In Roslindale, a Boston neighborhood with immigrants from around the world, the Roslindale Fish Market is a center for Greek food and culture. Listen to this audio postcard for more:
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On Sunday, the day of the presidential elections, people held their breaths in León, anticipating the violence seen in the 2008 municipal elections, when groups of young men fought in the streets with rocks. You couldn’t buy alcohol anywhere in the country from Saturday night until Monday, and the streets were eerily quiet Sunday, with many shops closed and a noticeable lack of the blaring of campaign songs (the 3 days leading up to the election were officially “days of silence” during which no campaigning was allowed).
I went with Irma, the housekeeper from my house, to vote at the law school a couple blocks away. The blue-uniformed national police at the door barely gave me a second glance as we entered with Carola, the adult daughter of the family, and her ten year-old son, José. After Irma found her name on the lists plastered to the walls we walked to her precinct’s voting room, where they examined her cédula, national identity card.
Despite receiving a text message from the Consejo Suprema Electoral (the national election commission) that read: “your vote is valid with just a signature from the members of the local voting committee” I was, in fact, not allowed to enter the voting room. I asked the member of the Policía Electoral if they would let José enter, “to learn the civic importance of voting,” but he was unconvinced. He listed the prohibitions: no cameras or cell phones, no-one else in the voting booth, no campaigning (the streets around the polling places were devoid of propaganda).
After voting Irma dipped her thumb in permanent ink to mark her as having voted—most citizens went black-thumbed through the city the next 2 days. I was able to take a photo outside the law school looking in, and everyone we encountered inside and out of the polling place was relaxed and friendly, with many neighbors greeting each other.
In search of drama, we walked to another precinct, where Carola volunteered in 2001 as a local election observer. She’d nearly been in a physical fight with someone on the committee when they challenged her signature, threatening to invalidate many ballots, she said. “There’s always problems in that precinct.”
When we arrived at the high school, an unsmiling Policia Electoral manned the gate, only letting people enter with their cédula. A man in glasses in his fifties approached, clutching a worn book. “I want to speak to the representative of the election commission.” A young man wearing a vest emblazoned with “Consejo Supremo Electoral” came out. The man with the glasses pulled a tattered, folded up document from his book and shook it at the younger man. “Why won’t you let me enter? I have proof that I’m a citizen, and you won’t let me enter?” The younger man replied calmly, “Señor, you need a cédula, that’s the law.”
When another older man confronted him, poking him in the chest, the representative of the CSE backed away, saying “Don’t touch me,” then returned to the security of the school. The man in the glasses lifted up his shirt to the crowd outside, saying, “I spent seven years in the mountains for this?!” and revealing a long scar across his belly.
We left soon thereafter, the tension from the scene somewhat dissolved by the calm presence of the bystanders and the bus drivers waiting to drive the ballots to the city center to be counted.
The months-old stencil on the façade of León city hall reads: “Daniel Presidente 2012/2017… Daniel Reeleción ya.” And in the end he was reelected with 62% of the vote, according to figures from the government. Overall the process was mostly calm, with conflicts reported in some parts of the country but without any widespread disturbances. Both national and international organizations (like the EU and Organization of American States) criticized the elections for a lack of transparency and for the failure in some cases to allow members of opposition parties to serve as observers. The leading opposition candidate, Fabio Gadea, who won 30% of the vote, has not accepted defeat, claiming “fraud.”
Yet on Sunday night fireworks crackled through the night, and Monday the students of the Juventud Sandinista paraded through the streets in bright pink t-shirts, waving the red and black flags of the frente. Their campaign song, a catchy cover of “Stand by Me,” boomed: “otra, otra vez…” Again, again…
UPDATE: Nicaragua has been mostly dry for the last four days, as Hurricane Rina passed us by. Now comes the work of repair and reseeding.
We’ve had 10 days of nearly continuous rain in Nicaragua (and throughout Central America) as a result of first Hurricane Jova, then a succession of tropical depressions. In that time over 60 inches of rain has fallen in Central America, washing away bridges and roads and leaving entire communities without access to transportation or food supplies. For comparison, Hurricane Mitch, the last catastrophic weather event, dumped 34 inches of rain over the course of several days in 1998.
