Friday, while still recovering from the ends of a nasty stomach bug, I managed to survive the two hour drive up to Achuapa, the northern-most municipality of León, for the 9th Annual International Solidarity Music Festival.
Friday night was the ´Festival of Gold´, where the music and dance of the eldest generation are featured. I watched as a 92 year old man played fiddle for hours on stage. We found out later that three years ago he counted over 333 grandkids and great grand kids! It was one of the only violins I´ve seen in Nicaragua, and he played it like an old timer from down south, with the bow drawn so tight it curved the wrong way, holding the fiddle against his chest instead of under his chin, while a comical mismatched elderly couple danced away on a stage built of rickety boards. The crowds were thrilled.
The festival was beautiful, the little village where we stayed, called La Gartillo, was even more beautiful. I embarrassed myself sufficiently by getting up and singing a Nina Simone songs with some English friends, and then by attempting a treble reel at 12:30 at night. It was marvelous fun.
In El Gartillo monday morning I spoke for a while with Roger, the bank leader of a group called Los Rusticos. He has written countless songs, inspired by his community, the incredible mountains surrounding them, and Nicaraguan traditions. His group features two really talented young kids who play mandolin and sing, and several other members of the village.
I talked to him about the inspiration for writing several songs about sustainable agriculture, and he shared the lyrics with me. He said he´s been to countless trainings over the years offered by NGOs in the region, in permaculture, apiculture, and silvopastoreo. He pointed out that its difficult to apply all the trainings because the information is rarely offered along with financing, or credit. But he also talked about the changes he´s seen in the last decade, with many fewer people burning to clear brush, and hillsides turning greener with reforestation projects. His beautiful poetry and observations left me feeling positive about projects like the cooperative he is part of and the reforestation project, and it was validating to hear from him that he felt the need to better integrate credit and technical assistance.
The countryside, while it is where foreigners are constantly warned of menacing diseases, turned out to be the perfect place to recuperate. After passing a whole week in León with absolutely no appetite, the beans and tortillas offered to me were the most delicious ever. The water, filtered through large ceramic jugs, was fresh. By the time I arrived back yesterday I felt 100% myself again, and looking forward to returning this weekend for their agriculture fair.