By Kim Zahnow
A man at the door of the St. John Cathedral in Jinotega, Nicaragua. The Cathedral has been closed since the COVID-19 lockdown.
Driving from the Managua airport to El Recrero is a 3 hour drive. It does not take long to see the challenges that face the people of Nicaragua. Evidence of civil unrest, crime, and extreme poverty can be observed along the drive. Fortunately, that is not where the story ends. There is more to this story, a story of Love, Perseverance, and Hope.
Francesca and Herminic that made us incredible meals throughout the week.
As a photographer, I rely on my observation and connection with my environment. My travels with One Bigg Island have taken me to locations where I do not always understand the language. This journey is a great teacher that grows my spirit as a photographer. I have a heightened connection for understanding people and sharing their story through photographs which is one of my greatest passions.
“We may not be able to speak the same language but there is a whole lot between us.” Francesca, cook at El Recreo, shared this sentiment about our friendship. The feeling was mutual.
Francesca enjoyed teaching me Spanish and showing me what she was preparing for dinner. There was something about Francesca that pulled me in, the light that shined from her eyes, the kindness, her morning hugs. She made us all feel welcomed and cared for. This love is how I experience El Recreo. Every worker is treated with respect and value which in turn is how every worker treats each other.
It was wonderful to be returning to the farm a second time. This trip seemed to deepen the connection with everyone. Miriam shared with me that for most people on the farm, we are not only the first Americans they have every met in their life, but we are also the first strangers. The area does not have many visitors.
This trip felt particularly emotional for me. I spent most of the pandemic quite isolated from friends and family. Sitting at the dinner table at Recreo felt like returning to a family gathering. Laughter, sharing, and hugs. A feeling of connection that was reminiscent and was deeply missing from my life.
Carlos and his puzzles.
There was a moment I had to step out of the room because of all the love in the room. In one corner Miriam was meeting with the Mujercitas. In another area Carlos was putting the next puzzle piece on his puzzle. Adjacent was Francesca preparing the table for dinner. Bob and Michelle were talking with Jorge about the progress of the farm. So much life in this moment, so much goodness, and my eyes began to tear from how full my heart felt to share in this moment.
This farm is rich in goodness. I have said to Bob several times that he and Michelle have a gift for attracting good people into their life which is reflected at the farm. This farm has a way of attracting good people that need a recess (El Recreo translates to the Recess) along their journey.
Perseverance stands out to me when I get to know the people of El Recreo. Many have experienced hardship and pain. There is something about El Recreo that seems like a place people come not only to work, but to heal and grow.
Samual and his granddaughters.
These darling girls won my heart before I even knew their story. We had fun taking pictures. They showed me their pet bird and where they enjoy cooking. My heart went out to them after I learned more. Their father had abandoned them years ago. Recently, their mother died of cancer. Now they are being raised by their grandfather at El Recreo. They are adjusting to a new school, life on the farm, and life without their mother.
Isaacgell, Carlos, Miuzzell
I met two amazing teenagers on the farm. Miuzzell and Isaacgell. They caught my attention because they were solving the Rubik’s cube. I can solve as well so we had fun challenging each other. Honestly, they are much faster than I am. After sharing great conversation, I learned that Isaacgell is a senior in college. His degree is Civil Engineering. Miuzzell is a freshman in college, studying Finance.
In Nicaragua education is considered a privilege. It is not common for you to finish high school or go to college. When you have a degree, you are treated with respect and honor. Your degree becomes your title such as El Engineer Miuzzell. It is a great sacrifice on the family, and it takes years of hard work to achieve.
Carlos, their father is a manager on the farm and is working tirelessly to help them get through college. The farm is using its resources and helping through scholarships and assistance. The skills learned may not apply directly in your field of study because of the economic and job limitations of Nicaragua. Most return to their communities and help where they can. For example, our guide and driver Silvio has his degree in Engineering but lives and works on the farm full time as a driver. He is just thankful to have a job and help his community. This hope for the future continues despite daily challenges from the environment.
Hope is alive on the farm through faith. One of my favorite spaces on the farm is the chapel. There is something deeply soul stirring when I enter. The lighting and simplicity are incredible. This is a holy place for workers to come to pray and worship. Rosary beads lay upon the altar, a gift that Carlos gave to Leana 50 years ago. My heart was warmed when I saw the worn spots on the beads from the years of prayers. Above the altar hangs special pictures that Leona purchased in Poland. They went on a Mercy trip to visit the places where Mother Mary appeared. These are very special to Leana. One is of the Virgin Mary and the Other is Our Lady of Czestochowa known as the first Black Madonna.
I love the experience of photographing coffee farms. The people, farm life, fields, mountains, and coffee plants bring me great joy. I have made friends wherever we go except for one. A rogue turkey! I was the talk of downtown El Recreo because of the way the turkey stalked me and chased me.
I appreciate that the conditions are not for everyone. The adventure encompasses hours of hiking in fields, climbing mountains, not having hot water for showers after hard days, and no electricity. A new experience on this trip was Iguanas above me while trying to sleep, in my ceiling having a party all night! You know what, I loved every minute of this adventure!
I share these stories because it is these stories that I feel when I drink my morning coffee. The coffee made here in the mornings is absolutely the most amazing I have tasted in all of my travels. Farm-Direct matters! It matters a lot. When you buy BIGGBY Best, it matters in the lives of these very real people with very real challenges.