Monday, October 16, 2006

Upcoming Holidays

September 13, 2006

Relating to the entry below, Awilliam today told me about the Sandinistas efforts to reduce illiteracy and poverty in the rural areas – by requiring high school and college students to spend five months in the most remote areas, teaching reading and another three months picking coffee or cotton.

Awilliam lived in a remote mountain village. He spent a short time picking cotton in the west of the country, but when the heat overcame him, he asked to transfer back to the mountains to cut coffee.

He didn’t seem to have very positive recollections of his service.

He recalled working together with several hundred other students in a coffee hacienda that had been confiscated from a well-to-do landowner.

“Every morning we were woken up at 4 a.m. to wash in the river. It was so cold! And the food was always the same – beans and tortillas for breakfast, beans, tortillas and egg for lunch. There were a lot of people who had stomach problems from so many beans. In the morning, we had to gather and sing the national anthem and the Sandinistan anthem.”

He began to sing it with a smile of derision. “We’ll fight against the Yankees and the enemies of humanity…”

“We wore military clothes and carried guns for protection. Sometimes we came across snakes or red-eyed frogs and the women’s screams echoes across the mountains.”

Looking at Awilliam’s gentle, intellectual face, the father of two daughters, it’s very hard to imagine him as a military and propagandistic tool of a political regime. But the faraway news that formed the distant reality of my junior high civics class was his life.

I asked why rural teachers couldn’t teach the illiterate in their communities to read.

“They could have,” he said. “But in addition to teaching people to read, the government wanted to make a show. They wanted to say, see, we are sending you people and making you a priority.”

The next two days are national holidays. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the 1856 battle of San Jacinto, the final battle of the 1856-57 National War. This was the battle in which many Nicaraguans, aided by Guatemalans and Costa Ricans, drove out William Walker, a nutty American who, as only one small event in the long history of US intervention in Nicaragua, had himself installed President, made English the national language and legalized slavery. This battle finally drove him out.

The 15th is Independence Day, when Nicaragua, and other Central American countries, received their Independence from Spain in 1821.

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