Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Definitely Worth It

Weighing sesame on our front porch
Having volunteers around us all the time is a mixed bag.  For the first nine years we were in Nicaragua, volunteers and delegations stayed in our home.  Our office was in our homeOur home was the center and the center was our home. 

Volunteers bring different perspectives and we have made good, lasting, wonderful friendships with many of the people who have come down...friendships that I would never want to give up. 

But it is also draining with volunteers and staff in and out of our home, and occasionally we have volunteers who don't work out.    

Hosting volunteers is really a small part of what we do and it falls under the category of education...educating internationals to the reality of life here in Nicaragua.  As we get older we wonder if this education part of our work has any impact.  Today this came in from a volunteer who came a few years ago:

Before I volunteered with the CDCA in Nica I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with my degree or my life.  The experience of working in the Nueva Vida Clinic, being a part of a community driven NGO, learning about the history of Nicaragua, and seeing the poverty that people lived changed my life completely.  When I got back to NY I began to study the history of the US and other Latin American countries and was profoundly disturbed...

Right now, I am very happily living in Chile and beginning my journey here.  I firmly [believe] that I would be in a completely different place in my life right now if not for my time in the CDCA. I think one of the most important aspects of the CDCA for me was the unbelievable warmth in reception of new volunteers into the community (us eating dinner at night with the family, allowing us into your home, etc), but the unwillingness to sugarcoat reality for us. For example, unlike other NGOs who are possibly more hierarchical and mechanic[al] in their daily routines, we felt very clearly the stresses as well as the successes of the CDCA.  We were trusted to make smart decisions, as you gave us the autonomy to learn stick shift and drive ourselves to work, decide what to do on the weekends. You trusted me and gave me creative space to work in the Green Pharmacy. We weren't coddled, and in this way, we were treated as equal members of the community.  And that was incredible...

I know that sometimes the work you all do can be thankless. Like I said, my life has taken a course that has everything to do with my time in CDCA, so there are literally not words that can express my gratitude; all I can do right now is say thank you…

It's good to know that hosting volunteers sometimes does have an impact. -- Kathleen

Saturday, August 23, 2014

There is ALWAYS Another Way

As most of you are well aware Ferguson, MO, is a mess.

People are protesting the shooting of an unarmed young Black man, Michael Brown, multiple times by a police officer.  Some are looting and throwing things at the police.  Mostly the Black community and people of color are angry and frightened.  And how do the police respond? 

With snipers and police dressed in camouflage uniforms equipped with military grade
armament and curfews…just more to fuel the helplessness, the fear, and the anger.

I know good cops.  I know non-racist cops.  Sarah’s first cousin became a cop when he was mistreated by DC cops at an antiwar demonstration in Washington. He was an exemplary cop.

Police, like soldiers, mostly follow orders…and much can be blamed on the people who give the orders.  I was just following orders is often heard  by soldiers.  Both soldiers and police officers find themselves in situations where the adrenaline is flowing and fear not compassion rules them.

Looking at film footage coming out of Ferguson, I am reminded of two separate events that happened here in Nicaragua.  Both events were with students protesting because of the government not allotting the 6% of the budget to the universities which is still guaranteed by the Nicaraguan constitution.   

The first event was during the presidency of Arnoldo Alemán.  He called upon the military to restore order. The head of the army basically said unless the president declared a state of emergency, they could not and would not intervene.  It was not advantageous to Alemán to declare a state of emergency…ergo in reality the military was saying no to hurting their own civilians.

When Enrique Bolaños followed Alemán as president, there were more student protests over the 6% and over the cost of diesel skyrocketing and bus prices rising, and the riot police were called in. 

During the riots, some students were hurt and a couple died, the police then had their own demonstration and proclaimed that the students were their children and they were not going to kill their own.  The police declared to the mayor of Managua and the president that they were not willing to do their bidding if it meant hurting civilians.  They chose to identify with the students and not those in power.

