Islamic terror ... Lanta style

Islamic terror ... Lanta style
My neighbour Hutyee Boat
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Island of magic

There is ´something´indescribable about life on a small island and I have to say that I have been enchanted by the wonders of Ometepe over the past few days.
I came here on my own, sprained an ankle hopping from one bus to another on the way here, and bruised both my leg and ego during an ill-fated motorcycle trip around the island´s infamous roads.
So I could be feeling sorry for myself, but instead I love the pace of life here and really wish I could stay another ten days.
Once the last boat goes, there is a real sense of peace here. A bit like Inis Meain in a way, in that the locals see themselves as being different from the people over there, there being the mainland.
About 30,000 people live on the island, which has just two major towns and some of the worst roads I´ve ever seen.
It´s as close as I have come this year to Koh Lanta, the place where I spent the first five months of 2010, and it has the same tranquil charms. In fact, it is far more peaceful than my favourite Thai island, with far less traffic on the roads.
People wander around at a slow pace, even the buses pull up at a really leisurely pace, and they sit around the town squares, chatting with each other, as though they haven´t a care in the world.
It´s great to be in a place with no TV, because all of the news from Ireland was depressing me in Granada over the past two weeks. Here, the only news that counts is who came in on the boat from San Jorge or who crashed into a cow, or pig, or goat, or hen, or monkey on the roads.
Legend has it that the island was formed from the suicide of a young woman, who fell in love with a man from an opposing tribe. After they both decided to slash their wrists, her breasts swelled to form two huge volcanoes, and so much did she cry that her tears formed the massive Lago Colcabolca (Lake Nicaragua).
The indigenous people believe there is something truly magical about the place, and to enjoy its charms you have to get out of the towns and experience the sheer peaceful bliss of its countryside.
When the bigger of the two volcanoes erupted in the 1950s (and it´s still simmering today) the locals refused to be evacuated to the mainland. They claimed it was better to die on Ometepe than to leave their beloved home and I´ve witnessed real pride in their place among the people.
I´ve been told that the Spanish colonists mostly left the islanders, indigenous fishermen, to their own devices.
Which is why you see far more Native Americans here than on the mainland and why the place really does remind me a bit of the Aran Islands . . . not just the slow pace, but the fact that the British hardly touched our western isles during their conquest of Ireland, because the land was so poor.
It´s no coincidience that the Irish language is still vibrant in the areas which were virtually untouched by the British, just as it´s no coincidence that the locals on Ometepe look completely different than the Nicas on the mainland.
The views here are incredible, as is the whole topography of a place which is really just two huge volcanoes and a little isthmus between them.
Even though I´ve stayed in Moyogalpa, the capital and biggest town, the pace is really relaxed here at night. People greet each other on the street and it is surely one of the safest places in Central America.
A friend of mine, Grace, met a crazy, hard-drinkin´Irishman on Playa Santa Dominigo three months ago. Apparently, he owns a little hotel by the lake. We Irish really do get around, but I didn´t feel compelled to give him a visit, with my need to stay off alcohol in order to nurse my ankle back to health.
I´ve met a few of the usual obnoxious ´gringos´(Americans who live here, but can´t speak the language and talk down the locals whenever they get the chance) but I´ve been overwhelmed by how friendly the locals are during my cycles around the island.
When my motorbike broke down, I couldn´t believe the (free) offers of help I got on the side of the road, until I managed to dust myself down and crawl back to town.
The place has its problems, too. Unemployment is quite high, some of the roads really are appalling, and quite a few of the lovely beaches were wiped out during a particularly bad rainy season, just three months ago. Some hotels and bars remain closed.
I visited one of the abandoned beaches today, and met some local youngsters climbing trees and jumping into the lake. Near us, monkeys were playing in the trees.
The kids were full of curiosity about the travelling Irishman and hit me with a dozen questions, but never once did they ask me for a dollar as many of their counterparts would do in Granada or San Juan Del Sur.
Yes, Ometepe is an incredible place. It has one of the most relaxing vibes I´ve experienced anywhere on earth and even a 45 minute power cut this evening only seemed to add to its charms.
Just take it easy on the roads or avoid climbing the volcanoes . . . and you´ll be fine!
Take it from me. I always fancied myself as a careful biker until, in slow motion, I found myself tumbling towards the ground yesterday.
