River to River – Research in the Rio San Juan, Nicaragua

The dueña (owner) of the small boat handed me the crudely carved paddle. It was heavy in my hands, painted a cheerful shade of bright blue. I burst out laughing, and looked over to my travel companion, Keely. “You know how to steer?” I asked her with a surprised grin. We were anticipating a guide and an easy ride, having wanted to steal images of the setting sun and orange and pink light on the waters.

But suddenly the paddles were in our hands, and we were both balancing in the small vessel, with me at the front, awkwardly handling the paddles and cameras slung around our necks and pushing off, shakily, from the concrete docking slabs in front of the family’s wooden home. We ducked under the lush overhang of the tree branches that stretched their arms into the middle of the río de sábalos – a small river that feeds into the thick vein of water that makes up the Rio San Juan of southern Nicaragua.

KJ steers and shoots on the calm waters of the Sabalos river.

KJ steers and shoots on the calm waters of the Sabalos river.

 

An epiphytic bromeliad growing on a tree overhanging the river.

An epiphytic bromeliad growing on a tree overhanging the river.

As our blue boat pushed forward on the glassy surface of the river, reflecting the enormous biodiversity of the trees, ferns, plant life and the flutter birds – oh, the birds! – my nervousness transformed into ecstasy. The river gave us her chorus of wings, frogs, crickets, and birdsong echoing against water with our paddles etching into the water we were here.

Jicana bird resting, briefly, in a rug of wetland along the riverbank of the Sabalos, Rio San Juan

Jicana bird resting, briefly, in a rug of wetland along the riverbank of the Sabalos, Rio San Juan

Being on the river, with our cameras, voice recorder, pens and notebooks (and the hope our blue boat wouldn’t overturn and drown everything we’d learned in Guatemala and along the journey over the past two weeks) – we were the travellers and the researchers, restless, full of wonder.

 

Having arrived in the small community of Boca de Sábalos only an hour earlier, we decided that the best way to say hello to the place would be to get a little bit closer to the waters that shaped the lives of women farmers who called it home. The river welcomed us in all her perfection.

The sky in the water and the water in the sky along the Rio de Sabalos, Rio San Juan.

The sky in the water and the water in the sky along the Rio de Sabalos, Rio San Juan.

Today I’m writing next to another river, but one that’s nearly frozen solid along the surface and from the small openings, releasing steam from the slowly flowing, sleepwalking, waters.

The Peace River of Northern Alberta, Canada, is where I call home in, perhaps, the truest geographical and familial sense. So, from the thirsty highlands of Comitancillo, Guatemala to the Rio de San Juan to the Peace River of the Boreal, I’ve traveled over the course of seventeen days to return to the place where I started.

From the journey, I’ve interviewed over thirty women farmers about their lives and their hopes and their thoughts and fears. I’ve interviewed around ten agricultural technicians, a handful of men, two organizations, and an academic about the subject of women in agriculture.

The process was exciting, alarming, displacing, provoking – all the verbs in the English dictionary that could possible describe the action of striking rocks together and making light. Now the paddle has become a pencil, a pen, and dipping my fingers into the river’s water has become the fingers flying across the keyboard. No one’s going to paddle this boat for me, and so I begin to write.

Thanks to everyone who helped me cross many, many borders to interview women in agriculture throughout Central America, and move from river to river to tell the story.

I look forward to learning more from Canadian women farmers in February and March.

-Trina

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