I am not saying that the Nicaraguan police are perfect...far from it.  I saw them dismantle a squatter’s neighborhood and as a result two people died…but it is important to recognize those few precious moments when people with guns have chosen not to obey orders because they decided the orders were wrong…and as a result it is important that we give those particular people the due respect they are deserved…the honor. These people are not cowards...they are the true heroes.

Police are servants of the People.  Soldiers are servants of the People…and it is high time the People call them and the ones giving the orders into accountability.  It can be done.  It should be done.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

History repeats itself

The news for last couple of months has me brokenhearted, and unfortunately I get angry when my heart is broken, so...fair warning.

What is wrong with us these days?
  • Police shooting or choking Black and Brown men is an almost weekly occurrence.
  • Supplying weapons and money to a country bombing the civilian population back to the stone age. 
  •  Air raids on Iraq. 
  •  Troops in Iraq. 
  •  NSA and CIA spying on everyone, including their own people. 
  • Reporters arrested trying to cover the protests in St. Louis over the shooting of a unarmed black teenager. 
  •  Republicans and Democrats fighting over minutia so that there is no real governance. 
  •  Mass shootings… again, almost weekly. 
  •  Children…CHILDREN…being detained and sent back to their countries to die with hateful protests calling for those children to go home.
I’m appalled.  I’m shocked.  I’m ashamed.

And yet, I was a history major:

Until the Civil Rights movement refusing the vote to Black people, beating Black people, LYNCHING Black people by cops, the KKK, the Establishment was hardly news worthy.

The US has supported Israel through its many wars and occupation of Palestine.  With weapons, policies, and our own CIA, we have propped up dictators who jailed, tortured, killed, and terrorized their own peoples:  Iran, Chile, El Salvador, Brazil, Philippines, Honduras (now), Guatemala, and here, Nicaragua.

Air raids in Iraq…Daddy Bush, W. Bush, Obama, and Obama again.

Troops in Iraq…see above.

Sen. McCarthy keeping the US "safe"
Much of the spying when I was a girl and a young woman was done by the FBI but it was done on peace and justice groups, peace churches, and “radicals” who oppose nuclear weapons.  William Stringfellow, a lay theologian, used to read his Bible into his phone…he thought the people tapping his phone ought to hear it.  And let’s not forget the McCarthy hearings in the 50s.

Reducing the access of the press has been a tactic by the government for years.  In WWI and WWII most of what was heard by the American public was approved by the government.  In the Vietnam War, the press covered the war on the ground and the war was immensely unpopular as a result…ergo the government put a stop on full and free access of the media in times of war. 

Just having a two party system limits what concerns and needs are addressed.  Since Abraham Lincoln,  almost every president has taken more and more power than was originally proposed by the constitution.  Now with more and more money going into elections, corporations are taking more and more control.  But this is not new: remember that the founding fathers were wealthy. 

Mass shootings are new, but people of color can cite time and time again when THEIR people have been targets of lynchings, bombings, genocide (tribal people), internment (Japanese during WWII), etc.

And the children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras coming to the US just to have a chance to grow up…well, we immigrants have always hated other immigrants and refugees…that started when the first immigrants grabbed the land from the people who were already here and then did not want to share anymore.

The one thing I truly internalized from all my history classes back in the day was that if we do not know our history, then we are doomed to repeat it.  So let’s learn…let’s not repeat the same horrors…let’s evolve…let’s repent.  From where I stand, change is a good thing…it is hope.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Speak the Truth

Language is a powerful tool.  Feminists learned this early on…when we always refer to people with masculine nouns like “mankind,” we forget that women and girls are an integral part.  Refer to an individual as “he” and a man or boy image pops in the brain.  “Chairman,” and people are more likely to nominate a man. 

Language reflects our thoughts, but also more importantly creates our thoughts as well.

People in power have learned this, and use it to influence our thinking, and too much of the media is playing right along.
  • We are "in danger of Obamacare bankrupting the country” BUT “We put our soldiers in harm’s way.”
  • “We murder unborn children.”  BUT “The drone bombings unfortunately and occasionally result in the deaths of non-combatants.”
  • “Illegal immigrant children are crashing our borders.”  BUT “refugees are fleeing the Al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq.”
  • “Terrorists bomb the US embassy in Benghazi.”  BUT “Non-military installations have been hit in the Israeli air raids.”
  • “The unconstitutionally elected president Daniel Ortega…” BUT “the former president of Honduras, Manual Zelaya, who was removed from office…”.

