Nicaraguan Alphabet Part Two: N to Z

This is part two of my Nicaraguan Alphabet, posted after I finished three years living in Leon, Nicaragua. If you missed Part one, A to M, its the previous blog-entry.

N is for NICARAGUANS

 We have enjoyed spending three years with the ordinary people of Nicaragua – kind, generous people, valuing family, not in a hurry, time to chat, enjoy a good time, not too worried about timekeeping, babies who don’t cry, families who sit in rocking-chairs, chatting every evening, men who lie in hammocks, women who sell goods on their heads, everybody eating snacks, people asking each other for change, very uncommon to show anger, lycra roly-poly clothes, Leoneses a people of faith & tradition, very honest, enjoy fiestas & processions, three on a bicycle, youngsters kissing after school in the plaza, teenage pregnancies, overweight bored police, tedious politicians who give speeches, resilience.

And since April this year – people marching, in their thousands, and since August a few brave people continuing to march in spite of government repression.

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O is for OBESITY, & also for OMETEPE

Sadly, O is for Obesity which is also a scourge of many other Latin American countries as well. One study found that 22% of Nicaraguans were obese & 33% more were overweight. When I first visited Nicaragua in the early 1980’s malnutrition was a problem – but then people were under-nourished. Now as the population has become more urban, & eating modern processed foods, including much fried food, many people are over-weight. Women are especially affected.

O is also for OMETEPE, a beautiful volcanic island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. We visited twice & enjoyed fantastic views of the two majestic volcanoes.

O

P is for PAVING STONES & PROTESTS

Nicaraguan streets are made from paving stones & these have played an important part in the country’s turbulent history. In 1979 the people used barricades made from paving stones in the successful uprising that finally toppled the Somoza dictatorship.

Now in 2018 the country went through another burst of revolt, this time aimed at the current Ortega government. After the protests began in April, and were fired upon by the police, people spontaneously built over 400 barricades all over Leon where we lived. For four weeks we couldn’t drive, we couldn’t really work, food & petrol became in short supply. The street barricades were ultimately unsuccessful, & were knocked down by government forces in July.

P could also be for PHOTOGRAPHY – I enjoyed three years taking photos of fiestas, processions, schools, protests & wonderful nature. See many nice photos on Instagram (@Owstonlewis)  https://www.instagram.com/owstonlewis/?hl=es

Roadblock in Leon, built from paving stones, 10 June 18, credit Steve Lewis

Q is for QUETZALS (& OTHER LOVELY BIRDS)

The Quetzal is a very rare & emblematic colourful bird in Central America. We tried & failed to see one in the rainforests of Nicaragua but we did see one in Costa Rica having got up at 4.30am and walked till 7am. (Couldn’t get a good photo though). In Nicaragua we saw lots of lovely birds , from tiny humming birds to big herons & waders in the mangroves. (This photo is not the Quetzal because I am too proud!)

Q could also be for QUESILLO which is a rather unusual food eaten around Leon, made of tortilla & molten cheese with onions.

Q Yellow window bird from behind

R is for RAINFOREST

We loved walking in the rainforest & seeing sloths, monkeys, birds, marching ants & wonderful plants. Congratulations to tourist enterprises that have preserved some of the rainforest & made it accessible to visitors, for example Selva Negra & the highly recommended homestay villages outside San Ramon, Matagalpa. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to take photos in the dark dank rainforests. The country needs to actively preserve the large reserves like Bosawas.

R

S is for SISTER CITY

I have worked for the last two years for Project Gettysburg-Leon . PGL is a Sister-City, a twinning link. In the UK we call them Twin-Towns. PGL has done fantastic work since 1985. A small dedicated group of people in a town 2000 miles from Leon have supported social & development programmes for the last 35 years. Our most recent programme, during the emergency, has been supporting homework clubs for kids who have missed out on their schooling, like Mario in the photo below. PGL – Good Luck & keep up the good work.

S is also be for SALSA DANCE, or SOMOTO CANYON, another great place to visit.

