All these stories

Matagalpa Travel Blog

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Matagalpa Street Scene




Dec 2-6/92

San Jose, Costa Rica - Matagalpa, Nicaragua  






weaving drunk on your words

In and out of san jose foot traffic.  Only half an eye out for a clearing.  And that only half the time.  Mostly my moment is fixed on the pages of your letter.  In my fingers tightly.  Didn't think on waiting til I found a quiet place.  Just wander and reed.


more space than the world tween your line



I'm  on my way to the Nicaraguan embassy to retrieve my passport--now equipped with a you may pass go stamp.  Tho there's no $200 collection as a right of passage.

                 & this town

            this moment

This weaving thru people, streets, down sidewalks, goods splayed on blankets, hands imploring, passed a Spanish fortress 400 years old, & yesterday's hastily erected tin shanty--old sheet for a door... it would bring a smile to Athene's sombre countenance.  Tho, from what I understand, her Athens has its share of the fumigating exhaust, rotting cabbage, urine, fresh celery, and sweat, here-blasting my lungs.


'n what I have now is mostly story pieces as return missive.  no sense trying to keep it all straight.  Just more weaving


Like the round about way you make your way down a white water jungle river.  The kayak or raft caught at times.  When  the water's in your face, 'n your spinning in the vor-tex(t).  It seems the whole world really does turn. You finally understand the momentum. 


  & t[here] are no straight lines.  just re-turnings.


Or in a bus.  Me the only Gringa.  And my Spanish not quite equipped to deal with the men with guns at six different stops.  I'm on my way to Nicaragua.  7 hours.  & I'm more than a little lost.  There's a man beside me... I catch his curiosity reflected in the window...  The spectacle of my blonde hair on a stage I've never strutted.  This ain't Shakespeare.  Tho there's plenty of blank to my verse.  3 hours at the border (la frontier) trying to figure out which lines to join. 


 in a jam.  enjambment.  "of chorus: that's it there!"


& then in San Juan del Sur.  Little fishing village on the south coast of this new country.   New air carrying more care, and more stories, than I dreamed.  The shanty squatter casas on the way are new signs.  Children playing barefoot.  Big  big eyes.  The same wary curiosity on each face.  This town was twice hit in recent years: first the change in gov't bringing fewer and fewer well intentioned Internationistas on leave from the projects; then the merimoto after September's costal earthquake.  None of the Costa Rican veneer to coat the care worn.  Except, since they can't afford cars, mostly, they miss out on the fumigating exhaust of ill-repaired motors, & the air seems paradoxically lighter.  I taste fish and damp cloth on the breeze, & firecrackers (not another war) assault my ears. The Nicas. Their t(hereness) is not recorded by cameras --not like my Tico host family in Costa Rica.  Their here is permeated instead with the richness of moment:


 smell touch taste sound.  a presen/t/ce

     where seeing's not the only story


'n mostly I think it's the hearing, that strikes me.  The crack of the fireworks in Latin America: a parody of the region's infamous wars. Celebrating being and killing with the same "sign".  Early in the revolution, I'm told, the Sandinista's used the bamboo launched firecrackers (maltero) stuffed with metal shards, as make-shift bazookas.  Before they got their own supply of the latest military hardware that is--weapon and toy.


& the stories here crack with the same gun-powder startle


The night I left Costa Rica I spent three hours in a little bar with Carlos, the son of the woman who runs the school I had been attending.  Their family emigrated from El Salvador in the early 80s.  Quietly, Carlos' lisping English unravels a haunting tale: an uncle, a student leader and activist who was marked hunted and executed by the death squads; his grandfather, an influential leader and a liberal voice in a small town, killed while taking his cattle to pasture (his machete no match for CIA issued machine guns),  another grandson (8 years old), who was with him, also shot and killed when he got caught under a barbed-wire fence while trying to run away.  Then there was the car-bomb that exploded outside Carlos' home--destroying a wall, shattering glass, & "The trees outside, in the morning light, I cood see they were all bare.  no leaves" 

    a winter of sorts 


& there was more: another cousin.   Picked out in the factory where he worked.  "Feefty ma-be seexty--how ju say? bullts?--si bull-eets.  and heem saying 'why?  why you want to keel me?  we grew up together.  in the same town.'"


