Although our house was priced well at $1,000 per month for a North American style residential home with a pool, we were surprised to see our first month’s utilities equate to almost $650. This was an unexpected, unbudgeted for cost. We did what we could to lower the payables in the next months by cancelling cable, raising our air conditioners to 30°C (86° F) and being aware of the amount of time they were on. Our son Titus, took most of his naps without A/C except for the hottest days. We also unplugged our hot water heater and stopped using the clothes dryer. We asked the gardener only to water 2 days a week instead of 5 and explained that the pool didn’t need to be filled to the edge. We were able to cut our initial $340 electricity bill down to about $260 and our water bill from $114 to $107, but the bills still added up to more than we were willing to spend.
The higher cost of living was causing us to have to restrict our spending in ways that weren’t in line with the goals of our move. One of the reasons for our move to Central America was that it would be easy to visit the surrounding countries, so we had planned on spending three days in Costa Rica over Memorial Day weekend. This was about the time that we needed to renew our 90 day tourist VISAs so we’d be getting that taken care of and enjoying a neighboring country. Sadly, because of a depleted savings account, we opted to do a quick in & out of Costa Rica so that some money would remain in our savings account. It became clear that we couldn’t afford our beautiful home if we wanted to accomplish all the things we desired while living abroad.
We started putting feelers out for other housing options, hoping to find a place with a pool that was priced unusually low. We signed a 6 month lease and were prepared to stay in our home until it was up, but thought we might be able to find someone to take it over if we found a new place. I saw something posted for only $550 on one of the Facebook pages. It included all utilities except electricity, we jumped at the chance to have a look if for no other reason but to see what other options looked like. It was a beautiful home with lots of windows to open up and take advantage of the breezes. Every room had a ceiling fan and every door and window had a screen. The home was available immediately and at such a low price we knew we didn’t have much time.
We started searching for someone to take over our lease right away, but the task was harder than expected. This time of year (the start of the rainy season) there seems to be more available than people to rent. The next night the owner of our house called to just chat and my husband, Kharron mentioned that we were looking for someone to take over the lease because of the utility bills being so high. The landlord is a nice man and said he wanted us to enjoy our time in Nicaragua and not to worry about it. Kharron hung up and we smiled at the possibility that we’d get to move sooner than the 6 month lease. We wanted to make sure that the owner was serious about letting us out of the lease and that he was agreeing to letting us move in 4 days. He told Kharron yes and we immediately contacted the owner of the new home.
The owner surprisingly said the place was still available and unlike in the US, we saw and home and planned a move in 4 days. Luckily we had Juanita to help us pack up and thoroughly clean the home after our move! She is the only reason this quick move was possible without much stress.
The new place is furnished, but did not come with linens, dishes, towels, or cleaning supplies. The first day in the home, Juanita and I (and a friend) took an expensive trip to Rivas to buy all our household items. Unfortunately, as is always true in Nicaragua, basic items can be harder to find than you ever thought possible so little things like pot holders and ice trays remain on my To-Buy list. It was kind of fun picking out our own dishes, bath mats, and beach towels!
So now we’ve officially been in our new home for 4 nights and it already feels like home. I feel very safe knowing we have a cuiador (person who watches the home or property). The property is completely fenced in so the dogs and Azalea are able to roam without any worry of cars. There are only 3 homes built and 26 empty lots so its very quiet & peaceful. I do already miss having a pool to dunk my feet & body into on the hot afternoons, but for what we expect to be more than a $1,000 monthly savings, it is worth instead visiting the local restaurants that have public pools.
One of the things I wanted to do while in Nicaragua was volunteer. I volunteered with a women’s group called Contemporary Women of North County for the 5 years leading up to our move and its a passion of mine to help the less fortunate. From research, I knew that there were many NGOs (non-governmental organization) already established in Nicaragua. My hurdle was going to be that I lacked in Spanish, so the options to help were limited.
Once moved into San Juan del Sur, I started to put feelers out for non-Spanish speaking volunteer opportunities. Luckily, I mentioned my desire to the right person and only 24 days after moving, I was “interviewing” for a volunteer position at Barrio La Planta Project. As it reads on their website, “The Barrio Planta Project is an education initiative created to empower low-income children and adults living in Nicaragua. Through supplementary schooling with an emphasis on English as a Second Language and the creative arts, BPP provides means for international communication and exposure to enriching cultural activities that enhance confidence and facilitate community development.”
