Ernesto is a 30+ Nicaraguan man who I have known for 12 years. He lives in Chinandega, Nicaragua with his wife and year old daughter. He comes from a poor family but has learned to speak and write English on his own. I last saw him in February when visiting the Solidaridad Cooperative in Matagalpa. That was when I asked him to write these blog entries so as to gain insight into the life of a good citizen in Nicaragua struggling to make a decent life for his family.
Ildefonso Somarriba – Father of Ernesto Somarriba (guest blogger on Thanksgiving Coffee Co. blog)
I have a lot of gratitude for my father. He taught me a lot. He always taught me to do the correct thing. He said that I had to be respectful with everybody and to play fair in life. I remember that my dad was always worried for all of us. We are four brothers and one sister. If he was very tired after a long day of work, he never showed us that he was tired. He played with us and made some jokes, no matter what. I don’t remember if we had difficulties when I was a child, but he worried about everything. He gave us education, food, clothes and a shelter over our heads.
I don’t remember my dad fighting with my mom, he never shouted at her or hit her. I don’t remenber my dad with a bottle of liquor in his hands or ever drunk. Maybe he used to drink but, not too much. He wanted his children to grow up in good conditions but the amazing thing is that he never got a high salary, but he figured out how to feed us.
I have a good concept of my dad, I think that he is the best model of a father, for this reason I try to imitate him. Now I have a beatiful daughter and I try to do the best for her. Now my daughter inspires me to continue with the struggle, I think that my dad used to feel the same thing, for this reason he tried to do the best for us.
Right now my dad is retired. He used to be a math teacher for more than 30 years. In this moment he is sick, he is a diabetic. A few days ago he was in the hospital with dangerous wounds in his back, I thought that it was the time to leave us, I saw him very sick. My dad has high self-steem and, of course, he wants to continue living, so a miracle happened. Because he thinks the way he thinks, the wounds healed; now he is back home again. He is still a diabetic, but in this moment he is ok and continues making jokes as if nothing happened. My father inspire me to continue with the struggle, I look a him as a good example of life.
Although he is retired he continues teaching. When someone asks for his help he volunteers to help those who need help. He charges low prices for the classes but most of the time he does it for free, I asked him why he doesn’t charge for those classes and he replies,” that boy, maybe he will be a doctor or an engeneer, when he becomes a professional. I will feel myself already paid back because I was part of his education. In this moment I know that I’m old and sick, but what I feel inside me is peace and when I die, I will die happy, I won’t leave money, but a least I will leave some professinals that I helped and I know that for this reason the situation in this country some day will change for good. For me that will be enough.”
This business requires patience. From the time we taste a coffee sample to the time that coffee arrives at our door ready to be roasted can take several months. It’s especially difficult to be patient when the samples are really really really good.
This past Thursday was a big day for us here at Thanksgiving Coffee Company. Just after 8:00am a truck backed up to our loading dock full of sacks of new crop Nicaraguan coffee. These coffees are particularly special for us because our relationships in Nicaragua go back so many years. We don’t just buy from one cooperative there, we buy from three: Solidaridad de Aranjuez (our Joya de Aranjuez coffees), SOPPEXCCA (our Flor de Jinotega), PRODOCOOP (Dipilto coffee which serves as a backbone to many of our favorite blends and will be featured this year as a special single origin). We also buy from one small scale family farm owned by the Corrales family (Byron’s Maracaturra – a perennial favorite). The arrival of these coffees is thrilling because coffee, like many crops, is seasonal. We buy limited quantities of the highest quality each year and when these coffees run out, we have to wait for the next year’s harvest to arrive. We were all eagerly anticipating this delivery; especially our roasting team who was chomping at the bit to get these beans fired up and out the door to our loyal customers who, like us, know that the exceptional quality, complexity, and character of these distinct coffees are worth waiting for.
Towards the end of July, we’ll be celebrating the arrival of these Nicaraguan coffees as well as the balance of our Northern Hemisphere coffees (like Musasa, Rwanda) that are also recent arrivals to our dock. Keep an eye out for your invitation to party with us here at the warehouse.
