Sunday, May 30, 2010

Biofertilizante= Fermentación y Fertilización

When I discovered that this country devours cabbage with every meal and that the Northern region of Nicaragua has strong German influence, I thought, where is the sauerkraut? However, fermentation has made its mark on agriculture and food here in other ways. Fermentation in the North of Nicaragua plays two important roles: biofertilizante for our crops and the fermentation involved in processing coffee.

While many of the sustainable farm practices here are relatives of those we enlist on farms in the U.S., one distinct practice implemented here, is the making and use of homemade biofertilizantes, or foliar fertilizers. I have been impressed by the widely accepted use of manure and sugars to create the base of a number of fermented biofertilizantes.

In February and March, I worked diligently to put together two manuals, "Establecimiento y Manejo de Patio Huertos" and "Asistencia Técnica en Forma de Monitoreo" to accompany a series of workshops we delivered to promotores of the Huertos Familiares project in April on the same subjects. Unable to upload the manuals, I have chosen to place a few recipes from the manuals in this blog entry, one for a biofertilizante and another for a bocashi compost, both translated into English and adjusted to U.S. measurments and available resources. They are easy and quick to prepare and the recipes are adaptable, meaning only readily available organic materials should be used.

12 lbs. fresh cow manure
1/2 block of sugarcane, or 1 lb. white sugar, molasses
3 litres milk (fresh from cow if available)
4 oz. ash from fire

1 5- gallon bucket with lid
syphon or ruber tubing

Dilute cow manure, sugar, milk, and ash in enough water to fill at least half the bucket.
Mix well, removing any clumps from the mixture.
Once mixed, fill the rest of the bucket with water.
Cover with lid. In the lid carve a hole just the right size to place the syphon or rubber tubing.
Place one end of rubber tubing in the lid so it is in contact with the water.
Place other end of tubing in a 1 or 2 litre soda bottle.
Leave bucket in a cool dark space.
Mix daily for 7 days and then let sit 3 days without stirring.
After 10 days, strain the solid material and pour the liquid into a pump sprayer.
Apply 2 or 3 litres to one pump sprayer and dilute with 18- 20 litres water.
Apply every 8 days to the foliage of crops to give them a boost of N, P, K.

The application of this fertilizer has best results when applied in the early morning or evening, when the sun and hot temps cannot burn the fertilizer applied to the leaves.

ingredients for making 16 sacks of compost in 15 days.
5 sacks rice hulls or dried grass or leaves
5 sacks fertile soil
5 sacks cow or chicken manure or both
1.5 sacks carbon (charcoal from fire)
23 lbs. semolina
10 lbs. lime
5 lbs. sugar
172 lb. yeast
optional: spent coffee grounds

choose a spot protected from the sun, wind, and rain or prepare outdoors and cover with black plastic. Work in a site with firm ground bemeath.

Layer the materials, keeping in mind a good mix between gren and brown materials. Water should be added to drier layers, not building the pile higher than 50 centimenters.
Mix the sugar and yeast in water and pour lightly and homogenously over the top of pile and mix to spread the mixture to all parts of pile, thus beginning the fermentation.
Once finished, begin to turn the pile twice daily for 5 days and then once daily for 7 days.
Let the pile sit for 3 days.
The pile should always feel moist and warm in the center.
Test pile to make sure everything is well mixed and decomposed.
Place compost into sacks, protected from sun and rain until used.
The compost should not be left for more than 3 months.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Foto Historia: marzo y abril

The past few months have flown by in a hodge podge of settling into life in Esteli and work with the UCA Miraflor, welcoming visitors from home and vacation for semana santa on Isla Ometepe, renewing my visa in Costa Rica marking my 6th months here, and planning and implementing a series of three workshops with the promotores of our Huertos Familiares project. It has surprised me recently to be the one standing still for once as I watch more permanent fixtures stir, shift, and scurry on to other places and jobs. With some surprising shifting of organization and positions at the UCA Miraflor, we have said goodbye to the person that first brought me on to work here as well as some cherished officemates. Last Saturday two roommates moved out and last month I said goodbye to two volunteers working in Esteli and keeping me company. Meanwhile, other extranjeros press on in work and exploration here, unwilling to buy their return ticket or pushing back their return dates. I have casually and not so casually looked into a handful of job possibilities, school possibilities, and possibilities for work that could take me across the world all over again. It is surprising how wide the world feels and how boundless the possibilities as I search for jobs from my perch in Esteli rather than from Boston. Tired of all the writing about oneself that applications require, I am saving my words and presenting pictures instead.

