Friday, July 10, 2015

5/1/86, Thursday and Epilogue

MAY DAY 5/1/86, Thursday

It’s hard to get out of the habit of writing this journal. The drive home last night was like a hallucination, it all felt surreal. There were bright neon lights everywhere announcing bail bonds, fast food, pawn shops, hotels, liquor stores. I couldn't believe how many lights there were. I couldn't even see the sky. It felt like a dark tent illuminated by artificial lights, no stars.

Inside, the car was cold. Bruce picked me up but I can tell that it's over for us. We hugged and kissed and it was friendly enough but when I tried to tell him about my trip he seemed to be somewhere else. We had seven good years but now we seem to have completely different interests. I hoped our time apart would allow us the space to sort things out and maybe make a go of it again but our time apart has just made me realize that we are pulling in different directions. It's sad and I know it will be hard because he was my best friend for so long but I don't feel like crying about it right now.

I don't know if I'm tired, jet lagged, or just suffering from culture shock, possibly it's a combination of all three but I'm feeling out of sorts. Can a person have culture shock returning to her own country? It's weird, I was born here and right now this place feels foreign to me. Things that were once familiar and hardly noticed now stand out in contrast with my recent experiences. There were no roosters and chickens to wake me up this morning, I set my alarm clock instead but I didn't need it because my inner alarm clock woke me up at the right time. I got in my car and drove to the market to buy a box of cereal and a carton of milk. I didn't talk to anyone or say hello to anyone along the way. There was no singing coming from the open windows of neighbor’s houses. I didn't feel the cobblestones beneath my feet as I walked to my destination; instead, I was in a vacuum, in my own little capsule with a radio piping in recorded music. At the market, bright overhead lamps illuminated the abundant, perfectly shiny produce. Shelf after shelf of packaged foods filled the aisles of a building four times the size of a market in Esteli. One aisle, devoted entirely to different varieties of paper included scented and unscented toilet paper in single, medium, or large packs, with flowers printed on them, textured, or plain. We have so much but we're also missing so much.

I left the market with much more than I came for. That's how it works here. I'll put stuff in the cupboards and fridge and hopefully I'll eat it, but half the time my fresh fruits and vegetables rot. It's strange, in Nicaragua my family and most of our neighbors did not have a refrigerator and it forced us to eat fresh food in season and to share and cooperate with our neighbors. Here, we don't have to do that. We are free to isolate ourselves, free to waste. It makes me wonder if we own our conveniences or if they own us. I've always sort of felt like a loner anyway so maybe this works best for me and yet it felt good to share and cooperate.

Truthfully, I'm confused. I eat a bowl of cereal while watching TV, something I've done nearly my whole life, and I'm unable to focus on the program. There is a part of me that wants to stay in the present. There is a part of me that does not want to escape into the fantasy on the television. There is a part of me that affirms that I don't need the simulation of life that TV and movies provide. In Nicaragua, people were living in the present, fully engaged in whatever they were doing at the time they were doing it. I already miss that. Some people might pity them: poor things - they have no TV but having no TV means they can ignore the simulation and focus on real life.

5/1/86, Thursday

I'm ready for bed. Work was uneventful. I got my classroom set up and my lesson plans are all done. There was a little cloud of melancholy that hung over my head all day. I guess part of it was knowing that today is May Day and that back in Nicaragua everybody would be celebrating their revolution, their freedom, their autonomy. Here, it's just another work day, except for me...because inside of me there's a revolution, there's a permanent change that won't let me fall back into the stupor.

I'm awake.



My revolution happened from the inside out over a prolonged period of time. It started with my visit to Nicaragua and continues every day of my life. There's always a news story, a personal interaction, or a provocative idea that requires me to face the world as a teacher/student, that requires me to step outside my comfort zone and engage in praxis.

As I was editing this journal, I started thinking about how much time has passed between now and when it was written. The places and people I describe have all changed but the lessons I learned taught me what it means to be strong, showed me the limitations of wealth, the value of dialogue, and the importance of fostering and developing critical consciousness. Those lessons feel timeless.

While I was in Nicaragua, I questioned my ability to make the huge changes I knew needed to be made. I wanted to stop President Reagan from funding the Contras. I wanted to bring Comandante Gladys Baez to the United States so she could inspire others. I wanted to change our educational system so that it focused on critical thinking rather than simply depositing facts. All those things seemed like they were beyond my control. I suppose that it might have made sense to go back to my old ways and accept defeat, but I couldn't. I had seen David take on Goliath and I started looking for my own slingshot.

As soon as I got back, I started making changes in my teaching style to include more dialogue and I structured my reading classes so that they went from concrete to abstract. That was a short lived party because training children for taking tests became a priority of my employers and made it difficult for me to provide the type of education that did more than create receptacles for filling. I didn't want to program students, I wanted to help them think for themselves.

I've come to understand that before policy changes can take place, the population's understanding of education has to change, values have to change. My opportunity to change the world begins with me and extends as far as the ideas I manage to share with others. I hope my spark of revolution can ignite the process of critical consciousness in you. I hope that as you read my diary, you questioned your own beliefs, mine, and any beliefs which have been deposited into you through the banking method.

I leave you with a final thought: the revolution starts within.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

4/30/86, Wednesday

4/30/86, Wednesday

I've said all my goodbyes and I'm flying home today. I'm convinced that Nicaragua is a special place, different from any other place I've ever been. I can't quite put my finger on it, except that I can feel its heartbeat as though it was a living creature, a newborn baby eager to stand on its own two feet and take its place in the world.

The flight is already an hour late but it's on Nica time and so am I. I could live here... maybe. Better yet, maybe I can take a little bit of this spirit with me and infuse it into my own country. Looks like we're finally boarding.

Looking out the window, my eyes fill with tears when I think of what I'm leaving behind. I've fallen in love with Nicaragua, with its people, their ideas, their tenacity. How did they do it? How did they manage to become so strong and so determined as to overthrow the oligarchies and to continue to fight for autonomy despite pressure from a country as rich and powerful as the United States?

They're an inspiration. El Amanecer del Pueblo, the title of the literacy textbook means “the dawn or awakening of a people.” How appropriate. I wonder, once you've been awakened, can you ever go back to sleep? I wouldn't think so, but then, why isn't this feeling of self determination more common when there have been revolutions all over the world throughout history? Do people fall back asleep, lulled by complacency?

We're being told we have to get off the plane in San Salvador. I thought we'd stay on the plane and fly directly to Houston but that's not the case.

I'm in the air again, we just took off from a stop in San Salvador where we had to get off and go through customs before continuing on to Houston. Waiting in San Salvador airport, my stomach gave a little twist when a fully armed Salvadoran soldier walked by me. I'm wearing a tee shirt with the image of Augusto Sandino and my carry-on bag is full of FMLN plaques, buttons, and pendants made by me and others at the Salvadoran art collective in Esteli. Basically, I was a walking billboard for the overthrow of the Salvadoran government. Maybe I'm just being paranoid but I heard so many horror stories from the Salvadoran refugees who I worked with at the collective and on the farm about the ruthless police and military tactics used against anyone who questions the government that I felt pretty scared. Anyway, I'm glad we're in the air now. I'm feeling a little bit queasy. I don't understand why, I hardly ate anything this morning except for sugary lemonade, a piece of pastry, some orange juice, and a couple of cookies...maybe I did eat the wrong thing.

