Tropical Storm Nate in Nicaragua

“Never lose hope. Storms make people stronger and never last forever.”
― Roy T. Bennett

A storm is brewing! “Beware!” the zopilotes caw from the tree tops. The U.S. Embassy warned us about tropical storm Nate. We didn’t think much about it because the storm was supposed to pass to the east of us along the Caribbean coast. We’ll get some rain and maybe a little wind we said to ourselves.

It rained all night Wednesday and we woke to the sound of the wind howling through our bananas. The waves crashed to our shore and all ferries were suspended. The relentless rain pounded our house horizontally, drenching our bathroom through the screened windows. The lights flickered and snap…all was dark and foreboding.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Framed in Nicaragua

“That’s rule number one for a photographer, isn’t it? Fill your frame?”
― David Cronenberg, Consumed

The Weekly Photo Challenge is Frame.

This is how the world frames itself in Nicaragua.

The sunset is encased in a jar at Playa Gigante.
IMG_1724The staircase is wrapped in colors at the Revolutionary museum in Leon.

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Nicaragua: On the Threshold of Change

“He had the vague sense of standing on a threshold, the crossing of which would change everything.”
― Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden

The Weekly Photo Challenge is Threshold. Nicaragua is on the threshold of change. That point of entering just before a new beginning. Join me in my photographic journey of the threshold of change in Nicaragua.

Doorways once leading to nowhere, are getting a fresh coat of paint.

There are many more pictures of changes. Read on.

Don’t Underestimate the Force!

What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we’ve been fighting to destroy?

PADME AMIDALA, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

It may seem rather strange to use a Star Wars quote to begin a piece on the death of Ben Linder, but I’ve thought about the forces at play that undermine a peaceful coexistence on our planet. Politically speaking, a peaceful coexistence among countries requires mutual trust, understanding, and the ability to negotiate rationally when resolving disputes. In order to coexist peacefully, all countries must recognize each others’ rights to choose the political and economic systems that meet their needs, whether they be socialism, capitalism, or communism.

The way I see it, the political “isms” were the downfall of Ben Linder. It was the classic battle of capitalism vs. socialism. The United States violated all aspects of a peaceful coexistence by ignoring the sovereignty and territorial rights of Nicaragua in the 1980’s. But, why did this happen? What were the forces at play that led to the senseless slaughter of 40,000 Nicaraguans and one young U.S. engineer, from which all weapons, land mines, and Contra soldiers were funded by the United States of America?

The sad truth behind the U.S. bullishness in Nicaragua, as well as many other countries, originates from the “ism” of capitalism. In my humble opinion, the major force at play was, and still is, greed. When Anastasio Somoza, the U.S. backed tyrannical dictator, was overthrown in 1979 by the Sandinista left-wing socialist party, the U.S. was terrified. For the first time, the Nicaraguans had a government that cared about its people and enacted successful reforms to abolish the inequalities among its citizens through land reform acts, socialized health care, and increased agricultural and educational opportunities.

The U.S violently protested against this new political model. “Back in 1981, a State Department insider boasted that we would “turn Nicaragua into the Albania of Central America” – that is, poor, isolated and politically radical – so that the Sandinista dream of creating a new, more exemplary political model for Latin America would be in ruins.” (Noam Chomsky) Under the threat of a good example, the U.S. terminated all projects and assistance to Nicaragua, President Reagan supplied the Contras with weapons to bring down the Sandinista Party to the tune of $30 million U.S. Congress apportioned funds,  and mined the Nicaraguan harbors.

In the 1984 case of the Republic of Nicaragua vs. the United States of America, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in favor of Nicaragua and against the United States of America and awarded reparations to Nicaragua. All 16 final decisions were based on the United States of America’s violations of contributing to a peaceful coexistence among countries on our planet. What did the U.S. do? They poo-pooed the entire verdict. “It’s not fair. It was done in self-defense. We don’t owe Nicaragua anything and we refuse to comply with this verdict,” they whined.

So, Ben Linder, a 27-year-old peaceful supporter of a new political model, a clown and avid unicyclist, a young engineer who’s only goal was to bring clean water and electricity to the peasants in the highlands of Nicaragua, was assassinated by U.S. funded weapons, gunned down, his brains splayed out on a rock near the small hydroelectric dam he was beginning, in the name of what? Greed? Fear of a new, maybe better “ism”?  I wish I knew.

Ben was honored by being buried in the local cemetery in Matagalpa. There is a foreign cemetery across the street, the only foreign cemetery in Nicaragua, built for the German immigrants who started the coffee cooperatives in the highlands of Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega gave a moving eulogy to thousands of mourners who lined the streets of Matagalpa.

In it he said, ” Ben did not arrive in a flight full of weapons, or with millions of dollars. He arrived in a flight full of dreams, which were born, in his belief that the ethical values of the American people were much greater than the illegal policy of the United States.” He quoted Earnest Hemingway’s, For Whom the Bell Tolls, recounting the names, occupations, and ages of 10 foreigners senselessly gunned down, and ended with ” May the blood of the innocents move the conscience of those who govern the United States, so that the bells no longer toll, so the aggression ceases, so that the military maneuvers end, so that dialogue with Nicaragua will be accepted. No to war! Yes to Peace. Benjamin Linder‘s blood cries out, so that the bells no longer toll in Nicaragua.”

Ben Linder’s grave..who is going to weed it?

