For a dozen years in a row -- until the political crisis of April 2018 -- I led students on travel courses to study coffee in Nicaragua. For all but the first two of those journeys, I was the leader from the point of view of my university, but the real leaders were the excellent guides of Matagalpa Tours, a company named for the place whose coffeelands I have come to know best.
Each January we would lead another group to Matagalpa and to a growing list of other points of interest throughout the country - eventually spending time in every region except the Caribbean coast (which remains a goal). Each February we would begin the discussion of the next visit, and so it was that we added the neighboring department of Jinotega to the list.
My interest in this area was because of the work of the martyred civil engineer Benjamin Linder -- you can read many Ben Linder posts on this blog and our (so far denied) proposal for a café in his honor on my web site. As my friends and I discussed sites related to Ben Linder's work, we also talked about where to stay and what to do nearby.
This led us eventually to the Centro de Entendimiento con la Naturaleza -CEN (Center of Understanding with Nature), the fantastically interdisciplinary constellation of projects whose leader, heart, and soul was the inimitable Dr. Alan Bolt. Sadly, this post is inspired by his passing on Monday of this week, almost ten years to the day after our first meeting.
During our first meeting, we were captivated by Alan's wide-ranging discourse on ecology, hydrology, the human condition, and so much more. Even the way he talked fascinated me -- more fluent in his second or third language than most people are in their first, and imbued with a curiosity that drew us ever further into his lessons and inquiries. I later learned that he had been a great thespian, having taught a generation of theater teachers before turning his attention to restoring the forest in which we found him.
A student present at that first meeting was so captivated that he returned on his own for several weeks the following summer, and with other family members a few times after that. We returned to CEN as often as we could, using it not only as a base for further exploration of the legacy of Ben Linder but as a place to learn deep lessons about forest ecology and its connections to communities.
One at least two of our visits, we arrived at CEN with a student who was feeling ill -- not uncommon for people traveling for the first time to a new environment. In each case, Alan would interview the student in detail about how they were feeling and what they might have eaten or drank recently. Then he would ask one of his partners to go into the forest for some particular leaves, barks, and herbs. "I'm going to make you a tea," he would say softly. "Drink it all, rest, and then drink another." And it worked. He is not the only Nicaraguan I have seen do this -- my friend Doña Elsa would do something similar with herbs she had on hand.
Alan and the community he has cultivated are connected deeply to indigenous knowledge, western medicine, hydrology, ecology, public health, sustainable agriculture, and much more. I continue to use what I have learned from them in my own teaching, although politics and the pandemic have kept us apart in recent years.
I am ending this post with an obituary that has been circulating among those who knew Alan. It is in Spanish, of course, and it flows like poetry. Following that is my own translation, which lacks some of the nuance but I hope does justice to the intent of the writers.
|From a very brief video of Alan talking about the |
importance of water. Even if you do not speak Spanish,
this is a great example of his spirit as a teacher.
Alan Bolt González
Nació el 8 de Mayo de 1951, hijo de Pinita González y Guillermo Bolt, el quinto de 9 hermanos, en la segunda mitad de los 60 se ganó una beca para estudiar física nuclear en Alemania, asunto que lo llevo al medio oriente, el teatro, la lucha de los palestinos, a su regreso formo el TEU Teatro Universitario en León, trabajo con Omar Cabezas, desde entonces vinculado a la lucha guerrillera, al triunfo fue vice ministro de Cultura, a su regreso a Matagalpa a inicios de los 80ś fundo El Grupo de Teatro Nixtayolero.
Después del Huracán Mitch 1998 fundo lo que es conocido hoy como CEN "Centro de Entendimiento con la Naturaleza" al pie del Macizo de Peñas Blancas, donde su pasión por el saber a educar sobre el cuido de las abejas como acción vital para salvar la polinización de las plantas, y con ello la selva y el planeta tierra. Un científico ávido, un ser espiritual, sensible y dotado de comprensión y sabiduría.
Datos biográficos cortesía de Alfredo González quien compartió con el gran parte de tiempo, se nos fue un gran Matagalpa, gran ser humano que impulso con éxito todo lo que hizo...
Dr. Alan Bolt
Alan Bolt González was born May 8, 1951, son of Pinita González and Guillermo Bolt, the fifth of nine siblings. In the second half of the 1960s he earned a scholarship to study nuclear physics in Germany, which connected him to the Middle East, to the theater, and to the fight for the Palestinians. On his return he formed the TEU Theatrical University in León (Nicaragua) and worked with Omar Cabezas, through whom he was connected to the guerilla uprising. At the triumph (of the revolution in 1979) he became Minister of Culture. On his return to Matagalpa at the beginning of the 1980s, he founded the Nixtayolero (indigenous) Theater Group.
After Hurricane Mitch in 1998 he founded what is now known as CEN (“Center for Understanding with Nature”) at the foot of the Peñas Blancas Massif, where his passion and knowledge and education about the care of bees inspired vital action to save plant pollination and with this the cloud forest and planet earth. He was an avid scientist, a spiritual and sensitive being with gifts of knowledge and wisdom.
Biographical data courtesy of Alfredo González.
A great Matagalpan has left those who shared part of his time – a great human being who pushed for excellence in all he did.