Rodie and the Rama

Rodie and Coyote were an unusual pair. Sitting in the gloom of Coyote’s wooden house, drinking sickly sweet coffee, I couldn’t quite work out how we, or Rodie, came to be having the Nicaraguan equivalent of afternoon tea with the Rama chief.

Coyote leaned back against the wall, from time to time rocking sideways, slowly scratching his back on the rough wood. He was topless, wearing worn faded jeans, his long greying hair tied in a low knot. Every so often one of his six children would sidle through the doorway, passing the chicken fluttering in the corner. “Dis is Daisy, number two”, he announced in his soothing Creole accent.

The Coyote that Rodie had described to us had been a slightly different character. Coyote was Rodie’s hero: an indigenous Rambo cum Robin Hood cum Jesus.

“He once fought off 2,000 sandanistas in the war. They were in the jungle, and he had 16 men. They were surrounded on all three sides, but they were running out of ammunition. And he knew that if he didn’t do something soon, his men were going to lay their guns down.” Rodie gave us a meaningful look, as though we two fresh graduates knew intimately the perils of such a situation. We nodded pensively, as though we did. “So he called his commander, and said, “You gotta give us more ammo, or we’re never getting out of here.” So in 30 minutes they did an airdrop. And that evening, they started fighting at 8, and didn’t stop till 3am.” Pause. “They were shooting blind – the sandanistas didn’t know where they were. They were shooting each other. So what Coyote did was he tied the men together, apart from the rear guard guy. And they walked past those sandanistas. And every man made it out of there alive. Apart from the rear guy. He gave his life to save the others.”

Rodie gave us a moment to let his story sink in. “Coyote didn’t realize it then, but he knows now. It was God that led those men out of there that night.”

We'd met Rodie a day earlier, whilst waiting at the dock in Los Chiles, Costa Rica, to catch a lancha along the Río Frío to Nicaragua.

Piercing blue eyes, baseball cap, khaki fishing jacket, accent straight out of Forrest Gump. “I’ve been here for about four, four and a half years now,” he nodded. “We’re building a church out in the jungle.”

“The chief – he’s called Coyote – well, that’s the name everyone knows him by. That’s what they call people smugglers here, but see, he got that name smuggling children over the border in the war. He took ‘em down river to Costa Rica so they’d be safe.”

Inside Coyote’s smoky hut in San Juan de Nicaragua however, it wasn’t his past but his present which proved most intriguing. What was the relationship between him and the Alabaman missionary sitting to his right?

“We’re friends – me and him.” Rodie had assured us. "He's built me a room in his house, so I got my privacy."

“We talk, we fish, we read the Gospel. Coyote – his English’s good, he can speak four languages, but he can’t read, so I read it to him.”

Rodie also had a habit of talking for him, jumping in between the chief’s weighty pauses between sentences.

“I bin Rama chief for tirty five years,” he smiled. “Like my fader and his fader before him.” The history of his tribe had been written in a book handed down from generation to generation, a book which now belonged to him. “I giv it to da pastor, and he say he have to take it to Bluefields, but he never bring it back.”

“Was that pastor a Catholic?” interjected Rodie. Along with heroising Coyote, it transpired that he was also a fan of conspiracy theories (mostly involving the CIA and the Vatican) and an expert on Colonel Sanders’ business model. Coyote’s conversation, on the other hand, was centred on the creation, and preservation, of the Río Indio Nature Reserve. He had fought for 10 years to have the area recognized as Rama territory, proud of achieving its “foundation”. Now however, it was threatened by encroaching cattle farmers – “Dem Managua people” - and the far-fetched plans of a Chinese business man to build a second Panama Canal through it.

I never did figure out what Coyote thought of Rodie, or what kept these men together, seemingly so very, very different. I guess Rodie would say it was God. 


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