A word from the sponsor at Lyndaloo Productions
Some people say you don’t get what you want but what you need. Others say put your wish “out there” to the universe and it will be delivered to you. I asked for real Nicas and along came Sandinistas…
I never had a first love, I had three: Karl, Émile and Max. Actually, they were quite popular with a lot of people and much written about in their day (and mine). They were the founding fathers of sociology: Marx, Durkheim and Weber. In many ways they brought me here. I’m in Nicaragua to meet the people, to find out about their culture and society. Sociology – that’s me. What a treat to be here, in a country that experienced revolution in my living memory, at election time and surrounded by people who actually care about their politics. Even the girls at school were asking if we had our ID so that we could vote, not seeming to notice the fact we’re foreigners.
On Revolutionary Road
I was out for a walk in Granada when I noticed a man waving at me more enthusiastically than my usual fans. He beckoned me towards the Sandinista office. The man inside looked a lot like James Earl Jones (that’s one role sorted out for the movie). The man who lured me into the building looked like Eric Cantona (another role cast).
Edgar Arguello, 46, joined the Sandinista revolutionaries when he was 14. It was the Wednesday before the elections when I met him. He told me that he believed Granada had 60-70% of the popular vote. He also decided to celebrate this fact – and his belief that the elections were free and fair – with Aguardiente also known as firewater. My own tastes err towards the seven-year-old stuff so I politely declined his offer of un trago. Edgar said we shared the same blood. I was a little sceptical of this observation but then remembered my Scottish ancestors when he mentioned he had forefathers named McKay. It’s a small world. After he introduced me to Sandinistas past (paintings adorning the office walls) and present (the James Earl Jones look-a-like) he packed me off with enough election literature to start my own campaign.
Meet Fernando, a true revolutionary, or – rather his hat. After he received a death threat I decided to remove his picture.
I’ll tell the story of the death threat in another episode but for now some background on Mr Revolution. He left Franco’s Spain, as a 30-something – in the 70s to fight alongside the Sandinistas in Nicaragua’s revolution. Four decades later and he’s still fighting for a cause he very much believes in. The closest I’ve ever been to a revolutionary is a vendor of the Socialist Worker. For me, meeting Fernando was like meeting Fidel Castro or Nelson Mandela. It was an honour. I’m a coward but this man is brave. He was held by the Contras for a year. What they didn’t know was he’d spent a few years in the seminary preparing to become a priest. He left captivity weighing 55 kilos (9 stones). Fortunately, he’s now a rounder man who could easily play Santa Claus – and in many ways does. He and his family showed the most amazing kindness and hospitality.
Sad but true:
80% of households in Nicaragua are maintained by women. Mr Revolution said that although it seemed that little was being done, the work to change attitudes was taking effect. Our host and her sister had both left abusive relationships and told me they were better and stronger for it.
Love is in the air
In the UK we say that people up north are friendlier. I took a trip up north to Matagalpa. Though baking hot it was cooler than Granada with a beautiful breeze it also felt more open and less claustrophobic. I felt an immense love and pride for each and every person I met and saw on the street.
There was a real sense that they were working for the good of themselves, their families and their communities.
The market was packed with people. The buses were overflowing with passengers – and the produce the commuters were going to sell. Who needs a car when a 5-10-peso bus journey will do? A chatty cabbie spoke of his gratitude that foreigners (like me and my flatmate Teresa) were coming to Nicaragua to help. What’s not to love about such humble people? A woman in one shop asked me if I was from Jinotega (further up north). That’s when I thought: I’ve arrived, they think I’m Nica.
Down on the farm
Mr Revolution has a Finca. It has free-roaming dairy cows – even a Jersey. Imagine! Ermintrude has trotted all the way from the British Isles to be part of the Sandinista revolution! I picked a mandarin off a tree. I’ve never seen a mandarin outside of the mesh supermarket packaging. They tasted so good.
The fast-food takeaway monitor?
She was from Estonia. She was working for the EU as an election monitor. She was in Tip-Top quizzing the manager about the care of chickens and asking if they were from Nicaragua.
Tip-Top is Nica’s KFC. The chickens are Nica and probably better treated than the average western chicken. Ms Estonia said she didn’t believe the elections were free and fair. The TV channel (which the Sandinistas say is very right-wing) gave the impression the elections weren’t free and fair, and the EU’s final report said the same thing.
I’ve met people who are critical of Daniel Ortega and his government and I’ve heard claims of voting corruption. Clearly, there are at least two sides to every story. The Sandinistas I came across were the kindest and most committed people I’ve ever met. They believe in the cause and felt the opposition was trying to stir up trouble. Our host worked tirelessly on the campaign and on election day left her home at 3am. In Nicaragua, I saw people vote with pride and purpose.
Taraaah for now, Matagalpa
Sadly, the trip to Matagalpa was cut short. That story’s for another day.
An Ometepe special – the visit that was… but never was. Including: the tremor-sunken swimming pool, the search for illusive waterfalls, the missing lemons, the disappearing beach, the drunken fishermen and more.
To be continued…