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A little story from Orinoco, Nicaragua:
The Happy Man by Lawrence Millard

During the winter of 2010 I set off to Nicaragua to explore the land and find music rarely heard outside of the communities where the music is made. My journey brought me to the Pearl Lagoon, a large lagoon on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, the place where the majority of Nicaragua's Garifuna live. I was determined to find the elders and try to document some of the drumming and songs that is currently in jeopardy of being lost. My first stop, Orinoco, only accessible by boat, no autos and the largest of the communities on the lagoon with over 1000 people.


view of the Pearl Lagoon from Orinoco

Orinoco is the kind of place you can easily fall in love with from the minute you get off the boat. People are very friendly, they frequently walk around singing, stop to talk and have a genuine kindness. Life is simple but life is also hard as the people that live here are some of the poorest (financially) in the western hemisphere. Things seem really good and really easy when the fish are bitting and the crops are providing but the situation can quickly turn 180 degrees when the nets are empty and the crops don't provide. Many of the people I met here have gone off to school or to work but came back because they valued the traditional lifestyle of their home and wanted to return to make sure they do their part to keep the community alive and well.

During my stay I spent my time helping out in the fields, recording Garifuna songs and even made rawhide from a fresh deerskin as an elder told me his drum needed a new hide. While I have many fond memories and stories to tell from this magical place, all that I hold close to my heart, there is one in particular that I feel the need to share.

I was visiting this community with some travel companions that had to leave as they had to return home to Europe; I decided that I would accompany them to Bluefields, then return. Leaving this place was a difficult thing for me because of many reasons, but one of them is the fact that you need to take a high speed boat straight across the lagoon on choppy water...kind of scary! In order to be sure we would be able to travel, we had to reserve our spots on the boat in advance. So, we walked down to find the woman that takes care of the list. While waiting for her to arrive, we met a happy man. He was so happy to sit there and talk to us, to share a laugh and enjoy the time...it was obvious that he had a pure heart and a joy for life. He told us about the news from Haiti, the terrible earthquake and all the people that died and were suffering, his sadness and consideration for others was real. He wasn't hiding behind any masks nor was he trying to impress...just sharing a moment, the happy and the sad.

I looked up to view the house behind him. It appeared to be just one room, perhaps two, constructed of rough cut wood nailed together and topped with a metal roof. I didn't notice any furniture but there may had been a bed or a chair of some type, pretty typical for that region. Inside, there was a young man (no more than 11 years old) starting to prepare some cassava on the floor; looks like this was the extent of dinner that night. After talking a little more, I found out that there was a problem with his foot and his leg. His foot was extremely swollen and had open infected wounds that were not healing and his leg was also swollen and turning a yellow/green color, he had gangrene. When asked about it, he explained that he had to take the next boat out to go to the hospital in Bluefields. "I don't want to go, the doctors are going to cut my leg off" he said. But, he knew he had to, otherwise he would surely die.


typical home in Orinoco

Knowing that he was truly happy inside, and with the most respect, I said to him "If people back at home viewed your situation, they would say that you are about as poor as possible, have a hard time just trying to eat every day and are at risk of dying...at the very best, you will get your leg cut off , but things will probably still be the same. They would never believe that someone like you can be happy. So, please tell me the truth....are you happy?" His reply was a simple "Yes". I then asked him why. He explained with a smile, "I have this moment, I have today, I have my family, my friends and I have God." At that moment, I became overwhelmed with emotion and started to get tears in my eyes. But, the strangest thing was, during that moment I was also trying to figure out why I was crying. Was it out of sadness or was it out of joy? I realized that it was a combination of both. While his situation was grim, his enlightenment was beautiful and his happiness was real, this was such a a great thing to learn from and to share.

While we all have things in our lives that make great excuses about why we should be upset or sad, there is so much more around us that we should appreciate and be grateful for. Every second we are alive is a gift and should be embraced; the people we come in contact with, our friends, our family and strangers should never be taken for granted. Life is beautiful, no matter how long, how short or how hard it is. We should all live life to the fullest by loving every moment we have, just like The Happy Man.


The Happy Man in the boat under a tarp hiding from the rain on the way to the hospital

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