But I have swam in lovely lake water, met incredibly friendly locals, soaked in the finest sunset I´ve seen in my life, and I have slept at night here as though I haven´t a care in the world.
I will leave tomorrow, battered and bruised, but with only fond memories of the place. And a desire to return some day!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Learning from the Nicas

It was kind of appropriate that I had organised a trip to Leon,the city of the revolution, for the week in which the collapse of the economy of my country made headlines all across the globe.
For it got me to thinking that we Irish have a lot to learn from a country as poor as Nicaragua.
In our rush to progress, to SUVs in Salthill driveways that were never needed and apartments in the sun which were rarely used, we have lost some of the community spirit that still thrives here in the second poorest country in the whole of the Americas.
In Nicaragua, people pass children around on buses and take strangers' kids on their knees because they don't have the Irish or European, or especially North American, concept of 'strangers'.
Here you see whole families of five or six enjoying a Sunday outing on a bicycle. A man in Managua or Masaya doesn't feel shame when he brings his date out on the crossbar of a bicycle on a Sunday afternoon. Imagine asking a Galway girl out for a lift on your crossbar in 2010!
Yes, the people here are poor, but they are not ashamed of the fact. Like the Irish, they are able and willing to emigrate for a better life, but unlike the Irish they have never experienced a boom or full employment in their own land.
Now that the bubble has burst back home, maybe we could learn a thing or two from the Nicas.
They love sitting outside their homes on rocking chairs, chatting with friends and neighbours as they watch the world go by. Part of it is boredom or due to unemployment and a lack of hope, but they still have time for each other.
Their children play baseball with sticks cut from trees or football with plastic bags which have been wrapped together. They aren't locked up inside with their Playstations.
How many Irish people living in cities even know their neighbours?
How many waste their time obsessing about the lives of vacuous so-called 'celebrities' instead of engaging with the real-life people around them, as the Nicas do every day?
Nicas know that money doesn't make people happy, even if they wouldn't mind even a fraction of the riches the Irish have enjoyed through the past 15 years.
Leon, the scene of so much fighting during the revolution, is far poorer than Granada, the city I've been based in for the past ten weeks.
Throughout history, the liberals and revolutionaries of Leon have fought against the conservatives and wealthy of Granada. That's why the Nicaraguans eventually located the capital in Managua in the 1850s, as a compromise between the two.
What struck me most about Leon last weekend was the genuine pride of the people in their city and their land, even if a host of lovely buildings were destroyed in the fighting of the 1970s and some of the remaining buildings are crumbling.
They got rid of a fascist dictator and his corrupt sons, who were backed by the Americans for 50 years. Economically, their lives haven't improved immensely since then, but they still value the memory of the young people who gave up their lives for a just cause in the 1980s.
In the Gallery of the Martyrs and Heroes, I met two old ladies in their 80s on Saturday morning.
Both of them lost sons, who died fighting Somoza's State terrorists, in the 1980s. One of them lost both of her sons. In a dignified way, these old ladies keep the memory of their sons and daughters, and their friends, alive in a simple museum which has 300 photos of fallen heroes.
Two blocks away lies the Museum of the Revolution. A once fabulous old colonial building, it overlooks Parque Central and has seen much better days. If it was in Europe or America it would probably be a fabulous luxury hotel. But here in Nicaragua it's the scene of a very primitive museum, with newspaper clippings sellotaped onto the walls.
I was struck by the pride of the guides and staff in the museum. They might have no money, but they believe in what they are doing ... they believe in the need to remind people of what their brothers, sisters, and friends died for back in the 1970s and '80s, when they dared to take on Somoza and the USA.
I climbed to the roof of the bell-tower of the Cathedral, the biggest in Central America, and soaked in the incredible views of all the volcanoes around the region. That Cathedral looks like it hasn't been painted in two hundred years, but it is still the pride of the city.
The vendors on the street, less used to tourists than their counterparts in Granada, greeted me warmly every evening ... and suddenly I remembered how fearful I was, stupidly, of even coming to this beautiful country three months ago. I was in terror that I would be mugged or robbed.
In Nicaragua, they have genuine pride in their revolution and its legacy. Even if it hasn't led to prosperity, at least Somoza's henchmen don't torture, maim, or kill innocent people on the streets of Leon any more.
The main prison, with its torture chambers, is now a quirky little museum full of witches, dwarves, giants, and legends.
These people have pride, but it's not false pride. And right now, I guess, six years before the 100th anniversary of our own 'revolution', Ireland also needs to regain some of its own pride.