I hope Bruce remembers to pick me up in L.A.. I wonder how I'll feel about being back in the U.S.. It’s like traveling from one world to another. Even though I've been living there for most of my life, I have a feeling it will all seem different to me now. I'm sure my thinking has changed. I've changed. 

I keep thinking about how people would sometimes mistake me for Nicaraguan. I felt Nicaraguan. I dressed, ate, lived, breathed, dreamed and even began to talk Nicaraguan. Some people said I had a Mexican accent and kidded me about it but for the most part I was treated like a “compa." I still remember the first time Francie called me a compa - a compañera, a companion in struggle. Shortly after that, other people started to call me compa and I felt so happy to be included, to be able to share their revolution. The word was like a tiny pipe bomb in my soul, shattering my deluded and sheltered view of the world.

There is a Nica saying: "Entre Los Pueblos, No Hay Fronteras”: Between people, there are no borders. I've met so many people here from all over the world who are volunteers, writers, activists, people from all walks of life who want to help and see self-determination succeed. Some may see themselves as proletariat internationalists but others are just idealists who think that success here means success in other places is possible.

I don't think we could have this kind of revolutionary change in the United States, at least not now. I remember reading Brave New World many years ago in school and thinking that Soma comes in so many forms. Most of us in the U.S. have our basic needs met. Food, shelter, and TV are the Soma of the working class. We have just enough to keep us in a complacent stupor. We're missing enough discomfort to provoke change.

We're landing in Belize, so I've gotta take a break. I wish I had some film so I could take a picture of this tiny Belize airport!

Back in business. They handed out mani a little while ago, which looks a bit like a peanut but they're so hard, it's like no peanut I've ever eaten. Nothing's quite the same in Central America. I'm giving up on these before I break a tooth. I'm still queasy anyway. It’s ironic that when I was in Nica I never felt sick to my stomach despite all the homemade food I was eating and now that I'm on the plane eating "healthy," hygienically packaged food I feel a little ill. Maybe it's just that my system was used to running on beans, tortillas, coffee, and lots and lots of sugar! I did find out that sugar is rationed but you're allowed approximately two pounds of sugar per person per week. Jesus, what kind of diet would they have if it wasn't rationed? Here's a bit of trivia: toilet paper is rationed at 2 rolls per family per month. Beer is considered a luxury but ron is the people's drink. No wonder we drank it so often. I'm going to miss Flor de Caña, I hope I can find it in the U.S..

I'm a little worried by all these stops. The fact that the initial flight out of Managua was late will delay our arrival into Houston. I don't want to miss my connecting flight to Los Angeles or end up sleeping in the airport! I inadvertently passed through an x-ray machine carrying my purse back in Managua. All my exposed film was in the purse. I hope the film isn't damaged. It would be so sad if all my pictures were ruined. I want to be able to share this experience and it will all be easier to remember with the photos and the diary. Although, I can't imagine forgetting any of it. Esteli has left a mark on me.

I'm going to try to take a nap and I'll write again later.

I'm on my way to L.A. now. I barely made my flight! We got into Houston late and I had to go through customs before catching the connecting flight. The lines were enormous. When I walked up to the immigration officer, he asked me if I had been on a farm and I had to say yes. He sent me into a different section where a more thorough investigation of my farm visitation could be discussed. The section was coded red and in my mind that meant stop. I was cursing inwardly for not lying about where I'd been but they walked me over to the red section and I noticed that the non-restricted green section, where everyone else was being sent, was super congested while the red section was just me. I walked over to the inspection area and the customs officer smiled at me. He wasn't stressed because nobody was in his line. I smiled back, instantly at ease.

"So you were on a farm?" he asked.


"What did you do on the farm?"

"Plant tomatoes."

"Is that all?"

I thought for a minute.


He laughed, opened my suitcase, picked up a blouse, tossed it back in and told me to have a nice day.

"I'll do that if I manage to catch my flight!" I said, remembering that missing it was a distinct possibility.

"Which flight are you supposed to catch?" the customs officer asked, flagging someone from the airport to come over and help me. The woman quickly checked on my flight.

"You're about to miss it!" she said, genuinely concerned. She flagged a cart over and asked the driver to rush me to the boarding gate. "I'll let them know you're on your way."

The flight attendant was literally holding the door for me. She looked annoyed. "Hurry, hurry, you're holding up the flight!"

I ran in, shoved my stuff in the overhead and buckled up. 

Next stop, L.A.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

4/29/86, Tuesday

4/29/86, Tuesday

Walking around Managua this morning, there is electricity in the air. Everyone is getting ready for the big May Day celebration. A few of the people that have been checking into the Norma have come specifically because they want to be in Managua for May Day. I'm so bummed that I'm going to miss it but I have to fly back home.

I spent some time in the early afternoon with a group of internationalists who were painting banners for tomorrow's festivities. Throughout the city, the hostels are full with people from all over the world. Black and red Sandinista flags are everywhere. I saw a woman on the street selling tee shirts with an image of Sandino in his large hat. I'm not a tee shirt fan but I bought one. I think I'll wear it home tomorrow. I managed to resist the impulse to act like a tourist until the last day.

In the evening we ended up back at the Yerba Buena where we were treated to an unexpected speech by a guy who claimed to be the P.L.O.  (Palestinian Liberation Organization) Ambassador to Nicaragua. Does the P.L.O. even have an embassy? It was an interesting charla because the guy defied all my preconceived notions of what a member of the P.L.O. would be like and by that I mean he was not a madman. He was actually very reasonable. He told us about the plight of the Palestinian people and how many of them have lost their ancestral homeland through the creation of the Israeli state.

Yasser Arafat of the P.L.O.

The speaker tried to disassociate himself and the P.L.O. from any terrorist activities, blaming it all on the Israeli secret police despite the fact that the P.L.O. has on several occasions, at least to the best of my knowledge, accepted responsibility for such actions. He was a persuasive speaker and seemed to be sincere, but I don't know if I can believe what he said. It’s just completely at odds with everything I thought I knew. In any case, I'm willing to at least listen to another side of the story.

It seems that quite a few people at the Yerba Buena (though not all) supported the Palestinian guy. He got a warm round of applause. Maybe I’m completely wrong about the P.L.O. You would think that as a person of Mexican heritage living in the United States I'd be able to relate to the idea that someone can take your land and then call you a foreigner. I do, of course but I'm also an American who sometimes benefits from my country's actions, whether I agree with them or not. My visits to Yerba Buena always seem to leave me feeling more confused than anything else. Maybe there's something in that drink! Oh yeah, there's a healthy dose of rum.

Upon reflection: Although I had been brought up to question authority, I didn't realize that I had assumed my sources of information were unbiased. I had bestowed authority on the news media. The Yerba Buena provided an opportunity for Dialogic, for dialogue between equals whose arguments could be evaluated based on reason and validity rather than acceptance of claims based on power or authority.

