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.

Friday, June 5, 2015

4/13/86, Sunday

4/13/86, Sunday 

This afternoon I was sitting on my bed, admiring the welts on my legs, fighting the urge to scratch my mosquito bites when I saw my 7 year-old sister Adrianna peeking at me. She gave a little shiver when she saw that I had caught her spying on me. “Do they hurt?” she eeked in the tiniest voice; her thin frame seemed to provide no resonance. 

“Yes! They’re driving me crazy!” I said, eager to share my misery with anyone who would listen. 

“I know something that will fix it.” She took a seat at the bottom of the two concrete steps leading into my room. I was on the edge of the bed looking out at her, thinking how small she was, this sweet little mouse who claimed to have the answer to my problems. 

“You do? What is it?”

She smiled at me mysteriously. “You have to come with me and I’ll show you.” I looked at her for a minute. Her hair was a wind-blown cloud of brown curls that bounced over her shoulders, a wild child but so quiet. The sun was starting to go down and I knew we had very little time before the next mosquito attack would begin, so I made a quick decision. “OK, let’s go!” Adrianna told Paca she was going out with me and that we’d be back in less than an hour. We walked out the door and away from town, passing the drug store and the market along the way. 

“Where are we going? They don’t have it in town?” I asked. Adrianna smiled at me like she was looking at an imbecile. 

“No, they don’t have it in the store. You don’t have to buy anything.” She kept looking at me slyly, smiling but saying nothing as we continued on our trek. Every now and then she would nod or shake her head in response to my questions but she was obviously focused and my babbling didn’t interest her. Soon we were on the road out of town. It was flanked by green fields with wild plants, weeds and grass. I looked down at my petite, enigmatic companion and realized we were looking for herbs to make a poultice for my legs. I pointed out plants as we walked, trying to be helpful. I started to doubt her. After all, she was a very young child who might not know exactly what she was looking for. “Is it that one?” I said, pointing out different plants. 

“No,” she answered repeatedly. Then I saw a glimmer in her eyes. “I think we found it,” she said gleefully. I followed her gaze to a strange looking weed that was growing next to a giant cow turd. She ran over to it. Ignoring the weed, she stood and beamed, pointing down at the cow turd. Was this a joke? Did she bring me all the way out here to play a trick on me? I was still looking at her when to my amazement she bent over and started to pick up the poop.

“NO!” I screamed at her. “Don’t touch it!” 

She laughed at me. “It’s ok, it’s dry.” She picked up a stick and tapped the turd with it so that I could hear it. It was a big crap meringue. 

“Wait, how is this going to help?” 

“You’ll see,” she said, walking back toward the house with the cow pie in hand, oblivious to my concerns. 

My mind was reeling. She had picked up poop with her bare hands. I was going to be in so much trouble if Francie found out that I hadn’t prevented this horrible insult to hygiene. I’d wash and sterilize her hands somehow when we got home. I ran to catch up with her, continuing to protest and question her as we walked but she kept giving me her closed mouth smile. I was still an imbecile to her. Did she think she was going to get me to make a poultice of cow shit and pat it on my legs? I wasn’t that desperate...or was I? 

“Let’s just forget it, Adrianna. Let’s leave it here,” I pleaded but she ignored me and kept on walking. 

When we got home, I saw to my dismay that Francie was already back from work. She and Paca saw what Adrianna was carrying and smiled at us. They didn’t think we were crazy. This was not a joke. Francie grabbed a box of long wooden matches and Adrianna led our little procession back to my doorway where she set the cow pie down on the steps and proceeded to light it on fire. It burned slowly, like incense and Adrianna picked it up and gently blew the red embers so that the cow pie began to smolder. A long, smokey serpent danced its way into my room. 

“The smoke will help keep the mosquitos away, “ Francie said. Paca, Adrianna, and Francie all looked at me, now they all wore the smile. Maybe I am an imbecile. But there will be no mosquitos in my room tonight.

Adrianna and the cow pie.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

4/12/86, Saturday

4/12/86, Saturday

Last night at Lobo Jack I talked to a lot of people. Many of us have reached a point in this journey where we understand that it’s time to move past learning the truth, it’s time to start acting on it. I feel more in tune with humanity down here. Talking to the internationalists, hearing about their work, makes me appreciate the courage of those who take action. I realize that I spend a lot of time in my head, exploring ideas instead of doing anything. Ideas should be utilized, they shouldn't rot in your head like uneaten fruit on a vine. I have to stop being stupid, thinking that planting tomatoes on an agricultural cooperative is going to make any great change in those people’s lives; it probably only made a difference in mine.

I've been offered a teaching job in the mountains just north of Esteli. It’s dangerous territory. The closer you get to Honduras, the closer you get to the fighting, but the children have been in desperate need of teachers for a while. I’m considering it. I could be happy here. I've fallen in love with this country and these people, despite the poverty and the hardship.

