools, started a conference of similar organizations, collect books and I write a newsletter for them. Other activities include:

  • Working with Amigos de la Policia to improve relations between community and police.
  • Show a movie every Friday night for the kids and neighbors – we do this outdoors by projecting it against the neighbor’s house.
  • Every few weeks I rent a boat and take the neighbor kids fishing.
  • Could not find a good informative website on living in Nicaragua so wrote and implemented www.nicaragua-guide.com. Includes over 300 pages of diaries about life here.
  • The website brings in a lot of enquiries from people thinking of moving to Nicaragua so I’m spending considerable time answering questions.
  • Found sponsors for eight soccer teams
  • Help other organizations with newsletters and foundation efforts.
  • Teach English Sundays to neighbors
  • Teach English Wednesdays at a local school and helping them build a library.
  • Trying to improve the image of Nicaragua to the outside world.

After almost four years we are still enjoying life here. All of the restaurants are within a short walk and the central park is only four blocks away. Anyone living in Latin America knows the central park is the heart of every city. We have music concerts, horse parades, caring neighbors and a lot of friends (both native and expats). The main airport is 45 minutes away and the ocean beach is 1 ½ hours away. Did I mention miles of beach with no one in sight? Vendors come to our door selling everything from fruit to seafood. Our only regret is that we waited so long to make the move. My background is financial operations and corporate management so I admit I sometimes think about getting a job or starting a business but the moment of insanity usually passes.

ATMs and Internet make living overseas much easier now though we do sometimes miss family and friends back home but it is just two and ½ hours to Miami or Houston. We are actually closer to our family here than if we lived in Los Angeles. We have no desire to return to living in the states.

This is not Cancun and there are some negatives. It is a different culture and things occur that I simply do not understand. Nicaragua is a poor country and the poverty is pervasive. The locals think we are wealthy which brings in a lot of requests for assistance. The politics become tiresome at times but I was also critical of President Bush. After four years I thought I would be more fluent in Spanish but part of the reason is I’m much older now, remember less and more crotchety. I will continue trying.

One of the hardest things upon arriving here had nothing to do with Nicaragua. We were supposedly retiring and suddenly I was with my wife 24/7. In the states we were both workaholics so we did not see each other that much. Being together so much created a lot of friction as we learned to live together again. We constantly must be careful to respect each other’s privacy and you must have your own projects and lives. Yes, I know there are couples that do everything together but that’s not us though we depend a great deal more now on each other’s opinion. See, you do get wiser as you grow older!

Since I am now older you probably want some sage advice from me on living overseas. OK! Live in several locations of the country you decide upon. Nicaragua has mountains, beaches, lakes, valleys and major cities. This means you can choose from cool climates to hot climates, farms to cities or waterfront to valleys. When we first arrived we were sure we wanted to live on a beach away from everyone else. We found we preferred living in the city and just visit the beach when the mood hits. Now we’re talking about building a beach home with some other couples since we could never use it more than a week a month.

Learn at least some of the local language. Part of the reason for living overseas is to learn a new culture, and language is a major component of culture. Besides, it is fun, the locals appreciate the effort and you never really stop learning until you are ready for the rocking chair.

Be ready for some frustrations. It is not your country and not your culture. You are the guest here and you cannot demand your rights. Seemingly simple things in the states may be more difficult here and the rules are different. Relish your new life!

See Darrell’s excellent website about everything Nicaragua:  www.nicaragua-guide.com

Do you have similar stories to share about expat life or moving abroad?  We’d love to hear from you.

If you are interested in more “Expat Life” stories check out Starting a Health Club

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