Not 'pride' in the fact that we own ten houses or big cars or material things that don't make us happy.
But the pride that comes from a small land with a big heart which has survived centuries of oppression and bullying, and which will rise again because of the spirit of its people. Just like Nicaragua.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The shame of it all

What a horrible, horrible week for the Irish, even for those of us a long way away from the wet and windy isle.
It´s been a shock to the system to see BBC World News, CNN Ingles, CNN Espanol, and even the local Nicaraguan news dominated by the revelation that Ireland is bankrupt and threatening the whole future of the European Union.
To think that a country which people fought for through 800 years of colonisation has been put out of business by our own rotten politicians with their lack of any vision other than sheer greed.
I haven´t missed Ireland at all this year, apart from family and good friends, and now I relly wonder what the hell I am going back to.
For the past three months I´ve lived in the second poorest country in all of the Americas and all I´ve hoped for is some hope for the Nicaraguan people.
They were pillaged by the Spanish, lived for 50 years under an appalling dictator and his family, and when they finally got their freedom they were discarded and neglected by the great Uncle Sam.
I´ve been sickened by the injustice of it all, how the Americans feel like messing around in their own back yard and how some of the American expats treat Nicas like pieces of meat simply because they have far more money than the natives.
But looking at Ireland from this vantage point makes my blood boil even more.
We kicked Farmer Jones (the rotten, racist, tyrranical British Empire) out of the farm in order to be ruled by pigs (there is no more apt way to describe them) of our own. The names of Haughey, Ahern, and Cowen will be remembered as the disgraced, greedy b''stards who filled their own pockets while allowing the country to drift down the drain.
The party was all too short and all too insane.
I come from a land with a troubled past, which gives me a bit more understanding than most Europeans I think, and that´s why Irish people seem to be hugely welcomed (and loved) in troubled lands like Palestine and Cambodia. We have big hearts and root for the underdogs, thanks to our own f''ked up history.
And we have a tendency to feel sorry for ourselves, and for other underdogs in the world, because 800 years of being treated as second class citizens, robbed of your language and the right to vote, can do untold damage to your self esteem.
And that was something we thought we got back in the so called Celtic Tiger years, when young Irish people were not forced to emigrate for a better life.
All through the 19th century, and the 1950s and 1980s, we lost generations of good people who were spat out by our British masters or our own so called leaders who didn´t have enough imagination to turn our fortunes around.
And then when they got a chance, they went into a frenzy of greed. Which is why one Galway TD owns more than 20 houses or our former Taoiseach, Ahern, urged the doubters to kill themselves just a few years ago.
We deluded ourselves into thinking the days of seeing thousands of Irish men lining either side of the Kilburn High Road, in search of any labouring jobs going, were dead and buried.
Or the way we brushed real, painful Irish stories such as the arrival in Ellis Island, the building of the Panama railway, or the poverty of Hell´s Kitchen or South Boston under the carpet, because those stories were too painful to acknowledge.
Well, so much for the SUVs in Salthill and the pads in Marbella, the party is over and the hangover is all our own fault after we elected some of the most incompetent politicians in Europe.
We let bankers, politicians, and auctioneers (amazing how many Irish politicians are auctioneers too) drive us into a frenzy.
Here in Granada, there are five resident Irish, seven if you count myself and Fidelma, the two La Esperanza Granada volunteers who are here for just a few months.
Well, we all found ourselves gravitating towards O´Shea´s Irish bar in shock midweek, wanting to share our despair over the news from home.
In their own way, the resident Irish sum up a land which has continued to reject its own people down through the years.
The three older lads (Tommie, Billy, and Jimmy) are all from a generation who were forced into exile, choosing the United States before moving on to Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
Gerry, who is my age, came and bought a beautiful colonial house after being made reduntant two and a half years ago. And Fidelma is a teacher in her 30s who, despite her training and experience, can´t get a job back home.
Thanks, Ireland, for letting them all down.
But right now I think they are all wise to have left the sinking ship, even if they live in a country as poor as Nicaragua.
Economically, the revolution here, just as justified as Ireland´s uprising against the British, has not led to a huge change in the nation´s fortunes. People are still extremely poor.
But at least they haven´t been sold out by pigs of their own.
And that´s the most galling thing.
In Nicaragua, these lovely people are crying out for hope, and a chance of a real change in fortunes.
