Nicaraguan Alphabet Part Two: N to Z

This is part two of my Nicaraguan Alphabet, posted after I finished three years living in Leon, Nicaragua. If you missed Part one, A to M, its the previous blog-entry.

N is for NICARAGUANS

 We have enjoyed spending three years with the ordinary people of Nicaragua – kind, generous people, valuing family, not in a hurry, time to chat, enjoy a good time, not too worried about timekeeping, babies who don’t cry, families who sit in rocking-chairs, chatting every evening, men who lie in hammocks, women who sell goods on their heads, everybody eating snacks, people asking each other for change, very uncommon to show anger, lycra roly-poly clothes, Leoneses a people of faith & tradition, very honest, enjoy fiestas & processions, three on a bicycle, youngsters kissing after school in the plaza, teenage pregnancies, overweight bored police, tedious politicians who give speeches, resilience.

And since April this year – people marching, in their thousands, and since August a few brave people continuing to march in spite of government repression.

N

O is for OBESITY, & also for OMETEPE

Sadly, O is for Obesity which is also a scourge of many other Latin American countries as well. One study found that 22% of Nicaraguans were obese & 33% more were overweight. When I first visited Nicaragua in the early 1980’s malnutrition was a problem – but then people were under-nourished. Now as the population has become more urban, & eating modern processed foods, including much fried food, many people are over-weight. Women are especially affected.

O is also for OMETEPE, a beautiful volcanic island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. We visited twice & enjoyed fantastic views of the two majestic volcanoes.

O

P is for PAVING STONES & PROTESTS

Nicaraguan streets are made from paving stones & these have played an important part in the country’s turbulent history. In 1979 the people used barricades made from paving stones in the successful uprising that finally toppled the Somoza dictatorship.

Now in 2018 the country went through another burst of revolt, this time aimed at the current Ortega government. After the protests began in April, and were fired upon by the police, people spontaneously built over 400 barricades all over Leon where we lived. For four weeks we couldn’t drive, we couldn’t really work, food & petrol became in short supply. The street barricades were ultimately unsuccessful, & were knocked down by government forces in July.

P could also be for PHOTOGRAPHY – I enjoyed three years taking photos of fiestas, processions, schools, protests & wonderful nature. See many nice photos on Instagram (@Owstonlewis)  https://www.instagram.com/owstonlewis/?hl=es

Roadblock in Leon, built from paving stones, 10 June 18, credit Steve Lewis

Q is for QUETZALS (& OTHER LOVELY BIRDS)

The Quetzal is a very rare & emblematic colourful bird in Central America. We tried & failed to see one in the rainforests of Nicaragua but we did see one in Costa Rica having got up at 4.30am and walked till 7am. (Couldn’t get a good photo though). In Nicaragua we saw lots of lovely birds , from tiny humming birds to big herons & waders in the mangroves. (This photo is not the Quetzal because I am too proud!)

Q could also be for QUESILLO which is a rather unusual food eaten around Leon, made of tortilla & molten cheese with onions.

Q Yellow window bird from behind

R is for RAINFOREST

We loved walking in the rainforest & seeing sloths, monkeys, birds, marching ants & wonderful plants. Congratulations to tourist enterprises that have preserved some of the rainforest & made it accessible to visitors, for example Selva Negra & the highly recommended homestay villages outside San Ramon, Matagalpa. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to take photos in the dark dank rainforests. The country needs to actively preserve the large reserves like Bosawas.

R

S is for SISTER CITY

I have worked for the last two years for Project Gettysburg-Leon . PGL is a Sister-City, a twinning link. In the UK we call them Twin-Towns. PGL has done fantastic work since 1985. A small dedicated group of people in a town 2000 miles from Leon have supported social & development programmes for the last 35 years. Our most recent programme, during the emergency, has been supporting homework clubs for kids who have missed out on their schooling, like Mario in the photo below. PGL – Good Luck & keep up the good work.

S is also be for SALSA DANCE, or SOMOTO CANYON, another great place to visit.

