Tag Archives: Nicaragua

I Wonder What It Was Like

Hav you ever had a moment when you were reading about something historical and wondered to yourself, “I wonder what it was like to have been there?”  In the years that I have worked for Winds of Peace, I have often asked myself that question about the period of the revolution.  When we visit partners to the north, Mark will occasionally comment about the intensity of the war in that location, as a footnote to Nicaragua history.  Invariably, I’ll look around at the lush beauty of the countryside and wonder how this rain-forested land could ever have served as a battleground.

That same phenomenon is happening with the protest movement taking place in Nica over the past month.  It is an historic moment of importance, when a significant representation of the population stood up to its authoritarian leaders and said, “Enough!”  And they have done so with complete directness-  not just through media quotes or a coward’s tweets- but in the faces of the president, the vice president and all the authority that they command within the country.  And though I’m not in the country at present, I feel as though I’m in the moment, as I receive updates and articles from my colleague Mark, who is in the middle of history there once more.

Today, I have received a link to the opening of the national dialogue between the protesters and the government.  The video is in Spanish, but it doesn’t matter; Mark has provided some translation and context.  But more importantly, even without understanding the language, we hear the passion, the outrage and a soulful outpouring of emotion from one of the protest leaders, Lesther Aleman, who actually interrupted the president’s opening comments of the dialogue.  What follows is a link to the video and translation of what was said, including the words of a fellow protester.

WORDS OF LESTHER ALEMAN,REPRESENTATIVE OF THE 19TH OF APRIL UNIVERSITY MOVEMENT, UCA STUDENT, INTERRUPTING DANIEL ORTEGA´S FIRST WORDS AT DIALOGUE

The speech can be seen here: https://youtu.be/g_wixJb2Elg  It is worth watching to see the emotion and the context. The Bishops have just given permission to President  Ortega to give some opening remarks – the first one to speak – and he is shouted down by the students as Lesther takes the floor. Here is what Lesther says in English, so you can understand the video:

“We are not here to listen to a speech that we have heard for 12 years, President, we know the history, we don´t want to repeat it, you know what the people are, where power is based? In the people.

We are here and we have accepted being at this table, with all due respect for you, to demand that you right now order the immediate end to the attacks that are being committed in our country. Now if there were a Ministry of the Interior, we would denounce this to that minister. But you are the Supreme Chief of the National Police and the Army of Nicaragua. That is why we ask you right now to order the end of these attacks,  repression and murder of the paramilitary forces, of your troops, of the mobs of government followers.

You know very well the pain that we have experienced for 28 days, can you all sleep peacefully?  We have not slept peacefully, we are being persecuted, we are students.

And why am I talking now and why did I take the floor away from you? Because the deaths have been on our side, the disappeared, those who have been kidnapped are from our side; we are the ones affected.

Today we are asking you. This is not a table for dialogue, it is a table to negotiate your departure, and you know this very well, because it is the people who have requested it.

All this sector is here demanding that you as the supreme leader of the police order an immediate cease fire, immediate.

Bishop Alvarez experienced it and many priests continue experiencing it.

Who can we ask? Is there another person I can ask to order this to end? Because if it were in my hands, I tell you that since the 18th I would not have permitted it.

A month! You have ruined the country, it took Somoza many years, and you know this very well, we know history, but you in less than a month have done things that we never imagined and that many people have been disillusioned by this, by these ideals that have not been followed, those four words that you swore to this country to be free and today we continue with the problem, today we continue subjugated,  today we continue marginalized, today we are being mistreated. How many mothers are crying over their children, sir?

Vice President, you are a mother and you know grief very well. Because talking at us at noon every day, you are not going to extinguish that grief.

The people are in the streets, we are at this table demanding the end to the repression.

Know this; Surrender to all these people! You can laugh [refering to Edwin Castro, who had what looked like a smirk on his face], you can make whatever face you want, but we ask you that you order the ceasefire right now, the liberation of our political prisoners.

We are not going to negotiate with a murderer, because what you have committed in this country is a genocide and that is how it has been described”.

The speech ended with students yelling, “they were students, they were not criminals”, in reference to what the Vice President and First Lady called the students in one of her noon broadcasts.

