A week-end trip from hell

Carreterra a Jinotega, Matagalpa

Sometimes bad luck is so thorough that EVERY decision turns out bad.

Thursday: I am off to Matagalpa to help prepare the last evaluation workshop for the PROMAT project. But the car battery is dead. It refused to recharge yesterday, before that I hadn’t used the car for a month. But I am prepared, I backed the car the carport so I just I have to roll out to start it. Now I wish I hadn´t!

Having gotten to Matagalpa, I turn into a gas station to buy water for the battery, no stopping the engine! UNAG´s office is on a steep hill, so: no problems there.

Everybody is on time, and we prepare a good workshop. Jill, who has come from England as workshop leader and report writer, seems to be just right, energetic and sensible, works her way with ease into people and the job in general.
By 6.30 p.m. we are finished, and I leave to find a hotel for the night. The workshop will begin tomorrow, Friday. The car won’t start – the battery has NOT recharged during the trip. I get it started by rolling it down the hill, find a parking spot on another hill near the hotel, pour the battery fluid into the battery, and cross my fingers that this is the trick that will work.

Carreterra a Jinotega, Matagalpa

Friday morning: Another rolling start. I have an hour before we start the workshop, so I take the car up and down the mountain towards Jinotega, in order to charge the battery.

The views are the same old same old, that is, magnificent as ever. With Northern Nicaragua’s wide and deep valleys, steep slopes, mountain ranges lining up after the other until earth meets sky on the horizon half a country away… This is Omar Cabezas’ “endless green plain”, the one I always dream about when I am caged in an office in Managua, or in a cold apartment in Copenhagen… or haunted by bad luck on the road.

Carreterra a Jinotega, Matagalpa

Well, back to Matagalpa. I drive around until I find a gas station that lies om the correct sloping hillside. Get the tank filled up, and, oh miracle!, the ignition works. The trick with the water did it!!!! Thank you, Omar!

Taller de evaluacion final

Later Friday morning. In a happy mood, I park the car at the center where we always hold our courses. Here today are Jill, the five members of the PROMAT team, and 15 farmers: leaders from Pancasan, La Dalia, San Ramon, Terrabona, Muy Muy… the places and the voices of the farmers belonging to them, once again bring me back to the “endless green plain” while we analyse progress and failures of administration, bookkeeping, marketing, committee structures, gender relations, the life of times of three and a half years of hard cooperative building.

Taller de evaluacion finalTaller de evaluacion finalTaller de evaluacion finalTaller de evaluacion final

The farmers fill the walls with their analysis, Jill and I beat at our lap-tops. These men and women are mature, experienced leaders, they pull well together, a team after so many years, so their analysis, proposals and remarks are, as usual, impressively sharp. The farmers’ movement is the life’s work of these men and women, and the enthusiasm that they bring to any discussion about their cooperatives can make even talking about bookkeeping an interesting experience.

In the break I call Maggan on the phone, standing in the shadow of the huge Guanacaste in the court yard. Looking up into the branches while talking to Managua. Progress.

El arbol de CECAP

Friday at sundown: It is dark when Jill and I are ready to drive back to the hotel. And… ! The car won’t start. This morning´s success was a mere sop, the battery has died again as quickly as it was charged. After several vain attempts we seek help to start the car. Three young boys, 9 or10 years old, give the car a good push, and: – it starts. We give them a ride to downtown Matagalpa. They jump out, and I discover that my bag has mysteriously wandered from the baggage compartment to the back seat.

I quickly check it in the dark and by feel I find that my camera is gone. Out in a flash, I stand tall over the kids who haven’t quite gotten out of the car yet. I ask them to hand me back the camera. “Camera? What camera?” Jill pulls at a suspicious cord hanging from one of the boys’ jeans, and out comes my camera from under his clothes. I thank them a thousand times, and they thank me a thousand times. Jill and I get in the car. My first thought when the car is running: “Hey, what about my mobile phone!!!” It is not in in the bag, and by now the boys are far gone. He who laughs last, laughs best. And they must have had a good laugh running away in the dark, on their streets.

Friday evening. I let Jill off by her friends’ house, where she is staying, and again park the car on a hilly road. I use the next two hours tracing Maggan’s mobile number, which I have forgotten (who remembers numbers any more!). I have gotten the wrong number written dow, searching my computer memory and mails reveals nothing, changing digits and calling a lot of numbers by chance gets me nowhere. At last, I find the number of a friend who, as it turns out, can give me Maggan’s number.

When I finally get hold of her, she tells me of strange conversations with strange boys, and even more strange explanations of why they are answering my phone. and where I am and with whom. In her mind she has already seen me hijacked, kidnapped, and thrown in the ditch, before I get a hold of her. Donald from the PROMAT team was actually hijacked once, only 50 meters from the gas station that I stopped by this morning, so the thought is not that far out… They drove him half an hour out of town, took his money, tied him up, but left him alive and with the car, him thinking all the while: this is my last hour.

Saturday morning: Up early, quick breakfast, off to the car… when I press the key it doesn´t beep. NOW what´s wrong? Is the battery that dead? No, just a broken window, all the alarm wiring torn out, and the radio and my boots stolen. Fuck, I think more than once as I try to pick up pieces of glass from the seat. Fuck, fuck, fuck…

During the day that follows I manage to buy a new phone, so that Maggan can reach me, I get a new battery installed in the car, AND in between, we finish the workshop. My only thought, when the workshop is over and the farmers have left for home, and all their work safely stored in the computer: – Get out of this town as quickly as possible before anything else happens!

And I got out. The trip home: the beautiful sunset over the Lake Managua as I come down from the plateau, a fresh breeze through the window that is no longer there, and the quiet harmony of wind, tires and engine that only a long drive in a radio-free car gives you..

(First posted in Danish on January 20, 2008)


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