Nicaragua Through Blind Eyes

By JACOBO WAINCIER

 Jacobo Waincier with Sebastián                                                                                            Photo by Clare Dignan

Jacobo Waincier with Sebastián                                                                                           Photo by Clare Dignan

On my third day in Nicaragua, I went looking for Sebastián. I had been told he would be a good interview, and that he was blind. When my group arrived at the Asilo de Ancianos San Vicente de Paúl in León, I immediately looked for a man being helped around the home or wearing sunglasses, but it wasn’t until I asked one of the sisters that ran the home to guide me toward Sebastián that I found him.

Sebastián was born in 1934 in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital. He lost his eyesight little by little when he was around 70 years old to what he thought were cataracts. The condition turned out to be glaucoma, which made regaining his eyesight impossible.

 Sebastian (l.) and Coronado (r.)   Photo by Melissa Sirois

Sebastian (l.) and Coronado (r.)  Photo by Melissa Sirois

Sebastián has gotten used to having to navigate around the Hogar off muscle memory, but like for probably anyone who is blind, this hasn’t been easy on him.

“They don’t treat me well, I get little help getting around the home,” he said, making us hear and feel the psychological pain in his voice.

But then he introduced me to Coronado, a fellow resident of the home, who helps him around when he can, describing him as his only friend there. I was happy that Sebastián had a friend to help him around from time to time. But Sebastián believes there should be nursing homes for specific disabilities, whether it be being blind or having Alzheimer’s, because “one who can see can threaten and hit the blind.” He says he has felt threatened in the past at the home, and this is when my heart slowly began to crumble into little pieces.

Although Sebastián has gotten used to being blind, he was able to see for the better part of his 82 years of life, and he took full advantage of them. When he was 13, he began to work as a shoemaker back in Managua. Starting to work at young ages like 13 is quite common in Central America, usually to help out one’s family financially, but that wasn’t the only reason Sebastián began working at such a young age. Back then kids had to pay for their own education, he said.

Throughout his life, Sebastián has seen the different generations of Nicaraguan youth, and he has a strong opinion on the current one.

It’s [the young people’s] responsibility to drive the country in a good direction and help it steer clear from making the same mistakes made in the past. —Sebastian

“With the Internet today, it’s much easier for kids to corrupt their minds,” he said. He said that although students and children in general have more rights, the government still has a lot of control over their education.

 “It’s [the young people’s] responsibility to drive the country in a good direction and help steer it clear from making the same mistakes made in the past,” he said.

When he mentioned the same mistakes made in the past, I immediately connected two and two and realized that he was talking about the days of the Nicaraguan Revolution, and later the war between the Sandinistas (democratic socialists) and the Contras (former members of the Somoza National Guard). Sebastián was 38 around the time the war began, which is what brought him to León, where he also worked as a shoemaker. During his time in León, he worked with eight Sandinistas. This was tough for him because he never picked a side, given his strong loyalty to God.

“War goes against everything I believe in,” he said.

 Luckily his eight co-workers never told on him to the Sandinista higher-ups, because he would’ve gotten in a lot of trouble.

The future of this country is in the hands of today’s youth, because once they take over, we’ll finally be able to catch up with today’s world. — Sebastián

He eventually made his way back to Managua, and went from being a shoemaker to working in a jewelry store in Managua’s oriental market, guarding it at night, running day-time errands, and eventually running the store. But years later he would make it back to León to take care of his mother, who died in 1983. Once he lost his eyesight, he was responsible enough to find help from León’s city hall, which helped him get to the nursing home.

Aside from his views on today’s youth, his struggles with blindness, and his life during the war, what impressed me the most about Sebastián was the clarity with which he saw the future of his country.

“The country can change but the only thing that truly changes is the name of who runs it,” he said. “In the end, they all have the same ideals, and that’s why the future of this country is in the hands of today’s youth, because once they take over, we’ll finally be able to catch up with today’s world.”