Memories of Life and Revolution
PHOTOS and TEXT by SARAH HARRIS
63 years old
Jose sits in a robe in a wheelchair where he has been since he had his stroke.
Jose was 23 when the revolution began. He remembers leaving his house in the morning and seeing dead people on the sidewalks and in the streets. One time, the Contras took him as he was leaving his house. They took all his clothes and told him they were going to kill him, but eventually let him go.
He fled to a farm when they released him because León wasn’t safe. When he returned, he learned that his nephew had been killed.
When asked if he knew any Sandinistas, he laughed. Jose was a Sandinista himself for a year. He worked on the coast.
Before the revolution, Jose made fireworks for 30 years. With his background in explosives, the army gave him the job of creating bombs for the revolution to fight the Contras. They would hide them as they worked, making sure no one knew how they crafted their explosives.
"We were always being monitored and watched becuase of our abilities to make bombs."
After the war he wanted to continue to make bombs but would have to ask for permission.
Jose enjoys his current situation.
“It’s fine living in the home,” he said. “They always help us and feed us.”
Despite being in the Hogar, Jose maintains a positive attitude.
"I still feel young because I can do many things,” he said. “I am a strong man.”
70 years old
Alcibes sat in his chair up against a wall. A very small man with deep dark gray eyes. His skin tanned and wrinkled. And a smile of sincerity.
Alcibes worked as a cab driver for 40 years. H worked throughout León and Managua, starting at the age of 15.
Alcibes remember the revolution clearly, as if it happened yesterday.
“There were a lot of people dying, I remember that I saw a lot of horrible things,” he said.
He lived his life in fear, with everyone else. It was sad, he said. Two of Alcibes’ nephews died, and one was a Sandinista.
"It was horrible," he said. "If you wanted to go to the street, you didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Alcibes remembers the Contras coming into León and taking the young people and torturing them. He remembers El Fortín, a jail where they were tortured. This fortress was once a Somoza stronghold, where they held political prisoners for decades, up until July 7, 1979 when El Fortin was overrun and the Sandinista captives were set free. He also spoke of Prison 21, now known as the Museum of Legends and Traditions.
"And of course we were afraid because that could have been us."
He said people in the Hogar do not speak of the revolution: “We suffered in those times, so now we try to forget.”
After the revolution, Alcibes continuted to work as a driver. Many things changed but many things also became better. They no longer had to live in fear and Somoza was no longer in power.
Alcibes hopes to be able to leave the Hogar one day and work. He’s not sure if it would be possible but he would like to work and have something to do.
"When you're here, no one remembers you," he said.
He did speak fondly of his country, though. When asked what he loves about Nicaragua, Alcibes sat up, smiled, and said: “I love all of Nicaragua because I am a Nicaraguan.”
66 years old
Rosa sat in a rocking chair, slightly rocking back and forth in a corner of the Hogar. Her voice soft and quiet, her face expressionless, her hand a little shaky, all of which are symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and the reason for her presence in the Hogar.
Rosa welcomed us with a littel weariness, her eyes wide as we approached her.
This is Rosa's fourth year in the Hogar. Her family resides in the same city as her, León. She is one of five. Her sister took care of her before Rosa was admitted into the Hogar, and she was the one who brought her here.
“I feel good, it’s very nice here,” Rosa said.
Rosa grew up in León, three blocks down from the Hogar. She only attended elementary school and at age 7, she went to work in the market with her mother selling baseballs and Frisbees. She continued to work in the market for her entire adulthood. She married once but separated because her husband abused her. She never had children. Rosa spoke highly of her mother, though.
“The best memories I have are with my mother,” Rosa said. “She was tall. White. She had a big nose. She was a very elegant woman.”
Rosa's Parkinson's began with a headache and then her fingers began to tremble. When she went to the doctor, he told her she had Parkinson’s and that she would just have to wait to die.
Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. It develops gradually, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. In the early stages of Parkinson's disease, a patient’s face may show little or no expression, or her arms may not swing when she walks. Speech may become soft or slurred.
Rosa lost three brothers during the revolution.
“That was a difficult time,” she said. “We were trying to save our own skin. The war was following us, they always knew where we were.”
Life was quieter under the Somoza regime, Rosa said. Now people are fleeing Nicaragua for the United States under Daniel Ortega’s rule.
"People are leaving because they're afraid of Ortega," she said. “In these times, we have to be more afraid.”
Rosa enjoys being in the Hogar but for now is just waiting for the end.