Rising Electricity Costs Force Coastal Residents to Protest

October 7, 2013

What started off as a meeting to discuss the high electricity rates on the Coast of Nicaragua ended in a call for manifestation.

The Communal Board of Pearl Lagoon invited ENEL big boss Martin Duarte from Managua, its citizens and those of the other Coastal communities of Raitipura, Owas, Kahkahbilah, Brown Bank, Lafay and Haulover, to come speak about solutions for the exorbitant rates being charged. Mr. Duarte had agreed to come but called today to say he was unable to attend leaving the local ENEL officer to respond to questions that were clearly outside of his purview.

The rep, Stennet Hansack, was peppered with case after case of increasing electric bills, service disconnections, displays of favoritism, service interruptions and unhelpful responses. True to form, Mr. Hansack was unable to provide any useful information or answer any questions to satisfy the crowd.

He touted the company lines of “reduce consumption”, “monitor usage by reading your meters in the morning and in the evening”, and “reclaim any bill” but “you still have to pay it”.

Mr. Hansack attempted to explain that comparisons to what the residents in Bluefields pay for electricity is pointless because Bluefields’ tariff is lower. When asked why Bluefields, a big city, has a lower tariff, he lacked the capacity to give a suitable response. He did the same with every question that was posed instead deploying the spin doctor technique of speaking but saying nothing.

One participant explained that she owned a business that depended on electricity but that with the frequency and duration of service interruptions, her business was losing money. “If I can’t run my business because I don’t have power, how am I expected to earn money to pay my light bill,” she queried.

Another voice echoed that sentiment and added that local businesses are increasing their prices to make up for damaged inventory. “This is putting a pressure on the people when they go to buy food and other necessities,” she said. “It is getting bad when people have to choose between eating and paying their light bill.”

One man told of leaving his house with all the power off for four days and when he checked his bill, it was higher.

Many told stories of ENEL employees standing as far as the street when they read the meter which is attached to the house. “I can hardly read the numbers when I’m standing right under the meter so unless he has super vision, I’m sure he can’t read it from the road,” one woman said.

As the stories continued, the residents became more and more agitated. It was finally clear that Mr. Hansack could do nothing for them and it was suggested that no one pay their bills and hold a manifestation—a protest—to shut down the local ENEL office until the Managua bosses come to the coast to hear the complaints and offer solutions for lower bills.

A few registered concerns about having their power cut off or police violence in retaliation but they were assured that the manifestation would be held according to law which includes notifying police and media at least 24 hours in advance.

The manifestation will begin at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday October 10th in front of the Perlas Lagunas Institute.

Coastal Language 101

I promised I would do a blog post about some of the words and language commonly used in and around Pearl Lagoon. Here it is. The language here on the coast is a combination of English, Spanish and Miskito which is collectively referred to as Creole.

If they use the Spanish words for a thing then they always use the Spanish word and may not even know how to say the word in English.

Forgive the spelling. I’m doing it phonetically the way the words sound to me!

Quale or   quail Almost   dry; usually used in reference to laundry
Suppostamente   (Spanish) Supposedly
Tranquillo   (Spanish) Tranquil, calm, relaxed, easy
Tortiya   (Spanish) Jamaican-style fried dumpling but in a triangular shape
Bad feeling Upset stomach; feel to vomit
Catch a cold Used to explain just about all illnesses
Bunka/rump Butt, ass, behind, tush, etc.
Shittings Diarrhea
Poro   (Spanish) Penis
Para ya   (Spanish) A long time ago; or from time-to-time
Sickening Disgusting
Salva Vida   (Spanish) Life Jacket/vest
Novella   (Spanish) Spanish soap opera
Poonk Fart
That’s why I’m still not sure how this is used!
In my mind To myself
Beyho   (Spanish) Old man
Heaty Hot
Chinnella   (Spanish) Slippers or sandals
Fishining Fishing
Dorry Boat smaller than a panga and needs oars
Panga Boat that uses an engine
Clamp Stapler
Tio   (Spanish) Uncle
How? How are you?
Hard man A common greeting between men
Right here Used in response to How?
Plasticard Laminate


Light Gone?

Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua is an interesting community.

When I was here last year, very few had running water, only wells, and the street light stopped just shy of downtown, where we live. Uptown is where the majority of businesses are located.

This year, there is running water and you can see taps projecting out of the ground on many properties. Few have as yet put running water or flushing toilets into their homes but it is coming…soon. Sidebar…the water still tastes like dirt to this Canadian woman!

Road construction and repairs are also underway here. I’m told that the road used to be green grass which made Pearl Lagoon a pretty place. Now, the roads are rocks and gravel and like the Peanuts character Pig Pen, there is always a cloud of dust and dirt in the air. They’ve dug up a good portion of the roads in uptown so they are barely passable, even on foot.

The long-time residents are skeptical that the roads will be repaired since they have seen this level of activity before and no results. They are also aware that the rainy season is coming which will see these dug up roads turn to mud. I’m hopeful especially so that I can wear my sandals without fear of breaking my leg or twisting my ankle on the craggy roads and so that I don’t have to wipe down my laptop each time a car passes by our house.

There is no mail delivery in Pearl Lagoon or its neighborhood communities. No one has a mailing address as the houses do not have numbers and the streets don’t have names. The three main ones are called for where they lay so front, middle and back street. Sounds simple but try having a package delivered. You can’t. You would have to get an address in Bluefields and then go pick it up from there. Getting to Bluefields means taking a panga (boat). It costs NIO$160 or US$7 and is 1-hour each way from wharf to wharf, if everything is on time which happens occasionally. For a little higher price, you can also take a bus to Kukra (1/2 hour on terribly rocky roads) then a taxi to the wharf and then take a 30-minute panga from there. This isn’t bad a terrible system if you have something important or a lot of merchandise coming in but this becomes expensive and time-consuming if it is only junk mail.

There are now street lights on most of the three main streets as well, though there is still a problem with the loss of power from time-to-time throughout the day.  The question, “Light gone?” is a common refrain heard at least once daily. Luckily it doesn’t affect many functions like cooking as it would in North America because they cook either with propane or on coals, but it does affect television-watching and high velocity super deluxe air circulators. I just call them fans.

There are two things you really shouldn’t mess with here and those are fans and novellas. It is hot here, especially since we are experiencing an extended dry-weather season. And I mean really hot! Imagine, if you wil,l getting out of a cold shower and within about 15 seconds of being out of that shower being awash anew in sweat as you attempt to get dressed.  If you aren’t standing in front of or underneath a fan as you dress, it becomes an exercise in futility especially if you are a woman and are trying to put on a bra.   It is not just this Canadian this happens to. I’ve watched the members of my new family suffer this experience as well and they are native Nicaraguans!

Oh and novellas. They are Spanish soap operas and while I wouldn’t watch soap operas when I was in Canada, I don’t miss a novella if I don’t have to. Of course, I don’t understand a word they are saying but I was able through body language to get the drift, that is, until I figured out how to turn on the closed captioning in English. Now, I’m right in the thick of the conversation with the most committed novella watchers. I have arrived!

But for me, the power outage is more than a nuisance. My livelihood now relies on having reliable electricity. I got smart and make sure that I keep my computer and cell phone fully charged but when the power goes, so does my internet connection. That means no email, no Google search, no Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and it means I lose the ability to run my online business at http://www.ccarolbrown.com.

How good is a virtual assistant, blogger and online trainer who has no virtual presence? See my problem?

Ah, Pearl Lagoon!