On my first night in El Lagartillo my host mom, Tina, and I went through a lot of the usual questions: Do you have siblings? What do you want to study in college? What do you like to do in your free time? It wasn’t until I asked Tina how long she had lived in El Lagartillo that she seemed hesitant to answer something. Then she responded, “I don’t know how to answer that exactly. I’ve lived here my whole life but after the Contra army killed my husband and daughter I moved to Achuapa for a year because I had to get away.” I told her I was so sorry and that must have been terrible. She said thanks and that she tells all of the students she hosts because it’s important that we care about this history. Within the first few hours I was already noticing how important the revolution was to this community.
Maria Zunilda, Tina’s oldest daughter, and Jose Angel, Tina’s husband, died along with four others in the attack on El Lagartillo on December 31st, 1984. There’s a mural in the park here with their and all the vicitims faces. Right next to it is a tree with a gaping hole from the bomb that killed Maria Zunlida. When we walked to Spanish classes in the morning we walked by the place where the Contra entered the community from and the place where the old school was before they burnt it down.
It’s true that signs of history here are everywhere and the first few days I was awed by how recent and alive they felt. I wondered when they stopped refering to the battle as “a few years ago” and when they started to refer to it as “history.” An overwhleming number of people here have stories of the day the Contra army came to destroy their cooperative. After years of textbook learning it’s rare for me, if not completely new, that I get to talk to the people who actually lived through the event about which I’m learning. Though hearing these people still amazes me, as the days pass I’m struck by something else. Time and time again people here are willing to relive that tragic day for some students from the United States. Even after a US trained and funded army killed their friends and family, El Lagartillo still opens its doors to us. Our host families feed us and chat with us and play cards with us and express genuine interest in our lives after everything our government destroyed here. My host family asks me to bring my whole family back, community leaders tell us we are always welcome; forgiveness is already more than I could have asked for but what the 11 of us are experiencing surpasses forgiveness. After our country treated this place like its stomping ground, after it supported an army that sought to reverse the Sandinista’s work towards justice, our host families take us in as one of their own family. I can’t begin to fathom the grace and resilience this takes. I need to say many thank yous to people in El Lagartillo for making us welcome here.