our beautiful friends

March 18, 2009

our friends from Nicaragua, going-away party, Montpelier Unitarian Church, February, 2009 Daniel Wetmore

the boat to Ometepe

March 6, 2009


Boat to Ometepe, Lake Nicaragua, 2005  Daniel Wetmore

mud wall

mud wall, el chile, 2005                   © Daniel Wetmore

Con Cariño

February 15, 2009

Con Cariño

A worship service at Montpelier’s Unitarian Church led and written by Dan Wetmore

Chalice Lighting:

I am here this morning partly because Maggie was planning to not be here but rather to attend the conferring of her husband Rick’s doctoral degree today. Sadly she has travelled instead to Oklahoma where her mother died this past week. Our thoughts are with her and her family as we light this chalice, as the flame that was her mother is extinguished let the flame of her memory be kindled in Maggie and in those whose lives she touched, and let us tend our own flames,those of our loved ones who have died and yet are still with us, and our own individual fires, our particular gifts, passions, our lives. From the heat in every cell, to the light in our eyes and love in our hearts. There are all these temples here, all these chalices.


Christians, over the ages, have seen Christ in the poor, the neglected, imprisoned, and oppressed. For Jews there is deep folklore that Elijah still walks the earth and is prone to appear in the guise of a cranky, obstreporous Gentile. The Hindu sees Krishna in the breast of the so-called Brahman and in the so-called untouchable as well. The Buddhist sees and doesn’t see the Buddha everywhere. Who do you see? A presence? A person? Is there a difference? And do you see yourself?

Song of Entrance: by Godoy (sung in Spanish by the choir)

You are the God of the poor,
The human and simple God;
The God that sweats in the street,
The God of the weather-beaten face.
Therefore I speak to you like this,
The way my people talk;
Because you are the God the laborer,
Christ the worker.

You go hand-in-hand with my people,
You struggle in the fields and the city;
You line up in the labor camp
To be paid your day’s wages;
You eat sitting there in the park
With the workmen Eusebio, Pancho and Juan Jose,
Even complaining about your ice-cream
When the vendor skimped on the syrup.

I have seen you in a neighborhood grocery,
Hanging out in a beer joint;
I have seen you selling lottery tickets
Without feeling any shame;
I have seen you in the gas stations
Changing tires on a truck;
And even working on the highways
Wearing leather gloves and cover-alls.

Con Cariño (with affection)

Good morning
Catherine asked me to be spiritual and Maggie asked that I be brief. It is clear that neither of them know me very well. I shall do my best.

Jaimen, my son, and I stayed in the mayor’s house, in his son Cesar’s room, the front room whose window opens onto the street, adjacent to the porch. The floors in the house were tile, the walls brick. The windows had bars and shutters but no glass. There were open spaces along the tops of the walls for air to flow and, incidentally, sound.
It had been a long day. It had started in deep winter at 5 am and 10º in Montpelier, Vermont, and ended in the hot dry season at 85º and 10 pm in San Ramon, Nicaragua, a small town north of Matagalpa. The mayor and his children had long since gone to bed but Doribel, our hostess and the mayor’s wife, had waited up for us. She welcomed and showed us to our beds — mine was woven cane stretched inside a wooden frame, covered with a soft blanket for a mattress and a pillowcase stuffed with clean clothes for padding. We were exhausted, excited, and in the shock that comes with unfamiliar surroundings. We lay down, wondering what tomorrow and the next eight days would bring.
Next eight days? Tomorrow? What about the next eight minutes?
No sooner had we closed our eyes when Nestor’s and Doribel’s two tiny dogs, tiny with huge voices, sounded the alarm over a noise they might have heard in the street. They were just on the other side of our bedroom wall, not six feet from our heads as the bark flies, and their barks did fly, their hard claws scraping on the tile covered porch, turning our bedroom into an echo chamber, exploding into furious sound at the drop of a hat, literally, or a pin, or a pebble skidding in the street, or because some other dog somewhere else in town had heard a pin drop, or a leaf fall, or the rustle of a lizard’s foot over dry leaves. And no matter who started it, or why, every dog in San Ramon was soon in chorus. “Something’s happening, something’s happening.” “Danger!” “Hello?” “What’s happening?” The barking became general and moved in waves, swelling in one section of town, cresting in another, riding on and on. The lizard’s footfall long since forgotten, the barking sustained itself, became its own rationale, and then gradually, oh so gradually, and fitfully, began to recede. “Everything okay?” “Should we keep barking?” “Hello, Hello.” “Why are we barking?” “I think we can stop barking.” “I’ll stop if you stop.” Until, finally, a moment of silence, or two moments. And in that alert pause I hear the flutter of a bird in the tree outside my window, and the mayor’s dogs hear it too and it all begins again, again and again.
Once around 2 am the noise became so loud that it roused the roosters, and one by one, two by two, ten by ten, the roosters of San Ramon awoke and began crowing, and then horses and other animals I could not identify. General alarm. Was I in Brementown? Was I in a folk tale? What is happening?
The second night was better. I was so tired I actually fell asleep, but then woke to find Jaimen standing between our beds, staring blankly, sleep standing. I had a moment of fright and confusion. I didn’t recognize my surroundings. Why is Jaimen standing there? Jaimen! I shouted, Wake up! Lie Down! What? What?! Jaimen shouted back, suddenly scared. Stop shouting! I shouted. He shouted. This was good, real good, this wasn’t no pebble kicked by a pig or a scampering lizard. This was alarm. The mayor’s dogs joined in and within ten seconds every hound in San Ramon was spreading the news.

