Monday, March 29, 2010

Semana Santa

Nicaragua’s government has closed down for Semana Santa…or Holy Week (the week that started yesterday with Palm Sunday and runs through Easter Sunday). All schools are closed, including the medical schools. And the vast majority of businesses will run through Wednesday mid-day and then close for the rest of the week.

It reminds me of the Fourth of July when I was a kid growing up in a rural community where almost all our neighbors worked in mills and the mills closed down so everyone went on vacation mostly to the beach….which is what most with jobs do here.

It is also as hot! Semana Santa is known for its heat. Spring started a little more than a week ago for you in the north. Flowers will start blooming and leaves will have that fresh, baby green color where the light shines through…life begins again.

Passover also starts this week. Nicaragua is more like Passover. It is dry here...dusty…hot….and everything here appears dead.

Much of Nicaragua is Catholic. Viernes Santo or Holy Friday is the day most remembered…the execution of Jesus by the Romans. Twelve steps of the cross are enacted over and over in barrios across the country. Easter is celebrated by some but the day of suffering is what is most remembered.

Nicaraguans understand suffering. With almost half the country living on less than $1.00/day and three-quarters on less than $2.00/day…suffering is a part of their minute-by-minute existence. What they dream of…what they hope for is freedom. They work like slaves to stay alive and if they were set free to determine their own destiny that would be…that would be…well, a miracle!

They understand the suffering and death of Jesus so much more than the hope of Easter. They know pain. They know hunger, thirst, violence….and death. Sometimes - I think – for them it is almost too much to hope for Easter amidst the suffering and death…too much to hope for life amidst the dust, heat, and air filled with burnt particles as brush fires start.

BUT the understanding of BOTH religious events is freedom to experience

  • The chains of slaves breaking.
  • The chains of death being undone.
  • The hope that good will win out.
  • The hope that right will conquer wrong.
  • The hope that the poor and oppressed will see their day of justice

Friday, March 26, 2010

Part VI: Taking off the glasses to see the kingdom of God among us

When are we going to see justice in the world? When are we going to see the sick cared for and the hungry fed? When will we live in a perfect world? The answer: Now.

Howard Zinn once wrote: “the future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” Or, as Jesus said more succinctly, “the Kingdom of God is among you.”

The message both Howard and Jesus left us with is this: Quit waiting for the world to be perfect, open your eyes and live it. As you live it, you’ll begin to see it. You’ll see it where you see justice…where you see families farming in harmony with the land…where you see women achieving a better future for their families…where you see people getting the health care they need…you’ll see it where you see children going to school and everyone getting enough food to eat.

The Divine tells us to care for the poor, and we will be taken care of. This is our kingdom…not the Other. The Other, where one-third of all Nicaraguan children under the age of five are chronically malnourished, is not a kingdom of justice…the Other, where fewer than one in five Nicaraguan workers receive at least minimum wage and basic benefits, is not a kingdom of compassion. The Other, where one in five Nicaraguans has been forced to leave the country to find work, is not a kingdom of freedom. The Other won’t look out for us. In the Other, brothers and sisters don’t care for one another.

But in the Divine’s family, we are all brothers and sisters…really. You, and me and Nelson Mandela and George W. Bush and your next door neighbor and the driver who keeps cutting you off in traffic are all brothers and sisters. If we truly believe that, and treat each other as such, and care for each other as brothers and sisters, that is the kingdom of God among us…that is a marvelous victory.

Those living in desperate poverty in Nicaragua and around the world can’t afford to wait for justice…if they wait to be liberated, their families will starve. They can’t afford for their vision of a perfect world to be distant, they must live that vision. And if we want to change the world, we must live that vision as well.

Living out our vision requires of us above all else Hope. For so many Nicaraguans, hope is all they have. A belief that things can and will change.

Ramona and Petronila were both unemployed with families to support, but of an age in Nicaragua where women are no longer considered useful, and aren’t given work. Ramona and Petronila had no other option than to live their vision. They chose to join with the Genesis spinning cooperative in hope…working together for a better future…working for no pay. In the beginning, their families told them they were crazy to work and not get paid…their neighbors laughed at them each morning as they headed out to work, armed only with their Hope. But Ramona and Petronila were not deterred. As Howard Zinn tells us, “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.”

The hope and courage and sacrifice of these women is contagious. After three years of hard work, the Genesis co-op’s building is nearly finished. Now when co-op members Pablo and MarĂ­a and Gloria lose sight of their goal, it is their families who give them hope…pushing them out the door to work and saying, “You can’t give up now, Mama, your dream is becoming reality.” It is the dreams that sustain us particularly in these tough times… hope. And it is hope that many Nicaraguans carry in their hearts and the dream of possibilities.

