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Fall 2006













The Nicaragua Way (Novel Excerpt)
Chapter Two: El Chipote
Nina Serrano

In this chapter, Lorna's friend, and co-worker, Eddie has just revealed that he is part of the Sandinista movement to create a revolution in Nicaragua -with local headquarters in the San Francisco's Barrio. Its office is called "El Chipote," named after Sandino's military headquarters in the Segovia Mountains, fifty years earlier. The scene is set in San Francisco in 1975. Lorna is driving Eddie to "el Chipote" to meet his comrades.

Same day

Eddie jumped into the passenger seat of Lorna's red Datsun. She was used to seeing him there from the years they rode together to the Community Arts office and barrio organizing meetings.

The setting sun painted the sky that filled the intersection. "I love northern California in September," Lorna told him. "I missed it so much when I was away with Rini. But, now that I'm here without her, I miss Rini. Separations are hard for me. Our conversation today brings back memories of my separation from Grandfather when I was only eight."

"Lorna, you won't have a minute to be lonely and helping us will bring you full circle back to your roots." Eddie went on with newly found enthusiasm. "I've been telling the compas about you and all your skills. They think you could help us."

"Me lonely? Anyway, I hate war and weapons."

"We all do. But wars of liberation are forced on us. Right now, some Americans are forming a group in Washington DC, pushing for a Congressional hearing in June, on human rights in Central America. They're hoping it can stop the military aid to the Somoza dictatorship. Nicaraguans would rise up against him in a minute, without his army to stop them."

I wonder, thought Lorna, where this is all leading? Isn't that what Rini says, that Eddie's always leading me? She's against him because she says he's a womanizer. This younger generation of women like Rini won't give a man an inch. Lorna smiled to herself at the idea.

Eddie continued speaking intensely, not noticing her smile. "It's the same struggle today as in your grandfather's time, in the twenties. Our revolution can't succeed while the dictator's army, the Guardia, is funded and trained on US tax dollars. There needs to be a movement of Americans to pressure Congress to stop the military aid. They need someone like you to help organize the campaign in San Francisco, an American citizen who understands."

"Eddie," Lorna raised her eyebrow skeptically, "Someone like me?"

"Lorna, you're just right for it. Woman, as always, you underestimate your abilities. Besides, with Rini away, you'll have more time. You can skip the empty nest blues and fill your life with the Nicaraguan cause."

"Wait a second, Eddie. My country is the United States. Nicaragua is my ancestry; a legacy from the past. So how can I help?"

"The DC group is called Non Intervention in Nicaragua, NIN is the acronym. In the 1920's and `30's, a group by that name formed. Lots of prominent American intellectuals, writers, and church people protested the U. S. Marine invasion of Nicaragua."

"I didn't know that."

"I didn't either, till recently. Sinclair Lewis, the California writer and politico led it and the poet, Edna Vincent Millay too. Those Washington people want other NIN chapters to form around the country, especially in California. They think that new groups can help to promote the Congressional Hearing and bring an end to military aid."

"Is that how I come in?"

"It's why Casandro asked me to bring you to El Chipote ."

Lorna remained quiet waiting for the light to change. She wondered, is this something Grandfather would have wanted me to do? Is this something I can do? Do I want to do it? Or am I just following Eddie's lead again?

Eddie broke the silence. "I don't think Casandro will be there tonight. He's the only English speaking person in the group, except the professor. The rest of the compas come from the urban proletariat."

"Eddie, you've never used words like that before."

"I never took weekly political education classes before, either. The revolution's changing me. I've begun reading," Eddie replied, settling back into the passenger seat. "While you've been gone, I've read some of the Latin American authors educated people talk about, like Cesar Vallejo, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Alejo Carpentier, Carlos Fuentes, and more. I'm reading Marx and Lenin, well. a chapter here or there. I'm reading the Nicaraguan poets, like Ruben Dario, our poet laureate. I just finished a silkscreen poster using Dario's magnificent head. It's uncanny how he predicted the U. S. role in trying to rob us of our sovereignty."

"I'm impressed," Lorna said negotiating a left turn.

