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This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Mary Kraus

    I first went to Nicaragua in 1986 on a 3 month sabbatical. I was serving as the District Superintendent of the “Baltimore North District” of the UMC [United Methodist Church] and St. John’s Church was one of the churches on that district. It was there I first met Nan and Phil and I contacted them early in 1986, explaining that I was planning a sabbatical and planned to study Spanish in Esteli for a month and asking if they might consider taking me in for some study/reflection time following that in San Juan de Limay. They were willing to do that, cordially inviting me to live at Casa Baltimore with them and cleared the way for the government to grant permission for another U.S. American to go there. I was there for most of October and November that year, experienced my tax dollars at work supporting the brutal action of the “contras” and listening to stories of the pain this war was inflicting on the people living there. No Nicaraguan family was left untouched. At the same time, it seemed that everyone was going to school, communities were organized to care and protect each other, health “brigadistas” were trained in natural herbs for medical care, and there was potable water available from the tap in Casa Baltimore. People had rice and beans with a supply of vegetables and fruits growing in the area. Basic needs were being met in an economically poor, war torn country. I felt safe, even when rockets attacked the outskirts of the town.

    With time to reflect with Nan and Phil along with folks in a Christian Base Community and others who lived in and around Limay, I gathered pages of impressions, statistics, and personal stories which I could bring back to the churches in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. It was also the beginning of a life-long personal friendship that has deepened through the years. First with Nan and Phil and then with Daniel and Nora, then grieving Phil’s death, and then getting to know Miguel. Nicaragua has remained an important part of my life. My life was changed and greatly enriched beyond anything I could have imagined. And I know there are many others like me who have been blessed. Thank you Casa Baltimore!

  2. Barbara Larcom

    “Danos un corazon grande para amar, Danos un corazon fuerte para luchar. Pueblos nuevos, creadores de la historia, Constructores de nueva humanidad….”
    Translation: “Give us a large heart in order to love, Give us a strong heart in order to struggle. New people, creators of history, Builders of a new humanity….”

    These are the first words of a song which was well known in Nicaragua in 1989, during my first trip there. A Nicaraguan minister, hosting our Casa Baltimore/Limay delegation for lunch one day, shared this song with us. The words have stayed with me ever since, because they expressed so well the spirit of Nicaragua at that time.

    In July 1989, I joined the eight-person delegation which we laughingly called the “singing delegation” because so many of us loved music. We taught each other songs which we sang together (often with harmony) as we rode along bumpy roads and when we shared evening reflections. Charles Curtiss, our delegation leader, played guitar and taught us “Nicaragua, Nicaraguita,” a love song to Nicaragua by the famous composer Carlos Mejia Godoy.

    Nicaragua was filled with the spirit of hope in those days, 10 years after the Triumph which expelled the dictator Somoza from the country. Citizens, a large percentage of them young, were forming worker cooperatives, and Christian base communities founded on the theology of liberation, and new local governments and task forces. We were excited to see what they were doing – and we were all aware that Nicaragua was an inspiration to other countries.

    El Salvador, for example, was in the midst of a horrible civil war at that time. Kathy Schaafsma taught us a snappy three-part round related to this theme, translated as follows: “If Nicaragua won, El Salvador will win, it will be free.” South Africa was also in strife then, and I believe it was Carol [Armstrong] Moore who taught us another three-part-harmony song with very cool rhythms from that country: “We shall not give up the fight, we have only started.”

    I was very touched by the hospitality I received in Limay on that first trip (and ever since). I stayed with a very poor family who had recently moved there from another town, Tranqueras, in order to escape the fierce fighting of the Contra war. Leonel and Vicenta, a husband and wife with two small sons, had arrived in Limay with very little. Their two-room house was built with sticks and some boards, with some adobe over it in places. Vicenta’s mother was also visiting for one night, so in order to accommodate a second guest (me), Leonel slept atop a dresser that night. I was also surprised at first at the openness of the house (including my bed!) to animals like hens and roosters.

    I loved the evening visits with my host family in Limay. Many kids from the neighborhood would come visiting, and we would all sit together and enjoy them. I was moved by the affection I saw from parents toward their children.

    By the way, my former host family is doing much better these days. They have a brick house, cows, and poultry, a result of their own hard work as well as help from projects like Casa Baltimore/Limay.

  3. Carol Berman

    Returning in 2005 after a 17 year hiatus ( first trip in 1988) continued to be a step-back in time, although more “new” standing out against the ” old” : cell phone towers, many cell phones, more TVs, more indoor plumbing, no pigs running in the street, fewer potholes in the center of town ( more paved streets). But what remained were the warm people wishing us from the US well…and the swimming ” hole” hadn’t change, although all I got to do was hang a leg over in it ( I had injured my foot before we left Baltimore). Big change also in the airport in Managua….in l988 it was rather a large shed, rather than an airport that looked modern. Managua itself was more modern, too.

