Women Who Dig – Research in Central America

Tomorrow evening I’ll descend on Guatemala City. I’m already anticipating the scattered, erratic twinkling of city lights, countered by the pockets of dark as I fall down, down onto the continent I’ve known and fallen in love with over the past ten years – though it isn’t my motherland.

It’s true, I’ve just barely clubbed away the fog of jet-lag from my arrival in Edmonton, Canada from southwestern Uganda last week (a 30-hour journey involving buses, taxis, planes and treacherous layovers in one of the busiest airports in the world). I’m happy to report that I’ve had just enough time to breathe in Edmonton: appreciate the sunlight on snow, laugh and share with a handful treasured friends, walk across the High-Level Bridge and marvel at the ice and gush of the North Saskatchewan along its southern bank, listen to the silence of the snowy streets, and stuff my face with the foods I’d been craving over the past year: sushi, red velvet cupcakes, garlic sausage, cheese…(I could go on)…

My nesting instinct is scolding me: “Leaving so soon?” 

But I’m countering with: “There’s no better time than now!”

Tomorrow morning’s departure for Central America marks the beginning of another chapter of conducting research for my book-in-progress about women in agriculture. Both my bags and travel itinerary are packed. It’s going to be three weeks of planes, buses, pick-up trucks, and whatever other mode of travel it takes to put me face-to-face with campesinas in Guatemala and Nicaragua.


Sunday was market-day in Comitancillo with farmers from all over the region converging, and transforming the quiet streets to sell their goods. Here are a variety of regional chile peppers and dried fish.

I’m absolutely ecstatic to write that this won’t be a solo-journey. Instead, I’ll be joined by my adventurous and talented photojournalist friend, KJ Dakin, who’s from Vancouver, Canada.

KJ and I first met ten years ago in Costa Rica. Our paths have been inherently connected throughout our twenties, as we’ve enjoyed ‘off-the-gringo-trail’ traveling together throughout Central America, and shared so many conversations about shared passions: the impact of development on community and cultures and a love for writing, creative journalism, photography and general creative living.

Only a month ago KJ contacted me from the Turkey-Syria border, where she was covering stories related to the Syrian conflict, and offered to join me along the journey in Central America to capture the story through her talented photography.

Research in Guatemala & Nicaragua

Through my previous volunteer and work experiences in Guatemala, I’ve developed an ongoing relationship with a Mayan-Mam indigenous organization in northwestern Guatemala. The first destination point on our map will be in the chilly highlands of Comitancillo where AMMID works closely with groups of women farmers on agro-ecology and income generating development projects. I’m eager to talk with women about the issues of indigenous vs. GMO-seeds and how CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) is affecting local and regional markets, along with their household incomes and wellbeing.


Woman farmer & weaver from Comitancillo, Guatemala

In Nicaragua, we’re privileged to have the opportunity to embed ourselves with a UN-award winning organization, Centro Humboldt, to visit the contested rainforest region of Rio San Juan, which is located along the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border. This will be my first time to visit the wetland region. I’m eager to meet with women farmers to discuss how climate change and conflict surrounding the development of a major canal passageway is affecting the way they grow food today.


Overall, I’m looking forward to three weeks on the road in Central America, interviewing women and their communities, along with two outstanding community organizations, and getting an intimate look at what it means to be a woman farmer in both of these unique places.

Before I depart, I want to acknowledge an amazing network of friends, family members, colleagues, and people for supporting my fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to make this leg of the research for my book a reality. “Milgracias,” as they say in Spanish, or “a thousand thanks!”

As I’m traveling ‘light’ with only a notebook, pen, and voice recorder, I’ll be taking a break from my weekly posts on The Bean Tree, although I promise to share stories about our travels and work with women farmers when I return to Canada in mid-February.

Until then, carpe diem.

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