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

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A Story from Nicaragua

I want to share a story with you from my time here.  When the earthquake struck Haiti, I was in a remote part of Nicaragua, on the island of Ometepe accompanying a group of college students from Pennsylvania.  Ometepe is an island in the middle of lake Nicaragua (a lake probably the size of Lake Michigan in North America).  The students were staying at an orphanage.  I helped them work on a new building for the orphanage and at a medical clinic on the island.  At the medical clinics, even distribution of vitamins is needed among the people.  Below is a photo from Ometepe with one of the two volcanos on the island in the background, called Conception.

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This experience is from Sunday, January 10, 2010.

Instead of attending church with the rest of the students, I went with Heidi and Hannia (Heidi is a sister deaconess and Hannia a Costa Rican who was helping us) to a community in the other side of the island called El Corrozal.  I sat in on a meeting with a few of the community members.

Since I understand a little spanish and speak even less, I wasn’t able to participate much, except to listen as much as I could.  We were consulting with the community about potential projects for other students groups.  In other words, asking the community what they most need.  The drive to El Corrozal took over an hour, not because it was far away, but because the roads were so bad.  There is one main road around the island and other dirt roads that lead to small communities.

45% of Nicaraguans live on less than $1 a day.  It is a land where some only recently have electricity, horses are common for transport, food is cooked on wood stoves, machetes are used to cut grass, and the water gives people parasites and fungal infections.

This particular community received electricity from the government only a short while ago.  The meeting took place in a school, that is vacant for summer vacation (dry season = summer here).  Among the Nicaraguans present was a deacon at the local evangelical church and a man who grows coffee and exports it through an organization on Bainbridge Island, WA (near my home in Seattle!).

After the meeting we were invited to a home for lunch.  It was an experience of God’s grace for me, because this family served us out of what they had, which isn’t much at all.  The small house had dirt floor and fire for cooking outside.  We ate rice, beans, eggs and plantains—a staple meal in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Even though I did not speak the language, I was welcomed and fed.  It is a day I will not soon forget…I re-enforced my belief that relationships are vitally important to helping others and that hospitality is a blessed gift.  I know people in North America are prone to become excited with foreign mission to help some poor people, but please take note that going over the border to Tiajuana isn’t necessarily going to help people.  There should be a mutuality of sharing and learning, and through that bond Christ is present.  This experience calls me to compassion, prayer, and action.  I ask myself and others:  How can I know my neighbor and how can we grow together?

From Costa Rica

This brief post is only to say that I am well and enjoying my time in Central America.  I have some stories to share, so stay tuned.  Here’s a photo of one of the places I’ve been.  It is the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua.  It is in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, which is probably the size of Lake Michigan in North America.  The Island has 2 volcanoes.  I was there with university students from Pennsylvania, and they set up a medical clinic and worked at an orphanage.  The ferry boat is the only way to/from the island, and as you can see, it isn’t very big.  The name of the volcano in the background is Conception.  More to come…
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