Thursday, January 17, 2008

WELCOME TO CENTER

I am YOU and YOU are ME and WE are WE and WE ARE, ALL TOGETHER (John Lennon "Come Together")

Welcome to CenterDoug, my new and growing blog from Center, both from the town of that name in the San Luis Valley of Colorado and, hopefully, from my own center, as well. They don't call me Center Doug for nothin'. However, while I call myself CenterDoug, I live in Center (CO) only intermittently during the colder months, as its winter temperatures are consistently in the minus 30's and I still cherish my nose and fingers and toes. So far, this blog's posts have also been written in Glenwood Springs, Denver, Lakewood, Aurora, Silverthorne and Elizabeth, Colorado, towns and cities where my extended family of friends live and welcome me, Mr. Mercury, who has, since retirement in December, been more in my "Silver" car than in any other place. My whole drift and flow in these days of revitalization after 40 years of public writing education, which chained me to my grading schedule at least 20 hours a week, has reconnected me with so many friends long not-heard-from, a joyous experience with many sidetrips down memory lane. Let my life be about connection, por favor: may it be full enough to share with the rest of Me!
I'll be including here not only daily insights and reflections, but, also, those works by others which move me and, in time (once I figure out how), many photos of my Nicaraguan life in the next three months of work and pleasure there (Feb. 1-April 25). This is my 15th service-learning trip there since 1993. Please, my friends, enjoy la alegria conmigo!


[CenterDoug Notes: An article about the former Pillsbury Doughboy in Plaid when I weighed 280 pounds on a 5'6" frame. (Access the 1-2-08 lead article of the Glenwood Post Independent (which says something about the paper's focus and its town, in the heart of Colorado Mountain High). The article, with 'before' and 'after' shots of my continuing weight loss, can be found at the following link: http://www.postindependent.com/ and is written by Reporter and Photographer Stina Sieg. She's caught my sense of where I am now and where I'm going, so I start, reverentially, my CenterDoug blog with a link to her piece. Thanks, Stina.]

Wake, Lazarus (1993)
Teote is a bone house,
a scarlet, earthen vessel filled
with pale white skulls, soldiers' bones:
too much blood cakes cracked adobe walls,
muddies toes of grinning streetly boys, starved
bellies bloated. Look, what eyes they have! Their teeth,
like ivory portals breathing light in this night of bones,
haunts, keening of crones, crowing of roosters,
danger zones. Bright, unburied funerary,
of risen flesh, of ribs and hair:
undusted freshness, grounded in air.

In 1993, I bonded with the Betancos during a homestay with them in Teotecacinte. In particular, I gained a new father and mother, ten brothers and sisters, many aunts and uncles and at least 53 kids from a variety of parents. I've chosen to share an essay I wrote on a Nicaraguan sabbatical in 2000, though I've updated it to feel more current. This is the reason I return to Nicaragua:

“The Light from Quacamaya” (March 18, 2000, Post Independent)

My father, here in Teote, don Ramon Antonio Betanco, a.k.a. don Moncho, is happy. A very fit 67, he sits on a stump in the swept yard of his new house at the finca, his 10-acre farm south of town. It is twilight, and his wife, dona Eva, is lighting candles in the casa. The Rio Limon runs along its southern edge, providing ample irrigation for the bananas that grow on its banks under the sixty-foot high canopy of the river’s kapok trees. Five acres of mud and tropicana lushness to its south, the house sits twenty feet above these green lowlands, with 5 acres of dry pasture and cornfield, to the north, in the direction of Honduras.

My father bought the finca in 1976, when he quit Anastasio Somoza’s notorious Guardia in disgust, and opted to retire to the outskirts of Teote, to lead a better life for his family’s sake. At that time, as well as buying Quacamaya, he gave up alcohol and smoking, let his other women find other lovers, and devoted himself to his wife, his many children, his newly acquired Sandinista principles, and his liberation Catholic Church. His life is a rave review for Teote’s chapter of AA, of which he is a founding member. Don Moncho Betanco knows that he’s a winner, and his happiness, all of which he ascribes to a higher power, shows it.

The last 23 years at Quacamaya, however, could hardly be called ideal for a peaceful retirement. This is Nicaragua, after all, where everything mad, bad, or sad that can happen, usually does, every day. Three years after he bought his retreat, in July of 1979, the Sandinista Insurrection and Triumph unseated the hated Somoza dictatorship and ushered in ten years of both enlightened socialistic democracy under Daniel Ortega and, also, the absolute chaos of the Contra War (1979-89), fully financed, undercover, of course, by the world’s greatest republic, the United States.

This almost ludicrous—if it had not been so deadly—struggle between one of the poorest countries in the world and its richest, most powerful nation might have passed the isolated village of Teote by; unfortunately, for Glenwood's Sister City, most of the actual combat was fought on this site and others along the northern border with Honduras, while the economic and political life of the peasants was blockaded by dear ol' Ronnie because of Ortega’s insistent refusal to kowtow to the demands of the military-industrial technocracy with has subjugated Nicaragua and the rest of this hemisphere for the last hundred years.