Later on, when called on, another student leader, Victor Cuadras, spoke these words:

“Even though Mr. President denies the suffering of the people, in Nicaragua there are more than 68 mothers who are crying for the suffering of their children. There was a mother who in 1972 wrote a poem that is called, “Christmas Song”, that mother had lost one of her children and this is the same feeling of all the mothers who today are suffering on seeing their children murdered.”

The poem was written by Rosario Murillo when she lost her firstborn in the earthquake.

Victor used their time then to read the poem:

CANCIÓN DE NAVIDAD
Yo camino hoy
con el dolor del parto en cada paso
con el vientre rompiéndose
y los pedazos de madre
volando sobre espacios vacíos
yo camino gimiendo
apretando en mis manos los barrotes
apretando los dientes
mordiéndome la lengua
Voy vestida de barro
voy cubierta de piedras y de tiempo
tengo cara de asombros y cabellos de fuego
llevo el dolor del parto en cada paso
siento al hijo que brota de la sangre
siento la piel colgando
tengo las venas en un solo nudo
hay un hijo derramado en la noche.

In the end, Lesther took the floor again and said these words:

“President Ortega, with respect, we go back to the same, do not leave here, nor anyone move from this table, until you, as a man with the level of comandante, order again a cease fire, what you said was not convincing to us and is not going to convince the police. Do you know how long it is going to take us to respect someone in a uniform again? It is going to take us a long time, because they are murderers, because they have killed us and they continue killing us, that is why we ask that you be presentable as a full comandante, that you get up and give with your voice the military order for a cease fire, for the nights when the mobs attack, the civilian police we now know about, the future is uncertain, the Sandinista Youth has weapons, we are not inventing the dead, you do not leave here until you do this, this table was for this”

They also read out loud a list of all the people killed in the protests, with the students yelling “Presente” after each one. This was in response to part of Ortega´s intervention where he asked for a list of those students alleged to have been killed or arrested by the government.

It’s an important time in this small country where WPF has worked for more than 30 years.  It’s one of those moments in history that may well be played back over and over, as a significant moment of change in that country’s journey.  It’s worth noting, even if it doesn’t appear in the evening news.

Hear it.  Experience it.  The dialogue resumes tomorrow.  This is what it was like to have been there….

 

 

 

Pushing Back

The tensions have not diminished.  The rhetoric has not cooled.  The confrontations have not stopped.  The misrepresentations have not ceased to confound and anger.  But in an age of “alternative facts,” pictures can and do speak louder than words.

It was not that long ago that a certain politician set the tone for his presidency by claiming that the crowd on hand to observe his oath of office was the largest in history, and much greater than his predecessor.  The pictures said otherwise.

In Nicaragua, some of the voices of government claimed that last Wednesday’s demonstration was not significant in terms of numbers.  But after one look at the video footage below,

one would have to conclude that, regardless of denials, the turnout and the outrage expressed against the Ortega government is significant, indeed.

Truth is always a slippery treasure to hold on to.  But misrepresentations and outright lies never diminish the truth, they just hide it for a while.  Nicaraguans are apparently raising their voices in volume perhaps not heard since the days of the revolution.  The truth may be inconvenient for some, but it is no less the people’s reality….

 

Tentative and Fragile, Part 2

Circumstances continue to become more confrontational and difficult in Nicaragua.  In the aftermath of the events referenced in our previous entry here, “Tentative and Fragile,” no resolutions have been reached and neither side in the conflict has backed down.  (Does this sound familiar? )  The result at this moment is that university visits have been cancelled, uncertainty prevails and tensions remain very high.  In chaotic conditions like this, it’s hard to discover reliable, insightful knowledge of what’s really going on.  But WPF has come across an analysis (with names removed) that gives a pretty balanced report, and we offer it here as a sort of informational post for those who seek a reasonable summary of events to the moment.

The writer quoted below is of some significant standing in Nica professional society, possessing some credibility in terms of his/her knowledge of recent events.

