The ambassador to the United States came to Granda on Friday night, and held a meet-and-greet, shmooze-fest for Americans at the Jockey Club outside of town. The Jockey Club is an incredibly pretentious spot, a symbol of Nicaraguan high-brow society of a former era, and indeed, of high-brow Nicaraguan society today. It’s essentially a Nicaraguan country club, accessible only to rich Nicaraguans and foreigners. So on a rainy and chilly Friday night, a motley crew of American volunteers hailed a taxi and arrived to this bizarre assemblage. Present were a vast erray of ex-pats, a mixture of retirees, wearing these odd sailor hats emblazoned with some sort of Nicaraguan seal, several families, and young volunteers (several PCVs and us). It was an odd gathering, to say the least.
We took our seats in plastic folding chairs and these decorated old men marched an American flag–a piece of cloth I hadn’t seen in three months–up the aisle. My general feelings about the American flag is that it is an overused symbol of mis-placed patriotism, feelings made especially cynical during this election season (Obama flag pin, anyone?) as Republicans associated Democrats with unpatriotic flag-burners. However, I must say: seeing my country’s flag march down an aisle in Nicaragua, I felt its strength as a symbol.
And then our dear ambassador addressed his citizens. Robert Callahan was a contraversial pick for ambassador, a pick emblematic of Bush foreign policy. He was appointed at the beginning of this year and visited Nicaragua several months ago for a photo-opp with Ortega. Although the two men met, presumably amicably, Ortega publicly denounces him, for reasons not entirely illogical. During the 1980’s, Callahan was a croney of Reagan and ultimately, of the contras. Indeed, Callahan was the press attaché at the US embassy in Honduras when that embassy was a nerve centre for the contra war, and presumably was responsible for spilling Nicaragua blood during those years.
Stephen Kinzer, author of Blood of Brothers and my reference point for all things Nicaraguan, wrote an article about this appointment. “Here in Managua,” he writes, “not surprisingly, some have been taken aback by the decision of the United States to name an ambassador to Nicaragua who was once involved in waging war against Nicaragua.” It’s a great article, which I shall just link rather than attempt to re-phrase his already eloquent words.
Given the political implications surrounding his appointment, I expected…something from Mr. Callahan. Something interesting. Rather, he ambled to the microphone and, looking as trustworthy as a University challellor, outlined the services that the embassy provides to citizens. Most of this information I already knew, having visited their website. Indeed, Callahan’s speech, as well as the speech by the person in charge of something to do with crime response, basically regurgatated the website information. The crime-guy told us to report any crimes that take place, use the national police, and above all, use our “common sense.” Well thank goodness he told me that, I had been under the impression these whole three months that common sense was to be left at customs when entering the country. Jeez.
In all seriousness, quite apart from its political stance, I do think the embassy is a competent organization, one I could turn to if something were to happen here. Indeed, just that very night, I got to vote! I had been fretting because I requested my absentee ballot and then realized there was no way it was going to arrive in Nicaragua and then back to Los Angeles before Bush leaves office in January, nonetheless before the actual election. The embassy websites says in no uncertain terms that U.S. Citzens may not vote at the embassy in Managua. But, lo and behold, they arrived in Granada with write in ballots, which I filled out, handed back to them to bring back to the embassy and mail in some express, government service. Ha. So, the embassy came to me. And I voted! Yay. It was quite a rush to be able to write in a certain individual’s name, with a certain running mate, and seal it up and send it off.
TWO MORE WEEKS! After voting and feeling, seeing the potential that we will soon have a new competent president, I feel a swell of patriotism. It is a shame that I will not be in my wonderful country to celebrate you-know-who winning, but alas, I will have to celebrate here. (I am becoming superstitious about the outcome of this election and using actual names.)
Yaaay for fill-in ballots!