Monday, July 6, 2015

4/28/86, Monday

4/28/86, Monday

I'm so mad at Carrie right now. We managed to keep a safe distance from each other while we were in Esteli but here in Managua, we see a lot more of each other and she gets on my nerves. A group of us were riding in the back of a truck when I saw Carrie staring at me.

"What's up?" I asked her.

"You managed to keep your lipstick on and your legs shaved the whole time you were here," she said.

"And you managed to keep your legs hairy and your lips chapped," I said.

What followed was a little lecture about how makeup and shaving were tools to keep women oppressed. She sees herself as much more serious about the causes she embraces because she isn't concerned with her appearance. The thing is, she seems very concerned with what people think of her and other people's appearances. She had the audacity to make a crack about Francie wearing earrings with her olive drab uniform and I almost lost it. I moved within inches of her face and told her to shut up. People asked us to calm down and moved between us.

I remember having a conversation with Francie where she mentioned that I was much more like Nicaraguan women than like American women. I asked her why and she answered that it was not only because of my command of the language but because many of the American women at the school didn't shave their legs or groom themselves. I hadn't even noticed. All of Francie's daughters had pierced ears and they all wore earrings like I do. The older girls wear lipstick and shave their legs. 

I think I understand where Carrie is coming from, I really do. I can see how people can become slaves to society's expectations, I think that happens in many ways. But I don't feel particularly oppressed by my appearance, in fact, I think that my appearance has often been a source of creative expression for me. Even as a kid I enjoyed dressing up, pretending to be a hula girl, or a mod in my plastic raincoat and matching boots. It's not the main focus of my existence but it is an undeniable part of me. I don't feel like I have to dress conservatively to satisfy convention but I also don't want to feel like I have to dress a certain way to defy convention. There are many ways to thwart oppression and succumbing to new oppressors is not the best way!

I remember the conversation I had with my little sister Paca about society's imposed standards of beauty. I can see why Francie wanted her to put up the working woman's photo along with the magazine model photos. We can't ignore the outside world, we have to look at the information and figure out what it means to us. Francie didn't want to force the girls to take down their pictures, instead she wanted them to have an example of a different kind of beauty for comparison. She doesn't want to indoctrinate, she wants the girls to think for themselves.

I don't care whether Carrie shaves her legs, I just want her to stop acting so superior and let the rest of us choose our own appearance.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Óscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, assassinated March 1980

"I always believe that the cause of this (suffering) is social injustice. They (the rich and powerful) cling to privileges that they can no longer have because the people are very aware and they must realize that they must change the entire system. They maintain this system with the power of money and the military forces."

Óscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, assassinated March 1980

Friday, July 3, 2015

4/27/86, Sunday

4/27/86, Sunday

This afternoon, a small group of the remaining NICA students and some of our newfound friends from the Norma went to La Yerba Buena, a sort of coffee house/bookstore. The books and political pamphlets are for sale but people seem to use this place as a library and printed material is scattered throughout. Yerba Buena sells coffee but the best drink here is the Yerba Buena, a cold mint drink with a healthy dose of rum. There was a poet reading when we first got here and when he was done, our group launched into a discussion of the situation in Libya, in reaction to a radio talk show we'd heard earlier in the day.

The U.S. bombed Libya a couple of weeks ago in retaliation for Libya's bombing of a German disco which Americans were known to frequent. Shortly after that, the Barricada published a copy of a letter that President Daniel Ortega sent to Muammar Gaddafi expressing his sympathy and support. I don't really know what to make of the whole thing. My impression of Gaddafi has been completely based on U.S. news reports. I've always seen him as hostile to Americans. I see Daniel Ortega as someone trying to defend his own country from intervention and I imagine Gaddafi sees himself the same way, but to go out of your way to attack Americans who are not in your country just seems like aggression. 

Then again, just because Ronald Reagan says that Libyans are our enemies doesn't make it so. In fact, I don't trust our president at all. I don't really know if I'm getting the whole story here, anymore than I would if I were in the U.S.. I used to think that the press was impartial but time and time again I see that it isn’t. It’s not impartial in the U.S. and it certainly isn’t in Nicaragua either. I’m not sure what to believe in anymore. When I was in Esteli, I could believe in the people. I saw how they behaved, how they aligned their actions to their revolutionary ideals, but big political machines anywhere are something altogether different.

The U.S. bombing of Tripoli was plastered over every front page and people here are still talking about it. I don't understand why Libya would bomb a place where there would be civilians in order to get at a few U.S. soldiers. It's criminal! It's just as horrible to bomb Gaddafi's residence and kill his baby daughter. I wouldn't support either action. I tend to think that both Gaddafi and Reagan are a little crazy.

How do you pick a side when both sides are wrong? What is a terrorist? I hear the word used so much and I'm getting really confused. I'm starting to think it's just a name to call your enemy when they attack you outside the battlefield, but then where is the battlefield? Is there an economic battlefield? I guess there is because that's what an embargo is. Also, the Contra war has a great deal to do with the economic problems of this country, since fifty percent of the national budget goes towards defense. I wonder if we are economically at war with other countries in a more covert way than I can imagine?

My father likes to say that all wars have to do with money. I hate to be cynical but I'm starting to think he may be right.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

4/25/86 and 4/26/86, Friday and Saturday

4/25/86, Friday

We practiced our song all afternoon. It's a really cool song but it sure has a lot of words. In the end, we decided that each person would only sing one verse and then we'd all join in on the chorus and that worked out well. Everyone at the despedida knew the song and sang with us. It was powerful with everyone yelling "¡Presente!"

After our performances, our host parents shared stories about things they'd done with their "son" or "daughter" and everyone shared something they'd learned from the experience. It dawned on me that I had come to Nicaragua dreading the experience of having to live with strangers. I would have much preferred to stay in a hotel. I didn't realize that living with these families and coming to think of them as our parents, brothers, or sisters was a big part of what we had to learn. I was touched that my friends from the Salvadoran art collective showed up. They gave me a little painting of a Salvadoran landscape and several painted seeds pendants they'd made for me, plus a bunch of FMLN pins and literature for me to take home and share with my friends. 

Hold on. I hear some music outside my door.

Guess what? I was minding my own business, writing in my journal when Lenin, my little sister Carelia's boyfriend, brought me a serenata. He and one of his friends came by with a guitar and sat outside my door singing. I could see Carelia peeking from her room. It was really sweet and it would have been romantic if it had been an actual love interest serenading me instead of my little sister's boyfriend! But it was still a brand new experience for me. Truthfully, I can't imagine a guy back home doing anything like this. They sang all kinds of romantic songs for me and even a couple of upbeat ones at the end. My friend, Nancy, from the school came over about halfway through the serenade and sat on the doorstep with me and near the end Francie came out too. Carelia's great to conjure this up for me and Lenin is a sweetheart to go along with it. I bet I'm the only NICA student who got a serenade. 