Shocking, confusing, fascinating, stimulating things, encounters, sights, happened every day of our visit, to all of us I think, several times a day. Did you know that spherical airplants dot the telephone wires of Nicaragua? They look like the little animals from the Trouble with Tribbles episode of Star Trek. I’m sure one can date the age of the wires by the size and quantity of these ubiquitous plants.
Did you know that Winnie the Pooh was a Sandinista? Daffy Duck? Tweety Bird? I have pictures. I can prove it. Winnie the Pooh with a black and red headband.
There are walkaround statues of Jesus with real hair and he is still carrying the cross. It was downright nerve-racking to see him being walked thru the streets, hair blowing in the breeze and swinging with the motion of his porters.
The San Ramon baseball team the municipal team, the one that plays teams from other towns and cities, doesn’t have any gloves. Nestor, the mayor and our host, had seen the 40 gloves which we had brought and then donated to Pueblo Viejo, a village deep in the countryside. He pulled me aside, “Daniel,” next year, “proximo anno, when you return perhaps you could bring some baseball gloves for San Ramon?” “You don’t have any gloves? How many do you need?” “Nueve, (nine) (of course!), ocho izquierdas y una derecha, no, ocho derechas y una izquierdas.” (8 lefts and 1 right,no 8 rights and 1 left.)” I knew what he meant, I think. “What about this year?” He was silent and shrugged, lookng wistful.

