Hola. My nickname is Gypsytoes, but you can call me Debbie. My husband, Ron, and I live on a tropical island in Nicaragua. We are originally from the Pittsburgh, PA area. However, most of our adult life we have been transplanted Southerners.
1. Why did you move abroad?
We moved frequently while living in the states. Our last major move in the states was from an isolated hollow in the Ozark Mountains to the storytelling capital of the world...mainly so we could have pizza delivered. During one of the storytelling festivals in Jonesborough, TN, we became fascinated and a little obsessed with moving abroad and gathering new stories for our lives. One cold winter day, I received an email from a friend in Nicaragua. He offered us a job managing a small youth hostel on Ometepe Island. We sold our cars, quit our secure teaching jobs, gave away all our winter clothes, and left our house and our aging dog with our son and JUMPED!
2. How do you make a living?
We are blissfully retired. Fortunately, we had little teaching pensions and discovered that we can live comfortably and simply. But, the real truth is that we work harder than we ever did when we were employed. We built two houses, rake mangoes, paint and decorate, write, volunteer, and I started a mobile lending library for the island kids.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
We communicate everyday with family and friends back in the states. We use Skype, Facebook, and Email.
I have Skype on my iPhone. All I have to do is stand outside under the mango tree, when it's not too windy, to get good reception. We bought a dongle modem for our laptops, but the darn active volcano in our backyard blocked the tower for a strong signal. So, I made a woktenna for 10 cents to house the dongle, and now we get a much stronger signal.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Nicaragua?
We live on a Biosphere Reserve. The best thing about living on Ometepe Island is that the world comes to us and we can welcome them with open, loving arms.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Nicaragua?
Well, right now it is 98 degrees and we haven't seen a drop of rain for months. Everything is dry, dusty, and hot, hot. But, it's looking up! The rainy season is going to start soon! Honestly, we've learned to live in the moment, without expectations. That way, there are no disappointments. Life is unpredictable here..we just learn to go with the flow.
6. What do you miss most?
I used to say I missed an oven, a washing machine, and a lawn mower...embarrassed to say, sometimes more than my family. But, I have the oven and a washing machine now, and our neighbor machetes our yard cheap!
I do miss the ease of conducting business and reliable infrastructure. A simple transaction at the bank or the grocery store can take forever. We never know when we will have water or electricity...but, we're working on that. We just built a tall gravity fed water tower. Next, to work on the electricity issue..maybe solar panels.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
We are the only 'gringos' in our little community. One of the best ways to meet the local people was to teach ESL classes. We didn't charge for the lessons and as a result we were invited to many family gatherings. We've integrated well into our community and have become a part of a large extended family.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
We call some of the strange customs here “Latin Logic”. For example, my ATM card expired at the local bank. I went to the main desk, but they had installed a new number system. I was the only person in the bank, and she made me get a number and sit in a row of chairs. Then, she called my number and I could go back to her desk. When she told me I had to go see the bank teller, I had to get another number. I was still the only person in the bank. I had to get 3 numbers that day. I think they were just proud of their new number system. I couldn't help but laugh.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
When friends ask us about Nicaragua, the first question is: “Isn't there a war going on there?” The second question is: “ How do you live with those poor pitiful people?” There are many myths of poverty that I'm trying my best to dispel.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
We call ourselves Boomer Economic Refugees. We opted for early retirement in the states and we could never afford to live there on a fixed income. I estimate that the cost of living here is ¼ of that in the states. We can live comfortably on $500 a month, excluding travel. We'll never have to shovel snow again. It's changed our lives totally. We are more creative, more appreciative, more compassionate, and above all curious about how everything works or...doesn't work in Nicaragua.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Above all...JUMP! We could have spent years investigating our place in the world, but then, we probably would have lost the nerve to jump into a new life. Try it for six months to a year. We explored 'pretirement' for a year on Ometepe Island, then returned to the states with more knowledge and understanding of everything we needed to know to make our dream of officially retiring abroad a reality.
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog, Rewired and Retired in Nicaragua, in July of 2011. I wanted to share the joys and pitfalls of living totally immersed in a small community of local islanders. Along with the good, there is the bad, and, of course, a few ugly experiences. I'm spreading the sweaty naked truth about living on a small island, in the middle of a huge lake, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America.
Debbie's blog, Rewired and Retired in Nicaragua
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