  4. Ellen Barfield

    I joined CB/L as soon as I heard of it in 1997 when my husband Larry and I moved to Balto. Larry and I had I lived in Leon, Nica from Dec 1995 thru’ June 1996, both of us working at the Hopital Escuela Oscar Danilo Rosales Arguello, (HEODRA) after he had been fired from Univ TX SW Med School in Dallas for having a long history of asking too many questions and advocating too much for peace and justice.
    He had been on medical delegations to Nica during the early Sandinista years when Nica’s public health measures improved so very quickly they got international awards, and again when the Contra got going and public health measures sadly plummeted just as quickly. We moved to Balto after 6 months in St Anthony, Newfoundland, CAN where he worked in the public hospital there.
    I have traveled on CB/L delegations in 1998 and 2010, and look forward to others in the future. It is so wonderful that CB/L continues its important solidarity with San Juan de Limay. Between my 2 visits the animal projects and other agricultural aid had really grown and it was great to see cows, and their calves moving on to new families,
    bee hives, chickens secured in sturdy coops, fruit trees, vegetables in raised beds. Along with the continuing support for CENIC and the elders, latrines and the clinic, to which I have brought and also paid for medicines, since a doctor husband gives me a focus on medical issues.
    Tho’ I have never traveled with a Veterans For Peace Latin American delegation, I am proud of my and Larry’s long
    membership in Veterans For Peace and its ongoing concern for Latin America too. Our dear friend Viet Nam vet and VFP member Brian Willson’s moving book, “Blood on the Tracks”, tells the story of his horror back in the 80’s as US pressure on Nicaragua grew, and the assault on him by a weapons train carrying US munitions bound for the Contra. VFP and Brian keep an eye on Nica too.
    Emotional and financial support, and challenging our government’s imperialism. I am so proud that Casa Baltimore/Limay is able to continue.

  5. Carlos Petersen

    Comments written in 2003 [English translation will follow in a separate entry.]:
    Comentarios escritos en 2003 [Traduccion en ingles sigue aparte.]:

    Hace unos días, volví de mi experiencia de 3 semanas en Nicaragua. Fue una oportunidad a conectar con un buen numero de personas y proyectos que están funcionando para mejorar la vida en los barrios pobres de ese país. Muy inspirador a descubrir como se hace tanto con muy pocos recursos económicos, todos beneficiados por apoyo que reciben en gran parte por grupos extranjeros. Para brevemente compartir mi experiencia, quizás unas “fotos de palabras” ofrecería un sabor de lo que he vivido.

    Barrio La Primavera en Managua: Caminemos con unas mujeres hacia el lago, la parte mas pobre -– basura, casas de cartón, chapa y plástico, electricidad sacado “informalmente” de la red. Reunimos con algunas de las mujeres y niños del proyecto de Ana y Michael, escuchando sobre su artesanía en calabazas, crianza de gallinas, etc. Los niños cariñoso, las madres a la vez nervioso y orgulloso al hablar de su nuevos emprendimientos. Tal vez son pobres, pero no “pobrecitos”, digo yo.

    Ese noche, al concierto de Carlos Mejía Godoy, y una vista contraste de la sociedad nicaragüense … buena música, profesional en verdad. Personalmente, pudiera gustado mas música y menos chistes que no entendía.

    Al pueblo San Juan de Limay al norte del país, ciudad “hermana” con Baltimore (EEUU). Invitado aquí por mi amiga Bárbara, coordinadora de este proyecto de amistad y apoyo. Alojado con una familia. Casa típica: amplia construcción de madera y piedras, piso de tierra, escasa luz floreciente, cocina a leña, letrina al fondo del patio. Los nietos viviendo con sus abuelos, porque su madre fue a Costa Rica buscando trabajo – situación típica. (

    Visita a una población campesina. Aunque diciendo que “somos pobres”, veo a la gente como personas de un carácter positivo, consciente de sus vidas y sus capacidades. Los adultos hablaran con coherencia se su situación, los niños curioso y encantador. Sentí “comunidad” entre ellos en este lugar. Es notable, que incluso en los barrios mas carente, aun que quizás con ropa rota y despeinado, los niños son tan bellos, con ojos claros, y con mucho afecto uno al otro. Un señal muy positivo.

    Visita a la clínica: el administrador, joven y hablando claramente, explicó la situación en este viejo centro que sirve a una área de 14,000 habitantes, con 3 médicos. Su presupuesto mensual para todos los gastos es unos US$ 275, que incluye el mantenimiento del edificio y de los vehículos. Entonces escasez, y limitaciones constante. Hay solamente 3 camas en este “hospital rural”; las familias de los pacientes internados necesitan traer su comida. El tanque verde de oxigeno es “solo un adorno”, porque no tiene nada”! El consultorio dental tiene una silla que parece que tiene 100 años: nada funciona. La pileta descarga su agua en un balde. La dentista dijo (pero sin quejar…) que necesita poner el paciente en el piso para extraer una muela, porque la silla no se ajuste. Reconociendo la necesidad, el gobierno empezó un nuevo hospital … que ahora queda en silencio sin terminar, en las afueras del pueblo. Nadie sabe su destino….[Barbara Larcom añade, en 2015, que el hospital ha estado en uso durante una serie de años.]

    Bluefields, a la costa Atlantida: otra gente, otro clima, otra cultura – el mundo del Caribe. Una gran variedad de razas, con gente negra mas numeroso que los decendientes española. Se escucha a inglés a lado del español nicaraguense. La gente amable, relajada en la manera de un pequeño pueblo tropical.

