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Mission of Hope

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

By Bonnie Black
This morning, we were up at the regular time even though we didn’t have work chores to do. But, our Kitchen Crew of Cathy Hill and Connie Tyska prepared breakfast choices.

BBB was handled by a few volunteers for none had been assigned this duty for our lasta day; this is a ‘must’ regardless of the day’s focus.

Today was our last morning meeting and, as tradition, it became our final prayer, too. We began with the women in the small bedroom reciting ‘Padre Nuestro’ for us all followed by thoughts on one line of the prayer (“Thy will be done on earth”) as our time in this country and on this mission comes to a close. Many have asked for a copy, so they will be receiving it once back home. Its focus was how to process all that has come flooding at us during this time together and ways to carry forward the work done here once we return.

We then had a group photo – something that had been scheduled prior to this day but, due to work commitments could not occur with one or two missing. Sister Stephanie then had everything out for us to make our sandwiches before we boarded the bus for the day.
We all headed to Mercado Huembes for a few hours of shopping. A good number of us had been caught in the storm last Sunday and never were able to visit a market, so for many this was their moment to acquire a little ‘something’ for those back home. Then, we headed to Diriamba - just Sister Debbie and Sister Stephanie returned home.

It felt like a school field trip: packed on a bus unwrapped homemade sandwiches which had our names or initials on them, sharing thoughts of what we had just experienced and looking forward to our next stop.

We headed just past Diriamba to Jinotepe where Sister Ligia from San Jose Hospital met us. She had arranged a tour of a coffee processing plant for us. The owner, Manuel Geverra, and his manager Calisto Lopez, guided step-by-step through the entire process from the time a farmer or coffee plantation worker brings his box of freshly picked beans and pours it into the hopper to the time when the beans are selected by grade and bagged. It was all quite interesting with many enjoying the large turtle swimming in one of the water reservoirs!

We learned that this plant has been operation since the early 20th century, changing hands many times due to the constant fluctuation in the commodities market. Manuel’s father took the plant over in 1953 and his family has been operating it ever since that time. There are three regions in Nicaragua in which coffee is grown: Pacific, Centro and Matagalpa. Here in the Pacific region he told us is grown the best beans! His manager guided us through most of the process explaining the process as we walked throughout the front end of the plant, out to the drying yard and back into the preparation succession. There are large ovens which burn wood to create the steam to run the machinery when they are in process. Their season begins as early as October 20th when the first red beans are brought in and can run through January. If there is too much rain, the beans drop from the plant and the season may be shorter. Beans are delivered to this plant from as far as Caterina.

There are two bins holding 12 tons of beans which are filled by the farmers and, once filled, the beans are passed through a slot at the bottom and brought up a conveyor belt into a machine that sprays water on them and shakes the beans to remove any outer dirt. The beans then pass into a tank that is filled with collected rain water. Those that float to the top are considered poorer quality while those that sink to the bottom are the best. The best beans are then brought up a conveyor belt and out into the drying yard. It was immense! Probably three or more football fields in size. Manuel showed us the three water reservoirs where they gather the rain water, the largest tank being 45 feet deep and shaped like a V at the bottom. The risk with this tank is that local children sometime get into the plant at night and play around it; over the years a few have fallen in and drowned as there is no way they can get out. They guard dogs in the yard are released at night so that children are not as tempted to enter. Manuel noted that water is so important for all of the people of Nicaragua as the aquifers are deep and the rainy season must provide the ground with sufficient water to sustain them throughout the year. He said there is contamination, though, from the rivers that effect the aquifers.

It is in this drying that the beans are spread out and shoveled by workers. This rotates the bean so assure that all sides are completely dry before returning for the final steps of the process. Manuel pointed out a Sebo tree just past his property line. These trees used to be in abundance in Nicaragua providing shade for coffee and other fruit to grow. It was a very productive time before the early 80’s when a disease was brought into the country from Brazil which began killing the Sebo tree. This resulted in small yields as the coffee plant was exposed to direct sunlight for many hours a day. A new variety of coffee plant was introduced which is resistant to the negative effects of direct sunlight. The Sebo trees were removed due to the disease, but some poor management resulted in more cut down than necessary. The temperatures due to the deforestation created a climate 15 degrees warmer than it had been for centuries beginning in the 1980s. The varieties of birds and monkeys have disappeared due to this change, too. Manuel feels it is due to this bad management that the environment has been negatively impacted in this entire Pacific region resulting in lower production that in the past. He said that people cut the trees for firewood and he would like to see some controls put into place to prohibit random felling of trees. He noted that it is truly a problem throughout Central America and not just in Nicaragua.