4/26/86, Saturday

I'm back in Managua at Hospedaje Norma. We must have gotten the worst room in the place but I'm too tired to care. I woke up at 5:30 this morning, I just couldn't sleep. Francie said she had to take a sleeping pill because she couldn't sleep either. This morning we all cried and hugged and kissed. I feel as though I'm being ripped in two. I really started to think of myself as part of this family. I love these people more than I would have ever thought possible. I miss them right now and I've only been gone half a day. I guess it's knowing that I won't be seeing them for a long time that makes my heart ache. I intend to come back to Nicaragua as soon as I can.

When we got to Managua, a few of us went to the Robert Weimbus market for some shopping. Some people fly out tonight, others within the next few days. Many of the students want to take something back to a friend or family member. I didn't buy much, just a few postcards and some candy. Managua feels very different from Esteli, it doesn't have that neighborly feel that Esteli has and I found myself walking around the market wishing Lisette was with me to share the candy. 

In the afternoon, I said goodbye to Nancy and Audrey. I'll miss them. Audrey in particular has been my best friend during this trip. She goes back to Boston and I don't know when I'll see her again. More tears. To cheer ourselves up, a small group of us decided to go to a restaurant called Pizza Boom that some of the kids in this neighborhood said was really good. It wasn’t. With pop music playing loudly over the speakers and colorful decor, I could see why kids would like it but they served the worst pizza I've ever had. 

As we were sitting and not eating our pizza, the conversation went back to an incident that happened a few days ago. There had been a heinous suspected Contra attack in a place called Santa Cruz, just a few miles from Esteli. The reason I say that it was a "suspected" Contra incident is that despite the fact that everybody is pointing the finger at the Contras, I can't understand the logic of hacking up a little boy and an old lady with a machete. What could be the reason for that? How does it benefit anyone's cause? I don't like the Contras but it seems to me that people always want to blame every crime on them. I mean, the incident a few weeks back with the poisoning of the children in Condega is still being investigated, yet the rumor that the Contras poisoned the food is already being circulated. I wonder if some child killer is running around free and happy that the Contras are the prime suspects?

Monday, June 29, 2015

4/24/86, Thursday

4/24/86, Thursday

We've started planning our despedida, which will consist of skits, music, and dancing. I've been asked to emcee and I'm also performing a song with three other students. It’s called Carlos Fonseca. 

I think all the students and families are emotional right now. This place has had an enormous impact on us and we know that we have our own revolution to create. We all want to take some of what we've learned here and share it with the people in the U.S. We want Americans to know what's happening here, not just because it would help Nicaragua fulfill the goals of the revolution but because it would help Americans. We are such a big and powerful country that sometimes we forget we could learn a lot from a tiny country like Nicaragua.

It's not just the literacy campaign that has created an impression on me. Although that is the reason I came here, I feel I've learned so much more. I know I'll be a better teacher because of this experience but I also think I'll be a better person. I wish I could help Gladys Baez do a speaking tour. My brief meeting with her has stayed with me. I grew up watching Mexican revolutionary movies that showed soldaderas and I wasn't ever really sure exactly what their roles were. Were they soldiers, or helpers, or what? Gladys is not only a combatiente, she's a commandante. She's calm, wise, articulate and very sure of herself. 

Comandante Gladys Baez

I understand now what Francie meant when she said Gladys es muy fuerte; to be a revolutionary leader, it's not enough to be physically strong - you also need clarity and resolve. I discussed the idea of having Gladys do a speaking tour again with Francie and Mark and we were all concerned about her security. Maybe this is not the right time for her to be in the U.S. Reagan has a lot of support right now.

I learned so much from Francie, too. Raising six daughters on her own, she's undoubtedly the head of the household and has a huge influence over the girls but she exercises her power in a very subtle way that makes her daughters feel guided and secure enough to make their own decisions. I've seen her give instruction once or twice; often it's a simple reminder. She's an amazing mother, but she is not defined by motherhood. She is defined by her struggle for justice and equality, by her ability to give herself completely to her beliefs.

My real mother fed me when I was hungry, nursed me when I was sick and loved me unconditionally. She gave me life and I will always love her. My Nicaraguan mother feeds my mind and nurtures my soul, and loves humanity, especially those who are oppressed. She has shown me how to live.

I learned from all the girls. Even my little mouse, Adrianna, taught me the right way to tuck mosquito netting and the value of cow shit!

Francie just came by to give me a little going away gift she bought for me. It's a purse with "Nicaragua" stitched on it. She also sewed a rojo y negro scarf for me, the colors of the Sandinista flag. She tied it around my neck and called me "compa.” It means compañera: companion or partner. We both started crying.

I really don't want to leave. Sure, I miss my loved ones and my music but a part of me really wants to stay here forever. It just seems that people here in Nicaragua are much more aware of what's really important in life. They're more concerned with humanity than with accumulating things or living in comfort, they strive for growth rather than material gain. The social and economic structures support this system of beliefs. People speak respectfully of a worker's deeds, a revolutionary's bravery, or a poet’s ideas, not of the latest gadget someone purchased. Of course, there's not much to purchase. Instead of billboards inviting you to consume this or that new product there are billboards with revolutionary slogans, portraits of revolutionary heroes or a thought-provoking idea.

Revolutionary billboard image via The Cahokian.

The things I once thought essential, I now understand to be trivial. So what if there's no toilet paper, there's self-determination!

Upon reflection: I can see now that the process of Conscientization was already at work in me. I was becoming aware of a consciousness with the power to transform: transformative awareness.

Friday, June 26, 2015

4/23/86, Wednesday

4/23/86, Wednesday

This morning, I spent about two hours washing clothes. I was hanging my clothes on the line when Carelia came out to join me. She was sweeping the walk and asked me to save her my soapy rinse water so she could wash the walkway with it. She puts the radio on and the voices of Mexican singer Juan Gabriel and Spanish movie star Rocio Durcal immediately suck us in. The song is Dejame Vivir, and it’s on heavy rotation. I've heard it everyday since I've been here. Suddenly Carelia is singing Rocio's part, asking her former lover to go away and leave her in peace. She walks over to me at the sink and gives me a pleading look as she sings in my face.

No tenemos ya mas nada que decirnos solo adiós…”

I surprise her by belting out Juan Gabriel's part.

"No no no yo no me resignare, no, a perderte nunca…

She cracks up and runs up the walkway, back to her broom.

I keep singing "aunque me castigues con este desprecio que sientes por mi…

It's a real musical now, so I continue with the song, begging her not to throw our love away. She comes back in on cue. 

Para ti no tengo amor, no tengo amor ni tengo nada…”

On the second verse she comes at me with the broom.

“Déjame vivir, porque no me comprendes que tu y yo…”

“No tienes nada nada nada nada nada?” 

“Que no, que no!”

We continue in this fashion going about our work as we sing. I hang the last of my clothes and hand her the bucket of leftover soapy rinse water. She makes like she's going to throw it at me and ends our little act with the lyric: "así es que déjame y vete ya!"

I duck into my room just as she splashes the soapy water on the walk, lathering it up with the broom. While singing duets is probably uncommon, singing aloud while doing chores is an everyday occurrence in this household. At least with Carelia and Lissette - they sing all the time, as loud as their lungs allow.