Foto historia de marzo y abril:

Throughout the months of March and April, I worked with the agriculture extensionist to prep a series of three workshops we would give as we transition from our first year of the Huertos Familiares project to the second year, training ten new promotores and bringing 100 new families into the folds. Here, we discuss how to properly prep the soil for planting, and demonstrate methods of planting. Where rainy months bring sudden torrential rains and the dry months not a drop, we employ different ways of planting depending on the season and whether we are planting in the low zone or the high zone.

One of the goals of the Huertos Familiares project is to insure greater participation of women. Here you can see that not only are women in the majority (the men are to the right of this photo) but they are also in the majority among those who agreed to play a leadership role as promotores, helping the 170 families with any and all technical support throughout the development of this project.

Of course, the biggest highlight and greatest downfall of the three- workshop series were the collection of participating promotores from all sides of Miraflor in our cattle truck. The trips always took a grueling four hours each way to pick up each person and arrive at our selected destination. It was dusty, rowdy, incredulously it always rained at the end of each workshop in the midst of dry season, and to top it all off, the breaks gave out on the last day, making the downhill return quite the experience!

After months of defining Sundays in Bluefields as lazy laundry days, I was happy to spend my first two Sundays in Esteli visiting the majestic Salto Estanzuela...

And my third Sunday at Cañon Somoto, swimming through a mile length of dramatic bright blue canyons in a small town just below the Honduran border...

My dear friend Rachel came to visit, a wonderful gift to me, and I rushed her off to the hottest inferno in Nicaragua during the peak of summer to stroll endlessly on the beach in the quiet Northern town of Jiquilillo, float in the calm waters of the Padre Ramos Wetland Reserve, eat deliciously fresh fish, and then sear our skin under the unforgiving summer sun.

What is black with spots and red all over?

And then, to continue with the water theme, we discovered this magnificent swimming hole in Miraflor, necessary after finding out our host was without water in the height of the dry season.

In the midst of the orchid forest, we discover a parasite tree, common in Miraflor cloudforest, that is hollowed out by great, big veins that strangle the tree, making it possible to enter and climb up its interior.

Beautiful Miraflor, photo taken on one of our many trips up on the motocicleta.

Traditional dancers at our first UCA Miraflor feria, which we held the Sunday before Semana Santa .

Non- traditional dancers... making fun of Creol Palo de Mayo dancers in Bluefields, they dramatically (and not at all P.C.) stuffed their butts and chests and took turns chasing one another with brooms and canes while the other chased after the young men and women in the crowd. They somehow knew to come after me first!

The beaches during Semana Santa, the biggest vacation week in the year.

Ometepe and Lago Nicaragua with my sister Simma.

La Sangre del Jesus.
I carried wine al the way to Ometepe, as it is hard to come by in Nicaragua and impossible in Bluefields. The occasion was especially worth the photo when we learned that the mother of the family where my friend Cat was living had never had a drop of wine. We followed this up by attending the Señorita Verano contest, where 16 year old girls in the small island town of Balgue competed in all the usual dance, swimsuit, talent competitions and were then judged by their fellow Balgueans.

Making pizza in the brick oven on Ometepe.

The view from the top of a tree at the highest point of Volcan Maderas, 1,500 meters above sea level.

The aftermath of our muddy and mighty climb up Volcan Maderas during my sister Simmas visit to Nicaragua.

A delicious sunset to soothe our sore muscles after the climb. And an ice cold Toña to follow.

La cruzera. Jesus is marched on the cross through Granada and every other town and city in Nicaragua on Friday night of Semana Santa. The crowd sings solemn and beautiful hymns with a band following behind and a hundred lit candles shining.

