Happy birthday, Nicaragua, round two. September 15, 1821, ganó su libertad desde España.
And in 1979, the Sandanistas overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in the name of Nicaraguan sovereignty. In the name of f— you, United States, we don’t need your imperialism breathing down our neck, we are independently independent, Nicaragua (with lots of dependence on the Soviet Union, too).
Happy birthday, and I sit drinking a coca-cola, living in an American-owned hotel, teaching English to students who can’t write their own language correctly.
Students come to class in ripped, thin clothes; holes in shirts and shorts, hand-me-downs from a long-forgotten person. Smiles and bellies. They always ask for water.
Pressed school uniforms, white colored shirt, navy pleated skirts, black shoes. Pressed and clean hides holes, stains, and thin spots on the shoulders.
Beach-front Gigante shacks. Families awake every morning in hammocks in zinc shacks overlooking a brilliant ocean (does it matter) and cook bananas over a wood fire and hand wash their clothes and bathe in muddy rivers.
Rain pounding on roofs, it seeps in on the cement floors. Mud creeps in, too, lots of it. Floods.
How do you know when you’re poor? What is poverty? When you’re so rich in something else, but rich in poverty, does it compensate?
Whose land is this, anyway? Do they own their beach-front property? Whoever does will sell the land, make a killing, and move inland, away from beauty but towards cheapness. Is there dignity inherent in this beauty, of a shack next to a hotel and grain fields on fire as the sunlight descends onto stalks.
An old woman smiles, no teeth, and waves to me on my runs, friendly, grandmotherly. A sullen (or shy), beautiful 17 year old girl doesn’t have a front tooth and doesn’t get English and doesn’t talk much. An 11-year-old writes ‘te amo Megan’ on a food bingo card. I later see her bathing in the muddy river (trash floats by).
A Nicaraguan worker from an American development nearby says, of President Daniel Ortega’s policies, “we’re a poor country. We can’t antagonize the United States. We need their help.”
Help is here. Help is arriving on surfboards and in trucks, ready to invest in boats and buy Nicaraguan beer. And take pictures, too. Help will build beautiful, lush resorts on beautiful, lush beaches. Help will employ Nicaraguan laborers—horray—and then they will be dismissed once construction is complete. Dismissed, in favor of qualified workers, to trek inland while to the victors await the spoils.
Good jobs come to the area but they can’t work them because they aren’t educated. Or they don’t want to work that hard, it’s a different kind of hard work, trust and respect for the (gringo) boss, don’t want to change. You can’t make someone participate in change—for good or bad.
When you can buy a t-shirt of Che or Sandino for five dollars (the shirt was made in China, sent to the U.S., and arrives here); when the menus are in English and Spanish; when it’s too expensive for Nicaraguans to live on Nicaraguan beaches.
Beaches once the backyard of the poor. They bathe in cold muddy rivers, or their oceans, their waves. Beaches soon the playground of the rich.
Wealth arrives, certainly. It becomes more expensive to live here. Nicaragua peeks through resorts and designed cities. (A company or man wants to buy Gigante, buy it, and build a resort town with planned avenues. No mud, pristine perfect paradise, and Nicaragua pokes through cracks and looks down on it from leafy banana trees. Buy a town [and all the people in it]. Juans says it won’t happen.)
When wealth arrives, you know you’re poor. A five-star hotel and then a shack is a shack. Or did you know all along but it didn’t matter because you couldn’t do anything about it? Because it was the way it was it was it was…for generations? Mom pops gramps and abuelita, all on our land by the sea, in our corrugated zinc paneled home by the bright blue ocean. The sun descends into view from behind corrugated zinc panels and sinks (or swim) into the ocean and a sunset is a sunset is a sunset, from the bright hotel on the hill or the shanty on the sea. The family prepares for a party in an abandoned brick church and neighbors come by with balloons, smiling and dancing; a woman prepares food over a fire.
Y tú mama también. (Mexican movie.) A moment:
A group of three travels to the coast—unspoiled paradise meets sandy beaches, alone. They encounter a fisherman and his family who take them out in his boat to explore the surrounding coves. They eat with the fisherman and his family, dance, drink, enjoy their hospitality and generosity. The fisherman sells them fried fish. Two daughters, a beautiful wife, he has lived here, fished, for four generations. The narrator informs us that next year, the beach will be purchased for a tourist hotel. The fisherman will try to offer boat tours but will lose all business to his competitors, endorsed by the tourist board. He will try to find work. He will leave his home, go to the city to search for work, and finally return to work as a janitor at the hotel. “He will never fish again.”