Here are some pictures of how the day went: the arrival, unloading, sample roasting, staff cupping, and finally the beginning of production roasts.
Some of you may have noticed that a few of our all-time favorite coffees have been made unavailable recently, namely Byron’s Maracaturra and Sidama Natural, Ethiopia. Indeed, we have roasted our last pounds of Byron’s, and in the case of our jammy wonderkid from Ethiopia, we’re tightening the belt and saving the last dozen or so bags for our espresso blends.
The bad news: you can’t get this great coffee right now.
The good news: these are great coffees (at least in our minds!) and they are rare, limited, and super special. These aren’t the kinds of coffees you can just order up from a broker, no, you’ve got to slog a lot of miles (and or a lot of frequent flier miles as the case may be) to find coffees of this caliber, and of course, the farmers who grow them. And though we’re out right now, new crop coffees are en route and should be here soon.
In the case of Byron’s Maracaturra, the 2009/2010 crop is on the water and should be here in our warehouse in the next few weeks. This year’s crop is more fruit-forward than ever, still with a delicate jasmine/darjeeling complexity. As for the new crop Sidama Natural, it’s a big fruit bomb again this year. We’re stoked on the pre-shipment sample and looking forward to the coffee’s arrival. It’s due to ship from Ethiopia next week, and we should see its arrival sometime in late July/early August.
We hope you’re enjoying the slightly wild ride of great coffee. Like a lot of the finest crafted foods in the world, there’s no mass-produced version. We always try to buy as much as we can, but in the case of some of the most unique coffees in our roster, there’s only so much of the great stuff out there. Please let us know if we’ve left you in the lurch…we’ve got a lot of other great coffee in stock at the moment, and we’d be happy to help you find a great coffee to hold you over until the arrival of your favorites.
I want to share with you one wonderful experience I had in my childhood. I’m 34 years old now, but when I was I child, I grew up in a city named Chichigalp. It is a small town about 12 kilometers from Chinandega where I now live with my wife and baby daughter. In this place of my youth there was a huge sugar mill company with a lot of sugar plantations in the region. At that time it was the biggest sugar company in all of Central America. My dad worked in town as a math teacher for 26 years. Now he is retired and very sick, he is diabetic. More about his life in a future blog entry. Back to my story…
When I was living there, I visited the baseball fields with my grandfather (my mother’s dad) we had a lot of fun together, because we loved baseball. I remember that one day my granddad told me, “Hey Ernesto, you should play baseball but in a formal way.” I had spoken with a guy that had a baseball team in a league, and he needed some more players. I asked him to give me the opportunity to play and he agreed. My granddad started practicing with me every day after school, he told me “You are not the best baseball player I ever have seen so you better practice hard,” and I did.
Instead of being the best one on the team, I was the worst player. Every time I went to bat, I didn’t hit the ball. I struck out every time. I was the leader of strike outs in the league. I was very sad because I disappointed my granddad. But that old man always supported me and he was never angry with me. I remember one day I told him, “Sorry grandpa, I am never going to be a good baseball player.” He started laughing. He said, “Maybe you aren’t the best player, but a least you are the leader of strike outs, that’s something. You are in the statistics. They are negative, but you are into it, the people know who you are and the most important thing is that you never are on the bench, you play every game.” He asked me, “Do you know why you play every game?” Of course I said no. He said, “Well I will tell you why you are in every game. The manager trusts you, he believes in you. He thinks that someday you will hit a grand slam, and you know what, I think so too. I think this because every time you get your turn to bat, I think that you are going to hit the ball very far because you have a beautiful swing. You look like Babe Ruth and look around you, the people enjoy every time you go to bat. Do you know why? Because they like you even if you are going to strike out again, they don’t care about that, they like your swing, they enjoy watching you playing baseball.” When he told me that, I felt much better and my confidence grew. Those words raised my spirit and I didn’t retire from the team. I practiced more and more, but I didn’t have any good results, I was the same bad player.