“Today in the morning I was invited to an event where people and sectors participated who will be seated in the dialogue, in case we get to the dialogue. I think that it is worthwhile to summarize what I heard and the positions shared:
1. The dialogue has two principal topics and they are not, nor should be, negotiable: Justice and the Democratization of the State (no re-election and departure of the Regime).
2. The Church will be the mediator and the People the guarantor.
3. The dialogue agenda should not be filled with more topics than the principal ones. Afterwards it will deal with this.
4. The dialogue will not be by sectors as the Government wanted, it should be between the Government and Civil Society, understood as all the actors who want a change.
5. The Government cannot nor should not intervene in the selection of the participants who will be in the dialogue. This dialogue is to look for a way out of a crisis, a change of the system, not a meeting of friends.
6. We demand the entry of international Human Rights organizations and others who want to help in this transition.
7. The Students are organized, they are going to continue in the streets fighting for their rights and ask and demand that we join them.
8. The Peasant movement must participate in the dialogue without exception….
9.  Mechanisms and serious and competent organizations must be created for the investigations [into the now 45 deaths].
10. The Strike/Stoppage is coming and it will not wait for COSEP [Nica business association friendly with the administration] for this, COSEP does not represent the entire business sector.

11. We are facing a civic revolution and it is up to all of us to learn how to take it to a glorious end.

As I was saying this is a small summary of the position of the sectors that will be in what is today a not so clear and possible dialogue, and I believe that we are seeing some light on a topic that has been unfocused. I leave you with a phrase that Dr. Medina [President of the Autonomous University of Managua, and named by the Church to the dialogue] said today:

“I have never seen in my history such a great opportunity to make a change in Nicaragua.”

For the present there are many conditions being required of an administration which has demonstrated little desire to comply with any demands made of it; indeed, intimidation and control through force has been its central tool.  Is it possible that it could capitulate to the protesters’ requirements?  Is a Korean-style reconciliation possible?  There is a large demonstration called for today (May 9th), and the students have asked private enterprise to let their workers off so they can participate in the demonstration. The Peasant Movement has said that they will attend as well. It will start at the cathedral and follow a route which, in the past, the police did not allow them to take. So it will be interesting to see what happens in response to the demonstration.

As usual, U.S. news sources have provided very little mention of the turmoil in this land.  Our country seems to have a boundless supply of disinterest in what happens there.  But the outcome bears close monitoring, for the security and safety of Nicaraguans as well as the stability of our Central American neighborhood.  The U.S. may be courting isolation, but in reality it does not exist….

Tentative and Fragile

I spoke to a university class of business students this past week, citing the universal qualities of the employee-owned business I directed for 16 years and Winds of Peace Foundation, with whom I have worked for the past 13 years.  Such work tenures provide me with a reasonably credible basis on which to make comparisons, which are many in number and deep in similarity.  Since I have been invited to do this presentation for a number of years, I have to presume that it finds interest among the audiences, and maybe even prompts some new thinking about organizations and the people who co-inhabit them.

Following one presentation early last year, a student caught up with me as I was leaving the building and wanted to share with me her own experience in Nicaragua from the previous year.  She had traveled there with her college sports team in an exchange program.  She described her love of the beauty of the country and the warmth of its people.  She expressed surprise at how safe she felt while there, despite pre-conceived ideas about the dangers of Central American countries.  She talked about her surprise at the freedoms that her Nicaraguan university counterparts enjoyed in expressing dissent and opinion on almost any issue.  She felt very good about the fact that Winds of Peace was working in Nicaragua and wanted to say so.  I acknowledged her impressions and concurred with the part about beauty and warmth.

As to her other observations, regarding safety and societal openness, I was not as  quick to concur.  Nicaragua has been stressed in recent years with ever-tightening restrictions on political dissension and public demonstrations.  That posture, along with government control of many media outlets and police, has led to an increasingly difficult environment for expression of any position other than the prevailing party’s line.  Contesting a party line is to risk one’s status and economic opportunity, and even safety.  Any sense of openness and free speech are carefully crafted illusions that are as ephemeral as they are potentially dangerous; it is too easy to believe in something that we really want to be true.

