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on a hill, there stands a cross above a graveyard

1986
Nicaragua


(noel  paul  stookey's  journal, written  during  the group's visit to El Salvador and Nicaragua... june 23 through july 2,1986)

Nicaragua

area: 45,698 square miles (size of pennsylvania) population: 2,954,000 capital: managua (615,000) geography: the western half of the country is occupied by low, rugged mountain ranges separated by basins and fertile valleys; a string of about forty volcanoes extends along the pacific coast; there are two large lakes; the hills in the central part of country give way to sparsely populated tropical lowlands in the eastern half.

Economy

chief export crops: coffee, sugar, cotton, timber. chief customers: u.s. (26.1%); eec (16.3%); latin america (11.2%) gross domestic product: $2.4 billion government expenditures: not available foreign debt: $3.5 billion u.s. aid (1984): none

Demographic and Social Indicators

per capita income: $897 population density: 22 inhabitants/square km life expectancy: 55 years infant mortality: 94/1000 live births adult literacy: 48% (before revolution; 88% after literacy campaign).

in july 1979, the forty-five year Somoza dictatorship was overthrown by a popular insurrection led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front. Formally the executive power was in the hands of a junta and the state council operated as a kind of assembly, although its members were chosen by sectors instead of by direct representation. effective power is held by the nine-person Sandinista nation directorate. people participate in government through organizations of workers, peasants, farm laborers, women, youth, professional people, and neighborhood committees. in November 1984, Nicaragua held elections, although a major opposition candidate, Arturo Cruz, after months of negotiation with the Sandinistas, refused to participate. Sandinista commander Daniel Ortega was elected president with 68 percent of the votes cast.

day four / nicaragua

imagine. the stewardess comes back to our seats and asks us to come forward immediately after landing so that we may be the first off the plane. we are being met in managua by rosario ortega (the president's wife) and their seven children. we have met once before in washington at the martin luther king birthday party when she came back stage and reconfirmed her desire for the group to visit her country. there are many lights more than our film crew's connie chung is here with the nbc folks doing an in-depth story on rosario and there is certainly the national press of nicaragua...but still it's a little heady to be met with flowers and the children and be whisked away to a sitting area where we are welcomed, peter makes the statement for us condemning the contra-aid bill which was passed just yesterday, mary and i make a few nice- nices, nbc asks a few questions and i play horsie on the kneesie with a few of the ortega boys while we wait for the luggage. zack (the sound man) had a few problems with the nagra and missed the sound for the whole welcome ceremony but fortunately the nbc producer (first name Houston - i call him Whitney by mistake - the old reflex syndrome) will let zack take a dub from the nbc videotape which rolled for the entire event. we renew acquaintence with marguarite (rosario's aide and one of the translators assigned to us for the next four days) and noel (also an aide but of what i know not). they too were in washington for the king celebration.

though it is dark as we approach the hotel in the air-conditioned bus that we will have the use of during our stay here, the large gap in buildings is pointed out to us as the former downtown managua. in 1972 there was a big earthquake (most of us remember) that killed 10000 nicaraguans immediately. bob stark and marguarite fill us in on little details. the sign that calls for a constitution that will provide health services and education is said to be the result of a dialogue that the government has been having with all of its citizens. there are periodic visits to all the districts and great debates held on what should be included in the document to be. the Triumph (as the defeat of Somoza is called) took place shortly after the earthquake and in fact, as bob tells us, it was somoza's greedy handling of the international funds that poured into nicaragua that angered the wealthy and remaining supporters of his dictatorship and opened the way for the FSLN and the popular revolt to succeed.

we arrive at the hotel and an old face from the village meets us in the lobby. don't remember his name...but he has all the right credentials...ran lights at the cock and bull...knew us when for sure. he is here with a filmmakers group (along with ed asner who just left this morning) and introduces me to his friend donna. i mention john brent as one of those old faces and he tells me that john is dead...i'm sorry he says...i said are you sure i just talked to howard hessman maybe a year...yeah he says...3 months ago...i'm sorry. aw shit my heart says...i really loved that guy and never got a chance to tell him. at least he was clean continues the report...it was a heart problem that had been fixed temporarily about 6 years ago by the insertion of a pig valve (similar operation to lyndon johnsons) in the heart...but maybe the hard life and drugs john laid on himself in the early years would't allow a little flexibility in the later days...i'm teary from the information...and probably a little emotionally edgy anyway - there is a new experience every three hours on this trip...

we get our room keys and i come upstairs for about a half hour until the luggage arrives and then it's downstairs to meet xavier and peter...the first two nicaraguan spokespeople to address us as a group. they are both jesuit priests - i'm beginning to feel like i'm reading shogun again... and they are a combination of articulate and engaging. they don't mind when i phrase questions in off-the-wall ways. i'm leaping ahead in my mind to the meeting coming up with the american ambassador here and i know from the meeting with Coor how we will get stonewalled by us policy statements rather than answers to our questions. so i ask when the ambassador says that there is a popular movement to overthrow the government and the united states is merely supporting that faction that seeks to obtain democracy in the country (which considering that the contras are mostly ex-somozans dictatorship stock is in itself a bit of wishful thinking) what can we say? peter (not yarrow) answers surprisingly. say "isn't that great?". say "what other central american country allows that kind of freedom?". and the truth is certainly not el salvador where the political parties are center to right and even to profess a philosophy left of the existing ruling party means arrest, torture and prison. ok i say well how about if the ambassador then says "if only the sandinistas would sit down and negotiate with the contras". kay (xavier's confidant and soon to be ours) speaks up...she says the nicaragua people would scream in fury that such goons who kill innocent people in bomb shelters with grenades and hack apart doctors and sandinista farmers to scare the rest of the campesinos would be allowed to sit down and negotiate. xabier brings up the same points that were brought up when jimmy carter asked about the negotiations...who are the contra leaders? and he identifies the top four and none of them are from nicaragua. one of them a former cia man, one of them a business man...who are you really negotiating with? better he says that washington should negotiate directly with nicaragua...and that has been tried several times with very negative results. the contadora peace proposal created by all the central american countries had a chance a while ago...until nicaragua said it was prepared to sign...then suddenly the administration realized that among the rules of the contadora pact would be the removal of all foregn military presences in the area...personnel and equipment...and where would that leave them in el salvador...very tricky eh?

peter (the yarrow type) was hard pressed to leave without getting a few more questions answered, but the rest of us knew what time we had to get up in the morning...and we excused ourselves and went to bed...most of us...except of course the log-writer here...but now it has caught up with me and...bye...

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz........

day five / nicaragua

early. everything seems earlier now. and soon to be earlier still. but here we are in the bus on the way to the children's hospital. the film crew is now shooting on the bus as well as when we get to our destinations. and sometimes at lunch. my energy level is sagging...i don't know how they do it. on the way marguarita tells us that the doctor is known around the hospital as 'the poet'. he is also known among poets as 'the doctor'. he says he thinks this may be a bad sign. we arrive to meet him and begin our tour with a brief 3 song concert in the hallway next to 50-60 cartons of the infamil which we will present to this hospital. cartons are hung with a banner that says 'quest for peace'. through this agency much of the outside resources that comes to all the hospitals in nicaragua arrives. there is no direct trading with the united states. even the the U.S. wheat that makes the flour for the bread here comes from an agency in paris that buys it from the soviet block countries. it would be hard to tell from the attitude of the people that this is a country at war. and how ironic that we should be paying the taxes that just put 110 million dollars at the disposal of an army who could conceivably attack the city in which we're now staying!

after the songs and the presentation, the poet/doctor takes us through several hallways. there is a page for someone over the intercom. it sounds like singing. i mention that it is much prettier than the paging in the united states hospitals. i don't think he understands. maybe announcements in nicaragua all have a lilt to them... he takes us to the breast feeding room (he's very proud of this room). here any mother with milk can pump her breasts and keep the result refrigerated not only for her child but for others as well.

he takes us to the inventory room. the shelves are embarrassingly spare. he gives us a list. i take it. i will try to find pdfunding for 'quest for peace' group and earmark the list of medicines to this hospital...i'm beginning to be involved. i'm trying to maintain my objectivity...but when children are in need...what's the difference. the page happens again. and again. i'm learning how to sing harmony to the page...the film crew likes that...they try to capture the next page with harmony...on the way out of the hospital they do.

and now to the national assembly. the buildings here are some of the few still standing since the earthquake...one of the former eight story buildings is now a functioning four story building. we enter. there is a semi-circle of seating for 200+ people but there is no meeting in progress as we climb the stairs to the conference lounges. we are seated at a long table with two representatives of the FSLN and an aide. we can just reach across the table to shake hands and can barely hear one another. it takes only a few minutes to relocate the meeting to a couple of couches. much nicer... some visitors stop by...some press. we begin to unravel the political makeup. we ask about the opposition. there are apparently two parties to the right but neither of them are here...i ask if they are real or token parties in name only so that it appears that there are political alternatives...i'm told i should ask them myself...

basically what is reviewed here is the fact that if it were not for the war the FSLN could get on with the running of the country...mary explains her background as a newspaper brat and volunteers that since freedom of the press is a fundamental concern for all americans, it would seem to be an issue that the nicaraguan government must deal with sensitively...she asks for an explanation of the closing of La Prensa...there are some abstract cases made for the free dissemination of information and then one of the men makes the following argument. "if the united states were in a war, would the government allow the printing of a paper that supported the invading forces?" hmmmm... sticky question eh? it would be similar to dropping propaganda leaflets on a major city. hmmmm.

