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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Memories of a Nicaraguan Nacatamal!

This is the season of traditional Nicaraguan Nacatamales and also the season when the memories of tropical banana leaves invade my mind. One day on Christmas Eve, mother asked me to run a quick errand. She was preparing to cook her famous Nacatamales, a dish made only for special occasions: Christmas, New Years, birthdays, family gatherings or simply my father’s request. This time there were two reasons: my father’s request and Christmas Eve, as all of my siblings had come home from college.

Mother’s Nacatamales could not be imitated as she spent endless hours seasoning the dough with fresh, organic spices and vegetables. Her swollen feet supported her tired body as she stirred the dough once counter clock, twice clockwise relentlessly until the dough boiled and cooked on very low flames. Once she completed the laborious process of making dough, she scooped a small ball of dough onto a softened banana leaf and topped it nicely with peppermint leaves, seasoned beef, chicken or pork, olives, rice, tomatoes, bell peppers and potatoes. To conclude, her extravagant masterpiece, she wrapped each individual Nacatamal with fresh a tender, fresh banana leaf and tied it with a dry banana leaf string.

After my mother had spent hours standing like a hen, alternating one foot on the ground while resting the other, my only job was to bring home the store bought banana leaves needed to complete the arduous task.

I left the house running with all intentions of doing what I’d been told, but urged on by my imagination, I went on swinging from tree to tree, wearing only banana leaves as I strolled through the Nicaraguan rainforest in company of my wild friends, my long gone dog Ladrón, and my horse, Lucero.

I would dream of day and night of this wonderful way of life. I turned out to be several beings living in one divine body, a butterfly transforming constantly through the different stages. During school breaks, I became a free-hearted jungle girl who loved our farm most of all where I rode my horse without restriction, swam in the spring pools, caught fireflies and other bugs, rolled down the hills and stared at the big round eyes of the cows as I walked past them.
However, during the school year, I transformed into a perfectly stiff and proper señorita—and it was this girl, who allowed me to get pinched by the mean daughter of the grocery store owner.

“Banana leaves, please!” I had simply asked.
Handing me the banana leaves with one hand and pinching me with the other, cruel Carlota laughed as I ran away in tears. Angry with myself for allowing her bullying behavior, I swore to myself that I would return her favor the next time around.
I arrived later than poor Mother had anticipated.

“Where have you been?” She asked.
“I became distracted and Carlotta…”
“You and your fantasies need to stop, life is real ILEANA.” Mother abruptly interrupted.

Once the Nacatamales were done and dinner was served, we enjoyed a perfect family dinner filled with enjoyment and priceless memories. My older brothers and sisters recalled the times they were little and laughed at their reckless adventures, while Ben and I dreamed about growing up soon. We celebrated life and the growth of our loved ones as is the natural thing to do in life. That night would have been a great moment to have frozen time.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I went to see Avatar yesterday as I could barely wait. The movie is great but true to life and history. While the audience was in awe by the amazing characters and special 3-D effects, I was taken back to my childhood, growing up in the rain forest and witnessing the deforestation of its natural resources. Historically speaking, the plot derives from the true pillage of the rain forest and its natives, the deforestation, colonization and overall destruction of entire villages and their sacred beliefs. The movie did a great job depicting the helpless feelings of the Avatar people as they watch with their own helpless eyes, the destruction of their sacred habitat by heavy machines. However, it still does not compare to the real deal. The trembling of the ground along with the rhythm of a desperate heart as you see it with your own eyes. It's still happening people................there are many real Avatars out there fighting for their sacred lands. We just need more Jakes to truly SEE IT!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Save the rainforest, stop industrial deforestation!

The other day I was asked what appeared to be a simple question. How does it feel to see with your own eyes, the slow deforestation of the forests? I paused for a moment. My throat knotted as memories rushed through my mind and I was not able to translate them into words. All I could do to answer such a question was to compare the pain of deforestation to the pain of a man slowly losing his hair, one strand at a time, knowing that if a solution is not discovered soon his hair will be gone for good.

After this conversation I could not stop thinking about the land I grew up in and how I dreamt of it the following night. I dreamt that I danced in the lush Nicaraguan rainforest barefooted, as graceful as an inquisitive fawn. The rainforests of Nicaragua appeared as I had left it, located just above the equator, cooled by the breeze of the Pacific Ocean, cradled by the waters of the Caribbean, warmed by forty volcanoes, and tuned by the dissonance of the exotic fauna of toucans, elusive quetzals, ocelots, macaws, earthbound and arboreal reptiles, jaguars and howler monkeys. It was still perfumed by pungent aromatic orchids, vibrant frangipanis, stubborn ferns and humid moss.

Everything, wild and endangered was still there and was lit by bits of moonlight filtered through the dense canopy. My surroundings embraced me. Colorful frogs hopped on the soft carpet of the forest, and howler monkeys swung from vines as a melody rebounded off their cries, scattering leaves. In my ecstasy, I spied a Resplendent Quetzal in one of the tallest trees, its feathers a glory of iridescent hues.

As expected, my sweet dream did not last long, as it is true with most good things in life. I awoke to the bittersweet reality that if I sit still and do nothing to help it, in about 10-20 years, the rain forest of my dreams might cease to exist. I was lucky to have had the beauty of such landscape in my own backyard, but not so lucky to have witnessed its abuse, the tainting of its leaves by bloody trails left by a war, the logging of its precious woods and the extraction of its exotic wildlife, chained monkeys, iguanas and endangered turtles sold for soups, and colorful macaws sold for luxury hotel decor. For those of you who have never seen it, the rain forest is more than an aesthetically pleasing landscape. It is a living pharmacy of over nine-thousand plants that have been used to heal body and mind.
No wonder the elder always had a prescription for our ailments: Valerian root for the nerves, Sauco leaves for fever, Peppermint for digestion, Chamomile for bloating and Sangregado tree sap for cuts and blemishes.

The rainforests of the world do not belong solely to the natives of that land; it belongs to all of us. We are owners of such wonderful life giving biome, and as a result, we are responsible for assuring that industrial deforestation stops today!