Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Little Bit Of This, A Little Bit Of That.....Part I

I haven’t written in the Blog for a while. Not because I don’t want to. It’s just that there never seems to be enough TIME. TIME????, you say? How can there not be enough TIME????? You’re a volunteer in Latin America who doesn’t even have a real JOB! Well, that’s technically true. What is also true though is that……..well, more on that later. The point I’m trying to make is that I’m taking this opportunity to simply catch up on a bit of writing I’ve neglected over the last month or so. As the title implies, it’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that, stories stemming from everyday events that should offer a bit of insight into my current Nica life. For the sanity of all of us, I’ll break it up into a couple of parts. And since I left off in my last entry with a story of crime and punishment, I’ll continue with that same theme in this, the FIRST of another two part series.


In my last Blog entry, I wrote about a late night visitor I had to my little oasis in Barrio Atlagracia. Well, although I thought my sealing of the window would be the end of THAT, my late night friend decided to return the other night……or maybe a friend……or a colleague……or LEAST someone in a similar line of work. The story goes like this:

It’s Saturday night, about 6:30 PM. The mom, two little sisters, and boyfriend of the younger are eating dinner at the kitchen table. The “dad” from the house is at work. Me? I had just left for a movie. The front door is open. The front gate is closed. The boyfriend is startled by a noise and gets up from the table. It is suddenly realized that a “ladron” (robber) has taken the liberty of letting himself in and is leisurely making his way through the house. The boyfriend grabs and detains him, as the girls call the police. The ladron doesn’t resist in any way, and claims that he was simply looking for something to eat. Since the police don’t show up for an hour and a half, there is obviously a long wait. The ladron sits in the corner quietly, awaiting his escort to the local police station. More family members are called…….more arrive. As more family members arrive, more and more neighbors arrive. Before long , there is a bit of a mob scene. When one of the uncles shows up along with the dad, things take a downward turn for our friend, the ladron. Fortunately, the “golf club” is unable to be located. Unfortunately, a “metal pole” fills in quite nicely. According to reports, things get pretty ugly at this point. As the angry mob screams “dale dale” (literal translation…..give it to him), the little sisters scream hysterically to stop, and the “victim” cries for mercy while trying to shield his body and cower in the corner, the dad and the uncle use fists, feet, and the metal pole to give our new friend the “Rodney King-style” beating of his life. Yep, it’s often a completely different world down here. The movie was the absolute WORST I’d seen in a long time. I’m glad I went.


With any developing nation, the area of “law enforcement” takes on a particularly different meaning than its equivalent in the US. “Los Policias” here in Nicaragua are NO exception to the rule. As for the “traffic police”, the general procedure is to stake out a corner somewhere on a random street, stand out in the street, and simply wave people in to their little makeshift detention area. If they are really advanced, they may have a cone or a reflective vest. If they’re SUPER advanced, they may have a vehicle (i.e. a way to get there and home……..or perhaps “pursue” someone who chooses not to stop). Usually, they have to thumb a ride. What do they do exactly? Well, usually they just check your registration, insurance, and license and send you on your way. I say “usually”, but not always. I’ve been pulled over a number of times. Many times they have checked the documents and sent me on my way. Others though, I’ve had to pay them bribes ranging from 5-15 dollars to avoid having to spend the following day getting my license back. Regardless, I’m ALWAYS very courteous and compliant. ALWAYS, that is, until the other night.
It was dark and raining, and I wasn’t particularly enjoying being out on the motorcycle that evening. We had received an incredible amount of rain over the last several days, and there had been much flooding in the city. I was driving very slowly and cautiously, simply trying to get home and relax. After making a right hand turn (with turn signals, etc.), I arrived at the red light less than a block from the corner. An officer walked out from the sidewalk, looked me over a bit, and waved me over to the curb.

TC (Traffic Cop)…..Documents please.

J(that’s me)…..Sure officer. Here you go.

He walks away and reviews the documents. Upon returning, he asks me to turn off the motor and follow him.