Estelí is ranked number one in baseball. I take Eva to the game on her visit to Estelí and discover that this german girl has no idea how the game of baseball works.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

La Vida en la Motocicleta

Three times a week I hop on the back of my boss´ motocicleta to climb out of the city and into the mountainous farmlands. As soon as we cross the PanAmericana Highway, we are on the dirt road that passes Cuban- owned tobacco fields and long wooden drying houses. 25 km from Esteli we leave the flat road and begin the ascent through the Miraflor Reserve, Area Protegida Miraflor. Among the 200 square kilometers of the Reserve and the dozens of communities scattered between the low zone (900 m above sea level), the intermediate zone, (1200 m above sea level), and the high zone´s cloud forests (1450 m above sea level), the families have formed 11 distinct cooperatives -- several women powered-- brought together by the Union de Cooperativas Agropecuarias Heroes y Martires de Miraflor, my new employers. For 20 years, the UCA Miraflor has been helping the families of these cooperatives become economically and politically stable while improving their quality of life, through microfinance programs, agritourism programs, organic coffee production, and now a Belgian funded program called, Huertos Familiares, classically my next calling. These northern hills were a Sandanista stronghold during a very bloody war that anyone over the age of 35 could recall with clarity. It is obvious from the character of the families who live here, that they rallied their cooperative (and socialist) spirit to fend off the Contras coming over the hills from Honduras, on their way to overthrow the government in the capital.

Back in January and February, I was working with Grupo Libertad Bluefields on the Caribbean Coast; a drug rehabilitation center set on a one acre farm in barrio San Mateo. Though I was in the midst of finding my way through this new work and enjoying the deep relationships one builds in such an intense setting, I was still aware of certain goals I had set at the onset of this trip to Nicaragua. So, I wrote a friend doing agriculture work through a Fullbright Scholarship in the Northwest. I had an idea that I might like to work with cooperative farmers (of coffee or cacao, most likely), learning more about the intricacies of international trade of organic and fair trade commodities and the advantages of Central American farming cooperatives while putting my own skills to use helping these farming families establish diverse kitchen gardens of fruits and vegetables to feed the land and their families, many of whom statistically live on less than two dollars a day. She pointed me in the direction of a project she had recently visited in the UCA Miraflor doing just that.

Deciding when and how to leave Bluefields became incresingly hard as I was building stronger relationships each day with the guys in the program; the goal of the program being that these guys come daily and continue to come through the months, and sometimes years, of their rehabilitation. I had formed a special relationship with one 16 year old whose mom had left with her lover for Panama the Christmas before, leaving him and his 6 siblings in Bluefields. We would take daily walks to the docks before we set off in opposite directions for home. Another guy my age, whom I worked closely with each day to pass on some projects I had started, had sworn off drugs as of New Years but had hit a terrible hurdle when his older sister was accidently shot in the neck walking through her barrio one night, nearly escaping death. I had deep respect for the methods we enlisted at Georgina´s Finquita as I saw how much the guys depended on this sanctuary during some of their hardest struggles. I also felt especially grateful that in a culture where I was so bothered by the male- female dynamic, I was able to cultivate positive and healthy relationships between the guys and myself; a necessary social education among families of drug addiction in the coast.

Ironically, the house of four women, in which I had been so excited to invest my energy, soon took on a visitor, my friend Randy, who had been working with Grupo Libertad Bluefields for 7 years, first as a youth in need of assistance, and then as a promotor and co- coordinator of the program. Some relationships formed (and others were fractured) within the house that were unexpected, which I was expected to accept at home and cover up at work. The balance we had struck combining work and home had dissolved overnight and my decision to leave was made easier when, on the night of my birthday, my good friend and roommate Berlin had packed her belongings after seven years and we were exchanging tearful goodbyes. A week later I was hopping the waves in a panga headed to the Pacific Coast, having hosted a goodbye dinner, exchanged goodbyes with my family in San Pedro, hand delivered letters to the youth at GLB, and parted ways with my housemates in Santa Rosa. I left behind a bag of belongings that I will return for to help celebrate the first rains in May by dancing the Maypole, a month- long Bluefields tradition. On my last day at GLB, I tried my best to honor these guys who had opened up to me, spoke freely about their struggles in our daily circles, and fought a daily battle of staying put to face their problems rather than run away; Bluefields is no easy place to grow strong and keep faith.