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T is for TOURISM

In 2016 & 2017 tourism was on the up & up in Nicaragua. Everyone was talking about it, new hotels, different restaurants, the best homestays etc. Kath & I were well immersed, visiting many of the places with delegations & visitors. We especially tried to promote tourism where the profits funded social programmes . The uprising since April, & the violent response from the government, has killed off tourism. Eighty percent of hotels have closed, & 10’s of thousands of people have lost their jobs.

T is sadly not for TENNIS or TABLE TENNIS in Nicaragua (We like both these sports, but they don’t play either. Too hot!) This photo is Tourists at Somoto Canyon.

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U is for USA

A famous saying from the region was ‘So far from God, so close to the United States’. The USA has had a huge influence over the last centuries, from trade patterns to political interference. Among other things the USA supported the Somoza dictatorship for decades, & funded a vicious contra war in the 1980’s. Central America will be better off with more respect & less interference from the big neighbour in the North.

U

V is for VOLCANOES

Nicaragua has 19 volcanoes many of which are active. In some you can see live lava bubbling away beneath you from the crater. Kath and I would regularly climb volcanoes with our visiting friends & PGL students.

V is also for VERY HOT IN LEON. It was!

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Looking across from ‘El Hoyo’ to Momotombo & Momotombito

 

W is for WATER PROJECTS

Many villages in Nicaragua suffer acute water shortage in the long hot dry season. Imagine having to walk for 20 minutes to have to bring back a bucket of water on your head to wash in or to cook with. I worked on various projects during my three years where NGOs worked with communities to install piped water. PGL is in the midst of supporting a project in Talolinga village. A long & difficult process so far with various setbacks. Hopefully my successor can lead it to completion.

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X is for XUCHIALT

 Xuchialt Community Arts School are a great organization in Leon, run by unpaid young artists & members of the community. They provide art, music & dance classes for children in the community. I worked with Xuchialt for two years in Leon, as part of my work with PGL, the town-twinning link. Keep up the good work Xuchialt.

X

Y is for YOGA

Not very many Nicaraguans do yoga, but plenty of expats & tourists do. The beach communities in Nicaragua have a lot of surfing & yoga camps, & most big towns have yoga. It was part of the booming tourism industry before April this year. This photo shows Laguna de Apoyo.

Y

Z is for ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzz……..

 Z is for a long sleep on the plane back to England, at the end of three years in Nicaragua. It was a busy & tiring stint, what with job-changes, insurrections, a lot of travel, Kath’s illness, & lots of good work with PGL. Now I am getting re-established in the UK (in Lewes), & starting job-hunting again.

Z is for ZUMBA, which we did in the heat of Leon & maybe didn’t do Kath’s heart much good. Z is also for Leon ZOO which was very run-down, but good for photography.

Z

Please share this blog. You can also write comments below – what have I left out, what would you have included?

Many more beautiful photos of Nicaragua can be seen on my Instagram site – follow @owstonlewis

 

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NICARAGUAN ALPHABET A to M

Alphabet2I lived in Nicaragua for three years, & devised this alphabet before my return to the UK – my best memories….

A is for AMERICA CENTRAL

Nicaragua is one of the seven small countries that make up the Central American isthmus. Proud & patriotic, but most of these countries are also poor, institutionally weak & unstable.  Nicaragua is the poorest country on the continent of ‘America Latina’

A could also be for ADOQUINES – (Paving Stones, very important in Nicaragua).

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B is for BEACH

Nicaragua has fantastic beaches. Living in Leon our favourite is Las Peñitas which we love. It’s very beautiful & ‘tranquilo’.

B could also be for BARRICADES, built from paving stones. From May to July 2018 people built barricades to keep out the police & paramilitaries. B is also for my BLOG Nicaragua caminando

B

C is for COUNTRYSIDE (El Campo)

Nicaragua has beautiful highlands, lakes, waterfalls & rain-forest, with lovely vegetation. Kath & I always enjoyed hiking in the greenery. Though the government needs to bring to an end the deforestation that is destroying the remaining rainforest.

