Monday, January 28, 2008

Still here in this beautiful part of Venezuela

We live about a mile above sea level on this mountain ridge in the green, rainy region of the State of Lara. Our campesino neighbors grow a wide variety of vegetables that they sell in Barquisimeto, the big city that lies on an arid plain about an hour away to the north.

Late January:

You haven’t heard much from us in six weeks, since we’ve been traveling, enjoying the Navidad fiestas in Monte Carmelo, hosting friends and other members of the family, working on the cooperative farm, planning some educational activities for next year, and exploring the surrounding mountains and villages.

Its “verano” now, or summertime, even though we are living north of the equator (which runs through Brazil, not Venezuela.) “Invierno,” or winter, less than two months of wet, cool weather, ended in late December, and “primavera,” springtime, will begin whenever it feels like it, in late March or April, when it begins raining again. Summer means dry weather, three or four months of dust swirling around our ankles as we climb the steep mountain roads to the edge of the cloud forest.

Jan and Ari

Another son, Jan Brouwer, came to visit with my wife Susan, and decided he would stay until June. He’s working with his brother Ari at Las Lajitas organic farm, part of La Alianza Cooperativa. (Susan had to return to her teaching job in the States.) The boys rise at 5:20 am, join Omar, one of the long-time members, at 5:45, and start ascending the mountainside. Work begins in earnest at 6:30, with breakfast around 8:30, and lunch about 1:30. At 2:00 pm they’re hoofing it down the steep mountain road with plenty of time left to enjoy the day. Since they’re new to farm work, they often head straight for a short siesta.

One of our favorite pastimes is hiking in the “quebradas,” the deep ravines that carve their way into the mountainsides. This waterfall and pool, called “Charco del burro,” are about fifteen minutes below our house, a good place for cool shower after work on the afternoons when the water isn’t running in Monte Carmelo.

Charco del Burro, according to local legend, is haunted by the soul of a donkey who fell into the pool and drowned a hundred years ago.

Upstream from the waterfall is the “angostura,” the narrowest part of the gorge.

Although this land is green, beautiful, and cultivated by hard-working campesinos, it was until recently very poor. Since the early years of the Chavez government, living standards have been rising steadily as fair prices for vegetables and coffee have stabilized or been guaranteed by the government. Many small farmers and cooperatives have taken advantage of loans and grants to introduce new kinds of productive and environmentally-friendly farming methods.

Non-monetary gains, such as the variety of educational, nutritional, recreational, and health missions that are now available to almost everyone, have also contributed immensely to improving the quality of life. Our village of Monte Carmelo now has a paved street, three bodegas, food stands selling empanadas and hot dogs (a Venezuelan perrito caliente, with a about 20 different toppings thrown on at once, bears little resemblance to its U.S. counterpart), a lighted futbalito and basketball court, and a tiny high school for the one hundred and thirty families that live with a kilometer of the little plaza. It also has an ambulatorio, a walk-in medical office served by a Cuban doctor who has just returned after getting more training in Cuba with a six-month course.

We could throw out a number of impressive statistics to go with the list above, but one small number is probably the most astonishing: 8. There are now eight young people from Monte Carmelo, population less than a thousand, enrolled in the first three years of the six year Medicina Integral Comunitaria program (see other two articles.)

There are forty other students studying medicine in this rural municipality, Andres Eloy Blanco, which has a little over 50,000 inhabitants. Many of them live in Sanare, the capital of the municipality located about 7 kilometers, or fifteen minutes, away from Monte Carmelo.
Looking down toward the valley from mountain and the Las Lajitas farm. Sanare, population 25,000, lies in the distance and serves as the hub of this agricultural area that produces as much as 30% of all the coffee in Venezuela.

2 comments:

john said...

steve,
thank you so much for taking the time to write. good news from real projects is scarce. great pictures, too.

El Ch� said...

Absolutely. More of this information and analysis, please. And more fotos.