In 1984 I picked coffee for three months with a voluntary brigade in Northern Nicaragua. We lived the Sandinista revolution while the American-backed ‘contra-revolution’ swirled around the surrounding hills. Central America was aflame in the 1980’s, with the successful revolution in Nicaragua, and violent civil war in neighbouring El Salvador and Guatemala.
Three decades later I have a new job, and am based in Nicaragua again. It will be fascinating to find out what has changed and what remains of that Sandinista spirit.
I was offered the post three months ago, and spent the UK winter in a flurry of leaving one job while preparing for another, packing up a house, and trying to arrange a hundred things. I arrived in the capital exhausted after a 20 hour journey, lugging my luggage into the darkness of a Managua suburb. I slept fitfully, jetlagged, head spinning – why had I come, would I be able to cope, what was this journey about?
And then the first morning…. Sunshine! After the English winter that alone makes you feel better. My first breakfast, sitting on a balcony watching as Managua shook itself awake. Rice and beans, with cream and tortillas. No pretensions. Chatting with the waitress, friendly, joking, remembering my Spanish.
On the road opposite, a good housewife sweeps the dust off her yard, as she has probably done 1000 times before. Another neighbour throws water on the mud outside his house, trying to keep the dust down for half an hour. The sun is up and it’s already hot. In the distance the sound of salsa music echoes around the suburb. And on a telephone wire in front of me, two green parrots sit on the wire, chirping and cooing as I finish my gritty black coffee.
Memories and feelings come flooding back. This is why I came…. I love Central America. The sunshine, the sounds, the smells, the people, the friendliness, the struggle, the commitment. Maybe in a few weeks I will look back on this as foolish. But for now, this first morning, sitting on a balcony in the sun, I remember why I’ve come….