With my sister's visit cancelled due to snow, my first stop on the Pacific Coast was the city of heroes, martyrs, and poets; Estelí. I took to the atmosphere of the UCA Miraflor office as soon as I walked in the door for my interview. As well as the way my Belgian coworker, Siska, (who left today) had been pulled into the folds. I am working as assistant to the tecnico brought on to direct the Huertos Familiares project. We are in our second year of the program, embarking on an ambitious goal set at the onset to increase the number of participating families from 70 to 170 (with an overall goal of working with 200 families over three years and insuring 80% retention beyond the program´s completion.) Among the unique and somewhat complex layout of the UCA Miraflor, its communities and cooperatives, we organize ourselves by working directly with 20 promotores among the 11 cooperatives, who, in turn, oversee the successful establishment and implementation of these 170- 200 huertos of the productores. In the midst of the dry season, some families without access to water are unable to plant and so we take this time to construct beds and build up abono, the various methods of fertilizing and composting. As we sign up the 100 new families and 10 new promotors, we will also engage them in the second set of capacitacíones, (I dare you to say that 10 times fast) or workshops. I am writing this on the heels of our first successful capacitacíon, and am most impressed by the strong female spirit among our group of promotores. stay tuned for the manual, Establecimiento del Huertos Familiares.

And so, like my ideal world, we bounce back and forth between the campo of Miraflor and the city of Estelí. In the office, I indulge in, if not at times rip my hair out, at the classic Nica office culture. This involves entering the office at 8, greeting evey person with a handshake and an upbeat exchange, slowly enter offices, turn on lights and computers and wait for the chatty 70 year old assistant, Doña Tina, to make our delicious organic coffee before we attempt to work. During meetings it is common for the facilitator to stop talking to answer his or her cell phone by saying, Diga me, tell me. At the Junta Directiva´s meeting I relished in the bickering, poublic nose picking, and the way each of them constantly cut off the other. The outcomes of these meetings are entirely unrecognizable to the foreigner. After a lunch break long enough to walk home and back, and a lazy afternoon, the joke among foreigners is that at 5 pm, everybody jumps up from their conversations to stay late and do productive work for a final hour.

On my last moto trip to Miraflor, I counted 14 families whose homes we passed by throughout the day, some a twenty minute hike uphill. These trips to Miraflor are a true lesson in rural hospitality, which I recognize as far friendlier and less inhibited than my experiences in the campo outside Bluefields. We pass by the homes of promotors to drop off seeds or an invitation to a workshop that will take place the following week. We are offered a seat at each home, and we sit to chat. Many of our promotors are women and they converse from the kitchen as they prepare our refreshment. Days in the campo are a constant negotiation in being a good guest by accepting the fresca, warm milk, experimental hibiscus wine, coffee, lunch, or whatever happens to be sitting on their clay stovetop at the time, hoping the collected rain water used to make my drink will not make me sick, or that the host will not be offended when I return a half finished glass. It seems mandatory that we sit 20 minutes, regardless of whether we were due at a meeting down the road 5 minutes earlier, that will likely start one hour late. If we arrive at someone´s house at noon, we sit until a steaming hot lunch arrives on our laps. There is no embarassment in this exchange, as it is a complement to the cook whose house we arrive at in time for lunch. Each visit includes a farm walk through their huerto, examining discolored leaves, stunted saplings, harvesting camote or yucca to examine their size and the size of the harvest, and then accept a portion of the harvest to bring back to the city, offering suggestions and complements on their work.

Now that I have learned how to comfortably ride the moto, sitting behind Modesto, and have added the luxury of listening to music on the hour and a half ride to and from Miraflor, I relish these adventures. I am coming to recognize turns in the road and changes of scenery. We drive up out of the dusty, dry lowlands, and into the high zone where the air is cool and fresh and the forests of pine and barbaro del viejo (nickname for a tree that looks like an old man´s beard) drip with the moistness of the cloud forests. We pass vistas, waterfalls, streams, orchid forests, zopilote and quetzales, children hiking to school, young couples walking hand in hand, and groups of college students engaging in service opportunities and bathing in the sun during their spring break. We pass one productors house on our way back down to buy eggs and tomatoes, and always time our return trip to the colorful sunset over the canyons, which keeps a smile on my face even as I begin to lose feeling in my legs. We come down the final hills with the view of our city all lit up.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010



Tienes 2 vacas. Tienes que regalarle una a tu vecino.

Tienes 2 vacas. El estado te las quita y te regala un poco de la leche.

Tienes 2 vacas. El estado te las quita y te vende un poco de la leche.

Tienes 2 vacas. El estado te las quita y te fusila.

Tienes 2 vacas. El estado te las quita, mata una, ordeña a la otra y tira toda la leche.