Standing at Ben’s grave, I was haunted by the forces at play that undermine a peaceful coexistence on our planet. What will it take to end the evil forces that dictate domination, subjugation, and exploitation of our human race? What if Padme Admedala is right? What can we do so that the bells no longer toll, the blood no longer oozes an evil trail of “isms”, and peaceful coexistence exists in our troubled world? I only wish I knew!

A Walk Through the Black Jungle

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My pictures don’t do justice to the Selva Negra Coffee Estate. I felt as if I was transported into the Bavarian countryside. Everything about this visit was magical. Plus, I slept snuggled under two heavy blankets…in Nicaragua! What a treat!

Coffee Politics

Selva Negra Arabica coffee beans

One evening after a dinner of wiener schnitzel at the Selva Negra Coffee Estate located in the highlands of Matagalpa, Eddy Kühl’s wife (descendant of the original German immigrants who began the coffee plantation in 1890) told me, “Nicaragua is a great place to live if you don’t get involved in the politics.” I suspected that there was more behind her comment, so I gently encouraged her to explain coffee politics.

Coffee and politics are synonymous in my book. Throughout history, coffeehouses have been venues for political activism and even revolution. ” Author Mark Pendergrast‘s book Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World [Basic Books, 1999] traces the pairing of revolution and caffeine across the centuries, on down through the Beats of the ’50s to the bongos and tribal-art tattoos of today’s post-Beat coffeehouse crowd” (Gaines, S., Mountain Express, 2004). Coffee culture reigns supreme from our morning coffee and the newspaper, to coffee dates and coffee breaks. My daily rituals revolve around a good cup of java. And I know I’m not alone, with more than one-third of the world’s coffee supply consumed by North Americans.

So, when Mrs. Kühl explained her views of coffee politics, it dawned on me that my little tour of the coffee farm earlier that day was a significant historical event. I viewed, first hand, the complex web of international relations that swirled in each cup of coffee consumed throughout the world.

A painting of the coffee workers in the fields.

The complicated process begins with the poor workers. who get paid about nine dollars a day to pick and clean the coffee, to the Rainforest Alliance, who certifies that the coffee is organic, to the middle men, who export the coffee, and finally to the large corporations that buy the green coffee beans, roast and package them, and distribute them to the consumers, most of them who are blissfully unaware of the disparity between the “haves” and the “have-nots” when sipping their morning lattes.

“It’s just not fair,” commented Mrs. Kühl. “The Rainforest Alliance has a different set of rules for certification for Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We provide housing for our workers, schools for the children, and comply with all of their requests.” She went on to explain that the people who certify their coffee are Rainforest Alliance employees from Costa Rica. Here is where the politics come in to play. Costa Rica and Nicaragua have notoriously been at political odds for decades.For example, if Costa Rica coffee plants needs two shade trees for each plant to receive certification, then Nicaragua requires six shade trees for each coffee plant.

“Well,” I asked, “if the Rainforest Alliance is unfair, why don’t you go to another organization for certification, such as the Fair Trade organization?” She responded that it wasn’t that easy. The Rainforest Alliance markets their coffee certifications all over the world. They are powerful and strong. In reviewing the Rainforest Alliance website, I read that in 2004, their certified coffee went mainstream with Millstone Rainforest Reserve Coffee sold in most of the major grocery chains in the U.S. Kraft launched the Rainforest Certified Coffee in the UK, and international markets are expanding their lines of the Rainforest Certified coffees.

Today, Rainforest Certified coffee appears to be the leader in certifications. What coffee producer can afford to lose the valuable markets offered through the Rainforest Alliance certifications? Certainly not Selva Negra or any of the other small coffee cooperatives in Nicaragua. So, while the Selva Negra Coffee Estate struggles to comply with the unfair certifications, we sip our morning coffee, blissfully unaware of the complexities and politics surrounding a little bean.

Below are links to the fabulous Selva Negra Coffee Estate, and the impressive Rainforest Alliance.

The Selva Negra Coffee Estate

 The Rainforest Alliance




Real Cowboys Drink Guaron

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I know nothing about cowboys except for watching the reruns of Bonanza and the movie City Slickers. My perception of cowboys was tainted with visions of sitting around smoky campfires sharing dirty jokes, ten gallon hats shading sweaty bodies from the scorching sun, gun fights at the OK Corral, rollin’ the Bull (rolling Bull Durham cigarettes), and saving damsels in distress.

So, when we arrived in Matagalpa, where their annual Hipica (horse parade) was prancing through the puddled streets, I expected to rekindle the memories of the old reruns.To my surprise, real Nicaraguan cowboys cannot compare to the horseback sissies on TV.

La Hipica is a machismo event of handsome, rugged caballeros proudly parading their best steeds through the meandering streets of the city. It reminds me of a mancation on steroids. Riding tall in the saddle, the vaqueros (cowboys) display their riding expertise by how little beer or Guaron (homemade moonshine) sloshed out of their plastic cups, while their horses dance a high-step trot to the beat of deafening trumpets.

Bosomy women draped in colorful ribbons, lace, and leather follow the handsome vaqueros, while mini-vaqueros ( little boys) demonstrate their damn good riding skills on ponies…or on saddled cows. Squished between the macho and the seductive are roving bands on truck beds. The trumpets blare and the gigantic speakers transmit thumping vibrations, like a small earthquake, that shiver through our bodies.

La Hipica is a parade of pride, a raucous display of everything that represents a real cowboy. It is a bombardment of the senses, not to mention that it was pouring rain during the parade, which added to the excitement. Nicaraguan cowboys are now at the top of my A list. They have a rugged mystique about them, which I’m sure I will fantasize about for weeks to come. This loca gringa ain’t no city slicker no moe!