Then yesterday.  I show up at this little ocean-side village, heading for the Casa Quebec--highly recommended in my shoestring.  It turns out to be closed to the not so booming tourist industry of post Sandinista 1992. But wait.  It's okay, cause this guy Jacques (an ex pat who's been running the place) is still living here.  Planning a scam maybe to bring Nicaragua a bistro-style restaurant.


      everyone knows

the one thing missing in central america is good food


Returning from a stroll down the port beach I find Jacques in post dinner fatigue pants, playing Nica checkers with another ex-pat (viene de Alberta) who's been here since the days of the Internationista volunteers, & has taken his do-a-good-deed-for-a-developing-country so far as to become its worthy citizen.  He's married to a Nicaraguan.  Hasn't seen the snowy north for five years.


I sit and watch the checker games thru the haze of their cigarettes.  Jacques is usually losing when it comes to pieces, but he's gaining on the whiskey.  They talk about the days of the election--the last boom in the service industry because there were foreign observers on patrol then.


& fuck Michael, part of the story went like this:


Der was all des new cars, see.  Outside.  Wid de foreign press everywar and on expense accounts.  So,  me, I was on de gaurd.  With my AK 45. ("your AK 45?") Sure! Got everyting.  How you say. Granod-es, oui, hand grenades.  An' dem journalists.  Der eyes like dis when dey see me.  Dey all want pictures.  So me, I pull out my fatigues.  Whole set like des.  And dey put zem on.  Stand in front of de car wid de AK and I snap ze picture.


More guns than people in this country. And they carry them on their belts like the wild west.


& Jacques has lots of AK stories with a more contemporary Schwartzenegger feel too.  One night Jacques is down at the beach on a drunk when robbers come to the Casa.  Carmen, the Nicaraguan woman who helps him run the place, is left unarmed because Jacques has taken the hand gun they usually use in such cases.  So she pulls out the AK, having never learned how to shoot it.  Last resort, see.  And "God! Eh.  She'd keel all ze neighbours if she began firin de ting."  So the next day Jacques takes Carmen out on a training mission to the field just beyond town. "Wear I always go, you know, to practise."  But this time Violetta Chimero is in San Juan, at her holiday home, &, funny, her security guards don't like the sound of machinegun fire, on her doorstep so to speak.  "Dem guys in der fancy new rover; I know dey was pros when dey pulled up.  De cops 'ere, dey's campisinos, eh?  So, dey don't believe me, see. Dat I can 'ave dat gun.  War weapon.  So we go to de statione, and de guy der, da campassino cop, 'e says 'ya I know dat guy.  Dat's Jack.' & dey ask, 'You know he 'as a machine gun?'  'Ya.'  'He got a permit?'  So dis cop from 'ere, he turn to me, eh, and  he says: 'You got a permeet Jack?'  Me, I say: 'Sure.  of course.' & so 'e turns to de udder guy, and he says; 'Si, he has permeet.'"


Now, I'm thinking Michael.  After all these stories.  This tapestry.  This weaving.  It could be as big as the earth itself.  I'm just working on one tiny corner, following the threads...


& when I smile at some of the shoeless children here, as I pass them on the road, well sometimes I think they have that cosmology you were asking about...  reflected in their gaze.



   i think about you during the day

 when the sun is silver on the ocean

  or bouncing off the surrounding


  & i think about you at night

      when my world is soft-shrouded

 by the cloud net surrounding my bed

    & my lips are naked.




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Matagalpa Street Scene
Matagalpa Street Scene
photo by: Makkattack