(i'm afraid i'm losing detail here...i'm behind on this log and have decided to come back and work on this, the second day, whenever i get the chance - this installment being done on a bus with 11 other loonies on the way to the black woods for an overnight. we are being forced by our fatigue to sing all the camp songs we ever knew...and then some doowoppa too)

ahem...

we leave the assembly building for a lunch at the art center to which we will return several times in the next few days...we park the bus and walk over a little bridge to an outdoor garden section. there are three rocking chairs. i line them up in a row. we stage a pp&m 50th year reunion. we sing if i had a hammer...we crack ourselves up...somebody tells us that we should come to the restaurant/gallery now for lunch. we enter a california ranch-like building. there are paintings on the wooden walls, tile floors, 15-20 people are at various tables...there is an informal almost collegiate attitude here... we go to the porch for a lunch with gus pajaron. part of it will be filmed. we drink tamarind juice and pina juice and most of us try the rice/bean juice lunch arrives in the most disconnected order - the beans arrive last (and they are the best part of the meal) - still we are just getting settled in and the conversation with gus almost seems like chit-chat until he begins to describe the effects of the targeted killing (double speak = low intensity war) by the contras. he speaks of the danger to doctors and those transporting medicines to villages in the combat zones. we ask if his life is in danger. he says that it has been. gus is the head of protestant relief here and mentions briefly the division occuring in the catholic church and the increase in the protestant population...we will learn more of this later... the film crew has finished and moved outside for some 'local color'. we thank gus and on the way back to the bus become part of the color.

the afternoon is reserved for exploring the opposition. such a contrast to el salvador where you had to makes secret arrangements to find the opposition. we round the corner of the entrance to La Prensa, heavily censored newspaper (sometimes quite arbitrarily according to peter from his last visit here). to the right and to the left of the front door are photostatic copies of the stories that have been censored out of individual editions. today however is an historic day. concurrent with the granting of the 110 million dollars to the contra by the u.s. congress, La Prensa has been shut down. we ask if we can film an interview with a representative...mr velasquez volunteers (or is appointed?). we enter his office and sit on a couch of questionable stability. mary reiterates her abhorrance of censorship except possibly in the most extreme of circumstances and then asks if La Prensa advocates the violent overthrow of the government. the question is avoided. she asks again. there is a long thoughtful silence. finally mr valesquez replys coyly "that would be against the law..." hmmm. a couple more questions about the ethics of journalists during national emergencies (eg. the story printed by la prensa about a rice shortage which in turn created a rice shortage). margie tells of both the new york times and washington post knowing of the recent U.S. raid on Lybia prior to the strike. mr valesquez seems surprised. ...marge asks about the $100,000 received by the paper several years ago from an american agency (shortly to be exposed as CIA funding... mr valesquez allows that yes he does recall receiving some kind of assistance but he doesn't remember from whom...marjorie is just chock full of information on the paper...she has me ask about the ownership and the printing of the two other papers (supposed tools of the state but one of them run by a relation of the chamorros - the owners of this paper). there is some talk about the scope of the relationship and i lose my place...ethan wants a picture before we leave and he gets one of valesquez by the door to the office. we stop at the front of the building again to read and photograph the outtakes before getting on the bus for the transport to our COSEP meeting.

on again off again. the bus already seems like a second home and we've only been here for two days. COSEP is a society of businesses who are in opposition to the FSLN. they are quick to point out as we begin the interview outside in a little patio area under darkening skies that they were big supporters of the overthrow of Somoza even to the extent of paying employees who were on 'leave' to fight in the revolution. but then things changed they say. there are two of them. one of them is an oriental. they both speak passable english. did they change before the contra aid began we ask. oh yes they answer. they say that the government has 'confiscated' businesses like the singer sewing machine company without changing the names so that they could obtain loans not otherwise available. we ask if they are in danger by speaking up. they hem and haw a bit but then one of them says yes...and when we ask why he explaines that he was in prison for a while for just writing a letter and asks his secretary to bring out copies of his letter. there are a few sprinkles of rain. the inhibition of the profits keeps reestablishing itself as primary motive of their discontent - fear of more companies being taken over - a reluctance to accept the fact that these are hard times exacerbated by the war and, more emotionally interesting toward the end of the interview, a discussion of motives. the only motives understood by COSEP seems to be to be business success and the accumulation of money (capital)...i ask what Jesus Christ's motive was. one of the men says "to save us"....hmmm. peter never gets to ask what they think the motive of the revolution is...we ask about the freedoms available and they allow that yes there are some freedoms but then they lapse into complaining about the shortages as margie gives us the wrap-up sign.

we have just 20 minutes or so before we must leave for the repliegue to see the celebration of the walk to masaya. a quick stop at the hotel and we are bussing in the midst of big traffic. toward the end of Somoza's rule, the guard had backed the FSLN into one of the poorer neighborhoods of managua. it was early evening and the Somoza guard would attack in the morning. the FSLN decided to withdraw their forces in a strategic retreat to the town of masaya some 40 kilometers away and offered to assist anyone else who might want to join them. to their surprise nearly 2500 men, women and children left with the guerilla forces in the dead of night and made the 10 hour walk. when Somoza's troops arrived in the morning the neighborhood was deserted. each year since the Triumph, this march is celebrated and this year over 30,000 people are expected to make the overnight march. we arrive at the starting gournds and make our way with the film crew to the large stage. it is set up with many chairs. ortega will be speaking here. the crowd is immense already. there are quite a few soldiers around the stage area. there is a cordoned off section for the press and some cameras are set up there already. marguarita speaks to several of the soldiers and we are admitted to the area. around us every 100 feet or so there are human pyramids being built - one man standing on three men standing on five men - then collapsed for a moment and celebrated the next by throwing the top man in the air and catching him. we take turns standing on the metal railing separating the crowd from the press section and there are people as far as the eye can see. many are dressed in green fatiques, though few are in the army. but this is the revolution...you can sense the spirit of the country here...it is getting dark now as the headlights of several jeeps round the corner near the stage. it is rosario and daniel and sergio and several other members of the FSLN government. instead of mounting the stairs to the platform they come over and welcome us. we speak of our concern at the passage of the contra-aid bill and daniel accepts our words somberly. he says he is glad that we are here and declares what we will hear a lot in the next few days...that he feels that it is the Reagan administration that has forced the passage of the bill and not the american people. he turns and the entire group climbs the stairs to increasing applause. there are several statements prior to ortega's speech that condemn the contra-aid and aver that the nicaraguan people will never be defeated no matter what size the army. the crowd starts to chant "yanqui come here...yanqui die here" we don't join in.

after much cheering daniel speaks. i am impressed by his modest delivery. this is not a political figure in the traditional american sense of the word. he speaks deliberately. his expressions are poetic. and the crowd which moments ago was boisterous is rapt. there is a real connection going on here. a sense of unity so rich that even though we don't catch all the words of the translation or understand the occasional slogan shouted from those behind us we get the sense of a young determined nation who in spite of hardship have a vision to fufill. the speech ends, and daniel and several other officials take their place at the head of the march. i have never seen such a casual clearing of 30000 people from a field before...in a matter of 10 minutes the entire area has returned to open field again. daniel will march the entire distance. so will most of the marchers.

we do a few interviews in the aftermath - a particularly emotional one for nicaraguan t.v. - and walk back to the bus. hugh puts his foot into a hole takes a tumble and tries to maintain his composure...he mostly succeeds... we reach the bus and moments later are back at the hotel preparing for the dinner at the home of Luiz Enrique Godoy - the other performer on the bill when we give our first performance tomorrow at the national circus tent.

