Postcard from Nicaragua, August 16, 2008: Day One of the BPFNA Friendship Tour
August 18, 2008| bpfna
August 16, 2008
Sitting in the makeshift office I peer out through the walls made of rope and watch a succession of women and children come to the water spigot. Using old Coke bottles, plastic jugs, buckets, and even what appears to be a former antifreeze container which I can only hope is well-rinsed, they collect water, some with small containers returning several times. The dinner hour is nearing and, no doubt, many are gathering the water they'll need for preparing the evening meal.
From my vantage point I also see shack after shack, just collections of boards covered with plastic roofs really. People mill about...young children play in the dirt...skinny dogs wander by.
The office is clearly the nicest building in the camp and even it, with its rope walls, dirt floor, and single bare bulb, has a ramshackle feel.
Yet despite it all, there is dignity in the faces, especially in the faces of the three men we have gathered to hear.
They tell their devastating story simply. They are victims of the pesticide Nemagon which was used extensively in the banana plantations on which they worked and around which their families lived throughout the 1970s. The chemical was used despite having been outlawed in the US for its clear role as a poison for human beings. They were never warned of the danger and never given the basic protections which might have lessened the impact. Now, however, no one has to tell them of the dangers. They have watched 2000 companions die. Many more are sick: Some with the visible affects of cancers on their skin, some with severe internal injuries. Many became sterile, and those that did not have passed on health problems to their children and grandchildren. The land too is injured, poisoned for the long term.
The suffering is immense. The companies involved, all transnationals headquartered in the US, refuse to act to rectify the situation. Lawsuits have been stymied. For 15 years these people have cried out for justice. So now they are playing what they call their last card, they have marched over 100 kilometers to ask their government to stand with them, to help them. They have camped themselves in a park across from the Nicaraguan national assembly. This last protest - this mass movement with their families to this camp - has lasted two years so far.
Their demands are simple: They want specialized health care aimed at their particular needs and the pensions they are due. So far they have received nothing.
And yet they can give. Of the great gifts of this rich day, the greatest for me has been hearing one of these men say to us sisters and brothers, "We want you to know that we bear you no ill will." It is, as team member Deidre Druk says, a "frozen moment."
Far from ill will, they indeed offer us warm hospitality, a gracious welcome, and sincere thanks for coming to hear their story. As we enter the camp and as we leave, people reach out to us and clasp our hands, offer us blessings, thank us for being with them.
Sitting in my chair looking out through the ropes, I have felt an immense chasm between the reality in which I live and this reality, a gulf between me and these people that I cannot cross. And in three words, they cross over to me, to us. "Sisters and brothers," they say, and I hear in the words a complete sincerity.
To be counted as sisters and brothers. What gift! What grace!
LeDayne McLeese Polaski
BPFNA Program Coordinator
The BPFNA Friendship Tour to Nicaragua continues through August 24, 2008. Watch for further updates from LeDayne McLeese Polaski.