Our time in Matagalpa has given us a chance to reflect upon the day-to-day realities for people living in this country.
A scarred history
The first factor to take into account is… all these people are living in a country where conflict and strife are an integral part of its history. Where forces both within and outside of Nicaragua openly took advantage of the people and the land they lived on. The Sandinista Revolution was an ‘enough is enough’ response to years of oppression.
Nicaragua’s long history… pre-Columbian, after the Spanish arrived, and since then, is a convoluted, immeasurable and at times contemptible story. A common constituent in there somewhere… exploiting the Nicaraguan people to profit others.
Looking at the present big picture, some fear Nicaragua is inching closer to another dictatorship.
“Scared by the possibility of another bloody struggle, Nicaraguans have opted to take what they can and keep their opinions to themselves.”
That quote is taken from a 2016 opinion piece written by a famous Nicaraguan poet, author and novelist Gioconda Belli. You can read more of her very interesting article via this link: Giaconda Belli article
What’s the word?
On the street, most people appear to be happy but talking to a few revealed some discontent.
One lady we met ran a business and the building she’s rented for 11 years was sold out from under her – with no notice – apparently a common occurrence. She was born in Matagalpa and implied the government was not to be trusted. She was also adamant the education system is sadly lacking. “It used to be much better but today schools graduate students who are not able to complete college level programs successfully”.
Because of this she noted that many small colleges with minimal entry requirements are opening to capitalize on the opportunity… and the people.
As we learn more about the past it’s apparent that the conflict and struggles of yesterday echo into the future.
A relatively recent protest – September 11, 2002, 3000 unemployed farm workers from Matagalpa formed a human roadblock near the village of Las Tunas. Protesters demanded emergency food for their starving families, temporary employment, and some control over the lands they had been living and working on.
This all came about following layoffs and farm foreclosures as a result of the rapid decline in farm gate coffee prices. The “neo-liberal” state had been indifferent to the hardest hit poor folks as a result of the economic crisis. Their protest eventually resulted in reforms and better conditions for workers. It has also left a lesson for future governments who “must now listen to the necessities of the people”.
What about the coffee?
When you’re having your next cup of coffee consider this…
“A cup of coffee from Nicaragua has a social taste, just and human, and to consume it contributes to the development of a people fighting for their rights.” – El Museo de Café, Matagalpa, Nicaragua.
So, back to the day to day realities… We see people carrying on with their lives but as Giaconda Belli suggests, maybe they’re living with a dose of denial and a deep need to just get on with it.
New friends on the street?
I love to make eye contact with people if for no other reason than to be friendly. I smile and say ‘ola. Sometimes there is no response but more often there is a nod, a smile, an ‘ola or… Adios. Doesn’t that mean goodbye?
Actually, not always. It’s known to be used as a greeting as well. I asked and it was explained this way… “Adios” is meant to be “a Dios”, or “to God.” It’s a form of a blessing from the person. And, on the best of days, I receive a warm handshake, and a “mucho gusto” – ‘pleased to meet you’ from these, typically older men.
Yes, and religion?
One faction of history I haven’t addressed is of course, religion. It’s abundantly clear that a great number of Nicaraguans reinforce the equilibrium in their lives through a devout belief in God. Many people are poor and cannot travel and religion becomes part of their ‘community’. As well, many Christian faiths are practiced. Catholic, Protestant, Jehovah Witness, Seventh Day Adventist, and Mormon.
Surprisingly, we stumbled on one more religion… Judaism.
One evening, we witnessed a rally in Matagalpa’s main square. At first we thought it was a political get together and from a distance we saw the familiar blue and white flag being waved from the stage.
When we got closer, we realized the flag was Isreal’s and we were witnessing an evangelical style presentation. To show respect, we took no photographs. We have since discovered that there is in fact a resurgence of Judaism in Nicaragua and the very animated speaker was likely Rabbi Mark Kunis. Really. It’s a fascinating story – one that goes back 525 years to the “Edict of Expulsion”. Check out this Times of Israel article:
One other force working in Nicaragua is non-governmental organization or NGO’s. It’s said there are over 3000 different NGO’s working here and one has to assume that the work is having a positive effect – as long as the projects are directed for the people, not ‘at’ them.
There has been a move towards NGO’s participating in a collective effort to know who is doing what… basically. The few NGO teams and people we’ve met have been well-meaning and appear to be contributing to the betterment of people at-large. At least somebody is doing SOMETHING. Every bit helps I’m sure.
Wow. Just writing this I’ve ealized how difficult it is to sum things up about life in Nicaragua, given all the factors at play. It’s a huge subject.
It kind of brings me back to those smiles in the street. And really, isn’t that where we should be? Interacting with other common people, who are living life like millions of others around the world – wanting the best for their families and those around them?
It makes me think about all the “good neighbours” we’ve met on our bike tours. These folks are no different – in their hearts. They just happen to live in the poorest country in Central America – not by their own making. In OUR hearts we wish them well.