One day I went to play again and of course my grandpa was watching the game as always. It was my turn to bat, the bases were loaded, I was walking to the home plate very slowly with my head down, I thought I was going to strike out again, but my grandpa was shouting, “You can do it Ernesto, remember that you can do it. Focus on the ball!”
Then I swung at the ball, just like always, but this time, an amazing thing happened, I hit the ball. It felt good to hear the sound and feel the ball hit the bat. The ball sailed over the fence for a Grand Slam. I couldn’t believe it. The ball was leaving the park! I started to run around the bases as Jose Canseco would and my teammates were waiting for me at home plate. My grandpa jumped from his seat very excited and came to me and gave me a big hug. When the game finished, we had won 8 to 2. My granddad invited me to eat ice cream with him as a reward. That was a great day and an amazing experience.
My grandfather died few years later, but I always remember that day. Now this experience is helping me a lot, because you never have to lose hope, you only have to wait for your opportunity, but when it comes, you better be ready. Right now I’m still waiting for my opportunity in this poor country, but at the same time, I’m looking for it, and I’ll tell you this; when it comes, I won’t waste my opportunity. I’m practicing, just how I did with the baseball!
The latest installment from Ernesto Somarriba in Chinandega, Nicaragua (April 21, 2010)
There are some judges in the judiciary that have to leave office after a determined period of time. This is Federal Law in Nicaragua. This period has already finished for them, so they are expected to leave their jobs, and someone else will be chosen to fulfill their function. This branch of the State of Nicaragua is divided in the two majority parties (Liberales and Sandinistas). I am sad to tell you that the Sandinistas (Left) and Liberales (Right) are sharing this important branch of the Federal Government of my country.
There are two important judges that have already finished their period in power. Their names are Rafael Solis and Armengol Cuadra. These two judges are Sandinistas. They refuse to leave their charge at the judiciary because they want to keep earning a lot of money and to continue with the benefits the State of Nicaragua gives to them. They want to continue doing what they have been doing for the last four years (of course nothing for our country). But the worst thing is not that, the worst thing is that our president Daniel Ortega supports them. Why? Because they are on the same program for control and Daniel wants to whatever he wants with this branch of the state of Nicaragua. He wants to get the total control of all the branches of the State.
I want to ask a question to anyone who reads this article. Do you think that the judiciary power has to be controlled by the President of a country? Or by the party that is in power? It has to be an independent branch of the state so that they will work for the well being of the country. But here in Nicaragua, it doesn’t work like that. The president tries to manipulate all the branches of the state because he believes he represents Nicaragua, but I don’t think he represents me.
Liberales also want to maintain their power. So they make pacts with Ortega, looking out for their well being, but not for our well being as Nicaraguans. Together they share the branches of the state for their benefit. When I look at this, I feel anger, because if we continue on this path, Nicaragua will never have important economic, political, educational, or health care development.
This situation makes me sad because I am Nicaraguan; I live here and care about these issues. I want Nicaragua to have a real process of change for our well being. Right now I’m not speaking as a Sandinista or even as a Liberal, I’m speaking as a Nicaraguan, I’m speaking as someone who loves this land, I’m speaking as a head of a family, I’m speaking as a son, as a brother, as a husband, as a father, as a person. I hope some day we will have important and real positive change for the well being of our country and our children.
It was our third day on the road and we were feeling good. The simple diet of rice, beans, eggs, chicken and beef, plus mangoes and papayas was beginning to provide native energy. We were not in conflict with the food we were eating, we were in harmony with it. And we all had lots of sleep last night. So after breakfast we took a stroll in the central square where these photos were taken. Just a slice of life in a dreamy coffee town in the most important coffee growing region in Nicaragua and the home of SOPPEXCCA, a small scale producer cooperative we have been purchasing coffee from for over a decade. Flor de Jinotega: sweet, caramelly with cashew notes in the finish – just great stuff. A really progressive cooperative also. Here are six photos that will tell you what you need to know about Jinotega (if you examine them closely)…
A garbage can on a street corner. Could be Manhattan or your home town, lots of plastic… because it is the can for recycling plastic! They are soooo hip. Look at how attractive, festive, these cans look. Makes you want to throw away things just to see if music comes out .
