La Mujer: Fuerza de la Revolución
Or, Woman: Force of the Revolution
Along this journey I have met some extraordinary people. I have learned about their unique lives and heard stories of their country's history with war and inequality. Though some things have been lost in translation, their courage and determination could not be misinterpreted.
Lucy is a 30-something single mom who has raised four kids on her own, one of which was born with developmental disabilities. The story of a mom raising a large family on her own is not an anomaly in Nicaragua; in fact, it seems to be the norm. But despite the hardships, Lucy has maintained her strength of character.
She does not complain and definitely does not express self-pity; instead she works hard on behalf of other women. She has not received higher education, but she's smart and confident. When I expressed my insecurities about not speaking fluent Spanish she said, "tranquila," or "be calm, it's okay." Confidence comes from within, she told me.
It does not have to do with your title, because you can ask questions. It does not have to do with your level of Spanish, because your friends will correct your mistakes. Confidence has to do with holding your head high and trusting others and not being afraid to take a risk.
The youngest of five children, she was only 13 when she and two brothers joined the revolution. In the mid-1970s civil war had broken out between a guerilla army and the dictatorial government lead by the Somoza family (who were supported by the United States).
In the early 1960s the insurgents had formed the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional, or FSLN – you can see the letters spray painted on walls throughout Matagalpa. They aptly called themselves Sandinistas after the legendary General Sandino, who had led a guerilla army of liberals against conservatives in the 1930s.
After a traumatizing earthquake in 1972, the Sandinistas took the opportunity to rise up against the government and by 1975 the country was in the throws of civil war. Barinia showed me the wall in Matagalpa that was riddled with gunshots and crumbling from the fighting that had taken place in front of it.
She told me the war officially ended in the cities in 1979 when the government fell to the Sandinistas, but fighting continued in the mountains until the 1990s. The campesinos – poor, rural laborers – suffered from malnutrition, disease and illiteracy, so for six months Barinia went to the mountains to teach them how to read and write.
She finished secondary school and then went on to medical school, working on coffee plantations along the way. After medical school she rejoined the army and worked as a medic during the war that was still being waged in the mountains. Now her work is with Grounds for Health – fighting a slightly different battle, this time against inequalities in public health.
In Nicaragua and I'm sure in other Latin American countries, there seems to be a paradox surrounding women. On the one hand, they are the caregivers, the stability, and the force of the community. On the other, their health and integrity seem to be overlooked.
Maybe I'm way off base - it's hard to grasp the undercurrents of a culture in just 12 days. What I do know is that the women who told me their stories, and even the ones who didn't, have given a whole new meaning to the term "girl power." Look out Spice Girls.