C could also be for COFFEE (lovely to drink & shade-grown is good for the countryside).  Or C for the CAMPESINOS who work in the countryside.  Good people.

C

D is for DANIEL ORTEGA

In 1984 I came to Nicaragua to support the young Sandinista revolution, & their president Daniel Ortega. The FSLN were a brave young effort committed to improving the lives of the poor. Today Daniel is still president, still leader of the party, & has become a corrupt violent authoritarian, repressing his own people. Power corrupts. What a shame. This country deserves better.

D is also for DEAF, Kath worked supporting the deaf community. Before the troubles started, D also would be for hosting DELEGATIONS.

D

E is for EDUCATION

In my work in Leon with PGL, we fund eight NGOs who support children’s education.  Kath works supporting Deaf Education, so we have visited many state schools. On the plus side Nicaragua has free education for the poor, & high’ish rate of attendance. On the negative side, education quality is very poor. Teacher attendance is poor, & sadly children spend very little time actually learning.

E is also for the ENVIRONMENT (Nicaragua has a commendable record on renewable energy).

E

F is for FRESH FOOD – for example FISH,  & cheap FRUIT, gallo pinto, beans, tortillas, crema. We like Nicaraguan food.  F could also be FIESTAS which are always great fun.

F could also be for the FSLN. In power for too long & with no younger generation leaders coming through. As a friend of mine said, ‘F is for Frente… we should keep their great sacrifice & their hope in our hearts, but their decline in our heads, as a warning for the future’.

F

G is for GODOY BROTHERS MUSIC 

The Godoy brothers (Carlos & Luis) have been the soundtrack of Nicaragua for more than forty years. Authors of the famous ‘Nicaragua Nicaraguita’ they were early supporters of the FSLN armed struggle in the 1970’s, & their songs have been hugely popular ever since. At any event in Nicaragua the band will play the favourite Godoy songs. Since the April protests began the Godoy brothers have supported the opposition, & Carlos Mejia Godoy has been forced to flee into exile in Costa Rica, now in fear of his life from the party he supported for so many years.

G is also be for GIGANTONA, a well-known giant in Leon. And G is for GETTYSBURGProject Gettysburg-Leon is where I work, a terrific bunch of committed activists in Leon’s Sister City or Twin-town.

G

H is for HOMESTAYS    

If you visit Nicaragua as a tourist you should really stay in a homestay, ie with a local family. Kath & I stayed many weekends in rural houses, for example in Miraflor or around San Ramon, Matagalpa. At my work for PGL we would put up visiting students in urban homestays in Leon, & they always say it’s the best thing about their trip. The photo shows breakfast in a Homestay in Miraflor.

H could also be for HOMEWORK CLUBS (which PGL fund), or HEAT in Leon  or HEART. We are leaving Nicaragua because Kath has been diagnosed with a heart issue that needs an operation.

H

I is for IDIOMAS – languages – including Idioma Nicaraguense de Señas

Kath & I both had to polish up our Spanish to work here, with lots of Nicaraguanismo vocab. But Kath had a much greater challenge: Nicaraguan Sign Language. NSL is the worlds youngest language, formed soon after the 1979 revolution. Kath enjoyed working with the Nicaraguan deaf community but speaks BSL (British Sign Language). NSL is as different to BSL as chalk is to cheese.

I

J is for JINOTEGA

Jinotega is a lovely town in the mountains of Northern Nicaragua, little visited by tourists. If you do go it is a lovely base for walks in the hills. You can climb up to a cross high-above the town, 960 steps up a hill-side. Jinotega is where Kath worked one week a month at the School for the Deaf with Mayflower Medical Outreach (MMO).

J could also be for JUSTICE. Justice denied to the 400 demonstrators who have been killed since the protests began in April 2018 (mainly, but not all, by government forces), and the scores of students imprisoned since August.

