painting of Augusto Sandino

This painting of Augusto Sandino fills an entire wall at the memorial museum.

After a few hours of rest time — for napping or going to the nearby grocery store — we headed out for the rest of our history adventure.

First stop — a lookout point and Augusto Sandino memorial museum on the site once occupied by the personal palace and home of the Somoza family. (Three different Somozas, the father and two sons, ran Nicaragua as dictators until the Revolution.) Somoza family members fled and the palace and all of their land and businesses were claimed by the country.

The employee at the Viva Sandino museum explained the gallery of photos and information to us, with the help of our guide, Lucy, who interpreted for us.

Sandino was killed by Somoza supporters in the 1930s after agreeing to a truce in the guerrilla revolution he led. Sandino and his supported fought against policies that oppressed the poor and against the government’s reliance on the United States. (“North Americans,” as we were told at the museum. Everyone we have met is carful not to saddle us with any blame.)

The Sandinistas in the 1980s took the name to honor the spirit of Augusto Sandino. The national hero is memorialized in many ways, including images of his silhouette and straw hats.

light tree and Sandino silhouette

One of the new “Tree of Life” lighted trees and the iconic Sandino image.

Next, our bus took us to the central plaza to see the National Museum — filled with artifacts, painting, sculpture and parakeets chirping in a courtyard.

The city’s center was badly damaged and basically abandoned after an earthquake in the 1970s. Recently, work has been done to reclaim the space as an attraction.


The group in front of the National Museum.

On the way back to Quaker House, children tried to climb on to the ladder of our bus. Rolando, the driver, got out of the bus and put on his dad face.

The group is staring to experience some mild culture shock. There was a lot of talk of pizza, fried chicken or some other sort of “American food.” But most of us are enjoying the traditional food prepared for us while at Quaker House.

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The walls of Quaker House include social justice quotes and heroes, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Nicaraguan national hero Augusto Sandino — the man depicted in the small painting with the yellow background.

What does justice look like? What can we do to live justly? We’ll spend a lot of time answering these questions throughout our lives.

Our history lesson this morning, with Mark Lester of the Center for Global Education, gave us a lot to think about.

Lester has lived in Nicaragua since 1985, originally coming to the country through his work as a pastor. He was a wealth of information about the important dates, players, political system and impact of United States influence in Nicaragua over time.

He told us about influence of the United States occurred even in the 1800s, when the two political parties curried favor with the US to get support for their unique agendas. There were U.S. Marines in Nicaragua in 1908 and from 1912-1933, Lester explained. Decades later, the U.S. involvement played out in what we in America know as the “Iran-Contra Affair” and what is known in Nicaragua as the insurrection. Most here believe the Revolution is what occurred from July 19, 1979 until 1990, when the Somoza dictatorship was overthrown.

Lester told us about the continued U.S. involvement here, and how many of the same tactics used to convince the American people of the need for involvement in Nicaragua in the 1980s were used — by many of the exact same people — to make the case for invasion of Iraq.

While who the “good guys and bad guys” are continues to be murky today, our history lesson gave us an awareness of that murkiness, of all of layers of truth and reality involved in something so complicated. And we will hopefully be ready to question more, and deeper, when something just doesn’t feel right.

This afternoon we will visit several historic sites and take in even more. I think it’s safe to say our transformation is underway.

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5 Cordoba coins

Nicaraguan Cordoba

Tomorrow is our day of history lessons. We’ll learn the facts then see several sights, museums and the like. So tonight, it was time to get ready.

Nicaragua is a very impoverished* country. Only Haiti is poorer per person in the Western Hemisphere. That means we will see things that make us uncomfortable. Like the children — young children maybe seven to 10 years old — who came to Laguna de Apoyo to sell tamales, bananas and other food.

Downtown tomorrow, we were advised, there will be children with their hands out and “it will break your heart.”

But, we’ve been asked not to give money.

“We encourage you not to give them money,” said our guide, Lucy. “We don’t want to encourage that dependency, particularly from the U.S.”

Lucy is originally from Chicago but lived in El Salvador for several years as a child. She’s been in Nicaragua for three years and ours is her first trip as a guide for ProNica.

Rick Ellis agreed with Lucy’s suggestion.

“That paternalistic sense of ‘We’re gonna take care of you’ — really you’re replicating what one country does to another on a smaller scale.”

The purpose of our day of history is to ensure we know the context of the country we are experiencing for these two weeks. It’s not to make us feel bad for what we have. But we might. And it might light fires under us to make change when we return.

*NOTE: This post originally said Nicaragua is a very poor country. Nicaragua is economically impoverished but rich in many other areas, including natural resources of timber, gold and fresh water.

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Philip and Thomas Montalban

Philip Montalban and his son, Thomas Montalban.

Philip Montalban played a short concert for us on the back porch at Quaker House tonight, and gave us a history lesson of the Caribbean coast of the country.

Montalban is a reggae artist from Bluefields, Nicaragua now living in Managua. He has visited the Washburn campus for concerts three different times and we hope he can join us again soon.

When Rick Ellis walked onto the porch, Montalban stopped talking and flashed a full-face smile.

“Oh, my brother! How are you doing?” Montalban said. After a hug Montalban said “We have a big link with Mr. Rick.”

I think it’s safe to say we all felt lucky that their connection was being shared with us, too.

For us, he played a variety of songs representing many of the ethnic groups and cultures that make up the Caribbean coast, including the Mosquito indians, Garafina and Creole.

Montalban told us about the history of colonization in the Caribbean and the eastern half of Nicaragua, which until the 1890s was actually a separate country, including influences of the English, Dutch and Spanish.

“It’s a nice little country,” Montalban said of his homeland. “Now, we have to ways of living without creating unnecessary division. We are citizens of the universe. You and me are human beings on earth doing the same things.”

The experience concluded with a sing-along, with us as the response to a song Montalban wrote in honor of Bob Marley. Watch for a video of the sing along when we get back to Kansas.

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At Laguna de Apoyo

At Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo was much larger than the word Laguna — lagoon — would suggest. It was huge, with the sound of the ocean. And completely breathtaking.

We had hours to do as our hearts desired — kayaking the lake, swimming, laying out on platforms or in chairs on the beach, playing cards and enjoying fresh fish, salad, fajitas and the like at the top-notch resort restaurant.

Laguna de Apoyo was not a national park — that will come later in our trip. It was, instead, a private resort beach. ProNica covered our entry fee and our meals and we were free to relax. On the bus ride back, we chatted about how peaceful we felt. How nice it was to just be for an entire day. And how fortunate we were to start 2014 in such fashion.

More soon.

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