Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oh, U., Gracias!

"Oh, U., Gracias!"

I wrote in "Are MY Eyes Deceiving Me" about "right-NOW-individual-action" and its potentially affirmative role in righting this cock-eyed world's crazy, current tilt: each life does make a difference every day, anyway, so we might as well choose the way we hope to turn the world and act it out in our own lives, right in front of us.

Thus,I've chosen to insert here an essay written in 2004 for a feature in a shelter magazine (unpublished) which speaks to successful global living as an empowerment tool for the disempowered of both the developed and the developing worlds (unfortunately, most of us). I want to stress that I've made a special point of running my private bridge on a work-as-you-grow and pay-as-you-go basis, my funds and those of my friends creating work-for-hire on projects I have going and occasional loans for seed money paid back with what the money'd be earning in a money market fund in the States.
This is not a charity: it is a mutuality of purpose that works in balance, rather than just a dole, which would build addictions no one needs. The first couple of years in Teote, I had to learn that the hard way. Now my family members are learning how to manage their own money, make interest on it, pay off their debts, etc., most of them for the first time beyond the $2-a-day-for-8-hours-of-gruntwork. There is no opportunity in either a handout or food slavery. That's what FCE offers to the world's campesinos, whose every dime goes for food and medicine: a raised and responsible standard of living through service-learning work that's paid for from the coffers of affluence in the developed world.
Beyond money and work, of course, there's mutuality of joy. For many of my fellow brigadistas, it's the first time they've experienced alegria consciously. The Teotean witness to joy comes as an unquenchable flow of light out of the very center of darkness. Wow. Pretty special.

I've updated "Changing Places" slightly to sound as if written by me, two weeks from now. Forgive me, I'm anticipating Nicaragua slightly. Since it deals specifically with the backstory of this blog, I insert it now, from the manuscript of the fictional trilogy I've worked over too many times for seven years. I'll use other portions in other moods. Now, I begin to think this new collection of daily reflections (with CenterDoug Notes for transition) might be publishable after my trip as CenterDoug in Nicaragua:

“Changing Places: A Reflection”
©Doug Evans Betanco 2008

When the red sun rises, light widens the cracks in my room’s plank door, but I, old slug of a norteamericano, am still. I wake to whispers, giggles and sighs. At Marta Betanco’s house in Teotecacinte, Nicaragua, the family of impoverished campesinos which cares for me as a new brother has been up for an hour, lighting the fire in the adobe stove, sweeping out the kitchen’s dirt floor, carrying river water for the day’s washing, sh-sh-ing, waiting for me, to creak out of bed, to welcome the dawn with a sip of my sister’s pan-roasted coffee. I walk in a land of honor here, and I'm grateful. All of Teote treats me like a visiting angel whenever I return.

I pick hibiscus for the jug on my writing desk as I dawdle through the garden with my coffee, back to mi cuarto, a 12 x 20 bed-sitting-office built in the dooryard for $400 two years ago. We dug the clay from a bank at the bend of the Rio Limon, squared the adobe bricks, sun-dried then laid them, roofed the walls with tin. Now, filled with furniture, some handmade by my brother Denis, my south-of-the-border writing studio has served as my home for seven short trips, a six-month sabbatical during Teote’s months of dry summer in 2000, and, as of February 1, 2008, for three-frigid-months-made-warm.

The hibiscus is scarlet with pink stamens, yellow pollen. I focus on a petal’s luster, while filling my journal with nonsense and inspiration, then start a piece about Teote’s choir of roosters for my book. I stop long after their crowing.

By then, Marta has swept her solar--front yard--surrounded by roses and banana trees in her garden. Her husband Cesar and their son Arnoldo, 11, have shouldered their hoes and marched to the fields to chop weeds. My sister is pounding clothes at the washing stone in the side yard. The phone never rings because there is no phone. No television. No plumbing. Along the dirt road, young women in laughing trios pass our casa on the way to the tobacco fields, where they and their children sweat for $1.80 a day, barely enough to feed themselves. The only paid work in town. Food slavery, 2008.

I flash on my Glenwood home, the graceful nursery floor of a 1901 Victorian manor house, well-preserved, a funky/elegant garret near Aspen, cleaned weekly to a white-glove shine for five times that an hour by one of my students.

