The rainy season in Nicaragua falls between May and November. This year, the first few months of the rainy season delivered a disappointing amount of rain. Its dry start has served to ominously remind many Nicaraguans of last year’s 4-month drought, one of the worst Central American droughts in decades. Last years drought heightened food insecurity, increased the economic disparity of hundreds of thousands of Central Americans, and negatively affected the agricultural sector by reducing crop yields. My community was not severely affected by last year’s drought but the drought did decrease the community’s agricultural productivity and caused food prices to increase in city markets in the months following the drought. For example, in the markets of Masaya and Granada, the price of a litre of red beans by the end of 2014 had reached more than double what it had been at the beginning of the year.
This August will hopefully bring more rain to Nicaragua and to my community but sadly, even if it does, droughts like the one in 2014 will become increasingly severe and common because of climate change. Nicaragua is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, and it is already feeling these effects significantly. Nicaragua is also no exception to the fact that developing countries are set to bear (and already bearing) a larger portion of the climate change burden than developed countries.
The drier than average weather this rainy season has affected the timeline of planting this year and may affect the yields of this year’s crops in my community. In La Granadilla, like in many other rural Nicaraguan communities, individual families and the members of the cooperative plant crops like beans and corn which, when supplemented with trips to the market, provide enough food to fulfill the basic food needs of community members. Planting began somewhat later than normal this year, around the end of June. It seemed to me I woke up one morning to find the community transformed into a patchwork quilt of crops, a quilt organized around a few staples like beans and corn but with a variety of other ‘patches,’ like tomato and yucca. I was initially surprised that I barely saw any rice being cultivated, rice being a staple of the Nicaraguan diet, but rice, I learned, is a rather thirsty and more labour intensive crop than beans or corn. This coupled with the dry start to the rainy season meant many people in the community were not willing to risk planting it (and have not been willing to for a couple of years) only to watch as it failed to grow.
Being in the community for three months meant that I was able to not only help plant beans (and various other crops) in late June, but to help care for the growing seedlings throughout July and to help pick (and eat) the fully grown beans at the start of August. All this meant I learned a lot about growing beans and agriculture in general; I had the satisfying experience of planting and caring for food that was to partially feed me, an experience I have never had in Toronto. I am extremely grateful to Francisco, Veronica, Louis, Danilo and Evelyn for inviting me to help them plant and/or pick their beans and for patiently teaching me how to do both jobs correctly. I am also thankful for their encouraging words and good-hearted laughter when it became obvious during our work together that, even at my most efficient, I could not hope to plant or pick beans nearly as fast as them.
In July and August, I also continued working with the Casa – Pueblito project. As of now, all of the participating community members have finished planting seedlings in their gardens, seedlings which range from peppers and tomatoes to beans and carrots. The youth group began the transplantation of seedlings, from the bamboo boxes they had spent the first 22 days of their lives in to the community garden, the week before I left. The youth group had a whopping six different types of vegetable seedlings to plant: tomatoes, carrots, beets, cabbages, onions and lettuce. Besides the loss of the majority of our onions to some hungry sanpopos, our work with the seedlings went smoothly. On a side note, I was able to convince or, in the case of some of the shier members of the youth group, gently coerce most members to take a picture with me during our last morning working together and I will include that photo here.
My last month and a half in Nicaragua was unforgettable. Not only did I work in and learn more about agriculture and about the lives and culture of the people I was living with but I strengthened the incredible relationships I had with my family and with the people of La Granadilla. I could go on discussing the many experiences I had but I’ll close with just one. On the night before I left, my family surprised me by throwing me an early “Nicaraguan” birthday party. I had just returned from transplanting some seeds with Adrianna and Leobardo (my sister and brother in La Granadilla, who are members of the youth group) and was busy arguing with Leo about whether scientists had found water on the moon (something I disputed and, as it turns out, was completely incorrect about) when Donya Reina showed up with birthday cakes and a piñata. Her whole family and several other families in the community I had become close with during my stay came over for dinner, music, dancing, cake and celebrations. I was incredibly touched, thankful and had a fantastic night.
That night, I thought about how incredibly beautiful and powerful relationships can become, even in a short period of time and regardless of cultural and socio-economic situations. I was so incredibly privileged to form many great relationships in Nicaragua and ultimately, it was those relationships that made leaving so difficult. Now, as I sit in Toronto trying to adjust to life back in North America and trying to make sure I use my experiences to better myself and my surroundings, I think gratefully back on some of Donya Reina’s closing words to me. Roughly translated they were, “Say until next time instead of goodbye but even if we don’t see each other for a while, we won’t forget you and you won’t forget us and that is what’s important.” I know I will not forget my experience in Nicaragua, nor could I resist how it changed and will continue to change and influence me, and that is indeed what is important.