Nicaraguans Raise their Voices for Women’s Rights

Today, November 25th marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women or as it is known here Día internacional de lucha contra la violencia hacia las mujeres. To see how the day is commemorated here I went down to the Central American University or UCA (pronounced oo-ka) to see a peaceful march. When I arrived, the streets were quiet and empty. Suddenly, I heard the distant pounding of drums and shouting of voices. The once calm streets filled with hundreds of women and men holding banners, waving flags, and chanting. To give you a little history lesson this event is to commemorate November 25th, 1960 when two female political activists known as “the Butterflies” were killed by the dictator’s secret police in the Dominican Republic. Today, women and men continue to oppose institutionalized violence. More specific to Nicaragua, there was a law passed a few years ago famously known as “La Ley 779” to condemn violence against women. However, given the multitude of women and men taking to the streets today it is clear that the law has not done what it outlined. Instead of explaining each of the rights they are fighting for, I will let some photos do the talking…

DSCN0745“Therapeutic abortion… and what do you think?” Currently all forms of abortion are illegal in Nicaragua, including those threatening the health of the mother or pregnancies resulting from rape. This restriction especially affects young, teenage girls who are victims of domestic violence and incest.

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“Stop male chauvinist (machista) violence and femicides. The unconstitutional decree leads to our death. WE DEMAND THE STATE TO APPLY LAW 779.” Another issue is femicides, which not only occur within the family sphere but can also be a random occurrence. As one speaker explained “Women are killed simply due to the fact that they are women.” The law was supposed to reduce this, but it has not been implemented well given the continued violence and impunity.

DSCN0737“For the right to live free of violence. Our territory, our body. Don’t confiscate it. Don’t negotiate it.”

DSCN0733I just really enjoy this photo. The Hunger Games movie billboard just adds to the power of the protest. Katniss Everdeen isn’t the only “girl on fire.” The men and women of Nicaragua are in fiery protest against the lack of progress the law has made to reduce institutionalized violence against females.

For those who want an even more visual experience of the event, here’s a small video I put together with a rough translation in some parts. Sometimes the catchy, rhythmic chants in Spanish don’t translate well into English, but give me an A for effort. Also the subtitles are bouncing around…you can blame YouTube for that.

Overall, I got the sense that people are incredibly frustrated with the state of women’s rights, especially now that a law that was supposed to help them is not doing much. However, there remains a sense of optimism. With any frustration comes motivation, fueling the cry for change. Little by little, Nicaraguans are working with the upmost motivation to end violence against women.

Granada

This past weekend I had a nice time exploring a colonial city about an hour south of Managua with a travel buddy! A friend of mine from high school has a friend who was taking Spanish classes in Guatemala followed by travels in Nicaragua. I decided to join her in the first part of her travels to Granada.

We got in on Thursday afternoon and checked into our hostel. It had a cool patio with hammocks to relax in. We grabbed lunch in the Central Park where I tried vigorón (fried pork rinds) on yucca (a kind of root) for the first time, which was tasty. Granada has quite a laid back atmosphere. It is also heavily catered to tourists, both international and local. One particular street has restaurants with a variety of cuisines (Italian, Mexican, Irish) and numerous all day happy hours. As a Nicaraguan friend pointed out to me, it is also a nice place for Nicaraguans to go if they want something other than local cuisine and want to sit outdoors to drink and eat, which is not possible in Managua. As a result, there were a mix of locals and foreigners enjoying the outdoor seating.

On Friday we took a boat trip to the Isletas, a series of islands dotting Lake Granada. Since tourist season is still pretty low, we were the only two with the guide, so it was a nice, private tour! Many of the islands are owned by rich Nicaraguan families who own big coffee, rum, and auto companies. There are a few that are owned by American retirees. It turns out you can buy an island for $80,000. Not a bad retirement plan. My favorite island wasn’t inhabited by people though, but by monkeys. There are five monkeys hanging out on this little island. They can’t go anywhere since they can’t swim! Don’t worry though…their owner is a vet, so I’m sure they are well taken care of. They even had names, including “Michael Jackson” for the black and white monkey…clever. Our guide was trying to call them over shouting “Pancho! Lucy! Michael Jackson!” One of them had an adorable monkey baby. By the time we got there, however, the monkeys were kind of over entertaining people. They gave us a glance, then climbed high in the trees. Oh well…it would have freaked me out to get that close anyway.

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Shy monkey…this one was baby monkey’s father

Later that night we ended up going out to dinner with a German girl from our hostel and a few people she met while hiking. They were a group of Americans and Canadians who had just did a volunteer project paid for by the companies they worked for. Basically, it’s a way for a corporation to say “Look! Our employees dedicate their time to volunteering.”  Kira and I split a huge plate of nachos at an Irish pub, which made for a random, but economical meal. After dinner, we grabbed drinks at a bar with live music. It was some band of teenage Nicaraguans covering popular Latin American rock songs. Around the same time a marimba player struck up a tune, which led to two very different sounds entering my left and right ears. He also seemed to play the same tune over and over. Needless to say, we were pretty relieved when the marimba guy packed up and left.