Back inside, we saw the machines (made in Syracuse and other parts of NY) which separate the size of the beans; the finer the bean, the better the coffee. As Manuel said, it is searching for ‘the perfect bean.’ The elevators take the beans up from the drying area separating the beans into different qualities. He took us into the former sorting room where all of the beans were sorted by hands into the various qualities. He told us that in a year when there is a good harvest, they will process about 44 million pounds of coffee beans!

At the end of the tour, we saw the boxes into which the farm workers will place the beans they have picked. In a good year they will be paid 8 cordobas (about 30 cents) for the filled bin….but only if there are ‘good’ beans in it. If there are any green (unripened) beans in it, there is a penalty and the worker could get only half that amount. In the 1980’s a farmer would be paid 3 cordobas for the bin and last year’s rate was 6. Manuel said a good worker can fill 25 of these bins in a day when the harvest is at its peak. The dexterity of the thumbs is what is important and many times children and women are used in the fields as they can adroitly select only the ripened beans leaving the others on the plant to take their time in ripening. These boxes are about 25 pounds when full.

When the tour was completed, we unloaded much of what we had in the bus into the two small trucks for the hospital and then followed then back into Diriamba to deliver the balance there. After unloading it all into a front storage room, Sister Ligia took those who were interested in a tour of the facility. Even though some of us had been there before, we saw the expansion near the emergency room entrance and we pointed out to others the various pieces of equipment that came from the PAFB hospital.

It took about an hour to return for the final hour of courtyard play – everything from soccer to braiding of hair. At the same time, Roger Patnode, Marilyn Knutson, Oscar Flores along with Magaly Velasquez and her husband and nephew, prepared the rest of the water containers for distribution to the families who had been asked to come. We accomplished the distribution of a total of 40 containers after a short educational message by Oscar and Marilyn. About 20 of these are to the people who volunteered to have their kitchen faucet and outdoor spicket and water holding tanks sampled on previous missions; the balance went to families who did not. With these two groups in place, our next mission will test those families to assess their drinking/cooking water situation.

Just around 5:30pm, as promised, the delivery of pizza arrived. This ‘last supper tradition’ was continued in memory of Shawn Watson, Sister Stephanie’s recently deceased nephew, who provided us with this slice of home for many missions. He worked for Whirley Industries which has been so generous with the health kit containers for many years. In Shawn’s memory, Whirley provided the funds for this wonderful end to our mission. The sisters from Nejapa were the first of our invited guests to arrive, then Nora and her family along with Rosa (both of our dinner cooks), Martha, Inocencio and his daughter, Magaly and her husband and nephew, and we began to enjoy our meal and time together. Sister Karla proudly showed us her can of pepper spray which she now carries with her – and they thanked us very much. Prior to heading into dinner, Jordan Donahue presented the sisters with prayer books in Spanish which she had brought with her. Just around 7pm, we lost power! So, Father Raul (who had just arrived) left the headlights of his truck on so we could see each other a bit better.

The sisters from Nejapa were so pleased when Joe Lewis brought out his recently acquired acoustic guitar! Sister Karla began to play and the other sisters joined in singing a few contemporary hymns which some of us have heard in English in our church services at home. Then, we began an impromptu sing along that grew into sixties folk songs! The ‘good-byes’ were very poignant and emotional for we all recognized that we would not be seeing each other again the next time we return to Nejapa. They will all be moving on to another appointment in January, before the next school year begins. During this final hugs and tears, Sisters Rosa and Cecelia finally arrived. They had been with their religious leader for most of the day and were finally able to come over to us. Having almost a box of pizza still left for everyone here at this convent, they took the box and a bottle of soda to eat in their dining area.

Tomorrow morning most everyone leaves immediately after the desperdida - farewell – presented by the students…a time we all cherish even with its acknowledgement that another mission has come to a close.

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