It's the same with the neighbors. You walk through the streets and hear singing coming from the open windows. Well, they're all open windows since few houses have glass panes. Their singing reminds me that art and music are about expression, not the impression you are going to make on others. Often, the singing is off key but it always makes me feel good to hear it, no matter what it sounds like. 

This is the first time I've had a musical laundry session but even without the duet, washing clothes in Esteli is so different from washing in L.A.. Here, the tangible reward of clean clothes is directly linked to the physical labor of scrubbing them. At home, you put the clothes in a washing machine and go do something else and you never have to focus on the act of washing except to measure out the detergent and set the temperature. You are free to go do a job where you can make more money so you can buy machines or services that separate labor from reward. I've come to understand that money is not as powerful here because there are not as many things to buy and when something is available, it is sold cheaply enough so that anyone can afford it. There’s less motivation to accumulate wealth. A lot of people share, trade and barter, making human relationships a kind of currency.

I'm not saying one way is better than the other, I'm not sure about that. It's just another big difference between how things are here and how they are back home. I'm sure that if I had to use the washboard every day of my life, I might be willing to sell my soul to the devil for a washing machine...or maybe not, the devil drives a hard bargain. Hmm, have I already made this deal?

Another thing that's strange is that I often think of myself as socially awkward but here, I like interacting with people, slowing down and getting to know them. At home I'm always on a mission. If I go to the market, I don't want to chat with the clerk, I want to pay for my groceries and get out but here I talk to everyone.

Upon reflection: In case you're getting the wrong idea, you should know that I hate housework. I don't mind the process of doing it now and then but I hate that it feels like a Sisyphean task. Once complete, the satisfaction of accomplishing the job is very brief before it must be redone.

I've developed a bad habit of stopping for a fresco every time I pass the fresco shop. That's an average of four times a day, back and forth in the morning and back and forth after lunch. The nice thing is that you have to sit down and drink the fresco there because they don't pack them in baggies like posicles. So every Fresco turns into an opportunity to talk to someone. Everyone talks to everyone here. In fact, the fresco shop has turned out to be one of the best places to sit and interview people about the literacy campaign. I buy the fresco and they'll talk to me for an hour.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

4/22/86, Tuesday

4/22/86, Tuesday

I went to the school for a few hours this morning. I tried to hang back and not get in the way of the literacy teacher. As the students master the beginning levels of reading they are expected to help others. This strengthens their own learning and creates a feeling of camaraderie. It also takes the pressure off the teacher because the students become co-teachers.

I listened to a couple of young girls who wanted to read to me and then we discussed the reading. They enjoyed telling me about the history of their country and they brought it all to life by mixing in their personal anecdotes. 

"You're lucky to be in Esteli. Almost everyone here fought in the revolution."

"And if you didn't fight, someone in your family did,” her friend agreed. "Esteli played a big part in helping to overthrow Somoza."

They had stories of moms, dads, aunts and uncles joining the guerrillas or older siblings joining the literacy brigades.

When I went home for lunch, I talked to Carelia about my discussion with the young girls and she told me about her own days in the literacy brigade. 

“We were, and still are fighting a war against ignorance,” she explained. “All of Nicaragua is a classroom – there are people learning new things everywhere and people are expected to help without necessarily picking up a rifle.” 

After a training session, Carelia was sent out to the countryside to teach farmers and their families to read. 

“It was hard for me at first, really hard, probably like it is for you coming here. Some places I went to didn’t even have an outhouse or running water. We had to squat behind a tree and use leaves to wipe ourselves.” I thought of how strange I had felt the first time I had to use newspaper instead of toilet paper. 

“It was difficult, but it gave us a chance to see how people live in the mountains and I’m glad I did it,” Carelia said. 

"They even sent brigadistas out to Bluefields on the Atlantic coast. That part of the country is very distant from the rest of Nicaragua. Traditionally, they've been ignored by politicians. Do you know anything about Bluefields?"

"No, but I'd never heard of Esteli before I got here."

"The story goes that hundreds of years ago, a Portuguese ship filled with African slaves crashed on the eastern Atlantic shore. The slavers attempted to save some of their precious cargo, but the slaves overtook them and freed themselves, populating what is now Bluefields. The thing is, our cultures are very different and nobody has really tried to unify the Atlantic and Pacific coast as a nation. The government is hoping that by sending the brigadistas out to Bluefields there will be valuable cultural exchanges in addition to increased literacy."

"Is it working?"

"It's too soon to tell,” Carelia said. Carelia told me that the brigadistas were encouraged to keep a diary during their time on the campaign to keep track of new experiences, new ideas, and questions that might arise. The diary was a learning tool for the volunteer teachers. Their learning was considered equally important to that of the literacy students.

Official Sandinista Literacy campaign goals
to eradicate illiteracy
to encourage an integration and understanding between Nicaraguans of different classes and backgrounds
to increase political awareness
to nurture attitudes and skills related to creativity, production, co-operation, discipline, and analytical thinking
to support national cohesion and consensus
to strengthen the channels for economic and political participation

Monday, June 22, 2015

4/21/86, Monday

4/21/86, Monday

Audrey and I hitchhiked back from Leon this morning. We woke up early, despite staying up very late last night. We were out of the hotel by 8:00am and we caught a taxi to the outskirts of the city for a mil (about a dollar). We quickly caught a ride and made it back to Esteli before noon.

I have to go to the art collective this afternoon. I have a whole bunch of projects going. At first, I felt guilty switching from the farming and construction work but the school is happy, the collective is happy, and I'm much, much happier. In fact, it's really fun to be able to do something creative that helps people. The little seeds and plaques I've been painting have been selling and that makes me feel good because it means people like what I've made and the collective benefits from it.

Instead of hiding under the mosquito net, I think I'll be brave and go help Paca make lunch. She just got home and she's brought a sort of soft-looking cheese called coajada that one of neighbors made. Paca and the neighbors sometimes trade food because most people don’t have refrigeration and leftovers can't be stored. When cooking a time-consuming dish, people often make enough to share with their neighbors and then trade food between households. There's no waste, food is bought in season and you have a great relationship with your neighbors - how smart!

Last week, Paca made beans and the neighbor made rice. Each household shared half of what they'd made, put the beans and rice together, and made a dish called Gallo Pinto. A loose translation would be something like Speckled Rooster, not because there's any rooster in it but because the colors of the beans and rice look like speckled feathers. I guess if you're creative and can't stand the thought of eating beans again, Gallo Pinto sounds more appealing.

Friday, June 19, 2015

4/20/86, Sunday

4/20/86, Sunday

Today is church day. We didn't actually attend any services but we did look at the buildings. Leon was colonized by Spaniards and there are lots of lovely old colonial buildings but the churches are the most ornate and beautiful. People flock to services on Sunday while outside, street vendors set up tables with colorful drapes, selling fruits, snacks and toys. We ate street food: repochetas, a sort of Nicaraguan quesadilla served with cabbage and cream. It's my new favorite dish, I ate until my stomach hurt.

