Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast – Sociolinguist’s Paradise, Electrician’s Nightmare

What do Miskito, Rama, Garifuna, Spanish, Creole, and English have in common?  Well, nothing really, besides the fact that you can hear all of them within a block in Bluefields, on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua – a place where international organizations and tourists rarely venture.  While a number of these languages are, in essence, subsets of others, I am hard pressed to come up with another place of such linguistic variety (no, Times Square doesn’t count).  Bluefields is, without question, a sociolinguist’s paradise.

Easier to understand than it looks...

Recently, I traveled with my friend Cleveland, who is Rama Indian, to Pearl Lagoon, a coastal town roughly 90 minutes north of Bluefields by panga, or speedboat.  The ride alone is worth the trip; packed in like sardines, we slalomed around protruding rocks and swerved between the narrow banks at 50 mph.  Thankfully, the initial feeling of doom soon morphed into a more relaxing appreciation for the untouched landscape and sheer isolation of the surrounding area.  Once in Pearl Lagoon, we stayed with a Garifuna family, descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people.  Between scores of children running around and women shuttling from room to room, all of the region’s languages were on display.  One of the young girls, Doris, scribbled down the Nicaraguan national anthem for me, written in both Miskito and Garifuna, exemplifying the remarkable multiculturalism here.  Soon after, as we were all huddled around the television for the Yankees/Red Sox game, a power outage abruptly put an all-too-familiar halt to the festivities.

Although there is no shortage of culture on this side of the country, there is often a shortage of electricity.  Many people here feel somewhat neglected by Daniel Ortega’s government as the President apparently has never visited Bluefields, the de facto capital of RAAS (Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur), let alone invested in infrastructure improvements or social services in the region.  It is a running joke, and probable fact, that the cocaine trade and the narcotraficantes along these coasts have done more to develop the region than the government in Managua.

The frequent power outages, sometimes occurring multiples times in a single day, add to the challenges facing local entrepreneurs and Kiva’s microfinance field partners.  Running a small business can be daunting enough, without having to deal with lingering security concerns, constant thunderstorms, shoddy infrastructure and power outages that are par for the course here.  I recently met a Kiva entrepreneur who runs a pulpería, or small general store.  She has been burglarized three times in the past year and a half, including three weeks prior, and conceded that she will be stretched to restock her shelves and pay off her loan.  To be sure, this is just one of the many complexities for Kiva’s field partner, ADEPHCA (Asociación de Desarrollo y Promoción Humana de la Costa Atlántica), in its effort to provide access to responsible credit for the region’s entrepreneurs.  In the meantime, let’s do our part to continue to help fund Kiva’s partners and give more people around the world access to credit.

Dan Tulchin (KF12) is enjoying Nicaraguan pastries as often as possible as a roaming Kiva Fellow.  He will soon be working with four other Kiva partners in Managua and León, where he hopes to catch a glimpse of many more Yankees games.

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