"I always felt bad about not going to college. If my mother had stayed in Nicaragua, I might not even have gone to high school. We were too poor. But, here, being a high school graduate isn't enough. I want my kids to study , to do well at school, so they can go to college like Rini."

"You've changed Eddie. You're more serious and more on fire," she said, as she slowed down to a full stop at the sign.

"I'm fighting my own battle. All these years I've been called a Chicano. I even called myself one. Now, I'm a Nicaraguan again. I'm speaking Spanish all the time and I embrace my Nicaraguan self. My brothers embrace me. I'm not an American hyphenated minority I'm part of my people in the exterior, in exile."

The lowering sun was in her eyes and she flipped down the shade before starting the car again. "It's a lot to take in."

"What brought us here was economic exile. My mother couldn't feed us kids. So, she loaded us on a bus to the land of opportunity, where the streets were paved with gold, only a long bus ride away."

"The great myth. Grandfather said that he had once believed America's streets were paved with gold too.

"Yes, my friend, I'm filling the big gaps in my soul. I've been away in Gringo-landia too long, forgetting the motherland. Now I am sucking at her breast." He looked over at Lorna and pointed at her cheek. "Hah, I made you blush, Lorna."

"Blush me no blushes, Eddie. I'm sorry I forgot to ask. How's your mother's doing? Is she on this revolutionary course too?"

"No. She's afraid it'll lead to trouble for our family still back in Nicaragua. She'd rather see me get ahead here, buy a house, the whole bit. The local Somoza supporters fill her head with the fear of Godless Communism. But she knows from her own experience that kids in Nicaragua die of malnutrition, while the dictator Somoza's family stuffs themselves. She's off on her own thing right now anyway. She's taken up something sort of like witchcraft."

"Witchcraft? Lorna shook her head. "How could so much change in just a year?"

"Yeah, you know, herbs, candles, rituals, healing and plants. All the Caribbean folks in the neighborhood have been influencing her. Mostly led by an Afro-Cuban, called, 'Chocolate.' He owns a botanica shop that sells religious things for casting spells and stuff."

"Is she really a witch, Eddie? That's hard to imagine."

"She's something like a spiritual counselor who has clients who come for healing ceremonies and advice."

"I always thought of your mother as a Catholic." Lorna changed lanes and a horn honked.

"In Cuba, a lot of the Catholic saints got thrown into the mix with the African Gods. The Spaniards forbade African religion and languages so Africans used the Catholic symbols as a cover. In Nicaragua, some of the saints absorbed the qualities of the Indian Gods and Goddess that the Spanish priests had suppressed. Synchronicity, they call it."

"Eddie, you're turning into an intellectual on me. I'm not sure how I feel about that."

"The revolution demands it," he said striking the dashboard with the palm of his hand. "This new knowledge is part of reclaiming my Nica identity. I'm just trying to explain how my Central American, Nicaraguan Mama became an Afro-Cuban witch. That's something that could only happen here in the Mission District."

The rhythmic sound of her turn signal punctuated Eddie's words, as they turned onto Army Street from Peralta heading towards Twenty Second and Valencia Streets.

"I'm not sure yet what's in her spirituality for me. She's only been sharing all this with me recently, and I've been so busy with other things. But I do notice an influence in my art"


"I try to put the soul in eyes and auras around hair," he said, letting his hand stroke the strands of her hair.

Lorna moved her head away. She'd almost forgotten his constant touching, and his disturbing habit of letting his touch linger seconds beyond his last word. I've seen him do it a thousand times, she thought. It's so habitual, he probably doesn't even notice he's doing it or my reaction.

"Eddie, knock off this touchy feely stuff." she said tossing head.

"Sorry Lorna, I forget Americans hate touching."

"It's not American, and you know it. We've been through this before."

"Let's not go through it again and ruin such a historic event."

Lorna nodded. So Eddie considers my first visit to El Chipote a historic event too, she thought as goose bumps popped out on her arm again.

"The sunset casts a soft glow. I'd almost forgotten how much I missed these endless, warm, September early evenings. Oh, how I've missed San Francisco."