Sandino rests a boot on Uncle Sam

We skipped dinner and went straight to Estudio 19, the local disco. It was hot and crowded and I wasn't really in a dancing mood. As I was standing there watching Audrey talk to an attractive middle aged man, I heard a voice next to me. “Can I buy you a drink?"  I turned around and a young man wearing glasses smiled at me.

"I already have a drink,” I smiled at him weakly.

"But it's almost gone," he returned my smile.

A single fist against Yanqui aggression

Roberto is a medical intern, studying to become a doctor. He plans to move to the U.S., so he’s been studying English and asked me if I would practice speaking English with him. His hair was neatly combed and he wore dark glasses that made him look bookish. I felt safe in his company, so I let him buy me another Cuba Libre and we chatted so he could practice his English. It was a stiff conversation because he had to think and construct sentences in his head before speaking and then he had to decipher every word I said before responding.  After the second drink, we started speaking Spanish which was much more comfortable for both of us. 

Roberto offered to give me a driving tour of Leon at night and I decided to take him up on it. I let Audrey know I would return shortly, but the city was pretty dark so it was an even shorter drive than I had anticipated. We drove back and parked in front of the club. "Thank you,” I said. “You're the only person I've met in Nicaragua who owns a car. It was very nice of you to show me around."

"Do you own a car?" he asked.


"It's not so uncommon there, right?"

He wasn't expecting an answer, he was making a point. I wasn't sure if I was detecting irony or bitterness in his words.

"I'm more like you than you think,” he continued. “We used to have cars, land and a nice house. We lost everything to the revolution."

Our eyes met. Now I knew it was bitterness.

"I bet this is a story you and your internationalist friends don't hear very often."

"You're right. Me and my internationalist friends are shown all the FSLN's successful projects. You don't like the Sandinistas very much, do you?"

He searched my face.

"I'm not accusing, I’m just asking."

"Somoza was corrupt, there's no doubt about it. Many people were happy to see him overthrown, but not everyone who fought against him is a communist. Now that the land and the factories belong to the people, the country is poorer than ever. The peasants can’t produce like the old farm and factories could, so our rich lands are not profitable. Some peasants can't even fix a tractor if it breaks down, they don't have the money to buy the parts because they're still just working to stay alive. The factories that are still in business have very limited options to sell because of the embargo against the Sandinistas.”

He looked at me, waiting for a comment but I didn't have one. I knew that what he was saying was true. I thought of the sewing machines at the Salvadoran cooperative sitting idle because no one understood how to read the English language repair manuals. I had tried to help but my language skills did not include any knowledge of specific machine parts so my translations proved futile. Craft items for the store were being sewn by hand instead of machine.

"My brothers and sisters were all educated in the United States and I have family in Houston. My father was planning to send me to college there but our plans were changed for us since we made enemies with your government. Now I'm stuck here in Leon, but someday I hope to move there." 

"This country needs doctors, too.”

The words came out of my mouth before I could stop them. I knew it wasn't what he wanted to hear. 

"I will never get ahead here."

He touched my arm, which I took as a signal that I had to get out of there.

"Let's go back in,” I suggested. Once inside the noisy club, I felt like we were running out of things to say and I didn't want to go any further with him. He was trying to touch my arms and shoulders while giving me long, meaningful glances. I looked for an escape.

I smiled at a pretty looking boy who had a poofy bunch of curls falling over one eye. I think I used to have that haircut! He must have had ESP because he came over and introduced himself to me and Roberto, then he proceeded to talk only to me. Flavio was a war vet at 21, but he did not look like a soldier, I couldn't imagine it. About two minutes into our conversation, Flavio turned to me and asked if Madonna was pretty, which I found terribly funny for some reason. We both laughed, leaving Roberto perplexed. I continued talking to both guys.

About a half hour later, Flavio's friends showed up: a fair skinned guy named Rafa and a boyish looking young girl wearing black trousers, a white shirt and suspenders. She looked adorable. Flavio introduced her as Riquie (Enriqueta). The four of us hit it off. I think Robert felt a little excluded because he eventually excused himself and walked away. The four of us hit the dance floor together and it was obvious, if only to the four of us, that Rafael was really dancing with Flavio and I with Riquie. I found Audrey and her friend on the dance floor and we all danced until they closed the place!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

4/19/86, Saturday

4/19/86, Saturday

Second day in Leon. Audrey and I went to the Cultural Center and later the Sutiaba Museum of Indigenous Anthropology which was about the size of my living room. Just goes to prove that size doesn't matter. They had lots of old artifacts and statues and they did a great job of telling the local history. After the museum, we walked around Leon, bought posicles, and sat in the park to people watch. We walked over to the old Guardia Nacional headquarters and then to see the church that the Somocistas bombed.

Remnants of a church bombed by la Guardia in Leon

It's crazy to imagine that Somoza would bomb his own people while they were attending mass, crazier still to think our government supported him! With our help, the Somoza dynasty plagued this poor country for decades.

Fun Size History: The Nicaraguan National Guard, Guardia Nacional, (aka La Guardia) was a militia created during the occupation of that country by the United States from 1909 to 1933. In 1933, after the advent of the Good Neighbor policy and at the height of the Great Depression, the U.S. withdrew from Nicaragua and handed over control of the Guardia to Nicaraguan President Juan Batista Sacasa who in turn, appointed Anastasio Somoza Garcia as chief director of the Guard.

Somoza was educated in the United States and friendly to U.S. interests. With the strength of the U.S. Marine-trained troops under his control, Somoza quickly consolidated power. Between 1936 and his assassination in 1956, Anastasio Somoza Garcia ruled as dictator of that nation. He was supported by la Guardia which was largely funded by the United States throughout its existence.

For over four decades, the Somoza dynasty ruled Nicaragua, amassing wealth and land. When the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza dynasty in 1979, many members of the National Guard fled into Honduras, where they regrouped and formed an counter-revolutionary force known simply as the Contras. As with their previous incarnation the Contras enjoyed generous, if at times clandestine, financial backing from the United States.

Somoza and FDR

One of my favorite American presidents is FDR so it made me sad to learn that he had once remarked of the late Anastacio Somoza Garcia: "Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch." It seems like this attitude survived for decades and when Anastacio died, the U.S. continued to support his sons who subsequently became presidents of Nicaragua and would also make themselves useful to U.S. interests, while prospering at the expense of the Nicaraguan people.


Later, at the University we met the caretaker, a sun-beaten old codger with a friendly disposition. He liked us, so he took us on a little guided tour. He told us that the university used to be a seminary, then in 1812 it became the Real Universidad de la Inmaculada Concepción. It still looks like a church but the Sandinistas changed the name to the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua. The old man was obviously proud of the place. He told us that the City of Leon has been around since the early 1500s.

"That's older than your country," he laughed. Yes, it is...pretty amazing.