Beth took us to El Chile, a village in the campo, the country, where she is helping foster nothing less than the rebirth of weaving in Nicaragua. Rebirth. It was outlawed early in this century by President Somoza, which Somoza apparently doesn’t matter. Outlawed. Can you imagine? Why? Spite? Eccentricity? Fear of color?
You know what cognitive dissonance is. When you see or hear something that doesn’t fit into your experience, your body of knowledge, and expectation? Outlaw weaving? Your mind wanders…looking for associations. Isn’t the spinning wheel on the flag of India? Because of Gandhi right? Something about self-reliance, the shedding of clothes made in England, the shedding of European styles, a return to a semblance of village life before colonialism, economic independence. Remember the Great Salt March? When the making of salt in the traditional Indian way, from sea water, was illegal. You had to buy it. Wasn’t that Gandhi’s first campaign of civil disobedience? Marching to the ocean with evaporating pans.
I am standing on a dirt floor in a simple home of mud and wattle construction. A pig and several chickens wander in the side yard. I see one four harness “barn” loom being worked by a man. In the front dooryard under a canopy a teenaged girl, her warp tied off to the post that holds up the roof, leans back into her backstrap loom and weaves. Rosa, her teacher, and our hostess, stands to the side watching her, smiling, and speaking with us. It was Rosa’s grandmother who had passed on the craft to her. To the side a foot powered sewing machine sits on a table. This is the rebirth of weaving. They are not making their own clothes, not yet, but rather purses, handbags, hammocks, items to sell to people like us, who would brave an hour long rocky bus ride into the hills just to crowd into their tiny workspace. I buy a handbag, a purse, another handbag and a wallet and one very long and loose thread that follows me back home to Vermont. Why outlaw weaving? Identity, culture, self-reliance, self-reliance the unpardonable sin against colonialism, against the plantation. Fear of color, of local color. It wasn’t Somoza, Jairo explained after I had returned. He wasn’t in charge, not really. He was a nobody. It was your government, the US, and US clothing manufacturers looking for markets. That’s why weaving was banned. And that is just one example.
Jairo tells me about music. Before the revolution in Nicaragua and throughout Latin America the best bands, the most popular, were the ones who could most perfectly imitate US pop music groups, singing in unaccented English words they did not understand. It wasn’t how good they were, but rather how much they were like someone else. I imitate, therefore I am. Only hencho’s, dirty stupid back country Indians would listen to the kind of folk rhythms which you have just heard here from the choir and Emily, and Jairo. Carlos Meija Godoy laid the groundwork for Nicaragua’s liberation by taking those folk melodies, infusing into them national pride, and a heavy dose of both humor and incarnational theology. And similar to the Black is Beautiful movement in this country Godoy and others brought about a rebirth of consciousness and identity in Nicaragua. You are beautiful. Your music is beautiful. Become you are, return to who you are. Discover who you are. He wrote the music that gave the culture back to itself.
All this from one question asked to the right person because I liked the music and because I was struggling with some dissonance.
Beth was vague, at least to my mind about the purpose of our trip. It wasn’t really a work brigade, altho we did some work. We had activities, each day was filled with events and wherever we went our Nicaraguan hosts seemed genuinely pleased to meet us and feed us and share their day with us. I did not feel that I had any special skills or gifts and I did not speak Spanish so I felt clumsy and extraneous much of the time, like I was in the way.
Our first full day in Nicaragua was spent mostly at La Chispa, which is Spanish for ‘the spark’, the neighborhood, barrio, in Matagalpa where Planting Hope built and sustains a library for schoolchildren. Helen and Emma and Sarah B and Darryl played parachute circle games, Brendan, Matthew, Jaimen, Rick, Kris played soccer and or basketball up at the nearby basketball court. Anita, Sandal, Sarah S and Dorothy were inside the library sharing some educational activities and doing some impromptu tutoring. Liz and Laura seemed to spend most of the time alternately fending off and encouraging friendliness from certain very attentive young men. I forget what Sarah M was doing. Perhaps she was floating like me, taking in the view, the cliff, the outhouse, the signs of beauty and resilience and survival
After a delicioso meal we gathered in the back yard our backs to the cliff, clustered around what became a rocky dance floor. Seats were taken. Scores of children streamed in from the barrio. A boom box emerged. And then group after group, for hours, song after song, the girls of Sembrando Esperanzas, Planting Hope, danced for us. Each dance was formally introduced with flair. All different ages, costumes, traditional, modern, hip hop. They were magnificent. Elegant, poised, sensual. They were hot, sharp, and on. In between my amazement and admiration I kept asking myself why they were doing this for us, for me. I had done nothing for them. All I had done was had over 1000 dollars to Continental Airlines and ridden on a bus, and stood around. Dropped into this culture and treated like an honored guest. (Because you are a guest Darryl reminded me and this must be how they treat guests. Because you are with Beth, Sandal added, because you are a supporter of the library. But I haven’t given anything to the library. This is my first involvement. Well Sandal said, I bet you will now.
Later Beth told me that above all else the girls just love to dance and strut their stuff and were very excited to have a captive audience.
Solidarity, Beth had said, that was the point of our trip. It sounded vague, like a buzzword, like a word I was supposed to know the meaning of and didn’t. I want more people in Central Vermont to know my friends here in Nicaragua, I want to increase awareness of life here and maybe the library can benefit.
The way she did it was to put us into the homes and kitchens of the people of San Ramon and bring us into daily contact with library staff and scholarship students who started off as tour guides, became friends, and by the end of the week were dance partners. They got into our hearts and I think we got into theirs.
God doesn’t really have a weathered face. She doesn’t sit in the park with Eusebio and Juan Jose, he doesn’t complain about the ice cream. But Juan jose and Maria are there. there are weathered faces and from those who harvest the sugar cane sweetness is withheld. The face of God is not the issue, but rather the face and the flesh of our neighbors, near and far, and our own, and how and where we come together and how we handle the dissonance and the pain and the legacy of history, and how we weave with color and heat and light the fabric of new friendship.
We, in the delegation, have chosen to dedicate ourselves to building a second floor on what is now a very overcrowded library in one barrio in one city in Central America. some of us are learning Spanish. I’m finally learning the history of Latin America and North America. It seems neighborly. We invite you to join us or simply encourage you in whatever work you are already engaged. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground, hundreds of ways to dance, thousands of potential partners. there is no need to wait.

