Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Reporting COVID-19 in Nicaragua

This article was first published in NicaNotes 

Since the announcement of the coronavirus pandemic in March, we have seen opposition media in Nicaragua quoting unnamed “extra official sources” and “informants” saying that there are many more cases of COVID-19 than the Ministry of Health (MINSA) is officially reporting, and these stories are being repeated by international media. Our organization, the CDCA, has been running a medical clinic in Nueva Vida, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, for more than twenty years. We coordinate closely with MINSA in that work, and have been coordinating with local health officials on COVID-19 and the current nation-wide vaccination campaign, so I can tell you a little about MINSA protocol and the way they report illnesses.

MINSA medical providers at health posts, health centers, and hospitals fill out pathology sheets to report what they are seeing in their patients, and MINSA uses those numbers to track illnesses nation-wide. Anyone who has ever been in a consult room at a MINSA clinic or hospital knows that the doctors have long pathology sheets with lists of common ailments and symptoms and as they see each patient they tick off any ailments that apply. The doctor seeing the patient ticks off categories of ailments - respiratory infections, ear infections, fever, gastrointestinal, etc., but these sheets do not have COVID-19 on them because it cannot be diagnosed in an office visit. Any disease that will need a laboratory test of any kind for confirmation is not listed, but rather checked off in broad category or by symptom complaints. Therefore, any patient with symptoms corresponding to COVID-19 will be listed on those pathology sheets as having a respiratory ailment. Pneumonia is a secondary infection associated with COVID-19, not synonymous with COVID-19, therefore any patient who is suspected of COVID-19 but also has pneumonia will in fact be reported as having pneumonia.

The MINSA protocol for the COVID-19 pandemic is this: each health center has one doctor in a separate room assigned to see patients with respiratory complaints. When the doctor suspects a patient of having COVID-19, the doctor calls MINSA whose staffpeople come out to pick that person up, and the patient is taken in for testing - this is important, because patients are not simply told to go to the hospital on their own (which they might not do, or would do on a bus potentially contaminating other passengers), rather the health center keeps them until MINSA can come get them. The doctors at the health center report on their pathology sheets pneumonia or respiratory problems or fever or whatever symptoms they saw in that patient.

It is true that MINSA has a centralized location for coronavirus testing, because as far as has been reported, there is only one laboratory in the country authorized to do the tests. It is that lab that then reports the number of positive coronavirus tests, and those are the numbers that MINSA reports in their daily press briefing. In addition to testing patients with COVID-19 symptoms, MINSA is also doing randomized testing of its own staff and of patients not reporting COVID-19 symptoms, in an effort to spot asymptomatic cases before they spread.

While MINSA is not reporting daily how many tests they have done overall, they do report the number of suspected cases they currently have in isolation. This is following the contact tracing protocol that MINSA has been using throughout this pandemic, which has been used successfully in other countries including Germany and Taiwan (Taiwan has been supporting Nicaragua’s anti-COVID-19 efforts). This particular protocol is now beginning to be adopted some places in the U.S., such as Massachusetts.* Contact tracing involves finding out with whom infected patients have been in contact, getting in touch with those individuals and testing them. The protocol then calls for quarantining people MINSA thinks may have the virus and hospitalizing sick patients. Nicaragua’s community-based health care system is ideally structured for this type of approach, as MINSA has tens of thousands of trained “boots-on-the-ground” health promoters around the country who can do follow up in their own neighborhoods to track down potential cases.

We saw this community approach in action in Nueva Vida earlier this month when dozens of people arrived back into the community from Costa Rica. When Nicaragua’s neighbor nation went into quarantine, many Nicaraguans working in the service industry there lost their jobs and wished to return home, but Costa Rica had closed its borders and they were unable to leave. So folks we know from Nueva Vida did as many others did – they crossed back into Nicaragua without passing border checkpoints, so MINSA had no record of them; therefore MINSA couldn’t follow up as they have been doing with people entering Nicaragua at immigration checkpoints. In Nueva Vida and around Ciudad Sandino, however, we know that neighbors have informed MINSA about people who’ve come from other countries without being registered, and MINSA has followed up with those people, asking them to self-quarantine for 14 days and calling to check on them regularly during that time.

