July 19, 2009

Flags fly as Daniel Ortega speaks, but the crowd was calm and composed.

Flags fly as Daniel Ortega speaks, but the crowd was calm and composed.

The 30th Anniversary of the Sandanista Revolution in Nicaragua.  The streets in Managua were packed with people wearing red and black and bright pink.  Coming over the hill by lake Tiscapa and down past the CEPRODEL you could see the white Concha Acustica adorned on either side with long blue and white streamers, the Plaza del Fe filled with people, and in the background the hazy lake Xolotlan.

“Be very careful if you go to Managua for the celebration, take care of yourself,” I must have heard a hundred times in Leon the week before.  Nicaragua is filled with grandmothers, I swear.  It was an absolute blast to see the plaza and the Malecon, which I only knew as deserted drab spaces, filled with life and music.  The mood was upbeat and whole families were out on the street.

Simon, Rachel and I

Simon, Rachel and I

We arrived the night before, and walked around looking at T-shirts of Che Guevara and Augustino Sandino, and stopped at the plaza where the ruins of the Cathedral that was destroyed in the earthquake of 1972 were lit up with Christmas lights.  I was with Nicholas, Rachel, and Simon, three English friends from Leon.  We met up with Pedro, an old friend of Nicholas’, and his whole family who had come from Matagalpa.  Pedro turned out to be a fantastic tour guide, and told us all the heroic revolutionary stories of Carlos Fonseca, Julio Buitrago, and others.

Even the Gigantonas made it to the plaza

Even the Gigantonas made it to the plaza

We partied to live street music until late, and slept in the next morning.  By the time we made it back to the Plaza del Fe on Sunday, Daniel Ortega was already speaking.  He spoke for a long time, talking about the coup in Honduras, US policy in Latin and South America, and most controversially defended the right for Latin American countries to re-elect Presidents.  He alternately referenced Yankees, Americans, the US, and Barack Obama, names which apparently he does not use interchangeably, although the nuances of each escaped me.  The crowd stood patiently, sweating in heavy air under the hot sun, and not reacting very noticeably to any particular points he was making.   As soon as he ended his speech, however, the music and fireworks exploded along with the crowd.  Everyone danced and sang, and started making their way out of the plaza to continue partying in their houses.  We walked back to a house that Belkis’s mom, a friend of Nicholas’, recently received as part of a government housing project in the center of Managua.  The whole family was working together, taking advantage of the crowds by selling beer and food.

If you ever find yourself in Managua on the anniversary of the Revolution, find the San Antonio neighborhood to party in afterward.  The Joventud Sandanista, or Sandanista Youth group, runs a stage in a small basketball court, where all day there were dance performances, music groups, and puppet shows. The part at night was rocking, but also small enough to feel intimate, like a proper block party.  In fact, the whole day felt that way – big, but manageable.  Crowded, but I kept running into folks I knew from Leon.  It’s a small country, but a big community.

Nicholas, Belkis, Rachel and I at San Antonio in the evening.

Nicholas, Belkis, Rachel and I at San Antonio in the evening.