Wednesday, November 15, 2006


We've been fielding a common question since arriving in Nicaragua. "Have you found a good cup of coffee yet?" Well, here's evidence that Bradley has been putting some of Matagalpa's coffee to the test. Pictured above is our friend Demetrius, from New Jersey, who is living and working in Ocotal at El Centro de Idiomas . Cynthia, Demetrius, Alvaro, Me and a few other friends went for an afternoon to SOLCAFE the coffee processing center run by CECOCAFEN, one of the organizations I am working with this year. Here's Cynthia evaluating coffee just brought down from the mountains.

Coffee production/farming is a very labor intensive process. Depending on how much money you have to invest and the scale of your coffee farm you can find a range of commitments to producing high quality beans. Small-scale farmers for one, commonly depend on coffee as their main source of income and invest tons of time (not so much money) in their coffee (which puts food on the table and sends their kids to school). Many of the coffee farmers I work with make somewhere between 400 and 1000 dollars a year before expenses (leaving very little for savings). Pictured below is a farmer who is pulping his community's coffee. He'll work 8 hours a day on this pulper for about 3 months. If the community had the money to invest in a machine, it would cut down on his hours incredibly. Next year they hope they earnings will be enough to do so.
Now that you have some pictures to help you...I'll just say that from the coffee bush in the mountains to the sluuuurrrp, the coffee in your cup passes through a rigorous process. Bradley is certainly not an expert taster, but I'd can honestly say, there is nothing like meeting and working with the humble men and women who have devoted years of their lives to producing the coffee we love.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Before I arrived in Nicaragua, I anticipated that my art would be a kind personal refuge in the same way it was at home. Fortunately, given my level of fluency, it has been more useful and has provided me with a great tool for communication.

Art has been one of the ways I have been able to connect with people of all ages…shared enthusiasm, interest, desire to learn new things.

Here is a picture that our friend´s son, Ramon (9), drew of San Ramon:

Currently, I am learning from a friend Hazel (Alvaro´s sister) how to paint landscapes that are characteristic of this area:

I would like to begin doing art projects with the children of the cooperatives involved in Brad´s research. While Brad and Alvaro are doing interviews the children are usually circled around watching (for as along as they can stay quiet and still-which is not long). When they can sit no longer, they become fascinated with the other foreign element in thier pueblo, La Chelita (who knew that a parked car could provide such entertainment). Instead, I imagine bringing crayons and paper so the kids can draw the animals on thier farms, things in the forest, etc. If anyone has any ideas for art projects that require very little or natural resources please send them my way!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Vamos a ver

Before the election results were official, people in San Ramon began to celebrate. The past three days have been filled with rojo y negro (the Sandanista colors), parades, rallies and other festivities. We are living in the heart of Sandanista territory so there has been a lot of excitement over Daniel Ortega´s victory (with 38% of the vote). Boisterous caravans of supporters have been weaving through the streets during the day and evening in pick-ups and trucks stuffed with kids, parents, bother and sisters, parent, grandparents.

Luckily, the elections passed without any major problems or incidents. As they say here, it was ¨tanquilo¨. Regardless of the victor, it has been refreshing to see how seriously people treat the right to vote (the voter turnout was 70%). Young people are also more active because the voting age is 16. Despite the celebrations, I think many people were surprised that the FSLN won and not the ALN (the Liberal-conservative party). Some are concerned about how other countries (such as the US) are going to react. Others are hoping that the change in government will direct some much needed funds towards health, education and other basic infrastructure (maybe the roads will be fixed!). Most people commenting on the election results end by saying ¨vamos a ver¨ (we´ll see).

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand...

A little Duran Duran to get the creative juices flowing. Cynthia and I are sitting at the end of a busy day, recuperating after a busy week and preparing ourselves for our first observation of Nicaragua's national election on Sunday, November 5th. Cynthia just reminded me that today was also our first day eating rice and beans for 3 meals. We are deepening our love affair with the northern highlands everyday. After a month of crazy feeding schedules, cooking experiments and some intestinal infections caused by eating out too much (so it has been diagnosed) we are breaking into the local cuisine and local markets. Our house assistant Veronica hooked us up with a local farmer who produces Yucca, Chaya (variety of small squash), and Ayote (variety of large squash). We are also buying beans and rice in bulk and venturing into the cavernous market in La Guanuca. On my recent trips into the campo (countryside) I am meeting and making friends with a lot of farmers who have gifted platanos, bananas, oranges, sweet limes, mangos and peppers in massive quantities. Cynthia and I are well stocked.

This past week gave us a bit of a scare for the first time since arriving to San Ramon. Cyn took ill and over the course of 24 hrs. got very dehydrated. We went to a clinic in Matagalpa where she was diagnosed with a digestive infection. After a night in the hospital and a few IVs Cyn was back on her feet and back to her art work. She's been taking it easy for the week and has finished her meds. She'll start back up with language school next week, but only 3 days a week from here on out. I am so proud of Cynthia, she has passed through her first (and hopefully last) major health hurdle that stares down every gringo in Nicaragua.

From the Sports News Desk, I've been playing and coaching soccer for the Pumas a local team. Last week I scored my first goal (and probably my last) and we won our first game of the season. Our team is a bit of a motley crew. This past week the coaching staff (me and Alvaro - my research partner) decided to start all the youngest players on the team (and the gringo) to give the chavalos (boys) a chance to strut their stuff. We've been having a tough time as a team because of divisions caused by big age differences among the starters. Feuds were erupting between the adults and youth on the team over practicing, drinking/smoking, and talking trash. It looks like the young guys (16-18) won their position as the starters and we'll just have to wait and see if the older guys stick around for the rest of the season. This old gringo, for one, is planning to stay and see if these young guys can make it to the finals.

We've done a bit of traveling lately in our new car (La Chelita) and with friends Alvaro and Ivonne (see picture above).

On Saturday we ventured out to an area called El Chile. El Chile is an indigenous community about 40 minutes outside of San Ramon. Getting to El Chile is a trek. The roads are not paved and you have to cross a few rivers/big streams (thanks to our manly mobile we made it without any problems). There we visited a weaving collective formed by a group of indigenous women.