Photo: Voz del Sandinismo

Is it possible, as the “extra official sources” say, that there are more cases of coronavirus in Nicaragua than we know about? We know that many people with coronavirus show no symptoms at all, and of course if people aren't feeling that bad, or don't recognize the symptoms, they will not go in to the doctor, so there are surely cases that even MINSA doesn’t know about.

But is there a big cover-up in MINSA? Let's take into account what we are hearing from other countries: from the U.S. I am hearing directly from friends and family members who have all the COVID-19 symptoms, they have called their doctor who has agreed that the symptoms sound like COVID-19, but due to a shortage of tests and low risk for that patient, but they’ve been told just to stay at home. Therefore, we can assume that the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is much higher than is being reported, but due to lack of testing, we don’t know exactly how many people have had it.

Similarly, if there were currently a widespread outbreak in Nicaragua, would we not be seeing, hearing, and reading about people with the symptoms who were told to stay at home or were refused tests? I've yet to see any reports like this, even from opposition media, which would surely be eager to print such a story.

To put this in context, the year that Zika virus hit Nicaragua, there was an alert and the government was reporting every day on how many pregnant women had Zika and when their babies were born if they were born with birth defects. Similar to coronavirus, because Zika was a new disease, no one had immunity to it and so it spread quickly through the community. BUT there was a shortage of reagents to test, therefore unofficially, tests were only administered to pregnant women or those with other conditions that made them vulnerable. My kids and I had all the symptoms, I went to MINSA and was told I had a rash and was not given a test (later I tested positive for Zika antibodies). I talked with countless others with the same story, including a family from the same house with two teenagers, and adult and a baby, and only the vulnerable baby was given the test. At that time, you could have asked in any neighborhood and everybody had a Zika story to tell.

Ask around now? Nobody has a coronavirus story to tell that hasn't been forwarded to them from someone who forwarded it (perhaps from an “informant”?) on WhatsApp. Maybe we should also consider contact tracing inflammatory messages before we forward them along.

- Becca


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Monday, April 27, 2020

Ben Linder, ¡Presente!

This week Nicaragua launched its annual national immunization campaign, expecting to vaccinate two million people against 12 diseases in the next few weeks. It is appropriate that this coincides with the annual remembrance of Ben Linder – today marks the 33rd anniversary of his death. 

MINSA health workers carrying vaccines into Nicaraguan rural communities - April 2020 - Photo: Radio La Primerísima

Ben Linder was a young clown, unicyclist and engineer who came to Nicaragua from his native Portland, Oregon, in 1983 in support of the Revolution. One of the contributions Ben made was to dress up as a clown and ride his unicycle through the streets, gathering a following of children like the Pied Piper and bringing them to the local health center where they would be vaccinated. As an engineer, Ben worked building micro-hydro systems to bring electricity to rural areas in the war zones in Nicaragua - it was harder for the Contras to attack if there were lights in the villages. After completing a system in El Cua, Jinotega, Ben and his colleagues began work on another system in San José de Bocay. On 28 April 1987, Ben and two Nicaraguans, Sergio Hernández and Pablo Rosales, were scouting a construction site for a new dam when they were ambushed and assassinated by the Contra. Ben was the only U.S. citizen to be killed by the U.S.-funded Contras during the war, and his death coincided with the investigation into the Iran-Contra Affair, which fueled the debate in the U.S. over the covert war in Nicaragua.

