Thursday, October 1, 2009

Los nicaragüenses

The Nicaraguan's. There's a commercial building being constructed nearby my restaurant where the vast majority of day laborers are poor Nicaraguans. Our proximity to the border with Nicaragua together with Nicaragua's grinding poverty (2nd poorest nation behind Haiti in the western hemisphere where 80% of the population survives on $3 or less a day) and job opportunities in construction here in Guanacaste, mean that my area has a substantial "Nica" population.

Ticos (and Gringos), in general, look down upon Nicaraguans. They're considered whores, thieves, and illiterates. Ticos refer to them as "paisas", or "paisitas". This word is derived from the word paisano, or peasant. It's not a nice term and is tantamount to being called "nigger" in English. Used amongst their fellows, it's OK. But if it comes from a Gringo or Tico, the gloves might come off.

A few of these day laborers on the site, Carlos Manuél, Luís, Gonzalo and Claudio, frequent my restaurant for beers in the evening - especially on pay day, which was yesterday. Carlos was drunk when he arrived: happy-drunk, but descending rapidly into melancholy drunk. Luís was in a better state. Carlos immediately ordered a round of Imperial's and included me in the round. He often buys me beers, which is atypical of either Nicas or Ticos in these parts. He desperately wants to learn English so he can more effectively communicate with and understand gringo foreman on construction projects. So I mix it up in Spanglish and we have a good time.

As Carlos skidded into melancholy-drunk, he requested I put on some romantic Latin music. So I went directly to Marco Antonio Solís and got two-thumbs up. Luís began to sing along, and was really quite good. Smiles around the table and Carlos ordered another round for us. But he began to hang his head in sadness. Something was on his mind.

After the second round, a third was ordered and Carlos asked if he could use my land line to call Nicaragua. He had a pre-paid calling card so I gave him the nod. Luís had to do the dialing. Carlos, at this point, was wobbly and needed the support of the wall shelving where the phone was located. After connecting, Luís returned to the table while Carlos talked on the phone.

I asked Luís what the problem was. At this point Claudio arrived to give some support and he also bought me a beer. It turned out that Carlos' daughter was in the hospital for an appendix operation. It sounded serious and Carlos could not be there for her and his wife. Luís didn't volunteer details and I didn't pry. But it was enough to explain Carlos' mood.

Here's a guy who is poor as poor gets, probably cannot read or write (based on the blank stare I get when I give him a menu and the fact he can't operate the keypad on a phone, drunk or not), is far from his wife and sick child at home, is working for 1500 colones/hour while living out of a hammock in a tin bodega on a construction site for two weeks at a time with 3 or 4 days off in between to travel back to Nicaragua on a bus to visit his family...

...And HE'S buying ME beers!

It really moved me. I don't think I'd be doing as well as Carlos if I were in his shoes and it was my daughter. I hope his daughter gets well soon. I really hope so.

¡Pura vida!


  1. Mike,

    This story so touched my heart. I had the same type of things happening when I was working at Andre's Bar. It's so sad to that those who have the least are actually the ones who give the most!! My prayers go out to Carlos and his daughter...and even better I know an excellent doctor in Nicaragua...who actually doesn't like being called a doctor but a healer!! I know this because of the many Nicaraguan families I met while with Dr. Julius last year in San Juan Del Sur. He has healed many people of many different diseases and again his heart goes out to those in need....I will see if he can help Carlos's daughter.

    Thanks again for sharing this story and even more for caring!! You're an awesome individual Mike, please don't ever change!! There aren't many of you left anymore, not here, nor there.

    God bless and keep you and your family always!!

    I'll let you know what I can work out.

    Pura Vida!!

    Jeanna Suzanne

  2. A very moving story, Mikey. It got to me. My love to your family and you. Pura vida!

  3. I am a Costarican that is trying to open a blog called ticoscochinos (ticosswines)to give ticos everyday, everyminute a picture of their swine attitude, their lack of education, lack of cleanliness, and many more adjectives of the contamination of sorroundings, neighborhoods, sidewalks, beaches, mountains, lots, cities, towns. Browsing in the web found your blog about your life in Guanacaste. Interesting points of view about your life. Do not get too confident of paisas even if they appear as you state about your paisa friends. It is true, poverty and need force these people to do what many ticos would not dare to in other countries. But also there have been many bad experiences of foreigners and costaricans that have given nicas a sample of their hospitality by giving them jobs, shelter and friendliness. I am talking of what has happened in San Carlos with ex guerrillas and ex contras. I share your criticism of the ticos attitude in bathrooms, beaches and other places concerning trash and cleanliness.I have begun what others would think a waste of time and have taken photos of every trash mountain (basusero) which I encounter around and inside SJ.