I am grateful beyond measure to be US born, recently retired with an adequate teacher’s pension from Colorado Mountain College in the Central Rockies while living a short part of each year in my heart’s other center, just south of the Honduran border in Northern Nicaragua, a Sandinista stronghold still laced with undetected mine fields laid during the 1980’s Contra War. I live with one foot in the most rustically-luxurious part of the First World and the other in the dust of the impoverished Third, a balancing act of bonding which nurtures both me and all the rest, from the ground up. It’s the new edge, where everybody wins.

I met the Betancos—all 93 of them and growing—on my first trip to this oppressed nation in 1993, when, as a member of the Suyapa Gutierrez Brigade from Glenwood Springs, I traveled in the back of a dusty cattle truck up the Pan-American Highway from Managua to the hungry end of Central America’s food chain in Teote, a village of peasants at the northern tip of the Jalapa road, surrounded on three sides by Honduras. Nothing worked then, there, but compassion. I’ve made fifteen trips since.

Teote had welcomed three Sister City Brigade visits and some minor dollar massaging by the time I arrived, but it remained a ravaged Contra War zone of mortared-out homes and farmyards. Every family had lost sons and daughters. I bonded instantly with don Ramon and dona Eva Almador, in their three-room, tile-roofed, smoky adobe with little furniture—I was given the bed—and few possessions—three spoons, two forks, five bowls, one large metal pot, six hammocks, one strangely comfortable chair handmade from recycled bungee cord on a rebar frame, a creaky stool—that came to mean "home" to me over the next four years. My abundant life turned upside down. Sitting on the swept dirt floor of their sala, I discovered what feels like lasting joy.

At 63, I am the oldest son, now, along with my brother, Jose Ramon, 48. We share the burden and the honor of making life easier for our parents after decades of poverty, cruel dictatorship, revolution, inflation, war and disease.

In the 15 years past that first entry, the magic of changing places has swept through my life. From being a relatively poor college teacher of Philosophy, Culture, Globalism, Literature, Public Speaking, and Written Academic Communication—Professor Doug Evans, noted teacher, but heartsick, with two children living separately in the affluent Roaring Fork Valley, suddenly--with such a laugh!—I was rich beyond anyone’s understanding, in just about every way, in upper Nicaragua. Teote’s tobacco economy is almost cashless. A dollar’s worth of antibiotics saved a baby’s life—young Duglito, named after me, almost 8, cute as the dickens--on the first trip. That might have paid for a Pepsi in the States.

Since then, I have sponsored, as Doug Evans Betanco, children to higher education, planted corn fields no longer worked because the banks stopped giving credit to the campesinos, built a new outhouse when the old one risked cholera. When don Ramon sold that leaky house in town and rebuilt, with a little help from the norteamericano angel de Dios, his ruined finca on the river in 1998, we added my room at Marta’s on the southern edge of Teote, away from the Jalapa road. Before sleep at Marta’s, I imagine the candlelight at the new farm reaching across the wide campo from its windows. Don Ramon is happy.

It takes so little money in Teote to kindle hope. Now, pintos dance at the farm; cows grow to herds there; my former “movie money” smooths the boundary between starvation and health for 93 people, mostly children. Mostly, I provide small work projects: Sandinistas, true capitalists despite the Northern Media Spin, sure know how to stretch a dollar, to multiply it tenfold. Our next project: a tilapia fish farm out at the finca, for work, food, fresh fish to sell in the local market, thus more cash. My brother's idea. The kicker, for me? A constant source of fish-poop fertilizer for my gardens at palomas. My projects certainly help, but shared compassion is the engine between us. I'm empowered every day, there and in the US, and grateful for it.

Last trip, I spent the second and third week literally cashless, for the first time, since college. I’d made a major miscalculation concerning the arrival in Jalapa of the funding I’d set up—I thought it would arrive on the first of the month, but the dispersal date is not until the 23rd, so, I was penniless for two weeks. Luckily, I’d paid my sister Marta for my pittance of room and board the first day, so that was covered. But she said to me, “Ha! Now I am rico, Dugla, and you are pobre!” an irony that had us both giggling all day. I am the richest poor man I know.

