Thursday, 9 August 2007

Women making jam in the mountains

More than just a fair price

Just one more thing before I sign off for a while – a few words on fair trade.

Having just seen all the wonderful things a fair trade does for communities I am compelled to give you the hard sell on fair trade products.

Whenever possible I urge you to buy fair trade products. Not only do the growers receive a better price for their crops, they are also part of something much more long term. The fair trade movement keep communities together, they provide training, encourage organic production where possible and assist with crop diversification so farmers aren’t relying on just one crop for their livelihoods.

They also provide a social service specifically with regard to women. Through education they empower women; to be independent, giving them the confidence and the opportunities to form cooperatives on their terms with other women. They teach about relationships, sexual abuse, drugs and alcohol awareness. Some of this may sound patronising to us in the developed world, but in a country where state education is basic, and social workers are unheard of, many people in these remote communities are often unaware about the age of consent or that sleeping with a relative – and in many cases family members – is illegal. Fair trade strives to improve the life of farmers and their families wherever it can.

Buying fair trade is one easy way you can do some genuine good in the world.

Mission accomplished?

Here I am sat at home in London having successfully completed my mission six weeks ahead of schedule.

Well not exactly. After the kids successfully performed the play Mother Earth to a crowd of baying school children in Jinotega’s Central Parque I decided it was time to move on.

As previously mentioned, although the whole experience was fascinating, I felt that the operation ran smoothly enough without me. I was more of a distraction than a helping hand. Besides, as hard as I tried I really could not decipher the accent.

One chap who took part in the workshop loved farming and whenever he got the chance he would tell me about the wonderful life. Unfortunately not only could I not understand 50% of what he was saying, but, many of his words were replaced with bizare hand gestures - I had no idea what they meant. He spoke, clicked his fingers and clapped his tounge like it was the most natural thing in the world.

"What would a typical Monday consist of?" I would ask.

"Ahh, well usually some of this [shaking of the wrist] and a bit of this [two fingers would stroke the index finger on the other hand]". That is what I was up against.

And so, faced with the choice of trying to set up more volunteering (takes a while to setup and usually involves payments), arranging more Spanish classes (not more hours in the classroom), or heading up to Honduras and Guatemala (couldn’t face lugging around that backpack), I decided it was time to head back to my incredibly patience girlfriend, my new niece and the rest of my family. And of course the job pages.

The return
I do intend to go back to Nicaragua one day. I’ve met many people who I would love to work with in some way in the future. One promising project is a newly formed cooperative formed by ex combatants from the Contra war in the 1980s. Because they’re ex combatants many people - including government departments - want nothing to do with them. In the charity world we call them 'marganalised people'. A couple of their representatives approached me and asked if I could highlight their plight and seek some form of funding so they can plants crops and make a living for themselves. I said I would try my best. Watch this space.

And finally, what you all want to know; after four months do I speak Spanish? Unfortunately not. I can however, understand most of what people are saying to me, if they speak clearly, I can ask for most things, handle myself in awkward situations and can pretty much make sense of whole newspaper articles. What I struggle to do is keep up with the fast pace of a conversation which, unless you're a recluse, is what daily life tends to consists of.

Practice makes perfect
The next thing to do is enrol in a Spanish class where it’s a case of purely practising conversation and learning new vocab with people of a similar level. Once I have a job and have got back into a routine that is the first thing I’ll be doing. I promise.

In the meantime I shall be signing off for a while. I hope you enjoyed the blog. Do check back occasionally and I'll try and keep you posted on all things Spanish and Nicaraguan.

Muchas gracias,


Wednesday, 8 August 2007

I get my own mask

Let's hit the winding road

After a week and a half of mask making, prop making and rehearsing the play was ready to go.

In a last minute change to plans we hired a bus and headed to the opening of a community centre on a cooperative 1.5 hours away along a steep and rocky road. As we rolled down hills and got stuck in river beds some of the previously shy and subdued children were literally howling with excitement.

The community were all gathered under gazebos to witness probably the most important event since the last wedding. It was the perfect opportunity to try out the play in front of the audience it was intended for; fellow coffee producers.

Before taking to the stage though we needed to sit through the entertainment. First - as is customary in Nicaragua - were the long speeches as community members thanked the local government, the European Union and the charity Christian Aid for contributing to the building which will probably serve as a classroom, a clinic, an internet cafe, a post office and a talking shop, to name a few purposes. In a place where it’s always raining anything with a roof on is always in use.

After the speeches was the variety show; the adults played the music and the kids performed the dance routines to traditional music. Meanwhile plates of local food and sweetened coffee were handed out. And at these events it doesn’t matter if you only ate a few hours ago – the plate is forced into your hand. That day the community must have fed about 50 people.

And finally, 1.5 hours later, the children took to the stage for the first performance of Mother Earth. And to every one's relief, it was a success. There were a few missed lines and a few nerves here and there but on the whole it went well; the adults in the audience nodded in agreement and the kids were transfixed. For many it was probably the first piece of theatre they'd ever seen.

The play highlighted the dangers of pesticides, herbicides and the thousands of artificial food products on the market – Coca Cola being just one on a long list. All of these products, if not dealt with carefully, will damage their livelihoods and beyond.

It will take more than a play to make the adults change their practices but if the message gets through to enough children the next generation may have a wholly different approach to their relationship with the land.

After several pats on the back we got on to the village dance floor for half an hour of dancing. Nobody needs much of an excuse here or any dutch courage, everyone was busting the moves stone cold sober. Finally, as the sun was setting, we boarded the bus for the bumpy trip back to town. The kids howled all the way.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

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.