Ireland had its chance, but it was blown by greed.
And, suddenly, I´m embarrassed to be Irish. When I meet travellers from Sweden, Holland, or France now they want to talk about how messed up the economy of my country is.
For just a few years, we had national pride. We could backpack through Thailand or Spain and stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of them, confident in our own land.
Well, not any more. We´ve been pushed to the brink and it´s about time the FF and Green bastards gave the people democracy and stepped down.
Sorry for not writing about Nicaragua this week, but it´s hard to enjoy my weekend away in the beautiful city of Leon when there is so much worry about the mess at home.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Adventure on the roads

In Nicaragua, even the smallest thing can become quite an adventure. Provided you are relaxed enough to go with the flow and you don't let your experiences be overshadowed by fears.
Such as a weekend away. After eight weeks of living in the beautiful colonial city of Granada, I figured it was time to head down to the coast and check out the country's main beach resort, San Juan Del Sur.
A few weeks ago, on the internet forums, I had read about so many people who had been robbed on buses or in 'collectivo' taxis (which pick up passengers all along the route) that I had considered becoming a 'Gringo' for a weekend and going on one of those express shuttle buses reserved for foreigners.
The price? A whopping US$46 return for a two hour journey.
Well, after a few months of living in Nicaragua I've come to the conclusion that the country is not as scary as all the forums make out. People do get robbed in cabs or buses, but usually they've been just unlucky or fallen asleep and left an expensive camera or piece of equipment as too easy a target for an impoverished opportunist.
There have been people held up at knife-point after getting 'collectivo' taxis, forced to go to ATMs and take out money by a driver and accomplices who target foreigners at the side of the road.
But, feck it, you would never go outside your front door in Ireland if you listened to all the scare stories and people's fears.
It is a fact that Nicaragua is not as dangerous as most other Central American countries. In fact, they say that only boring old Canada is safer in the whole of the Americas, and I'm sure that there are parts of LA, New York, Chicago, etc., which are a lot more dangerous for the unsuspecting visitor.
So, anyway, armed with a rucksack and my diving gear, I found myself at Granada's bustling bus station last Friday morning. It was hot and sticky as I climbed on the bus for the start of an adventure.
The first thing that hits you is the amount of vendors who pile onto the buses in every town and city in this country, as I had discovered during a trip to Masaya's famous markets (about 40 minutes away) the previous weekend. They sell fruit juices, tortillas, cakes, sodas, a huge variety of things.
And, because there are so few cars in this poor country, people think nothing about bringing a car battery or a bag of cement or even a live chicken onto a bus here. It just adds to the fun.
Beside me on the first bus was a teacher from one of the schools we work with, who shared a brilliant conversation with me about his work. Then he hopped off in the middle of nowhere, as the road south climbed towards the spectacular Volcan Mombachu.
Having told the conductor, who hollers out the destination at every stop, that I was going to Rivas, he roared out for me mid-trip as he had sourced another bus for me to change over on the highway. I needed to be quick to grab my rucksack and change over, but it was all part of the fun.
In Rivas, I had an hour's wait, where the woman selling meals for about $1.50 a go wanted to know if I was single. She was a single mum, about my age, attractive and great fun, and I was tempted to stay on ... if I hadn't booked a day's scuba diving for the following day!
I was approached by a taxi driver, who wanted to bring me to the coast for 200 cordobas (about $10). When I made it clear I wanted to travel by bus, he sat down beside me and talked about politics for half an hour.
There was no pressure on me to pay for his cab and every now and then he would jump up to approach passengers descending from a bus on the highway. Then he'd come back to my table and resume talking about the current border dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Suddenly, I was really glad that I had improved my Spanish so much over the past couple of months.
Then my third bus, packed to the brim, pulled up and I was on my way to the gorgeous resort town of SJDS, with its lovely horse-shoe bay.
I checked into my accommodation, the beach front Hostal Esperanza, where I had a private room for $20 per night and then headed off to find the dive centre and meet Fidel, the owner, to arrange a time to meet up for the following morning (a ridiculously early 7.30 a.m., but that's diving for you!).
I ate a lovely meal in a comodor at the market for 40 cordobas, for just over a euro, and walked the scenic promenade at sunset. It was simply gorgeous!
The day's diving proved to be a bit of a disappointment, it was like tumbling around inside a washing machine, so strong were the currents.
