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.

N

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.

S

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.

T

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!

V

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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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.

 

All photos by the author unless stated. For more, follow @owstonlewis on instagram

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