it's brief ride to the driveway that leads up through the army base to Luiz's house. we pull to the side to let the mercedes and 4 wheel drive vehicle of rosario ortega slip by. up the hill past a couple of sentries and into a front yard that could be a page out of Santa Barbara homes and gardens... the house is open in design and walls filled with clusters of interest. one wall has nothing but masks. noel correa tells me a story of when the spanish first conquered the nicaraguans. the nicaraguans put on a play 'in honor' of the white man's visit which was a satire of the spanish morality... they wore masks, paraded pompously and stole from one another. the spanish, according to noel, loved the play since they thought the natives were trying to adopt their culture.

another wall is filled with musical instruments; pan pipes, small ukeleles, a lot of rhythm instruments, maracas, tambourine...near this rack of colorful equipment is a photo gallery of Luiz in action. above a piano is a collection of cassette tapes - must be 200 - most of them personal. i make a drink for myself...uh let's see...guess i'll try for a margarita...i'll try some of this and some of this and hey not half bad...except if i have more than one of these i'm gonna be some silly fellow. i'm in the kitchen looking for salt when noel walks by and we get into a so hows it goin conversation. he tells me of his wife joan, of his son jalette*, of his mother being a maid in the u.s. and studying in america. jerry van campen is here tonight... he's been working for 3-4 days setting up the sound...he tells me about the tent and how it bent the uprights and collapsed and it took 2 days and a crane and some patching to pull it back up into shape...rosario and luiz come over near the buffet table. luiz's wife has done a beautiful spread and the 20 or 30 of us here stroll around the table loading up...i take my plate outside and marge joins me. it seems tranquil and not quite real after the intensity of el salvador...just wait...

one of luiz's band is playing a guitar...the living room seems to come together now...a little circle tight around luiz, myself and peter...we play a few chords of hammer. luiz is such a great improvisor...he picks up a pad of paper he starts writing lyrics (a spanish version of one of the verses of hammer) he starts back phrasing against the melody... i come up with a format idea...and we run it down...we talk about trini lopez and luiz says he was a big blow-out in nicaragua...hammer was his only song... i've got a toothpick in the corner of my mouth. while i'm trying to teach luiz what part of hammer he should sing he puts a toothpick in the corner of his mouth and imitates me...it's an affectionate gesture and i'm knocked out at how loose this guy is. we ask about the song that jerry says sounds like puff the magic dragon...oh no he says...we say c'mon...and sure enough the beginning changes of each verse are the A, C#m, D, A, D, A, F#m, B7, E of puff but who cares and the song blossoms from there into another piece... but if this is what it takes to get him to play...well...he plays another song ...beautiful song...commandante carlos fonseca...tries to teach me the chorus ...i get the first line and a bit of the last line...he's a powerful singer/player...the song is beautiful and everyone is singing by the time he finishes. he hands me the guitar... i try to pass it on to peter...peter says no you sing...i think...well when in latin america...i sing april fool...luiz's band play a few percussion things behind me and it feels in the pocket. when it's over, i ask if janet would translate the lyrics for me...peter helps me remember a line (gads...it's so weird when the hand/throat coordination is not there to remind you of what words come next). i'm told the next day that the christian allegory did not translate at all...

luiz sings another song and someone translates it. it is pretty with tones of the revolution threaded through it...thoughts like i lay with you now but think of the mountains i must climb to secure the future of our people... i remember lorca and the first time i read his poetry in the village in '60.

peter's turn...he chooses don't take away my freedom and janet translates each verse...we all sing the choruses...it takes on a very special significance here in this country...pretty and profound and a wonderful way to end the party (though luiz does just one more...)

it is almost midnight when we call it a night. mary left earlier but peter and i will pay for this tomorrow...

day six / nicaragua

the orphanage has a lovely little courtyard...and there are sixty children waiting for us this morning at 8:30. we meet miriam the director. her recovery from polio - stricken as a child is a story unto itself - from total immobilization to wheelchair to full function and a life now dedicated to these children. and what children. more open than any we've met so far...we sing puff the magic dragon and they are immediately captivated by peter's facial expressions...mary and i play counterpoint to him acting out the characters in the second verse and the songs end to happy applause. kay is an energetic translator - she becomes a performer as well and on the next song (after i do a little cross arm over head routine) she supplements peter and i in old lady who swallowed a fly wonderfully...we finish with weave me the sunshine and everyone claps in time. we thank them - they thank us - we leave two tapes with the directors and start to hang out with the children. mary is having her blond hair adored and bestows exotic english names (ebony, auburn, etc.) on all the different shades of hair that the young girls ask her about. i am helping a boy with two broken legs play my guitar...he strums...i chord and sing...several others 'play' the guitar this way. these children are very open and a great testimony to the manner in which the orphanage is being administered. a little girl is carrying my guitar to the gateway...it is heavy for her...many children are walking with us...they hold our hands...they lean their heads against our hips...they say they have seen us on television...the little girl that is carrying my guitar stops and lowers the case to the ground. she has a little square of red tape from the film crew on her cheek. i peel it off, place a kiss on the spot and 'reseal' it.

back on the bus and on the way to the old sear's store here. it is now a headquarters for combatant support. we meet the director who introduces us to the concept of homefront help to the families of those fighting the contras. we enter a room with chairs arranged in several rings and the mothers stand to applaud. i say that it is with a heavy heart brought about by the recent contra funding that we are here to share your sorrow...peter picks it up...and to hear the story of your fight so that we might take back the reality of the nicaraguan people to the people of the united states. and it begins. the mothers and the soldiers speak of their losses and their anguish but included in each declaration is the determination to prevail so that their country might remain free. i'm thinking once again of how we are painting these people into a corner...of how by dumping massive funds into the contra army (the popular support for which is difficult to find here in managua or even perhaps in the country), we force nicaragua to wage a war that costs them over half of their national budget and thereby delay and restrict economically the possible fufillment of the hopes of the revolution.

a catch 110, eh? another mother testifies. she is very old. she reminds us of peter's mother, vera. she is feisty. she says that when her son was killed at a university protest rally by somoza's national guard she sold her house her farm all of her possessions and gave the money and all her time to the revolution. she says she tells this so that we can know the struggle has been going on for a long time. while another mother is talking 3 women with flowers enter the circle and give them to us all. they hug us while the other woman is still talking. the one i am embracing begins to sob deeply... i remember the farina song...'if somehow you could pack up your sorrows and give them all to me'... and i feel that i am taking part of her burden. peter delivers a strong message of hope and a promise to continue to tell the american people what we have found. nicaraguan television has arrived and mary reiterates our encouragement and though the nearness of tears makes it difficult to speak full voiced, i whisper-speak that i know that the flowers we just received from the mothers were the flowers of forgiveness...and ask that they pray for us as we will continue to pray for them...

whew...

it's raining and we are going to pass on the marketplace and go back to the hotel...ahhh showers, maybe some sleep and certainly more pounding on this keyboard.

12:45...i had to have some lunch and i did...something with swiss cheese ham and pork on bread called a Cubano...last night i saw my first bottle of Cuban rum...today i'm eating a Cubano...if i could stand cigar smoke i think i know what would come next. down to the bus a little early to keep typing on this log...i am a full day behind now having skipped yesterday...which was so full (children's hospital to daniel ortega's speech) that i am almost intimidated by the prospect. this trip will be to meet with the Witness for Peace people (one of whom, ed griffin, was on the kidnapped boat may 31 of last year), chico, jim (jaime) and george (three priests working actively in the combat zones), sylvia (who works with children) and of course our own bob stark who has been instrumental along with margie in setting up the entire trip - particularly nicaragua. it is lunch time (yeah, i know i already ate...i'll nibble at some fish ok?) and i speak briefly to ed about the sojourner's community. we assemble at the table and before the lunch is served chico and jim speak of the atrocities...the food arrives and peter makes a strong case for not mixing food with horror. we all agree, and the conversation continues off camera with a lighter touch.

tick-tock back to the clock, the cameras are rolling again. george allows that jim is being too humble about his part in the intercession for his parish. Jim is brief and his spirit humbling. he feels that God has charged him with the care of his parish of 35000 campasinos. ed describes with accuracy the accounts of the witness for peace voyage and the subsequent observations that the group has made. (they have 'witnesses' who have volunteered for the future trips lined up through 1988. pat speaks eloquently of the real call of the christian to the poor, the information that many facts are being distorted or concealed by the press in the united states. as bob stark speaks his eyes begin to brim. he has lost a close friend recently to cancer and now is recalling the loss of another friend who, just because he was nicaraguan, was taken away from where bob and jim had guns held to their heads and shot. their friend died in their arms. his crime? being a village leader. the systematic assassinations are the new wave of terror now in nicaragua. all teachers, doctors, village leaders are to be eliminated so that the community will flounder and instead of growing in the encouragement toward self fufillment, will collapse and depend upon a more exploitive system. these assassinations are usually done in front of the villagers and are horribly brutal (rape, decapitation are common) so that the others will know that that is what will happen to them should they try to emulate the fallen ones. ed says that of the 140 or so human rights abuses that witness for peace reported on both sides about 120 of them were contra generated and of the 20 attributable to the army all of them were either the disobeying of orders or drunkeness related.

this is probably the most devastating piece of footage we have shot ...to hear in the american tongue the description of the innocents killed, and to hear presented with such clarity the proper calling of Christ's church is to cause weeping both inside...for the victims...and outside...for the american church; led so far from the new testament compassion by conservative rhetoric.

