Nicaragua - Chichigalpa


Chronic Renal Failure victims


Endless pain and love




Saturday, 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 the world.


The dust rises up in small whirlwinds, like arid spirits.


—How long since we’ve seen the rain? God doesn’t seem to be listening! Are we praying too softly? —Paula wonders as she walks on.


—The devil himself will come and take this town if it doesn’t rain! —the people are saying.


In Chichigalpa, north of Managua, prayers are withering like the earth, like the kidneys of its ailing people.


Paula wears 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 houses.


While she 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. 


They walk 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:


—Rufino is 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.


Paula turns 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.


Paula sits 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:


—Why, dear God, why?


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.


Some arrive very ill, crippled by pain and anger. Carmen greets them like a beacon. This great, husky-voiced mother welcomes them:


—You’ll feel better in no time, old boy! Brother, don’t give up, the struggle is just beginning! 


In 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 their souls.


Paula listens 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.


While they wait, Paula moves to another spot, trying to get under the shade. Rufino appears and sits by her side…


—Look, my love, see how all these people are suffering — Paula says to him.


—You must be strong, my love —Rufino replies.


—I understand them.


Paula remembers when Rufino used to come home from the Ingenio.


—Darling —he would complain—, I’m burning up, I can’t stand the pain in my kidneys.


—My poor 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.


Nearly fainting, Rufino would lie down sweating streams; his blanked would turn yellow from the poison.


—My love, 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.


—It’ll pass, my love —he would say trying to cheer her up.


In the afternoon, some Union members visit Paula at home. She has small, shy eyes, which seem to be asking permission when they look at you.


—Sit down over here, we just watered so it’d be cool —she invites.


In good 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.


—Everyone tells me to go to my sister’s, in Managua, but I don’t want to leave Rufino alone —she protests.


When they 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

© Rel-UITA

February 26, 2007








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