S

T is for TOURISM

In 2016 & 2017 tourism was on the up & up in Nicaragua. Everyone was talking about it, new hotels, different restaurants, the best homestays etc. Kath & I were well immersed, visiting many of the places with delegations & visitors. We especially tried to promote tourism where the profits funded social programmes . The uprising since April, & the violent response from the government, has killed off tourism. Eighty percent of hotels have closed, & 10’s of thousands of people have lost their jobs.

T is sadly not for TENNIS or TABLE TENNIS in Nicaragua (We like both these sports, but they don’t play either. Too hot!) This photo is Tourists at Somoto Canyon.

T

U is for USA

A famous saying from the region was ‘So far from God, so close to the United States’. The USA has had a huge influence over the last centuries, from trade patterns to political interference. Among other things the USA supported the Somoza dictatorship for decades, & funded a vicious contra war in the 1980’s. Central America will be better off with more respect & less interference from the big neighbour in the North.

U

V is for VOLCANOES

Nicaragua has 19 volcanoes many of which are active. In some you can see live lava bubbling away beneath you from the crater. Kath and I would regularly climb volcanoes with our visiting friends & PGL students.

V is also for VERY HOT IN LEON. It was!

V

Looking across from ‘El Hoyo’ to Momotombo & Momotombito

 

W is for WATER PROJECTS

Many villages in Nicaragua suffer acute water shortage in the long hot dry season. Imagine having to walk for 20 minutes to have to bring back a bucket of water on your head to wash in or to cook with. I worked on various projects during my three years where NGOs worked with communities to install piped water. PGL is in the midst of supporting a project in Talolinga village. A long & difficult process so far with various setbacks. Hopefully my successor can lead it to completion.

W IMG_20160309_163509 (2)

X is for XUCHIALT

 Xuchialt Community Arts School are a great organization in Leon, run by unpaid young artists & members of the community. They provide art, music & dance classes for children in the community. I worked with Xuchialt for two years in Leon, as part of my work with PGL, the town-twinning link. Keep up the good work Xuchialt.

X

Y is for YOGA

Not very many Nicaraguans do yoga, but plenty of expats & tourists do. The beach communities in Nicaragua have a lot of surfing & yoga camps, & most big towns have yoga. It was part of the booming tourism industry before April this year. This photo shows Laguna de Apoyo.

Y

Z is for ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzz……..

 Z is for a long sleep on the plane back to England, at the end of three years in Nicaragua. It was a busy & tiring stint, what with job-changes, insurrections, a lot of travel, Kath’s illness, & lots of good work with PGL. Now I am getting re-established in the UK (in Lewes), & starting job-hunting again.

Z is for ZUMBA, which we did in the heat of Leon & maybe didn’t do Kath’s heart much good. Z is also for Leon ZOO which was very run-down, but good for photography.

Z

Please share this blog. You can also write comments below – what have I left out, what would you have included?

Many more beautiful photos of Nicaragua can be seen on my Instagram site – follow @owstonlewis

 

Advertisements

NICARAGUAN ALPHABET A to M

Alphabet2I lived in Nicaragua for three years, & devised this alphabet before my return to the UK – my best memories….

A is for AMERICA CENTRAL

Nicaragua is one of the seven small countries that make up the Central American isthmus. Proud & patriotic, but most of these countries are also poor, institutionally weak & unstable.  Nicaragua is the poorest country on the continent of ‘America Latina’

A could also be for ADOQUINES – (Paving Stones, very important in Nicaragua).

AGIMG_1416

B is for BEACH

Nicaragua has fantastic beaches. Living in Leon our favourite is Las Peñitas which we love. It’s very beautiful & ‘tranquilo’.

B could also be for BARRICADES, built from paving stones. From May to July 2018 people built barricades to keep out the police & paramilitaries. B is also for my BLOG Nicaragua caminando

B

C is for COUNTRYSIDE (El Campo)

Nicaragua has beautiful highlands, lakes, waterfalls & rain-forest, with lovely vegetation. Kath & I always enjoyed hiking in the greenery. Though the government needs to bring to an end the deforestation that is destroying the remaining rainforest.