The hydroelectric plant in San José de Bocay was eventually finished by others, and today APRODELBO generates and distributes electricity for much of the region. The hydroelectric plant itself is a testament to reconciliation, run by ex-soldiers – both Sandinista and Contra. Each year the electric company remembers Ben, Sergio, and Pablo with a public celebration complete with clowns and unicycles. Each year they reach out to invite a Contra soldier whom they know carried out the orders to assassinate Ben. So far, he hasn’t taken them up on the invitation, but they continue extending it. Two years ago my juggler husband Paul and I were lucky enough to accompany the workers, clowns and a passel of children on a walk to the beautiful spot where the three were killed. The rocks are painted with Benjamin Sergio Pablo ¡Presente! Those rocks that once echoed with ricocheting bullets now echo with laughter.

San Jose de Bocay Ben Linder Anniversary - Photo: APRODELBO

In 1988 by the Committee of U.S. Citizens Living In Nicaragua (CUSCLIN) purchased a house in Managua and named it after Ben Linder. CUSCLIN opposed the U.S.-funded Contra War and organized demonstrations against the war in front of the U.S. embassy in Managua every Thursday morning. When the Contra War ended in 1990, the group began hosting regular Thursday morning talks at Casa Ben Linder that lasted for nearly 25 years.

The Casa has beautiful murals, most of which were commissioned by Father Miguel d’Escoto, including four murals that honor Ben’s life. Although Managua was once covered in Revolutionary murals, the murals at the Casa Ben Linder are some of the few remaining murals in the city done in the Revolutionary-art style, and have cultural and historical significance.

Casa Ben Linder courtyard with murals

In 2018 the house was donated to our organization. We have turned several rooms into a guest house for international travelers as well as Nicaraguans traveling to the capital. The revenue generated by the guest house is put towards restoring the rest of the property, including setting up an artisan shop and a solidarity museum. Although due to coronavirus we are not hosting large gatherings at this time, we hope to soon resume our regular art classes for all ages and regular children’s activities with the Guachipilin Puppet Theater.

Ben Linder, ¡Presente!

- Becca

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Swap Weapons for Hospitals

On Thursday, 16 April 2020, The Guardian published an article titled “Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega reappears to call coronavirus 'a sign from God'”.  I read the article and it was quite as inflammatory as the headline implies, stating:

Ortega has refused to adopt the social distancing and lock down measures used in other countries, and has in fact encouraged Nicaraguans to participate in mass gatherings.  In our blog, Nicaragua’s Response to COVID-19, on how Nicaragua is handling the Coronavirus, I explain - and Pres. Ortega also explained in his speech - why Nicaragua could not self-isolate: because so many people live hand-to-mouth that if they don’t go out to earn a living each day, their families literally don’t eat dinner that night…but Nicaraguan government offices, businesses etc. are social-distancing and there are no mass gatherings except in a couple of mega churches.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas director at Amnesty International also was quoted:  “It’s surprising that, after preventing and suppressing any form of social protest for the past two years, it [the government] is now promoting mass marches and gatherings, exposing the population to the pandemic.  Again, not true.  Schools are open, churches are open, life is going on as normal... but there are no marches.

She also said “the government of President Daniel Ortega is flagrantly ignoring the recommendations of international human rights organizations regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, putting at risk the health and lives of thousands of people in Nicaragua.”

As our blog explained, there is a different world in developing countries.  Nicaragua is following the World Health Organization’s recommendations within the confines of being a developing country.  There are more than ten people living in many homes here.


The Guardian is a paper towards which we have often looked for impartial news and as individuals, we used to financially support Amnesty International’s work, but many of us who actually live in Nicaragua have found that both The Guardian and the America’s branch of Amnesty International have had a bias against this government since the political unrest that was supported by the U.S. State Department in 2018. 


Both seem to receive all their news from people who opted to leave Nicaragua or are still here trying to overthrow the popularly elected government. Once again, these two sources of information have distorted for the international media and the world what Pres. Ortega’s speech* said (see Nicaragua’s "State of the Union”), as well as the conscientious manner in which the government is addressing the pandemic without starving its citizens.


What I do not understand is how The Guardian, Amnesty International, any peace-loving group, or any person claiming to be Christian can object to what Pres. Ortega said in his speech…


So, it is time to swap nuclear weapons for hospitals, for health posts, for all the basic conditions that can be provided to the peoples of the developed countries, and for them to cooperate so that we in the developing countries can also enjoy that protection.