This fruit stand was selling mangoes that tasted like sorbet (mango sorbet) for five cents each. The cart was “hecho a mano” (handmade) the tire is illegal and there is no running water or ice, but the health department is not shutting down the economy today. It is known that about 80% of the world’s commerce is “unofficial” and unreported. It is a problem worth many more words as the implications of not being able to get credit go way beyond mortgages and car loans.
This church was and is magnificent. I’m not Catholic, but it felt Holy in there just the same.
And the revolution shall not be forgotten. A monument is on the rise and it will overlook the town square for the next 100 years.
You can tell, the mood was up. Left to right Ben, Jenais, Nick, and Jody. And that’s how we started our day.
When our party of seven arrived at the restaurant in Matagalpa for lunch on our first day in Nicaragua two weeks ago, there was Ernesto, sitting under a tree, waiting for us. He was about 30 pounds heavier then the young man I had last seen nine years ago. He is married now to his college sweetheart; they have a 10 month old baby girl, Katlynn. Ernesto traveled with us for two days, ending up on Wednesday night in Jinotega where the group was bedding down. Our hotel was just one block from where his wife was living with her parents and the baby. His job in Chinandega allowed him to see them only once every 15 days, being a three hour bus ride away and earning a salary too meagre for them to live together. Holy cow! What a painful way to be in love. But as fate would have it, I was looking for a Nicaraguan Blogger to send us reports on life in Nicaragua as seen from a Nicaraguan’s perspective. Ernesto and I struck up a deal that enabled his wife and baby to move to Chinandega to live together for the first time under the same roof. At breakfast the following morning, we all met his wife and baby. So beautiful! When I asked him what he was going to do with the rest of his day, he said, “We are packing. The bus leaves in two hours, and we will be on it together.”
So here is Ernesto’s first Blog entry. We can expect many more.
– Paul Katzeff
Hello everybody, my name is Ernesto Somarriba, I’m 34 years old, I’m Nicaraguan and of course I do live here in Nicaragua in a place named Chinandega.
Now I want to tell you my experience with the cupping labs for small coffee farmer. In 1998, I was in my third year of agriculture engineering at UNA (Universidad Nacional Agraria) in Managua. I was young at that moment without experience, at the same time I was working for a lodging house in Managua, because I have to eat and to have a place to sleep during the time I was studying engineering. This house was visited by pleople from The United States and Canada, and of course they spoke English, so I decided to learn English, I said, if I have some problems with the language, I can ask the visitors for help. I was studying English very hard, I spent about 3 or 4 hours a day.
In 2000, I received a phone call from UNAG (Union Nacinal de Agricultores y Ganaderos). The caller was Byron Corrales. He said, “there is a delegation from the United States coming this evening and we need a translator for tomorrow.” I told him that I never did that job before, but he said, “Do you want to come or not? ” I said, “Yes, I will do it, give me the address of the hotel that I have to be at and the hour.”
The next morning I went to the hotel, and then arrived Byron Corrales. I met him personally and he said, “there is one person that needs someone to help with the translation. He is a coffee buyer, his name is Paul Katzeff, and you have to do the best you can.” And I guess I did, well I think so, because they looked for me again the next time Paul came to Nicaragua, but this time I was with Paul, Byron, and the technicians. We went to Palacaguina,Yali, Jinotega, Esteli, Matagalpa, and Arajuez, where they were planning the best way to build the cupping labs. I was translating for them. They got agreement from the coffee farmers and cooperative leaders about the best construction styles for the cupping labs, and they started building them. While they were building (2000-2001) I finished my engineering degree, I got off of the project and I stated working in other things.
Nine years later I got an invitation from Paul Katzeff, to go back to see the cupping labs, and now you can see that it is a job well done. These labs work very well and the farmers take advantage of it. They are able to assess how good their coffee is, and because of that, they can improve the quality and get better prices. This means that they have better life conditions for their families because the cupping labs are useful. Now I feel proud of it because I helped in some way.
