As a couple of you might know, I went to Nicaragua on an eight-day trip full of challenging interviews and sights, of which I’m still not sure how to feel. However, in writing about these instances I hope to form clearer ideas. Each paragraph is a different moment of something I experienced:
I zoom down the street in a bus, Ticabus to be exact. Through the window I see a more arid landscape, scattered with casitas. The walls surrounding the houses are not of concrete, as in Costa Rica, but rather incorporate wire, zinc, and wood. An unfamiliar sight catches my eye and takes hold of my neck as we fly past the horse-drawn cart carrying bundles of wood along the busy street. Through the other window I see a billboard colored with magenta, mustard yellow, baby blue, and a portrait of Daniel Ortega holding up the peace sign. It reads, “¡Vamos por más victorias!”
Walking through the Managuan mercado I see sights very different from the ones back home. To my left a woman is vending shoes, making sure that everyone within an ear-shot knows that hers are top notch and the cheapest around. I walk past a man seated on the ground in the middle of the market; he’s selling pirated videos at about $1.50 a disc—our guía recommends them. To my right is a large piece of carne hanging from a stand, free of any plastic wrap. Below the meat is a huge pot, steaming despite the already oven-like heat of the eatery. I walk past iguanas tied and muzzled. They average the length of my forearm and are ready to be cooked for a meal.
I’m standing above the central plaza of León, looking at a museum designated to the Nicaraguan Revolution carried out by the Frente Sandinista de la Liberación Nacional (FSLN). Red and black decorate the building and slogans commemorate the movement. I look at the words scrawled on the outside walls in spray-paint. They read, “BUSH GENOSIDE / ENEMIGO DE LA HUMANIDAD / MUERTE AL INVASOR (Bush genocide / enemy of humanity / death to the invader).” On top of the museum we overlook the city square. On a backdrop of volcanoes I see the legacy of a recent revolución. I begin speaking with our tour guide. He tells me openly that he lost many friends in the civil war. I ask him if it was worth it, all the violence, all the death. The unexpected “Sí” is hard to comprehend. He recalls that even though his generation had to die or suffer with psychological consequences, it was necessary so that his children and the following generations could live a free life. He only received psychological help four years ago, he says, but he has learned to live despite the past. He asks me if I could understand 45 years of authoritarianism. I cannot. We then take a picture and he throws up the peace sign and a smile. As I leave he waves and says, “¡Bienvenidos a la tierra de Sandino!” (Welcome to the land of Sandino!). I wave and exit the museum perplexed. Never before had I heard someone talk so comfortably about both violence and peace.
We board our bus once again, but this time with a visitor. The students all know who he is, we’ve been instructed beforehand, but don’t hurry him with questions. We return with this stone-faced man to our hostel outside the city. He tells us that he was a fighter for the Nicaraguan Resistance against the Sandinista Movement (depending on what side one is on the term “Contra” of “Resistencia Nicaragüense” applies, I choose to call him part of the Nicaraguan resistance because it’s what shows most respect towards his position). The sun is setting as his story is being told, which seems to symbolize soldiers forced into hiding after continuing years of civil war with deep international ties (Iran-Contra Scandal) His accent is thick and he sounds to be from a very rural area. Perhaps most interesting is what he doesn’t say. His gaze is elsewhere as he describes a period of time, but never specific details or personal memories. He’s the third asked to talk to us about the unspoken events, the other two declined. No pictures. No first-hand accounts. No laughter. Words are essential for chronicles; silence, for recovery. I leave with a surreal qualm in my chest. This stuff is real here.
Well, that's enough for now. I hope you can see it was a lot to process. It was difficult, but good.
Como siempre, gracias por leer,
-Austin Vander Wel