Nonetheless, there was no advance warning about the latest eruption to take place in the country.  This heat derived not from the awakening volcano, but from the streets.  The government announced an increase in the country’s social security withholding, raising it up to 22%.  That, coupled with the 7% contributed by the worker directly and an actual decrease in benefits of 5%, makes for a program that was deemed punitive by many, especially the more socially-conscious student population from the universities.  Demonstrations occurred.  Youth of the ruling Sandinista party pushed back violently, while the police did nothing to intervene.  People were injured.  Some died.  Soon there was panic that the growing demonstrations and confrontations would interrupt everyday activities, such as shopping for groceries and fuel; lines began to form at stores and stations in anticipation of shortages.  Semester study students from the U.S. were sent home early.  WPF cancelled travel into the northern sector of the country.  Overnight, the general peace of Nicaragua had disappeared like a wisp of smoke in the wind, illustrating the fragility that exists between leaders and followers anywhere.  Trust and stewardship are delicate elements of leadership.

One week later, some degree of quiet had been restored.  President Ortega appeared on television, flanked by business leaders (from outside the country, interestingly) to urge a return to calm, and suggesting a re-visitation of the social security action.  Eventually, there was a pull-back on the social security action, for now.  The fuel and grocery lines disappeared.  In turn, travel into the heart of the country resumed.  Citizens desperate for the patterns of normalcy willed the resumption of daily routines.  After a week of upheaval, with scores of injured and as many as sixty dead, this spot of global warming had cooled.  Or at least for the present.

But what occurred in Nicaragua last week was simply a data point, a current event, In a moment of frustration and anger, citizens protested.  The government hit back.  Things calmed down.  And now we wait for the next storm squall, to measure its power and impact, to gain a further read of citizens’ ire, to forecast future storms to come.  For elitism eventually creates a response, whether in Nicaragua, the U.S., Syria or anywhere else.  The reaction may come sooner or later, but it will come: when people are marginalized enough, they will rise up. Consider the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S.  Or the women and men of the MeToo phenomenon.  Populace rebellion is a reality that should be well-recognized universally, and perhaps especially in a country like Nicaragua, with its rich history of revolution.

One series of demonstrations does not foretell revolution or even a movement.  It is like the difference between weather and climate change.  Weather is a data point, a measure of what has occurred recently and may likely occur in the short term, while climate change is the story of all the data points put together over a longer period of history.   But they are linked, to be sure.  Eventually, enough weather data points have been collected to constitute the case for climate change.

If there is a pending change in social climate in Nicaragua, or the U.S. for that matter, it will be foretold by the individual data points.  Those occur every day, sometimes in big ways and sometimes imperceptibly.  But they are the early distant warning signs for what may be to come, and ignoring them is governance folly….

 

 

 

 

 

My Name Is Char-les

Mark and I had a particularly interesting dinner last month in El Cua.  I mean, our dinners are usually pretty interesting moments in the day, whether because of the agenda we have just experienced, the menu of a small restaurant we have found, conversation about upcoming meetings  for the following day or just in telling each other life stories.  There’s always plenty to observe and discuss in these dinner moments and I truly enjoy them.  (Not to mention the food, which is usually very basic and very good.)  But this night featured a guest, a boy by the name of Char-les.                                                                           

Let’s be clear about one thing right away: the name is Char-les, not Charles, because he does not like the nickname Charlie.  By pronouncing his name with two syllables, there is less chance that one might make the mistake of calling him Charlie.  Acquaintance with another young boy by the name of Charlie- a peer who is apparently not a favorite of our dinner guest- has rendered the nickname lost forever from the monikers Char-les may adopt over his lifetime.

Aside from the same smiles afforded every young person we might encounter during the day, we had issued no invitation or gesture to encourage his attendance.   He simply drifted over to our table and began to talk.  Maybe it was the unusual presence of two gringos in the small cafe.  Perhaps it was the allure of my broad-brimmed hat (sombrero grande) which suggested a cowboy’s presence.  More likely, it was the pure curiosity of a little boy who, it turns out,  was full of questions and observations about almost everything.

Char-les wanted to know everything we could possibly disclose over the course of a meal, and some things that we could not.  Names?  Home country?  Where is that?  Where is China?  Where are you going?  Why are you here?  Do you know about whales?  Where is your hotel?  Do you have kids?

