I’m taking a break from my memoir ‘Life and Deaf ‘ to tell you of my latest adventure volunteering with El Porvenir.
Bob and I arrive in Managua on a prop plane from Costa Rica to participate in our third volunteer ‘brigade’ with the NGO El Porvenir. Our guide Jimmy and driver Jose drive us through town and fill us in on life in Nicaragua. Things have changed drastically since our last volunteering experience with El Porvenir over three years ago. Many historic buildings have been torn down, a la Orwell’s “1984” or barred with tall chain-link fences topped with rolls of barbed wire. Christianity still reigns leaving the oldest and most honored ruins, the colonial cathedral, with its moldy scarred stone walls still standing firm, etched in cracks and blown out glass, token statues left standing as sentinels to the past.
Rosario Murillo, president Daniel Ortega’s flamboyant wife has cajoled the government into spending lots of money sprucing up the main streets of the capital with massive metal ‘Trees of Life’ all brightly electrified at night to make her city shine with false prosperity. On the shores of Lake Nicaragua, the old downtown is being totally renovated as a tourist destination. After the great earthquake of ’72 the town center was moved inland. The newly rebuilt waterfront restaurants and docks are painted in intense primary colors, planted with spindly swaying palms, and strategically placed benches touting the Sandanista propaganda “Follow us making positive change in Nicaragua.” Of course you must be a member of the party to experience the prosperity.
The Ortega extended family reputedly owns a huge percentage of the foundry, electric company, casinos, hotels, etc.. Rosario wants everyone to know what a great modern city Managua has become under the rule of her husband and the guise of the Sandanista Party.
Just off the main streets and the waterfront and on into the countryside the masses live in poverty, many in shacks made of found materials and black plastic. Most have electricity brought in on a frayed wire, and their non-potable water comes from a pipe outside on the street. According to Wikipedia “48% of the population in Nicaragua live below the poverty line, 79.9% of the population live on less than $2 per day.”
We arrive at our Hotel Loma del Valle. In contrast it’s a beautiful colonial-style hotel in a clean colorful, securely barred residential neighborhood. The streets are meticulously absent of the stray dogs and mountains of trash common in the rest of downtown. Security guards sit watch on almost every corner. Orientation includes a brief political history, an overview of our project – installing three latrines and a washing station at the primary school in a small farming community of Las Delicias, general protocol for health and security and a ‘meet and greet’ with our six fellow volunteers.
Next: Working to build latrines and a washing station in the farming community of Las Delicias.