I started “working” April 7th with the preschool/kindergarten class. Its only 2 1/2 hours twice a week, but its been great fun getting to know the local kids, feeling comfortable saying “hola” to the parents as I pass them on the street, and learning Spanish from the students. The kids are learning English and so I am free to speak my native tongue with no embarrassment.
This is a little joke my husband, Kharron, and I have about what is needed to get anything done in Nicaragua. Its not always 2 stores that is needed, sometimes its only 1 store, but 2 people. The general rule is that you will not find what you need in one place by just yourself searching. You will need to speak to a local who either knows where or knows a person who can get it, but once you have it you will need to find a store that will put it together/on/fix it…
Having a “guy” seems to date back to the 1980’s when food shortages were rampant in Nicaragua, a biproduct of the Sandinista government controlling the price of most essential items. A black market or “bisnes” were created and industrious people in the busier cities hired themselves out to wait in lines for the wealthier or became “drivers” who’s sole purpose was to find what their employer was looking for. These men were and still are worth every penny. (*Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua by Stephen Kinzer)
The first time we experienced this two-stores-and-a-person phenomenon was prior to us even moving. We had a friend who was already living in Nicaragua so we asked if he might be able to find us a car, so we didn’t have to spend our first week running around scrambling for a car. He obliged and found us an affordable 4×4 SUV. Being an American and not having residency in Nicaragua, he could not own the car himself, so he put the car title under his girlfriend’s name.
We purchased a generator at PriceSmart (equivalent of Costco) two days after we landed. We had done our research and knew that power outages were a major problem. Kharron works as a software developer and it is very important that his access to internet is uninterrupted. Once we were moved into our first home we struggled with connecting our generator to the already wired system. When a home is properly wired, once there is a power outage, you only need to switch a lever to change the power source and turn on the generator. We needed the correct cable in order to plug into this system. One weekend day the family drove around Rivas, stopping at every hardware store (ferretería) to find the correct cable with 110 plug on one end and 220/240 plug on the other. It finally became clear that we would need to buy the 220/240 at one store and the 110 and cable at another. We then hired an electrician back in San Juan del Sur to wire the parts together. In this case, it would have been much easier to hire a “guy” to do all this running around for us, returning with a completed product.
Soon after we moved and once Kharron got an office outside the home, he decided to buy a motorcycle. This way he could get to work easily without me having to get both kids in the car to take him & pick him up from his office. We do not have residency (yet) so we cannot own a motorcycle. Luckily Juanita was happy to not only walk us through all the stores in Rivas that sell motorcycles, but also put the moto Kharron selected in her name as the owner. There are several engine checks that are needed immediately after purchasing a motorcycle, for this we used Juanita’s husband, Vicente who rode the moto the 45km back to Rivas, waited while the checks were completed and returned with paperwork and receipts. All for $8.
Most recently we needed 2 new tires for our SUV. Already having made some connections, we have a “guy” we now go to for all things related to car. So we paid Happy (yes, that’s what he’s called) because he knows someone who goes to Managua and can buy decent tires at a good price. Of course Happy nor his “driver” installs tires, so we had to go to a vulcanizadora (tire repair shop) to have the purchased tires placed on our vehicle. The most popular one in San Juan del Sur seems to be Vulcanizacion “Las Pampas”.
Once you understand and embrace this process, its really beneficial. You don’t need to do anything but pay a few bucks to a knowledgeable and trusted local once they have delivered your commodity. In return, you’re helping someone make a honest living.
“When we arrived in Nicaragua we were surprised to hear…or should I say not hear…the pronunciation of the letter”S”. For instant “Buenos dias” is pronounced by a Nicaraguan as “Bueno dia” & the commonly said “Gracias” is spoken as “Gracia”. This can be a little confusing for someone struggling to learn Spanish in this foreign land. In Spanish when talking to someone in the informal “you” the words typically end in “S”, dropping this letter sound means there is no difference than if you were talking about s/he.
