“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
― Kurt Vonnegut,
On October 8, 2014 Ometepe Island, Nicaragua had heavy rains that caused rock and mudslides to slip off Concepcion Volcano and destroy the lovely indigenous community of Los Ramos. A five year-old girl was swept away in the strong current. Their homes were inundated with 2 ft. of mud and water supply lines were crushed by heavy boulders. There was no electricity, and their fields of plantains and beans were destroyed. They lost everything. My post Broken Lives.
My dear friend Ever Potoy was part of the destroyed community of Los Ramos. I have known Ever for about 10 years, yet it wasn’t until my son Cory and his friend Sam, worked with the community of Los Ramos to help them develop cultural tourism programs in 2012, that I really got to know Ever. Here is my post about their work in Los Ramos: Tourism: Embrace the People, Not Just the Place.
Ever is 27 years old and an only child. He is the director of the Los Ramos Cultural Tourism programs and has a degree in English. Several generations of Potoys lived in Los Ramos, with his grandfather being one of the founders of the community many years ago.
Ever described his community as friendly, close, and hard-working. His mother was an elementary school teacher in Los Ramos. His father is a farmer and works in agriculture. He plants beans, rice, corn, wheat, plantains, and watermelons. His father inherited the land in Los Ramos from his father and continues to carry on the tradition of farming in this predominantly agricultural community.
More than 600 people lived in Los Ramos before the landslide. It was a good place to grow up because it was safe.
When Ever was young, his first job was to walk two kilometers to the lake to get water from the well, then haul it uphill to his house.
When I was young, I had to walk to get the water, but when I got older, I took a horse.
Ever said that before the landslide, there were many projects in his community such as: improving the elementary school, building a cultural tourism center, getting a pipeline for water installed to the homes ( Although, that continued to be a problem because the pump in Urbite had a difficult time pumping the water to Los Ramos), and growing their cultural tourism business by providing a traditional cultural immersion experience for groups that came to visit a typical working community in Nicaragua.
At first it was difficult to convince the community to start a cultural tourism business. Many members of the community could not understand who would pay money to come see them work, or learn how to make nacatamales, or watch their cultural dances.
I went to bed early and slept through the landslide. The rain was pounding on the tin roof so that I didn’t hear anything else. Mother slept through it, too, but my father woke up when he heard the roar of the boulders tumbling through Los Ramos.
When I woke up, it was a huge surprise. Our house was not damaged because it was not directly in the path of the landslide. However, others were not so fortunate. The main road was totally destroyed. It was difficult to walk and big 3 meter deep crevices and holes were everywhere.
The mayor of Altagracia was a first responder and many organizations helped us by providing needed food and supplies for Los Ramos. We continued to live in our house, but others who lost everything were moved to temporary shelters in the local schools.
We had to cancel our tourism groups. My father couldn’t work in the fields because they were destroyed. We did have two small fields that were not in the path of the landslide and we could share the rice and beans we harvested with the community.
We first heard a rumor at the end of the 4th month that the government was going to move the people out of Los Ramos. Our community was already divided because many people had moved to other towns to live with relatives. Those that remained said they would never leave Los Ramos.
We made plans to build an emergency shelter on top of the hill in Los Ramos. If the landslide happened again, we could all go to the emergency shelter.
But, then the rumors became real:
The mayor told us that we had to move. We were worried because we had no idea of the designs of the houses or what they would provide for us. We were only told that the place we were moving was called El Mason near the Santa Theresa beach.
Ever stated that the people were afraid because they didn’t know what to expect.
We were told that if we didn’t move to El Mason the government would bring bulldozers and destroy our homes because they were unsafe. It was a way to obligate the people to move.
Six months later, the government housing was finished. 204 little colorful houses lined the streets of the new community.
The central government, the mayor’s office, and the army brought trucks to move our families. They assigned each family a home from a list they compiled. The people were very emotional and cried because they thought their houses would be destroyed. So, they took their own houses apart instead of the bulldozer crushing their family homes.
I was worried about how a new community would affect the people of Los Ramos, if they would continue their cultural tourism programs, and how the mix of people from other pueblos who lost their homes in the landslide would blend into the new community.
We have three names for our new community: El Mason, Cinacapa, and Petrona Alexandra Sánchez Barahona (the five-year old who died in the landslide). Now it is a blend of other communities. Los Ramos doesn’t exist anymore.
We have no secrets and little privacy because our casitas are all connected. Our line of casitas are mostly people from Los Ramos, so we know everyone. My father is living in our house in Los Ramos because he has to tend to our fields. My mother visits him daily. The bulldozers never came, so now the people have to rebuild their homes they took down piece by piece.
The farmers split their time between the casitas and Los Ramos. Planting season begins soon and they need to be close to their fields. Until planting season begins, most of the people have too much time on their hands and not enough work.
There are many challenges. Since I have a degree in English, I decided to use an empty casita for a community center and now I teach English to 79 people ( 7-44 years old) to bring our community together. I have four classes and I do not charge them for lessons. We have much fun and I think that education is the way to build a strong community.
I was almost afraid to ask, but I wanted to know if their cultural tourism programs had been abandoned. I was so glad to hear the news, that I had tears of joy for this lovely community that had lost so much.
We still have our Los Ramos cultural tourism programs, but we have relocated them closer to our new community. I am working with an NGO from Quebec and they bring groups to El Mason. The groups stay with host families in our new casitas. We have 15 host families and we need to add three more to accommodate our groups. I am preparing three families from outside the Los Ramos community to become host families.
Our goals are to help develop the skills of the young people in El Mason. We are working on developing recycling programs, teaching English and French, and volunteering in the school.
We built a soccer field and we are creating soccer teams to promote a sense of community. We invite the police to attend our programs when groups are here and we feed them and give them gas money for their vehicles.
Once again, Ever said it was difficult to convince the people to continue with the cultural tourism programs.
I feel responsible for motivating and creating a new community. The challenges are many, yet I have hope. There will be more opportunities for everyone including the groups we bring into our homes and for all of the people in El Mason. The first goal is education. That is the most important.
Ever, what would you like the people that read your story to know?
Well, first I would like them to know that I feel a little crazy now, because I don’t know what the future holds. I learned so much from Cory and Sam and I want to thank them for helping us to create jobs for our community.
I want people to know that they can follow their dreams even when a landslide destroys their future. If you don’t follow your dreams, you can hold up in the seat for your entire life.
Ever will never hold up in his seat for long. He has a dream, he has a future. I admire him so much. I admire his never-give-up attitude and his fortitude and strength. You can be sure his daring endeavors to create a stable community in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured are going to be successful.
The Weekly Photo challenge is Admiration. Ever will be someone I admire forever.
Also, thanks to Rich Waters for many of these photos.