Those on one side of the spectrum use language to inflame
people’s emotions while the media at large and the government use language to let itself and those countries and factions we support get away with murder…literally.

When did real, physical danger become “in harm’s way”?  When the government wanted to soften, yet not completely  dismiss, the soldier's reality.

When did women, children, old people…innocents…become “non-combatants”?  When the media did not want us to see or imagine the people who have done nothing but be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get blown to bits.

When did children fleeing violence, gangs, and death squads become “illegal immigrants” while other children fleeing violence, gangs, and militias become “refugees fleeing terrorists”?  When those corrupt governments are the ones we prop up, and no one wants U.S. citizens to think about the reason that desperate parents would send their precious ones far away.
When did hospitals, schools, and people’s homes – poor as they are – become “non-military installations”?  When people of power do not want us to imagine what it would be like to be stuck in a hospital with injuries resulting from your home being bombed during supper and have another bomb hit the hospital…that sounds like something that evil people would do.

Why wasn't President Zelaya always referred to as “the coup-deposed president” and why isn't Honduras called “the land of death squads, gangs, and terrorists" since the 2009 coup?  Because the US backed that coup and does not want to call attention to the mess it has created.  YET.  AGAIN.

We need to start using “true language” and demanding of our media and government that they use true language, and quit softening the impact of horror and violence.  

When I was in young I saw on the nightly news horrors of the Vietnam War…I saw children firebombed.  I saw mothers weeping for their lost children.  I saw coffin after coffin come home and I grew to be anti-war…and THAT is why we never see or hear reality now, because there are enough people who are basically good and if they see and hear the truth they will say “NO.  MORE.”   

Frankly, the government and those who own the media know that and are afraid.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Drought Threatens Nicaraguan Food Supply

July is the end of the first growing season in Nicaragua…or should be, but Nicaragua is in a drought caused by a meteorological phenomenon called El Niño.  The band of warm Pacific waters collects off the coasts in South America and creates drought around the countries along the equator. 

Nicaragua gets rain typically from May to November.  Usually it starts raining in May and farmers hurriedly plant their crops.  From mid-July to mid-August the rains slack off and farmers harvest their first crop of the season.  When the rains start back up, the next crop goes in the ground to be harvested in November and December.  From November to May, hardly a drop of rain falls.

This year the first season’s crops failed due to no rain or not enough rain.  What does this mean for the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere?
  • ·         Food prices have risen including meat and dairy as cattle starve.
  • ·         Red beans (the most important source for protein) are now imported beans and have doubled in price.
  • ·         Rural farmers do not have enough to feed their families and have lost all capital.
  • ·         Coffee the main export crop, which suffered last year from a fungus, is now suffering from lack of rain.  This hits the national budget as well as small coffee producers and  the already low paid, landless, temporary workers.
·         Most of the food grown for local consumption is grown in the Western and central part of Nicaragua which is the section of Nicaragua that is being affected by El Niño.

The rains are not expected to start until September and no one really knows how well these rains will be.  Nicaragua is one of the 10 most vulnerable countries for climate change.  Many climatologists consider that El Niño has been strengthened due to the warming of the sea waters because of climate change.

The chart to the left is Nasa's reporting of the rise of temperatures over the 60 years.

Nicaragua has 52% of its energy coming from renewable sources with a goal of 94% by 2017.  Nicaragua has an aggressive reforestation program.  Nicaragua has the second largest rain forest in the Western Hemisphere and yet suffers severely from climate change…doesn’t seem fair, does it?  

But as history dictates the poor suffer while the wealthy consume and consume…which is why Gandhi said that “Poverty is the worst form of violence.”  Clothed in silence poverty breaks the human spirit and kills on a rampant scale.