On Saturday, we had a more active day hiking the Mombacho Volcano crater. The volcano hasn’t exploded for 20,000 years, so there’s no danger there. Plus, the crater was filled with a lush forest where pumas apparently hang out. Thankfully, there was no puma sightings. I was hoping to see some howler monkeys though. The only evidence of their presence was some chewed up leaves on the trail that our guide pointed out.

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The crater. Wasn’t as menacing as I thought craters should be. Just very green.

So I kind of lied in the title of this post…We didn’t spend all our time this past weekend in Granada. On Sunday, we took a side trip to Masaya for a little festival and souvenir shopping. They were performing something called El Baile de Negras, which is a couples dance. However, the woman is traditionally portrayed by a man, since they didn’t let women dance before. They had started at 8a.m. and were going to 38 different houses to perform! I’m sure the dancers were going to have some crazy blisters. We stayed for a couple of houses to watch. I forgot that the woman was actually a man, since they had a mask on, heels, and beautiful dresses. It is also tradition for the houses hosting the dancers to provide food, so I was generously offered a plate of food. It was hands down the best fried chicken I had ever tried. One older man motioned for me to get closer to take a video. “This event is for you too!” he exclaimed. “Nicaragua welcomes you with open arms.” Talk about hospitality! Here’s a little sample of the dance. I apologize for the poor sound quality…

 

After dancing we grabbed a quick lunch and then headed back to Granada. On our way back to the bus terminal there was a random parade that popped up…or it could have been a march. It looked like it had to do with women’s rights, because there were signs regarding “La Ley 779,” a law passed a few years ago regarding violence against women and femicidios (femicides). This is a big issue here, so I’m glad there is publicity about it.There was music and men dressed as women. That seemed to be a common theme for the day…

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Part of the march/parade that made our walk to the bus terminal twice as long. The sign is partially blocked, but I think it was something along the lines of “Women, Liberties, Finally” 

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in our hostel, since it was drizzling a bit. On Monday morning we got an early start, since I had to head back to Managua and Kira was moving onto León. Back to reality…sigh. Granada and the surrounding area is definitely a nice weekend escape. Adiós amigos!

Brad Pitt is Bello. And the Canal? …Not so much

This first half of the week has proved to be one of my busier ones here, which makes me happy. Seriously, this post-grad having more time on my hands thing is odd to adjust to, so I am glad to stay occupied.  And I promise the title of this post will make sense if you read on…

On Monday and Tuesday I went to the Institute for Development and Democracy (IPADE), a nonprofit that works on development and pro-democracy projects to interview a couple of people there. It just so happened  that they were doing a workshop for young, Nicaraguan professionals on communication techniques, so I was able to sit in and observe the workshops. The most interesting portion was when they hung up a series of photos of famous people and politicians around the room asking people to write one word to describe the individuals. All the girls attacked the photo of Brad Pitt hence the title “Brad Pitt is Bello,” (Brad Pitt is handsome) which was a mild description compared to one woman who scrawled “SEXI” in huge letters. Interestingly enough, the photo of Martin Luther King Junior wasn’t touched for about five minutes of the ten minute activity, until someone muttered “That’s Martin Luther…” After that, people caught on and wrote descriptions such as “Leader…Revolutionary,” and so on. I guess he is more known by name than by his face here. The workshop facilitator had to explain who he was to a few people though. Nelson Mandela, on the other hand, was a huge hit. Also, the descriptions given for several photos of certain Latin American leaders made it clear that the majority of the participants had the same political preferences.

Now, onto the canal. This has been a huge discussion point down here. Everyone has something to say about it, including a taxi driver who went on a ten minute rant to me about it. After I interviewed a woman who works for Movimiento Por Nicaragua  (Movement for Nicaragua) invited me to a forum on the canal, I eagerly accepted. Long story short…the government is working with Chinese investors to construct a canal that would pass through Nicaragua. One theory is after Venezuela’s former president/economic provider/buddy (Hugo Chavez) to Nicaragua’s president (Daniel Ortega) has passed away, Ortega is looking for ways to keep the money flowing. However, there has been a lack of information and transparency regarding the impacts…and there will be a lot of impacts. There were three presentations: One explained how the canal would affect Lake Nicaragua in regards to sediment deposits and water quality/availability; another described the issues it would cause for local species and bird migration; and another described the economic and social impacts. Experts worry that the Chinese will bring their labor with them, and as a result there won’t actually be Nicaraguan jobs created here for this project. Plus, they’re wondering how this will bring a profit and compete with the Panama canal. One researcher went so far as to say “Let’s imagine the canal was actually constructed successfully and able to compete with Panama…they still won’t make a profit. Anyone  who thinks otherwise, please speak up.” No one did. Also, indigenous communities on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua are putting up a fight, since this canal will cut right through their lands. So, it’s pretty much a huge mess and construction will supposedly start in December. The presentations themselves had interesting results, but were delivered in a so-so manner. For one thing, the main speakers didn’t speak Spanish, so the translation made it pretty repetitive. It just goes to show that research, especially in the sciences, is often published in English. Also, they read off the power point, which is a pet peeve of mine.You kind of lose your audience when you turn around to read what they can already see for themselves. The most interesting part was the Q+A/Commentary portion. One woman who came up to speak was incredibly passionate about how this would affect not just indigenous populations but the Nicaraguan population as a whole. She sounded on the point of tears when she gave her commentary and received a loud round of applause after she delivered her opinion. I almost expected her to do the dramatic mic drop and walk away.

