Saturday, 8 December 2012

Welcome to Nicaragua

In Leon - Nicaragua´s second largest city - I had no doubts. It was crumbly in places, but it was interesting. There was colour and art on the walls. There were places to visit and cafes to sit in. I was where I was meant to be.

Then I reached Tonala. A small town an hour from Chinendega. No roads, no cars, no one passing through. The skyline was gorgeous - palms, papaya trees, bananas hanging over bridges.

But it took me three days before I could see it. My eyes couldn´t escape the dirt ground. The rivers of water from the houses filled with rubbish and dead rats. And the smoke from the burning plastic.

I´d always believed poverty is the result of how much we´ve screwed people over. The cultures and people we´ve destroyed for land and gold. The governments we´ve corrupted for more of the same.

But life is too interesting to be so simple. This town has a rubbish collection twice weekly. That´s more than my hometown. And yet they literally kill themselves by burning the plastic. Outside the school was a pile of chairs three times my height - all broken by students. And one of the rooms had more holes than wall - all broken by students. A Casa de Cultura had been built in the town and wrecked within weeks. The organisation Plan had stopped building toilets in the schools because they got vandalised. And I was getting endlessly frustrated with myself for not being able to understand. But I couldn´t.

Then someone suggested that it wouldn´t look so bad if we hadn´t half imposed ourselves. Plastic with a culture used to banana leaves that rot, ends up with streets full of litter. Living in a house with a dirt floor wouldn´t feel the same way if there wasn´t a TV showing mansions in the States.

Anyway, ´progress´ is slowly ambling into town. Palm roofs are being replaced with iron. Roads are being built. Electric pumps installed. And the continuous reconstruction - the classroom above was being rebuilt when I left.

I´m glad Tonala is behind me, but I have no idea what is ahead of it. Maybe I´ll go back someday, but for now I´m happy to be taking a break. In a hostel called Sonati in Leon, where bottle caps don´t clog the rivers but have been turned to art on the walls.

Good bye Tonala - I hope you´re classroom walls last a little longer this time.

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