Friday, January 8, 2010

A whirlwind tour of Managua

Our first full day in Nicaragua was jam-packed. Bright and early we embarked on a tour with Roxanne from Witness for Peace. Two amazing taxi drivers, Michael and his brother Norman, took us to some of the most politically and historically important sites in the city.

Our first stop was the Salvador Allende port on the polluted Lake Managua. There we saw pictures of the old Managua, a very different place from the crumbling, often dangerous city it is today. Lacking money (since foreign aid was embezzled by the Somoza dictatorship), the capital never really recovered from a terrible earthquake that struck in 1972.

A gaggle of children asking for money surrounded us at our next stop in a small park, distracting us from the improptu talk given by a tour guide who seemed like he didn't get many visitors. We´d all been asked for money before but their persistent way of asking for migas (crumbs) was heartbreaking. Roxanne had warned us and given us each a córdoba to give away, but we couldn´t give money to all of them. And really, how much was that going to do for them? It might buy them a snack but it won´t put them in school or keep them healthy.

For me, another very striking part of the tour took place in the Parque de la Paz (peace park), which ironically is very dangerous (we left all our stuff in the taxis and were accompanied by our taxi driver for safety). After the Revolution the government asked all the people of Nicaragua to turn in their weapons and then they buried them in cement in this park, as a sign that the period of violence had ended. Tons of rusty old guns seemed to be spilling out of the hillside, and a tank covered in cement stood as a stark reminder of the past.

As we were leaving the park, the security guard walked up and asked us where we were from. When he heard we were from the US he immediately asked our opinions on US-Nicaragua relations, Obama, and global warming, and we got into a compelling conversation. He talked about how all these wars we´re fighting today stem from greed and our consumer culture is extravagant, unnecessary, and devastating to people and the earth. In my opinion this man was much more in tune with the way things are than most random people you´d meet on the street in the US. Here in Nicaragua of course people believe in climate change--they´re living it with the erratic weather patterns and storms. Many people have seen poverty explode around them or suddenly become dirt poor themselves and they understand how it happens. But we privileged few in the United States have the political influence to change these things, if only we were not so ignorant and could bear to envision a less consumeristic life. Our bananas are grown in Nicaraguan jungles, our clothes are made in Nicaraguan maquilas (often referred to as sweatshops); our lives are connected to the people of Nicaragua. We might not know it yet, but they sure do.

Whew. So that´s my rant for today. Anyway, we´re heading to Granada today and we´re all excited to get to a city where we can walk instead of taxi.

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