C could also be for COFFEE (lovely to drink & shade-grown is good for the countryside).  Or C for the CAMPESINOS who work in the countryside.  Good people.

C

D is for DANIEL ORTEGA

In 1984 I came to Nicaragua to support the young Sandinista revolution, & their president Daniel Ortega. The FSLN were a brave young effort committed to improving the lives of the poor. Today Daniel is still president, still leader of the party, & has become a corrupt violent authoritarian, repressing his own people. Power corrupts. What a shame. This country deserves better.

D is also for DEAF, Kath worked supporting the deaf community. Before the troubles started, D also would be for hosting DELEGATIONS.

D

E is for EDUCATION

In my work in Leon with PGL, we fund eight NGOs who support children’s education.  Kath works supporting Deaf Education, so we have visited many state schools. On the plus side Nicaragua has free education for the poor, & high’ish rate of attendance. On the negative side, education quality is very poor. Teacher attendance is poor, & sadly children spend very little time actually learning.

E is also for the ENVIRONMENT (Nicaragua has a commendable record on renewable energy).

E

F is for FRESH FOOD – for example FISH,  & cheap FRUIT, gallo pinto, beans, tortillas, crema. We like Nicaraguan food.  F could also be FIESTAS which are always great fun.

F could also be for the FSLN. In power for too long & with no younger generation leaders coming through. As a friend of mine said, ‘F is for Frente… we should keep their great sacrifice & their hope in our hearts, but their decline in our heads, as a warning for the future’.

F

G is for GODOY BROTHERS MUSIC 

The Godoy brothers (Carlos & Luis) have been the soundtrack of Nicaragua for more than forty years. Authors of the famous ‘Nicaragua Nicaraguita’ they were early supporters of the FSLN armed struggle in the 1970’s, & their songs have been hugely popular ever since. At any event in Nicaragua the band will play the favourite Godoy songs. Since the April protests began the Godoy brothers have supported the opposition, & Carlos Mejia Godoy has been forced to flee into exile in Costa Rica, now in fear of his life from the party he supported for so many years.

G is also be for GIGANTONA, a well-known giant in Leon. And G is for GETTYSBURGProject Gettysburg-Leon is where I work, a terrific bunch of committed activists in Leon’s Sister City or Twin-town.

G

H is for HOMESTAYS    

If you visit Nicaragua as a tourist you should really stay in a homestay, ie with a local family. Kath & I stayed many weekends in rural houses, for example in Miraflor or around San Ramon, Matagalpa. At my work for PGL we would put up visiting students in urban homestays in Leon, & they always say it’s the best thing about their trip. The photo shows breakfast in a Homestay in Miraflor.

H could also be for HOMEWORK CLUBS (which PGL fund), or HEAT in Leon  or HEART. We are leaving Nicaragua because Kath has been diagnosed with a heart issue that needs an operation.

H

I is for IDIOMAS – languages – including Idioma Nicaraguense de Señas

Kath & I both had to polish up our Spanish to work here, with lots of Nicaraguanismo vocab. But Kath had a much greater challenge: Nicaraguan Sign Language. NSL is the worlds youngest language, formed soon after the 1979 revolution. Kath enjoyed working with the Nicaraguan deaf community but speaks BSL (British Sign Language). NSL is as different to BSL as chalk is to cheese.

I

J is for JINOTEGA

Jinotega is a lovely town in the mountains of Northern Nicaragua, little visited by tourists. If you do go it is a lovely base for walks in the hills. You can climb up to a cross high-above the town, 960 steps up a hill-side. Jinotega is where Kath worked one week a month at the School for the Deaf with Mayflower Medical Outreach (MMO).

J could also be for JUSTICE. Justice denied to the 400 demonstrators who have been killed since the protests began in April 2018 (mainly, but not all, by government forces), and the scores of students imprisoned since August.

J

K is for KATHLEEN  

Everything good I have done in Nicaragua Kath has been with me. Together we went through a few difficult times & lots of good times. Kath is always popular, in her work with the deaf, & with all the PGL partners. Kath’s health is troublesome at the moment but we are all very confident it will soon be fixed & she will be back at 100%.