Tienes 2 vacas. Vendes una y con el dinero compras un toro. Tu rebaño se multiplica y la economía crece. Entonces inviertes en Wall Street comprando bonos "Absolute Return Security"... Al poco tiempo pierdes todo. tu esposa te pide el divorcio y el banco se queda con tu casa, el auto y hasta con tus pantuflas.

Tienes 2 vacas. Vendes una y obligas a la otra a producir la leche de 4 vacas.
Después contratas un consultor para analizar por qué la vaca cayó muerta.

Tienes 2 vacas. Vas al paro, organizas disturbios y cortas las carreteras y todo el transporte para exigirle al estado 3 vacas.

Tienes 2 vacas. Las rediseñas para que tengan una décima parte de su tamaño natural, y para que produzcan veinte veces más leche que una vaca normal.
Luego lanzas una campaña de mercadeo mundial con un dibujo animado que se llama el 'VacaMón'.

Tienes 2 vacas. Mediante un proceso de re-ingeniería las haces vivir 100 años, comer una vez al mes y ordeñarse solas.

Tienes 2 vacas. No sabes dónde están.
Decides ir a almorzar.

Tienes 2 vacas. Tienes 300 personas ordeñándolas.
Afirmas tener pleno-empleo y alta productividad bovina.
Arrestas al reportero que publica la verdadera situación.

Tienes 2 vacas...a las que adoras!

Tienes 2 vacas. Las 2 están locas.

Tienes 2 vacas. Las cuentas y tienes 5.
Las cuentas de nuevo y te da 4. Las vuelves a contar y tienes 2.
Dejas de contar vacas y te tomas otra botella de vodka.

No tienes vacas pero los gringos dicen que si.
Nadie te cree así que te bombardean e invaden.
Igual sigues sin tener ni una vaca, pero por lo menos ahora eres parte de una 'Democracia'.

Tienes 2 vacas.
Como el negocio va bastante bien cierras la oficina y vas por unas cervezas para celebrar.

Tienes 5000 vacas. Ninguna te pertenece pero le cobras a los dueños por guardarlas, haces polvo todo lo que producen y lo pones a la venta en latas en todo el mundo y lo peor es que en todo el mundo te lo compran.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

the month of the blue moon

I arrived in Nicaragua with shirts in shades of charcoal gray, navy blue, and brown. While the sun fades the color of my shirts, it darkens the color of my skin. My arms and legs look like a topographical map, mountain ranges of insect bites and plant irritations are the norm. Though my blood runs sweet for the local zancudos, my immune system can now tolerate well water from the farm and ice from the street, sold by the cordoba from neighbor's front porches. Many Nica's, at first glance, curiously think I hail from Spain. Lately I have been impressed that I can make it through a conversation in a store and still get asked if I am Spanish! My 27th birthday on Thursday will mark four months that I've been in Nicaragua. Its hard to believe that all the experiences I have had here thus far are cosolidated into such a short period of time. Time passes in surges of change, uprooting and rerooting, followed by simple days of farm work, rice and beans, the company of my housemates, and and my trusty novel before bed.

January has proven to be a month of changes, as I returned from Ometepe to a grueling week of work and hurried preparations at the FUNCOS farm in unseasonably cool rains in anticipation of the SHI board of directors meetings. This was followed by my grand finale week with FUNCOS/ SHI accompanying the staff of Sustainable Harvest International from four Central American Countries and the U.S. on a weeklong jornada, or conference. Now I am residing with three lovely women of very varied backgrounds (we are Swiss, American, Creol, and Mistizo) in beautiful barrio Santa Rosa, by day working with them side by side at the finquita in San Mateo, home to Grupo Libertad Bluefields, a project that in so many ways feels like putting on an old pair of slippers; familiar, cozy, always a perfect fit. In this post, I would like to offer more detail about the type of agricultural projects I have been involved in, realizing as I look back through my posts, that most of my entries offer more about the culture and scenery of my current home, than the type of work I wake up to each day.

The day I arrived home from Ometepe, I found the FUNCOS tecnicos at the farm. We spent the week rushing to prepare the farm and office/ conference space for the arrival of the SHI board of directors and tecnicos from Belize, Honduras, and Panama. On our part, we worked to plant fruit trees in the reforestation area; citrus, cacao, coco, mango, papaya, and several trees that provide wood for harvest and construction. We planted the trees in the shade of other trees, that grow naturally in the damp jungle of the farm. We minimally disrupted the landscape, by using a sharpened stick to move aside the thick grass on the forest floor, then a smaller version of a metal hoe to dig out a circle of earth where we would plant each tree. A machete is used to clean the ground beforehand so that snakes pose minimal threat to us as we trample through.