That pretty much sums up his speech, and yet in their assessments very little of his hope for a peaceful, just world was reported.  Neither did they cover his call for all nations to find better priorities   Why?


*English translation of speech available here:

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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Nicaragua's "State of the Union"

On Tuesday, April 15th after 47 days* of not hearing from the Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega addressed the nation.  His speech** was parallel to a State of the Union Address.

He talked about what Nicaragua was doing in finance, safety, as well as addressing COVID-19   (Much of that was mentioned in our last blog.)  He explained about how sheltering in place cannot work in a developing country - here, if people don’t go out to work, they and their family don’t eat - and he lauded all the health care workers, the farmers, and all laborers.

He also talked about Nicaragua’s achievements in health care, including rebuilding all the health clinics and hospitals that were burned down during the 2018 political unrest supported by the U.S. State Department.  He lauded the efforts of his government in building more hospitals (18 during his administration), roads, and infrastructure.  And they have made progress…no one can deny it.

What was different from a State of the Union was that there were no applauders, no hecklers, no one shouting.  It was calm and – for Daniel – succinct.  Also, Daniel talked about Christian morals.

Daniel Ortega and his vice-president Rosario Murillo define their government as Democratic Christian Socialist.  Christian beliefs play a huge role in their government.  It is not a theocracy…anyone is free to practice any religion or no religion, but all large government events are opened with prayer and usually both Catholic priests and Evangelical pastors are asked to speak.  Public schools open with the national anthem, announcements, and prayer.

In keeping with his faith…he also said that in this time of Coronavirus maybe we should start doing things differently as nations, such as:
  • Nations that spend billions and trillions on atomic bombs should stop building weapons designed to kill millions and build hospitals instead.
  • Although nations do have a right to defend themselves with a military and police force, they do not have the right to spend trillions to manipulate the rest of the world to their interests.
  • Pandemics and epidemics always accompany war; therefore, war should end.
  • Sanctions and blockades should end so that all nations can join together in peace to allow each other to heal their citizens and the world.
  • Immigrants should not have to drown in beautiful waters that separate Europe and Africa nor be put in cages nor deported to dangerous countries.
  • The citizens of the wealthiest country should have access to health care.
  • The United Nations should be reformed to be a stronger mediator and influence in the world as well as equally include all nations.
He ended his speech with

The world demands an ethical and moral re-founding, and that happens because resources need to be placed where they belong, so as to save lives and give security to families, and give true Christian Love to Humanity.

So yes, his speech was like a U.S. State of the Union Address, but oh, so very, very  different.


*There had been rumors of his death or illness.  He sounded and looked well.
**English translation of speech available here:

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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Nicaragua's Response to COVID-19

Nicaragua’s response to COVID-19 has been coming under criticism by the international media.  I thought that we should explain just some of what Nicaragua IS doing* to address this pandemic.

As of 15 April 2020, Nicaragua has had NINE confirmed cases of COVID-19 thus far with one death due to preexisting conditions.  All but one of the confirmed cases were brought in by travelers from Panama (where there are 3,574 confirmed cases), the U.S. (over 635,000 confirmed cases), and Colombia (2,797 confirmed cases).  The Nicaragua government has been following not only these, but all incoming travelers… one of the nine cases was someone in close contact with a traveler with COVID-19.  We have no confirmed cases of community transmitted COVID-19.

Managua airport - screening of incoming travelers

The Ministry of Health (MINSA) holds daily announcements regarding COVID-19.  They sent out tens of thousands of lay health promoters to teach people about the virus, how to prevent it, and what are the symptoms.  In one week, these volunteers went to 1.2 million homes (Nicaragua’s population is 6.8 million).

lay health promoters educating in communities

With universal health care, patients are encouraged to go see a doctor if they have symptoms.  And because they do not have to pay for a visit, they are more likely to go.  Our clinic sends all patients with fevers and respiratory issues to the public clinics.  The nation has seen less respiratory illnesses this year in general, probably because they now have vaccines for influenza and pneumonia.

