Lillian came here to visit Nicaragua just after the Sandinista revolution. The hope and dedication of the people inspired her to visit again for a couple of months. That was 26 years ago. Throughout the Contra War, she worked on a state-sponsored farm, traveling by horseback throughout the war zone.
Lillian is a wealth of stories. Every place and tiny detail has significance in the rich history of Nicaragua. A parking space is where the Contras ambushed a civilian car, leaving nothing but a melted metal frame. A park or a green area was not city planning, but a square of land destroyed in the 1972 earthquake and never rebuilt. And then there are the roads. They are not paved asphalt or concrete slabs as many of the roads in the U.S. are- they are not even gravel. Instead, they are a pattern of small cement blocks that fit together like cobblestones. The roads too have a story in the Sandinista revolution. When he ruled the country, the dictator, Anastasio Somoza, decreed that all roads should be built with the cement blocks that continue to pave the roads today. Soon after, his company became the major producer of those very blocks. Yet his master profit plan backfired during the revolution: the Sandinistas could easily rip apart sections of the road to blockade their opponents. The roads that paved the pocket of Somoza built the walls that blockaded his success.
A man has been walking by Managua´s Quaker House daily. As he trods menotonously, he calls out a drone, ¨fotanegro, fotanegro, fotanegro.¨ The voice rings ominous, and it spreads through the neighborhood, settling like a curse in the house. Today, when Nick and I were running through the back roads, we heard the curse again, ¨fotanegro, fotanegro.¨ The same guy had made his way to this neighborhood, continuing his drone. In his left hand, we noticed a long, dark shape that appeared like a gun. We ran a little faster to get back to the house. But not long after we arrived back at Quaker House, the voice followed. ¨Fotanegro¨again boomed through the patio and covered the casa in a curse. ¨What does fotanegro actually mean?¨ we wondered. ¨Negro¨in spanish means black, so we speculated that the man was wishing blackness on our house and throughout the neighborhoods. We asked Lillian, our guide, what ill-wishes he was sending our way. Fontanero, not Fotanegro, we discovered, means plumber. The man was not bringing the devil to our house, but instead walking the streets to offer his services. The long cylinder, not a gun, but a pipe to replace a leaking one. As he trods the streets yelling ¨fontanero,¨anyone who needs a plumber can run out of their house to grab him to fix their pipes. Like the ice cream truck for broken pipes.
Saturday´s sky was clearer, but the heat and humidity still hung heavy over Managua. We drove up above the city, climbing over lush hillsides with views to volcanoes and lakes to San Marcos, a town with brightly painted houses, flowers in the parks, and people at the markets. Here, ProNica is one of many supporters of Los Quinchos, a multinational project to care for and build futures for former street children. Children, ages 5-18, make bracelets and hammocks to sell, run a wonderful restaurant and internet cafe, raise farm animals, and tend gardens. Outside of San Marcos, they live in safety, away from the violence, drugs, and disease of the municipal dump in Managua, where they had scavenged for food and recyclables to sell. At Los Quinchos, they can play, go to school and grow healthy.
In many ways, Managua seems like a city of ghosts and spirits. The old cathedral is but a shell, having been destroyed during the 1972 earthquake, yet there are photos of thousands of joyful people gathered in front of it and cheering on its balaconies following the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship in 1979. The park was deserted when we visited, with the spirit of the revolution captured in pink billboards that rise over the empty square and throughout the city.
Lillian greeted us as we left Customs and we piled into her van to head for Linda Vista and Casa de los Amigos, where six of us spent our first night. We´ll be joined by Colleen this afternoon; her flight out of San Francisco was canceled yesterday. It´s early morning now and across the street a woman is sweeping her sidewalk, a little girl heads to school, a dog wants some attention, trucks lumber down a nearby street, and birds sing
We begin our ProNica delegation tomorrow, when we gather in Miami for our flight into Managua. After staying a few days at Casa de los Amigos, we’ll be traveling in western Nicaragua, visiting communities near Matagalpa, Esteli, and Leon. Stay tuned!
Associate Professor of Independent College Programs Kaye Edwards and six Haverford students will be visiting Nicaragua for a 10-day educational delegation led by ProNica, a Quaker organization. After Edwards returns home the students will staying on for Center for Peace and Global Citizenship internships with various grassroots projects in the country.