K is also for KAYAK. Nicaragua has lovely lakes & rivers to kayak on & we had some great times watching the birds, the sunsets & the nature.

IMG_5090

L is for  LEON    

Leon is where Kath & I lived most of our time in Nicaragua. It is a nice town & we were mainly happy here. It is an old colonial town but not poshed up yet like Granada, it is crumbling around the edges, in fact many of the homes are falling apart. It is a university town with lots of cheap eateries, & a lovely Cathedral. The photo here shows the church & plaza just behind our house, where we would stroll around in the evenings & see the sunset. Nearby are nice beaches & some good volcanic hills to hike in. On the other hand it is extremely hot, & our house had a lot of mosquitos.

L could also be for LAKES, Nicaragua has two enormous lakes as big as an inland sea.

L

M   MOSQUITOS & MURALS

For Kath M is for MOSQUITOS because she got bitten a lot by them, especially in the rainy season. Lucky me, I rarely got bitten. So for me M is for MURALS. Nicaragua has lovely murals on walls all over the country, although most of the old socialist murals of the revolution were erased in the 1990s. The mural below shows the Somoza dictatorship shooting unarmed students in 1959. History repeats itself.

M could also be for MIRAFLOR (a lovely countryside area), or MASAYA (the most violent & smashed up town during the roadblocks in May June July this year), or MASKS (as worn by protesters & paramilitaries).

IMG_20160305_153635

The second half of the Alphabet will be up shortly. Please share this blog. You can also write comments below – what have I left out, what would you have included?

Many more beautiful photos of Nicaragua can be seen on my Instagram site – follow @owstonlewis

Photo Gallery – Doors of Leon

Leon is an old colonial town, slightly crumbling around the edges but that’s one of  the reasons we like it. One of the delights is walking around the side-streets. On every block there are beautiful doorways to be seen:

Watching the world go by…

Pastel colours.

 Window shadows

 The biggest door in town

 Rocking chair

 Crumbling facade

 Dawn, and working

 Red hues

 Preparing for Easter

 Ready for action

 Jazz practice

 Rainy season

 Cycling to work

 Time for a chat

 My favourite…? Almost like an oil painting

Which is your favourite? And what can you learn about Leon from looking at these photos? Please write your views on the ‘Comments’ box below.

If you like these pictures please follow owstonlewis on instagram

 

Gallery: Las Peñitas, a beautiful Nicaraguan beach & fishing village

Sunset at Las Peñitas beach

Sunset at Las Peñitas beach

Dusk over the estuary

Dusk over the estuary

Still morning

Still morning

Gutting the catch

Gutting the catch

Dawn on the beach

Dawn on the beach

Grandpa, mending the nets

Grandpa, mending the nets

Shower door, Barca de Oro hotel

Shower door, Barca de Oro hotel

Sopa de Ponche on Sundays

Sopa de Ponche on Sundays (crab soup)

Las Rocas at Las Peñitas

Las rocas at Las Peñitas

Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot

A heron stalks breakfast

A heron stalks breakfast

Community tourism

Community tourism

A good catch

A good catch

A hint of black and white

A splash of colour

And a splash of colour

 

 

Gallery: Birds on Costa Rica trip ; Pajaros en viaje recien a Costa Rica

Yellow bird eating

Feeding on insects

IMG_0548

Hummingbird with tongue extended

Purple humming bird on branch

Purple hummingbird

Mummingbird coming towards

Hummingbird in flight

poor mans umbrella

‘Poor mans umbrella’

Little brown bird

Costa Rican Sparrow?