With the World Health Organization’s help, Nicaragua opened its own modern molecular biology laboratory for testing for diseases.  In this lab they can and do test for COVID-19.

The day after it was reported that three died in China from COVID-19, Nicaragua released an epidemiological alert. Ten days after the alert the Nicaraguan Inter-Commission Committee working closely with the WHO had a plan… proper protocol, communications, etc.  This plan is updated as new information comes in.

meeting with WHO leadership
Nicaragua has 19 hospitals (18 opened during this administration’s terms of office) standing ready to treat COVID-19 and 100 Cuban doctors standing by, as well as Nicaraguan docs.

Nicaragua has solicited aid from Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, South Korea, and Taiwan and is receiving expertise, medicines, and Personal Protective Equipment.  Taiwan has handled their outbreak amazingly well and Cuba has some of the best infectious disease doctors in the world.  Cuba is giving Nicaragua thousands of doses of Interferon Alfa, a medicine that is an immune booster and which combined with other medications helps COVID-19 patients. In turn Nicaragua sent 600,000 influenza vaccines to Cuba.

Nicaragua is NOT shutting down and for this, the leadership is receiving lots of criticism from the international press and opposition political parties.  Currently, Nicaragua is handling COVID-19 much like Sweden.  Despite what the international press reports, there are not marches or large gatherings in the streets.  The last pro-government gathering was held on 17th March when Nicaragua had no cases.

The public schools are still open because most of the student population is from families that are impoverished.  Schools teach hygiene during this pandemic. There are no computers or tablets or Wi-Fi to permit study from home, and the children get food at school.  BUT if parents keep their children home, then teachers provide guides for study so they won’t get behind.  About 1/6th of Eibhlín and Orla’s schoolmates are going to school.

A little more than 70% of people working are employed in the informal sector, which means they do not get paychecks nor do they have bank accounts.  They are vendors selling in markets or at stoplights or in a little lean-to on the sidewalks.  If they don’t sell, their families don’t eat… and – I mean – they do not eat at all.

Businesses are open to the public and many have guards with hand sanitizers at the door and some even with thermometers.  Many, many people wear cloth face masks.  One bus cooperative even put tanks of water on top of their buses with pipes going down ending in faucets with soap for all passengers getting on the bus.  The general population is listening to their government.  Why?

The vast majority of Nicaraguans trust their government, despite what you might be hearing or reading.

Since the political unrest of 2018, the economy has been trying to recover and was recently beginning to make strides in that direction, but now, like the rest of the world, the economy is falling further behind on recovery.

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere… there is no government money for big or small business bail-outs, and no money to help already impoverished families with their costs.

Added to that, the poor live in small houses with sometimes 10 or more people crowded in… grandparents, aunts, uncles, children and grandchildren.   The extended family is more commonly the “nuclear family” in Nicaragua.

So much of what wealthier nations can do, Nicaragua cannot.  Criticizing a government of a developing nation because it is not doing what wealthier countries are doing is not fair.  Criticizing a government of a developing nation because it is not doing what wealthy countries took too long to do in the first place is hypocritical.  Criticizing a government of a developing country that is so far doing amazingly well, when wealthier countries are faltering, is ridiculous.  And finally, criticizing this government while imposing sanctions on it is wrong… just plain wrong.


*Screenshot photos, courtesy of 2020-04-16 national video address, photos Juventud Presidente. Subtitles embedded in photos from audio of address.

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Saturday, April 11, 2020

After the Open Tomb?

Mama and I have often talked about resurrection as we both grew up in the Presbyterian church.  For different reasons, we both believe that Jesus walked out of that tomb.