    Reunión en la oficina de una agencia de derechos humanos. Preocupación sobre la propuesta del “canal seco” y el oleoducto. Informes por 4 personas involucradas en los varios aspectos de estos temas. Noto la desponibilidad y claridad en compartir su trabajo de apoyo y solidadidad. Confio que esta apertura y sinceridad, uno al otro, y con nosotros visitantes está creando una fuerza colectiva para llevar a cabo cambios positivos y factibles. (;

    Rama Key, lugar de la gente indigena Rama: una isla tropical, con palmeras, canoas en la playa, niños jugando a la orilla de la bahia mirando nuestra llegada. La isla es en muchas maneras un pobre aldea nicaraguensa, quizás aun mas pobre por su aislamiento. El gobierno Sandinista instaló ya hace años una red de electricidad, pero ahora es sin uso – el generador se quemo. La gente pescan, aunque ahora hay poco peces. Colectan mariscos de la bahia: importante para su alimentación. (

    Los gallos empezaron cantar a las 3 de la mañana. Pronto escuché que la gente ha despertado, empezando sus actividades cotidianas. Aunque todavía noche, vi a personas pasando, bajando a los botes. supongo que aprenden ver en la oscuridad. Nuestro regreso a Bluefields obligó a 3 hombres a remar la canoa, una tarea a la cual tienen práctica, con ritmo natural. Luego pusieron una vela, el viento ayudando. Después, acercó un bote con motor, y acordó llevernos al pueblo, hallandonos detrás de él.

    Cafe: Subiendo la carratera en las afueras de Matagalpa, vimos a personas con canastas vacias bajando hacia el pueblo. Seguramente obreros de las fincas cafeteras. Pronto pasamos un gran cantidad de gente, reunido al lado del camino, con gran bolsas de cafe. Paramos, y el gerente amablemente nos explicó que estaba pasando, y de la producción de cafe en general. Estaba mediendo la cosecha de cada hombre. El cosechador recibe US$0.40 por la medida de 20 libras. Posiblemente puede cosechar 3 o 4 medidas por día: una persona muy rápida puede cosechar quizás 10 medidas o mas. Aunque es ilegal emplear a un niño, en unos casos los ninós trabajan con sus padres para aumentar la ganancia. La finca emplea unos 250 cosechadores; trabajan de las 6 a.m. a las 4 p.m., 7 días la semana. Pero a pesar de todo eso, cuesta a la finca recibir una ganancia. Mucho tiene que ver con el mercado cafetero, los factores y exigencias internacionales. (

    “Si a la vida”: un proyecto dedicado a los niños de la calle. Los muchachos enredado en el habito de oler pegamento. Son encontrado en las calles, mercados y terminals de la cuidad. Cuando despuesto a venir a la casa Nuevo Amanecer, pronto algunos “buscan la puerta”, pero otros quedan, y están incentivado, socializado, y dado actividades prácticas y integrativas. La dedicación del staff es visible – una obra de servicio social en el major sentido. (

    Batahola Norte iglesia catolica: abrí mi corazón en la energía positiva de esta iglesia y centro cultural – todas las paredes adornado con pinturas y murales. Sobre el altar, el mural incluye un negro niño Jesus, mujeres campesinas como ángeles, y las figuras de Sandino, Romero, y Fonseca entre el grupo del pueblo. “No necesitamos íconos de santos, son la gente del pueblo que son los santos.” (

  6. Charles Petersen

    Comentarios escritos en 2003 [Traduccion en español aparecio’ aparte anteriormente.]:
    Comments written in 2003 [Spanish translation appeared previously in a separate entry.]:

    A few days ago, I returned from my experience of three weeks in Nicaragua — an opportunity to connect with a good number of people and projects that are working to improve life in disadvantaged parts of the country. I found it very inspiring to discover how people can do so much with very few economic resources, and benefitting from the support they receive in large part by international groups. To briefly share my experience, perhaps some “verbal pictures” will offer a taste of what I´ve lived:

    Barrio La Primavera in Managua: we walked with some women to the lake, in the poorest part of the neighborhood – trash; houses made of cardboard, metal and plastic; electricity taken “informally” from wires overhead. We met with some of the women and children of Ana and Michael´s neighborhood project, hearing about their gourd handicrafts, their raising chickens, etc. The children affectionate, the mothers at the same time nervous and proud to talk about their new ventures. Maybe they are poor, but certainly not undignified, I would say. (

    That night, the concert of Carlos Mejia Godoy, and a contrasting view of Nicaraguan society … good music, really professional. Personally I would have liked more music and less jokes that I didn´t understand.

    To the town of San Juan de Limay in the north of the country, “sister” city with Baltimore (USA). Invited here by my friend Barbara, the coordinator of this project of friendship and support. Stayed with a family. Typical house: large wooden and stone construction, earthen floor, low-level florescent light, wood-burning stove, latrine at the back of the courtyard. The grandchildren live with their grandparents because their mother went to Costa Rica looking for work — typical situation.

    Visit to a peasant population. Although saying that “we are poor,” I see the people having a positive character, aware of their lives and their abilities. Adults speak with coherence about their situation, the children curious and charming. I felt “community” among them in this place. It´s notable that even in the poorest neighborhoods, although perhaps disheveled and with torn clothes, the children are so beautiful, with clear eyes, and with great affection for each other. A very positive signal.

    Visit to the clinic: the administrator, young and speaking honestly, explained the situation in this old center serving an area of 14,000 inhabitants, with 3 doctors. Their monthly budget for all expenses is about US$ 275, which includes building and vehicle maintenance. Therefore shortage, and constant constraints. There are only 3 beds in this “rural hospital”; families of inpatients need to bring their food. The green oxygen tank is “just an ornament, because there´s nothing in it”! The dental office has a chair that looks like it is 100 years old: nothing works. The sink discharges its water into a bucket. The dentist told us (but without complaining …) that he needs to put the patient on the floor to extract a tooth, because the chair doesn´t adjust. Recognizing the need, the government began a new hospital … that now remains silent, unfinished, on the outskirts of the village. No one knows its fate ….[Update by Barbara Larcom in 2015: The hospital was later finished and has served the community for a number of years.]