"Pull into the first parking spot," Eddie directed. They found a space in front of a clean storefront on the littered street between the dirty windows of a little Chinese restaurant and a carpet remnant store.

"Welcome, Companera Lorna, to El Chipote ," he bowed his head dramatically.

A shiver of excitement ran down the back of her skull, as she looked in the window. "Eddie, look, by the newspaper; there's my book, 'Ancestors'! It's so cozy nestled in that display of books and magazine issues we published. Long live our publishing collective Unidos/Together!"' She placed her hand on his shoulder. "I am touched."

"Touch me no touches," he grumbled, but he was smiling. She could feel Grandfather smiling too.

On one window, above the books, hung a silkscreen in Eddie's unmistakable bold style, showing the head of Ruben Dario. Underneath in simple lettering in English and Spanish, it read, "Father of Latin American Literature."

"Before we go in, Lorna, I need to tell you something. Right after you left, we lost the small press grant. So the last issue with your article is the final issue."

Lorna nodded. "What else is there to do but accept what is, especially since I wasn't around to help. I'm glad we published as much as we did."

"As you'll see, I put our one left-over resource into El Chipote ."

They entered the storefront. Indian brass bells hanging on the inside of the knob tinkled and clattered as the door opened. A shining kitchen linoleum, living room couch, two desks, and a few neatly arranged folding chairs made up the sparse furnishings of the tidy room. The blue and white Nicaraguan flag and a huge map of Nicaragua hung on the wall.

Lorna glanced around but didn't see any "last resource" publishing paraphernalia. Two younger men emerged from a back room smiling and welcoming.

" Compas ," said Eddie in Spanish, "this is the Companera Lorna Almendros."

"We are most honored to meet you. I am Anibal, " said the taller man. " We've heard so many wonderful things about you."

"We've been waiting for your arrival," said the crooked toothed man introduced as Mundo.

Lorna cast Eddie an accusing look. He smiled back at her innocently. Another man entered from the back carrying a very small wrench. "This is Arnoldo. He's in charge of political education and editing our newspaper, the Gaceta Sandinista ," Eddie said.

Arnoldo reached for her hand. "I've heard a lot about you, Companera Lorna. I've actually been waiting for you to return. I knew we would be allies."

Lorna shook Arnoldo's outstretched hand. Though he is dressed like Eddie in an army camouflage jacket, his charming manners are like an embassy cultural attaché, she thought. There's something about him I like.

He slipped the wrench into the jacket pocket. "We read a translation of your fine article."

"Flattery will get you everywhere," she said smiling. Lorna felt good among these compas , "included", as if she belonged.

They remind me, she thought, of Grandfather and his friends with their strong male bond. I love their mannerisms and the Nicaraguan way they speak Spanish. Her eye fell on the map that covered a major part of the wall by the desk.

Arnoldo followed her gaze. He came nearer to her, pointing his finger to the slimmest part of a rather narrow green country. "This is why the Yanquis were after Nicaragua in the first place. You see here, how the Atlantic and Pacific are almost joined by these lakes?"

Arnoldo traced the expanses of blue indicating bodies of water on the map. "That was what your robber barons, the Rockerfellers, Carnegies, and Mellon's hoped. They thought they could get a canal built there for a quick and easy route from the eastern United States to the newly discovered California gold mines. They wanted gold like the Spaniards before them. It has always been the lust for gold that has drawn the foreigners."

Lorna wondered, why Grandfather came to the United States? What about the house that he'd returned to Nicaragua to see? I still have the deed the lawyer gave me. She thought. Here, at El Chipote , Grandfather's memories of his far away land, Nicaragua, feel so vivid, like his story of tropical rains that fell into puddles up to his knees. Did he say they were the ancient preserved footprints trying to flee the overflowing volcano? Did Grandfather really insist there were also giant's footsteps too?

I remember asking him, "Monsters? People from other planets? Dinosaurs?" Grandfather never got around to explaining about the footprints or if he did, I can't remember. I was so young, she thought, when he died and it's left me with a past full of mystery. Grandfather had said, "Only the past is dark." I wondered about that phrase as child in Chicago, trying to fall asleep, afraid of the dark. Wasn't the present dark? Was Grandfather right that only the past was dark? I usually fell asleep pondering these ideas.