Guardia Nacional taken by the Sandinistas

We left the University and I remembered that I'd promised Nancy back in Esteli that I would take her watch that had been running slow in for repair if I could find a shop. We went back to the marketplace where a man had a stand with a little cardboard sign that read "Se arregla joyería y relojes" (jewelry and watch repair). He offered to fix Nancy's watch and said he could have it done in an hour while we shopped, so we walked around peeking in all the stalls. I noticed a woman with several large, shallow baskets the size of truck tires spread out in front of her. Some had socks and underwear but the one that caught my eye contained a huge stash of birth control pills. I picked up one of the folding cartons and examined it. The pills were expired by nearly six months and had been sitting in the sun for who knows how long. I discreetly walked over to the shopkeeper and told her about the problem but she just smiled at me, saying "no, no, no," laughing at my ignorance while insisting they were still good. I walked away shaking my head, feeling sorry for the poor woman who had to rely on those pills for contraception.

Open air market in Leon

After about an hour, we went back to the watch repairman. He handed me the watch and we all looked at it until the minute hand twitched a couple of times. I paid him with the money Nancy had given me, but as soon as we left the market, the watch stopped again. We walked back to the stand and I had to argue to get Nancy’s money back. In the end, he did fix the watch; it doesn't run slow anymore because now it doesn't run at all!

Monday, June 15, 2015

4/18/86 Sunday

4/18/86, Sunday

Greetings from Leon. Audrey and I just got done with a giant cockroach hunt that proved unsuccessful. Now she's convinced that one of the flying, three-inch cockroaches has crawled between the mattress and the box spring in her bed. We went so far as to turn the mattress upside down, both of us screaming, squirming, and hopping from foot to foot as we flipped the mattress onto the floor. I had my jacket in one hand ready to swat the roach and Audrey had a notebook. We looked like two weird, primitive hunters wielding our makeshift weapons. The whole time we couldn't stop laughing because we felt ridiculous. In the end we couldn't find the cockroach, it magically disappeared. It's probably lying in wait until the lights go off. I'm just glad it's in her bed and not mine.
Lorraine Scognomillo

We hitched a ride here early this morning. We left Esteli at about 8:00 am and made it to Leon by noon. Frustratingly, we had to wait about forty-five minutes for the first ride until a whole bunch of us got picked up by Sandis and climbed atop an old army truck. That was a fun ride. We made friends with the other hitchhikers. One guy was coming to Leon and helped us get to the empalme, that is, he showed us the proper place to stand at the intersection with the road to Leon. There, we got a ride in under a minute on the flatbed of a huge rig that was carrying just a few pieces of machinery. There was plenty of room on the back. There were also several Sandinista soldiers aboard and some lively women telling jokes. I made friends with a cute Sandi named Jose or Paulino, or something like that, neither Audrey nor I caught his name. I just stared at his full, sexy lips as he talked. He looked to be in his mid-twenties, had smooth, olive skin and was long, lean and muscular. He looked good in his uniform and probably even better out of it. He told us he was stationed in Somoto which is not too far from Esteli. He also said he was studying English and asked me if I'd help him. Ha, of course I said yes and he said he would be heading back this way next week and wanted to know if he could stop and see me in Esteli. Argh, he moves too slowly for me! Next week we might be dead. Audrey and I tried to convince him to come to Leon with us but he said he had to report back today.

Our third ride took only about two or three minutes to come along and drove us all the way to Leon. Hitchhiking was a great idea, it was fun talking to all those people. We checked in at the Hotel America which costs 2800 Cordobas per night, about three dollars. It's a pretty nice place, we have an indoor toilet and shower, there's even a ceiling fan in the room, luxurious by local standards. There are, however, one or more oversized cockroaches running around which are making us nervous. Audrey and I both hate bugs!

We decided to splurge on dinner at a restaurant called “Los Filetes,” a very ritzy place where I had Chateaubriand for 4000 Cordobas, an exorbitantly expensive meal in Nicaragua but only about $4 in US currency. After that, Audrey and I went to a cool Cuban bar housed in a beautiful old world plantation-style mansion where the waiters wore stylish white guayaberas and some of the customers wore wide brimmed hats and smoked cigars. I was transported back in time. The heat made me crave a cold beer, but once again the curse of “no hay” struck so we had to make do with Cuba Libres. After that, we strolled back to the hotel. I hope the roaches don’t get us tonight.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Hush Little Baby, Timeline Thus Far

JANUARY 1979 -- Iranian revolution deposes the Washington-backed Shah. The Shah had come to power in 1953 after a CIA-designed coup to oust democratically-elected President Mohammad Mossadeq.

JULY 1979 -- Leftist Sandinista revolution ousts Washington-backed right-wing Somoza regime in Nicaragua.

JANUARY 20, 1981 -- President Ronald Reagan inaugurated.

DECEMBER 1, 1981 -- Reagan issues Presidential Finding on Nicaragua, authorizing Washington support for right-wing Contra rebels.

DECEMBER 1982 -- Boland Amendment begins to limit funding for Reagan’s Contra aid.

OCTOBER 1984 -- New Boland Amendment makes illegal any funding for Contras.

MARCH 16, 1985 -- Oliver North’s “Fallback memo” discusses ways to circumvent Congressional barring of funds for Contra war.

AUGUST 1985 -- Reagan Administration begins selling arms to the Islamic Republic of Iran, then engaged in a devastating war with Iraq.

AUGUST 20, 1985 -- American hostage Benjamin Weir released by Islamic Jihad/Hezbollah in Lebanon hours after the transfer of 96 TOW missiles to Iran

DECEMBER 20, 1985 -- Associated Press is first to report cocaine trafficking operations by Contras.

APRIL 4, 1986 -- Oliver North drafts the “Diversion Memo,” which orders a continuation of arms sales to Iran after the release of hostages with the new revenue being diverted to the Contras. 

APRIL 1986 -- I go to Nicaragua and write these diaries.

Timeline via

Friday, June 12, 2015

4/17/86, Thursday

4/17/86, Thursday

Carelia with friends at the march against the $100 million.

Yesterday, the U.S. was expected to vote on the $100 million dollars that Ronald Reagan is trying to get in Contra aid. The money would be used to train and arm the counter-revolutionaries. Congress had voted against this before but Reagan is a man on a mission. The Sandinistas planned nationwide demonstrations with each town staging their own events. Esteli's march was comparatively small. The city of Leon put on a huge march, it was very impressive. It was in all the papers.

Even though it was a protest/peace march, the spirit was not somber or angry. People were having fun. It seemed like the whole town showed up carrying banners, flags, even handwritten signs scratched on notebook paper with repeated pencil marks. We chanted and sang songs and walked until our feet ached. In fact, Audrey and I decided to take a shortcut and sit at the park for a few minutes until the marchers came around again, then we quickly rejoined them, hoping no one noticed!

After walking to the school and back in the morning, then walking to the Salvadoran collective after lunch, and then participating in the march in the early evening, I was ready to put my feet up. Instead, Francie invited us to a party 25 blocks away. The party was another opportunity to notice how conversation is at the center of Nicaraguan social life.  Even the younger people start talking and when they're fully engaged you can almost feel the connection between them. It seems that people here haven't lost the art of conversation; sometimes I think that there can be more intimacy in a good talk than in a good fuck. Didn't someone once say that the biggest sex organ is the human brain? I have to agree. Why am I thinking about sex so much lately? Oh yeah, because I'm not getting any.

