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8 Day's Journey for Light

By Chris Sparadeo -- The other day there was a knock on the office door. In walked an old Rama Indian man, clutching a handheld lamp and a small solar panel. His knee-high rubber boots left a trail of hardened mud as entered the room. With a wizened smile he tipped his cowboy hat and sat down in a chair pressed against the back wall, quietly waiting with arms folded neatly on his lap. Jorge, an electrical engineer, returned the man’s greeting with a cockeyed smile and a corresponding head nod. After a few minutes of courteous preliminary dialogue, it was decided that neither party spoke the others language. Jorge, noticing that I was snooping in on the well-intentioned discourse, waved me over to make sense of the encounter. The man spoke Rama-Kriol, but his lack of teeth and somewhat droopy facial expressions made it difficult to extract his every word. Sistel was his name.

It turns out that, at the age of 72 (I would have calculated 85) Sistel had paddled his way down the Kukra River to Bluefields in a four-day canoe voyage from his small inland community of Sumu Kaat. He had received a solar powered “D-Light” lamp form blueEnergy four years ago and for some reason or another it stopped working. The way he talked about his lamp was strangely similar to the way a person might talk about a sick pet. He lowered his voice, shaking his head side to side while gently stroking the lamp as he explained to me that he missed how his lamp used to work. After running a quick diagnostic on the light we found out that an internal wire failure had caused the solar panel to “humbug up." A quick fix. We tested the newly mended light and when he turned it on, Sistel’s eyes nearly beamed brighter than the blinding LED bulb. We took his picture (which we gave him), thanked him for his dedicated travels, shook hands and sent him on his way. He walked out of the office all but skipping.

It’s people like Sistel who remind me how important energy is in our lives. To many people in the first world, Sistel’s light is just a commodity brought along for camping trips, often forgotten at home. For Sistel, it is something worth eight days of paddling up and down a river. It is something that opens a world of opportunities for life after the sun sets and before it rises again. On the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, it is indeed the small things that matter most.

Sistel Saloman, Rama Indian from Sumu Kaat village deep in the Kukra river

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