El Porvenir is a rural, 30-family community nestled in the mountains of Matagalpa, Nicaragua. A few months ago, I was dropped off in El Porvenir for a week to learn as much as I could about life in the campo of Nicaragua and what I have learned, apart from how to produce coffee, was that capitalism is no secret, western media is potent and present everywhere, and the “happy campesino” is a trite character we create to excuse our privilege and suppress guilt.
Growing up, I can remember watching movies and TV shows where the moral was to be happy with what you have, and often, this would be revealed by showing a poor family that were so much happier with what they had than the rich family. This straw character is often manifested when we think of farmers in developing countries, and exists to excuse our active participation in their impoverishment by believing they are perfectly happy and fulfilled doing hard labor, negating suffering and humanity. I wish I could pretend every person whose poverty I am living off of is simply happy with what they have, but there is reality in suffering, and there is truth in desire. In Porvenir, working as a farmer is difficult and exhausting, only to come home to food void of essential nutrients, tin houses, few blankets, and a government that, only a few decades after the revolution, uses questionable tactics to get votes. Even in the most rural of areas, there are people who realize how much work they do and the uncomfortable (not universal) conditions in which they are living: In the week that I was in El Porvenir, the two most common questions I got asked were if “my country” had “positive development and democracy” and “houses made out of concrete.”
Something that amazes me throughout the country of Nicaragua, the second poorest country of the Western Hemisphere after Haiti, is that no matter where I go, I see Aeropostale hoodies, Cheetos wrappers on the ground, and televisions of every size and brand. This was the same in El Porvenir, a community only accessible by a small dirt road. Just like electronics and processed food, images also are exported globally; the white, patriarchal and wealth-obsessive media we watch in this country is consumed in the form of movies, TV shows, music videos, advertisements, and magazines everywhere, and people are very much aware of the life that others live. As a college student, young person, and person of color I can see the way that capitalism affects me negatively every day. However, I also must acknowledge that I am able to eat food from all over the world, take hot showers whenever I feel dirty, and learn other languages on a whim because of where I’m from. And this is no secret: people know- they can see it with their own eyes.
Although just having received electricity three months ago, the community members are very much aware about the system in which they exist. While in El Porvenir, I learned about how coffee is made, as it is the main source of income for the community. I witnessed hours upon hours of cultivation, picking, peeling, cleaning, and drying of coffee to produce it’s unfamiliar white bean form- yet I never drank it, because the community itself can only afford instant coffee. Like the majority of Nicaraguans, the family I stayed with lives on less than $2 per day, a 6th of the cost of an 8-oz bag of “Nicaragua Diamond” Starbucks coffee, which comes from the region of Matagalpa, where El Porvenir is located. I noticed that the most common phrase I heard, from both men and women was, “life here is rough, work is hard.” As is the case everywhere, people learn how to be happy with what they have, but not everyone is content with doing manual labor in the hot sun for hours a day, peeling individual beans before dinner every night, and carrying buckets of water and 100-pound bags of coffee beans for miles up mountains.
The TV, one of the only sources of artificial lights I saw during the week I stayed in El Porvenir, constantly played music videos and TV shows, reminding everyone around it how life is away from “el campo”. After dinner every night, the whole community would swarm into the one-room house to sit and watch–escape for a second, just like we all do.
Click on the gallery above to see some photos I took of my time there, contrasted with some photos from the media I watched on the 12 inch TV in my host family’s house.