I have to believe in the resurrection, because the resurrection is my crutch. I have to believe that all the people I love who have been abused and trampled on all their lives have a different adventure waiting on them after they live this harsh world.  That belief gives me hope to plug along while trying to do what I can where I am.  I have to believe that despite beating my head against a brick wall in efforts to help NOW, that even though we fail, maybe… just maybe… the Divine has a wonderful life waiting for them.

Mama says that she thinks that Jesus was raised from the dead, because of what the disciples did after seeing him.  The women who followed Jesus found an empty tomb, then went and found the disciples who were hiding and staying out of the Roman Empire’s eye lest they be crucified like Jesus, and told them of the living Jesus.  When the disciples saw Jesus, they became fearless and took up the mantle to continue to spread Jesus’ good news.

Pandemics cause death.  They have many of us hiding – and rightly so - in our homes lest the nasty Coronavirus sickens or kills us or the people we meet.

Pandemics show up all the bad aspects of our society:  homeless people sleeping in parking lots, the elderly alone, health care workers not protected, the poor going hungry, the developing nations struggling to care for their own with no funds, the blind-absolute-stupidity of people thinking it won’t touch them, the family members being abused while trapped in their homes, the Indian workers trying to walk home, and on and on and on.  Pandemics help us see all the injustices.  There are parallels between pandemics and executions… like crucifixions.

The question is, when death/the pandemic is over, will there be resurrection?  Will we, who survive, walk out of our homes and start a new world… spread good news… fix the bad aspects of society… cure all the injustices?  Or will we as a society continue to rot?

I pray that like Jesus we walk out and see the sky, greet our family and friends, and bring hope to all.

I pray that like the disciples we will be fearless.

I pray that like the disciples we will spread good news, fix injustices, fix our environment, and make a new world.

That’s my prayer this Easter Sunday… a new resurrection.

El Porvenir sunrise - photo: Kolbe McKee


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Thursday, April 9, 2020

Good Friday Reflection... Comforting the Mourners

Today is the day that Christians worldwide remember the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.

Crucifixion, the method that the Romans used to execute criminals and revolutionaries, was a slow painful death as the body collapsed on itself and the person slowly suffocated to death… sometimes taking days.  We forget that the Romans not only executed Jesus, but thousands of people.  Sometimes dozens of people were slowly dying on those crosses en masse.

Often times, to add to the brutality of the crucifixion, they whipped people so that the splintered wood would exacerbate the torture of dying and put iron pegs into the hands and feet instead of only tying them with rope, again to increase the pain… as it is recorded that they did with Jesus.  It was a horrid way to die.

It was also horrific to see your loved ones die that way.  Mothers - like Mary - stood there and watched helplessly as their children died.  Friends - like the disciples - hid lest they be connected to the criminal or revolutionary and crucified themselves.  Can you imagine?

Many of the crucified bodies were dumped in mass graves.  Jesus’s body was taken down, anointed with perfumes and tears, lovingly wrapped in burial cloths and quickly placed in a tomb that was donated to the family by someone who loved Jesus.

Many Nicaraguans care for their dead in almost the same way.  Their families lovingly clean and dress the body.  They buy a wooden casket and bury the body within 24 hours in a plot that is often donated to the family.

Carmen, one of our staff, told Becca about the cholera epidemic in Nicaragua in the 1990s. Families were not permitted to take the bodies, instead the bodies were buried in mass graves.

Burying bodies in mass graves is happening worldwide with the ever-increasing deaths from COVID-19.  No wakes.  No gathering of grievers and supporters.  No caring for bodies.  And families standing apart helplessly.

As Mary and all Jesus’ friends and followers needed support and love during and after his death, so do all the families and friends who are losing their loved ones.  Helplessness with worry and grief are torturous feelings.

If we are spared, let us not forget those who have not been spared.  Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.”*  Jesus also explained that in the Kingdom of God, those who mourn are comforted”.**  Those of us who choose to follow Jesus of Nazareth have many mourners to comfort, and many more to come.  We are not helpless.