I'm looking forward to going to Leon this weekend. I was hoping that Audrey and I could pool our money and hire a driver for the day but everyone is telling us that it's just as easy and much cheaper to hitchhike. Audrey wants us to take the bus but I don't want to spend three and a half hours on one of those overcrowded buses. They usually have people hanging out the doors and windows, and sometimes even riding on the roof hanging onto the luggage racks. There’s a person whose job it is to squeeze people in. I can just imagine "ok, you move over there, you stand here, and you sit on the luggage rack and you can hang off the ladder."  I don't want to do it. I've heard horrible things about bus rides in this country. Hitching is very common and a reasonable alternative. We see hitchhikers everyday. In fact, it's considered patriotic to share your ride because fuel is so scarce.

There's plenty of room on top!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

4/16/86, Wednesday

4/16/86, Wednesday

We had a charla with a representative of the FSLN who told us more stories of what it was like to live under Somoza. He also gave us some background on Carlos Fonseca, which I will recap here: Fonseca is considered the founder of the FSLN. His father was from a rich family and did not recognize Carlos as his son because Carlos was born out of wedlock. Carlos was raised by his mother, a poor washer woman, so class distinctions affected him from the moment he was born. 

Carlos Fonseca

Carlos was in his early twenties when Fidel Castro and Che Guevara overthrew the Batista dictatorship in Cuba. He was inspired by that country's revolution because he saw many similarities between Cuba and Nicaragua, namely, minority ownership of the vast majority of the country’s assets and resources; foreign intervention to prop up an unpopular government, political repression of dissenting views. He, along with two friends, created the Frente Sandinista to fight against the Somoza regime. On November 8, 1976, Carlos Fonseca was shot and killed during a battle against Somoza's military guard but not before igniting a revolution in this country. The charla ended with the same words we've heard over and over again: the Sandinistas want freedom and peace but they want a peace that dignifies, not a peace that enslaves and they're willing to die fighting for it.

Escuela N.I.C.A. presente! Me on the right.

When I got back home, some of the students from the school were waiting for me to help them create a banner for a big march protesting U.S. intervention taking place that afternoon. We made a banner reading, "The People of the United States join the struggle of Nicaragua" - en español, of course.  I outlined the letters and we all grabbed markers and colored them in. We held up our banner proudly and I was ready to leave it at that when Francie suggested we add "¡viva el internacionalismo proletario!" I have to confess that I hadn't really thought of myself as an internationalist until that moment, but I realized that what I've been doing with my expressions of solidarity and my support of the revolution are actions consistent with proletarian internationalism. How strange. I thought I was just supporting people who were trying to improve their way of life.

Upon Reflection

I don't think I truly understood the idea of proletarian internationalism while I was in Nicaragua. It wasn't until years later when I saw the power of multinational corporations that I came to understand that the working class must unite and work as a global entity in order to protect the rights and interests of workers around the world.

Monday, June 8, 2015

4/14 and 4/15/86

4/14/86, Monday

Whew, what a scare! Sometime this morning between 12:30 and 1:00am, machine gun fire startled us awake. The rounds were going off nonstop for about half an hour. It sounded like a battle was happening somewhere in the town. Francie got up to check on the girls but they were all asleep. She came to my room and we sat quietly listening to the gun fire. Francie thought the Contras might be trying to take control of the electricity tower, which seemed to be the direction from where the gun fire was coming. I asked Francie whether we should wake up the girls, but she said no, not unless we absolutely had to. She and I were dressed and between us we figured we could help the girls get into their jackets and shoes in a hurry if it came to it. Even after the gun fire stopped, Francie and I stayed up for about another hour, unable to calm down enough to go back to bed but eventually she insisted that we both try to get some sleep.

This morning I heard Francie talking to one of our neighbors about the sleepless night. I went out to join them when another neighbor walked by and overheard our conversation. She assured us that last night’s gun fire had not been a battle but a reenactment of the April insurrection that happened in 1979. Francie became a little angry, saying that they should have made sure everyone knew and I agree with her. Several other families hadn’t known and had also been frightened. Today, the Barricada (the local newspaper) came out with a big article on the anniversary of the battle. My friend and neighbor Freddy has his picture in the paper in one of the combat scenes. The mood in the neighborhood quickly shifted from anger at not knowing about last night’s battle reenactment to pride in having our neighbor Freddy featured in the newspaper.

 4/15/86, Tuesday

Last night, I went to the movies with Audrey and my little sister Adrianna. It was a terrible, scratchy print of a James Bond movie with Spanish subtitles. The print was so bad that I lost interest and fell asleep. When they woke me up at the end of the movie I realized that I’d been attacked by fleas. That’s what I get for wearing a skirt and forgetting my OFF! My legs were covered with itchy bug bites. When we got home from the movie, Adrianna came to my room to tuck me in. Not my blankets - it’s too hot for that - but she wanted to ensure that the mosquito netting was tucked in on all side so that nothing could fly in and bite me while I slept. She is so sweet.

La Chacara 

This morning we visited the Chacara Penitentiary. I was impressed with the conditions in the prison. Everything was very clean, the prisoners seemed healthy and the majority of them were engaged in productive work. The Chacara provides opportunity for the prisoners to become involved in the prison’s incentive program, whereby they earn credits through work and education. Most prisoners take advantage of the program. There are literacy classes for prisoners to attain functional literacy: levels 1, 2 and 3. If the prisoners master those levels, there are opportunities for them to attend outside schools by special permission, provided they have a history of good behavior. All prisoners who work receive a salary and they’re trained in marketable skills that will allow them to gain employment when they are released from prison. Conjugal visits and weekend passes home are part of the benefits that can be earned through the incentive program. There is no death penalty, the maximum sentence is thirty years.

Inmates at La Chacara
We were allowed to speak to and question prisoners freely, no one was listening in or censoring our questions or the prisoners’ responses. Overall, my impressions were positive. Even the prisoners agreed that they were treated well. A couple of the inmates were Contras and I honestly think they were just happy to be alive. Others who were awaiting trial pleaded their innocence to crimes they were accused of. I asked if they were allowed to criticize the government and they all answered no, not really. There are no legal impediments to criticizing the government but I was told that you could make enemies by doing it and that could be just as bad because they might then be accused of supporting the Contras. None of the inmates complained about the conditions in the Chacara, but a few complained about the courts and the fact that some had been held for over three months and were still awaiting trial. I do think that’s really bad but even in our own country the court system can be slow and we have no excuse, we are a lot richer than this country and we’re not in the middle of a war or facing an embargo.

Upon Reflection

I got the feeling that the prisoners were open with us, they seemed comfortable sharing their points of view without reservations. I don’t know if all the prisons in Nicaragua are functioning at this level but this one is something to be proud of. It seems like there is a strong desire to rehabilitate, not simply to punish, another example of the hopeful nature of the Sandinista government. Upon Reflection I knew when I visited the prison that I was in the middle of a very controlled situation meant to promote a positive image of the Sandinista prison system. Despite my hopeful, pro-Sandinista bias, the nearly universal response that criticism of the government could be dangerous was of concern to me. I believe that a country’s freedom can be gauged by the extent to which dissidents are allowed to speak their minds.