This past week we headed into the countryside to live the realities that many Nicaraguans live each day. Prior to heading into the community that we stayed at, we spent one night in the small city of Estelí. At the foothills of the mountains, as the night descended upon us we could feel the change in climate; some of us donning a sweater. Estelí allowed us to walk around, spend time in the park, and even grab an ice cream cone (there are a number of us in our group that cannot pass up ice cream). The park though, allowed the child within us to be released. Something about a teeter-totter brings the child in someone out. Being able to walk around is something that we don’t get to do much in Managua. The only place that we have been able to do such a thing was in the mountain city of Xela, Guatemala. Furthermore, the hotel that we stayed at was the same hotel that Anthony Bourdain chose to stay at while in Nicaragua shooting an episode of his show, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. The hotel even provides it customers with complimentary tooth brushes, razors, and shaving cream. More importantly though, the hotel is run by an organization called, Familias Unidades (United Families), and the money that is profited helps support that organization which also, in turn, helps support the women’s cooperative we met with in the rural community.
The next day we headed into the rural countryside. Two hours on a dirt road, up into the mountains. We were greeted by many of the mothers in the community, most are members of the New Dawn Women’s Cooperative in the community as well. My friend, Drew, and I were placed with Doña Adela. She is an older woman who lives in a small home on top of hill, a forty-minute walk from the main meeting spot for our group, and with two of her grandsons. Her younger grandson, David (pronounced dah-veed), greeted us with a warm smile and a handshake. Later that night, we met her older grandson of 18 years, Norman.
The home is quaint and simple. There are dirt floors, wood walls, and one window. There is a common room with a small dining table, and two bedrooms. Additionally, there is a detached kitchen, a latrine just up the hill from the home, and a small corral. This is the first time I had ever lived in a home with dirt floors. Newly built, this home was simple and comfortable. The family had what they needed, and were comfortable with their situation.
While in the community, we took a tour of the local coffee cooperative. Called, Oro Verde, or Green Gold, the cooperative is operated by members from the community of Sontulí, and consists of about 500 manzanas of land (1 manzana = 1.7 acres). Despite November being the typical season for harvesting the coffee, this cooperative is up against a large problem with their crop. Their is a microorganism that has taken over and cause many of the coffee beans to prematurely fall off the trees, causing the trees to be very sparse, and detrimentally affecting this year’s yield. This cooperative is also associated with Fair Trade International (FLO), ensuring them a better price than what they would receive on the world market. Also, this ensures environmental protection, and community development. We continued on to the processing area, seeing where the bean is removed from the larger outer skin, where the beans are fermented, and then where the beans are dried.
Another meeting we had was with the New Dawn Women’s Cooperative in the community. The women also own land that has coffee trees, providing the economic independence and community solidarity. While they are still working on becoming Fair Trade Certified, they know that they are living lives better than during the years of the armed conflict. No longer do they have to sleep in the bushes out of fear of the Contra Army entering their homes and finding them. Though the life of the armed conflict is over, the struggle is not. The women are still working on acquiring legitimate ownership of their lands, a major problem that has been an on-going problem since the agrarian reform of the Sandinista Revolution.
Not only was the community in a beautiful location, the people of the community were genuinely kind, loving, and caring. They welcomed us into their homes, and gave us insight into the realities that they live everyday. From the dirt floors, to the latrines, to the simplicity of their homes that is companioned by the comfortability of their homes. Like we have seen before though, this community is still struggling. Access to water is available, but far from many homes; education is stable, but funding is still a concern. Knowing that this community lives a very good life despite being a rural community, thanks to their ability to organize very well, leaves a striking thought of how other rural communities in Nicaragua live. Not every community has the solidarity and desire to organize itself together in order to promote sustainable community development.