The roosters sing to the moon too. I am up at 3:33 – the witching hour for me, the time Mom died this past July. I thank her for coming with me to Nicaragua. I was so busy serving the poor I had no time to sprinkle her ashes at Elizabeth’s house. I feel Mom reassure me that in serving the Divine Daughters of Quilali, I planted her energy here.
At breakfast, Elizabeth’s Mom packages eight pounds of her father’s freshly roasted coffee beans for me to take home. This is so special as Señor Cornejo is the only coffee grower in all of Nicaragua whose coffee is purchased by a fair trade buyer in America. Elizabeth was the bridge. After the husband and wife owners of Beacon coffee tasted her father’s coffee at her seamstress shop in Ventura, she brought them to her home. They toured the small coffee farm, were devastated by the blight that killed so many coffee plants in the region, and invested in Señor Cornejo.
This last morning we go back to Case de Materna. We decide to donate the needed sheets and pillows for the expectant and newly delivered mothers. Erika will purchase them with her resale license at the market in the city. The mothers are just finishing breakfast at the long dining table. All are poor and incredibly grateful for the baby clothes and children’s shoes we bring.
One very young girl is so petite, a pair of child’s sandals fit her. She asks for the frog puppet that we included with the infant clothes. Of course we give it to her, but the nurses kindly insist she take a few newborn outfits. They are so young. Babies having babies.
I must come back and help educate these women. The machismo attitude has made sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer and mental health issues rampant. Domestic violence instigated in part by the stress of taking care of so many children with so little opportunity plagues these poor women.
The director hugs me tight, thanking me for coming and praying for my return.
So hard to say goodbye. I’ve come to love these people. Hugging Elizabeth’s Mom felt like I was hugging Nana. They look so much alike, act so similar, the same fears, the same money sense, the same fussiness about cleaning. Stoney-faced love, barely a smile, but when she finally opens to your embrace, the heart connection is powerful. She follows me, making me promise to come back. Goodbye, Nana…I mean, Mamma.
We travel to Estelle in the back of a truck. The luggage is wrapped in plastic in case of rain. Erika’s husband Larry has taken time off from his coffee farm high up in the mountains.
We pass through small towns of coffee farmers. The verdant forest shares space with lush coffee planets. Elizabeth explains that just a few years ago a fungus destroyed the coffee severely affecting this fragile communities so dependent on coffee production. Today the scenery is beautiful, the roads winding. I have an iron stomach, unfortunately Elizabeth does not.
This is the same winding route Elizabeth traveled by bus to go to university. She got motion sick then too. We stop for bonine and Elizabeth trades places with her sister and niece. We doze in the warm sun.
Halfway we stop at the coffee co-op that Erika’s husband belongs to. The workers just returning from lunch ride up on bikes and a few motorcycles. Acres of green coffee beans dry in the sun. The modern administrative building is well equipped. There we purchase honey and coffee for souvenirs.
For the last leg of the journey, I sit up front with Elizabeth and Larry. He tries to tell me about his coffee farm so Elizabeth translates. His grandfather’s huge plot of prime land was confiscated by Sandista and he was forced to serve the resistance for seven years. When the government abandoned the land, his father was able to get back 500 acres and Larry purchased 100 acres to reestablish the Zelaya family name in coffee.
Three Zelaya brothers came from Spain and one went to Costa Rica, one to Honduras, and one to here. It was a Zelaya woman who planted the first coffee in Nicaragua. President Zelaya promoted coffee, but native Nicaraguans did not want to farm coffee, so German and Dutch people came to the mountains of Nicaragua and became the first coffee growers. Hence the occasional fair skin, blond hair and light eyes.
Larry is passionate about coffee. He sold a beloved Paso Fino horse to become a coffee farmer. He’s the driver for a rich man in town who gave him some cows which has become his second passion. We share stories about our horses and livestock. He tells me of a deformed filly that he saved and rehabbed into a good brood mare and sick cow he rescued and his daughter named Represita – little present. Elizabeth teases that they might find him sleeping with his cows.
I understand his passion. Agriculture and animal husbandry is a love of mine too.
Cows dot the open meadows, Brahma, Holstein, a few cross-breeds I’m not familiar with, yet no Angus. Some families own cows for milk and cheese, but this country is not known for its diary products. I have not been impressed with the little bit of beef I’ve had here and wonder out loud why no one’s raising Angus, the area seems perfect for grass fed beef year round. Larry is excited but the idea. He’s seen Angus at the fair in Managua. Perhaps there is another way to help.
Elizabeth points out tobacco. Cubans grow tobacco here and produce the best cigars. Last year Nicaraguan cigars won first place internationally.
We stop for lunch. I order the grilled pork, too well done for me. I share my husband’s expertise at open fire barbecue so when we return, he can show Larry how to grill a grass fed Angus steak.
Next stop Hogar de Ancionos Club St Lucia – a senior nursing home. Nuns greet us and we tour the facility. They serve 38 seniors mostly women from the time their families drop them off until the end of their lives. The nursing home is clean, the residents well cared for. This is a private facility run by the Catholic Church. Some of their residents were left on the doorstep. They do not turn anyone away. We fit a few seniors with new shoes, leaving the rest of the shoes for the nuns to distribute since the elders just finished dinner and are preparing for bed. We also leave a donation of money for the nuns to buy other necessities for the seniors. We leave with blessings from the nuns.
Finally, I get to meet Elizabeth’s cousin. Edwin is a cardiologist in a private clinic in Estelle. They grew up together, went to the same school, played together as children. Being the only doctor in the family, Edwin is the first one they call for help. Dr Galeano sits down with us after finishing seeing the last of his patients at 5:30.
I explain that I would like to serve Quilali by holding a health clinic focusing on women with the primary goal to provide needed physical examinations, Pap smears, treatment, and education. He agrees a gynecological clinic is much needed yet it would best serve the people for me to educate the doctors and especially the nurses who are the most available to the patients. Train the doctors in colposcopy, the nurses in primary examinations and then hold an open clinic. Work with the politicians to hold a health fair (thank goodness we are already in with Mayor Rodriguez). All I need to do is write a letter of intent and provide my certifications and he will support my efforts.
This is exciting! Kyra, my daughter and Vice President of DDU, wants to come. Perhaps my sister who is a family nurse practitioner as well and my niece who is fluent in Spanish after serving a mission in Guatemala would come too!
I thank Dr Galeano and we head to yet another of Elizabeth’s cousins.
We spend the evening with her cousin’s family including gregarious four-year-old twin boys and their three-month-old chow puppy. We bathe the dust from our long journey here and by 10:30pm, the house is quiet but sleep evades me. Too excited by the possibilities of creating significant change and also anxious to be back in my husband’s arms, I lie on one of the twin’s bed grateful for the chance to serve.