J

K is for KATHLEEN  

Everything good I have done in Nicaragua Kath has been with me. Together we went through a few difficult times & lots of good times. Kath is always popular, in her work with the deaf, & with all the PGL partners. Kath’s health is troublesome at the moment but we are all very confident it will soon be fixed & she will be back at 100%.

K is also for KAYAK. Nicaragua has lovely lakes & rivers to kayak on & we had some great times watching the birds, the sunsets & the nature.

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L is for  LEON    

Leon is where Kath & I lived most of our time in Nicaragua. It is a nice town & we were mainly happy here. It is an old colonial town but not poshed up yet like Granada, it is crumbling around the edges, in fact many of the homes are falling apart. It is a university town with lots of cheap eateries, & a lovely Cathedral. The photo here shows the church & plaza just behind our house, where we would stroll around in the evenings & see the sunset. Nearby are nice beaches & some good volcanic hills to hike in. On the other hand it is extremely hot, & our house had a lot of mosquitos.

L could also be for LAKES, Nicaragua has two enormous lakes as big as an inland sea.

L

M   MOSQUITOS & MURALS

For Kath M is for MOSQUITOS because she got bitten a lot by them, especially in the rainy season. Lucky me, I rarely got bitten. So for me M is for MURALS. Nicaragua has lovely murals on walls all over the country, although most of the old socialist murals of the revolution were erased in the 1990s. The mural below shows the Somoza dictatorship shooting unarmed students in 1959. History repeats itself.

M could also be for MIRAFLOR (a lovely countryside area), or MASAYA (the most violent & smashed up town during the roadblocks in May June July this year), or MASKS (as worn by protesters & paramilitaries).

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The second half of the Alphabet will be up shortly. Please share this blog. You can also write comments below – what have I left out, what would you have included?

Many more beautiful photos of Nicaragua can be seen on my Instagram site – follow @owstonlewis

After ‘Operation Clean-up’ my Nicaraguan suburb mourns

St Pedro Church, Sutiaba, June 2018 surrounded by barricades. Credit Steve Lewis

St.Pedro Church, in June, surrounded by barricades.

Father Victor Morales was woken at 5 a.m. by the young men on the barricade outside his church. “They’re coming Father, they’re here”. What the community had been afraid of was happening now. When Fr. Morales cautiously looked into the street he saw scores of armed, hooded men flooding into the suburb.

On that day, 5th July, the Nicaraguan police, with masked and armed para-military support, attacked the suburb of Sutiaba in Leon, the ‘barrio‘ where I’ve been living for the last year.

‘Operation Clean-Up’, as the government called it, resulted in three dead among the parishioners of Fr. Morales’ San Pedro church. Since then the community has been living in fear – and nationally the pressure on the Catholic church has also increased.

Roadblock in Leon, built from paving stones, 10 June 18, credit Steve Lewis

Roadblock in Leon, early July, before the paramilitaries came. The lad is armed with a catapalt.

 

Now, a few weeks after the three deaths, local people are still cautious to tell their story. “I was frightened that day, yes of course, but not surprised”, said Fr. Morales. “Other priests and I had tried to negotiate with the authorities in the preceding days. But they didn’t listen.”

In June local people had put up barricades all over Leon, built from paving stones, as a protest against the FSLN government for the violence they have used since demonstrations begun suddenly in April. The barricades were also a self-defense mechanism, to prevent paramilitaries driving into the suburbs in pick-ups and shooting. But after a month of stalemate the state was forcibly going town by town and taking the barricades down.

“It was very violent that day” said F. Morales. “They had riot-police and paramilitaries in at least 20 pick-ups, and bulldozers. I couldn’t leave the house for a couple of hours, I felt impotent, furious and sad. But later I could walk to the health post and I learnt about the deaths.

Father Victor Morales, parish priest of San Pedro, Leon. 2 Aug 18, Credit Steve Lewis

Father Victor Morales, outside his church

“Sadly, the youngsters didn’t realize that they couldn’t win”, said Fr. Morales.” You can’t hold off heavily armed men with fireworks and catapults”.

