Power apparently has been restored to much of Venezuela. and today after not hearing from her for three days, as I sat in a grassy forested glade overlooking a lake to jot down notes in my beekeeping log I received facebook messages from Cristina. Apparently she missed me (: Connection is still only sporadic, we tried to talk on the phone but after about a minute it devolved into weird noises and disconnected.
Here's random picture I don't think I ever posted from later in the Nicaragua trip.
Back in Nicaragua
Continuing my plan to post my next article in segments. This next bit I'm particularly concerned about because writing about Vincent's organization almost entirely from second-hand information its hard to keep the feel of an in-the-moment travelogue-esque narrative. And all this is kind of frontloaded in the whole narrative but I can't think of a better way to structure it.
In the below quote I'll use strikethrough to denote not deleted segments but parts you've already seen yesterday.
In the back of the truck with me is Vincent Cosgrove, a cheerful and energetic American who runs an organization called Sweet Progress in Nicaragua. Vincent had first come to Nicaragua in 2013 as an entrepreneur in the healthcare industry. He found himself in Tipitapa, a satellite town of Managua, and there was a problem. 62% unemployment, 82% among the women, meant that no one had money for even much needed healthcare services. Where others might have moved on to somewhere with more money, he instead started thinking about how he could improve the lot of locals.
One day while Vincent was on his way to visit a USAID water project in Tipitapa, at an intersection a little girl approached his beat-up ford ranger to sell him a bottle of melipona (stingless native bee) honey. He suddenly remembered working with the beekeepers of the Middlesex Beekeeping Group in Boston twenty years earlier. He had been a chef, they'd regularly come into his restaurant and ultimately taught him beekeeping. Beekeeping was the answer! He bought the bottle of honey.
He started helping locals form co-ops, especially of women's groups. They needed equipment and training, he set about tackling both these issues. For equipment he realized just giving people things would be unsustainable and not create a sense of ownership, so Sweet Progress organizes micro-loans for equipment that are paid back in the form of honey over four years, with no interest. In this manner the groups are able to get necessary resources without becoming trapped on a repayment treadmill. Vincent came originally as an entrepreneur, but he doesn't make a profit out of this, I believe he has found the greater satisfaction of helping others.
As to training, Vincent has worked tirelessly to bring in volunteers for training and organizations as partners – among them non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and universities in the region and in the US. Volunteer teams have taught seminars (342 of them apparently) on not only directly beekeeping-related activities but also business management and leadership and some activities not related to beekeeping at all. In 2018 for example Sweet Progress delivered 27 classes per month to a total of 344 women, 83 teenage girls, and 143 teenage boys.
As of this writing (March 2019) Sweet Progress, working with the American Nicaragua Foundation and Professor Van Veen, has started construction on an FDA registered honey processing plant expected to triple the annual earnings of the co-ops. He anticipates within five years the co-ops will be producing 3,800 tons of organic honey per year, infusing $9,500,000 into local communities. They are also finalizing the export of 54 tons of raw honey, which he notes with his Boston accent, “marks the first time a charity organization has connected a honey project to the global market in the Western Hemisphere.” I am impressed, export is always a goal I strive for. Merely selling honey to neighbors doesn't actually bring wealth into the community, but exporting does.
I first came into contact with Vincent in 2014, when I was answering the phone for the Orange County (California) Beekeeping Association, and he called asking if we would be interested in organizing a team of volunteers to come down. I was quickly able to assemble a “dream team” of five experienced beekeepers enthusiastic to go. Sadly, international events intervened and the planned trip dissolved amid clouds of tear gas and the clatter of stones against riot shields – the Nicaraguan government nationalized a vast swath of land as part of an ill-conceived China-funded scheme to build their own “Panama Canal” across the country, the result: thousands of farmers kicked off their land, marching the streets, clashing with government forces. This was 2015 and 2016. Cows now graze in the recovering scar where the canal was barely begun. In 2017 I finally found myself in Nicaragua … for reasons entirely unrelated to Sweet Progress.
I was able to spend my first day in the country with Vincent and Dr Van Veen though. On this occasion Dr Van Veen was giving a presentation at the National Agricultural College near Tipitapa. As other students herded cattle past outside, some thirty students sat in a classroom while Dr Van Veen made a powerpoint presentation about beekeeping, in Spanish. It was almost unbearably hot, the numerous ceiling mounted fans only granting a little relief if one was directly below one. The beekeeping presentation seemed very interesting with a lot of specific information about different types of flora in the area, and I wished I could understand it but it was of course in Spanish, which I didn't speak. After the general beekeeping presentation, by popular demand he made a presentation about native stingless bees, which I was even more regretful I couldn't understand because I find stingless bees fascinating. Stingless bees are kept in artificial hives in Nicaragua, as I would see later, and their honey harvested.
After the presentations, we had to hurry to make the airport, and got mired in traffic. Eventually, desperate, we followed other cars into a side street and navigated the labyrinthine city sprawl, sometimes having to go around pigs sleeping in the street, or reverse around corners with barely centimeters to spare on either side after coming to an impassable chokepoint in the narrow streets. Miraculously we made it to the airport in time for Dr Van Veen to catch his flight.
I have it in my head that it can be improved by both (1) describing it as actions Vincent is portrayed taking, which I've done a bit with substantial improvements over the first draft I think, and possibly (2) putting parts of it in his own words as if he's telling me this in the back of the truck. This would also serve to distance me from claims such as regarding the "first time in the Western Hemisphere" which I assume is true but can't verify and that freaks me out, or his anticipated future production. but the problem is that especially the part about the processing facility pertains to now-present events he couldn't have possibly told me about in 2017... I'll no doubt keep dwelling on this.
Its an interesting exercise because it resembles the kind of writing I suppose journalists are always doing, but I've actually managed to heretofore entirely avoid.
There follows the one paragraph transition paragraph between the above and getting into the actual project and I was there for:
Ironically, despite spending some 30 years of my life in Southern California, I had made my first visit to Central America by traveling the wrong way around the world, traveling two thirds of the way around the globe from Kyrgyzstan to Nicaragua via Australia. This occurred because the Nicaragua project had been planned and tickets purchased before the Kyrgystan project (see June American Bee Journal), and changing the flights turned out to be exorbitantly expensive, so I had to return to Australia (where I've been living), not even long enough to return to my house before catching the flight on towards Nicaragua.
I feel like I can already hear people saying this is unnecessary and convoluted but I want to link into the similar reference to the convoluted journey in my earlier article, and as a series of travelogues which will hopefully include many more installments, I have a travelogue theory that it's important to develop oneself as a character and this going through convoluted journeys and now being peculiarly far yet close to/from home I feel is part of the character of the protagonist of these narratives.