My name is Angélica Cubas Pérez.
I’m a Training Coordinator for TechnoServe’s MOCCA – Maximizing Opportunities in Coffee and Cacao in the Americas – program in Nicaragua. The program aims to help more than 100,000 farmers to overcome the barriers limiting their capacity to effectively rehabilitate and renovate their coffee and cacao plants.
When I’m on the road visiting farmers and seeing how their agricultural training and implementation is progressing, I hear a lot of stories – especially since everyone is spending so much time cooped up in their homes thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I wanted to share a story I heard last week with you. It’s a 55-year-long love story that encapsulates love, war, resilience, and hope through the pandemic.
It starts with Mrs. Martha, a woman with an incredible capacity for conversation and tremendous stories.
This is hers.
Meeting Mrs. Martha at Her Farm in Nicaragua
My house visit that day was to meet Mrs. Martha – or Martita, as she’s often called – in Jinotega, Nicaragua.
As I approached her farm in the Cerrones 4 Community, I picked my way down a rocky road – watching out for delivery trucks on the way – and crossed several small streams.
The sun is strong in Jinotega, and it beat down on me in my mask.
Eventually, I found my way to the beautiful entrance to Mrs. Martha’s farm.
Mrs. Martita came out to welcome me, very hurriedly, and greeted me in her mask. She is a thin woman, with a kind demeanor, often wearing a white shirt and long skirt. She has an aura of peace around her.
She invited me into the kitchen, graciously offering me a chance to escape the afternoon heat. The kitchen gets used relentlessly in the harvest season to make food for the farmers. She wants to upgrade the fireplace.
From the kitchen, Martita ushered me into her house. “Have you eaten? Are you hungry?” she asked over her shoulder as she led me inside.
She kindly offered me a seat, of course, and began to tell her story.
Life on the Farm, Love in the Air
Martita is in her 70s now. But when she was 16, she met a man from Jinotega: Carmen Mejía. He would become her husband for the next 55 years.
“Can you imagine 55 years of marriage?” I thought to myself.
Carmen was from Jinotega, but as a child he went to the farm with an uncle, where he grew up and learned to work with him. Martita says that her husband told her that his “university was the farm with his uncle.”
At 16, Martita was already working at a bank in Jinotega. Her walk to work took her past Carmen’s parents’ house. Once, when he was visiting his parents, they saw each other. It didn’t take him long to find out who she was in such a small town.
“Those were other times…times when people fell in love to the sound of serenades and poems; my husband, who did not manage to finish school, dedicated himself to learning to write well, to improve his handwriting,” Martita says.
They got married and had five children.
“I became a farmer,” she says with a smile, “because I started my life with my husband.” A big farmer from the area knew Carmen, and offered him a job managing his farm. It paid three times what he was making working for his uncle.
Martita says, very animatedly, that she helped her husband in everything. With her meticulousness, she was the one who kept the farm records, the daily books, and everything in order.
“We managed to make that farm grow. The owners saw my work and started to pay me my own salary… just imagine that,” she says.
War Challenges the Family but Brings New Direction
Martita and Carmen raised their children at the beginning within their limits, and little by little they got ahead, Mrs. Martita says.
Then the war came. In 1979 the Sandinista revolution – a rebellion of the people against the Somoza dictatorship – took place in Nicaragua, resulting in the national war. Anastacio Somoza, the then dictator, fled the country following pressure from international organizations and resulting in the victory of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, who, among other things, established compulsory military service, sending many young men and adolescents, without any preparation, to take up arms in the mountains. This law was finally abolished in 1990.
The farm Martita and Carmen managed was taken by the government and they had to leave, their lives heading in a new direction. But with their savings they managed to get their own land. Her house is on that land still today.
It’s emptier than she would like.
Some of her children live outside the country now, she says, and it was safer that way because of the obligatory military service they would have otherwise faced: “We managed to take our [first] son out of the country.”
She doesn’t tell me more about him. I don’t ask.
While she tells her story, Martita prepares lunch: beans, spaghetti with eggs, tomato salad with freshly cut cucumber from her garden. Chopping, chopping, chopping.
Her husband died last year from COVID-19, Martita tells me.
Faith Carries Martita Through Challenging Times
Martita is a very active Christian woman, and she enjoyed attending church. Carmen knew how important her faith and church attendance was, but the pandemic made it unsafe to keep attending.
Martita tried her best to stay connected to the church throughout the pandemic.
When Carmen got COVID-19, she turned to her faith to help her stay positive throughout many challenging days.
She was infected with COVID-19 first.
In spite of his discomfort, Carmen did not stop going to the fields to take care of his coffee plantation; but it turns out that he had a heart condition, which quickly worsened his symptoms.
Their children took them to Jinotega to take better care of him, but they didn’t want to take them to the hospital. In Nicaragua, Martita told me, and even more so at the beginning of the pandemic, going to a hospital was a clear announcement of death. The safest hospitals are also the most expensive. So, the doctor attended them at home, but given the worsening of Carmen, they had to take him to a clinic.
He passed away shortly after.
“It was 55 years, and I do not deny that I feel great loneliness. There are days when I unburden myself crying,” she adds. “The truth is, I do not know how I could tell you everything without shedding a tear today. My Lord God is the one who comforts me and it helps me praise him, to pray and read his word.”
Lunch With Martita and Her Journey Ahead
Before leaving, I ate with Martita. The cucumber was fresh, and the spaghetti was cooked perfectly.
She tells me Carmen was a participant in TechnoServe’s MOCCA program, and after his passing, Martita took over. She was left in charge of the farm and has since received training visits, much like the one I was on.
Her children, despite being away, have supported her investments in the farm, which is doing well enough for her to get by. She also has two workers on the farm; she continues to keep her records well.
Her resilience after Don Carmen’s passing is largely due to the role she was given on the farm and the support from her family.
She grabbed her Bible and prayed before I left. She took out her guitar and tambourine. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years come when you say, ‘I have no delight in them.’”
With Martita’s powerful prayer behind me, I set off again with a sense of peace inside.
I reflected on this woman from another era as I walked up the drive. Martita is the testimony of how a couple can work together harmoniously, leaning on each other to achieve their goals. The success of their farm is the hard work of a couple who loved each other and continue to love each other beyond life itself.
Today, Martita continues on the farm, with the support of one of her grandchildren, her workers, and of course. her daughters and son – who have already taken their own paths, some in the countryside, in the city, and abroad.
We need strong women.