Four blocks South of San Pedro church the remains of the barricades litter the streets, and two sad crosses mark the spot when Junior Rojas and his friend Alex Machado were killed. Down a dusty alley-way, and past a large rabbit-hutch, the family of Junior sit outside their two-room house, still seemingly in a state of shock.

“They killed my boy with a single-shot to the head”, said his mother, Aura Rojas. “He was behind the barricade, but the police had flooded the suburb. They were to the North and West – they shot him from a block away.”

Junior, 21, was a builder’s assistant, and studied at night school, in first grade of high school. “He was my support, he looked after us”, said his mother, “I have glaucoma and can’t work, so he supported me and his nine-year old neice. The government have said all sorts of lies about the men on the barricades, that they were delinquents, they sold marijuana, but its not true. Junior was a good lad, he attended mass, he studied, and played football at weekends.”

“They took his corpse and dumped it in the morgue” said Junior’s sister, Cruz Hernandez. “We went to get his body later that day. They would barely speak to us. There was no autopsy, no investigation, they gave us no paperwork. Only one doctor dared look at him that day. They warned us – go home to your family now, or something worse might happen there.”

MOTHER~1

The family of Junior Rojas, shocked, outside their house.

Junior was killed just yards from a close friend of his, Alex Machado Vazquez (24). Three blocks to the West another young man was killed under the shade of a large Tamarindo tree. Danny Ezekiel Lopez (21) was apparently shot while on a bicycle, passing a barricade. “They shot him 8 times”, said a local barber on the corner, who didn’t want to be named, “they wanted to send a message. And that worked – after that most of the other neighbors around here took down their own barricades.

The governments ‘operation clean-up’ moved on from Leon to other towns during July, with a steady succession of unarmed young men killed by hooded paramilitaries with high-caliber weapons. Since the protests began in April at least 317 people have been killed according to the International Human Rights Commission (IHRC). Thousands of others have been injured, or imprisoned. “Around 90% of those killed have been anti-government protestors” according to the IHRC. In June and July most of these have been killed by para-militaries, who President Ortega has described as ‘voluntary police’.

Aura Marina Rojas, mother of murdered student Junior, shows his photo. Leon, 2 Aug18. Cred Steve Lewis

Aura Rojas, with a photo of son Junior. July 2018

As in Sutiaba, local priests have been called on to mediate in many of the besieged barricades. In the small town of Diriamba on 9 July, Bishop Silvio Baez and other senior clergy were attacked and lightly injured by a mob of FSLN supporters, as they tried to mediate the release of local people. In Managua on 13th July Father Raul Zamora had to take care of dozens of students who took refuge in the Church of Divine Mercy after being attacked at the UNAN University.

Nationally the Catholic Church is trying to keep alive the dialogue between government and opposition, in spite of accusations from President Ortega that the church is part of the opposition. Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes has said in weekly mass that the Church “is persecuted” but won’t give up their mediation role. Visiting Leon for the first time on 2nd August, the Papal representative in Nicaragua, Waldemar Sommertag, emphasized that “the National Dialogue is the only route to peace”.  But at the time of writing, president Ortega shows no sign of returning to the dialogue. He doesn’t need to, he is buying his own  version of peace in a different way – through the barrel of a gun, fired by a man in a mask.

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Laying flowers at the makeshift cross that marks where Junior was killed.

All photos Steve Lewis

More Nicaragua photos, follow instagram @owstonlewis

Content originally published by Catholic News Service, reproduced here with permission

Keep Calm & Carry On, as Nicaragua closes down

After 50 days of protests against President Ortega, the death toll in Nicaragua has reached 140 dead and over 2000 injured. The country is being steadily closed down by roadblocks on main roads and side-streets all over the country. In spite of the difficulties, some Non-Government Organisations & non-profits are trying to keep working, and community workers are going to enormous lengths to keep services running for their people.

