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8 Weeks in Nicaragua

8 Semanas en Nicaragua

posted Summer 2001
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to dream and struggle for a more just continent is the duty of every latinamerican
Soñar y luchar por un continente más justo es el deber de todo latinoamericano
(to dream and struggle for a more just continent is the duty of every latinamerican)
I think that it is Sandino on the left, but without his hat I can't be certain.
In the middle is Che, of course, & on the right is Carlos Fonseca.
I arrived 24 July 2000, a few days after the anniversary of the beginning of la revolución, the taking of the National Palace & the flight of the last Somoza, on 19 July 1979. At the airport I was met by the taxi driver for the school in which I would study for 6 weeks in three different towns. He brought me to my hotel, where 2 friends I had never met before awaited me & the heavy suitcase I had carried down for the town of Santo Tomás, Chontales. It was full of letters, a few pairs of soccer cleats & a sewing machine. The pair who would take care of the suitcase for me were a young man from Santo Tomás who lives in Managua & a young woman from Olympia. They were both very sweet, excited to see me, very understanding - in Spanish & English. It was late on the first night of my first-ever travels alone. It was nice to have friends.
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When I arrived in León the next day I met more friends through the school. Since I had heard that I would love León, I remember writing on the first morning that it didn't seem especially beautiful to me. A couple of days later I had fallen in love with it. It only got more beautiful to me the longer I stayed. It was the visible spirit of the place, the strong connection to history. It was all the murals, the students, the elderly woman on my walk home who would always answer my greeting with "que te vaya bién" as though she honestly wished me well.
la gata - Edgard Munguia
la mujer liberada
the liberated woman, had a gun over her shoulder, a baby on her breast & a big huge smile
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la gata Edgard Munguia
(I'm dying to know why he was called la gata - cats, even females, are referred to as gatos - he must've been one sneaky but loving hombre to earn that nickname!)
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leftie la mujer liberada - the liberated woman
My home for 3 weeks was the home of my wonderful abuelita Paquita, a widow who lived alone, but spent her days watching telenovelas with her empleada Martha (the h is silent in Spanish). It was a luxurious house (I had my own private, fully functioning, western style bathroom) & they were both absolutely lovely & caring. I even learned to enjoy my morning sandwich of melted cheese & catsup. Some mornings it was a slice of ham, with catsup. It was always something different & on Sundays Paquita impressed me with French toast. Looking back in my journal now, I am tickled to remember a delicious lunch of chicken in red sauce & pasta, with fries. Paquita would always sit with me for a little while until I shooed her back in to watch the noon novela. She would protest but Martha would keep hollering in what was going on & pretty soon she'd have to watch. It was hard to leave them 3 weeks later.
Cerro Negro, a volcano in Nicaragua
Kenneth was another student with the school, a teacher from Chicago. I didn't really mean for him to be in this picture, but when he stopped & waved at me I think he perfected it. Beyond him is the view from Cerro Negro (black hill), a small volcano which covered León in ash in 1992. Each afternoon the school had some sort of activity to keep the students speaking a little bit of Spanish, but I admit that on our own we spoke English with each other. The expedition to Cerro Negro was an adventure, to say the very least. The ride home sent one student (who spoke very little English or Spanish) home in a hurry, but I made friends with another student Martin, from England, who also laughed & knew that the nylon rope holding bits of our truck together would probably get us home safely, which it did. We got everybody to go out for a beer once we got back.

As time went on we spoke a funny jumble of both languages & I noticed that as I wrote in my journal I could not stick to one language - or spell in either. There were so many different levels of communication going on. Although there were several people close to my age, & close enough to my background, it was rare that I had a long conversation with somebody from the States (& even they were from all over the country). We were always curious about each other's lives, as well as the experience of learning Spanish in Nicaragua.

English was the common language, the first for most of the students, but few Nicaraguans speak more than a little English (although with some of them that's just shyness). The classes, if one were serious about it, were intense & exhausting. The day began with a 4 hour conversation in Spanish. I was hearing stories I could never have heard at home, reading books that my teacher had saved from all sorts of disasters. I was trying to understand much more than the language. I don't think I was the only one getting my mind blown. Sometimes it was hard to talk at all, sometimes hard to stop. I remember having to remind Martin one night (in a wonderful little bar with a baseball game on & tables covered with newspaper clippings from the '80's) he was speaking to Juan, the happy-go-lucky school director, in English because he was talking so fast he couldn't tell the difference any more.
leftie Santa Clara, a volcano in Nicaragua
Being temporarily stranded on a bumpy dirt road on somebody else's land gave us a taste for adventure so when we saw Santa Clara on another excursion we decided we should climb it the next weekend. Four of us made the climb. Ramiro, one of the teachers, was our guide, not because he knew anything about the volcano (as evidenced by the cooler he carried along), but because we felt safer with somebody who knew the ways of the countryside. As far as we could tell, he wanted to go & I believe he enjoyed it. Once the macho boys got us through the dense jungle surrounding the base, he & Martin sprinted to the top, leaving Laura & I to go at our own slower pace up the steep, hot hill. The view was fantastic & we were grateful that the cooler contained some cool juicy watermelon to slurp on the top. Even though I had brought 3 bottles of water & pleaded with the others to bring a lot too, we didn't have enough. We had enough for the climb, but not the punishing 10 km walk back to the road. I have never been so happy to see a coca-cola sign as I was that afternoon.
the view from Santa Clara, a volcano in Nicaragua
the view from Santa Clara
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Out of the CIA helmet grows the dragon; behind it are the helmets of the National Guard; in the streets people fight & die; around the top they begin to rebuild their country.
out of the CIA helmet grows the dragon
four student martyrs who died in 1953
This wall mural honors four student martyrs who died in 1953. Carlos Fonseca, in the top center, followed by others with the red & black flag of the FSLN & the blue one of Nicaragua, carried on their struggle.
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leftie photos of a wall mural from Leon: click for a brief history of Nicaragua
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