Arnoldo pointed on the map to the Segovia Mountains. "This is where our movement is concentrated. We have a song about it," he said, singing in a rich baritone. " Cristo ya nacio en Palacquina."

Mundo, Eddie, and Anibal joined in the chorus with gusto, warming the room with their vibrant voices.

"You have such a nice voice," Lorna told Arnoldo.

He looked away, mumbling, "I sang a lot in prison to keep up the other Compas spirits down the hall."

Arnoldo resumed his diplomatic manner showing her the vast undeveloped and sparsely populated spaces of tropical rain forest and wilderness. "Over here on our Atlantic coast, a lot of people speak English."

Lorna looked at him more carefully and noticed a detail she'd missed, the scar over his left eye. He was probably the Sandinista that Eddie had mentioned had come from Nicaragua looking for Casandro to mobilize their group.

"I never heard of English speaking Nicaraguans" Lorna said, searching her memory for any mention of that from Grandfather, or Anacleta, or any of Grandfather's friends who came to visit during that year after his death. It had been a long painful year until the family dentist, Jack, and his wife Ella rescued her.

Anacleta was dear and kind, Lorna thought but too old to care for a young child. The Leveret's home in Hyde Park by the university provided a safe haven that I will be ever grateful for. It was living with them that made me an American girl and able to "fit in."

Arnoldo's eyes lit with love of his subject. "The North Atlantic coast of our eastern sea board, was exploited by the British," he explained, while tracing the coastline on the map. "The people there are a mix of English or Irish pirates, slaves escaped from Caribbean islands, and Rama, Sumo, and Misquito Indians. It's an small isolated zone cut off from the country's mainstream and very hard to reach. There's a boat once a week, the Bluefields Express, although it's sometimes dangerous in the rainy season."

Arnoldo continued passionately, "Our ferries are not like yours. Picture a very old small yacht. Now stuff it with people packages, babies, and chickens, perhaps a goat and huge baskets covered with cloths. In the rainy season, the storms have been known to wash a few passengers overboard. But for people from there, it's worth the risk to go home."

Arnoldo's face saddened and he looked directly now in to Lorna's eyes, his voice faltering, "I'd give anything to go home. I'd love to feel the relentless heat and the sudden rain make puddles right up to my knees."

"Puddles up to your knees? That is just how my grandfather remembered it," Lorna said moving towards Arnoldo.

Arnoldo resumed, "No, I would never again complain about mud and dust. I would kiss the ground in front of my mother's house."

They both stood quietly for a moment like motherless children in the storm.


Eddie broke the silence, moving closer to Lorna. "What's the matter with you two? Where's the funeral?"

"In the heart," Arnoldo answered.

Eddie held a black and white glossy photo. "Look at this photo," he said, stepping between Arnoldo and Lorna.

"Don't you see, Lorna?" Eddie insisted, "This is proof that there are U.S. military personnel in Managua."

Lorna looked more closely, a little kid on a Managua street corner was shining the boots of a huge US marine.

"Washington keeps denying it," said Arnoldo, placing himself again near Lorna, "This picture proves we're right. We're going to put it on the front page of the next issue of our newspaper."

Lorna wondered aloud. "Proof of what?"

Arnoldo pointed to the photo. "The U.S. military presence has kept the dictator Somoza and his family in power for over forty years. Men like this arrive to train his murderous army, the Guardia Nacional , though your government denies it. But this photo is proof." He hesitated, and then added, ".trains them in torture."

She looked again at the scar. So, he'd not only been in prison, but he'd been tortured.

Arnoldo noticed her scanning his face. He glanced away for a second and his voice became commanding for an instant. "This is why we wanted Eddie to bring you here. We hope you will organize a Non Intervention in Nicaragua chapter in San Francisco to end the brutality in Nicaragua."

"My country is the United States," said Lorna, her voice shaky, "Nicaragua was my ancestor's birthplace."