Yellow window bird from behind

Terrific to be able to get close to these little ones…

IMG_0414

Catching the forest sunlight

yellowbodyredhead

Collared Redstart (Adult)

 

Yellow bird tufty red head

Adolescent collared redstart. You can tell the adolescents as they use brillcream on their tufty heads

Yellow plant & river

Forest vegetation

 

Gallery: Easter in Leon / Semana Santa en Leon

San Benardino day, in San Francisco church

Monday before Easter

 

Easter, dusk edit

A week before Easter

Easter choir boys

Youth assembly

IMG_0143

Making the sawdust carpets

IMG_0153

Sawdust Jesus

IMG_0163

A Living Tableau

IMG_0185

Sawdust carpets attract lots of visitors

Youth in the Church

Youth still very active in the Church, unlike in the UK

IMG_0210

Night processions

IMG_20160321_182504

Procession for San Bernadino

Monday of Easter week

On the route of the procession

IMG_20160321_183845_BURST004

Street shrine

Street shrine with band

Tableua, ancient & modern

Tableau, Ancient & Modern

Black candles for San Bernadino

Black candles for the black saint San Bernadino

Follow Steve on Instagram: @owstonlewis for more photos of Nicaragua

Chronicle of a death foretold

In my first couple of months in Nicaragua I have spent time in the Northern hills. To the North I could see rolling mountains in neighbouring Honduras. But while Nicaragua today is peaceful, our next-door country is sadly wracked by violence, some of which comes from efforts to protect the land and the environment. Today’s blog is a Guest Blog by my friend Mary Durran.

CHRONICAL OF A DEATH FORETOLD

Funeral of Berta Caceres

Funeral of Berta Caceres

 

Berta Cáceres had received so many death threats, due to her opposition to the Agua Zarca dam, that she knew it was only a matter of time.  Her security routine was elaborate, rotating around the houses of friends.  Not even her father knew her whereabouts. But it was not enough. Berta was murdered on 3rd March by unknown assassins.

 

 

I met Bertha at a conference in Tegucigalpa in 2013.  She spoke with passion.  Reeling from the murder of Rigoberto Hernandez, a grassroots leader who had opposed an iron ore mine in western Honduras, and whose body was found with his tongue ripped out, Berta said then that she was prepared to fight until the end.

Berta was a leader of the Lenca indigenous people of Honduras, who make up about 8% of the Honduran population. The Lenca mainly live in poverty, and those who do not have land have to work precarious odd-jobs for dollar-a-day wages.  They need land to grow food and preserve their lifestyle and dignity.

Funeral of Berta CaceresBerta was a pioneer in the movement to defend the ancestral lands of the Lenca from mega projects funded by international capital.  Her murder has been interpreted as a sombre warning for other defenders.

“Her murder shows the vulnerability of people and organizations struggling for human rights and the defence of natural resources, and against the handover of our national sovereignty,” said Fr. Ismael Moreno, director of the Fundacion ERIC.

Honduras was identified as the most dangerous country in the world to be an environmental defender, with the highest murder rate of environmental activists, by Global Witness last year.   Since 1998 Honduras has opened up to international mining companies, introducing legislation that puts the interests of the investor before those of communities and the state.  Such policies intensified after the 2009 coup d’etat and the subsequent government which came to power in fraudulent elections.

Indigenous woman at funeralHonduras has also received funds from international climate funds which seek to promote clean energy.  Investments include hydro-electric projects, often on the lands of indigenous peoples, or poor peasant communities.  But in most cases, the Honduran government has failed to consult the indigenous before launching projects on their lands.  Neither does the government offer any relocation packages to those whose lands are grabbed, or those who water supplies are ruined by the dams.

 

The life and struggle of Berta Caceres will not be in vain. In death, she is even bigger than she was in life.  The Dutch FMO bank that was funding the Agua Zarca dam has suspended operations.  Berta has already become an icon for women leaders and those who struggle to protect the environment.  As Honduran protesters chanted at her funeral,  Berta vive!  La lucha sigue!. Berta lives, the struggle continues!

Women w flag, at funeral

 

Guest Blog by Mary Durran. Mary and I worked in the 1980’s for the Central America Human Rights Committees. See https://durranmary.wordpress.com/ for more news on Latin American issues.

