You Have Been Here Before

A few years ago I was in the kitchen of my bungalow in Dobbs Ferry, New York when my El Salvadoran housekeeper, let’s call her Alma, came downstairs holding a necklace I brought home from Nicaragua. It was a carved tagua nut, painted with a little black and red flag and the tiny letters FSLN that stand for Sandinista National Liberation Front.

Until then, Alma hadn’t realized I was a Sandalista, the friendly term for the foreign volunteers that supported the Nicaragua revolution in the 1980’s. Alma found me and described saying goodbye to her brother when he left home to join the ‘muchachos’ fighting to overthrow the dictator. He never came home.

“He was a martyr,” she said, “but for what?” Within minutes we were sitting on the kitchen floor bawling in each other’s arms. We both had lost loved ones in the Central American wars of the 1980’s. Both of us both of us lived in quaint, safe small town American and tried to keep those memories at bay. But that deep connection we felt, the flood of emotions got me thinking that someday I would need to go back to Nicaragua.

Living in Nicaragua chLI-AIC-femmefatale-004banged me, and set me on my life journey. I was a young college student. It was deep, challenging, beautiful. The Nicaraguan people gave everything—their homes, their families, their lives—to overthrow the dictator and build a more just society. Afterwards I wrapped a protective box around that time of my life. I rarely visit it, because to do so leaves me in a weeping puddle of mess.

In 2015 I will turn 50 – it has been thirty years! And now it is time to return. I find Nicaragua very difficult to write about. I feel naïve or sophomoric, yet nearly all my idealism and all my cynicism stems from my time in Nicaragua. Those people and that time taught me to fight for a better future, for something bigger than myself, for an ideal.

My next novel is going to be about Nicaragua. About a woman going back the tiny country that changed her life, finding a lost love in a scarred world. There will be mystery, adventure, and the struggling bond between a teenaged girl and her mother.

It’s terrifying to think about sharing these stories. Part of me says no, don’t go there, it will tear your heart open. But then I think, what would Judith do? Go there! That experience is as much a part of me as my family, as real to me as the ocean I grew up with.

This morning my yoga teacher said, “You have been here before, but it is different this time.” She was only talking about my cobra pose, but her words spoke to me about this journey. I am counting on you, my dear friends and readers, for encouragement! The Central American wars continue to impact us politically, socially, and emotionally. I’m ready to talk about it!

10 thoughts on “You Have Been Here Before

  1. Dear Melina, only yesterday I received the son of my guatemalean ex-boy friend with another young friend in our house in Berlin – two nice young lads, all innocent and born in the aftermath of the times you describe and I shared :-). Talking to them, I think it’s ever more important and so very valuable to hold up these memories! Thanks so much! and all the best luck, again!

    • Sweet that you are still in touch! I hope I can visit you soon in Berlin too so that we can have a good cry about it together!

  2. I went back in 1996 and reconnected with people that I knew from 1984. It was great and sad. The sense of the whole community working together for something bigger than themselves was almost totally gone, and so was a bit depressing. Though it was also wonderful to look up and reconnect with people that I had a strong connection with (though my experience there was not nearly as long and intense as yours)

    • So great that you went back John! I feel that in a way it is good news that people have been able to move on. The rest of the region is still so torn up by the wars, so much daily violence. I find it really amazing how the Nicas have healed.

  3. Sounds like this will be your most personal, emotionally challenging writing yet — good for you! Is it an offshoot of the YA novel or a completely separate story?

    • This is a new project, I’m so excited about it! I started it the same day I finished Judith and Holofernes revisions. The Ecuador book is with readers.

What do you think?