By Meg Gray, KF9 Nicaragua

It rained all weekend in Managua. It rained because of Tropical Storm/Hurricane Ida, which hit Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast on Thursday. You may have heard about Ida because your saw it on the news or read about it in the paper. Or maybe, like me, you learned about it via an alert from the US Embassy in Nicaragua. In my mind, Embassy Alerts are code for “things to start worrying about if you aren’t already.” Written in a calm, informative tone, the alerts are as alarming as they are pertinent. In my five weeks in Nicaragua, I have received alerts on three topics:
1. Tropical Storm (soon-to-be Hurricane) Ida
2. Mobs Attacking the US Embassy
3. Dengue Fever Outbreak

The most recent alert about Tropical Storm Ida was also the least troublesome in terms of my personal safety. Geographically, Managua (where I work in CEPRODEL’s main office) is roughly 300 miles from Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast where Ida hit. The moment I got the email my mind flashed to Hurricane Mitch, which hit Nicaragua in 1998. It is estimated that Mitch caused about $1.5 billion in damages including the destruction of nearly 70% of Nicaragua’s infrastructure. The alert indicated that there was a 20% chance that Ida would become a Category 1 Hurricane before landfall. A repeat of Mitch would be catastrophic for CEPRODEL’s clients, not to mention Nicaragua’s entire economy. Luckily, my initial paranoia didn’t pan out. On the Atlantic Coast, roughly 1,000 homes were destroyed, 5,931 hectacres of crops were wiped out, and no deaths have been reported. In Managua, all we got was a rainy weekend, which some people were happy about since they are in the middle of a drought. Overall, this Embassy alert proved to be useful and informative, though I personally was not in harms way.

The first two alerts I received were both more alarming. About two weeks ago, I got an alert titled “Political Protests at the US Embassy.” That doesn’t sound so bad, so I looked it up in La Prensa (one of  Nicaragua’s largest newspapers). I didn’t have to look far since the home page was full of pictures of angry mobs of people throwing homemade bombs at the Embassy. Until that moment, I had always found it comforting to know that, in case of an earthquake or hurricane, I lived a mere 15 minutes walk from the Embassy. With the knowledge that “protestors have thrown bottles and other objects, and launched explosive “morteros” at the Embassy.  Local police thus far have made little effort to control these demonstrations.,” it felt much less comforting. When I read “political protests,” I thought of people with signs and catchy slogans, not “morteros.” The actual alert was both alarmist and calm. Urging people to stay away, but also giving no real reasons for the attacks. (It turns out the Ambassador made a comment about a controversial decision the Nicaraguan Supreme Court made). After several days, however, the rioters dispersed and I could check political unrest off my list of worries.

The first alert I received, titled “Dengue Outbreak,” has proved to be the most worrisome. This unpleasant and potentially deadly disease is spread by mosquitoes. When I first read the alert, I breathed a sigh of relief. I hadn’t seen a single mosquito since I arrived. I had also seen news footage of my neighborhood being fumigated. Though the fumigation left a troublesome image of men without gas masks spraying toxic chemicals all over my house, it did make me feel better about Dengue Fever. Within minutes of getting home that night, however, I had five mosquito bites. Now, despite living with a constant coating of bug repellent, I get a bite every day or two and with each bite comes a bit of paranoia. Was that the mosquito with Dengue Fever? If yes, does it have the generic kind or the hemorrhagic, sometimes fatal kind? It is good that I wear bug spray now, so thank you US Embassy.

As you can see, the alerts are both illuminating and at least moderately alarming. In a way, the alerts also emphasize some of the obstacles facing Nicaragua. They have told me, in a nutshell, that I should be worrying about natural disasters, political unrest, and obscure tropical diseases. Any guesses what my next alert will be about?

Meg Gray is a Kiva Fellow in Nicaragua working for CEPRODEL. Consider making a loan to one of CEPRODEL’s entrepreneurs or learning more about Kiva.org.

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