Nicaraguans are friendly, interesting people who once you get to know them are happy to share their life stories with you. They have incredible back stories, having lived through terrible times caught up in war, political unrest and economic hardship.
Victor works as the caretaker in our apartment, a job he is happy to have. He is particularly proud of his uniform, a crisp clean polo shirt with company crest. ‘Better than my first uniform ‘he says.
Victor and I get on well. He wants to learn English so I teach him a few words while having long conversations each day when we talk about our lives.We have somethings in common; same age, same size family but our lives have been so different.
In 1987 while I trained to be a teacher , he was conscripted into the army. He told me that both he and his brother were stopped on the street in Granada one day and told to report for duty the following day.
They were sent to Managua to train and given Soviet uniforms
‘Russians are tall but here in Nicaragua, we’re small. Nothing fitted. The boots were three sizes too big and the pants came up to my chest. I had to roll it up around my stomach and again down at the ankles’
They were soon sent to the swamps, savannahs and rain forests of the Mosquito Coast on Nicaraguan’s Atlantic shore to fight for the Sandinistas. In the jungle, in torrential rain and mud they fought the Contras who wanted to overthrow the Sandanista Communists by waging war from bases just inside the Honduran border.
They fought too against the inhabitants of the Mosquito Coast who wanted independence for that part of Nicaragua which is so entirely different to the rest of the country. Most inhabitants are of African or indigenous racial stock, speak English, are Protestant and have strong links with the United States. No paved road has ever connected them with Managua and they have a deep distrust of ‘the Spanish’ as they called the majority of Nicaraguans
Victor and his brother Fernando were given new camoflauge uniforms, Russian AK 47s and grenades and canned sardines from the Soviet States
Across the border, the Contras were funded,trained and armed by Ronald Reagan, the US Congress and the CIA.
Victor’s unit made their own liquor, leaving maize to ferment in the sun for weeks.
‘It smelled really bad but it got us drunk. There was a lot of drink and drugs’ Victor told me
There were a lot of mines too and one day Fernando stepped on one. His left leg was badly damaged but a helicopter couldn’t come for him so they put him on a mule and brought him to the nearest medical care.
It was too late for his leg which became infected on the mule trip and was amputated from the knee down.
Victor survived the war and emerged unscathed but with an addiction to alcohol and drugs.
He first worked in construction and later trained to weave rocking chairs but alcohol soon took over his life. He neglected his wife and two young children to party at the cantinas on the Granada lake shore.
By the time,we first visited Granada in 1999, Victor was living on the street,sleeping on cardboard and sifting through rubbish bins for food.
He lived like this for twelve years until one day we went to a soup kitchen run by an American religious charity. There he was told to write a letter to Jesus outlining what he wanted his future to be like.
Victor left school after 6 years but could read and write. He didn’t want to write any letter he only wanted the soup but to get the missionaries off his back he wrote it.
Somehow, the process worked for him and it was his redemption . With the society’s help he quit alcohol and drugs and got his life back together.
He started a new relationship, has an infant son and got a job .He loves his baby blue polo shirt with company logo and is grateful for the second chance.
I’m glad to have met him , he’s taught me a lot