But the weather was glorious, I met a few local divers from Managua, and saw some of the most amazing, deserted beaches I've come across in my entire life, including one where turtles are hatching this season. We saw a huge turtle on the way to the dive sites and a school of enthusiastic dolphins kept us hugely entertained with their antics as they danced around the boat, leaping out of the water, on the way back to the deserted beach.
I had gone to SJDS alone, just to dive, but managed to meet eight people I know from Granada, including six of our volunteers. Three were on their way home for a visa run to nearby Costa Rica, it really is a small world!
You learn that in Central America ... there are places on the travellers' circuit where you tend to run into people a few times.
Glad to have been back underwater after a seven month break from diving, I was really tired after swimming so hard against the strong current and was in bed, asleep, by 10 p.m. I could never imagine that happening on a Saturday night in Ireland!
That meant an early start on Sunday, and a trip to the huge statue of Jesus which is up on a hill overlooking the town. Again, the weather was glorious and Ishmael, the friendly hostal manager, advised me to leave all my valuables in my room. Even at 8.30 on a Sunday morning, it seems that rich foreign tourists can be targets for local hoods.
But nothing bad happened to me during a wonderful two hour walk to the summit. I even met a friendly bulldog on the beach who accompanied me all the way up the deserted steps to the hill, where I had to jump over a gate which said 'private property' in order to reach the clifftop statue.
Meeting the bulldog was another one of those strange coincidences that have happened to me so often this year. Suddenly, I had a big security guard and I felt the Gods were on my side.
After meeting a few volunteers on the beach, I decided to head back to Granada quite early and found myself at the bus-stop at midday. Then a 'collectivo' pulled up and the driver offered to take me to Rivas for 50 cords (just over $2).
Already in the cab were a woman in her 50s and a man my age in the front seat, so I stored my rucksack in the boot and sat in beside the woman.
When we got to the edge of town, the driver stopped to pick up a woman and four children at the side of the road. I couldn't believe it when they all piled in on top of us, but that just added to the fun.
Soon, I was reminded of how sociable and downright friendly the Nicas can be. The woman beside me took a seven year old girl she had never met onto her knee and then proceeded to weave her hair into a lovely design as we made our way towards Rivas.
The other woman to my right told me that two of the children were her own, and the other two were nieces who had been abandoned by their mother. Again, I was so glad to have improved my Spanish as we laughed and exchanged stories in the glorious sunshine.
In front of us was the amazing Volcan Conception, rising out of Lake Nicaragua at a height of 1,610 metres. I felt I would be too much of a 'gringo' to point out the scenery while these beautiful but poor people interacted so warmly with each other and with the big, lanky Irish man in the middle of the back seat.
At Rivas, I hopped on a bus to Managua, and got in the good books when I offered my seat to an 80 year old woman, who took a five year old boy from another lady on her knee. The bus was crowded and I was the only foreigner on board, but I never felt threatened or in danger of being robbed.
In the middle of nowhere, I jumped out of the bus and ran across the highway to catch my Granada connection, one of those old American-style school buses, for a cost of seven cordobas or about 25 cents (in euros).
Soon I was back 'home' in Granada after a lovely weekend.
The diving had been disappointing, with poor visibility and choppy seas.
But it was the fun I had in getting to San Juan and back, experiencing the warmth of poor rural people, which made this a fabulous weekend.
Thank God I didn't take the advice of some richer expats by taking the 'Gringo' shuttle direct from Granada to San Juan Del Sur. If I had, I wouldn't have experienced half as much of an adventure!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Life as a volunteer

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of my gap year has been the opportunity to come to the second poorest country in the Americas, Nicaragua, to work with fabulous people and to do just a little bit to improve the lives of impoverished rural children.
Living here has revived some of the 'revolutionary' spirit in me. I feel a bit like Che Guevara in the 'Motorcycle Diaries' when I contrast the poverty, hopelessness, but sheer loveliness of the local people with all the rich, obnoxious, right-wing Americans in the world.
Suddenly, I feel like I'm 17 again. Passionate about issues such as the treatment of the poor in Latin America or the annihilation of Palestine. No longer a cynic, but keen to do even a tiny bit to make the world a better place.
I'm only here for three months, and I wish I had a lot more time. Because I've fallen in love with this country and its wonderful people, despite the poverty, lack of hope, and lack of interest in education among the older generation.