He balanced the inquisition with some facts of his own:  I’m eight years old.  My mom is in a meeting back there (motioning to a back meeting room in the restaurant).  I like football.  I go to the school that is right behind your hotel.  I like to read.  My mom says that I ask a lot of questions.  I have a brother but he has a different dad.  Some day I’m going to go to Mexico.

Between the inquisition and the exposition, Char-les tended to his job for the night: every time a cell phone rang from among the belongings of the meeting participants, he would dash off to find the phone and take it to the proper owner.  It happened three or four times, and on each occasion, Char-les sprang into action, leaving our discussion dangling until his return.  His reaction to the cell phones made it clear that he not only knew every person in attendance at the meeting, but also knew the ringtone of every phone.  The meeting attendees were both amused by and grateful for this service in telecommunication.  Char-les seemed matter-of-fact about  his duty, but more focused on his interrogation.

“I’m very fast.  Do you know about airplanes?  I have never been on an airplane.  What are you eating for dinner?”  The stream of consciousness hardly paused for those intermittent phone calls and, undeterred by such momentary interruptions, Char-les continued to weave his way throughout the entirety of our dinner agenda.  We were fully engaged in discourse with an eight-year-old orator.  “Is Iowa in Mexico?  You are my new friends.”

With that bond being said, Char-les eventually welcomed his mother to our party and introduced his new-found amigos to her.  She hoped that he had not been a bother to us and observed, to no surprise by us, that Char-les had demonstrated this curiosity and outgoing personality for his entire life.  She described his love for learning and inquiry as exhausting and amazing; we could only concur.  Amidst a continuing flurry of his questions, we bid him a good-night and appreciation for his conversation.

I have been around many eight-year-old children, including our own four as they passed through that inquisitive phase.  But I find it hard to recall an eight-year-old with the persistence and aplomb of Char-les.  Mixed in with such admiration, perhaps there was also the sense of promise that such examination and unpretentiousness holds for his years ahead.  In the center of this rural community, in the center of Nicaragua, in the center of the Americas, is a young boy deserving of every opportunity to learn and expand his understanding, his visions. his outlook for the future.  The need is not his alone.  We all have a stake in the critical importance of listening to the voice of Char-les….

 

 

 

The Unlikely Pizza

I’ve consumed a lot of pizza in my days.  Maybe it’s because pizza came into its own as an entre′ while I was a teen, or the fact that it’s probably my favorite food indulgence.  I’ve eaten more than my share of those pies.  I’ve had them homemade in my grandmother’s kitchen when I was nine years old, I’ve eaten them across Italy and the rest of western Europe, I’ve consumed them in the Virgin Islands, Mexico, Canada, Hungary and even on board a sailing vessel on the ocean.  I’m reasonably certain that I must hold some sort of unofficial pizza consumption record for my days in college.  In short, I am an expert.

But one of the most unlikely and satisfying slices occurred just last month, during my most recent visit to Nicaragua.  Yes, it was the first pizza I have consumed in that country.  But more important than that was the group of young women with whom I shared the pizza.  What might be the odds that on any given day in my life I would find myself having a Chefella’s pizza with 15 female cooperative members in Matagalpa, Nicaragua?  On March 12th, the answer was 100%

I love pizza anywhere, and under nearly any circumstances.  But when we arrived to join this mid-day meeting of entrepreneurs to the announcement that we would share pizza for lunch, I admit to being triply-excited: first, to talk again with these adventuresome women, most of whom were new to the idea of cooperative life; second, at the prospect of my first-ever Nicaraguan pizza; and third, to consider once more the collaborative symbolism of my favorite food.

You see, pizza in my experience has always been a cooperative meal.  When our kids were young, pizza night was a time for all of us to be in the kitchen and contributing our own labors to the creation of something worthwhile, in this case, for dinner.  Katie made the crust, I formed it in the pan, Megan and Molly spread the sauce, Ian added the meat and Nikki sprinkled the cheese.  We collectively watched the baking and timing.  And of course, we shared happily in the end result.