    Bluefields, on the Atlantic coast: other people, another climate, another culture — the world of the Caribbean. A variety of races, with black people more numerous than the Spanish descendants. English being spoken side by side with Nicaraguan Spanish. The people are friendly, relaxed in the manner of a small tropical village.

    Meeting in the office of a human rights agency. Concern about the proposed “dry canal” and the pipeline. Reports by 4 people involved in the various aspects of these issues. I note the willingness and the clarity in sharing their work of support and solidarity. I trust that this openness and sincerity, with each other, and with us visitors are creating a collective force for carrying out positive and feasible changes. (

    Rama Key, place of the Rama indigenous people: a tropical island with palm trees, canoes on the beach, children playing at the edge of the bay watching our arrival. The island is in many ways a poor Nicaraguan village, perhaps even poorer for their isolation. Years ago the Sandinista government installed an electricity network, but now it’s without use – the generator burned out. The people fish, although there are now few fish. They collect shellfish from the bay: important for food.

    Roosters started crowing at 3 in the morning. Soon I heard that people have awakened, beginning their daily activities. Although still night, I saw people passing, down to the boats. I suppose they learn to see in the dark. Our return to Bluefields required three men to paddle the canoe, a task to which they´re experienced, with a natural rhythm. Later they rigged a sail, the wind helping their efforts. Afterwards, a boat with a motor drew close, and agreed to take us to the town, pulling us behind him.

    Coffee: Climbing the road outside Matagalpa, we saw people with empty baskets heading down to the village. Surely workers from the coffee farms. Soon we passed a lot of people gathered beside the road, with large bags of coffee. We stopped, and the manager kindly explained what was happening, and about the production of coffee in general. They were measuring the harvest of every man. The harvester receives US $ 0.40 per measure of 20 pounds. Possibly you can harvest 3 or 4 measures per day: a very fast person can harvest 10 measures or perhaps more. Although it´s illegal to employ a child, in some cases children work with their parents to increase their earnings. The farm employs around 250 harvesters; they work from 6 am to 4 pm, seven days a week. But despite all that, it´s difficult for the farm to make a profit. Much has to do with the coffee market: international factors and requirements. (

    “Sí a la Vida” / “Yes to Life”: a project dedicated to street children. The boys caught in the habit of sniffing glue. They are found in the streets, markets and terminals in the city. When willing to come to the Nuevo Amanecer (New Dawn) house, soon some “look for the door”, but others remain, and are encouraged, socialized and given practical and integrative activities. The dedication of the staff is visible — a work of social service in the best sense. (

    North Batahola Catholic church: I opened my heart to the positive energy of this church and cultural center — all the walls adorned with paintings and murals. Above the altar, the mural includes a black baby Jesus, peasant women as angels and the figures of Sandino, Romero, and Fonseca among the group of townspeople. “We do not need icons of saints, it´s the ordinary people of the town who are the saints.” (

  7. Charles Petersen

    Comments written in 1984 [Spanish translation will follow in a separate entry.]:
    Comentarios escritos en 1984 [Traduccion en espa~nol sigue aparte.]:

    A visit to Nicaragua, with Phil and Nan Mitchell
    February 18-26, 1984

    Journal excerpts by Charles Petersen

    Miami airport. At 10 o’clock Sunday morning reporters and camera crews from two Miami TV stations turned up at the hotel in response to Phil’s advertising a press conference. Phil and Nan were interviewed by the pool; then six of us sat at a table in the conference room to be interviewed. It went very well–the reporters were direct with their questions yet not at all hostile and our positive rather than an “anti” stance regarding the trip proved the key to keeping the conference upbeat.

    Managua: Turnica had arranged a bus and driver for our group. Nelson, our driver and guide, gave us quite a tour around. Unfortunately darkness had fallen, so impressions were somewhat sketchy: political banners “A 50 años Sandino Vive”; people along the road waiting for buses, going to the movies, open wooden houses with food being sold in front, a barbershop, Shell and Esso filling stations…

    Hotel Ticomo: Sitting around the pool, we became aware of a number of seemingly non-Latin men staying at the hotel. Seems they are foreign consultants to the government from countries like East Germany and Bulgaria. Technical advisers for the electrical grid, factories, etc. Also at the hotel: a large group of Canadians, and other North Americans, here, as we, to discover this Nicaragua.

    Tuesday morning, woke to the sounds of loudspeakers; slogans and music rousing people for the holiday celebration: 50 years after the death of Sandino: “Sandino Vive!” An early breakfast of juice and huevos rancheros.

    Norman Bent, Moravian pastor, met us shortly after nine, and spoke most articulately about the situation on the Caribbean coast, particularly as regards the Mosquito Indians.

    Then Nelson drove some of us down toward the city–letting us off near the Intercontinental. We were taken aback to realize the people were heading away from the plaza. Was the rally already over! We’d imagined it was to be an all day thing. But, sure enough, we missed the most important event of the week! I was amazed that in this Latin country a major event that actually started on time, and was so brief. (Someone later remarked about the punctuality of the Sandinistas.) We walked on to the plaza anyway, and were glad to at least catch the end: still some people gathered, listening to amplified music. Still lots of soldiers around; one tends to wonder about all the guns so casually carried, hopefully the young soldiers know how to handle them safely.

