mid-morning. Paula Merlo leaves her house, which is shaded
by thick, leafy trees. She knows that only a few meters
ahead, as she reaches the corner, she’ll have to quicken her
step if she wants to stave off the dry embrace of the dust
cloud and escape from the relentless sun of Chichigalpa, the
sun of Nicaragua, a sun much stronger than any other sun in
rises up in small whirlwinds, like arid spirits.
since we’ve seen the rain? God doesn’t seem to be listening!
Are we praying too softly? —Paula wonders as she walks on.
himself will come and take this town if it doesn’t rain!
—the people are saying.
Chichigalpa, north of Managua, prayers are withering like
the earth, like the kidneys of its ailing people.
black. She trudges ahead, hunched over, covering her mouth
with a red handkerchief. With her free hand, she gestures
quickly, almost imperceptibly, returning the greetings of
her neighbors, who sit on the porches of their modest
hurries down those narrow streets, her memory shoots back
other images at her: she sees herself walking down those
very streets, with her husband, Rufino Benito Somarriba, the
love of her life.
—It was last
night, and it seems so long ago —she whispers.
hand in hand down that narrow street, the passersby and
neighbors that were just greeting her, vanished. Paula feels
again the scented breeze that used to stir up her hair and
her skirt while Rufino entertained her with his unhurried
and caring words.
When they ask
her about her love she says:
still the same man I fell in love with. Always affectionate,
loving, concerned for his family. Before we started going
out, he would take the train back from the “San Antonio”
sugar cane fields, he’d get off at the station in La
Candelaria -my neighborhood-, he’d take a bath and put on
the only good clothes he had, and then he’d come find me.
My mother and I ran a small eatery, and that’s where you’d
find Rufino every afternoon. He hardly ever missed an
afternoon. I remember that, sometimes, he’d keep on eating
just to stay longer and talk to me. He was our best costumer
—she laughs—. So that’s how our love was born, between tacos
and hamburgers —Paula reminisces—. We went out together for
seven months and we got married on June 3, 1982; in 2004 we
had a Church wedding.
the corner and walks into Carmen Ríos’ house, where she goes
every Saturday. That’s where the Nicaraguan Association of
People Affected by Chronic Renal Failure (ANAIRC) meets. The
members are for the most part widows of Ingenio San Antonio
workers. This disease has already claimed 1,4000 fatal
victims since December 2005.
down and wipes the perspiration from her forehead. The woman
sitting next to her, whose husband passed away a few days
ago, inconsolably asks herself, already knowing the answer:
The women at
Carmen’s house all know the pain the others are feeling
because they’ve suffered it too. Carmen’s house is a place
they come to weep for their dead: four a day in the last
fourteen months. There, their sorrow finds containment and
their outrage is fueled, because their outrage is the engine
that drives their actions against the powerful that flaunt
their indifference and utter disdain for the poor.
Carmen’s is a
meeting place for those who just by being born in
Chichigalpa, were born losing, being less. But it is also in
this courtyard where the struggle is mapped out.
very ill, crippled by pain and anger. Carmen greets them
like a beacon. This great, husky-voiced mother welcomes
better in no time, old boy! Brother, don’t give up, the
struggle is just beginning!
Nicaragua’s sugar region, home of the “Flor de Caña”,
one of the most famous rums in the world, the people are
suffering, overcome by a bitter hangover that suffocates
attentively to Carmen Ríos report on the activities
conducted by the Association last week in Managua. Carmen
also announces that around lunchtime some trade unionists
from outside Nicaragua will be arriving.
wait, Paula moves to another spot, trying to get under the
shade. Rufino appears and sits by her side…
love, see how all these people are suffering — Paula says to
—You must be
strong, my love —Rufino replies.
remembers when Rufino used to come home from the Ingenio.
would complain—, I’m burning up, I can’t stand the pain in
darling —she comforts him now, looking into his eyes as the
smell of poison he used to give off in the sugar cane fields
reaches her nostrils again.
fainting, Rufino would lie down sweating streams; his
blanked would turn yellow from the poison.
please take care of yourself, you’re full of poison. And
your creatinine is sky high. That’s why we lost four babies,
I’m sure… —Paula would declare sentencing.
my love —he would say trying to cheer her up.
afternoon, some Union members visit Paula at home. She has
small, shy eyes, which seem to be asking permission when
they look at you.
over here, we just watered so it’d be cool —she invites.
spirits, Paula brings out pictures of her Church wedding,
but now and then she gets very quiet, and goes off to that
place where anguish overtakes her.
tells me to go to my sister’s, in Managua, but I don’t want
to leave Rufino alone —she protests.
leave, she turns off the lights and lies down. She closes
her eyes and prays that she’ll fall asleep quickly, so she
can be with Rufino. Every night he comes to her in her
dreams, they walk slowly together to the Church, and when
they get there Rufino asks her to go back.
From Chichigalpa, Gerardo Iglesias
February 26, 2007