While I was a senior in high school, concerning myself with college plans, 16 and 17 year olds in Leon were dying in the streets fighting with guns to bring change to their country.
The stress I felt over applications seems misspent.
People here are proud of their part in forcing change in their country. Young people, passionate about removing the dictator who had repressed the people for four decades, willingly gave their lives so future generations could have a better life.
Bullet holes are still visible in some of the buildings, graffiti from that era, calling for the death of the imperialist invaders has not been whitewashed. Murals celebrating the martyrs of the revolution cover walls near the central square and in back alleys further afield.
Nicaraguans have been oppressed and fought back throughout their history. Most, today, hate violence and war. Only the police and security guards carry guns. They preserve the memories of war through the bullet holes and graffiti, but also through art and comical theatrics and giant dancing puppets.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are everywhere for sale on the streets. Clothes, purses, jewelry, toys, decorations and art are there as well. Vendors laugh and talk and call out. Everyone is willing to dispense a story with their products. Smiles are always free.
Mornings are hectic. Crowds squeeze through the narrow streets, exploding into the squares. Shops spring up along the way. Doors are flung open, water is splashed on the stoop and swept toward the street. You learn to jump aside at the swish, swish, swish of a broom.
Some seek refuge in the many churches, starting their day in prayer, while others simply push forward.
As the rushing wave that begins the day slows to the steady trickle of the day, it’s more tranquil. Birds can be heard again, singing from the trees and roofs, the dogs trot between trash cans looking for goodies left behind in the march to work.
Buenas dias. Tranquilo.
Our meanderings have taken us to another locale. From Granada, the colonial city, blossoming with the infusion of international visitors bring new cash to Leon, another colonial city! destroyed in the 1970s by revolution and only recently beginning to dig itself out from the rubble and tentatively spread its tattered wings.
Poverty envelops both cities. Tourists push through, seemingly oblivious.
The people who live in these cities have nothing. They are happy, though, because they know nothing else.
They are happy because they have what they need. They are happy because they have their families.
They talk loudly. They cram three deep into buses. They eat under umbrellas at plastic tables in a media of the Pan American Highway. They sleep with their children on blankets folded over cinder blocks under corrugated tin roofs. The children are content with a single toy.
Art is not confined to galleries. Poetry is cause for festivals.
People walk and ride their bikes because they don’t own cars. Few but the fortunate have need of a gym. Even getting to work is work. Where work is not available it is created…a makeshift restaurant on the street or in a cart, a basket of fruit or household items carried aloft and always for sale, a bicycle with a cart used as a taxi…
And – always – a smile.
The churches are alive with music. Worshippers arrive on foot or by bicycle. There seems to be no restriction on bringing the bikes inside. They line the walls, are propped against the confessionals or parked near the back pews. Some, who perhaps want to make a quick getaway after the final blessing, stand at the back with their bikes.
Some who have little or nothing position themselves at the doors, hoping to benefit from the generosity of those who are bathed in God’s love as they head out.
A few sellers with carts of sodas, flavored water or comidas rapidas like tacos or hot dogs position themselves near the churches, hoping for a boost from the worshippers heading home.
This morning, an almost-uneard-of summer rain doused the city. The locals were shocked by the quick downpour. Chuch attendance rose as passers by ducked in to the cathedrals and chapels to escape the downpour.
Traffic is less energetic than the other six days of the week. Most of the vehicles on the road are transporting tourists. Taxis, privately hired Turismo buses and the horse drawn carriages that circumnavigate the city are the majority of those on the road.
The honking of horms seems a little more considered on Sunday. During the week, a honk might mean danger or indicate the fact that the driver intends to ignore the stop sign (or giving warning to those with a sign that it shouldn’t be ignored). It might be a greeting to a friend passing on the street. It might be a call of appreciation to a lovely young woman passing by. A horn has many meanings six days a week. On Sunday, it is only to alert for a dangerous situation.
Vendors are out in fewer numbers. Most await the purchaser’s approach. The hawkers in the mercado are fewer. The music there is subdued. The banter between customers and sellers is less animated.
The restaurants either open early and close before noon or open later in the afternoon. Most of the diners were foreign visitors. Residents more likely eat a dinner at home with their families on their only day off.
It’s quiet. Even the dog and the rooster next door, which spend their days – and nights – in a perpetual call and response, are quiet.
The grocery store itself was dull. La Union, ironically owned by WalMart is bright and clean and filled with all the same sorts of things you’d find in the States. We needed some easily transportable snack foods as we will be hitting the road soon – by bus – and watermelons and papayas don’t do well in back packs.
I did have a “People of WalMart” sighting, but chose not to take a photo…a drag queen. A young man with poorly bleached hair and garish 1970s-style make up was bent over the make up counter. She was wearing a conservative skirt and a bright tank top. She giggled loudly while chatting with the clerk and drew much attention. I think, though, that the other shoppers were less bothered by her gender line blending than by her lack of polite decorum in the store.
On the streets, stores of every kind were popping up on the sidewalk and tumbling out of homes. On a much smaller scale than in the Centro Mercado, but randomly.
More people from the rural areas seemed to be coming in in horse drawn carts to sell or buy or both. Carts were unloading or parked along the curb.
I sat for a few minutes on a concrete and tile stool outside an abandoned restaurant to watch the comings and goings along the highway on a Saturday morning. I felt a little self conscious, though no one seemed to notice the gringa with her shopping bag.
So I gathered my groceries and went back to the room for breakfast.