"That's why you'd be the right person to help organize the San Francisco campaign to stop the Congress from arming the dictator against our people. We know you care about Nicaragua, Lorna, and about the bones of your ancestors."

"I never think about their bones, just their spirits," Lorna replied, regaining her composure. "My grandfather told me about the Corn Goddess and I used to picture her as my mother. I was only three when my parents died. They say my mother had light brown hair like me and my daughter Rini."

Arnoldo touched Lorna's shoulder gently, "Poor orphan, Lornita. Come embrace Nicaragua as your mother and help us free her. We are willing to give up our lives for her."

Lorna prayed silently "Dear God, don't let these compas get killed in the revolutionary process." Grandfather died when he was seven years older than I am now, she thought. My parents died in the flower of their youth, only seven years older than Rini.

Arnoldo continued, standing even closer to Lorna. His hand still on her shoulder. "We've arrived at a stage where we need to reach the conscience of Americans."

Now, Mundo stepped forward and spoke for the first time, since his initial greeting. "Somoza doesn't have the support of the people. Without the U.S. military aid his regime will collapse. There's already a NIN group in Washington DC pressuring for a Congressional hearing on human rights in Central America. Organize such a group in San Francisco."

Arnoldo looked directly her into her eyes and taking her hand said, "Fifty years ago, other Americans like you, intellectuals, and even famous writers developed Non Intervention in Nicaragua."

Lorna withdrew her hand and shrugged off his hand from her shoulder. "I'm hardly a famous writer. I don't know why you think I could do this?"

Eddie interjected. "I told them you would be the perfect person to help us. Face it, Lorna, you are."

What is Eddie leading me into now, she thought. Or have my family ghosts brought me here? She tried to open her mouth to speak.

"Don't make up your mind right away," Eddie said.

Anibal asked her, "Did you see out newspaper, La Gaceta Sandinista ? A copy is in the window."

"Come and see how we produce it," Arnoldo said, leading them into the back room.

The old press, Back Beauty standing there, surprised her. "Eddie, it's our printing machine."

"That's what I was telling you, about using the left-over resources," Eddie said.

Lorna looked lovingly at Black Beauty. "It glows like a low rider's Chevy. We published all our magazine issues on it. But there was always someone under it with a wrench to keep it running," Lorna explained.

Arnoldo held up the small wrench and smiled, "There still is."

"We take very good care of it," Anibal reassured Lorna. "The newspaper is sent every month, to the exile communities in Costa Rica, Mexico, and everywhere we can. We want to publish some pages in English and eventually publish weekly. But, for that, we need help. There are only twelve of us organizing, recruiting, fund raising, and publishing the Gaceta . We receive stories from all over; clandestine material arrives from Nicaragua, and we also write a lot here."

"Who's paying for all this?" Lorna asked. There was an uncomfortable shuffle.

Lorna worried that it was an abrupt and rude question. She wished she could withdraw it.

She was about to apologize when Eddie answered, "We try to get donations from the community in San Francisco, the thousands of neighborhood immigrants. We owe the printer a fortune and we keep this storefront up out of our own pockets, the rent, utilities, and phone. We each kick in money every month."

Mundo announced, "It's been hard for us all to get jobs Anibal works in a restaurant and I do deliveries for my brother-in -law. He and my sister have a dry cleaning store and they've been here a long time. Eddie tells me you live right near my uncle."

Eddie has definitely been talking about me, Lorna thought. They know where I live.

Mundo continued, " Do you know my uncle? The Coronel Viglieti? He fought with Sandino."

"I don't know him," Lorna replied. "He must be very old, Sandino was killed the year I was born. There couldn't be many of the original supporters left. They'd be as old as Grandfather would be."

Arnoldo pointed to stacks of bundled newspapers lined up along the walls. Some appeared to be back issues and others were ready for imminent delivery. "These old issues will be valuable some day. They'll hang in a revolutionary historical museum in Managua."

"Here's to that dream," Anibal declared, holding up an imaginary toast.

The men raised an invisible glass and chanted in a deep fervent unison, "Liberty or death, Patria libre o morir ."