Today I finally reached my host family in La Pita, northern Nicaragua, by phone, since they do not have a cell signal in the house and weren’t able to leave during the heavy rains. They told me they’ve been without bus service since the road to the village was damaged in the first days of the storm. The government recently resupplied the tiny village store with basic goods that sold out immediately. My host sister Deyra said they had run out of food but were hoping their father would get to town to restock, via another road about an hour uphill on foot from La Pita. Worse, the Defensa Civil, government engineers, told them to evacuate their house because of the danger of a landslide from the steep hill above, but they chose to remain because there’s nowhere else to go. Deyra told me that the wind blew water into their adobe house via openings in the roof and all their clothes are wet, though she was remarkably hopeful, because a break from the rain today would allow them to dry some of their clothes.
In other communities around Nicaragua there has been severe flooding, forcing people to evacuate their homes, and critically for the future, leave behind crops and animals. The government reported yesterday that the country has lost hundreds of thousands of acres of crops, and that thousands more acres are in danger of total loss. The death toll in all of Central America has topped 100, with 16 deaths in Nicaragua.
The weather forecast is for at least another week of rain. Even if the rain stops, the rivers and lakes will continue to rise, and there are millions of dollars’ worth of road and bridge repairs to be made. The presidents of Central America recently issued a call for help from the international community but I have observed little coverage of the disaster in the American press. I’m still researching which international aid organizations are mobilizing aid and will post that info. when I get it.
In the meantime my friend Juanita (who I talked about in my last post, on her work with organic gardens) is collecting funds to bring supplies to Miraflor—she’s already delivered milk and children’s clothes to La Pita and sent out a request for donations which I am linking to below. I am also posting links to articles from the Nicaraguan newspapers because so far I have found little detail in the American press. I will update this post as I learn more.
A couple weeks ago I jumped on the back of a motorcycle to check out some organic gardens outside of Estelí, in northern Nicaragua. A friend and fellow former English teacher in Miraflor, Juanita (Jane in her native England) founded a hostel, café and tour guiding organization, Café Luz/Hospedaje Luna, which she calls a “nonprofit social initiative.” This means the proceeds go back into the business and community instead of enriching the owners. One of the many projects under its umbrella is the development of organic gardens to grow produce for the café, generate income for small farmers, and provide nutritious food for the farmers themselves.
I rode with Rogelio, who provides technical expertise to the farmers, as we wound our way out of town on rutted roads. We first stopped at the house of Doña Martha, who toured us around with her toddler son in tow. Her small parcel of land slopes down to the banks of the Río Estelí, where she draws water to irrigate in the dry season. They’ve built raised beds from cinder blocks and stones, with soil enriched by vermicompost from a university project nearby. While not all the space is planted now, the height of the rainy season, there were lush patches of basil, mint, oregano, and parsley, young shoots of beets and carrots, and sprouts of broccoli and cabbage pushing up through the dark soil.
One section of her huerto, or vegetable plot, was planted in a polyculture, with a mix of veggies to shade the soil and take advantage of companion planting principles. We chatted about the different herbs in her garden, including the oregano, which smells and tastes like Italian oregano but looks like a succulent–Martha likes to use it in soups. She said she cooks with all the veggies she grows. She’s been working with Café Luz since February 2011, along with the 10 other families participating in the project, who span seven communities within a couple hours of Estelí.
Next we rode back up the hill, away from the river, to the huerto of Don Aristeo, the only single man involved in the project. He lives with his mother in a house shaded by mature fruit trees he planted in the last three decades—when he arrived the land was completely deforested. We walked a couple hundred feet behind the house to an open field planted in rows. Green heads of cabbage and tall okra plants with silky pods dotted the field. A long stretch of rich black soil was covered in tiny radish and broccoli sprouts while in another section bloomed unblemished heads of lettuce. When I asked Aristeo how much he ate from his huerto he responded, “I’m learning more and more about cooking with vegetables, but my favorite is beets.”
Juanita has exciting plans to expand the project, including working with farmers to improve their efficiency and the quality of the produce, as well as increasing their income (currently they average 2000 córdobas per three months, or about $90, though that increases during the dry season months of Dec.-May). She has more potential markets lined up, including a preschool in Managua and a restaurant, which will require a greater volume of produce. As with all development projects here, success depends on creativity, flexibility and resourcefulness—in addition to proceeds from the hostel the project relies on volunteers and donations. As to the veggies themselves, at Café Luz I ate a hearty salad featuring huerto-grown lettuce, beets, and carrots, and I can attest to their deliciousness!