    Next day…

    On the road up to the hotel three of us looked in the entranceway of the children’s home which we noticed earlier. We really didn’t have to ask to be invited in to look around–the attendants there just figured we wanted to, so we had a nice tour around. About 100 girls from preschool to teenage, cared for by an around-the-clock staff, three shifts. The home formally of a wealthy family, taken over after the insurrection; neat and clean, though sparsely furnished. Kids grouped by age; several groups were gathered around the TV sets. They shyly and curiously greeted us as we were led around by one of the staff. This attitude of kids, indeed of the people in general, is worth noting: somehow a natural openness, friendliness, not showing-off or defensive. A simplicity… an innocence. We were told about the schooling opportunities that the home provides: practical and home arts, as well as traditional school subjects. The kids are taken on outings to the beach, movies, etc. The kids are sent through social welfare agencies from homes where they are mistreated or otherwise not properly cared for.


    Phil and I decided to go to Esteli, accepting a ride in a CEPAD van. Fast ride and skillful driver… We walked around Esteli a bit, crossed the bridge over a river, and, Phil leading the way, went along a path toward where women were washing clothes in the river, and kids swimming. Took some photographs–it’s remarkable how happy everyone is to be photographed, expecting nothing in return, as if it’s an honor to be asked. This goes for kids as well as adults. No shyness, and seldom any pretension; a way of sharing themselves, of communication.

    We went to the Spanish teacher Ulda’s house at three for a good visit. She, husband and two kids share the house with various relations. Extended families living together seems quite common. It’s wonderful how articulate these young Nicaraguans are, clearly advocating their new society, yet without malice toward the old, in other than the factual way. Truth speaks for itself.

    Another friend, Mario, verified how the Nicaraguans differentiate between the U.S. government and the U.S. people. It’s remarkable their capacity to do so: the press, radio news, etc. continually reports the aggression of the Reagan administration, and indeed the “revolution” is as much against U.S. imperialism as anything. Yet, the unswerving faith in the American people’s desire for good relationships–born out in our experience person-to-person in being here. One really does have to come to Nicaragua to know this. It seems impossible.


    We located the house where the Maryknoll Missioners live… A jeep took us to a mental health center… We learned about a new program targeted at 400 kids aged 6 to 11 who are street vendors or otherwise inappropriately employed. They will be given schooling during the day, and then get vocational training to enable them to contribute creatively to society. If their former vending, etc. had been to provide income for their families, the government will pay an equivalent amount to their parents, though the parents will be monitored to ensure that this money is used properly.

    Later as we passed a school our guide told us that the schools are well used, for elementary children in the mornings, secondary pupils in the afternoon, and adults in the evenings. Over 1 million people in this country of 3 million are studying.

    A health coordinator for the district told about health work in Ciudad Sandino–a coordinated effort with the government, brigadistas, and the people of the barrio. Due to this kind of coordination, 1 million children were vaccinated on a recent Sunday. There is a program for malnourished children to receive supplementary food, including powdered milk, oil, flour and corn. There’s a program that works with TB victims, detecting the disease and working with the people affected. There is rationing of basic food items. Food cards are issued to enable everyone to have access to the basic foods. If quantities permit, people can purchase more, at somewhat higher prices than the rationed quotas. Malnutrition still hasn’t been eliminated, although there are hardly any cases of the most serious “3rd degree”. This situation seems due to ignorance, as food is now available; education is making inroads regarding this problem. One aspect: the encouragement of breast-feeding. We’ve seen billboards saying “Your milk is best, and it comes with love.”

  8. Carlos Petersen

    Comentarios escritos en 1984 [Traduccion en ingles aparecio’ aparte anteriormente.]:
    Comments written in 1984 [Engnish translation appeared previously in a separate entry.]:

    Una visita a Nicaragua, con Felipe y Nan Mitchell
    18-26 de febrero de, 1984

    Extractos del diario de Charles Petersen

    El aeropuerto de Miami. A las 10 domingo por la mañana periodistas y camarógrafos de dos estaciones de televisión de Miami se presentaron en el hotel en respuesta a Phil publicitando una conferencia de prensa. Phil y Nan fueron entrevistados a lado de la piscina; después, 6 de nosotros nos sentamos en una mesa en la sala de conferencias a ser entrevistado. Salió muy bien, los periodistas fueron directo con sus preguntas aún por nada hostil y nuestra postura positiva en lugar de “anti” en relación con el viaje resultó ser la clave para mantener optimista la conferencia.

    Managua: Turnica había organizado un autobús y un conductor para nuestro grupo. Nelson, nuestro conductor y guía, nos dio un buen recorrido. Desafortunadamente había caído la noche, por lo que las impresiones eran algo vagos: banderas políticas “A 50 años Sandino Vive”; personas a lo largo de la carretera a la espera de los autobuses, entrando al cine, casas de madera abiertas con los alimentos que se venden, una barbería, estaciones de servicio Shell y Esso …

    Hotel Ticomo: Sentados alrededor de la piscina, dimos cuenta de un número de hombres aparentemente no latinos que se alojen en el hotel. Parece que son consultores extranjeros al gobierno de países como Alemania Oriental y Bulgaria. Asesores técnicos de la red eléctrica, las fábricas, etc. También en el hotel: un gran grupo de canadienses, y otros norteamericanos, aquí, como nosotros, para descubrir esta Nicaragua.

