Part I in a series on returning to Nicaragua for a water-service project.
I arrive in Managua on a prop plane from Costa Rica to participate in my third volunteer “brigade” with the NGO El Porvenir, which brings drinking water and sanitation service to rural communities. Our guide, Jimmy, and driver José drove us through town and filled us in on life in Nicaragua.
Things have changed drastically since our last volunteer experience with El Porvenir more than three years ago. Many historic buildings have been torn down, a la Orwell’s “1984,” or barred with tall chain-link fences topped with rolls of barbed wire. Christianity still reigns, leaving the oldest and most honored ruins, the colonial cathedral, with its moldy scarred stone walls still standing firm, etched in cracks and blown out glass, token statues left standing as sentinels to the past.
Rosario Murillo, the flamboyant wife of President Daniel Ortega, has cajoled the government into spending lots of money sprucing up the main streets of the capital with massive metal ‘Trees of Life” all brightly electrified at night to make her city shine with false prosperity. On the shores of Lake Nicaragua, the old downtown is being totally renovated as a tourist destination. After the great earthquake of ’72 the town center was moved inland. The newly rebuilt waterfront restaurants and docks are painted in intense primary colors, planted with spindly swaying palms, and strategically placed benches touting the Sandinista propaganda: “Follow us making positive change in Nicaragua.”
Of course you must be a member of the party to experience that new prosperity.
Ortega’s extended family now owns a huge percentage of the foundry, electric company, casinos, hotels, etc. Rosario wants everyone to know what a great modern city Managua has become under the rule of her husband and the guise of the Sandinista Party.
Just off the main streets, beyond the waterfront and on into the countryside, the masses live in poverty, many in shacks made of found materials and black plastic. Most have electricity brought in on a frayed wire, and their non-potable water comes from a pipe outside on the street. According to Wikipedia, “48% of the population in Nicaragua live below the poverty line, 79.9% of the population live on less than $2 per day.”
We arrive at Hotel Loma del Valle. In contrast to much of Managua, it’s a beautiful colonial-style hotel in a clean colorful, securely barred residential neighborhood. The streets are meticulously absent of the stray dogs and mountains of trash common in the rest of downtown. Security guards sit watch on almost every corner.
Orientation includes a brief political history of the country, and an overview of our project: we will be installing three latrines and a washing station at the primary school in a small farming community of Las Delicias. Then we’re given a general protocol for health and security and a “meet-and-greet” with our six fellow volunteers.Next: Part II: Putting in the Potties