Photo of Nicaraguan people via Chaya Shepard

I still remember my first night, scooping paper out of the toilet with my hand for fear of screwing up the whole neighborhood’s plumbing. Hearing the roosters crow even at night, being exposed to third world living conditions for the first time in my life, finding out that it wasn't uncommon for people to live in boarded up shacks with little or no plumbing; in fact, it was the norm. I remember the first week, getting used to the unannounced water shutoffs, seeing people riding horses on the streets right next to cars, getting used to not having a refrigerator or washing machine, learning to use a scrub board, learning to take bucket baths, learning to tuck the mosquito netting so the little suckers couldn't sneak in under the net; learning what it means to be Nicaraguan. God, I love this place.

I love my own country too, and I miss home and my loved ones and my band. I could also make a difference there; it’s just not as easy to see what needs to be done. There are children who need a bilingual teacher like me in Los Angeles but I can’t abandon Nicaragua. I don’t know what to do.

Monday, June 1, 2015

4/11/86, Friday

4/11/86, Friday

We had two charlas in Managua today, the first one at the American embassy was a waste of time since the embassy spokesperson just repeated U.S. President Reagan’s position of alleged human rights violations by the Sandinistas. I felt like every word he uttered was measured and delivered like bullet points off a memo. The second charla was with journalist Mark Cook at the Latin American Historical Institute and was much more informative, interesting and relaxed. He struck me as a reliable source of information.

Following an overview of the country’s history, Mark surprised us with the news that Reagan is still trying to secure 100 million dollars in aid for the contras. This, despite the fact that Congress has forbidden this type of assistance. I don’t know how Reagan plans to get around the Congressional ban but if he manages to do it, it could be devastating for the Sandinista government.
Fun Size History

The Iran-Contra Affair

Around the same time that I was writing this entry, some interesting things were happening in the United States. President Reagan had authorized the CIA to begin financing, arming and training the Contras (or counterrevolutionaries), most of whom were the remnants of Somoza’s National Guard. During this time, a majority of Americans were opposed to funding the overthrow of the Nicaraguan government. In 1982, Congress passed the Boland Amendment to prevent the U.S. from providing any military assistance to forces attempting to overthrow the Sandinistas, thus blocking Reagan’s funding for the Contras.

The Reagan administration sought to circumvent the restrictions. A clandestine plan was devised whereby arms would be sold via Israel to Iran, which at the time was subject to an arms embargo following their own Islamic revolution and overthrow of the pro-West Reza Shah Pahlavi. The illegal arms sale was presumably meant to facilitate the release of American hostages held by the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini (although Ronald Reagan vehemently denied that there had ever been any arms for hostages deal.) With the help of NSA Lt. Col. Oliver North, a large portion of proceeds from the arms sales were diverted to fund the Contras. A Lebanese newspaper broke the story and The Iran-Contra Affair became a scandal for the Reagan administration. Ronald Reagan appointed the Tower Commission to look into the matter, but the investigation was impeded by withholding and deliberate destruction of evidence.

After Mark’s presentation, we broke off into small brainstorming groups. We face the daunting task of figuring out how a handful of freelance journalists and volunteers can provide an alternate narrative that will counteract Reagan’s propaganda machine. The journalists can quickly write an article and communicate with their readers. I don’t have that type of forum and I find it difficult to imagine how I’m going to turn this experience into something that can change people’s minds.

At night, we went out dancing at a place called Lobo Jack. It was very Americanized, lots of internationalists drinking a lot. I talked to Mark about the possibility of doing something with Comandante Gladys Baez. It would be great to have her visit the United States, meet women, and talk about her experiences in the revolution. I don’t know if I have what it takes to organize speaking dates for her. I still have a bad taste in my mouth after trying to organize that benefit for the Mexican earthquake victims. That one was so poorly attended, I felt embarrassed to hand the check to the Red Cross representative at the end of the night. What if we raise money to take Gladys out to California and people don’t show up? It was just an idea but I’ll have to think about whether it’s something I can deliver.
Fuck This!
Accepting defeat before even attempting something is a lazy way out. It saves work but robs us of the opportunity to succeed and to challenge our perceived limitations or to fail miserably and thus learn from the experience.


Mark and I bonded quickly over music, he is a Buzzcocks fan and very easy to talk to, so I told him about my difficulty finding meaningful solidarity work.

“I heard about the bricks,” he said.

“Does everybody know?” I was so embarrassed.

Ignoring my question, he suggested that I might be more helpful doing something I’m good at and that I enjoy. What a good idea, why didn't I think of that? I’ll talk to the school about going back to the art collective to volunteer there when I’m not doing literacy.