On April 19th 2018, what began as peaceful student protest in Managua, Nicaragua erupted into nationwide political oppression that has resulted in hundreds of deaths and political prisoners at the hands of the Nicaraguan government. As a JV living and working in the heart of Managua (2016-2018), I along with my four community mates experienced the first days of what is now an ongoing crisis. As Nicaragua approaches one year since the unrest commenced, I reflect on my experience.
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The night that everything began, we were worried about ice cream. Specifically, an ice cream cake. Our community mate was turning 25 during the hottest, sweatiest month in Managua. Could we assemble the cake before it turned to soup on our kitchen counter? And if we did, how would we hide it in the freezer? We had a small window of time to get the cake made and tucked away before we were meeting up with friend’s downtown for tacos.
One of those friends, a co-worker our age, had spent the week prior participating in peaceful student protests in response to a forest fire ravaging one of Nicaragua’s most precious nature reserves. We drank frozen lemonade and talked about plans for the weekend. I’m sure we discussed his involvement in a new wave of protest against the government’s announcement of social security reforms, cutting what was already an insufficient living wage even further, and slashing payments to the retired and elderly. Honestly, though, I only vaguely remember this conversation. I mostly remember laughing, strolling through the lights of downtown and ending the night by insisting our taxi driver take us through a drive-thru so we could buy him a soda.
It is the next day, April 19th, that things shift. Videos surface, taken on smartphones and disseminated through group chats normally meant for salsa class: students streaming through the gates of the Universidad Centro America, the local Jesuit university, screaming as they flee police firing real bullets. One student dead. Maybe two or three, some say. I am in the office when my boss arrives close to lunchtime, almost three hours late. She is fine, she says, but traffic is terrible. We are told to go home early. One of my co-workers decides they are going to join the people in the streets. This is when I call my community mates and say, maybe you should come home. And maybe don’t take the bus.
When I think about the week that followed--for months, I couldn't help but think of it-- I can remember so many odd details, like how much graffiti popped up overnight, walls, marquees, even billboards covered in “19 de abril”. We left Managua on April 26th, 2018 with no concept of when or if we would return, a moment that has come to mark the closure of not only that community, but a more than twenty year chapter in JVC history.
As a young white American woman, I am working to reconcile how I move forward in relationship with a community that continues to live daily the turmoil we so swiftly left behind. One thing I do know is that, as an FJV, I am part of a beautiful network of solidarity. Therefore, I will conclude this reflection with a call to stay informed: Hold a moment of silence during your week for the over 500 innocent Nicaraguans who have faced death and imprisonment. Consider donating to Seattle University’s emergency scholarship fund for students of the UCA, Managua’s Jesuit University.
And care for each other, as we continue in the active pursuit of “a more just and hopeful world."
Lizzie Williams was a Jesuit Volunteers in Managua from 2016-2018. She now lives in New Orleans, where she works with Catholic Charities Immigration and Refugee Services.