    Martes por la mañana, se despertó con el sonido de los altavoces; consignas y música llamando a la gente para la celebración de la fiesta: 50 años después de la muerte de Sandino: “Sandino Vive!” Un desayuno temprano del jugo y huevos rancheros.

    Norman Bent, pastor moravo, nos recibió poco después de las 9, y habló más articuladamente sobre la situación en la costa del Caribe, en particular en respecta a los indios Miskito.

    Después, Nelson condujo algunos de nosotros hacia la ciudad–dejandonos cerca del Hotel Intercontinental. Nos sorprendimos a darse cuenta de que las personas estuvieran saliendo de la plaza. ¿Ya se acabó la manifestación?! Nos habíamos imaginado que iba a ser una cosa de todo el día. Pero, efectivamente, nos perdimos el evento más importante de la semana! Me sorprendió que en este país latinoamericano un acontecimiento importante en realidad comenzó a tiempo, y fue tan breve. (Más tarde alguien comentó sobre la puntualidad de los sandinistas.) Seguimos caminando a la plaza de todos modos, y nos alegramos de que por lo menos pudimos ver el final: todavía algunas personas se reunieron, escuchando música amplificada. Todavía muchos soldados presente; uno tiende a preguntarse acerca de todas las armas tan casualmente llevantado; esperemos que los jóvenes soldados saben cómo usarlas con seguridad.

    Siguiente día …

    En el camino hacía el hotel miramos a la portón de la entrada del hogar de niñas que hemos observado antes. Realmente no tuvimos que pedir que se le invite a entrar – los asistentes allí simplemente imaginaban que queríamos, así que tuvimos un agradable visita. Cerca de 100 niñas desde preescolar hasta la adolescencia, atendidos los 24 horas por el personal, tres turnos. Anteriormente la casa era de una familia rica, tomado después de la insurrección; limpia y ordenada, aunque escasamente amueblada. Las niñas agrupadas por edad; varios grupos se reunieron alrededor los televisores. Nos recibieron con timidez y con curiosidad cuando pasamos con una de las empleadas. Esta actitud de los niños, de hecho de la gente en general, vale la pena señalar: una apertura natural, con amabilidad, sin mal comportamiento o en una manera defensiva. Una simplicidad … una inocencia. Nos explicaron sobre las oportunidades para educación que el hogar ofrece: artes prácticas, así como las materias escolares tradicionales. Las niñas se llevan en excursiones a la playa, películas, etc. Las niñas son enviados al hogar a través de las agencias de bienestar social de familias donde son maltratados o de otra manera no adecuadamente atendidos.


    Phil y yo decidimos ir a Estelí, llevado en una camioneta de CEPAD. Rápido viaje y el conductor habilidoso … Caminamos por Estelí un poco, cruzaron el puente sobre un río, y a lo largo de un camino hacía donde mujeres estaban lavando ropa en el río, y niños nadando. Tomó algunas fotografías – es notable cómo todo el mundo está feliz de ser fotografiado, sin esperar nada a cambio, como siendo un honor hacerlo. Esto va para los niños como a adultos. Sin timidez, y rara vez cualquier pretensión; como una manera de compartir, de comunicar.

    Fuimos a la casa de Ulda, la maestra de español, a las tres para una buena visita. Ella, su marido y dos niños comparten la casa con varios parientes. Parientes que viven juntas parece bastante común. Es maravilloso cómo estos jóvenes nicaragüenses se expresen bien. Abogando claramente su nueva sociedad, pero sin malicia hacia la viejo, que no sea basado en los hechos. La verdad habla por sí mismo.

    Otro amigo, Mario, verificó cómo los nicaragüenses diferenciar entre el gobierno estadounidense y el pueblo de Estados Unidos. Es notable su capacidad para hacerlo: la prensa, noticias de radio, etc. informa continuamente la agresión de la administración Reagan, y de hecho la “revolución” es más que nada contra el imperialismo norteamericano. Sin embargo, la fe inquebrantable en el deseo del pueblo estadounidense para las buenas relaciones – confirmado en nuestra experiencia en estar aquí. En verdad, hay que venir a Nicaragua para captar esto. Parece imposible.


    Localizamos la casa donde los Misioneros de Maryknoll viven … Un jeep nos llevó a un centro de salud mental … Nos enteramos de un nuevo programa dirigido a 400 niños de 6 a 11 años que son vendedores ambulantes o de otra manera empleado inadecuadamente. Se les dará la escolarización durante el día, y luego reciben una entrenamiento vocacional que les permita contribuir creativamente a la sociedad. Si su anterior “trabajo”, etc. había sido proporcionar ingresos para sus familias, el gobierno pagará una cantidad equivalente a sus padres, aunque los padres serán monitoreados para asegurar que este dinero se utiliza correctamente.

    Más tarde cuando pasamos una escuela, nuestro guía nos dijo que las escuelas están bien utilizados, para los niños de primaria en las mañanas, los alumnos de secundaria de la tarde, y adultos en las noches. Más de 1 millón de personas en este país de 3 millones están estudiando.