The entire process was one of great participation, involving every member of our family.  The fear might have been that if you didn’t help out, you wouldn’t get any pizza.  But the reality was more that this was something that we loved doing together, and that made the entire outcome- the pizza- even better.  Of course, the process mandated complete transparency.  Some of us couldn’t eat onions; indeed, a hidden agenda here would have resulted in stomach upset! Others didn’t care for green peppers.  One in our family didn’t wish to eat meat.  So we had to be very clear in drawing the lines of content in our pizzas.  Those ingredient boundaries were our respective stakes in the outcome.   And, of course, eventually we experienced the satisfaction and reward of shared effort: taking a piece of the pie.  Collaboration made homemade pizzas tastier than frozen ones, and more cost-effective than pizzeria models.

A pizza with the 15 women did not involve our collective making and baking, but it did connect us in a shared result.  Sitting around the tables which had been laid end-to-end created a loop of continuity, of solidarity,  of oneness for at least that special lunch period.  It will be up to the women members of the cooperatives to determine whether they can sustain that linkage to their ongoing mutual benefit.

Meanwhile, it made that unlikely pizza one of the best slices I’ve had, and I’ve had a lot….

Chicken Feed

This Easter has been a sweet deal for candy manufacturers: more than $2 billion was spent on candy alone this season, and the overall spending on all Easter-related purchases figures to be the second-highest in U.S. history.  (I know that I didn’t receive any chocolate bunnies on Easter Sunday, so somebody else has been taking more than their share. ) But it started me thinking about wants and needs and central Easter messages.

That candy cost isn’t exactly chicken feed.  By comparison, the total amount of all U.S. aid to Nicaragua in 2017 was $31.3 million, 15% of all that candy.  I only offer the comparison here for contrast; neither I nor most Nicaraguans would argue for greater aid dependency on the U.S.  But it’s quite a difference in sums when one considers the two categories: resources for basic human living standards in Nica versus Easter candy consumption in the U.S.   Setting aside such notions as national boundaries, something seems inequitable in all of that, no matter to what political or economic perspective one may subscribe.  Let me elaborate.

I spent a week with my colleague Mark in Nicaragua last month, visiting with rural partners, hearing about their struggles with various harvests, understanding the need for late repayments in several cases, and attending a two-day workshop designed to teach information analysis, so that these producers might go about their work on a more data-driven basis.

Our week did not represent some kind of hight-level financial development.  We lunched with them on rice and beans.  We spoke with some, in impromptu huddles, about small loans and the most basic tenets of our partnerships: accompaniment, transparency, functioning bodies of governance, broad-based participation, and collaboration within the coops.  We described the nature of goals and goal-setting.  They asked us about work processes.  We laughed some.  The interactions may have been at their most basic level, but they were important and appreciated.  Basic stuff usually is.

What does any of that have to do with Easter candy sales?  Simply this: the sweet taste in the mouth from a dissolving Peep or jelly bean is both artificial and temporary.  And it can never take away the bad taste in the mouth from the recognition that we spend more on candy than on the very lives of others who are in significant need for their basic survival.  That bad taste comes from recognition that our own lives are made up of moments, moments of priority and precedence, wherein we have the free will to decide how we will spend our time and our money and our spirit.  Those decisions impact the impoverished in profound ways, and as importantly, paint the portrait of who we truly are.   And they do leave a taste in the mouth, one kind or another.

Last month in Nicaragua I heard the observation of a producer who was considering the raising of a few chickens as a supplement to his coffee-growing efforts.  His words of hesitation were like a fist to the gut.  “The corn that my hens eat,” he observed, “could be food for my family.”  He was not speaking about candy corn.

Easter is a season of resurrection and salvation, of new beginnings and new chances.  It is a time of reflection for many about the life and example of Jesus and the basis of those who claim followership of his teaching.  It also gives me pause to think about the price of candy and the value of corn….

