Come see me at the Fringe!

It’s official. I am appearing at 16.15, 6 – 16 August at Opium Bar on the Cowgate.

Excited to share the stories of people and place from three countries I have lived in and loved.

You can see a link to some of the show here, published by the Glasgow Review of Books.

Look forward to seeing you there.

small version final poster

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The Ex-Revolutionary: The Story Behind My Poem in Magma Issue 60

P1010273When I told my friend Cesar in Nicaragua that I had published a poem inspired by our old project driver, Don Silvio, Cesar laughed and said

‘Todo su vida es una novella.

(His whole life is a novel).’

When I asked Cesar where he was now, he said he worked in a potato factory and that he would tell him about the poem when he next saw him.

If you have read the poem in the latest edition of Magma on the theme of Freedom, the character of Don Silvio is a little changed from project driver, to President’s driver and I invented his family situation, because he never talked about that. Over my two years working in that project in Nicaragua I rode so many miles with Don Silvio, down to Managua from the mountains of Esteli, up to the mountains of Esteli from Managua, around Managua’s long motorways and urban sprawl, across to Matagalpa, into Jinotega through the hills, up to Sebaco, to Ocotal, up and down and over and over Nicaragua’s one main road and various bumpy and less bumpy side roads.

Stopping sometimes for rosquilla or tortilla, or on one occasion to buy a live iguana on the side of the road, but mostly just driving that one line of paved caraterra, up and down, the hills dropping to rice fields, the road becoming flatter, the smell of the chicken factory about half an hour from Managua, the coloured houses dotted along the way, the blue statutes of the Virgin Mary, the bright pink posters of the President, the valleys and the untamed mountains. Up and down, there and back, again and again and again.

In each new town,

you have a different mujer,

exotic or plain, gorda or guapa.

She offers you her local ways. Yes.

Don Silvio liked ranchero music, which is often played as we drove. He also liked to talk and loved to eat. Mostly he would chew on some gum or some other snack as we drove. As he did, he would tell me about the advantages of having a different woman in each town you visited, so ‘if one woman does not attend to you well, then you just leave and move onto the next one.’ He would also tell me what to do in different situations, which was not much advice, as a command and if it was not followed, he sulked and became grumpy or difficult.

He was a tall man, a big man, with an enormous belly and commanding presence. In the revolution, he formed part of the Sandinista rebel army which freed the country from the Dictator Somoza in 1979. Sometimes he talked about that, holding a fake gun to his arm, firing. Yes, he and many others, eventually brought down a Dictator. He remembered it all with delight and pride. He continued that fight, which has sadly become more about partisan politics, by arguing violently with anyone who wasn’t a Sandinista, often storming heavily out of the room when they disagreed with him. However, when he saw the current President Ortega, (from the Sandinista party who was also part of that historic revolutionary movement) on television, or on a poster, he would salute, puff out his chest and put on a serious expression as he proclaimed ‘My Commandante!’

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If you were asked: what way would you have it?
You would laugh, like it is a game

¿Quién sabe, verdad?

you would say.

Somehow, for me, his presence embodied exactly Nicaragua’s past and present; the country’s nostalgia for what was, their revolution and reality of what is: a place which has seen peace since 1990, but where life for most people remains a sustained poverty, hard work and dreams. It was with all that he drove us up and down those roads. It was like that he became a poem.

Quotes are from the poem ‘The Ex-Revolutionary’. You can read the whole poem and other great poetry in Magma, Issue 60.

Waves: Travelling to Ometepe, Nicaragua

 

At SeaFrancisco doesn’t drink. He listens. Later when we are alone he speaks out into the darkness.

 

 

“In this country, few are rich, most of us are poor and the rich don’t give the chances to those who need chances. It is like a tree with a hand over it, not giving it light.”

 

 

We look at Nicaragua on the globe in the lobby of the hotel, shining a small flashlight on the continents. We point to countries with the beam.

 

 

“There is Scotland,” I say as I point the tiny country out to him. “Al lado del Inglaterra.”  Then we spin the globe.

 

 

“Y Nicaragua esta aquí.” He lays his finger over the country. We spin the globe some more. “Allí esta Estados Unidos, América, Francia, Australia.” For each country, we spin, point, examine, explore.

 

 

As the globe turns I think of home in Europe, a continent on the brink of recession, grasping onto its prosperity. I think of the USA bailing out banks and the UK handing out rescue packages to financial institutions. I think of how Europe must look to Francisco on this globe, a distant outline, a place of opportunity. I think of our advantages, of our running hot water and our grand universities and I think of all that we have broken: our crumbling communities and the poverty we hide in our own nations. I think of Nicaraguans waiting to discover who will control their municipals for the next four years. I think of stock markets where the FTSE drops, when the Dow Jones falls with no hand to catch them. I think of the way Francisco’s hand steadily holds the globe as he turns it around and around.

 

 

“Our governments want power, not better things for their people. We used to be the strongest country in Central America! Now we are the first in poverty, in illiteracy and corruption.” He pauses and stops spinning the globe. “I would like to learn English. Like most Nicaraguans, Francisco speaks only Spanish.  English could mean a better job, other opportunities. He considers it a while. “Sí, quiero aprender inglés,” he confirms.

 

 

From the balcony beside our room, I watch Francisco beside the hotel listening to the sound of the world moving in the dark. I think of all the ideas he shares with us and of the municipal elections which invite Nicaraguans to vote, without seeming to listen to what they express.

 

The full essay is published in Kweli Journal. 

 

Mine!