    Un coordinador de salud para el distrito habló de la labor sanitaria en Ciudad Sandino – un esfuerzo coordinado con el gobierno, brigadistas, y la gente del barrio. Debido a este tipo de coordinación, 1 millón de niños fueron vacunados en un domingo reciente. Hay un programa para los niños desnutridos que reciben alimentos suplementarios, incluyendo leche en polvo, aceite, harina y maíz. Hay un programa que trabaja con víctimas de tuberculosis, detección de la enfermedad y trabajando con las personas afectadas. Hay racionamiento de los alimentos básicos. Tarjetas de alimentos se emiten para permitir que todos tengan acceso a los alimentos básicos. Si las cantidades permiten, la gente puede comprar más, a precios un poco más altos que las cuotas racionadas. Desnutrición todavía no se ha eliminado, aunque hay muy pocos casos de las más graves “tercero grado”. Esta situación parece debido a la ignorancia, como la comida ya está disponible; la educación se va abriendo paso con respecto a este problema. Un aspecto: el fomento de la lactancia materna. Hemos visto carteles diciendo “Su leche es lo mejor, y viene con amor.”

  9. Marilyn Carlisle

    Each time I return to Limay I feel the connection strongly with our CB/L Committee, especially Tranquilino Garmendia, Leonidas Silva, and Angelica Gonzalez. They have been dedicated for so many years to serving their community–I believe throughout our 30 years since founding. They keep their fingers on the “pulse” of the people and their needs. They somehow, SOMEHOW seem always to sound optimistic when one sees them in person or talks to them in the monthly phone calls. How is it possible that, when month after month they hope for rain, they d not despair? They ask about the health of those in Baltimore whom they’ve met on delegations, yet they themselves are aging and have health needs they can’t afford to take care of appropriately.
    They are, without a doubt, special people and an inspiration that keeps me wanting to do all I can.

  10. Mark Chalkley

    Thinking that it’s been 30 YEARS since Phil and Nan Mitchell created Casa Baltimore, I think it is interesting and worthwhile to reflect on the personality of the man who was so involved in the creation, but is not here to speak about it: Phil Mitchell.

    I met Phil and Nan in 1985. If memory serves me, I met them some months before I went to Nicaragua myself with the Nicaragua Network’s Reforestation Brigade that September. The Mitchells were new in Baltimore and came to several Central America solidarity meetings wearing their matching jerseys that read “Americans for Peaceful Change”—the name of an organization they tried to start which never got off the round. One didn’t know what to make of them at first: these two people in matching outfits proclaiming an organization nobody had ever heard of, both of them very intense and outspoken.

    Over time I got to know them better and to trust their sincerity (they lived not far from me, on Chester Street in East Baltimore, while I lived down the hill on Aliceanna Street in Fells Point). I don’t need to speak of Nan, since she is alive and well and able to speak for herself. Phil, I fear, can be forgotten, so I think he deserves some remembrance, not as an abstraction, but as a real person.

    He was an ex-Peace Corps volunteer from Saint Louis, Missouri (He had worked for the PC in the early 1960s, in Chile, where he first learned Spanish and saw semi-colonial conditions close up) When I met him he was also successful financially, having been a self-employed graphic artist with many clients. I think that in that period he and Nan between them made at least $100,000 a year, which in 1985 was not a small income.

    I mention that because when he went to Nicaragua to live in a provincial village, Phil really was sacrificing something. I remember that before leaving Baltimore, the Mitchells sold the rowhouse they had bought on Chester Street and most of the possessions in it—all to help raise the “nut” to start Casa Baltimore-Limay.

    Phil (and Nan, of course) talked a lot in terms of liberation theology, radical Christianity. That’s worth mentioning because these days, the Left is very secular and the word “Christian” is associated in many people’s minds with the phrase “right-wing fundamentalist Christian,” or similar terms. Your average New Yorker reader probably pictures Mike Huckabee if he or she hears the word “Christian.” Phil considered himself a Christian, but not the Mike Huckabee variety. He was an admirer of Ernesto Cardenal, the Sandinista priest-poet and other Christians of that kind.

    But what makes Phil especially interesting is that he went beyond the phrases of liberation theology to actually act out some of its ideas. He gave up a lucrative career in the U.S.A. and went to live in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

    Phil died at age 47 of an embolism (an intravenous blood clot) while in Managua. This was an extension of his sacrifice, because he would almost certainly still be alive today if that embolism had happened when he was living on South Chester Street, just a few blocks from Johns Hopkins Hospital. Instead, as a resident of Nicaragua, he went to a hospital in Managua, which was not able to save him. Such was the price Phil paid for his commitment.

    I remember well how Phil had chosen to have a “vasectomy reversal” operation in preparation for his move Nicaragua. He had had the vasectomy during his first marriage, but he decided later that he wanted to have a child with Nan in Nicaragua. The operation was not convenient, and I remember seeing him during his recovery: he had to sit with his legs well apart at all times. For weeks the outcome seemed very uncertain. But the procedure was ultimately successful: he fathered two children in Central America, both by Nan. Unfortunately, he did not live to see them grow up, so we could consider this a collateral part of his sacrifice.

    To be honest, of course, Phil had a touch of fanaticism in his deep commitment. He once told a visiting delegation that ALL Americans bore moral responsibility for the “contra war” against the Sandinista revolution. One Baltimorean, the housing activist Michael Mazepink, questioned this. “Phil, all Americans?” he asked. “Even a single mother on welfare on North Avenue?” Phil answered, “Yes, her too.” I can hardly agree with such a view myself.

