How Nicaragua Grabbed My Heart

By Diana Bohn

Diana Bohn is a long-time SF Bay Area activist and a current board member of the Task Force on the Americas.

I wrote this in response to Chuck Kaufman from the Alliance for Global Justice request for contributions from others whose lives were changed by their first visit to Nicaragua. I, too, had my heart grabbed by Nicaraguans and the Nicaragua struggle against US imperialism by my coffee picking experience. I went on a coffee brigade very similar to that of Chuck’s trips, at end of ‘88/beginning of ’89. It was my first time south of the border except to visit Baja and Puerto Vallarta Mexico! – quite a contrast!

Picking coffee was right up my alley – having grown up in the Willamette Valley of Oregon picking fruits and vegetables throughout most of all my summer vacations from age 11 through high school – Many of  the kids I knew did that – catching a bus at 5:30 am each day. (I guess child labor laws came in after that). Coffee picking was similar except for the steepness of the terrain. We coffee pickers dubbed it “Ski Nicaragua” because of the frequency with which we slid down the muddy hillsides.

I was overwhelmed by the whole experience of that trip! Looking back at my journal, I am amazed at the breadth of the trip– not just picking coffee, but also a great number of informative meetings with a number of sectors as well as entertainment!  As did Chuck, I also noted that not only could we not pick nearly as much coffee as the Nicaraguans, but I was also concerned that we were causing damage to the coffee plants. Three friendships I made on that trip continue to this day.

I was certainly hooked on Nicaragua, and the following July, I took my 19-year-old daughter to a Nicaragua Center for Community Action (NICCA) work brigade to Pio Doce, southwest of Masaya, to help build a school. A community member had access to a school bus and took us along with community members to the volcano, the beach, and to the huge 1989 July 19 “Triumph of the Revolution” celebration.  (That was just before the US government got the Sandinistas to “Cry Uncle” and vote in the neo-liberal UNO party – so much for meddling in elections.  It is apparently only OK for the US to do so.

After that, I helped organize and participated in NICCA work brigades, in collaboration with Union of Ranchers & Farmers, first in Matagalpa, then for several years during the 90s in the municipality of San Ramon nearby. The brigadistas lived with families and worked with the farmers to establish sustainable agriculture procedures promoted by the Programa Campesino a Campesino (Peasant to Peasant Program) – terracing hillside fields to help prevent soil erosion, cultivating, and planting various crops to make sure the people have something to eat and to sell throughout the year. See: the film, “Basic Basket.”

No longer organizing brigades, NICCA continues raising funds for that program as well as for Grupo MOES, an organization that works with marginalized women in Esteli, and with the Center for Legal Assistance for Indígenous People (CALPI)

I also became active in Campaign for Labor Rights, and Alliance for Global Justice. I continue to work to make the Sweatshop-Free Berkeley ordinance effective. As with most everything, these kinds of efforts are never done!

I also worked with Potters for Peace for many years, helped make the film, “The Road to Hope/Potters for Peace”.

All this is to say, one thing leads to another, and the coffee-picking trip was certainly a life-changing experience.