(did ya ever notice department: how the old testament of the bible is used as the scriptural justification of war yet the nature of the fundamentalist 'rebirth' is to embrace and be embraced by Christ and His new commandment to return not evil for evil but to love our neighbor as ourselves?!)

there is a concert tonight. we will sing with Luiz Enrique Godoy (he will scat on Hammer at the end of our portion) and then there will be a small party following...but first a stop by the hotel and a try at calling betty for today is her birthday...she is 48...and this is the first birthday in 23 years or so that we have not spent together...i am seeing life as so much more precious that i suspect i will have a difficult time telling her how much i love her...

it's a collect call...there are some noises on the line...but it's betty and it's great to hear her voice...i'm feeling very weepy so we talk about some matter of fact stuff and make sure that she'll come pick me up in portland on the 3rd and we will go see the dentist - hey, life goes on eh? i tell her i love her and miss her for about the 4th time and then we hang up...believe it or not it will really only be 4 days till i see her again!

the bus makes its last run to the tent with me and marjorie and mary and ethan. bob stark has gone for the endless coffee and peter is just finishing up the sound check. pretty smooth actually...sounds nice on stage and in the tent... Luiz' group starts their sound check and peter, mary and i return to the bus to review with janet the order of the songs and the places where there will be translations/introductions. we've finished the meeting with janet and Luiz and greg have joined us to run through Hammer when jerry van campen (the sound man) comes running over, pulls the door open and says "we've got trouble..." gads. seems the board blew a power transformer and now we have to switch boards, equalization settings are no longer applicable and in a moment of panic the the cords of Luiz' band are pulled from the board to set up the new PPM wiring. fortunately cool heads prevail and we decide to have the new sound check during the intermission between Luiz and ourselves. daniel and rosario ortega arrive with sergio the vice president and manuel the minister of information...manuel is in his late 40's or early 50's and not effervescent...i suspect that a supplemental shot of marguarita (the person not the drink) might give the office and subsequent international outreach a little bzazz...but who am i to mention...and besides the opportunity would have to present itself.

luiz is on...he sounds just fine though we will learn later that this is an off night for him (the sound being an off again on again patch job and i think his monitors must be leaving much to be desired). still, when he sings commandante carlos fonseca...the crowd is so much with him...they love him...he is nicaragua in song and spirit...

intermission is a little grim...lots of microphone testing...the crowd is patient but this is ridiculous. then again what choice do we have? finally it is set and, with a brief 3 handed hum peter, mary and i enter the stage area. the applause is strong but brief and we begin with weave me the sunshine and the first verse and double chorus...janet gives a translated synopsis...and we continue...song follows song...we are working without monitors...the songs seem to have some new connection to the nicaragua people each verse a new discovery. el salvador does not get applause between verses...jet plane gets ooohs and ahhs...blowin in the wind gets singing along (in english mind you) and then it's time for hammer and we call out luiz and his group. the tempo is bright, luiz is playing tambourine, the band is playing the a,c#m,d,e changes just fine but they can't seem to find the handle in the bridge and we go careening through the first verse with the trio, the 2nd verse with luiz, the third verse with the three of us again, and the fourth verse as a kind of a trading off lines...then we come around to the 4 chord vamp change and around and around and around...and the audience is clapping and luiz is scatting and the band is cooking and hey hot dig...this is some fun...we finish take a bow take another bow and then it's backstage with the ortegas and vice president and ministers. we pose for a picture and i say why do i feel like shouting viva la revolucion! and peter yells viva la liberte. and i say "i feel like i've been heart-washed" and the vice president says "that's because we still do it by hand".

slowly we cool off dry down and pass through the hotel rooms quickly on our way to a dinner at the arts center (where we had those great beans the other day), a few minutes at a table with manuel (i suggest i might write a talking blues about 110 million dollars of mercenaries living just across the border from wisconsin requiring over half of the city budget to fight...and the subway is not running too well anymore...and reagan puts an embargo on all the shipments of beer...and i ran out of ideas but somewhere in all this is a real need to get the information about nicaragua's predicament to the audiences this summer!). luis and his wife are there and he speaks of the 6/8 way of nicaraguan life...he pounds out tortillas to make the point... fascinating man and thoughts...not the least inhibited...but everyone agrees when i suggest laughingly that without the stability of his wife, he would be too scattered (wonder where i learned that from?).

our group leaves early - we were supposed to film another jam session here but everyone's too pooped - and on the way out i see this bright primative painting. it is of a festival. the ballet de folklora is dancing in the street with crowds on both sides. we see the vendors we see the instrumentalists and we can even see in through the open windows of some of the houses along the parade route. in one of the the houses a child is watching television. a smurf is on the screen. i ask if i can buy it. i am told that it must first be registered (all art leaving the country is registered) and then in a few minutes i'm walking out with it under my arm. the film crew is leaving the lights where the placed them in the ceiling. they'll come back tomorrow to tear down. i do not blame them...

returning to the hotel it's fun talking computers with karl gottlieb (that old face from the village and one of the writers of "jaws" i find out) and after leaving him my card with the bbs # and copying sweep from one of his micro- cassettes (he has a px8 too), i bid anyone i can still recognize goodnight and lurch into my room to finish this entry.

which i have done. nigh-nigh...

day seven / nicaragua

oh boy a bus ride...well maybe not oh boy...but a bus ride. peter is in the lead car with mary hartman. mary hartman...a sister in the human rights commission is leading us to the first of two prisons we will see this morning. it is a 15-20 minute drive and i ask marguarita about her twin sister sofia and growing up. she speaks of a rule in her family never to reveal report cards except to their father, one at a time. she says she would go in to talk about her grades and he would look at them and say "did you try your best?" and she would talk about her classes and the test and then he would look at the grades again and say "these are excellent...you've done a very good job". years later, margarita continues, when she and her sister and brother were all getting A's, she found some of her old report cards with C's and D+'s.

we arrive at the prison and i'm barely a notch above zomboid...i am like a write-only floppy disk - you can put information in but you won't get any information out. still, this is a chance of a life time right? so in through the front gate we go and meet one of the directors. he is surpris- ingly young; jeans and a baseball cap, and once leaving the pretty courtyard, we talk on the hoof so that sherry can get some different images than three heads in a flourescent room. into the cell block. and i'm impressed...i mean prison can't be anybody's shangrila, but these halls are wide, clean and un- cluttered...inmates are mopping floors and because it is sunday there is a mini-festival in the dining area with a brightly painted stage and the men and women prisoners have created a dance for the families visiting today.

we ask a prisoner if he will talk with us. he agrees. he is in a cell block reserved for prisoners who refuse to co-operate with the system. the 'punishments' for not joining the work force are the restrictions of priveleges. most prisoners may have visitors every 15 days. non-working prisoners every 30 days. the prisons in nicaragua have a strong emphasis on rehabilitation (a real departure for latin america) and teaching trades. we ask this prisoner how is treatment has been. he says fine. we ask if there has been torture. he appears to be searching his memory. he says not him, but of course there are some psychological tortures. we ask what. he says like removal of priveleges...my...we ask him why he chooses not to learn a trade or work in the system. he answers that he was in Somoza's national guard and that he refuses to work for the Sandinistas in any way. he points to the balcony cells at an inmate who he says is the only one he knows of who has been tortured. we wave/ask if the prisoner will come down to talk to us on camera. he comes briskly down the iron steps in the bright open cell- way. he is about 5'10" tall. he is in his early 30's. we ask him about the torture...he says sure...we say tell us...he shuffles a little...he says well solitary confinement. uh-huh. he says there is psychological pressure to adopt the sandinista's ways. we ask what kind. he shuffles again...they uh take away your priveleges. uh-huh. peter asks why he is in prison. before marguarita translates she advises us that prisoners are not required to answer and peter asks instead how long a prison term are you serving? he says 30 years. i whistle inwardly...thirty years...gads he must be a heavy 'hitter'. were you a member of Somoza's guard? yes he says. were you a soldier? he crosses his arms. i was in mechanics and aviation. later we will surmise that for a 30 year sentence he must have done more than wipe windshields and check the oil...we are told that in the last days of Somoza there were bombs dropped on Managua by the airforce and one incident where 50 gallon barrels of gasoline were dropped on the city...we thank him for answering our questions and move to a cell block where the contras have been imprisoned.

