Back in Nicaragua, she owned her own home and made enough as an elementary substitute teacher and lawyers' assistant to eke out a stable, if not luxurious, life.

Now she spends her days on the streets in and around Costa Rica's capital begging for change and clutching a can decorated with Nicaragua's blue-and-white flag, an unmistakable reminder to pedestrians of the political turbulence that has claimed hundreds of lives in her native country.

"I never did this before," said the 53-year-old woman. "We were modest," she said, "but life (there) is cheaper."

The fate of the estimated 50,000 Nicaraguans who've fled violence and persecution for exile in Costa Rica over the last year is a central point in fledgling peace talks between Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government and the opposition.