Lo siento, mis amigos—I’m sorry, my friends—sometimes, I get carried away by all the injustices these people have faced in the name of liberty and justice for the poor as well as for the rich. And, too, by the part, however small and indirect, my life has played in making it so unjust here, as a well-meaning but, formerly, rather oblivious norteamericano citizen.

All of the horrors of war on his doorstep came to Quacamaya, to don Moncho, in 1979. The old house at the finca was blown to adobe dust by guerrilla mortars. Twice, Contras invaded Quacamaya and kidnapped my three young brothers, taking them across the border in front of AK-47s, to fight against their friends or die. Both times, they managed to escape, back to Quacamaya, by following the river Limon out of the foothills. Teote, by then, was an armed camp, surrounded completely by trenches whose remains still snake through most of the backyards in town. I pass several on my way to Quacamaya every morning.

Women and children had either moved to Jalapa, to the south, or were living in hand-dug bunkers roofed with tin, within the city limits. The family Betanco moved to town, manned the Sandinista kitchens, helped the wounded, washed the dead. Don Moncho bought an abandoned house with an intact roof, on the cheap, since real estate prices dive in a war zone. He dug a shelter. Quacamaya was a No Man’s Land, outside the pale, loaded with mines, pocked with the craters of mortars, under fire.

In 1989, after 10 years of hell, it all ended. Teote never surrendered, but most of the populace in Nicaragua voted against their revolutionary principles in a “free” election with no real choice: either vote for a non-Sandinista government backed by the above-mentioned superpower and end the war, or starve and die. Almost everyone voted with their stomachs. Teote showed solidarity with Ortega, anyway. The Carter Center observed the election.

Still, no one lived at Quacamaya. Food was grown and harvested there for a while, after the election, until the new government stopped credit to the campesinos, so that they could no longer buy seed to plant crops and, therefore, feed themselves. Don Moncho worked at the finca, but lived in Teote. Slowly, my brothers picked up their lives. My sisters, all but one of whom lost their men to guerrilla guns, raised their babies in the house on the noisy road through town. None of these kids remembers his father, and now, 25 years old, they know only don Moncho as “Papa.” Quacamaya, houseless, was to them a place to climb trees and pick fruit in the old orchard he had planted in 1976, but not a place to live.

Then, 18 years after the bombing of the old hacienda, don Moncho built a new one at the curve of the river Limon, at a spot where all the old stories speak of a small but beautiful city, in ancient, ancient times, called Quacamaya. He built it with money from the sale of the house in the village; with dinero he had somehow saved out of his well-known stinginess, of which he is proud; and with a little help from my friends in the States. He constructed it with adobe bricks dug from Quacamaya’s banks, with stones pulled from the river, with lumber cut from the trees. He fashioned the roof with tin and earthen tiles he had scavenged and harbored for years. His sons and daughters worked alongside him; I, who entered this picture in 1993, threw in my two cents, too.

Frankly, most people in the Roaring Fork Valley would take one look at its meager size, its construction, its lack of materials, and dismiss it as a sharecropper’s shack. A typical, rural Nicaraguan farmhouse, it has no running water, no electricity, no gas; there are no appliances, no flooring, no toilets, and no sink, though a drainboard through a window flushes dishwater carried up to the casa from the river, to a ditch outside. Bats fly through the open rafters at night. Still, on July 4, 1997, don Moncho, his wife, dona Eva, and eight ninos—kids--moved into the new house at Quacamaya. The synchronicity of that date is, for me, an inescapable irony, but don Moncho claims he’s never heard of our Fourth of July.

Whatever.

I am honored to spend weekends there when in Teote. It’s only three miles by foot across the campo from my sister’s house to that bend in the river, so I visit every day. And, every night, when I go to bed here in town, I see don Moncho’s candlelight, shining from Quacamaya. And I know, whether I am here, there, or in the States, that it’s my home, too. He's offered a homesite at the finca to me, should I decide to build a casita there, as Lincoln Street Studio, south of the border. Although he’s not the father of my blood, whose memory I revere, he is the father of my heart, the most courageous, resilient, empowered human being I know. And yes, I also know—and this with a tear in my eye—that mi padre, don Moncho Betanco, is happy, for, in truth, he’s won the war.
Gracias, CenterDoug

3 comments:

cyncyr said...

Hi, Centerdoug...I knew you could do it. I would give you an A+ for your work.
I know you will enjoy your time in Nicaragua, where it is warm and welcoming. We will suffer through the balance of the Winter here, picturing you, basking in the fervent weather there, perched smartly upon your laurels.(or wearing them)
I have joined your blog, so we will be keeping in touch, as it were.
love, Cyn Cyr

isarrk said...

Hey Doug,
Found and bookmarked. Can't wait to read more...Becky

CenterDoug said...

Thanks to both of you for reading. I love this blog and both of you! CenterDoug