26 October 2017
I noticed a pattern on the trip: each day, though not busy nor jam-packed, seemed full. This day was no different because the day’s plan was simply to visit two communities CIEETS worked with. So, up the mountain we went again, but this time we made our way to a farm owned by a man named Antonio.
While we were heading up there, we stopped at a school. Jairo got out of the car, told us he’d be a minute, and then left us alone. There we sat for about 2 minutes before some of the kids in the school got enough courage to come near. Joel and Rick Mellinger produced a soccer ball and gave it to a couple of young boys. The ball was intended for all the school to play with. We tried to make this known, but once the boys got the ball they were off and playing. It was a treat to see the joy on their young faces. More kids started to gather by the truck and we had a ball trying to speak with them. I think they were as fascinated with us as we were with them!
Jairo eventually came back after speaking with the school’s administrator. Apparently, CIEETS does some work with the school and he was simply checking in to see how things were going. We were learning slowly and surely just how broad the organization works within the country.
Once at the village, we were welcomed into a biggish building, at least big for the kind of buildings more common there in the mountains. The room had about 10 desks in a semicircle with a whiteboard on the wall. It was a school but not a school for children. It was in this room that CIEETS, specifically Magyolene, taught classes to the local farmers. They learned how to make their farms more sustainable, who to diversify crops, how to make organic insecticide, and how to put nutrients back into the ground among other things. We literally sat where those amazing women and mean learned to change their lives. It was a wonderful experience.
After a brief introduction, we were taken to Antonio’s personal farm. There he shows us the system to husk, clean, and dry the coffee bean. Apparently, after the cascara fruit (the fruit from which the coffee bean is produced) is harvested, it is stripped of its shell. The fruit is then composted while the bean is taken to soak for 24 hours. After that, it is washed then laid out in the sun to dry. Antonio himself was the one to create his system. He built it with help from others in the community.
The star of the show, though, was the mill created for removing the bean from the shell. It was a crank system, but Antonio retrofitted a bike to pedal the machine to work instead of a hand crank. It looked ingenious.
As the tour went on, Antonio showed us the various crops he cultivated. In addition to coffee plants, he also grew plantains, cacao, oranges, beans, and rice. The beans and rice were mostly for his family’s consumption. We were then given the choice to either stay or work in the field. I chose to work.
I was assigned to help Antonio plant new coffee plants. He grew some starters in plastic gardening bags, but it was time to put them in the soil. He showed me how to do it: dig a hole about 2 feet deep and a foot in diameter, remove the plastic while keeping the starter soil together, put the plant in the ground, put the soil back, and then loosen some more soil around the plant. Presto, you’ve just learned how to plant a coffee plant.
I went around for about 1 hour planting these plants. At the end, I was sweaty and dirty. I then went and picked cascara fruit from coffee plants with the rest of the group. I was only there briefly until it was back up the hill we climbed. Antonio took us to the mill. There, Antonio gave Rick M. and I the chance to try out the bike. I took that thing like a champ. We were a part, if however briefly and inefficiently, of the coffee making system. If nothing else, we learned how much more work it takes to produce our cup o joe.
Then there were the oranges. Antonio grew oranges on his farm too. Now, the rind itself wasn’t orange like what we find at HyVee or Fareway. The orange Antonio gave me to eat was green on the outside. I assumed it was going to be sour. It wasn’t in the slightest. It was the best piece of citrus I’ve ever tasted. It was sweet. It was icy. It was how oranges are supposed to taste.
I was happy right there, but then we were shepherded towards Antonio’s kitchen. His wife prepared lunch for us. All the food we ate Antonio grew right there on his farm: rice, beans, potatoes, and chicken. I don’t know how they flavor everything, but I wanted to bring it home. And again, out of what we would consider squalor, we were fed. Antonio and his family treated us as honored guests by opening their home to strangers. How many of us would do that back in the United States? I think, if nothing else, that was something we all took back.
After lunch, we traveled to another community CIEETS worked with in the past. Again we were welcomed as honored guests by being asked to sit on a porch and drink some Pepsi as a group. For about 20 minutes we lived the leisurely pas as we sat and simply talked with one another. When we romanticize the majority world, usually it includes this attitude towards time; they never seem to be in a hurry. Even if we strip away the rose colored glasses, it’s still true.
We then found out the porch we were sitting on actually was a new building constructed to house the community’s seed bank. CIEETS and Lutheran World Relief provided the zinc roof and storage containers while the community built the structure themselves. We were told how 28 farmers participated in the bank by being leased 1 seed and at harvest time bringing 2 back (this loaning program would happen at much larger scale). This way, the project grew and the community becomes more secure. The goal of the seed bank was to become more self-sufficient and not rely on outside sources, like real banks. Using the newly created seed bank, the farmers are now able to put their income into different places: education, new crops, tools, etc.
What stuck out to me about this particular community was the leader happened to be a woman. She was the one who had the knowledge and lead the project. I was pleased with this because empowering women lifts economic success and lifts the whole community. As Beyonce says, “who runs the world? Girls.”
After the women gathered said farewell to Magyolene, we headed back down the mountain. Our day, at least in terms of visiting sites, was done. We headed back to our hostel, where we would remain for the rest of the day.
Once there, one of the employees, José, gave us a tour of the Hostel grounds. He showed us their three main attractions: an orchid house, a frog house, and a butterfly house. My favorite was the frog house. I held one of those green frogs with blue legs and red eyes. It was funky. Id’ seen such things on TV or in a National Geographic, but I’d never thought I’d get to hold one!
After the tour, we sort of settled down for the evening. Games of chess were played, cards were dealt, even conversations across languages were attempted. It gave us a good chance to reflect upon all we had seen the past 2 days. Jeff Erickson thought we should take time together after the trip to sort of decompress and discuss all we had seen.
We needed to work through some questions. What’s next? What do we want to do? What is God calling us to do? Good questions which helped me maintain the reason for coming: to see the ways God was already working in Nicaragua, learn from it, and see if we could get on board too.