Visit to a Military Fortress

Hello again from León, where the sweat flows like water! This week marked the beginning of our work duties, which for me means helping out at a preschool in the mornings and working with an afterschool program and women’s group in the afternoons. The most prominent challenges I have seen thus far are lack of funding and lack of community support. Basic school supplies, like paper, glue and books, are non-existent at the preschool, where the students bring their own chairs each day because the building is only home to 3 tables and 2 shelves. One of my goals while I am here is to take advantage of what the environment (and the trash) offers in terms of art supplies- this week our class will be making bubble blowing machines out of used plastic bottles!

In addition to work, this week has allowed for some great bonding time with my host family. The more I get to know my host mother Griselda and her son Eddy, the luckier I feel to have been placed in their home. The laughs, the rice, and the beans are constantly flowing- all very appreciated after mornings full of 13 five-year-olds. Today, Eddy and I biked to just about the only hill in this flat city of León, which used to be a military fortress/prison during the Contra Wars here in Nicaragua. The late 70’s and 80’s were a time of turmoil between the long-standing military dictatorship, led by the Somoza family, and the revolutionary forces, or the Sandinistas. The hub of the rebellion was right here in León, the birthplace of the first university in Nicaragua. Eddy credits the revolutionary spirit of the citizens of León to this fact; he believes that education was a catalyst to the uprising. It was remarkable to be standing inside of the fortress, which today is stained with graffiti yet only several decades ago was stained with the blood of those in opposition to the dictatorship. As we were leaving, Eddy pointed to a hill just outside of the fort and told me it was called the Cabbage Patch. When I asked why, he told me it was because soldiers would bury prisoners up to their necks and leave them to die, creating the allusion of a field of cabbage.

Though Sandinista slogans still mark many city benches and walls, today the war felt more personal. I learned that several of Griselda and Eddy’s family members were killed during that time, and that a military cannonball destroyed a wall in the very house I am living in right now. Residues of the war are everywhere- from loved ones lost to revolutionary songs children sing. And as I sit in empty classrooms, without books and paper, I cannot help but think that the war is still all around. These days, higher education is free and art programs like PGL supported Taller Xuchialt are flourishing, but Nicaragua still has a long way to go in terms of its staggering poverty levels and gender equality. I hope that my presence here can make a small positive difference in the lives of some of the people I am lucky enough to meet- whether it is teaching my middle-schoolers that trash can be art too, or teaching my preschoolers that hands are not for hitting.

That’s all for now, I am excited to see what this week will bring!

Mary Maloney
León, Nicaragua