In order to have the world we want, we must begin by living it, and trusting that we will begin to see it all around us. “If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something,” wrote Howard Zinn. “If we remember…where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.” – Becca

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

CDCA speaking in Ireland in April

Paul and Becca will be speaking in Ireland in April about the CDCA’s work! Below is their schedule, if you’re in Ireland, please come hear us speak! If you are interested in hosting them or have questions, please write to: They will be traveling with a 20-25 minute power point presentation fair trade organic coffee and Slightly Twisted Spoons.

April 8-11 Ireland Quaker Yearly Meeting, Lisburn, N. Ireland

Monday April 12 Belfast available

Tuesday April 13 Gort Family Resource Centre, Co. Galway 7 PM

Wednesday April 14 Letterfrack Furniture College, Connemara, Co. Galway 8 PM (open to the public)

Friday April 16 Galway One World Centre, Galway 7 PM

Saturday April 17 Goat St. Cafe, Dingle, Co. Kerry Hosted by Hope Guatemala and the Church of Ireland 5 PM

Sunday April 18 Kilgobbin Church, Camp, Co. Kerry 10 AM

Sunday April 18 Newtown School, Waterford 8 PM
Monday April 19 Newtown School, Waterford 11 AM

Monday April 19 Victoria Hotel, Patrick Street, Cork 7 PM

Wednesday April 21 North Cork Organic Group, Nano Nagle Retreat Centre, Co. Cork 8:30 PM

Saturday April 24 Latin America Solidarity Committee Conference, Dublin 10-3

Saturday April 24 Dublin Evening available

Sunday April 25 Junior Meeting, Churchtown Quaker Meeting, Dublin 11:15 AM

Sunday April 25 Churchtown Quaker Meeting, Dublin 12:00 PM

Friday, March 12, 2010

Enrique Carcache passed away today

Enrique Carcache, our mechanic, died this morning around 4:00. We think he had a heart attack, but he did have pneumonia and a kidney infection. He had only been home a few days sick. It was quite sudden.

Enrique - for those of you who have been here - was Maestro's son...from back in the good old days. He and his dad would frequently come fetch us when our trucks died...they would drive by in their jeep with no brakes and stop by slowing down, then Enrique would jump out and put a rock under their tires to aid us. Many years ago, he and Maestro quit working for us and started a shrimp farm with a micro enterprise loan. The farm didn't work out because it was flooded by Hurricane Cesar. After working so hard and losing it all AND...after being in an accident when Maestro broke his back...they came back to work for the Center. Enrique came to work as his father's muscles and he learned his father's expertise with motors.

When Maestro retired Enrique came on as our only mechanic. He drove our bus for delegations. We would laugh at how if the groups sang too loudly he drove faster to get home. He kept up all the mechanical work including throwing diesel in the carburetor to get the motor to turn over. Enrique would drop everything, come and fetch us where ever we a knight in shining a run-down truck.

Enrique helped with other things as they came up as well....the sewing machinery in the sewing co-op during the early years, the bio-diesel project, pouring cement (including recently a sidewalk for my parents so they would not trip at night), digging holes, and learning about the spinning machinery.

It is hard for us to believe he has died...or it is for me. I just can't believe he won't be back with oil on his jeans crawling under the vehicles or inside the motors. He was patient with me and my non-existent Spanish when it came to sounds vehicles should not be making. He still called me Angelita, a name that I am losing as we hire newer staff. He would come in with the keys and with my questioning look would say to me "esta bien" (it's okay)
"Verdad?" (really?)
A huge smile..."verdad" (really).
Today "no esta bien...verdad." (it is not okay...really.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Removing the Glasses Part III: The Market Knows Best

With unemployment in the US at more than 10%, people are scared, being told by the experts that if we don’t protect Wall Street, “we’ll be fighting for rat meat on the streets.” Wearing the glasses The Market has given us, we mistrust ourselves, deferring to The Market, and blindly following where it leads. But as Joseph Stiglitz says, in doing so, The Market is also shaping our society. Are we sure that what we want is the way The Market has been molding us?

Since 1970, total worldwide production has tripled. Conventional wisdom tells us this means we have tripled our wealth and well-being. But behind those numbers is another truth: Over the last two decades, incomes of most Americans have stagnated while we’ve been told to continue to consume as if there had been an increase! So if we’re not any better off, who’s getting all that money? A recent United Nations study found that the richest 2% of the world's adults own 51% of all global assets, while the poorest 50% own only 1%.

That’s not the world I want, and I bet it’s not the one you want, since neither of us is in that top 2%. In fact, we want the exact opposite: statistics are now showing that communities without large gaps between rich and poor are more resilient and their members live longer, happier lives.

How do we get to the world we want? Many economists are now saying something that actually makes sense to me: we need to change the priorities of our economy. David Korten recommends three steps:

1. Turn from money to life as the defining value, from growing financial capital to growing living capital, and from short-term to long-term investing;

2. Shift the priority from advancing the private interests of the few to advancing the individual and community interests of all; and

3. Reallocate resources from supporting institutions of domination to meeting the needs of people, community, and nature.