*Luke 9
**Matthew 5

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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Border Crossings

As of today, April 9th, Nicaragua has 6 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus (1 recovered, 1 death, and 4 active), but the fear is that the cases might sky-rocket because Costa Rica closed its borders, ignoring the World Health Organization’s suggestion to NOT close borders.

How does Costa Rica closing its borders affect Nicaragua? 

This is how…

Nicaragua’s Ministry of Health is monitoring everyone that comes into Nicaragua from the outside.
  • They have thermal scans set up at borders, 
  • they give out questionnaires to people coming into the country and 
  • they follow up with the people who just came in to see if they are feeling poorly.  
They cannot do that if hundreds of Nicaraguans are returning home from Costa Rica (which has 454 confirmed cases) by wading across the San Juan River, because the border is closed.

Many Nicaraguans work in Costa Rica doing menial jobs that the Costa Ricans don’t want to do.  Sound familiar?  Now Costa Rican businesses are closing and they have no work, so Nicaraguans are coming home… but they cannot cross at the border.  Nicaragua is open… just Costa Rica is not, so instead, returnees leave Costa Rica by crossing the river and the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health has no way to monitor them.

remote area of Rio San Juan

Nicaragua is poor.  Washing hands is difficult if you can’t afford hand sanitizer or an abundance of soap.  Social distancing is hard when 10 or more people live in a tiny house and now with the temperatures in the high 90s, people have to go outside and sit in the shade or die of heatstroke.  This season is our hottest time of the year.   Most Nicaraguans cannot take their own temperature because they can’t afford thermometers.  The only chance Nicaragua has of avoiding a complete disaster is by catching cases of COVID-19 early and stopping the spread.

believing in prevention - rural hand-washing station

With the U.S. sanctions on Nicaragua, Nicaragua is having troubles obtaining Personal Protective Equipment for its health care workers, let alone for all those vendors and shoppers in markets, stores, and street-corner one-room shops.

Each and every day  as this virus progresses,  I feel such disgust at nations that do not listen to the World Health Organization and won’t follow the WHO’s suggestions.    I wish the U.S. and Costa Rica would lend the poorer countries like Nicaragua just a little help like Cuba and China are doing, or - at least - give Nicaragua a break.

Because we ARE all in this together.   Rich and poor alike.


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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Semana Santa - Sheltering at Home

The CDCA is closed this week; closed until the Wednesday following Easter.

This is the time that we usually close to enforce that our staff rests and goes to see family*.  Semana Santa (Holy Week) is a time that Nicaragua traditionally closes… for worship and going to beach … mostly going to the beach.

This year the JHC folks are staying home… Becca and Paul are having a “Staycation” with their daughters, Daniel and Claudia are still quarantined with sweet Samantha, and the Old Farts have been told by their children “STAY HOME!”.

The adult kids pleaded with us to stop allowing CDCA staff to come into our home, stop going to the office, stop having Paul, Becca and the girls in the house, and stop going out.  In a Community meeting, Daniel and Claudia on the phone said “We want you not to get sick and we worry about Dad and Mom (Been) with their asthma.”

The Community  members have all reacted differently… one is depressed because of change, one is angry because the world has turned upside down, one is afraid of being stuck with all the work, one feels very vulnerable to the virus and a little afraid (me)… but we all feel loved and cared for.  

Having Becca be our out-in-the-world person is amazingly loving.  Becca wearing her mask, in case she is asymptomatic, as she shouts at us from six feet away regarding questions is so thoughtful.  Paul finding chemicals we need and fixing things from afar is extremely generous.

The staff staying away from us but running this work, including the clinic, is touching and humbling.  And Daniel and Claudia, being the spokespeople for the kids to talk to us about stopping was brave, because we can be quite stubborn and sometimes messianic, if we are honest.  

So here we are, in our home, writing, balancing reports and books, talking on the phone with folks, working, and Sarah posting our blogs and even making face shields for the clinic staff and health promoters to use when work starts back next week… because she can… and we shake our fists at COVID-19 and say, “We will not be defeated!!!”

What are you doing this week?