we want to speak with a contra to find out about interrogation methods and conditions. in a few minutes a prisoner comes to the central hallway where peter, mary hartman, the film crew, marjorie, marguarite, and i are waiting. he appears to be in good physical shape and we ask him to explain how he came to be captured. he said that he was on a domestic destruction mission. his target was a cement factory and that he was captured in 1981* he said there was no torture and that the conditions were alright. he said that he has come to recognize certain errors in his political thinking (hmmmmm...sure sounds disturbingly like a learned phrase but maybe that's because of the movies eh?) and that his sentence has been reduced to 7 years. we ask if he thinks he may get out even before then and he smiles modestly. we ask how he came to join the contras and he asks if he may know to whom he is speaking. we introduce ourselves. and he thinks he knows us. it may be the old "peter paul and mary ford" syndrome but we don't bother to elaborate. he says that he participated in the overthrow of Somoza and about a year or two later some friends of his who were in the contra contacted him and asked him to join them...i ask where he was based...he says honduras...i ask if he ever heard of human rights abuses by the contras...he says he was an adminis- trator and not in the field...kinda begs the issue but marjorie is looking grim and making 'T's' with her two hands...time to push on to the next event.

beside the courtyard there is an open area where auto repair takes place... there is an air hose hissing and zack asks if we could have it turned off until the next interview is done. i sit down beside peter and mary hartman on what appears to be a small concrete well cover. peter has written out about 5 questions relating to the prison system and particularly focusing on charges by america's watch. this appears less to me like a conversation and more like setting sister hartman up with the subject material and filming her answers so i leave as the first is being asked and stroll about the work area. in regards to human rights abuses, the interview begins, the vast majority fall to the contras. of the remaining abuses connected to the sandinistas, all have been brought to court an sentencing carried out...some were in the prison we just visited. there is an old car seat against the wall. i have seen that "couch" many times since moving to new york in 1960.

peter is asking about the interrogation center of the sandinistas...ms hartman is saying that any attempt to get into the center has met with failure. she says this is not surprising...it is customary in any nation to keep places like that removed from any kind of public access. but she says she has interviewed those released and has found that the terms of incarceration run from a few hours to a few weeks. marjorie has me slip a question to peter while this last answer is being filmed, and after a description of the most liberal aspect of the new prison farms, we leave to visit one.

in probably what is the quickest on-site visit ever, we leave the bus, make a bee-line for the dammed portion of the stream where the prisoners who are not home on visiting weekends are seated with their families, watch about 30 children dive and splash in the pool area, and after a couple of longing looks at the water, hear marjorie ask "what do you have to do to get put here?"

we are lickety-split up the hill, right through the middle of the payroll shed for the prisoners. there are about 50 here and in front of an askewed bulletin board with messages of the revolucion, pay envelopes are being handed out. we pass through. there are two blackboards upon which complex mathmatical formulae have been written...obviously this building has many purposes.

bottom line this IS a farm...and the smells remind me of maine. maine? how long have i been gone now? gads...i can't remember the first day in el salvador unless i reread these log entries...gads.

back in the bus and the race against the clock to the traditional catholic mass. marguarita thinks we might get there in time for the homily. we will meet up with mary and ethan here. as we pull up they are trying to film an interview with one of the parishoners. marjorie tells me later of the typical parishoner response that they found here..."who have you spoken with so far? i want the names of the people that you've spoken with." just a normal sunday at the cathedral?

bob stark and i walk up to the open door of the church. the homily is about half over. the officiator is not cardinal bravo. the subject is about the authority of the church. the church does not yet recognize the government. to the extent that that might affect the national security it is a real danger homiles that speak in parables are one thing...publishing support of the armed overthrow of the government is quite another. (THUMBNAIL OVERVIEW: cardinal bravo was given his first appointment as bishop by Somoza, and while he disagreed more and more with Somoza's abuses of power, his constituancy and support comes even now from that corner. the vatican traditionally has supported dictatorships (Somoza was no exception) and meanwhile liberation theology has taken firm root in the third world and small barrio churches like the one i will go to later today represent the ennobling of the poor by their learning that they are sons and daughters of Christ and brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God.

today is the celebration of the saints Peter and Paul (peter and i were given flowers earlier in our stay) and the homily is based on the scripture where, after telling Christ who the people think He is, Jesus asks "who do you say I am?"...to which Peter responds "Thou art the Messiah, the son of God" and Jesus says "upon this rock I will build my church". I have always thought it a matter of interpretation as to whether Jesus was referring to the strength of Peter's faith or to Peter himself but for the purposes of this particular homily (and perhaps this particular heirarchy), it is assumed that Jesus was entrusting the earthly body of believers to Peter (and his 'appointed' descendants). therefore, the homily continues to imply, all authority comes from this descendency to the pope, and from the pope to this church... the message is clear: this authority does not recognize that a revolution has taken place = this body of believers will not recognize that a revolution has taken place.

bob and i turn and walk together to the corner. there is short ride from here to the united states ambassador's home and the group reassembles on the bus. ambassador Bergold himself comes to the front door and welcomes us. he is in shirt sleeves, soft spoken, and his face looks familiar though i'm sure i've not seen photos of him before. he brings us to his living room. there are several chairs, a low coffee table, and a couch. he asks if we'd like something to drink and i volunteer to go help "whip it up" before realizing embarrassedly that because of his informality i had assumed that it was the 'maid's day off'. the door opens gently and the ambassador gives the drink orders.

he is relaxed, accessible, and we discover sympathetic to the principles of any people's self-determination. i ask him about the ambassadorship being a two-way street and do his recommendations reach the white house. he says his reporting is actually to the state department and Schultz though if the occasion is called for he can go higher. he speaks of the ambassadorship as the responsibility to implement the current administrations policies...the emphasis on 'current'. he is a knowlegeable analyist...he is a career diplomat; serving previously in a couple of europe eastern block nations... his estimations seem accurate...his suggestions to the FSLN important (ie: when a delegation of american congress people arrive in Nicaragua it is not sufficient to arrange a meeting with Ortega...better to intensify and diversify the experience of this country...arrange for these groups to meet more of the people)...Bergold says several times he is the one that is arranging for the visiting groups to see a more liberal picture of the country. it is suggested that perhaps he might be more outspoken in the press about his personal views on the situation here. he says that might be effective or newsworthy for about two or three days. i suggest he might write an expose and go out in a 'blaze of glory'. we laugh. he says actually he has received a couple of offers already. it goes no further. margie gives the T sign...we are due at Daniel and Rosario's for lunch. peter insists on his 'question caliente' which takes from the living room to the front door to ask and three or four more minutes in front of the house to answer. we are thankful...he has been very gracious and an oasis of rational thought in a desert of u.s. rhetoric.

we return to the art center to be met by an escort for the ride to the house of the Ortegas. it is a breath in time. we are on the bus constructing the questions we think will be the most important to ask Daniel on camera. the film crew will be allowed in the house for this interview...it's important.

arrival at the house and while everybody oohs and aahs, i'm on the floor with the kids. i go through every superhero comic book they have. I'm adding sound effects when neccessary (most of the time since they don't speak english). one of the children asks me if i would like to see his room. hey i'm up for that...into the back hallway...he leads me in and i sit down on one of the two beds here...the ortega's are a large family and rosario announced last night that soon they would be one bigger...he shows me his drawings...he takes the drawing tablet to the living room. i look at the pictures in the back hallway. there is a picture from Daniel's visit to the soviet union. he is wearing a cosmonaut's suit. it is so incongruous...he looks like he's swimming in it... there are other pictures...many of the family together...daniel as a young boy and younger...dinah wiley is looking at the pictures with me. near another doorway there is a picture of Daniel and Fidel Castro. Castro is looking down at the floor and Daniel is looking more or less at him. i think to myself gosh cuba...haven't heard much about cuba lately...i remember jack paar's visit to the recently liberated Batista house in the 50's and all those suits with matching shoes...cuba...i kind of muse out loud to dinah..."what's happening in cuba?" she joins me in looking at the photo, "oh it's kinda boring what's happening in nicaragua?" i do a double take and then realize she's suggesting a caption that might have gone under this photograph. it cracks me up.

i come back to the living room, meet more kids and take them to a big chair and begin to draw. i draw two ellipses and say "como"? certainly not the proper spanish but sufficient. suddenly the little one gets the idea...and completes the drawing of a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. i start an ambitious drawing. it is an automobile on a hydraulic lift. there is a man with tools in his belt and he is waving. into this scene comes Daniel...welcome home dear, a few friends dropped over...it is sunday and the Ortegas are most gracious. the young one shows daddy the drawing...he points to the mechanic...he says it looks like you daddy...there is laughter.

we sense that the following questions are among the most important to the FBH (folks back home).