Informacion en español – https://www.oxfam.org/es/sala-de-prensa/notas-de-prensa/2016-03-04/oxfam-rinde-homenaje-la-defensora-de-los-derechos-humanos?utm_source=oxf.am&utm_medium=Zh7j&utm_content=redirect

http://www.internationalrivers.org/blogs/433-16

Photos from Radio Progreso, Honduras

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.960106777376574.1073741925.178801698840423&type=3

Coffee & Contras, 30 years on

In 1984, at an intense and violent time of the Sandinista revolution, I picked coffee with a voluntary brigade in Northern Nicaragua. So now I am back working in Nicaragua, one of my first trips was to go back to the farm, to try and find out what had changed.

 

The early 1980’s were a time of optimism in Nicaragua with the early enthusiasm of the Sandinista revolution. One symbol of this was our brigade of students and workers from Managua who picked coffee to help bring in essential foreign currency. Seventy of us slept on two long bunks in a wooden barn, and we queued up three times a day to eat a diet of beans and rice served on ‘plate’ of a banana leaf.

Coffee & contras article w photos (2)

1984 coffee brigade in Matagalpa, Nicaraguans & European volunteers

 

 

I have had the old black and white photos since then. A column of pickers, every sixth one armed, winds up the slopes. Women pick coffee under the rain. European volunteers fumble with rifles when asked to do sentry duty. Last weekend I went back to Matagalpa to see if I could find the village. And to see how Nicaragua has changed in the last 30 years.

Coffee brigade on slopes 1984

1984, volunteer brigadistas set off towards coffee fields 

 

 

 

Driving up the winding road towards La Dalia, green coffee bushes on each side, brought back memories. In 1984 we drove in a convoy of trucks – red bandanas, khaki rucksacks, students singing revolutionary songs. A few weeks later a similar truckload of students was ambushed by the U.S. backed contra rebels and 14 young students killed. The road today is empty and peaceful, though with many more houses than I remembered. Arriving in roughly the area I remembered I began to ask around, if anyone remembered the co-operative where we worked.

 

At first people were quite suspicious, and didn’t want to talk. It was also a challenge to find anyone over 40 – most of the Nicaraguan population is young. But when I pulled out the old photos they became interested. Older people came over and studied grainy pictures of children, recognising some of the adults of today.

 

IMG_3889

2016, community leaders study photos of the Coop 30 years earlier

 

 

Little remains from the photos of old. The wooden barn we slept in has long ago been knocked down. But I found the old kitchen we ate in. The waterfall, where one brigadista drowned, remains of course. And I half-recognised the sweep of the hills where we walked and slipped in the mud of the coffee fields. The foreman from those days came up and reminisced. He was the one who shouted at us every day, ‘stay in your own row’, and ‘Only pick red!’

 

The foreman was unsure I had really been on the brigade in 1984, until we both remembered the worst incident of that time, when one drunken campesino blew his brains out playing Russian roulette. Apart from that unhappy memory they were pleased to see me. “You’ve not changed a bit” said the foreman, “except now you are fat!” What a cheek!

 

So what has changed? Sadly the co-op. itself no longer exists. Coffee is still grown, but now by private producers. It’s every family for itself. The Sandinista cooperative did not survive the economic turmoil of the end of the contra war and the hyper-inflation that followed. The river now runs drier in summer and floods with torrential rain in winter. The biggest trees on the hills have been cut down. My memory of little wooden shacks with few amenities, has now been replaced by little brick shacks with few amenities.

 

The biggest difference is that there were 25 families there in 1984 – now there are 200. But, the road is very good and transport around the area is much better. The farm is no longer ‘remote’ and isolated from the world. There is a technical college in the area. I thought the local school was (comparatively) good and well equipped.

 

IMG_3875

2016

In the end, there is one overwhelming difference between today and the 1980s. I came here various times in the 1980’s and yes there was optimism, a spirit, an enthusiasm to build a new future. But it was a war-torn country. That was the fundamental description. The shops were empty, transport was appalling, electricity unreliable, teenagers were drafted into the army, and the steady succession of funerals sapped the energy of a population who were undernourished and tired of war. Today the country is at peace. Things are not perfect of course, but roads are good, shops are full, tourists hang out, people are cynical about the government like anywhere else, most kids go to school. People go to work if they have any, sit in the sun in the evenings, and life goes on. The country is at peace. That is a huge difference.