I spent a few days this summer hanging out in Nicaragua. It was my second trip in a year and the country had really started to grow on me. From a tourism standpoint, it is years, if not decades behind Costa Rica, its neighbor to the south. From a crime standpoint, it is one of the safest in the western hemisphere. It’s true that Nicaragua is part of the ‘cocaine corridor’, but by not being a border country to either Mexico or Colombia, it avoids the violent clashes at its borders. Outside of Managua, the rest remains country, and it is beautiful. Miles of jungle stretch from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Stratovolcanoes dot the landscape. Cattle graze in fields. Enormous lakes glisten in the sunlight.The touches of Spanish conquest can been seen splashed in just about any town, and the people who live in them are usually pleasant. They are a rugged people, and they are a poor people.
Unfortunately, Nicaragua is only behind Haiti as the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
Peeling away the thin veneer in every town quickly reveals this fact, and there is no age that is immune to this reality. It took less than an hour in Granada to meet orphans living on its streets.
Just off the historic central plaza, I came accross two boys resting in the shade of a building. Less than a hundred feet away, a police officer trained his gaze on me, likely not sure why I had taken an interest in the two. I took a few photos of the sleeping boy, but on the fourth I found my camera’s screen filled with a red blur. I looked up to see the other boy had taken an interest in me. Before I could manage a photo, he came quickly at me with an extended hand, but to offer a handshake instead of taking anything I may have had.
No home to call home.
He sat nearby on a doorstep, and pointed to the other boy. ‘Mi hermano’, he said, and I took the boy in the red shirt to be the younger of the two, but not by much. His perch by the door and the light from behind me painted a great visual, and I asked him for his photo as well. In the past, I have offered to pay someone for their photo, and this has been well received. It was no different now as he threw out an emphatic “Si!” and offered up his broad smile. I managed a decent photo:
Though I could only manage a few words, I gathered from him that he had lived on the streets for a little less than a year. He and his brother got by on an occasional errand here and the kindness of strangers there. I asked him if he was hungry and I was surprised when he said no. I thanked him for the photos and wished him well.
I turned to make my way and caught the eyes of the police officer. This time he returned my gaze with a smile and an approving nod. I walked east outside of the square, with a heavy heart and a sense of helplessness.
I was only in Nicaragua for a few hours, and I was already having a hard time…