In the gardens, where I had spent most of my time working, we finished our final double dug raised beds and began the work of clearing the second parcel of land, using two hoes to smooth every bump and ridge; very taxing work. I was frustrated that the vegetable seeds planted in the first beds never came up. I was sure they wouldnt emerge from the clay soil, with added sand, totally lacking in organic material. Though the farmer had prioritized the huerto over the compost, we had been maintaining our lombrihumus, or wormbin (fed only cow manure) for a longtime. I am not sure where the incredibly rich fertilizer ended up, but certainly not in the beds. Without greenhouses, it seems farmers here don't practice the art of seed starting in light, airy soil, like I am used to. My frustration mainly came from my inability to impress my doubts on the farmer, whose mild case of machismo did not allow for my input in such matters. I was appeased this week as tecnicos and regional directors approached me in hushed voices to ask my opinion about our work in the huerto, often noting that by this time, the start of the dry season, our beds should be budding with seedlings.We worked from dawn to dusk each day and on Monday morning welcomed the guests. Monday and Tuesday we divided into work groups. The Belizeans taught us to construct a water catchment tank of cement. This tank would feed water into the water filtration system, a project led by the Panameans, in which layers of seasoned sand would filter water fed through pipes and tubes by gravity; the natural bacteria in the top layer of sand removing impurities from the water. The Hondurans set to work demonstrating how to set up a drip irrigation system, also carrying water from the tank. This system is most commonly used by organic farmers in the U.S. but proved new and exciting-- though expensive-- to the tecnicos of Nicaragua. I had the opportunity to translate for a board member from New Hampshire, who led a workshop on how to set up a small solar panel, that we would install later in the FUNCOS office in San Pancho that is currently without electricity. The panels will power a laptop, recharge batteries and cell phones, and power the radio and lights. I wonder how this will shape the experience of the tecnicos in the office, which I remember as sharing the space of one room, passing the time when not working sitting in plastic chairs talking or staring off. At night we hunkered down on mats on the floor, listening to a battery powered radio by candlelight, usually falling asleep by 9pm. At the conclusion of one of our trips to the campo, we were invited by the tecnicos of a Spanish- funded organization doing similar work to our own, to a party of the tecnicos (ours and theirs) at their office, equipped with internet and electricity. The excitement of having electricity for the first time in a month led us to get sloshed on Flor de Cana Rum playing Catalonian drinking games and dancing till the wee hours of night, completely forgetting that we would be waking at 4:30am to meet pangas of saplings on the riverbank.
The office in San Pancho had been the perfect transition to carry us from the city into the campo where living was very basic. There tecnicos spend two or three weeks in a row visiting productors from a home base. I learned that the tecnicos of the other three countries can travel to productors by bus and foot, or by dirt bike, where the Nica tecnicos travel by mule and foot over rough, muddy terrain, at times unpassable. The tecnicos visit each productor once every month or every other month, each time introducing a specific, predetermined topic, depending on the time of year. The demo farm has instituted many of the techniques that tecnicos have been teaching and demonstrating for years in the campo. To name a few: diez pulagadas or square foot gardening with double dug rows, compost piles, lombrihumus or worm bins fed with cow manure, shade growing fruit trees, composting latrinas. The greatest challenges of the productors are the poor, clay soils, heavy rainfall 9 months out of the year (these families grow for themselves only, as transporting products to market is impossible), access to affordable seeds, insects preying on fruit trees, and disease prevension, which often plague cacao trees. When asked, one tecnico mentioned that there aren't enough research programs in universities in the greater Central American region offering advice on pest prevention. Hopefully, with a new agroecology program at the national university on Managua, this will change.
After saying goodbye to the U.S. Board of Directors Tuesday night, we set out early the next morning to Rama, where the tecnicos would participate in a weeklong training. Staff took turns presenting on microfinance, environmental education, evaluation and goals, integrated pest management. The educational highlight of the trip was a day long training in the production and management of cacao. We visited a farm where we had the opportunity to practice grafting trees, a difficult process of F1 reproduction of the tree, followed by a visit to a cacao cooperative where we saw a bit of the processing of cacao. I learned that Taza Chocolate, a small Somerville chocolate company, is set to begin buying cacao from SHI Belize producers this season.In between all this exciting exchange of knowledge and lively discussion, we took nightly forays to the local discos around Rama, the Belizeans always leading the crew. At the discos, the ladies weren't given a minute's rest as we were pulled to our feet again and again by the older male coworkers, who were ecstatic to be in the company of such beatiful young women. On my part, I was delighted to dance among friends and coworkers, rather than be submitted to the usual Bluefields crowd. Though Rama is not the most enticing city to visit, it proved to be a great place for dancing; a city where East meets West, and the cowboys of the campo meet the urban village. Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Reggaeton, Ranchero Mexicano, and the favorite reggae tunes of Bluefields (an incessant five song rotation.) We would return to our hotel rooms, our feet exhausted, in time to nap a bit before another packed day of workshops began.
For me, these two weeks represented the first time I had felt fully alive and free in Bluefields. On the farm, the nine year old would correct me if I washed the rice four times instead of three and the mother would always find my rubber boots and wash them inside and out before I had the chance. At my new home, my housemates often look over my shoulder while I make fried plantains. In a city that is so diverse, variety is not always welcome. Often I feel like I am bouncing between two worlds here, as the experience of living with a traditional family in the campo is very different than living and working with the Creol Community; both equally set in their ways, however. For Mistizo families, you either belong to the Catholic Church or the Evangelical Church and for Creol families, you might belong to the Moravian or Baptist church. In Bluefields, you either make gallo pinto with coconut or without and platanos verde are cut and fried one way, while platanos maduro are cut and fried another way. Stifling for someone who loves to experiment in the kitchen! The week that we welcomed the SHI board and staff to the farm, I believe many of my coworkers and host families saw me in a new light as I floated between them, the Creol/English speaking Belizeans, and the board members, with whom I could speak animatedly about my work here as well as the work I'd left behind in Boston, the program coordinator/ community organizer in me coming back for the first time since I'd arrived here.