Our son’s name includes one important “S”, Titus. Without it, his name sounds more like Tutu. Since our maid is Nicaraguan, in the last couple months we have gotten very used to the sound of his name without the “S” sound. Juanita is in our home most of the day, 6 days a week and while she is there I always refer to Titus as “Titu”. Even our daughter Azalea more often calls him Titu (or as I spell it T2) than Titus. It is easier to introduce him to locals as Titu. If I try to introduce his name as normally spoken, the local will typically vocally trip all over the word, but if I say “Titu” then they easily repeat it and continue cooing to him in Spanish.
Living here, I’m now conflicted. Do I continue to pronounce the “S” to practice proper Spanish as I learn or do I drop it to sound more like a local. Perhaps I continue to pronounce it since I have heard that the schools are now making a push to teach the kids to enunciate with the “S”…
Before we left the United States my 3 year old, Azalea would drink almost a gallon of milk a week. Although this was an exorbitant amount, she’s never been a good eater so I was relieved that she was taking in fat & calories. The first milk we bought in Nicaragua looked like the stuff we drink in the US, but Azalea didn’t seem very interested in it and it sat in her sippy cup for the few days we stayed in Managua. While staying at Surf Tours Nicaragua I filled her sippy cup up with the box milk they had in their refrigerator but had the same outcome. Her sippy cup was left all over the resort still filled with milk. I positive byproduct of the sudden decrease in Azalea’s milk consumption was that she began eating more.
I figured Azalea was just adjusting to her new environment and once settled into a home she’d go back to drinking an outrageous amount of milk. I purchased again the milk that looked like what we used in the US. It comes in a plastic half gallon jug and is located in the refrigerator next to the yogurt and other dairy products. It seemed like this time Azalea was drinking milk again, but only for a couple days and not with the same voracity as she had before our move. I noticed after a few days of untouched milk, it had already congealed in her refrigerated sippy cup. Yuck!
While at our local grocery store, Palí someone told my husband Kharron, that the milk that comes in the bag is better than the carton. He happily purchased a bag of milk confident that he had solved our milk mystery. Confused as to how you dispense a bag of milk I poured it into a thermos and eagerly waited for our milk tester to come home from school. The bag of milk was not a success. Azalea took one sip and left the sippy cup laying on the sofa. We tried a couple different brands of the bag of milk, using it in our coffee with each defeat. One day our maid Juanita cut the corner of an unopened milk bag and set it in a bowl in the refrigerator. Ahhh…that’s how you do it!
The last option to try was the raw milk that gets delivered by horse cart, so I spent about 20 minutes one morning searching for a cart to flag down. Feeling a little uneasy about about not only raw milk, but milk that is kept in a metal container in 90 degree heat, I boiled it immediately when I got home. The next morning I tested this milk out by putting it in Azalea’s cereal. She wasn’t fooled for a minute, after one bite she looked up at me and said, “I don’t like this.” Another batch of milk for our morning coffee I guess.
Finally perplexed by this milk mystery I posted on a local Facebook Mommy page, “Okay Mamas, what’s the deal with the milk here? Which one is the most like home? What is the difference? Bag, carton, box (not real milk?). Which is the best for you?” My mommy friends came pouring in with advice and I was happy to hear this is a common problem after a move to Nicaragua. It seems most Expat families drink the milk that comes in a box. Turns out it is real milk, that’s been slowly heated multiple times to kill off the bacteria and bag or box it in seven layers so that bacteria cannot grow in the milk. That is how it can stay fresh unrefrigerated for so long. This milk also touts that it contains no additives.
I’ve settled on buying Dos Pinos in the box. Azalea recently found a love for cereal with milk and I’m hopeful that this is the stepping stone back to true milk consumption. Although, now that the mystery is solved, I wouldn’t mind if she just continued to eat her calories & fat…
We’re starting to feel pretty settled in our routine here, so I thought I’d write about what a typical week day is like for us living in San Juan del Sur.
