Fear and Loathing in Managua - The Reluctant Psychoanalyst Travels to Nicaragua
Some preliminary answers to the questions of my fear of being in Nicaragua arose in the night. We landed and were greeted by Kathy, our tour director, and came to the hotel - a very nice, if somewhat Spartan, Spanish style place built around central courtyards. As one of the members commented, it is like the fake courtyards in the Marriotts at home - except that, in addition to being real, it is open to the sky.
In any case, I had a series of pleasant dreams about talking with people - or more accurately listening to them. People in a country telling their stories, and many of the people were children. As I awoke, I realized that some of my fear is tied up in my guilt about hearing these stories - of living vicariously through the lives of others as I did with my friend Armando. Armando died a little over a year ago. I have written about him elsewhere, but what was salient this morning is a sense of guilt.
Armando was a very angry and proud man who loathed and loved himself and others with an intensity that was awe inspiring but it could be challenging, to say the least, to be the object of both his love but also other powerful feelings. His father, who had taken his wife and five children from Mexico to Gary, Indiana to work in the steel mills so that he could pay for his younger siblings to go to college, killed himself when Armando was a teenager.
Armando deeply loved his father and his heritage. He was fiercely proud of all things Hispanic. I think her was also really angry at his father for bailing on him. I think he revered him and expected him to continue to be there as a model for him. Who wouldn't have.
I learned a great deal from Armando - including and perhaps especially about the level of love and hatred that one friend can have for another. I think he hated me for having a life that reeked of privilege, and I hated him because his disdain for me was not something I could shake. My own self loathing found a mirror in his loathing of me. My own anger at my father, and therefore at myself, for abandoning me in much more subtle but certainly damaging ways got played out in Armando's hatred of me - but with a twist. Because he also clearly loved me, I was willing - indeed desperately wanted - to be with him. And, on a much less complicated level, he was really fun to be with.
I also feel tremendous guilt towards Armando. As potent as my self loathing was it did not hold a candle to his. Despite his generosity of spirit and his true appreciation of life and especially people, Armando was profoundly unhappy. I think I felt guilty for not being able to ameliorate that self hatred. More specifically, though, I feel guilty because, when he became ill with cancer, I did not go and nurse him. I offered - he refused, but I should have gone anyway. I think he was both appreciative of my offer to help, but also embarrassed that he should be in a position of need. I think he may also have felt, on a much less articulable level, that he did not deserve to be helped.
On the ride in from the airport, we heard about the part of the old downtown that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1972. Somoza pocketed the international aid money intended to rebuild Managua and he put barbed wire around the rubble, requiring those who wanted to rebuild to buy land on the outskirts of town - land that belonged to him. This contributed to the discontent that lead to the Sandinista revolution of 1979. After passing this, we drove through the part of town that Somoza bombed as part of his effort to quell the resulting revolution. When I read about Assad murdering the people of Syria, it feels remote and abstract. Peering into the homes of people living in sheet metal fabricated homes that stand among forty year old rubble feels real and concrete.
At the airport, as we waited for the rest of our group to arrive, I sat in our bus with one of the other members of our group. I noticed a billboard for the Avengers - a film that both of us had seen with our sons. I wondered a bit about the appeal of that film here. After the trip home, I imagined that there might be a far greater understanding of the destruction of New York depicted in that film than we, perhaps with the exception of some who survived 9/11, can appreciate. My companion noted that he and his son agreed that the great figure in that film is the Hulk. The anger, and the power of his anger is impressive. And I think we may all resonate with the terrible destructive urge that can be unleashed within us. As a US citizen, I am an ally of Somoza. Perhaps some of my fear of being in this foreign land is the fear that the anger of an oppressed people will be directed at me.
Certainly Armando was angry at me for being, in his words, a "corn fed honky." He felt that he had been dealt a raw hand and that I just didn't get that. I wanted to understand his experience, and that was a double edged sword - I think for both of us. For me, it involved better understanding myself in relationship to men like Armando - meaning men like my father. This meant that I was exploiting him in ways that I was at best marginally conscious of. For him, having a honky want to get to know him gratified him, but also meant that he was exposing himself to the enemy, and this was a dangerous, or even shameful engagement.
When Armando died, he did so largely in secret. He had a relapse of his cancer shortly before his death. He told very few people about it, and gave as his rationale to those he did tell that he didn't want to disappoint those of us he did not tell. There is something about his machismo - something about his pride - that is both admirable and frustrating. I never figured out how to simply be with him. To enjoy and appreciate him, but also to figure out how to avoid getting caught up in the complications.
One of the reasons, then, that I may be dreading engaging with Nicaragua is that it may end up mirroring the aspects of the relationship with Armando that I found most personally troubling. I may be fearing that I, as a witness to the Nicaraguan's poverty and other difficulties, will invite from them the critical attacks that my care for Armando seemed to elicit.
As I articulate this, it becomes clear to me that, in so far as all of the above is the case, it is, as we like to say in my trade, neurotic, and that while there may be good reasons to fear Nicaragua, this particular dynamic is unlikely to be played out with the people's of this nation.... but we shall see....
To access a narrative description of other posts on this site, link here. For a subject based index, link here.
Other posts about this Nicaraguan trip can be accessed here:
Anticipating Travel to a Third World Country Preparing for Nicaragua
In The Hall of the Incest King Daniel Noriega and Day two in Nicaragua
Mass in Nicaragua Day three in Nicaragua
Dora Maria Tellez Day four in Nicaragua
Talking with Peasants about Birth Control Day Five in Nicaragua
Talking Business in Nicaragua Day Six in Nicaragua
Nicaragua on the Couch Processing the trip as a whole