Tomorrow marks my two-year anniversary of my move to Nicaragua. Do I have regrets? No. Frustrations, yes, but these are just cultural differences that affect most expatriates at some point.
The biggest challenge is the difference in productivity. It is damn hot here! It is easy to put off errands until mañana, because the simple act of walking to the bank and the post office robs you of energy to do anything else. At the end of the day, you count down the tasks accomplished. Hmm. I managed to buy vegetables before the mercado closed, change money at the bank, and find a plumber. It was a successful day! Time to relax with a cold beer and watch the sunset.
There are differences between those who have come here to retire and those who work full-time. The retirees are definitely more Nica – laid back and easy going quick to stop on the street and chat for long periods. They tend to bristle when the working crowd vents their frustrations about the inefficiencies of the government and the culture and how hard it is to make a profit. Retirees and travelers passing through do not want to hear anything negative about their destination of choice. They have the time to enjoy the peculiarities of the culture.
Business owners and worker bees, on the other hand, work long hours for not a lot of money. (Realtors and Developers excluded. They might work long hours, but for better pay.) I have seen many people come and go since I moved here. While spending six or more hours in a car driving to and from Managua every week, you have time to contemplate the reality that you can make more money working at a McDonald’s in the United States than operating a successful business in Nicaragua. Yes, the cost of living is cheaper here, but if you are an expat, it is difficult to save up enough money to travel home every so often, let alone save anything for retirement.
If your business is successful, there will be competition. Plenty of budding capitalists haven’t the first clue about business in general, but are hell bent on stealing your concept, service, product – and clients. It doesn’t matter if you are an internet café, pulperia, pharmacy, surf shop, real estate agency, bed and breakfast or even a coffee shop – there is always someone lurking in the background, hoping to siphon off a little business. Aside from the lack of originality, the copycats make it harder for the existing businesses to survive. Looking around, I am reminded of the predatorial nature of the box stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe’s, all of which have a policy of setting up shop within a mile of their competitors. It doesn’t matter if there is not sufficient traffic to support two stores. They would rather suffer financially (knowing they have profitable stores to make up the loss) than allow their competitors to show any profit. While it isn’t that cut throat here, there are still plenty of people who think if one business is successful, three more can exist.
While I spend a lot of time working (or contemplating work), I have enjoyed the past two years. I have a successful business. I have attended numerous birthday parties for children (and I don’t even have kids). My own co-birthday party included more than 300 people, the majority of them Nicaraguan. I recently taught a mosaic class for Arte en el Parque. The kids were able to overcome my poor Spanish skills and everyone had a good time. I have met hundreds of interesting people. People I have never even met bring me presents from the States. I can’t go anywhere in the country without running into someone I know or someone who knows of me and my store. I have an incredible staff and housekeeper, all of whom I love and trust completely. (I know very few people who can make that claim about their employees.) I have a nice circle of friends who look out for my best interests. I am a godmother to a Nicaraguan girl. I can spend a few hours a day destroying my friends at Scrabble. I can be at the beach in two minutes. I never suffer from a shortage of parades or sunsets. I can watch volcano “burp” every so often. I have a horse that I can ride almost anytime I want. When I see a movie, it is in a theater superior to anything I experienced in the US. And for a mere $6.50, I can buy a pint of Haagen-Dazs in Managua.
It’s not for everyone. The power outages, lack of water, poor internet connectivity, and high
levels of illiteracy can break a business. Theft is a huge problem. I don’t
know anyone who hasn’t been robbed of something – usually laptops, iPods,
money, cameras - even remote controls. Thieves have “claws” that they insert
through a window and they snap up anything within reach – remotes, DVDs, shoes,
shirts, sunglasses. Cars and trucks are
a big target, with thieves stealing reflectors, spare tires, batteries, radios, and even car seats. Theft occurs everywhere, but it happens with
a great deal of frequency
here. It’s not as bad as the rest of Central America, though.
I can’t say what my long term plans are. I had originally planned to spend three years in Nicaragua. This fall, I am traveling around the world and perhaps another local will beckon me - or maybe nine weeks and thirteen countries later, I will come to appreciate Nicaragua even more. For now, I am going to kick back, have a Tona, and bury my toes in the sand.