“…las flores sin olor, las frutas sin sabor, y las mujeres sin pudor…”

According to my grandma the quote of the title are words from Ruben Dario describing the United States (not sure if they are or not because I couldn’t find the direct quote online but it does not mean that her knowledge is less valid hehe). Ruben Dario was a Nicaraguense poet who is said to have led the Spanish-American literary movement of modernismo. After only being here about a week I can see where he’s coming from. I’ve never had fruit so simultaneously sweet and strange.

Weekend in Masachapa and “The politics of photographic aesthetics…”

Shortly after arriving I spent the weekend in Masachapa, a beach town about an hour away from the city. We left Friday night and throughout the bumpy and poorly lit ride to the beach my family told me about a finca we passed by on the road that was haunted. Each encounter of those who had gone in to try and live there after the owner disappeared was scarier than the previous one. I had goosebumps as they eerily told me a story about the brother who took over the finca. Supposedly once the original owner disappeared the brother was going to kill a cow one day to eat. Just as he was about to butcher it the cow spoke and said “hermano soy yo, no me mates” (brother it’s me don’t kill me). I was spooked once we got to our destination. I struggled to fall asleep in the cold air conditioned room but when I woke up I saw all of the beauty that was hidden in the darkness the night before.

The sun shone perfectly on the coconut trees and reflected the waves of the beach in the distance. As I drank my cafe con leche for breakfast I listened to the local town gossip that my grandma was catching up on. After breakfast and some swimming in the pool we went into the town to buy some fish. Marisqueria Jasmina was run by none other than Jasmina a woman who proudly said she had lifted herself into her position from her own merit after struggling through poverty when she became pregnant with her first child at 13 years old. She shared her narrative with no reservations and prompted me to take pictures. I learned the struggles of her oldest daughter as she talked openly about them with my grandma. Taking pictures I thought about my position behind the lens and although I asked the individuals who were working if I could take pictures of them I felt invasive and exploitative after each photograph. I worried about objectifying and generalizing the poor. All the while my family told me not to be shy “Toma foto! Toma foto para que vea la gente como se trabaja aca!” (take pictures so that they see how hard people work here). In opposition to Jasmina whose life story I knew the boys who worked gutting fish did not even share their names. I watched as they worked and wondered their narratives. In retrospect asking the questions that were left unanswered would have worked in demystifying their experience and given them voices of their own; somewhat leveling the hierarchy that exists between the photographer and the subject being photographed. The weekend taught me to take pictures that not only prompt the viewer to question what’s beyond the borders of the image but also to see the individual in the photograph as a dynamic participant in the production of what the image implies. Image

Somoza Forever?

Blogging is difficult when you’ve been in a country for less than 72 hours and you’ve already done more than in the 39 days you were home away from Berkeley… 

Getting here was exhausting–a delayed plane ride and a tight connecting flight left me in a flurry rushing from one place to another. I was the last one to board the plane from Houston to Managua. As I made my way all the way to the back of the plane I sat in the middle seat next to Enrique; a cuban man traveling for the first time to Managua. On the ride over he shared with me his story about escaping Cuba on boat to Honduras and then crossing into Mexico where he received a passport. It was his first time using it and his first time traveling out of the United States since he had arrived there. What caught my attention most was how trusting he was: when arriving to Nicaragua he asked me to fill out his immigration papers. Handing over to me his passport with all of his personal information with no worry. Honestly I was taken aback; I thought he was joking initially when he asked but when I saw that he stared confusingly at the paperwork as I filled out mine I offered to help and he handed everything over to me. 

In the plane ride I also observed a large family who surrounded the seats around me. I heard as the little girl constantly asked questions about “Ma-na-guava”, which was how she constantly mispronounced Managua, one of which was, “Are there cookies in Nicaragua?”. I listened eagerly to the answers that were provided to her thinking to myself that my first grade teacher Ms. Gallardo was right when she prompted us to not be shy and ask our questions because someone might have the same one. This same family inspired the title of this post “Somoza Forever?”. Once we arrived and the little girl knew that in Nicaragua there were “really big cookies called rosquillas” and that if she didn’t stop asking questions her dad would “Ma-na-guava” her I heard the grandpa of the family talking politics. The grandpa spoke to his son about how Nicaragua was on its way to becoming a capitalist nation again. He told him how soon he would see how all the Sandinistas would be out of there. He ended his shpeel with the phrase that has stuck with me so far: “Somoza Forever”. (Brief history side note: the Somoza regime was a dictatorship that lasted about 5o years with a supposed liberal economy. It was overturn by the communist Sandinista Revolution. As far as I know a popular saying of the late 70s when the Sandinistas had recently come to power was “la misma mierda solo las moscas son diferentes” which translates to the “same shit only the flies are different”. So do the people of Nicaragua need more Somozistas or Sandinistas in power? Frankly, it’s an issue too complex to be put in black and white, either or, as most things are. The exact reason for the question mark in the title.) That moment did however allow me to come to the realization of the highly political nature of my trip thus far. In my two interactions it was necessary for me to have known a history of colonialism, revolution, and racism to appreciate the value in the narratives. 

I wait anxiously to start my work with Centro de Mujeres Ixchen tomorrow and keep learning.