Islamic terror ... Lanta style

Islamic terror ... Lanta style
My neighbour Hutyee Boat
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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.

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