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Birmingham fair-trade campaigner MaggieJo St John is in Nicaraguan coffee-growing country, teaching the locals to speak English and learning how her work here affects their lives there. Here's her latest blog.

When you live way out in the countryside with no telephones, how does news get passed around? Here in Nicaragua the local radio stations are an important part of the social network.

Every morning between 6 and 8am everyone switches to Radio Esteli and hears the radio pass on news of accidents, illnesses, hospitalisations, homecomings and the like: a father is ill and the children are notified through the radio; a car accident fatality (all too frequent) and wider family and friends know to visit to show their condolences.

And throughout the day, the radio will also broadcast messages as I discovered this week. Having rushed round town trying to make things happen, I grabbed a taxi to go back to the house where I rent a room.

As I arrived I noted my friend Erika leaving and to greet her I jumped out in a rush, without checking my seat. The taxi had just driven off when I realised I'd dropped on the seat the cloth bag with my wallet.

The family immediately said they'd call the local radio station and put out a message, which they did; we heard it just a few minutes later. In the meantime I realised my keys were also in the bag, which might mean having to change the external lock, and then also my mobile phone.

And that was when Viktor came up with the idea of ringing my phone. The honesty of Nicaraguans was well illustrated. The taxi driver answered, said he and the other passenger had noticed the bag and he had it safe - where should he come to? A few minutes later and I had everything back, intact. Wonderful!

The local taxi system is great: the taxis are all shared and when you flag one down and give your destination, they will say yes or shake their head or point showing they are going off east instead of north or whatever. The first person in is generally dropped off first and so on.

At Birmingham station, when there's a queue for taxis I often think the same system would be good and want to call out, “anyone else going my way!”

This weekend I spent a day birdwatching on the plateau below the humid zone of Miraflor. It is separated from that highest region by large valleys and so has a problem with water as the run off from the cloudforest passes it by.

The rains have only just ended, and yet many of the water holes up there are almost completely dry. The next rainy season won't begin until May so they've several tough months to come. There are a lot of dairy cattle
there and they'll have to find places to move them too. There was an 8km pipe from the humid zone to bring some water but there were technical problems, and maintenance ones and it no longer functions.

Maintenance is a major issue. I've been up several times this past week to ascertain for myself just what the situation is with the solar energy system that supposedly doesn't work. That has been the story since I arrived in October.

Problem number one: there's no written information about it. Problem number two, everyone makes up a reason for why it doesn't work. The face-saving culture doesn't permit the “I/ we don'tknow” response.

So I have been told that the batteries all need replacing / they are from the USA/ they don't make them anymore /they cost $250 each / they cost $800 each / they need filling with liquid / two are damaged.

This week I discovered that they were manufactured in Germany, that you never put any more liquid in, that they all work and that the problem is the people not the system! It seems the lights take down too much of the power and need to be altered and extra switching put in to give priority to the computers.

I shall type up notices in English and Spanish to explain how the system works - they'll stay around a little while and then the same lack of information problem will probably reassert itself!


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