 

 

 

A Gift for Marisela

 

Almost from my first visit as a member of WPF, Marisela has been part of my Nicaragua experience.  Her Cuallitlan Hotel in Esteli is one of the most charming and unique places of rest I have ever encountered, a direct reflection of its owner and the artistic genius that she has brought to its development.  We choose to stay there whenever our agenda allows it.  It’s like stepping into an enchanted forest, with small cottages and lush greenery accenting the trees and exotic animals found there.  Over the past 13 years I have teased Marisela by proclaiming that her lodging is my favorite hotel in all the world.  The claim invariably brings a blush to her face and an exclamation of “oh my God!” to her lips.  She is humble about her achievement with Cuallitlan but appreciative of her guests’ enjoyment.  As she says, “I have made this place my home and I love to invite people in to visit.”  But sadly, no more.

Last week, during our first visit to Cuallitlan in more than a year, Marisela uncharacteristically met us with great weeping.  With her trademark welcoming hug, and through her tears, she exclaimed, “I thought that I would never see you again!”  We protested: even if there had been many months since our last visit, there would always be more to come.  But she punctured that hope by explaining that health reasons were forcing her to sell the hotel.  This oasis which she birthed, nurtured and held close to her heart for so many years, had to be sold for her own well-being.  As it broke her heart to say it, the news was also a heartbreak to hear.  For Marisela is Cuallitlan.  And much more.

In an age long before women had much of a platform on which to claim equality- and especially in Nicaragua, which is to this day still full of machismo attitudes- Marisela blazed her own trails.  While raising her three children, she inherited and managed a sawmill as the only woman in the entire organization.  And once the men began to test her strength and resolve by sabotage and deceit, she met their challenge by dismissing all but one of them.  The resulting legal claims filed by the men were addressed and defeated one at a time.  So much for strength and resolve.

There are remnants of those sawmill days within the hotel grounds;  an enormous cross-section of a tree serves as a table top in the central reception area.  Hand saws and blocks of exotic wood adorn the grounds.  But it’s the hotel that has absorbed the creative talents of this high-energy hostess.  Every vestige of the inn carries a reflection of its owner, from the bath towels folded into animal shapes to the signs of wise and witty sayings that dot the premises.  Marisela has brought unique meaning to the term “destination hotel,” for there is more to see and appreciate than a single night’s visit could ever afford.  

But for me, it was always about reception.  When I first visited the hotel in 2006, I was an anxious newcomer to Nicaragua.  I did not speak Spanish, I carried with me into the country the appropriate guilt of a North American  and I had little idea about the role I might play in coming to this destination.  Everything was new, and all of it held  potential for an awkward loss of confidence.  Perhaps it is difficult for some to imagine such uneasiness, but as one who carried serious intentions of representing the Foundation with familiarity, openness and equality, I saw each encounter as a moment for either connection or distancing.  Marisela ensured that at her home, there would be no chance of the latter.

Always the smile, her absolute joy at receiving her guests.  Always a hug, her recognition of past visits and moments shared.  Always an enthusiasm, her means of ensuring me that I was welcome there.  And even before she had ever met Katie or one of my daughters in later visits, always her inquiry about them, as though she had held a personal concern for their well-being since my last visit.  Marisela possesses the gifts of hospitality and warmth, the values of which eventually relaxed the trepidations of an aspiring Foundation worker  and affirmed for me the expectation of embrace wherever I traveled in the country.  Marisela opened the emotional and psychological doors for me one visit at a time.  And at each visit, I became further affirmed.

I doubt that Marisela acted in these ways with any grand psychological objective in mind.  I believe that she was simply being herself, someone whose personal joys are derived from giving of herself.  Indeed, when pressed about what she might seek to do after her days at Cuallitlan and attending to her own health, she says without definition or hesitation, “I want to help people.”  The notion is deeply embedded in her DNA.

We have promised to remain in touch, to continue sharing photographs and family stories and such stuff of which friendships are sustained.  She has already asked where my next visit to Nicaragua will take me, calculating out loud how long a drive might be required of her.

Future visits will not be quite the same, of course, without the oasis that is Cuallitlan.  But that’s OK.  For the essence of Cuallitlan lies in the heart of its creator, and not solely in its buildings and greenery.  Marisela bestowed a tremendous gift upon those who visited her, and none more than me.  In return, I can only render to her my profound appreciation, for the greens, the cottages and the warmth of her being.  And I hold great anticipation for whatever the next reception may be….