Léon, Nicaragua         Aug. 12, 1998

Hola, todos:
This morning when Mirian and I were walking to work a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream truck passed us.  Complete with cows painted all over it.  I wanted to chase it down the street, this vision from home.  I wonder if it drove all the way down through Mexico?

More and more US products are showing up here.  There’s even Gold Medal flour.  Bumble Bee albacore, water-pack, “product of USA” printed on the can.  I’m happy to see it.  The US may as well get a share of this market; the people here really like things from the United States.  And there are lots of Washington State apples in the supermarket.  Now I know where those little bitty apples are sold; I see little kids eating small red delicious apples on the buses every day.  Yes, they sell big apples here, too.

Life goes on at the co-op, everyone plugging away day after day.  Danelia has physical problems.  She says it’s rheumatism, and it’s obvious she has great pain.  One day she broke down in tears, she hurt so much.  I suggested she go home, but “No Elenita, I have to weave.”  And she did.

Cecilio has been studying English.  He often brings his cassettes and plays them, but most of the time he works with his books.  As is natural, the more words he uses, the more sentences he tries to put together, the more pronounced the accent.

There’s a 17-year-old boy, a friend of Ana Maria’s Jorge, who comes over every night at six for a lesson in pronunciation.  I like him a lot; he’s serious, smart and doesn’t ask for a thing except for me to listen to him.  He doesn’t want to go to the US.  He’s keeping his grades perfect in hope he’ll get into medical school.  If he can’t do that, he wants to teach.

One evening Cecilio was there when he came over and went over his lesson.  He turned to Cecilio and said, “Where did you learn to speak good English?”  Cecilio puffed up a size and said, “Wenatchee Valley College.”

What freaked me out was when Cecilio told me he was helping to teach English to 10 and 12 year old boys in a private school near here.  Well, I’ve met a couple of “English” teachers here and Cecilio wouldn’t be bad by comparison.  But I know an ESL professor who just might soil his britches when he learns of it.  I almost did myself.

“What do you do?” I asked hopefully.  “Play your tapes?”

“No, verb book,” he said, showing me his verb manual.  “I write on chalk board.  They copy in notebook.  Is beautiful.”

It probably is, too.

What you have to know about Cecilio is, he has practically no education.  When he was 12 years old, he was taken into the army during the Contra War.  Remember all those pictures of little kids in uniform?  He was one of them, poor little devil.

He’s still one of the quickest-learning people I’ve ever met.  I’ve never seen anyone else learn so fast.

The one thing I preach here is education, education, education.  And I keep telling them it’s more important for them to learn to speak and write Spanish well than it is for them to learn English.

A woman from the AID was here last week.  Her job is to work with the parks in the country, but she’s an enthusiastic gardener and believes in teaching people to grow their own food when it’s possible.  She’s an East-coaster (Maryland) and is a devotee of the “double-digging” method promoted by that group in Willits, California.  She plans to be back in a month or so to help the women build a raised-bed garden, and to tell them when there is no rain, you must water.  So far, what I’ve seen of gardening is what is done in the rainy season.  She hopes to convince them they can grow vegetables year-round.

She and I talked quite a bit.  When I told her the woman who handles all the sales cannot read or write, she talked to them about it.  They said that of the ten women who started the co-op, two could read and write, one had a fourth grade education and one had a fifth grade education.  She said there used to be an active group in Léon, as in other places, for the education of women.  She said she’d look into getting financing for them to go to school.  It probably won’t cost more than $12 a month for each one.  Danelia, who can write, and Mirian, who can read a little but cannot write, both said they want to go to school.  I couldn’t understand if Ana Maria wants to learn or not.  None of these women can afford to spend $12 a month to learn to read.  

Norma, Mirian’s daughter,  told me her mother went to school to the second grade, but her family was very poor and she had to quit school and work picking cotton.  Mirian is a smart woman, as is Danelia.  They lacked opportunity and grew up when the country had a dictator who didn’t think the people needed to be educated.


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