Mine. It is mine. I have chosen to portray this week’s photo challenge theme as a celebration, as a proud declaration. I did this. This is mine! This is my business, this is my art, this is my home, this is my family.

The images are from rural Nicaragua where I worked for two years with communities in the Northern areas. They show people proudly displaying something they have created, something they built for themselves or their families.

A woman cooks breakfast for her family in the Canon de Somoto, Nicaragua. She proudly serves up the traditional corn tortillas and beans at the table.

A man displays his art work in Tisey in Nicaragua. The image is a drawing of the cathedral in Esteli. He proudly shows tourists around his mountain home and characters carved out of stone.  A whole world that he created with his own hands. (See The Mountain Sculptor of Tisey).

A woman displays her art. A doll’s house built from local materials in Penas Blancas, deep in the Northern mountains of Nicaragua.

A woman in the town of Matagalpa proudly cooks up corn at the Corn Festival. She is a small business owner and proud to say that this business is her own.

Solitary

These stories and photos from around the world, discuss and explore the theme of solitary.

Photo Story 1

It took about six hours to reach this point, the deserts of Western Egypt. This man stands alone, miles from everywhere and apart from the group, in solitude. But he is still connected. He looks at his phone, he reads a message. With new technology we become caught in a new web of solitary communication, a new way to be alone, but connected. Solitary but very much in company.

Photo Story 2

This shot is in Siwa, on the Egyptian border with Libya. It is a tourist place and it is crowded with people waiting to see the sunset. They order drinks, take pictures, chatter. This man has stepped away from the crowd, he is surrounded by other people, but somehow very much alone. He has created a solitary space in which to think, escape or perhaps communicate with an idea or something that the rest of us cannot see. He reaches to the horizon, Finds his connection there.

Photo Story 3

The patterns in which people congregate. A group forms. People join together, becomes something bigger, but one man walks behind. He holds himself apart, is left a little out of the group. The others are laughing and he looks down, thinking of something else. The others welcome him, but he is already a little apart.

Photo Story 4

In Nicaragua in a the Northern Mountains, in an area called Miraflor. People here have lives which are both solitary and communal by nature. They live in small communities, each house separated by the land they own, quite apart from their neighbours. They live in the solitude of the mountains, dirt tracks, cows for company, long walks to their fields.  Yet, families are large and many people squeeze into each house. Mothers, fathers, grandmothers, children and their children, squashed together in their homes, pulled together by community life, meetings, solidarity.  They struggle to keep secrets from neighbours while they rely on them for support.  This little girl represents that story. Sitting on a bench by the road, she watches other people pass by, two boys are talking and some cocks start to fight. She sits apart from the events, watching, connected to them, but not quite part of them.

Photo Story 5

 

One final picture. Back to Egypt where a dancer is performing. On stage the band plays, on the other side the audience watch. He spins in his robes between them, around and around and around. Caught in his long scarfs and his wide dresses, he turns. He is surrounded by people, but in his dance he is solitary. All eyes are on him as he performs, but there is no connection. Alone on stage he seems so distant, with his colours and his dance, he is in another place, and everyone else can only watch.

One thing which I notice, seeing these photos and these people together, in different places, in different countries, is that they all know what it means to be solitary. They are united even in their solitude. It is an inherently human emotion and even alone, we are connected to people we do not know, to a world which goes beyond us, which is bigger than us.

Story 4: The Rose of Esteli.

She had a way of dragging the broom around the house so that the dust didn’t leave the floor. When she washed the clothes she hung them to dry, dripping wet so that waterfalls of soapsuds fell to the ground. Before she washed the clothes she would check the pockets and if she found one cordoba, she would put it aside, later saying,

“I found one cordoba in your pocket”. To remind us, she is honest. When I cook her dinner, she waits until I say,

“Eat!” to pick up her fork.  She is 43 and her grandmother’s teachings have not left her.

“Never touch anything that isn’t yours.”

She stops at 10am to pray at the local church. Shuffles two blocks, shuffles back, smiling, to rub the clothes onto the concrete wash-stone under the sun.

Later in the morning she fills buckets till they are heavy with water and drags them to the garden, where she does the real work. Singing to the basil, the rose and the small avocado bush. So that they reach out their roots, to bloom, then dance. The soil is not good, but she knows that a seed planted anywhere can flower.

She brings the empty buckets back to the house, they clang like church bells all the way along the path.

“That rose bush is looking good,” she says, smiling upwards.

 

Photo: LuckyDipLife

 

Story Number One: The Mountain Sculptor of Tisey

In the Northern mountains of Nicaragua, just before the town of Esteli there is a small area of pine forest called Tisey. In that park there is a farmer who has devoted his life to art. His master piece is not a canvas. Rather, he has made his home his canvas, his land his canvas and he has drawn onto this canvas.

Behind his house he has worked with a small knife to carve creatures, stories and people into the rocks of the mountains. There is a  an alligator rock sitting in the ground. There is a large elephant coming out of a cliff. In the countryside of Nicaragua he has drawn the skyscrapers of Manhattan; Atlas holding up the world; Jesus dying on a cross.

“There is another elephant” he smiles, showing visitors around with enthusiasm. He doesn’t mention that these are the only two elephants in Nicaragua.

If you didn’t know about it, you would never find this place. Tucked away, far from the road. Perhaps that is the case, so often it is easy to walk past the extra-ordinary, to dismiss it, to not notice. Here, if you walk behind this small one room house, through the trees, you discover another world.  A world of fantasy, of creativity and of friends. A whole creative life whittled into rocks. The only elephants in Nicaragua, and they are smiling.