Saturday, April 18, 2009

El Sontule

Sandinistas. The Contra War. President Reagan. US foreign policy. Torture. Inequality. Rape. Money.

These words infiltrate my mind as I sit in this house in the middle of Managua. They are words that were once only defined by other words with other meanings in other times. However, as I sit here, legs folded in a comfortable chair, I cannot escape these words. They carry a new weight. They hold within each syllable a story. It is a strange phenomenon when words become personal.

Last week I stayed in the very rural village of El Sontule. No running water. No electricity. No internet. No sink. No door. No luxuries. Mountains surrounded the valley that held my wood plank and cement home. As I stepped outside in the mornings, the brisk air awakened my senses and the view was indescribable. Each night as I carefully made my way toward the latrine, I stopped to stare at the stars- the most brilliant and numerous stars I've ever seen, second only to Mt. Gemi in Amedzofe when the electricity would go off in the surrounding villages. It was romantic and breathtaking.

Aside from the simplicity of a life lacking in luxuries that I tend to always fall in love with, I had the incredible opportunity to live with one of the strongest and bravest women I have ever met. Isabel, a mother of six children ranging from 26 to 8, survived the Contra attacks on her community. Kidnapped. Tortured. Raped. The Contra War hit me like a slap in the face. It is not a story told by politicians and authors and journalists. It did not end in 1987. The war continues to rage. And as I sat there on the wooden bench next to the stove heated by dried corn husks, I listened to Isabel. She spoke delicately and intently. She made the war real as she showed us the mountains where she hid and escaped. We walked on the same land. We looked at the same trees. And at night, we stared at the same stars.

In countries where history, culture and politics merge so drastically and conflict so often, it is easy to overlook the personal stories. It is easier to read about war and human rights abuses and torture than it is to stare it in the face. This week, I was forced to stare it in the face. And I am honored to have the opportunity to hear firsthand, to translate the words, to sit with a strong Sandinista woman in her own home and to glance into a community with a heavy past and a bright future.

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