Lennin...a friend in Cusmapa
Cusmapa, Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua
This is about a friendship I am grateful to have made...
Lennin is from San José de Cusmapa, a town of about 7,000 people, close to the Honduran border and within sight of El Savador. It´s´a poor, rural community which is dry and short of water and work. The primary cash crop is coffee, which has all but been destroyed by disease. The remaining agriculture is subsistence. It is a town largely populated by indigenous people...people such as Lennin.
I first met Lennin at a workshop in the institute where I volunteer. I was attracted to him more than others because he sings, simply and hauntingly, songs that are politically and/or socially motivated. He is passionate about the rights of indigenous people. He has no job (he works day jobs when he can get them), has very little money, and volunteers for the organization that represents indigenous people in Cusmapa...passionately.
You can get a sense for his town by watching the short video at this link.
I got to know Lennin's history when he took the 3-hour journey from his town to Ocotoal, a tedious journey along largely unpaved roads, that are only now in the beginning stages of being paved.
I worked with him to create a website for the indigenous community of Cusmapa, something that felt like putting a contemporary "stake in the ground", although of little practical use in Nicaragua, where internet access outside the cities is limited and expensive for local people to buy, even if only by the hour.
The struggle of indigenous people in Nicaragua is probably not unlike many other countries, although the laws themselves seem pretty comprehensive here. However, I sense the application of the law may not always be so consistent.
Lennin plays an active and passionate role in fighting for the rights of his people...especially through his music.
So we also created a simple website for his music. You can sample his music (sung in Spanish), cheaply recorded on my Zoom H4 in a home-made recording studio in the flat I rent in Ocotal. Click here to hear his songs. Given the right equipment and someone who knows what he or she is doing, and it would sound a whole lot better.
It never ceases to amaze me that the when poor people are generous, their contribution seems so much greater than when rich people are generous. Which may not be fair, but proportionally, their contribution is much larger.
Tona, Lennins's Mum, with little enough money to feed the family she had, adopted a young, under-nourished boy into the family and lavished him with love and a home. Working with the Fabretto organization, you can see a short video of the boy, Gabriel, and Tona at this link. The video provides a sense of the humble and happy home Gabriel has joined.
A few years later, this video was made by the Fabetto organization, to show Gabriel's progress. It is a touching video and beautifully produced. Sadly it is not sub-titled, but if you understand Spanish, expect to shed a tear or two. The video is mixture of sadness, joy and unconditional love. The cynic in me could poo-poo the video as a manipulative promotional piece by a big NGO. But having visited the town, met and spent time with the family, and having eaten with Gabriel and Tona (beans, cheese and home-made corn tortillas, hot off the wood-burning stove), nothing bout the video is inauthentic. More to the point, Tona's every bit as beautiful as she is in the video.
I am grateful for the rich opportunity to know Lennin because I am beginning (and I mean "beginning") to understand the roots of his plight and the plight of poor rural and indigenous people in Nicaragua.
The author, Kinzer, describes how Cesar Sandino's 1927-33 anti-U.S. campaign shaped the country's political development and inspired the overthrow of the Somoza regime in 1979. He analyzes the Reagan administration's "secret war" against the Sandinistas, and the deception that the contras existed only to interdict arms shipments to El Salvador. He paints a devastatingly sad and depressing picture of corruption, ineptitude and power-struggles. Reading the book, it would have been easy to sink into despair, had it not been for the resilience of Nicaragua's people. And a sense of compassion for the situation in contemporary Nicaragua.
I am not a patient man In fact ,in an evaluation of my work here in the institute over the last two years (a team-wide, 360, in person evaluation - something you could never pull off in most corporate environments), my lack of patience and my lack of appreciation of Nicaraguan history and culture were my most significant learning edges. And I thought, wrongly as it seems, that this would be a strength after living overseas for 38 years! I could defend my intention (which clearly wasn't the "impact") as high expectations for what I thought was possible. However, reading this book just as I am about to leave, it is really helping me to reframe my disappointment as I begin to understand the history of this country.
So I am grateful for the opportunity to know Lennin, his family - their daily joys and their daily struggles. What I experience through them in real life brings more of the words of the Kinzer's pages to life.
6/2/2014 07:13:54 am
Greetings my dear friend! You popped into my head recently and I felt the need to check your blog and see how you are doing. I see you haven't written anything in a while, and your last post seemed almost like a good bye? I hope all is well with you and that you have found a new way to make a difference. I envy you your journey! You mention that you've been disappointed, but not sure how that can be with the incredibly rich life it appears you have been living. I just wanted to check in and say hello, send a hug or two and let you know some good news. Perhaps, if you make it back to Chicago at any point, we can get together and catch up. You can tell me about your adventures and I can introduce you to the newest addition to our family - a little one due July 7th :-) Sending much love and good vibes your way! xoxo Hang in there and keep at it. It takes an incredibly special person to be able to leave the excesses of a comfortable life and make the choice to make a difference. Not everyone could do what you've done. It seems much more rewarding than anything money could possibly buy. :-)
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I sold house, car and most of my furniture to move to the small town of Ocotal in Las Segovias on the Honduras/ Nicaragua border.