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Barricade on the outskirts of Leon

When student protests began on April 18th the peaceful protestors were attacked by police and pro-government gangs, with a death toll of 46 young people in the first week of protests. The month of May was filled by marches and counter-marches from pro and anti-government supporters, with increasing attacks from para-military forces. The period of ‘normal’ protests ended abruptly on May 30th when government forces fired on a mass peaceful Mother’s Day march. Since then protestors have resorted to a new and defensive tactic, setting up roadblocks to impede the arrival of the police and their allies in civilian clothes.

As more and more of these roadblocks are built, it is becoming increasing difficult for daily life to continue. Some cities are experiencing shortages of foodstuffs, whilst others have run out of gasoline. Reliable information is hard to come by and rumours abound. While some cities are close to chaos  others are surprisingly calm. Speaking from the comparatively peaceful city of Leon, one NGO director (who preferred not to be named) described the city as ‘Alice in Wonderland’…. ‘We wake up in the morning to read of deaths in Masaya, and street-fighting in Jinotega – but Leon is still calm, except for the strangeness of being cut off from the world by barricades’.

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Student roadblock prevents buses taking a side-road past the main barricade

In many cases however, Nicaraguans are making huge efforts to ‘keep calm and carry on’. This weekend I attended a long-planned training session in Leon, run by Doctors James Saunders and Karen Mojica from Mayflower Medical Outreach (MMO) for three nursing students from Jinotega. Kath Owston, PGL Associate, is a board member of MMO and helped set up the training. ‘We weren’t sure the three young people would be able to arrive’, she said, ‘but they got up at 5a.m. and came down on three buses, a lift and a taxi’.  Jinotega and Leon are about 100 miles apart, and there were three roadblocks in between. At each stoppage the passengers had to get off one bus with their possessions, walk through the roadblock, and then take a lift or another bus on the other side. (the roadblocks stop vehicles at present but allow foot-traffic). The journey which normally takes four hours on the bus took them eight hours.

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Dr Saunders & Dr Mojica (centre) show students how to take photos of the ear drum

The training in hearing test technology, which precedes a pilot program to screen 4000 school children in the department of Jinotega, was a great success. However today, Monday, the 3 students were meant to return to Jinotega, but they have not been able to leave Leon as the barricades have become tighter. They will try again tomorrow. Poor Fabiola left her house in Pantasma on Thursday evening, to travel down on Friday, and won’t get back to her house till Tuesday night at best.

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Marlene practices the tympanometer on a willing victim.

In a second case last week, staff from sister-city Project Gettysburg-Leon (PGL) also had an odyssey of a journey to carry out a long-delayed technical visit to the isolated village of Talolinga. Normally the journey is a pleasant drive, on a tarmac road, until the last 5 miles which is unpaved, steep and bumpy. PGL Programme Co-ordinator Francisco Diaz drove up last week with two water engineers from another NGO, Nuevas Esperanzas  They had to take tiny back-roads to get around the roadblocks. ‘It was a labyrinth’, said Francisco, and at one point it started raining as well. ‘We had to ford a river and drive on dirt tracks for miles alongside Telica Volcano. After spending the day doing a GPS mapping of the community, so that we can plan a piping service from a new well, we faced the long drive back. Coming home to Leon we had to go a different way again and at one point had to be guided by farmers behind an ox cart! We arrived exhausted’.

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Javier & Marvin from Talolinga try to open the capped well-head with Leo, the engineer from Nuevas Esperanzas.                                                                                              (credit Francisco Diaz)

What the future will bring for Nicaragua is unclear. Will the protestors put up more barricades and close down all traffic totally, including food and fuel? Or will the discredited President, Daniel Ortega, continue to sit back and wait? So far, he seems in no hurry to break the barricades, and has not called in the army. In Leon we are looking fearfully at cities like Masaya, which have experienced huge violence, and hoping it will not come here. Tomorrow is apparently a strike-day. In a fog of untruths and false information, it is difficult to know which way the current is flowing in Nicaragua. But we are proud of the efforts that organisations are making, despite the fear and difficulties, to keep serving their communities.

 

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