The first shipment ever of Ometepe coffee arrives on Bainbridge in suitcases in February 1991. L-R: Guy Roche and his daughter, David Dessinger, David Mitchell, Rena Clough and Kim Esterberg.
Memory by Dana Quitslund
Early in 1991, a medical delegation was sent around Maderas with a horse to carry supplies, stopping at the larger villages. Nancy Quitslund’s impression was that people living on Maderas were almost completely without medical services unless they were brought to Altagracia, which could be up to half a day away.
The delegates often woke up very early and found a long line of people waiting to see the American doctor. A major cause of complaints was the household use of lake water–lots of water-borne illness, and complaints of back and muscle aches from the women who carried their families’ water uphill from the lake. Bob Fortner commented that delegations could keep coming and continue to treat all the same problems indefinitely, unless there was easy access to cleaner water. This sparked the Sister Islands Association’s assistance to help communities build their wonderful potable water systems.
The election of the UNO government in late 1990 brought about an end of the embargo enacted by the U.S. government to weaken the Sandinistas. Before that, it would not have been possible to bring this coffee north or at least not to ship it in quantity. But the timing worked so that the health delegation returned from Ometepe carrying 16 very heavy suitcases filled with green coffee beans. On that journey, Nancy described a holdup in Houston on the way back. A very macho customs officer was throwing his weight around, and questioning whether individuals could bring this coffee into the U.S. Nancy became almost servile, appealing to this powerful man to let them bring the coffee in just this once–our people were just innocents who wanted to help the coffee farmers. He finally relented. And don’t forget, typical weight for these suitcases was 70 pounds, the most allowed for checked luggage at that time, and each delegate brought two!
The 1991 medical delegation included Bob Fortner, Sarah Faulkner, Becky Meriam, Guy Roche, Nancy and Beth Quitslund, Tricia Hennessey and Rudy Rubledo.