*Nicaragua labor laws require that employers give four weeks of paid vacation or extra pay for working vacation weeks.  So we schedule staff time off, because the vast majority would rather have the pay, and we think they need the rest and we don’t have the extra pay for them.  It is interesting that the more years that go by with them taking their vacation, the more they look forward to it.  We certainly do.

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Saturday, April 4, 2020

Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday, celebrating Jesus’ triumphant ride into Jerusalem. There are many paintings of this event.  The sweet-natured, soft-smiling White Jesus meekly riding a donkey while people are cheering and laying palm fronds on the street to welcome him.  While the Gospels paint a different scene…

For quite a while Jesus had created quite a stir in Israel and the Israelites were hoping for a new beginning, an over-throw of Roman occupation, a time of revolution, and Jesus suspected that he was riding to face his execution.

Where did Jesus first go, once he was in Jerusalem, but to the Temple.  And wow! Was he angry!  Clearing out the money changers, knocking down tables selling animals being purchased to use for sacrifices before Passover started.  In John 2 he even dared to grab a whip and lash it around.  “In the Scriptures God said, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer.’ But you are making it a hideout for thieves!”  Matthew 21

The Temple had been defiled by opportunity and greed, and in Jesus’ eyes all that heretical and self-serving “business” had to go!  Right then, and it mostly did, as the merchants fled the Temple.

Where is the Temple of God now?  Where might the Divine want to receive our devotion?  In some brick and mortar place?  Most of us certainly think so, when we consider the money we pour into our places of worship… the building funds, the renovations, and the protections we give the buildings to protect their beauty or value… using locked doors to bar just anybody from entering at any time for shelter, sanctuary, and refuge.  Do we really believe that it is in these places WE created that God wants our worship?  Yes, we do.

But what if we had a temple that was created by the Divine, wouldn’t that be more appropriate?  Like maybe, considering the world… that was the creation of God?  A beautiful House of Prayer.

No brick and mortar place, but the whole world?  And in the WWJD movement, what would Jesus do if he came to see how we have polluted the earth for opportunity and greed?  Maybe grab a whip again?

On this Palm Sunday, may we who claim to be Christians start reversing “the norm” of using our planet as a resource of convenience, or for a nation’s interests, or as an avenue for our own selfishness or gluttony… but instead make the world a place of worship… of adoration… of praise.

Let’s clean it up… together.  Let’s protect it… together.  Let’s create with the Creator a House of Prayer for all of us worldwide… together.


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Thursday, April 2, 2020

Future Fridays: Constant Vigilance

“CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” was the mantra of Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter books.

And it needs to be the mantra for those of who care about the environment, breathing clean air, and climate change.  In this scary age of Coronavirus, all focus is almost singularly on the virus and people’s health.  As the virus stays the news media and people’s all-consuming topic, this U.S. administration is moving against our environment and in favor of some car manufacturers, the oil industry, and greed.

The administration just rolled back the Obama’s administration’s goal of higher fuel efficiency and emission standards.  The Los Angeles Times (31 March 2020) reported that “It is among the biggest steps the administration has taken to reverse an existing environmental policy.”

photo license:

What the Obama administration’s rule did was to mandate that car manufacturers increase the fuel efficiency of all their new vehicles by 5% to reach an average of 54 miles per gallon by 2025.  This current administration is reducing that goal to an increas of 1.5% to reach an average of 40 mpg by 2026.

The Los Angeles Times reported that “Nearly 900 million more tons of carbon dioxide are expected to be released under the new rule than under the Obama-era standards, a result of less efficient cars burning an additional 78 billion gallons of fuel.”

Other administrations have used crises to get controversial rules through in the past.  They are like magicians.  While our eyes are here, they slip a card out from a hidden pocket elsewhere.  This  particular act seems extremely insidious, while people are dying of a respiratory virus, while others who survive are gasping for breath, while health care workers are busting their butts to help people breathe, and while ventilators are in short supply…THIS act of putting more crap into the air is horrid and irresponsible.



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