1) what factors led to your visit to the soviet union? 2) the closing of la prensa? 3) negotiation with the contras? 4) views on the contadora? 5) problems with the church? 6) greatest accomplishments; greatest disappointments?

he begins to answer the first question. he gradually broadens its scope. now he is reviewing the entire revolution. he is approaching the 15 minute mark. i find a moment to interrupt and explain that i don't wish to appear rude but we have a fixed time here (even though we ARE his guests for lunch) and that for the purposes of making this film it would be better if he could limit his answers more directly to the questions. i am aware (as his intense brown eyes harden their stare) that i am in fact talking to Daniel Ortega, the ruling president of Nicaragua, and telling him to cut the fat out of this speech-making stuff and get on with it. hmmmmm. i wonder if it's too late to apologize. i try. his eyes warm again. he says he understands the time limitations. we move on.

whew.

lunch of course is outrageously good. there is a buffet of cheeses, meats, beans, a gourmet plantain dish, and on and on... i beg out early because i am going to the little barrio church for an appearance that marguarita has arranged. we walk briskly to the art center parking lot where the driver is waiting to take us...on the way i ask a little about the circumstance; do they expect me to sing (yes), will there be children there (yes), how many songs should i sing (1 or 2), will they have been expecting peter and mary as well (no). in the car i'm wondering which songs to sing and become aware of how difficult it is to easily translate a song like obediant servant or april fool into spanish...the nuance is in the interplay of word meanings and in translation the choices are usually effective but gross. we arrive as the mass is drawing to a conclusion. i leave my guitar case in the trunk and just carry the bare guitar in. marguarita leads us to the right and to a pew four or five rows from the front. the priest is delivering a homily. marguarita translates in a whisper. he is speaking to the poor. i look around the church at the smiling faces and many children. if there is poverty here it is certainly not of the spirit. the priest mentions pedro, paulo, y marie and marguarita tells me to raise my hand...i do...what's not to do around these people? he asks if i would like to come up and say a few words now or later...i don't want to segment the church service and say later...there is singing by a trio (1 woman, two men who play guitar and flute)...then the congregation joins...the priest has a good voice and leads well...he offers the eucharist and marguarita and i both go to stand in line. there is the wafer only. they do not offer the wine. i forget to ask marguarita why...perhaps they can't afford it...and now during the singing there are fireworks in honor of St Peter and St Paul...what a great combination of emotions...the joyousness of praising God combined with the noise and celebration of fireworks. the mass concludes and after a couple of false starts, marguarita and i go to the front. i speak of not being nervous because of a great peace that jesus has brought to my heart. i speak of a greeting from peter and mary who cannot be here. i tell them that i would like to sing a song with them and teach them to sing in english "day is done" - just those three words...they are quick to learn and sing well... there are some english speaking people here as well. i see ed griffen from the witness for peace with his wife. i say that whenever i sing this song i am thinking of two levels of meaning; the hand that God extends to us, his children, and the hand that we extend to our children... we sing. and then i teach them the answer day is done/day is done and then the song finishes. marguarita asks if there is not something that i can sing for the children... i say sure let's do puff...she introduces it...the priest comes up and asks for blowing in the wind...whoops...too late. we do puff. i over-act every character in the song...i get every body to la-la-la...and the la-la's are so strong that at the end of the song, acting like Puff (his very rascally self), i exit from the church out the side door... the children love it... and i think it has been another piece of the sunshine here. the priest comes forward for the benediction. he takes a white stalk of flowers from the arrangement to the side of the altar and holds it aloft. he speaks and marguarita translates. "we thank you paul for being here during this time. this time when the united states government has declared war on nicaragua. we know that the americans do not want this war. please take this flower as a sign of peace from the nicaraguan people and ask your people not to pour our blood on it." i am numbed. i feel so powerless. but i accept the flower with a silent promise to answer their request...

back to the hotel for a quick shower/change and to the tent. hopefully the sound problems will not resurface and we can get on with gettin on... peter is in a funk and i am too tired to interface well...i'm so bushed that when a radio journalist from mexico city comes to the bus for an interview, i lay down in the back seat and actually go completely out while peter and mary talk to him. moments later ruben zamora a leader of the El Salvadorian FDR comes to the bus. he has just returned from the vatican. he is not pleased with the outcome of the meeting. he does not discuss detail but rather says that when his daughter found out PP&M were here she pleaded with him to bring her. he has also brought his wife and we will sing to them in the 3rd row front tonight!

luiz and the band go on first again...and boy are they hot tonight! aside from the powerful music, there is a casualness - an ease and a series of adlibs just before their last song that is irresistable. the audience feels like they're in luiz's living room...i know...i've been there...

tonight the film crew will wander the tent and get audience shots and cutaways of us. we make sure we're wearing the same outfits (even though mary has to send ethan back to the hotel to get the much-wrinkled original over blouse) and all signs are pointing to a grand night. but it's just one of those gremlin events...a missed cue here...a funny mix there...the mind wanders a bit and a capo gets put on late...anyway we never really climb on top of the evening and though the audience seems to find the music inspiring and entertaining, we are crushed that we weren't boffo...still, the hammer piece at the end is great and luiz and i do some scatting...and then peter and mary get into it as well...

the show is over, the photos taken, the hugs shared and now comes the quick coordination at the hotel for the midnight run to matagalpa. yes, believe it or not, we are making a late night run to a small inn north of matagalpa so that we won't have to leave at 5 a.m. tomorrow! it's a 2 hour trip (we hope) and with beer and sandwiches and companionship (the film crew is on this one), the time should pass quickly. it does, and three hours later, assembled outside the bus in the black forest we are assigned rooms and led to the cabin by a man with a flashlight. it smells great here...but we'll have to wait for the morning to find out what it looks like.

peter and i are roomies for the first time in probably 20 years...gads...we both take a more than a passing interest in the gas hot water heater but to no avail...it looks like shampoo to a cold tap in the morning...

goodnight peter...gooodnight noel...goodnight john boy...

day eight / nicaragua

it's 8 a.m. my calculator just told me...45 minutes to the breakfast meeting with the Sandinista leaders in this area. can't tell if i'm used to being numb or if i've gotten used to 5-7 hours sleep a day. into the bathroom; step over a 100 legged creepy crawler and wonder how life is going in the other cabins. i slept pretty well. Peter is flat on his back with his hands under his head...snoring. has he been like that all night...if i tried that my arms would go to sleep...i decide i'll let him get another 10 minutes when there's a knock at the door. it's kay and towels. i have a sheet wrapped about my middle and was content to use it as a towel. peter wakes as kay leaves...he decides to go for the cold shower (so did Hugh i heard later)... "Arrrgh...oh, uh-uh-uh...prphlgmglm...rouwa...oh, uh-uh-uh..." the litany goes on until he turns off the water... i hang my heating coil in a glass of water and come up with enough hot water for a nice shave. peter leaves and i spend 10 minutes entering more in this diary...

breakfast? gads i haven't had a full out breakfast with eggs since i left maine...i put some tabasco on add a dollop of rice and beans and lay a liberal dose of what tastes like tamarind and honey on some homemade bread...mmmmm. over the table hangs a large (8' x 12') painting of the early days here at the black forest. included in the canvas are the pictures of the foresting fathers. the picture in the lower left hand corner bears the name Travers.

the military chief, the lieutenant-governor of the region, and a woman wearing a solidaridat t-shirt are introduced. they sit at one end of the table. we are introduced to certain facts about the area...it's prime crop, coffee...the number of schools destroyed by the contra (50+)...the fact that the Km per person statistic runs 12/1 here in this remote area...we speak about the contras...the raids...the pay scale (reported joining bonuses of $1000 - big bucks in nicaragua)...the recruitment of entire families and their removal across the border to honduras...the selective assassination of leaders...and with the passage of the new contra-aid bill the fact that the military advisors will be allowed within 10 miles/kilometers of the border which increases the chances of their involvement during border skirmishes. i try to light the woman's cigarette (actually i've been quite the little hostess, pouring coffee, setting up the salt shaker and tabasco sauce - you know, good zomboid activity) with mary's lighter. can't find the right end...can't flip the top open...can't find the strike roller...won't spark until the third try... thank you.