The kids have both been waking up pretty early and there aren’t many roosters around our home to blame it on. It seems Azalea or Titus wake up between 5:30-6am every day. It only takes minutes after one rises, for the other to wake as well. If Titus is the first, I like to enjoy a little bit of quiet play with him in our bed. He sleeps in a Pack ‘n Play in our room so I let him wrestle around for a while before picking him up and bringing him in bed. We usually only get about 5 minutes of quiet time before Azalea comes knocking on the bedroom door. If Azalea is the first to rise, her loud knock will usually wake up Titus, but if not, it is her morning mission to make sure everyone else is awake in the house. Kharron is an early riser and uses the quiet mornings to get work done, so he can be found at the kitchen table on his computer every morning, including weekends.
I’m not sure what to do with kids this early in the morning and before I’ve had my coffee so I fumble with blurry, sleepy eyes to start a show on the TV. Some of Azalea’s favorites right now are Annie, Finding Nemo, Curious George, Horton Hears a Who, and Dora the Explorer. Once I have her crazy morning energy lassoed to the TV I open up the home’s accordion patio doors so the dogs can go outside and Tasha can go visit her “friends”. Rigley with his broken arm, gets leashed to the large wood picnic-style table on our patio so he doesn’t go too far and re-injure himself…again.
I either hand Titus off to Kharron or put him in his jumpy that came in our box. The dogs water usually needs to be refilled, coffee gets made, Titus’ diaper gets changed, and Azalea’s initial hurricane gets cleaned. With a cup of coffee in my hand I nestle on the couch next to Azalea, nurse Titus, and enjoy the slow trickle of caffeine processing in my body.
On a typical day the family all has breakfast together. We may not all eat the same thing, but everyone sits at the table at the same time. Azalea has been eating A LOT of watermelon as well as peanut butter (with no jelly) sandwiches. Eggs are also popular for breakfast. I like to make a smoothie with all the fresh cut fruit Juanita has prepared or have fruit with yogurt and granola. Titus usually has some sort of fruit or ground oatmeal (avena molida) with yogurt. At breakfast Kharron and I discuss the plans for the day or things that need to get done, while Azalea continuously interjects with silly behavior.
After everyone has eaten and gotten their pjs dirty, it is time to dress for the day. I distract Azalea by letting her pick out what she wants to wear to school while I choose my own outfit. I’ve learned a trick of putting Titus on a towel in the bathroom sink while I do my hair and make-up. The toothpaste is usually distraction enough for a quick application. My hair lives in a ponytail because its too hot for anything else and my creativity runs low in the morning.
Kharron departs for work during this part of the morning routine. He has an office in town where there is less distraction and he can focus on his job… our only source of income. We all give Daddy kisses and watch him climb on his moto and zoom away. Its about this time too that our pool/gardener arrives. We all acknowledge him with an, “Hola Chilo” and carry on with our morning tasks.
Once I am dressed I focus on Azalea, helping her put on the outfit she’s chosen or trying to steer her in a different direction. She really only wants to wear three things right now – a brick orange flowered long sleeve dress, her long sleeved Elsa princess dress, or her long sleeve white cotton dress. Juanita is so efficient that at least two of these options is always clean, but its hot and I don’t want her wearing the same thing everyday so this usually becomes our first battle. After the tears have dried, I manage to style Azalea’s beautiful curly hair in front of the TV while Titus is on the floor next to me playing with some toys.
As I’m just finishing my hair masterpiece, I hear the single beep of Juanita’s family moto notifying us of her arrival and Juanita comes through the front door with a, “Buenos dias.” She picks up Titus and I’m able to race around the house putting Azalea’s second storm away, applying sunblock to everyone, and making sure Azalea has a change of clothes, hat, and extra sunblock (and nothing else) in her backpack. Juanita keeps Titus while I drive Azalea to school. She likes the music blasting and all windows down except her’s because it blows her hair too much. Azalea’s school starts between 8-8:30am and I take my time dropping her off. Its nice to have this time with her without juggling Titus on my hip. We say hello to the teachers and Julie, the director.