Teote twirls my writing, as well. In Colorado, I have a phone, fax, word processor, and email. In Teote, with one hanging light bulb the only electric appliance, I've written most often on a 1970’s portable typewriter with Triumph written on the carriage, above the keys. I had to borrow it, my old, grad school manual, back from the local high school I’d helped to build. I promised some new ribbons, when I stopped being broke as any other peasant. I’ve re-learned “White-Out” revision on paper copy, an art I gave up in grad school in the sixties. After that, ‘Lito, my nephew, reads it back to me, phonetically, improving his English pronunciation, while allowing me to hear how the writing sounds, eyes closed. This works very well. I've written a veritable tornado of words this way, almost 250,000, to be exact. Phew. Gracias a Dios that the rural electricity has settled down enough for me to use my laptop, this year. And, for the first time, I will be Internet connected through a broadband WWAN hooked to my cell phone account.
[CenterDoug Notes, June 8, 2008: Turns out Central America, in between Mexico and Costa Rica, anyway, is blacked out, for whatever reason, from this service, so I had to ride a bus full of chickens to Jalapa when I wanted to pay my bills and post my blogs. Got old, fast.]

In the past, if I needed to send an article to the States, I rode the bus with ‘Lito—mi familia refuses to let me go to the “Big City” alone--for an hour to Jalapa’s post office, where phone and fax sometimes work. Now, my Nica pages will enter the Computer Age. I'll find surprisingly little to change, with word-processing, and, in truth, I think my writing's good, focused, undistracted, here.

From her kitchen, Marta calls me: breakfast, an egg and a tortilla, last night’s leftover beans. Pink lilies scent the breeze from Honduras as I sit on the patio in a red plastic chair and eat. Estania, 14, heads off for school. I've paid for her second-hand shoes so she can go, from monies my Colorado friends donated to aid my personal cause. I think of my Colorado garret with its closets of unworn shoes and clothes, and I fill with gracias. Estania exits in her radiant, dancing way, letting me know her thanks. “Hasta, Tio!” she giggles.
While risking smarminess, it’s real to say that, without a few bucks from me and my friends for her schooling, she'd be headed for prostitution, as do many, far too young girls here, at least for a while. Several women in my adopted Betanco clan are "active" in the evening. I was shocked by that, then chalked it off to an oppressive cultural condition endemic in Nicaraguan society, way bigger than me. But, Estania is learning to read, instead of acting out a potential life of sexual abuse, too often the plight of pobrecitas. She's aiming for the University in Managua en la futura, to study ingles. She's pretty assured of winning an FCE scholarship.

This, my friends, is happening all over the world. The sun comes up more hopefully in Nicaragua for my family and for families in countries worldwide, as people living in the abundance of opportunities present in the First World extend the grace of their birth to the grassroots need of the hungry in Central and South America, in Africa, in Asia. Family to family, hand to hand, friend to friend.

I seed about $2000 a year for projects into Nicaragua, sometimes more, when my global-minded friends help me to balance the world with a tax-deductible FCE donation for my family's benefit. On top, there are my travel expenses, $1000 a trip, so figure $3000, not bad for 21-90 days in beautiful country, working the family projects into being, swimming in a buttertub of love. It’s really peanuts compared to the ever-present need for cash here. While sometime amounting to a tithe of my accessible income, it’s the cheapest way I know to build a retirement home, as well, surrounded by people who consider me an angel and joyfully love me accordingly. I may grow wings this trip.
We'll see.

A dollar goes a long way here, though not as far as it used to. My satisfaction leaps beyond value to joyous affirmation. Although my life is one somersault after another with a foot in both worlds, I grow very well here, as do they. It’s mutually beneficial.

I make progress in North America as well, but more slowly. Now that I'm retired, it's getting better every day, I'd say. Yet, so much is out of balance around me in the US that I find it hard to stand tall, a strange tension in a land of such spin and bluster. However, I'm an iron bridge between worlds. I keep my footings on both sides flexible and strong. Still, while I love my life in Colorado, something’s clearly missing, there, with an achy redness down in my bones, that fills once more only when I hit the southern reaches of the ancient Mayan empire, deep in the heart of Nicaragua.
Gracias for that. Perhaps it’s just the absence of early dawn hibiscus, bright as blood, with morning coffee. CenterDoug

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