Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Today I want to study

Poster seen in Rancho Grande: "Motherhood can wait, today I want to study." Includes some stats about the risks of early pregnancy for girls. What's interesting is that this is a campaign funded by USAID (i.e. U.S. tax dollars). In our experience, the barrier for most people in continuing their education isn't the lack of desire, but the lack of resources and opportunities... especially in the countryside.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Random Reading 2

Here are a few interesting Nica-themed articles from the last few months, for anyone who is interested:
  • The Argentine folk singer Facundo Cabral was murdered last year in Guatemala while being driven to the airport after a concert by a Nicaraguan businessman named Henry Fariñas. Fariñas is believed to have been the real target of a hit by the drug cartels, and is now on trial in Nicaragua accused of drug trafficking and money laundering. And to make the story even weirder, the Nicaraguan police apprehended 18 Mexican nationals posing as journalists, traveling in Televisa vans with over $9 million in cash and drugs. Many have speculated that the phony journalists had plans to "gain access" to the Fariñas trial.

    Cabral was a much beloved singer, and seems to have become yet another tragic victim caught in the cross-fire of the drug trade. This song is his most famous: Yo no soy de aquí, ni soy de alla (I am not from here, nor from there). The song proper starts at the 4 minute mark.

Monday, October 8, 2012

They Paved Paradise

When I was a kid there was an enormous empty field across the street from our house where we spent long hours riding bikes, catching tadpoles, getting muddy and doing all that kid stuff. Sometime in junior high it got bulldozed into a subdivision of houses. Since by then I was too cool for kid stuff, I didn't really mourn its passing, but it was a really special gift to have had this parcel of wildness just outside my door growing up. Like Joni said, "you don't know what you've got til it's gone."

Graffiti in Managua: "To lose Bosawas
(Nicaragua's largest nature reserve) is
to lose everything."
Maybe it's just nostalgia, but I think stories like this uncover a bit of our natural ambivalence toward "progress" and "development." Anyway, that was what was bouncing around in my head on during our long, bumpy trip to the campo last week (driving bad roads can be really hypnotic somehow). The dirt road from Matagalpa eastwards to the Atlantic Coast is pretty terrible in the rainy season, muddy and rutted where not washed out entirely. But we passed armies of workers working to extend the cobble-stoned sections of the road, brick by brick, in a constant struggle against the ravages of the tropics.

(Road building in the U.S. is done by machines and a handful of humans; here, where the cost of labor is shockingly low and capital equipment is expensive, roads are built by hundreds of humans armed with shovels.)

It is expected that improved roads will bring economic opportunities and a measure of increased prosperity to the poorest parts of Nicaragua, which is undeniably a good thing! But there are notes of worry and ambivalence too when we listen to the pastors in the region. With roads often come a flood of newcomers, changing the culture and the way of life, new technologies, problems from the big cities, pollution and deforestation. When we visited Ecuador's oilfields a few years ago, many people told us that the road built by Texaco in the 1960s was one of the most destructive elements of the oil exploration, overnight changing an isolated corner of pristine rainforest into a frontier town.

Liscow 2012
This last week I was in the north to teach a class on "The Church and the Environmental Crisis" and several of the studying pastors had harsh words for what they called the "fever of cattle ranching" that has swept Nicaragua in the last few decades, taming the great expanse of Nicaragua's rain forest and converting it into pasture. Since the end of the civil war, Nicaragua's great wild eastern forest--including the vast nature reserves of Bosawas and Indio Maíz--has been nibbled and gnawed, faster and faster, and is now legitimately threatened (see map). According to their testimonials, in the last 30 years, a mere generation, they have seen a drastic reduction in the local forest, and the virtual disappearance of many of the iconic rainforest species. They mentioned, changes in the local climate and rainfall have shifted planting and harvest times by as much as a month.

Apropos of all this, e360 has a really interesting article and video presentation about the planned highway through part of the Bolivian amazon that has pitted Evo Morales against some of the indigenous groups who helped make him Latin America's first indigenous president.
Bolivia has been embroiled in conflict for the past year over the planned construction of a 182-mile highway, 32 miles of which would cut through TIPNIS, a vital ecosystem — located at the geographic heart of South America — that links the Andes and the Amazon basins. The road would be an important addition to Bolivia’s woefully undeveloped highway system. Yet environmental studies predict that the project will cause widespread damage, contaminating the park’s three main rivers, opening large areas of forest to illegal logging and settlement, and altering habitats that are home to 11 endangered species and rare primates. All that would threaten the traditional way of life of the reserve’s three dwindling indigenous cultures — the Tsimanes, Yuracarés and Mojeño-Trinitarios.
There is a sense, fostered by many environmental and development groups, that the twin goals of environmental protection and economic development can be wedded together through the concept of "sustainability." Sustainable development is at heart a positive, hopeful vision of a future that is prosperous, just and green -- although some have argued that it is a mirage that papers over real tensions between the two goals. I still think the concept has a lot of merit, but it's worth recognizing how hard it really is to accomplish, especially when not everyone involved is on board with the idea, even in theory (e.g. a few recent reports on the role of organized crime in driving deforestation).

Monday, October 1, 2012

Managua Soundscape

To get the full sensory experience of a city like Managua, you really have to visit. A visiting friend who had lived in India for a year told us that the smells of Managua recalled in her strong memories of that country from the minute she stepped out of the air conditioned sanctum of the airport. It's not currently possible to embed the smell of the city or the feel of the humidity on a website (and that's probably a good thing), but the music clip above really is a central part of Managua's soundscape.

The song is "Llegó el Lechero" (The Milkman Arrives) and it is blasted throughout the city by delivery trucks with giant loudspeakers selling milk, leche agria and other dairy products. You can hear the song everywhere you go in the city, and if you read the comments on the YouTube video, it's mostly from Managua residents laughing about how early it starts up in their barrio. (Supposedly the phrase has another entendre too, which is interesting.) It passes by the church office around 10 in the morning, driving slowly with the volume up to 11 and repeating on a short loop.

In general, truck-mounted (or horse-mounted) loudspeakers are pretty common, and you get everything from evangelical preachers making the rounds to ads for laundry detergent, political propaganda, scrap metal collectors and vegetable salesfolk.