I go straight home and if Titus isn’t already asleep by the time I get there, then I nurse him to sleep for his first nap. Juanita has been making him a bottle or juice from an orange mixed with water. She rocks him in the hammock to try to get him down for his nap while I am driving Azalea to school. After he is down I am free to try to converse with Juanita via my crutch, Google Translate. If we didn’t shop for the week on Monday, then we talk about whether I’d like her to cook lunch and/or dinner that day and if we need anything from the store. I’m just starting to feel more comfortable with opening our conversations up to topics of life outside our home. Kharron and I have been trying to learn past tense and these moments with Juanita are like a daily Spanish lesson. She is very patient with us – politely correcting the pronunciation, accent, or gender of a word when necessary. She also gives a kind nod when we have said something correctly.
While Titus has his long morning nap I spend my time blogging, researching hotels, what is necessary for VISA renewal, scrolling Facebook for what’s happening in our home town, San Juan del Sur, or Nicaragua, text with friends, or do all those little computer busy work I didn’t have time to do while living in the States. When we first moved in we had cable, but it never really worked so we cancelled Claro and were going to use a new company called Sky, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’m not sure that I want to add it. I’m sure I would be much less productive during these nap times if I had the option to space out in front of the TV.
Once Titus is awake I nurse him again while reading my latest book on my Kindle. Then we usually head out to town to go buy bread at the paneria, fresh fish at the acopia, eggs or water at a pulperia, or say hello to our friends at one of the shops. Its nice to stroll around the town with Titus happily dangling in the Ergo carrier. Azalea gets out of school at noon, so Titus and I head over there from town.
We are always greeted by Azalea with a shrill of happiness. We take our time collecting her art work, backpack, and shoes and say “Hasta luego” to her teachers and friends. On the way home we talk about what her favorite part of school was. She doesn’t quite get this conversation and she usually says something that doesn’t really make sense or happened on a different day, but I figure its good practice.
Once home, Juanita is finishing up lunch and daddy is home sitting at the kitchen table. We all enjoy lunch together (chicken, fish, or pork with cabbage salad, beans, rice, or plantains. If she doesn’t have too much to do, Juanita will feed Titus so I am free to eat lunch and enjoy the conversation with my family. We’ve come to realize that Juanita is very funny, so there’s a lot of really bad Spanish and big laughs during lunch.
After lunch Azalea gets to watch a show on TV and Daddy goes back to the office. Azalea’s been pretty good about her naps so after about 20-30 minutes of TV she’s ready for bed. She likes to get in pjs for naps and that is always a process. I turn on the A/C and if Titus allows for it, I read her a quick book. Once she’s down I nurse Titus and hope for the simultaneous nap. I’ve been pretty lucky these last couple weeks!
On Tuesday & Thursdays I volunteer at Barrio La Planta Project 2-4:30pm with the Kindergartner classes. If all goes well, I leave 2 sleeping kids in Juanita’s care. I have to admit, on the other days of the week I usually read myself into a nap. I don’t know if its the heat or the the energy it takes to live and communicate in a foreign land, but I am really tired here. If Titus doesn’t nap when Azalea does, we dip our feet in the pool or go for a swim.
Once everyone is awake we relax a little, go for a swim, go to the park, get some ice cream, or meet up with friends.
My favorite part of the day is when Daddy gets home from work. Juanita makes dinner for us about 3-4 times per week, so the early evenings aren’t spent with one of us preparing dinner while the other entertains the kids. Azalea has been loving an early evening swim with her daddy or some days we take Tasha & the kids to the beach for sunset. On the nights Juanita hasn’t cooked, Kharron will cook, or we pick up “street food”, or meet friends at a restaurant.
After dinner I shower with Azalea and bathe Titus in his little tub. Everyone gets in their pjs and sprayed with bug spray. We put on one of Azalea’s programs and I nurse Titus to sleep. Titus has been going to bed around 6:30/7pm. We spend some time alone with Azalea before corralling her to her room for 3 books and some cuddles. Her bedtime is about 8pm. Lately after books and I’ve switched off the lights, we’ve been discussing our favorite part of the day. Its been really fun to hear what she has to say and share with her what made me happy that day.
Its not long after the kids are in bed that I too retreat to our air conditioned bedroom to read and fall asleep. Titus has been only waking up once to eat in the middle of the night, so my sleep has recently gotten less interrupted. Someday soon we will probably move his Pack ‘n Play into Azalea’s bedroom. Kharron again uses the quiet nights to get work done and enjoy the solitude.