It's a crime that people here believe there is no future, when there is so much potential in this beautiful land of volcanoes, lakes, fabulous weather, and youthful people.
I've grown tired of people who demand one dollar from me, simply because I look like a 'Gringo'. But I get really emotional during computer class or when I go to a concert organised by Ritmo en los Barrios, another wonderful volunteer organisation.
They allow children from dirt poor communities a chance to perform for their friends and families, and you leave their Sunday sessions in Casa De Los Tres Mundos with nothing but a sense of joy. Seeing the confidence 50 children get from performing on stage is far more rewarding than spending a Sunday afternoon watching football in a pub.
Nicaragua is not exactly a 'failed state', but its economy is in tatters and the dependency on outside powers, such as the EU, for funds for the most basic of projects is startling. The Somoza family raped and pillaged this land for generations and outside forces have made progress difficult ever since the popular uprising of 1979.
Amazing, too, how it's the Europeans such as the Germans and Spanish who are helping out here, when the USA has been so guilty of so much recent criminal activity almost in its own back yard.
Volunteering is so much more rewarding than travelling around from hostal to hotel with a rucksack. After two months in Granada, I feel almost like a part of the community and that I've made just a bit of a difference to some people's lives. That sure beats ticking off sights along the route of my travels.
I get to visit schools in which the facilities are unbelievably primitive. Yet the children turn up in perfectly cleaned uniforms, despite the fact that some of their families live in galvanized tin huts in which the heat is unbearable during the day.
During the past two months, I've been overwhelmed by the welcome of the children and the teachers in the schools. I've been writing blogs, making films, coordinating volunteer meetings, and almost bounce into work in the glorious sunshine, full of expectation, every day.
When I go out with the computer class, the children are so grateful to be given the chance to play on a computer for 40 minutes a week. Playstations and the likes, things which Irish kids take for granted, are the stuff of dreams. Imagine.
The organization I work for is small, local, and engaged with rural communities at a very basic level.
We have 35 volunteers here right now and I've been overwhelmed by their desire to help these poor communities for anything between two and six months. Most of them are in their early 20s and build up great bonds with the children who need a little extra help in school. When I was their age, back in Ireland, I just wanted to drink myself into oblivion.
We work with 11 local ayudantes, dirt poor young adults from the local schools who work with us five days a week and have been given a chance to attend University. If it wasn't for La Esperanza, none of them would have made it to third level education.
They have generous sponsors in the US and Europe, and earn just US80 per month for working from Monday to Friday.
If La Esperanza didn't exist, they would never have got the opportunity to extend their education. And they are improving their 'life skills', learning English, organising the office or computer or English classes, or guiding foreigners on tours, every day.
Whenever I lose hope, I think of what this organization means to them, and I think of what great role models the ayudantes are for the children in the schools.
Given the opportunity, these young people themselves would make brilliant business leaders, office managers, bankers, or administrators, if given the kind of chances they would get in the developed world.
Living here has been a sheer joy and I could easily see myself staying for six months more, if I didn't have to go back to the 'reality' of life in Ireland.
Strange, isn't it? I was paralyzed by fear about what lay ahead of me in Nicaragua during my travels in Spain, Panama, and Costa Rica.
People told me I'd be robbed, held up at gun-point, that it was unsafe to go out at night. I even had panic attacks in a hotel in La Coruna and, on my last night in Galway, even considered cancelling this part of the trip.
Instead, the part of the year I feared most has turned out to be the most rewarding of all. I've made brilliant friends, done hugely rewarding work, and love life every single day.
The man who was so fearful of life in Central America now wonders whether he really wants to go home at all!
And that, I guess, has been the main lesson learned during my wonderful 'gap year' of 2010. Once you confront your fears, there is little or nothing to fear after all.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What does revolution mean to you?

Living in a country in which the scars, glories, and hopes of a revolution are so fresh or raw has got me to thinking of what the hell does ´revolution´ mean to an Irish person in 2010.
Here in Nicaragua, taxi drivers or people you meet in the pub are keen to talk politics. They are divided, they are passionate, they fight on the streets when the elections come around, but they don´t just sit around moaning in the pubs like people do back home.
The current President, Daniel Ortega, was one of the revolutionary heroes. Anyone over a certain age can remember vividly the struggle against the right wing dictator Somoza in the 1970s or the fight against the US-backed ´Contras´, who had no mandate from the people, in the 1980s.