This is already being done in a myriad of ways: making the decision to live on less and spend more time with your family, or doing summer-time veggie shopping at the local farmer’s market instead of the supermarket. On a larger level, people are supporting local currencies like Ithaca Hours and campaigning for state-owned banks.

One of the ways the CDCA is working to shift these priorities is through the creation of the Vida Fund...our shared risk investment fund that is partnering with worker-owned cooperatives like the Genesis spinning plant to help create steady, better-paying jobs for poor Nicaraguans. The Vida Fund provides nurture capital: long-term, low-interest loans that the co-ops can realistically pay back. The co-op members risk their labor – in the case of Genesis 1,500 hours each of unpaid work over 3 years – with the hope that their cooperative dream will become a reality. Through the Vida Fund, investors match that risk…effectively reallocating their resources to meet the needs of people and communities.

Other businesses are partnering with co-ops…businesses like Maggie’s Organics, supporting the organic cotton production chain; worker-owned co-op Once Again Nut Butter, partnering with Nicaraguan organic sesame and honey producers; and Their Bucks Coffee, partnering with El Porvenir to reinvest in the community. These buyers know the faces of the producers, have met their families, and are re-introducing the idea of trust and personal relationships into business.

With enough projects like the Vida Fund, community-based economies will become the norm, and mutual trust may then become the expected business norm, giving us a very different economic system, one that has priorities other than making a killing…priorities such as making a living…for everybody. That is how the other 98% of us can become rich, in the true sense of the word. – Becca

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Part II: “The chains on you are binding me, I can’t rest ‘til we all are free”

Last week I talked about the glasses that we all wear: the dominant ideas in the world that give us a particular focus through which to view everything and don’t allow us to see that which doesn’t fit with those ideas. For example, our glasses tell us that each problem we encounter is isolated, and not connected to other issues.

Now let’s take off the glasses, change our focus, and see a different reality: everything and everyONE is connected.

Here’s an example: how is the recent devastation of the earthquake in Haiti related to your grandmother’s antique mahogany table? How did deforestation play into so many deaths? The cutting of Haitian trees began under colonial rule with African slaves sent to clear the forests to make room for foreign sugar and coffee plantations. In 1804 after the first and last slave revolution in history, Haiti became the first independent nation of Latin America. In 1915, the US Marines invaded the country and stayed for 19 years, controlling the banks and government before setting up a proxy force and a series of dictatorships to maintain US interests. (Meanwhile, a nearly identical history was happening in Nicaragua.) Forced deforestation continued in the 1940s during Rejete, the anti-Voodoo campaign when the Catholic Church gathered whole communities at gunpoint and forced them to watch their trees burn to prove that their Gods were not in nature. The campaign also served to clear peasants off lands US companies wanted for agriculture by destroying the Haitian people’s spiritual roots as well as their sources of income and food. Throughout this history, foreign companies benefited from deforestation by exporting tropical hardwoods to make high quality furniture, including your grandmother’s table. Due to such heavy deforestation, Haiti’s soil eroded, and the country was unable to produce its own food, so its people went hungry. Haitian peasants had no choice but to seek a living in the cities, building shacks packed into places like Port-au-Prince…shacks that fell down on top of them and added to the hundreds of thousands of deaths in the January earthquake.

Through this example, we can see that seemingly disparate problems are actually fundamentally connected. So where’s the good news in all this?

  1. When we understand these connections, we make better choices. The El Porvenir coffee cooperative understands connections. They have seen that their lives literally depend on the earth: During Hurricane Mitch a nearby mountainside washed away, burying hundreds alive in a mudslide, while at El Porvenir not one life was lost because their trees retained soil even in the heavy rains. They grow their coffee – a cash crop that brings the community of 250 their only income – under the shelter of the same fruit trees that feed their families. They understand that to put pesticides and chemical fertilizers on their coffee crop would mean poisoning themselves. They also understand their connection to one another: this cooperative of ex-Guardia, ex-Contra rebels and ex-Sandinista fighters – all bitter enemies within the history of Nicaragua – live and work together peacefully. When asked how they achieve that, their reply is simple: “It’s the poverty that unites us, we have to work together to survive.”

  1. When we work to solve one problem, we have a positive effect on related issues as well. These connections are not only true within the El Porvenir community, but stretch to encompass all of us: Each tree that the folks at El Porvenir cultivate for its shade and food provides habitat for the birds that not only fill Nicaragua with their song, but also migrate north to our own backyards and fill our own lives with that same song.

It is when we take off those glasses and begin to see the depth of connection all around us that we understand that our world is a very small place. We begin to see the role your grandmother’s antique table played in the deforestation of Haiti which pushed people into the inadequate housing in Port-au-Prince that collapsed on them in the earthquake. When we understand that we our fates are already connected, then we can join hands to work together for the world that we all seek.

“The only chain that we can stand is the chain of hand in hand, keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”

Thanks to Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe and their book Hope's Edge for many of the ideas in this series of posts. -- Becca