We knew moving abroad would be pricey, but there were definitely some hidden costs we weren’t prepared for. Not included in the table below is what we spent in eating and drinking out. The is because of two reasons: 1. We are not that organized, 2. The cost if very dependent on how much you go out and to what type of restaurants/bars.
Infant on Lap Tax
Hotel in Managua for 3 Nights
First Month Gasoline
San Juan del Sur Day School (1/2 month)
Flea Medicine for Dogs
There were two large expenses that I did not include in this table because they are not common. First, We were surprised at the airport to find out that we had to purchase a one-way ticket back to the United States for our son, Titus and I. United explained that Nicaragua’s policy is that an infant on a lap who wasn’t a resident must show proof of exit from the country within the 90 day VISA expiration. Caught under pressure, we purchased a non refundable one-way ticket for $1065.80. We realized too late, that we would have been out no money if we had splurged for the refundable ticket and cancelled once safely in Nicaragua. Second, our dog Rigley broke his leg and the first surgery, x-rays, and medicine cost $1040.
Soon after we moved in we discovered that we had mice. Not just one mouse, “who didn’t eat anything” according to our landlord, but at least three. Being the pet lover I am, I used this opportunity to convince my husband that we needed a cat. I was very persuasive and that day I posted on the San Juan del Sur Friends and Neighbors Facebook page that we were looking for a kitten or junior cat. I was worried that a mature cat might not be a fan of Azalea and her 3 year old behavior.
A nice retired couple, Diana & Jeremy, from Canada commented that they had a sweet cat they couldn’t take back home with them. Bala (Bullet in Spanish) was a stray who wouldn’t take no for an answer and finally sick, emaciated, and hungry they started feeding Bala and letting him in the house during the day. They were kind enough to take him to one of the local vets and you would never know it today how rough he once had it.
The family went to go see Bala that day. Azalea instantly fell in love and even though he’s not a kitten he is very patient with her. Diana & Jeremy moved with two of their own cats, who weren’t very excited about their new sibling. Now that they had decided to temporary move back to Canada before traveling the world as pet sitters, they couldn’t ask their family to care for a third cat.
We took Bala home and by night time he was acting like one of the family. He is a very loving and sweet boy. We are happy to have this addition in our home…but we still have at least one mouse.
I was ignorantly under the impression that this is a term to be used often when you didn’t know how to say something in Spanish. You could just ask the Spanish speaker you were trying to converse with, “Cómo se dice (insert English word or phrase here)?” and they would leap at the chance to tell you what you were trying to say in their native tongue. Well, this only works if the person you’re speaking with speaks English as well, and if that were the case, you probably wouldn’t be speaking Spanish to them in the first place!
“Do you have a …cómo se dice cucumber?” I want to say in the mercado. “Where is the…. cómo se dice jelly?” I want to say at the supermarket. “Cómo se dice I want you to make whatever for dinner, I don’t care.” I want to say to our maid, Juanita. All instances where I would and have gotten the sideways turn of the head, not in the least bit understanding what I am trying to communicate.
The more useful, but less practiced is “Que es esto?” meaning “What is this?” but only works if you have the object in the vicinity of pointing ability. This is more used when you are trying to increase your Spanish vocabulary, which my family is doing on a daily basis. Otherwise by grunting and pointing you would attain the same outcome. No language of any sort needed.
Recently, while driving to the Maxi Palí in Rivas with my maid and stumbling over my Spanish words because I couldn’t access Google Translate (and because my Spanish is extremely limited), my maid corrected me by saying, “No tengo palabras en Español.” Yes! Exactly! I don’t have the words in Spanish! So help an amiga out and give them to me!
While doing research of where we wanted to move, we came across a couple Nicaragua blogs that mentioned the extremely low price you pay to have help in your home. No one said it better and more convincing than Mike’s Gringo Life, “We have a traditional home. I work outside the house and Carol works at home and with the kids as a full time mom. If we lived in the US, she’d probably be doing most of the laundry, housekeeping, cooking and cleaning. Here she doesn’t have to. She gets to spend an extra hour (30 minutes each way) with them every day because she is free to take and pick up the girls from the school. She creates crafts and games ready for them after school. She’s there rested, relaxed, and ready to listen and engage them in conversation. This, alone, is a treasure chest of gifts for the girls.” I knew I wouldn’t be working at least at first, and it seemed like a daunting task going from working full time to raising 2 kids, doing all the household chores, and shopping, all in a foreign country. It was a pleasure to hear that I didn’t need to…and that my husband was on board!