All Brian Cowen is currently famous for is his love of a pint, a cigarette, and the destruction of an economy.
Ortega is by no means an angel, but I´ve become tired of all the Americans I´ve met here who condemn him for all this nation´s ills.
When he started, he fought against a Fascist Dictator because he believed in change and giving the people a chance. Can the same be said for your average FF County Councillor or US Republican?
It was the good old US of A, after all, which responded to a rebellion of the people by sending marines into Nicaragua as far back as 1912. It was the USA who spent the next two decades installing presidents it favoured and ousting those it didn´t like, namely those who wanted to give some of the country´s wealth back to the people.
It was the US that signed a treaty to build a canal through Nicaragua, to link the two oceans, even though they never had a notion of building a canal here. Already, they had their eyes fixed on Panama, a country they invaded as recently as two decades ago.
Yes, they messed around with a little country in their own back yard so that nobody else could get the rights to a canal project which would have made a huge difference to one of the world´s poorest nations.
It was the USA which backed the awful Somoza regime for decades and then supported the Contras after the Somozas had been overthrown in a popular rebellion. And it was the USA who imposed a cruel embargo on the Sandinistas in the 1980s, ensuring that Ortega lost power because the economy was wrecked by outside forces in the years after the war.
As a ´lefty´teenager in Galway in the 1980s, I wanted to come to Nicaragua and join the fight against the world´s biggest imperial power. Over two decades later I finally got here and, while I´ve been disheartened by the poverty and lack of hope, I have developed a huge admiration for the revolutionary spirit of the people.
So what makes me think about Ireland so far from home?
Well, as a white, European former colony, people in countries such as Nicaragua and Palestine look to us for inspiration and hope for a better future.
Little do they know that we replaced the Brits, who ruled our isle with an iron fist for 800 years, with corrupt b--tards of our own.
Even going back to 1916 and our own rebellion, the nice middle class people of Dublin hurled abuse at Padraic Pearse and his cronies when they dared to attack our British rulers. It was only when the Brits executed our revolutionary leaders in cold blood that Sinn Fein gained massive support throughout the land.
After our civil war, we got two right wing parties who were no better than Maggie Thatcher and the Tories, the only difference was that the FFers and FGers spoke with Irish accents and didn´t oppress the Catholic majority.
But, apart from which side they were on back in the 1920s, can anyone tell the difference between the two parties?
Instead of visionaries and revolutionaries, we have people like Frank Fahey TD, who loved to collude with the property developers and bankers during the so-called ´boom´ years. A man who, somehow, manages to own 20-plus properties.
A man who told the young people of Galway in January 2009 that there was ¨never a better time¨ to buy their first home. I sincerely hope that nobody was listening to Frank, because prices have tumbled ever since then.
Yes, Ireland from far away looks just like George Orwell´s Animal Farm. It took us 800 years to overthrow our British masters, but we just replaced them with pigs of our own.
And instead of offering hope to the people of Palestine, that cruel oppressors and invaders can be overthrown; or to countries like Nicaragua, that former colonies can eventually develop their economies and bloom; we became a greedy, self-centred nation, obsessed by property, cars, and material things.
Instead of fighting in the UN for the rights of poorer former colonies, the Irish became the ´cute hoors´of Europe with tax incentives to attract the big American multinationals into the country and tax breaks for our own developers.
Ireland, after all of its troubles, should be a beacon of light for less fortunate lands, but in our rush for wealth over the past decade and a half our nation of mass emigration even became racist against Eastern Europeans and Africans.
The people who once stood on the Kilburn High Road, looking for any work they could get, instead wanted ´pads´in Marbella, SUVs in Salthill, and cappucinos in overpriced cafes, as they discussed how immigration had blighted the land.
In six years time, we will be commemorating 100 years of our own revolution, but we´ve forgotten what people like Robert Emmett, Daniel O´Connell, and our so-called ´terrorist´grandfathers struggled for down through the centuries.
Here in Nicaragua, at least they know who the ´terrorists´are, that they can just as easily wear the uniforms of the State as join clandestine organisations in the back rooms of Derry or Tyrone.
For me, Ortega is far less of a terrorist than Ariel Sharon, Ronnie Regan, or George W. Bush were, with their vast military strength, wealth, and power. And Martin McGuinness had a justified 'war' after what the Brits, the authorities, did in Derry on Bloody Sunday when they murdered 14 innocent people.
Perhaps it´s time for another revolution back home!