TC…..Are you aware that you committed an infraction back there when you made that turn? You made a right hand turn but upon completion of the turn, entered the left lane.

J…..OK. Sure, I can understand that. But the right lane is not a particularly viable option tonight. There is a LARGE amount of flood debris in that lane at the moment. AND, in addition to the flood debris, there is an ENOURMOUS hole (think somewhere between a pothole and a sinkhole…….easily large enough to swallow the moto). The lane is completely obstructed…… I said, not a good option.

TC…..Yes, I understand that, but that doesn’t matter. You still broke the law.

As I said before, usually I’m very cordial and compliant. That night however, I had apparently had enough.

J…..Are you kidding me? REALLY? SERIOUSLY????? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve EVER heard! I’m lucky I didn’t CRASH with all of the debris in the road! And YOU! What are you even doing out here in the rain? NOTHING! All you’re doing is standing out in the street ripping people off and trying to take advantage of them!!!!! It’s totally wrong! YOU know it, and everyone out here knows it!

TC…..Are you saying we’re corrupt. We’re NOT corrupt (that’s one of their big slogans)!

Jason remains silent and gives him the look of “hey, if the shoe fits, buddy”.

TC…..You better be careful. You better respect the authority of……blah blah blah blah.

J…..Whatever! You do what you have to do. The whole thing is completely ludicrous, and YOU KNOW IT!!!!!!

The next thing I knew, after being given another warning about respecting the authority of the police and having my documents returned cordially, I was on my way…… ticket… nothing.

“Have a nice evening”, he said. “Drive carefully.”

I suppose he picked up on the subtle clues pointing to the fact that regardless of the outcome, I had NO intention of paying ANYONE ANYTHING that night. Maybe it’s not such a bad strategy after all.


AND…..since we’re STILLL on the subject of criminal activity and law enforcement, I’ll conclude this section with one final story. As many of you know, I am technically a “tourist” here in Nicaragua. In other words, I have what is known as a “tourist visa” that is good for 90 days. What happens after the 90 days are up? Well, it’s certainly a renewable tourist visa. I just have to leave the country and stay “gone” for 72 hours. Upon crossing back into the country, I receive a stamp that is good for another 90 days. Recently, I took a trip to Costa Rica to see a couple of friends in San Jose. We had a nice time, and I got my new 90 day pass upon crossing back over. BUT, while talking to a different friend the other night, it dawned on me that my “recent trip” to Costa Rica may have been a bit “less recent” than I thought. Upon checking the stamp in my passport, my suspicion was confirmed. Just HOW recent was that trip? Uh….about 100 days ago recent. Uh oh.
I had visions of the Nica version of the INS showing up at the door (hey, do we still have that metal pole around?)

Are you Jason Jones?????


Come with us.

Uuummm…….Do you guys work within the same bribe system as the traffic police?

I had visions of being driven to the airport in shackles and thrown into an unmarked cargo plane. My passport would no doubt be revoked. I would be branded an international criminal and barred from ever returning to this part of the world. If I chose to return, I would have to do a reverse border run from Texas or California.


NO AMIGO! I’m trying to get INTO Mexico!!!!!

The next day, I found out that I would need to go down to the local immigration office to get things sorted out. As a precaution, I had a Nica friend call ahead and find out what was going to happen. In other words, if I walked INTO the office under free will, would I ever be able to walk OUT? The information sounded a bit too promising………it could be a trap.
Well, I’ll say it again………things down here in a developing country are often done a bit differently than the way some of us are accustomed to. I walked into the office, paid three dollars in fines, bought another three months for $15 more (MUCH cheaper than taking a Costa Rican vacation), and walked out a free man. The worst part was having to go to 74 different windows to receive erroneous information at each and every one. Of course, I expected that, so it was really no problem. So once again, all was well that ended well. And as Sting said back in the 80’s, “I’m an ALIEN…..I’m a LEGAL ALIEN”. It’s nice to be back.

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