We mentioned to our landlord that we were interested in hiring someone to help in the house, so he set up a meet-and-greet with his friend Juanita (and her son who speaks English). We negotiated how many days she’d work and what hours. Juanita wanted to work 6 days a week, with Sundays off. She gave us the choice of either 7am-12pm or 8am-1pm. I mentioned I’d like her to cut fruit to have in the frig, make lunches some days, and prepare dinner for about 3 nights a week. She already seemed to understand the regular household chores she’d be doing. Juanita seemed perfect for the job and we told her we looked forward to her coming the following day.
So here’s the breakdown: Juanita works 6 days per week 8am-1pm officially, but usually she leaves between 1:30 and 2pm for $200 per month. That’s about $6.70 per day or $1.30 per hour…assuming she actually left on time. At first she worked Monday – Saturday, but recently she’s asked to take Wednesday off so she can bus to Managua to buy clothes for her side business. She now works Thursday – Tuesday. She makes lunch probably 4 days a week and prepares dinner about 3 days. Its best if I take her to the supermarket (Palí) and the mercado to do the shopping for the week, otherwise I’m running to the store every day after we decide what she should cook.
I had an epiphany the other night while the whole family was enjoying dinner together as usual since we’ve moved. We hardly ever ate dinner together in the US. I’m embarrassed to say, we usually parked Azalea in a high chair seat in front of the TV with her favorite show playing so that we could get a 30 minute break. When she was a baby I’d feed her mashed up veggies hours before we even started making our own dinner. We could never get our dinner ready early enough for us all to eat together. With Juanita preparing the meals, its easy to eat dinner together every night, its become the norm. Even when we cook, we start early and always include both kids around the table. This is the way I grew up, and I’m so happy to be passing the dinner table tradition on to my kids.
Every morning I make a fresh fruit smoothie or fruit and yogurt mixed with granola. Its easy to do now with all the hard work already done. I have 3 Tupperware containers full every day of cut fruits to choose from. The fruit is SO good here! Papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, and pineapple are our favorites.
Kharron usually comes home for lunch and we all eat again around the table. If we don’t eat at home, the kids and I meet him in town and go to one of the many restaurants. After lunch both kids are usually ready for their nap. I put them to bed feeling gratified that they are getting the love and attention they deserve from both of their parents.
Juanita has helped us in so many ways outside of the household. She not only lead us all around Rivas shopping for a motorcycle for Kharron, but also put the motorcycle in her name since you have to be a resident to own a vehicle in Nicaragua. The day after we purchased the motorcycle she rode back to Rivas to file all the paperwork and get a tune up. She rode with me into Rivas to get local prices on new tires for the car, hunt for everything necessary to make cupcakes, to go to the cleaning store, Casa de Limpieza”, and navigate the large mercardo. She also gives us a patient Spanish lesson each and every day she works.
There are some hidden costs to hiring household help. People in Nicaragua are paid on a 13 month payroll, paying double in December. Its possible your maid might ask for help with a medical bill or other necessity they cannot afford. I am told that if you hired correctly, you will not mind sometimes paying for the small things requested. We have already volunteered to purchase Juanita glasses after seeing her squint to read the small print of Google Translate on our phones. This cost us $170 for exam and glasses, but the pride I feel when I see her put them on is priceless. Juanita has 3 sons and asked for a loan of $100 to send her middle son to finish English class. This came at a good time because we started to need some childcare for 3 hours a day twice a week while I volunteered. We negotiated just $15 more a month (and towards her debt) for this extra service. Last night she asked to borrower our motorcycle to ride to church because her family’s motorcycle had a flat tire, we gladly lent it…its in her name!
We have lucked out with Juanita. We totally expected to go through a few maids before finding the right one, but couldn’t want for anything more. We look forward to speaking more of her language because its become clear that she is very funny and can’t wait to understand all of her little jokes. After one month she’s already become one of the family.