Wednesday, 25 July 2007

The President gets fruity

Last week was Revolution Day (19th July) here in Nicaragua.

The day celebrates the day the people overthrew the dictator Samoza Garcìa in 1979. The dictator was overthrown principally by the revolutionary army, the Sandinista, who had a brief spell in power before the United States funded a guerrilla army to overthrow them.

Anyway, that was 18 years ago and the people are finally moving on as the first generation probably in Nicaragua's history are growing up without having lived through war.

However, the former Sandinista leader and now president - he was re elected last November - doesn't seem to want to forget that revolution.

Watching the huge rally on television taking place in the capital Managua, I felt I could have been in North Korea or one of those despotic former Soviet states. The stage was adorned with pineapple and melons - a symbol of prosperity I presume - and giant billboards of the president, in his trademark jeans, collarless shirt and a cap, looking down on the people with a clenched fist in the air.

After the President was hero worshipped for half an hour - by his wife - we were then treated to one of many long speeches about winning the revolution interspersed with chants of 'Arriba the World's Poor'.

Sadly one of President Daniel Ortega's friends of the struggle couldn't make it, Libya's Colonel Ghadaffi, but his other big buddy could, Hugo Chavez.

What followed was more promises to help the world's poor and finally what many had been waiting for, and Daniel didn't disappoint, a big rant about the USA and the fact that most of Nicaragua's problems are really down to the imperialists.

I'm no fan of US policy in Central America but surely it doesn't help to provoke a superpower that is also doing quite of bit for the people in the very countryside I'm working in.

Throughout the event a Spanish version of Give Peace of Chance was played and another popular ditty called Power to the People boomed over the speakers every time Mr or Mrs Ortega said something poignant.

If you were a new comer to the country you'd think the revolution happened a week last Tuesday.

The papers said pretty much same, 'Why his Ortega talking about war when all the Nicaraguans want to do is work' was the tone of it. Even ardent supporters like the ones based here in the north were a bit mythed - they´d never seen so much pomp and ceremony.

Let's hope pomp and ceremony was all it was because, as someone who's beginning to get an understanding of this country, I'd say the main enemy is within in the name of corruption and chronic mismanagement.

And finally, on a positive note, we've had power for the last 3 nights running. Let's hope that's one problem fixed.

Here to help EU

The European Union, complete with camera crew, are in town and it´s all systems go.

This morning banners have been erected, display boards are covering the unsightly and extremely smelly toilets, everyone has donned their branded caps and t-shirts and for once the staff in the coffee shop actually look like they work here - they're wearing aprons. Even the military popped in for a visit complete with fatigues and desert boots. They either fear a coup or an MP is in on the party.

Meanwhile two of our students have been plucked out to be interviewed. But first they had to be briefed for half an hour. If they weren't nervous before they certainly are now.

As for the workshop, due to said interruptions we seem to have ground to a halt as teachers are called out to do their bit. Fear not though, someone always has a dodgy DVD in their bag, yesterday it was Kung Fu and Spiderman, today someone has the brand new Harry Potter - straight to DVD.

Tomorrow is the big performance of 'Mother Earth' the play the kids have been working on aimed at raising awareness about pollution.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

The toxic tango

Week 2 and I'm based in the office sitting in on a two week workshop with some of the youth from the cooperatives. The aim of this specific workshop is to educate the kids about their relationship with the earth.

Anyone who's been to Nicaragua will have seen the litter strewn towns and highways. The people either don't care or aren't aware that much today's rubbish isn't biodegradable. Rubbish though is just a start, the course deals with the damaging effects of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and so on. Effects such as water pollution, cancer and birth defects in the population. All things that the next generation of farmers need to be aware of.

The workshop brings two extremes together, some heavy theory about the laws relating to the environment and then two hours later, the whole class - and often me - will be doing the samba around the room, followed by some papier mache mask making.

And the reason for all this: at the end of the fortnight the kids will be performing a play called Mother Earth. The drama teacher's plan is to bring storytelling through theatre back to life. Since the Somoza era - the family who ran the country as a dictatorship from 1937 to 1979 - drama has'nt been taught in schools and the 4000+ drama groups have been reduced to 4. Which is one reason the teachers feel that information such as caring for the land for the next generation is no longer taught by most parents, because they weren't taught themselves.

What's interesting is that the so called children are actually aged 16-22 yet seem so much more innocent than their western counterparts. They're also extremely weary of me and try and avoid my questions at all costs. However, as the days go by I'm beginning to sense a little warmth. I think a few more tangos and the conga will soon have them at ease.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

El Campo

This last week I've been out to the countryside - El Campo in Spanish - which entailed sitting side saddle for 1.5 hours as we drove through driving rains on dirt tracks to visit small yet highly productive fincas. Just when you think you're in the middle of nowhere all of a sudden you're in a huge finca complete with schools, churches and usually a pool hall.

The organisation I deal with though deals with the smaller fincas, the ones that are cooperatives - owned and run by the communities.

It's absolutely incredible to see that in these remote communities there is electricity, running water people wearing the latest cut of jeans or Nikes trainers - albeit imitations.

The thing is, these people aren't wealthy but thanks to the fair price they receive, medical assistance from the US and the charities who are helping them to diversify their range of crops, they can continue the modest lifestyle they are used to and enjoy. Maybe I was naive but it was nice to be pleasantly surprised.

What's more, from the adults I've spoken to, they have no desire to move to the bigger towns. They go in get what they need and are relieved to get back. Next week the organisation is running a workshop for some of the youngsters from the coops, teaching them about environmental responsibility with some drama thrown in. I shall be asking them if they're happy to carry on with the family business.

And finally, apologies for the lack of pics and the fact that the updates aren't coming think and fast. Every evening as soon as I sit to write the nightly power cuts kick in.

Hasta luego

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Repeta por favor

Greetings from a cold and wet Jinotega.

Being here is incredible if not extremely challenging.

From day one when I was greeted in the office I struggle to comprehend what was being said to me. I was really dissapointed of how limited my Spanish was and the fact that it is very basic for real life situations. I can ask for many thinks, get from A to B and complain when the hot shower isn´t hot (tough luck) but when it comes to talking and understanding in an office with several people I´m lost.

But, I´ll allow myself one excuse - the dialect is so different to what I have ever heard before. There are is so much slang, letters are dropped off words and verbs are conjugated in ways I never thought possible. I imagine it´s like an English language student volunteering with a bunch of jordies.

What it is doing though is really helping me to practice what I´ve learnt. As before, in León, everything I want has to be done in Spanish. So I´m begining to think in Spanish again. Also, because there are so few foreigners here, people in the shops and bars are really keen to talk which again is a help.

The other slight problem is, there´s not actaully anything to do at the moment. As mentioned in the last post, the cooperative works with young children, but because the countryside is so vast they don´t see them every day, they select a group of them and bring them in to town for a few weeks where they´re taught about coffee production, organic farming as well as information such as alcohol and drugs awareness and social responsibility. There is a class being taught next week so I look forward to seeing how it goes down.

And to make this volunteering worthwhile I´ve decided to interview as many people as possible in order to write and article, or more, when I return the UK in an effort to promote and stress just how much of a difference Fair Trade makes. Because in reality I can't help these people here. They have a perfectly good smooth running organisation and they don't really need a do-gooder getting in the way. I sort of knew that would be the case anyway, I just thought there might have been something for me to do.