I imagine most of you are enjoying holiday festivities, however you spend them! Please take a moment out to read this and reflect on whether you can help us just a little bit more at this time of giving.
As most of you know, Xmas this year in Nicaragua will be a sad occasion for many people, including us. Yesterday I had a meeting with over 50 of the Mariposa staff – a meeting which broke my heart as it was called to inform people that roughly 50% will lose their jobs after the 15th January. Some will try their luck in Costa Rica (not easy as there are already over 30,000 Nicaraguans there desperate for work), some will survive on casual work around here – we will help wherever we can – and some will depend on other family members. Those who stay with us will suffer yet more pay cuts (already on half pay and half time). Some of the projects will close, others will have their hours reduced again. Thanks to special donations the Xmas party for the disabled children and their families will go ahead though less extravagant than in previous years! The community animal projects will be suspended, hopefully temporarily.
We will maintain the basics at La Mariposa (a skeleton staff, the essential buildings etc ) so we can always respond immediately to requests for accommodation, classes, activities. Luckily all of our workers live locally so can easily return to work for a day or a week, whatever we can offer.
It seems doubtful that the kind of tourism we attract will recover soon. As with life generally in Nicaragua the situation is bizarre, unreal. We have just a handful of visitors over the Xmas/New Year period (and they are mostly friends of La Mariposa and have been before) and we are hugely grateful for their support – emotionally, morally and financially. But it is not enough to keep us going, sadly.
In total contrast, in Leon last week there were enormous groups of people…..from cruises docked in Corinto. We are talking 5000 from just one ship, but they pass through in a day and so do not help restaurants and hotels. Much less Spanish schools and eco hotels! The number of cruise ships is certainly increasing rapidly…. their operators either have some kind of special deal with the government or they have no idea what is happening here. Or both. It is extraordinary to see bunches of retired folk on the roof of the cathedral and in the Museum of Modern Art when we can hardly persuade anyone to come. Ah well…..
And why aren’t these groups concerned about ‘safety concerns’ which is always the reason given when I enquire why not come to Nicaragua? For tourists it is perfectly safe, and has been throughout the months of the crisis. As I say, bizarre in the extreme.
On one level life is, as the government never tires of repeating, back to ‘normal’. There are no obstacles to moving around now and the better off Nicaraguans can be seen in their multitudes enjoying holiday breaks at the beach or the Laguna de Apoyo. But life is, in many ways, a show – it is all about appearances. Government supporters can march, wave flags, hold parties, fill up the bars in the evenings. There are massive road building programs going ahead….. the presidential couple recently opened, with great pomp, a fly over in Managua which will cut minutes off a journey to Leon. Meanwhile schools, less showy, are falling to pieces and health budgets are being cut. The road between Jinotepe and Nandaime is being expanded to 4 lanes – thousands of mature trees have been felled – this might make sense if the road actually carried heavy traffic which it doesn’t. Nicaragua already has the best roads in Central America….why continue with these projects when there is so much else that requires attention? Because it is a show…..
Then there are the show trials. I cannot bear to follow them in detail – but catch headlines such as the prosecution asking for 30 years for Masaya teacher for the usual list of crimes including torture and kidnapping. Two sisters sentenced to 20 years each in maximum security. And on and on. There seem to me to be far more people on trial than crimes actually committed. And if one agrees that those accused of real crimes should be brought to justice then what, WHAT about the paramilitaries who terrorised communities and committed crimes at will. Not one has even been investigated.
In the 13 years I have been here, life has improved for many Nicaraguans but is still phenomenally difficult for many. Life is not cheap here and gets more expensive by the minute….20 cords for 3 small tomatoes ( average wage C1200 per week), bus fares rising constantly. This is in the context of general economic collapse – not just tourism but commerce, construction are all in free fall. What is cheap here is labour and the zona francas (sweatshops) are taking full advantage of people’s desperation – the only area of the economy to be expanding. Xmas will be sad time for many. Even Guillermina knows she will not get any presents this year.
On the personal level, it is hard watching the Mariposa fall apart, watching Nicaragua fall apart. I often wake up crying, get lots of headaches and nausea and, though it does not seem possible, each day the news is worse than the day before. The Ortega/Murillo government never seems to run out of new ideas for repression – right now it is journalists and NGOs who are getting it in the neck.
On the up side – Guillermina is coping remarkably well, and in general is being very helpful wherever she can. I love my little house, my garden, my animals, my glass of wine and the company of both resident and visiting friends. My admin team have been magnificent – Ismael, Rosa, Josimar, Felix, Donal, Melba and many of the workers are incredibly supportive. I also have a great intern right now, Jaime who spent forever applying for a grant to the Dog Trust (we will know in January). I do still spend some money on trying to keep our small piece of the natural world alive whilst the rest is destroyed before our very eyes. Thanks to a special donation we will release iguana on Xmas day – I cannot think of anything I would rather do!. We still feed wild birds, plant rare trees and flowers for bees and butterflies though their numbers are vastly reduced this year (I blame pesticides and anti-mosquito fumigations mainly).
Just a final note on our dogs, cats and horses. Ismael did a great deal for us and we have food for them stored until the end of January. We have applied for a grant to see us through 6 months – if we don’t get that we do have a backup plan of euthanizing. It sounds horrible maybe but there may be no option. If my heart isn’t broken already it sure as hell will be at that point.
So of course I need to ask for help yet again. I so wish we could return to earning our living which we have proudly done for nearly 13 years but I see no way at present.
We are so grateful for all of the donations we have received – particularly helpful are ongoing regular amounts as this helps me plan ahead a bit! You can donate on www.masmariposas.org from the USA or with http://www.sustainability-partners.org.uk/tierra.html in the UK.
Also we earn approx. $2000 per month from SKYPE classes which have proved to be very helpful indeed.
Could you help by distributing our flier (if so contact me firstname.lastname@example.org) or taking classes yourself – improving your Spanish as a New Years Resolution!!
And please note we are introducing half hour conversations on WhatsApp, more flexible than skype and especially useful for intermediate/advanced levels – contact us if interested.