The canal, unlike Brad Pitt, is not attractiveI personally do not want this canal to take away which makes Nicaragua such a rich, unique country: natural beauty, indigenous communities, and a laid back, non-industrial environment. When I come back to visit Nicaragua after my grant, I want to see a beautiful lake and nature, not shipping containers. I guess I will have to take advantage of the sights while I can. With that in mind, this weekend I will be traveling to the colonial city of Granada and the surrounding areas. Keep an eye out for updates on that. Bye for now!

León

This past weekend I got out of the hustling and bustling city of Managua and headed to the much more tranquil León, about an hour north. A friend of mine from university lived in Nicaragua many years, so she put me in touch with her cousin who lives there.

I got in Friday afternoon and immediately noticed the sharp contrast between Managua and León. For one thing Managua is a crowded, capital city that is almost impossible to navigate on foot. León is a quaint, colonial city with the loudest noise being the church bells of the cathedral. This probably explains why there were a lot more tourists there. I swear, I saw more tourists within the first five minutes in Leon than I had my whole month and a half in Managua.

After wandering around a bit, I met up with my friend’s cousin and we relaxed at a restaurant in the main plaza for the afternoon. Later, we met up with a friend of hers who was also visiting from the States, and we grabbed dinner at a Mexican restaurant. It still wasn’t the Mexican food I’m used to in California, but it was close enough. At night we went out to a bar with live music. They made a slight effort at reminding the patrons it was Halloween by hanging inflatable spiders and cobwebs. The bartender also had a skeleton mask on. However, Halloween is not really celebrated here, so this may have been to appeal to foreigners. Afterwards, we went to a nightclub that was on the more upscale side. There was even a cover charge and VIP area. Even still, a night out on the town in Nicaragua is much more economical than, say, Los Angeles. The check for our whole group was less than the price what one person’s drinks in the U.S would be! I’m in for a rude awakening when I come back… They also played a good mix of American and Latin American music. The DJ clearly loved the sound of his own voice because he seemed to make announcements every five minutes over the loudspeaker. We would be really into the song and suddenly hear Sábadooo noche! (Saturday night!), followed by some announcement about a costume contest the next day. Despite Sir Talks-a-Lot we had a lot of fun.

Saturday

The next day we had a late start and met up for lunchtime by the beach. I ate fried fish…with the head and eyes and everything! It was covered in some garlic sauce which made it very tasty.

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Fried fish with garlic sauce, with a side of fried bananas 

In the afternoon I took a solo adventure to El Museo de  Cuentos y Leyendas or the Stories and Legends Museum. This museum actually used to be a torture prison during the Somoza dictatorship (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somoza_family). The original buildings and guard towers are still intact. Now, it is a museum dedicated to popular Nicaraguan myths and stories.I had a museum guide show me around and explain each story. They had life size statues of the characters depicted in a series of rooms. Some stories are told to children to make them listen to their parents, because a few of the characters rob children. Other stories were clearly in response to the Spanish Conquistadores. For example, one woman was seduced by a Spaniard who actually only wanted her father’s gold. After finding out where the riches were he trapped her in a cave. Now, legend has it her spirit will seek out foreign men, seduce them, and trap them in a cave. I would say about 70% of the stories the guide told me had to do with women seeking revenge. Moral of the story(or stories that is)…don’t mess with the wrong woman.

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Pictured (Right to Left): Spaniard, Vengeful Woman, Her Father

On Saturday night we had dinner at my friend’s house with a few of her family members and friends. They made amazing homemade chicken and guacamole. After dinner we played a few rounds of Heads Up, the charade-like game on the iPhone. A few times there was a mix up in translations or cultural references, which made the game even more entertaining.

Sunday: Día de los Muertos 

On Sunday morning I went to mass at the big cathedral in the plaza. The priest’s homily went with the theme of Day of the Dead. He summed up why it was celebrated pretty well by saying “The dead are here to remind us we’re living…So what are you doing to live your life right now?” That’s what I like most about Day of the Dead. This holiday doesn’t make death seem scary and ominous. It’s just another part of life that is meant to be celebrated. Ok, I think that’s enough reflection for one blog post…

The rest of the day was pretty laid back, since everything is closed on Sunday. We had lunch at a restaurant called Carnivore or Carnívoro. I finally had a burger and fries I had been craving ever since I got here. Then, we parted ways and I got on the bus back to Managua.

Overall, it was a really relaxing weekend in León and it definitely won’t be my last. I was asked on multiple occasions “So…when are you coming back to León?” Soon I hope..Nos vemos pronto León!