For some reason in this moment I’m working as an English teacher in a high school here in Chinandega, I have been doing this for 5 years, but in the future I have a good story to tell to my grandchildren.
More next week….
There is no sign, just 42 quart jars of pickled veggies stacked four high. There is nothing like it anywhere on earth – color to die for! But not the tastes we were looking for. It is the end of the watermelon season in Nicaragua, and it is watermelon we seek, for it is the best watermelon in the world. Watermelon like back in the 50’s and before, when all American agriculture was still organic and the soil had microbes and worms and minerals, and the melons were at home, enjoying their summer months making sweet, crisp, mouth watering fruit. These were them! I knew “these were them” because I have stopped at this fruit stand every time I have headed north to the mountains, and for 25 years, I have never been disappointed.
Jody, a partner in G & G Markets in Santa Rosa and Petaluma, discussed the watermelon issues with Tom Honer, of Harvest Markets in Mendocino and Ft. Bragg, with Ben. How many to get? How to tell if it is ripe? And how much to pay?
Ben was attracted to the Mandarins which cost less then five cents each; they were very tasty.
And there were Papayas too; we passed on them. After about 20 minutes of delicious exploration among the sweet fruity aromas mixed with the diesel fumes of the Panamerican Highway ten feet away, we left, knowing we were fortified with the energy sugars so essential to anticipation of things to come. As for the watermelon, Jody cared for it. It was ice cold when I cut it open the next morning at breakfast. I was surprised to feel it being ice cold but Jody had taken it to her room the night before and stashed it in her room refrigerator. That’s how “grocery people” think, I guess. We ate that watermelon with our gallo pinto and eggs and I can report once again that no one was disappointed.
Just back from a “buying trip” to Nicaragua. It has been four years since I was last there. The farmers reminded me of that, much to my surprise. I was surprised by many things this time. How so much has changed at the Coffee Cooperatives, and how so little has changed in the market places we visited in each city we entered. Our trip took us from Managua North, to the mountains. Matagalpa first , then Jinotega and Estili on nights three and four. Then back to Managua, the capitol city and the flight home.
We tasted and selected some really fine coffees. There were seven of us on the trip. We travelled in two Toyota pick ups (not on the recall list) so the musical chairs of deciding who to travel with got us all in sync.
The biggest change I noticed was the growth and progress of the coffee cooperatives themselves. In the four years since my last visit , their capacity to handle giant amounts of coffee grew exponentially. They all acquired more land to dry coffee and had built new warehouses, coffee receiving stations, and office space. I will get into that in tomorrows blog.
What did not change were the local peoples markets. That is what was fascinating to me. Where the local urban “Poor” spend their money , and how the merchants create their shops, and who they sell to and at what prices is worth taking a look at. First off, there are two economies, the dollar economy with it’s imported electronics , cars, boom boxes and cameras that sell at the same prices as you would expect in the USA, and the Cordoba economy based on their local currency where a pound of rice is 8 cords, or .40 cents U.S. The tortillas these ladies were pounding out were 20 for 10 cords.(2.5 cents each).
It was 10 am when I took these pictures at the Managua Central Market, a 5 acre indoor open air market with a thousand seller stalls selling everything from locally made shoes, pottery, household wares and food. It was a market you could get lost in. The ultimate mall.
Feast your eyes on these three pictures. They are rich in culture, color and the human spirit. More tomorrow.
We were on our way to Matagalpa. it had just stopped raining and the street vendors were out in force trying to recapture the lost time spent underneath a canopy somewhere . There is allot to see in this photo although the reason I took the photo was the oddity of mattresses with a U.S. flag as bedcovers. I wonder if Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck would disapprove . Sleeping on an American Flag might be considered un-American, causing new laws to be placed in the Patriot Act .
The vendors are standing on a roadway made of six sided bricks known as Samosa Stones , named so because in the Revolution, these stones were ripped up to make barricades to block streets and thwart the tanks. Both vendors are wearing baseball caps, the preferred hat in a baseball loving Nicaragua.