marge gives us the T. the woman has never spoken. as we say goodbye i discover she has the strongest handshake of the three of them. we are into the bus (peter runs back to the room and gets one of the pillows we borrowed from the intercontinental) and off for La Dahlia and a co-operative/resettle- ment area that was hit on May 30th by the contra. the bus ride is easy for the first half-hour, but the next half-hour is rock n' roll, side to side, up and down, forward and backward - well you get the idea - dust all over the place and i give up pounding the epson. we arrive in La Dahlia about 1pm. we are going to leave the bus here and take the three jeeps further up into the hills (mary and i have worked out this paranoia spy story where we get set up to be martyrs by a faked contra attack where the vehicles are totally destroyed and in the ensuing outrage, the contra-aid is abandoned - it's beginning to seem as though it would be a very small price to pay for the peace of this country). la dahlia is not exactly a flower of a place. there is a stream of latrine that runs down the gutter of main street. several people are standing around with their arms crossed. there are saddled horses and donkeys...i step over to a donkey and pat his neck...peter asks if we should take guitars...there's no room. we have got the film crew and all the gear plus marjorie, kay, and marguarita, the drivers and some accompanying guards. this after all is where the contras make their runs.

not since betty and i visited baja california in the early sixties have i ridden over roof-benders like this. bob stark, marjorie, peter and i are 2 x 2 facing each other in the back of a toyota land-cruiser. take the bus routine and triple the shock value and you get an idea of the comfort... nonetheless our driver tears out at breakneck speed (based on the stookey avoidance of road hazards principle - 'the faster you go the less time your wheel spends in the rut'). but he is excellent and we are the lead vehicle. a thought of road mines crosses my mind on the road (what me worry?), i feel sorry for the folks behind eating our dust...

it is 40 minutes to the village...and as slow as we are to stretch out the cramped muscles we manage to trickle together with the villagers up to the school being rebuilt but roofed at least. we meet the leader of the co- operative. he says that for the first time in their lives they are free. why do the contras come to kill us. we have a school. what are the kind of men that destroy our school and kill our children? my mind twists away to a briefing tent where men in camoflauge point, grunt and draw circles around a cluster of dots on a waterproof map.

the old woman in blue speaks of the death of her two sons. there is soft crying in the background. her grandson sits on peter's knee and they hold tight to one another. peter will be his father for the next hour and a half. the grandmother points to another woman. she could be from hawaii or fiji. but she is from nicaragua and her 8 year old daughter was shot and killed less than a month ago in her own village. we ask if she can talk about it... we know that these scenes are powerful on film. nothing cuts like the truth. and she starts. but that is all she can do. the village watches as she stops talking. her eyes begin to brim. she says "i don't want to remember this thing"...kay translates...the woman cries...we wait...the woman says "there were 350 of them"...kay cannot look at anyone as she tells us this... the woman speaks again "she was only a little girl"...kay tries to keep her voice from trembling...the woman says "and i miss her"...kay can barely say this..."why don't they just leave us alone"...the woman breaks down and leans her head into the corner of the partially completed building...except for the weeping there is total silence. and then kay loses it...still staring into nothing she sobs, "they're the same bastards that killed my ..." i put my arms around her and she lets go...(this is the same kay that at 15 years old came to nicaragua on a baptist youth trip...struck by an illness so severe that her tounge turned black and she lay in a managua hospital for days with high fever and, after her return home in ohio, surprised her parents by not only saying she wanted to return but gained their permission and admiration by working three summer jobs to help pay for the trip)...it feels like this sorrow has been there since her husband died seven years ago.

marguarita sits with her back to the wall. she has a child on her knee. a mother with another child is talking to her. the camera rolls as the mother speaks of the devastation. "it was about 4:30 in the morning when the contras hit the lookout posts. they set up their mortars on the hills and began to shell the village. 30 men and boys went out to meet them. 15 died. a woman was shot in the leg as she tried to enter the civilian shelter. the mortars hit several of the houses and they caught on fire. there were 350 contras but they never did take the entire village"

one of the village men finds an old guitar. it has a third string where the fifth string should be...who cares really...i tune it best i can and we begin weave me the sunshine. as i sing "they say that the tree of loving, shine on me again, they say that it grows on the bank of the river of suffering" i look at kay who leans against the wall. these are not just lyrics to a song today. we finish together but the guitar is out of tune again...who cares really...

after having margarita explain to the boy on his lap that he is leaving him with me for just a few minutes while he sings a song and then he will be back, peter takes the guitar and begins i know an old lady...kay translates...peter is inspired...the laughter starts and when he reaches the goat verse, i glance over at the old woman and the 8-year old's mother...they are laughing in spite of the absurdity...or maybe its because of the absurdity...i don't know...i just know that for a moment there is a lightness in their hearts and in the hearts of the entire camp...peter finishes with some adlibs to which kay adlibs a rhyme in spanish ('i got it' she says and they move on)...he knows an old lady who swallowed a roof...and she says "it's a fact, she swallowed a roof" which in spanish turns out to be a great rhyme. they end the song to great applause.

we open the bag of candy and such and present the live savers and the pencils and walk down the hill from the school house. peter and i have riders on our shoulders (click, clock)...and into the village again to see some of the ruins and the newest addition to rural life; the cemetary. bob and i walk between the burnt uprights of one of the remains. he tells me of the shelters where the non-combatants are supposed to stay during battle. we stop by the house of the woman who was shot in the leg. the bullet has been removed but there is swelling and pain. as i leave i say Dios te bendiga (God bless you) and she immediately reaches out her hand to squeeze mine... there are children outside...i take pictures...i line up 10 of them for a group photo. there is one more child i've had my eye on for a horsie ride...i catch him up...and he is delighted...he is yelling oy, oy, oy...i ask kay later what that means and she says it means "there are no words to describe this good feeling".

the jeeps are parked together under a tree...and in my growing paranoia, i find myself thinking more in terms of their camoflauge than shelter from the afternoon heat...and as we load in bottles are opened...i still don't have my knife...grrrr...bob keeps offering his humongeous swiss army knife as a temporary replacement...the jeeps start up and it's back on the roller coaster again...something in me gets real giddy...i must sense the most painful parts of the trip are now behind me...that leaving this tiny little village at 3:30 pm is the end of the trip in many ways...and the giddiness i think must be the funny way my psyche is releasing this tension. we talk in the jeep about the best way to make use of the film ...not for PPM but for nicaragua...

40 minutes later loaded back on the bus, we begin our return...we take a brief detour through matagalpa for some local color on film...it's a small interesting town on the side of a hill...there is a park...we drive around it there is a man selling something cold from a colorful cart...three girls giggle as the bus passes by them...life goes on...and we are out the other side of town and i am back at the keyboard trying to beat the sunset...

jerry van campen and i get into a big rap about the stock market and computers and he's been working on statistics and cyclical relationships and knows a whole bunch about ticker tapes and dow jones and put and call options and i'm impressed but my enthusiasm doesn't seem to be able to hold my eyes open and i find myself nodding but not affirmatively...still the conversation makes the kilometers fly and soon we are turning onto the road leading to the hotel and it is only 7:15 pm. big cheer for the driver...we have 45 minutes until the press conference...we know how we feel about most of the issues...bob just keeps encouraging us to be personal when we talk to the press...tell about the things that we experienced personally...he'll learn.

we stand around in the hallway saying "elevator check" to the occasional passenger who stops at the 3rd floor. we are all showered and waiting for bob to come back upstairs and tell us that the conference is ready to roll. we don't know who will be in the room...some stringers for the networks probably...certainly television nicaragua...we walk in with janet shenk and the four of us sit crowded around the cluster of eight or nine microphones. peter speaks of our purpose in visiting nicaragua...we came to learn about the situation so that we might better understand what seems so complex an issue. the first question is well what have you seen here... and mary answers in a very introductory manner...it's informative...it speaks of the people and at the end concludes with the ever present awareness that there is a war going on here. a reporter standing in the back asks how we feel about the contra aid being passed by the congress. i am having trouble talking. peter and mary are holding my hand, now my arm. "so when you ask me about how i feel about contra-aid...what i remember most", i say, "is the priest holding this white flower above his head and saying this is a flower of peace...take it to the american people and ask them please not to pour our blood on it". there are tears down my cheeks and there is a hush...peter answers the next question...and in each case somewhere during each answer there comes that time for personal recall and the breakdown happens again...mary tells them that we've been doing press conferences for 25 years in countries all over the world and that this is the first time we have ever been so emotional. she answers a question about la prensa. i tell an anecdote about the absurdity of a golf trophy in the black forest lodge. and we speak of our meeting with Daniel Ortega. peter speaks of the assurance that nicaragua would be non-aligned because this is a country who is fighting and will continue to fight to preserve its freedom and independence...they will not be compromised by either the united states or the soviet union.

the conference is over in twenty minutes and we stand. a few feet from the table we put our arms around each other...this has been the most galvanizing experience of our pp&m lives.