Closing Words:

Creo, I believe, that if the dogs of San Ramon can yap all night about nothing then surely we here can make a chorus. Go forth, and hold forth, and so forth. Amen

Love and Translation

February 10, 2009

“Te amo,” he said, I love you, his eyes bright, glistening, nervous, looking straight into mine, “mi amor,” my love.
“Verdad?” Truly? I responded. “Si, si,” he insisted, and blushed, and laughed.
“Es muy fuerte,” I said, it’s very strong. Amor. Love.
“Si, si, escribelo,” yes, yes, write it.
“Okay,” I said, and turned back to the keyboard and resumed typing.

He had met a beautiful gringa in Morrisville; actually, verdad, every gringa he had met was beautiful, bonita. But this one he had danced with, laughed with, and now I was helping him make a Facebook page, create a Gmail account, and find her, in the confused, multi-noded net of the Web, the world-wide web narrowed to one pulsing axis, Nicaragua to Vermont, Vermont to Nicaragua, beating with music and dance, with youth, energy, and beauty, with the allure and magic of the other, the new, the foreign, that is now holding your hands and hips and dancing you across a high school gym floor in Morrisville, in Montpelier, at U32, in Henneker.

He was in love and I was translating. Would this email find her? Would she write back? Return his amor?

The email (correo, related to ‘correspondence’?) flew out into the night and then we returned to Facebook and his search for ‘Friends’. Facebook is all about Friends, Amigos, searching for them, finding them, confirming, and adding. So-and-so wishes to be your friend; will you confirm? Friends of Friends, Friends in Common, People you may Already Know. Why, just the other day my own wife accepted my offer of Friendship. It should have been a no-brainer, but I was still relieved.

Our Nicaraguan guest is 18 years old, from deep in the campo, the countryside, a good place for camping, a campesino, a countryman, living a full and demanding life in a small casa, house, with a large family, working four hours a day teaching literacy to adultos, adults, walking two hours a day back and forth to high school,  and working for Planting Hope, the organization which central Vermont’s own Beth Merrill created in 2001. He is here with eleven compañeros, companions, (com-pany, someone who eats bread, pan, with you, ‘with-bread’, ‘bread-with’) dancers, ambassadors, bringers of Nicaraguan cultura, both folk and pop, for four weeks in January, in a deep cold spell. He is our house guest, staying in our very large casa, with our small family and multiple cars.

Four years ago Jaimen, my son, and I had gone ‘down’ to Nicaragua with Beth’s first big delegation of Vermonters and gringos for a ten day visit. If I hadn’t been a gray-haired 47 and married I would have been just as taken with the Nicaraguan mujeres, women, as our own guest was now with Vermont girls — verdad, I was, taken with, by, all of them, and the heat and music, the dancing, the food, and the beautiful, bonita, people, the friendly, friendly, amistoso pueblo.

Since then muchos grupos, many groups, of northerners have gone south to Central America and now, finally, a grupo of Nicaragüeñses has come here.

It took two days for the cherished one in Morrisville to respond, but respond she did, and once again I was called upon to translate —  to carry across, to transfer, to move the words from one world to another, English to Spanish. And the word I had to carry? That terrible wonderful word that cuts both ways — friend.  “Good friends,” she wrote, but only friends. “Amiga,” I said to him. “Amiga,” he repeated blankly. “Amiga, no amor.”
“Ah, si, entiendo.” I understand. He looked hurt for a moment and then smiled, “amiga, si”  then allowed as how it would be better to find a novia,  girlfriend, back home in Nicaragua. Verdad.

Amiga, amigo, amor… the funny thing is that they share the same root, the Latin amare, love. At its root amigo  means love, so also the English ‘amiable,’ ‘amicable,’ some scholars trace amare  to amma back to mama, to the sounds of the suckling babe finding and naming its first love, its momma. Friends, lovers, and mothers, one in origin, in etymon, in essence? And ‘friend’ itself, a different word, from a Germanic root, but one with the same loving meaning– frijaz — “dear, beloved,” Frigg, goddess of love, Friday, goddess-of-love-day, a root that also branched into ‘free’. Free and friend and Frigg — same root. To be free is to love and be loved. Love frees. If you love someone set them free. Or dance with them, listen to them, visit them, learn their language, tickle their tongue, translate your self, carry yourself into new places, new rhythms, new friends and loves. Love your mother, your child and lover, and be a friend, to the stranger and your neighbor.