Nicaragua: War, Coffee, and Fair Trade

13_01_10_IMG_0996Riding in the back of the truck bed, I stared at surrounding landscape.  My grip on the top of the truck was tight as we drove over what passes for a road on Ometepe, an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua.  As we passed jungle, banana trees, small villages where women cook over woodsmoke, and around the island’s two volcanoes—Conception and Maderas—I suddenly wondered what life might have been like during the war.  Nicaragua’s recent past tells a sad story of dictators, revolution, counter-revolution, and continued poverty.  What stories are there to tell?  Passing through the jungle in peacetime still brought sadness.

I’m not writing a history lesson, but it would be worth your time to reflect on the disastrous results of US foreign policy in the 1980’s that is only self-interested in abolishing whatever is deemed as a threat to US security.  Small Nicaragua, poor Nicaragua—labelled this or that and a worldview was thrust upon a people already in struggle. Somehow, millions of dollars were secretly and overtly donated to a war in this country, so far from the dominating culture, the vast landmass and wealth of the USA.  How many US citizens knew the life of an average Nicaraguan?  What is the face of socialism/communism/capitalism?  Today many of the people in Nicaragua struggle against tuberculosis, parasites, and respiratory problems (caused from open fires for cooking).  Corruption in the government, and 45% live on less than $2 per day…this is a reality.

Ometepe is beautiful, and it is also a remote corner of the country.  Electricity is still new to parts of the island.  Though not in the central area of the war, I imagined anyway…eyes closed, I transcended time.  What would it be like to be on my way to somewhere and have the constant fear of being blown away by mines, or attacked by contras?  My imagination wasn’t even enough to address that terrible reality of war.

Back into the present, I held tight until the destination, an organic coffee farm.  So, yes, there are good stories to tell. North Americans, when you purchase that expensive cup of fair trade coffee, know that you are effecting change.  No, I’m not being trite.  The fair trade concept has been out there, and perhaps you subscribe, and buy that coffee. But personal experience adds power my words, and my personal experience is this: Organic and fair trade products are not a political issue—it is a healthier way of life for all.

This good story is about a small collective called Finca Magdalena, who happen to export some of their coffee to an organization on Bainbridge Island, WA (fairly traded).  If you want to read a success story, read their history.

Below is a photo from my tour at Finca Magdalena.

At Finca Magdalena