I had been nervous about returning from Ometepe to Bluefields and had not been looking forward to my birthday. Leaving Boston where my life and job represented my passions and professional goals to come here had made me feel young in many ways, as I communicated like a 12 year old, 9 year olds tell me how to wash my clothes, 20 year olds try to pick me up on the street, and most people my age have more than one child (80% of babies are born to women under the age of 17.) Farmers tell me how to plant tomatoes, not stopping to ask how I would do it. And I am humbled again and again by coworkers and housemates. I am forever grateful to the family I lived with my first three months; for the experience of living and learning from them and their culture. In fact, I am headed there today, as two weeks is too long to stay away! However, homestays are not meant to last forever and I was more than ready to have a bit more control over my daily routine, my work schedule and inhabit a room with a door I can close that does not serve as a tool closet/ toxic waste storage. How timely these transitions have been; moving in with four wonderful women, ranging in age from 20 to 60. Berlin is three days my elder (we celebrated her birthday last night.) Nights are filled with interesting conversation rather than chess tournaments (my Spanish is improving in leaps and bounds.) At the finquita, I participate in the staff meetings, our small staff of four now perfectly complements each other. Randy enjoys the bigger construction projects on the farm and is eager to work with the humanure and cow manure/ worm bin operation while I am ecstatic to have responsibility over planning and planting our gardens, fields of beans, orchards of fruits trees, overhauling the compost; pairing my previous knowledge with the techniques and tools appropriately used by farmers here. In just a few weeks we´ve filled all the beds with veggies and sprouting seedlings and will have greens to eat in a mere three weeks-- a VERY new concept to people here! It seems, I can look forward to my birthday, afterall (an opportunity to cook a delicious meal for friends with total reign over the kitchen!)

Stay tuned for more on my work with Grupo Libertad Bluefields and my recent travels up the Caribbean Cost to the small fishing villages of the Miskitu, Garifuna, Rama, and Creol communities. Change will continue into February as I begin to wrap up my life on the Caribbean Coast and head Northwest to the lush green mountains and farming communities, a revoultionary stronghold and cooperative capital.

Now that I am writing to an audience that is deep in the throws of winter, I look forward to more correspondences and stories from Philly, Vermont, Boston and beyond!

postscript: You may not realize, but you can click on the pictures in these posts to get the full screen view. Makes the picture of cacao blossoming from the tree trunk look dazzling.