some reporters come up to thank us. a trio of folks from el salvador are here and janet comes with us to translate a brief message for the people of el salvador...i speak to the real people that we met there...the ones who live along the river banks because there are no jobs...the displaced in the camps ...the refugees...the campesinos at tenancingo...it just keeps rolling...and then we're on the bus again. bus again?! yes, but this time for a farewell dinner and to meet some of the wonderful members of the FSLN governing body; Ernesto Cardenal, the novice under thomas merton, who writes poetry and at the age of 61 has a twinkle, gossamer white hair and young hands. he speaks of God's impotence...an idea that has no resonance in my experience...we spar a bit with spiritual concepts but after a few pleasantries i excuse myself and make room for peter and mary's animated conversation with him. i meet the man who saved the circus tent for the concert and discover that he also remodeled the house in which we now stand and is a contractor with 140 people on his staff. i ask about cosep...he has no good words for cosep...he calls them exploitive. well...then there IS an alternative private sector here...better late than never i think to myself...noel insists we begin to eat and hey, no problem...

when i come back with my full plate i go to a new table and am joined by the film crew. we speak of earliest trivia memories of our childhood...jack armstrong, sky king, the dropping of the first a-bomb (broadcast on radio), the death of FDR, we talk ourselves right through dinner, through seconds on the meat and suddenly i notice that there are very few folks left here...sure enough it's time to say goodnight...and oh my gosh this is our last night in nicaragua...did we learn enough...can we do enough...

rosario talks to me about john denver...do i think he would like to perform here? i say i think he would and spend a few minutes explaining about john's recent trip to soviet russia and the moving song about the leningrad/kansas farmer that he did in washington...i tell rosario that i will contact him... we say goodbye to luiz and the band. i give one of my business cards to the keyboard player with a note for henry at manny's music in newyork...it says "henry, this is one of the good guys"...he'll know what i mean...

to the hotel and the realization that now would be the best time to pack... 4:30 a.m. for a 5 a.m. baggage pickup will be too crazy a scene...so i begin to pull together all my stuff when there is a knock at the door. it's bob stark who hands me a package of masks and pottery and says that noel just pulled up in front of the hotel with these presents from rosario...gads... how am i going to get pottery home safely in my bag? a question answered well by all my dirty clothing, 2 foam innersoles and a new hard cover bag. about 1:30 a.m. i lay me down to sleep...

(it's about that same time on july 4th now and i'm trying to stay awake long enough to finish these rough renderings of the central america log that you are reading.)

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

La Daliah

Fifteen fresh dug graves, the raw soil slightly sunken. But since it was their first cemetery they had chosen carefully, a nice hill. Not as tall as the ones that surround the village, the ones the contras spilled over, but well within the circle of their lives. The community still whole even in its fear and grief.

A large wooden cross marked its entrance and printed on it was the word, Forgiveness. In the earthen depressions left by an eight year old girl, fathers and sons, their mothers had planted the flower Impatiens. Simple peasant people who love their families and country with pride and passion. A people with a new dream, of literacy, land and freedom. A dream big enough to defy their history or even alien paid armies. A small country where the children beg, for pencils.

Nicaragua.

(mary travers - july 4, 1986)

day nine / nicaragua

it must be 4:30 am. the alarm went off... i've got 30 minutes to shave and finish packing...well, not really pack; i did most of that last night...hmmm let's see...i, uh...hmmm...uh...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

it must be 4:40 am. the alarm went off again. good thing i set the backup alarm. now i've got 20 minutes to get it all together...sure hope there's hot water...aaah, consciousness...shave...dopp kit into suitcase close slowly watching rosario's gifts nestle into the appropriate padding...God bless dad. out the guitar to the hallway...out the black bag to the hallway...there's marjorie. boy she looks terriffic...wait a minute she's wearing exactly what she was wearing last night...oh i don't think i could have done that...back in the room oh boy already shaved almost an hour till we leave...back to bed for some more sleep? still wearing my pajamas - wait a minute - pajamas should be in the suitcase - off with the pajamas - on with the pants i'll be wearing today - back into the hallway - pull the suitcase into the room - pack the suitcase - push the suitcase back out - reset the alarm for 5:00 and a backup for 5:10 - fall in to bed and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

it must be 5 am. the alarm went off...but i probably only need 20 minutes max unless i want to eat but i could...uh...if i got...uh...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

it must be 5:10. ok. i'm up. honest. and into the shower for a shampoo with bar soap and into clothes and discover the shirt i saved for this trip has a hole in the underarm...oh well it's kinda rustic...downstairs to find ethan, mary and janet and foster and dinah and zack in restaurant. fruit looks good. peter's comes in...somebody asks if somebody has money...oh gosh this can't be charged to the hotel...what...hi foster...oh yeah this is foster's treat - he has $60 worth of nicaraguan money.

into the bus and on to the airport where, thanks to noel and hugh, everything has been checked and stamped and okayed and i even go upstairs and reclaim my swiss army knife...boy do i feel complete...except for this nagging feeling that i am about to leave some close friends...some addresses are traded, some promises made, a door is opened and goodbye rosario, goodbye kay, goodbye drivers...we are on our way across the runway to the plane. peter's guitar is checked at the rear stairs and goodbye noel, goodbye margarita...up the stairs and into seats and goodbye nicaragua...

hello el salvador?! oh yeah...change planes...next gate...what are all these shaved heads in suits doing here? is this a moonie convention? gads...these are the new el salvador recruits headed for miami for training...invasion of another memory...an el salvador paper headline 'mas represion y nicaragua' boggles the mind...we were there...we know...so few do...i can feel the frustration building...how few the avenues to public awareness; how controlled the access to power...how fragile the heart that tests the balance between God's grace and God's leading...

i perform the boffo ending to my 'one-man-airline routine' from the village days and crack us up as the flight is called...onto the plane with the troops (ours and theirs) to the soundtrack of Star Wars...bob stark mentions the cosmic implications and about an hour into the flight, while hugh and i are deep into basic programming primer part one, i reach for something in my jacket...it's not next to my seat...not next to my seat?! i look overhead... i never put it overhead. gads...i think i must have left it in el salvador. i find peter and mary and ask them...mary remembers me having the jacket on or the bust line of the stewardess in the one-man-airline routine...aah then it must be on the plane...i'm a mess...even for a zomboid...i must have been mentally hyper-ventilating...

we land in miami...the luggage takes just long enough to come off the wrong belt that a paranoid mind set presents itself. (what if back in el salvador when the bags were being shifted to the new flight, the government confiscated the film...nah...) 42 pieces later, split into washington, new york and nashville piles we enter the american reality and though the film folks and me have a bit of a meal together, peter mary ethan janet and hugh have caught the early flight to new york and the family is dissolving...except of course where it counts...

epilogue

it's july 2nd. there's a stage set up at opryland amusement park. benson record company with sponsorship shared by toyota is presenting all of their artists in a three day showcase. larnell harris will be the headliner tomorrow night. i am the headliner tonight. kent (the bodyworks bass player) and i stand next to the audio mix board about 300 feet out in front of the stage...

"were there more people than this here earlier in the day?" i ask pointing at the 60 or so folks scattered over a lawn big enough to hold 4000. "oh yeah...", the soundman replies, "probably 200 or 300 more than this. but by the time TRUTH finished their second number most of 'em left... too loud...", he surmises. i abstract for a moment on the relative merits of soft truth and loud truth, and then climb down from the scaffolding to go on stage with kent and jimmy nalls.

-

a half hour has passed and the sun is about gone in a blaze of oranges and lavanders...kent, jimmy and i opened the set with a loose kind of gospel blues called Know Jesus...the applause is fractured by the space between ourselves and the people on the lawn and the between the people themselves. i'm resting on the Lord to bring this disparate bunch of songs and moments together when the amusement park train signals its approach by clanging the bell of the crossing sign about 50 yards behind and to the left of the stage. as the 4 car choo-choo passes by i realize that this will now become a permanent part of the evening's routine. in an effort to co-opt it's disruptivness, i encourage the audience to wave and the people on the train wave back...

later in the program i'm introducing el salvador...i tell about the church i was at this past sunday...i don't mention that it was in nicaragua until just before i tell the audience what the priest told me to tell them...there is no immediate reaction. except that the train is not coming...

what a far different situation in which i find myself than that which i had envisioned. what happened to the weeping contrite brothers and sisters sickened by their complicity in an imperialist-generated slaughter of innocents?! then i realize...what can one do but add the grain of sand? and i know that some information is better then none and after the 10 or 12 songs are over and i've returned to blue hill and reflected on this day i will be once again struck by how quietly almost modestly, despite the garish, seemingly successful manipulations within the political world, the larger truth will ultimately be recognized...

after all, He picked a stable in Bethlehem. 

Back to first page: El Salvador

1997 noel paul stookey


 

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