    What redeems or excuses such an extreme stance is that, unlike other people who take up such stances, Phil lived and died with the consequences of his position. His position was not just a posture. He left behind his comfortable existence in “Butcher’s Hill” (or if you prefer, Upper Fells Point) and went to share the difficulties of the Nicaraguan people at a very difficult time of their history. He is worth remembering for that.

    Lastly, I wonder what Phil would say if he could see Nicaragua today. Would he approve of Daniel Ortega’s deal with the Chinese billionaire Wang Shi to cut a canal through Lake Nicaragua? How would he feel about the growth of the tobacco industry in Esteli, with its pesticide-intensive cultivation practices? Would he feel that the Revolution of 1979 is still alive? Of course, we can’t know, since he is not here to speak, but I can’t imagine Phil Mitchell would like to see the health of workers and the fertility of the soil sacrificed to the cigar industry. I also doubt that, as someone who cared about the natural environment, Phil would rejoice at the huge canal project which will transform ( if not just wreck) the ecosystem of a large swath of Nicaragua.

    However, I am sure that he would be glad to see people in Baltimore still finding time and energy to show solidarity with the people of Nicaragua and of Limay in particular. He would feel that he had NOT sacrificed in vain.

  11. Arthur Dan Gleckler

    I thank God for Nan’s fearless reports over the years. She was always candid and truthful about the damage U.S. government policies were doing to Nicaragua. We never had to seek “another voice” outside the missionary communications to grasp the larger picture there. She has thus not only worked for the native people she served; she has also served her/our country well by telling the accurate story to all who sponsor her through the Board of Global Ministry…. and to the world … starting with each individual who read her analyses over the decades, and each congregation with whom she was linked.

    Thanks, Miguel and Nan, for your brave and forthright witness through the years.

  12. Barbara Smith

    I was only in Limay once but the people, the town, and history remained with me long after, eventually motivating me to write a book (—much of which is set in Limay after the Cuban revolution. Photographs I had taken while in Limay inspired many of the scenes in the novel. Particularly poignant were those of children—their innocence shattered by war, elderly men watching …, a graveyard with simple wooden crosses, oxen pulling a cart along the dusty and deserted streets of the town. Sometimes life affects us in completely unexpected ways: years later, my experience in Limay affected recommendations I made regarding the health care of pregnant Nicaraguan women living in Costa Rica. Over the years, Limay, for me, has been a microcosm of the best and worst of humanity—Casa Baltimore/Limay and the many people involved in the organization certainly have been a reflection of the “best.” -Barbara Smith,

  13. Dave Schott

    Hurricane Mitch:
    For about 6 months. I worked as a coordinator for Casa Baltimore Limay, and it was a memorable time in that shortly after I started (Oct. 1998) Hurricane Mitch devastated Limay and vast areas of northwestern Nicaragua. The storm arrived in the last week of October, Oct. 29,1998, and hung around in some places in Nicaragua, Honduras and Salvador for 8 days. Some of my main memories were about the crops in Limay being covered up by a about 6 to 8 feet of sand and debris, at least one of the bridges was wiped out and homes being wiped out or inundated. The stories of destruction from around the country were incredible as heavy rains fell for eight days in locations and people survived by hanging on trees. The most horrific was when 2,500 peasants were wiped out in a mudslide that rolled down Las Casitas volcano as a bowl filled up and the water broke through the crater carrying mud and rocks down a slope about 12 kilometers long covering up and rolling over families, villages and livestock that were located on the hill of the volcano because it was land they could afford. Meanwhile President Aleman arrogantly dismissed the crisis and limited the government’s response by saying something to the effect that people were jumping over some puddles.

    Memories of my first and only trip to Limay:
    I visited Nicaragua in 2006 with Marilyn Carlisle, John Reuter, Claudette and Brandi Rhone. I had been studying Spanish near the Laguna de Apoyo, a pretty volcanic lake near Masaya, before the group arrived. I remember rendezvousing at the Quaker House in Managua where the group was staying and how the power was out in the evening which made the dinner making and cleaning up a make-shift kind of operation. I think the water remained on! Later we sorted out the many bags we had brought from the States, which included baseball equipment, that needed to be loaded on to the top of the old school bus at Esteli Bus Station, about midway in our journey up over the mountains to Limay. The mayor of the Limay, an energetic woman, was very appreciative of receiving the various supplies from the CB/L Committee. We were treated very hospitably by our hosts in Limay, and I remember fondly our dinners at Casa Nadia. In addition we heard a lot about Huracan Mitch and the impact on the village. Thanks to the support from the CB/L Sister City and other domestic and international connections, a lot had been done to restore the infrastructure of the village.

    In the late 80s/early 90s:
    Casa Baltimore Limay and Phil and Nan Mitchell were an inspiration for me and the group at Ascension Lutheran Towson which was considering establishing a Sister Parish linkage with a parish in Nicaragua. Before we committed to a Sister Parish Inc., Barbara Larcom, Kathy Schaafsma and Joan Parr visited Ascension to familiarize members of the Ascension congregation to the benefits of such a partnership. Witnessing the memorial service for Phil Mitchell at St. John’s Methodist Church was an inspiring and informative event also.

    Thanks for your past history and best wishes for the Future!

    Dave Schott, the Nicaragua Partnership of Ascension Lutheran, Towson and Faith and Hope Lutheran Church, Managua, Nicaragua

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