A Christmas in Cinco Pinos by Jim Graham (Nicaragua 1970-71)

Jim Graham was in Nicaragua (1970-71) and returning home he did everything from working construction to being a newspaper sports editor, then he got involved in electronics and ran two companies in the industry. Today he lives in Winter Garden, Florida. Of his writing, Jim says:

graham-jim1When President Kennedy introduced the Peace Corps I was excited.  The year before having visited Peru with a student exchange program I was enamored with Spanish culture. I graduated from Stetson University with a degree in English Literature in 1969. The next year I joined one of the first Peace Corps units to go into Nicaragua, Central America.  In 1970 and ’71 we working in the “promotion and development” of rural electric cooperatives, our assignment. I was stationed on a large mountain in Northern Nicaragua near the border with Honduras.

Two days before Christmas 1972 a massive earthquake destroyed 75% of Managua, the capitol of Nicaragua.  Over 10,000 people killed and 300,000 left homeless.  Back in the States I was unable to able to return to Nicaragua.  With communications nothing like they are today I kept up with my second country as best I could.  Over the years I even acquired a small library on the history of Nicaragua, especially after that earthquake.

The dictator Anastasio Somoza’s handling of his countries earthquake crisis was so corrupt that it propelled the Sandinista rebels to the forefront of Nicaraguan life.  During one of the most tumultuous and dramatic times in Central American history Somoza held on to the country for 7 more years until he was driven into exile.  He was later assassinated in Paraguay.

I am writing a novel titled Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness about that time.  In this work of historical fiction a Peace Corps volunteer is caught up in the Sandinista Revolution and then the Contra counter-revolution in Nicaraguan.  This short story is a chapter from that book.

A Christmas in Cinco Pinos

by Jim Graham

Cinco Pinos means five pines in Spanish.  Jon Browne had lived in this little Nicaraguan backwater for more than a year and had yet to find out how it got its name.  There were pines all around the village, for sure, but no one knew which were the five.

Don Ramon Carlos was by far the richest man in Cinco Pinos.  His wife, Donna Flora, was currently the mayor.  She and the Don had traded that position for years, presently it was her turn.  The Carlos’s greeted Jon and Rachel Lofton warmly the minute they walked through the door.  The two had been missed, as Jon had told Donna Flora he would be back with Rachel yesterday.  Knowing the intermittent schedule of the mountain bus Flora had put out extra food again, anticipating their guests arrival today.  Now they were here, for a late lunch with the two mayors.

The Carlos’ house was a spacious building off the back of their tienda, the town’s general store. Being an extremely hot day lunch was served in the open patio between the two buildings.  The Carlos duet had taken a liking to Jon Browne the minute he was dropped at their front door.  The new Peace Corp volunteer’s only instructions from his director had been, ‘find a place to sleep and get to work’.  He had been advised that Don Ramon and Donna Flora were the place to start and that had been correct. However, Jon had spent his first few days hiding in the room they were providing.  To begin, he felt useless; his language skills totally inadequate, with resourcefulness in short supply and confidence rapidly fading.  This conundrum lasted for a couple of days until Jon gave himself a stiff talking to.  After that, he began walking out among the locals and this small world rapidly opened up for him.

The lunch was a very special treat from Donna Flora.  There was a unique salad made of local fruits with a good piece of marinated cool beef in deference to hot climate.  Rather than local water they drank bottled beer.  The Don and Donna asked a few interested questions concerning where Rachel lived and what she was currently studying, with Jon translating.  Jon then recounted their time in Managua, the Nicaraguan capitol.  As with most things Nicaraguan, the lunch was leisurely. Afterwards the group took a stroll through the tienda so Rachel could get a feel for what the mountain had to offer.  Jon paid two of the boys who hang around out front a couple of cordobas to take their bags up to his place.  As the muchachos scurried off with their bags Jon escorted Rachel down the red dust of Main Street which curled along the mountain side.

As they progressed away from the city center conditions rapidly became more primitive.  Semi-solid block buildings disappeared replaced by homes of plywood sheets, sticks and rusted corrugated metal.  A few hundred yards above the town was a giant concrete basin.  During the long rainy season the structure was constantly being filled with fresh water.  Buried piping transported this water to three spigots; two at the spot where the side streets met the main with one unique pipe transporting water directly to the Carlos house and tienda, the only establishment in town thus appointed.  Crude as it was, Cinco Pinos had never run out of water.  When you can’t just turn it on you tended to conserve.

Jon had a particular liking for a certain spot near the basin.  From here you could get a perspective on the whole town.  Cinco Pinos was in front of them now, two

hundred or so dwellings situated in an E pattern with the prongs stretching up the side of a mountain in this middle of nowhere.  Rachel Lofton would be living here for the next week, Jon had been around for well over a year.  He pointed his place out, half way up the side street that was nearest the mouth of the town.  They tarried there a little while taking in the scene then Jon led Rachel down the back side of Cinco Pinos.

Jon’s place was one of the nicest in the village.  Once they were both sure Jon was going to be staying for a while Don Ramon had rented a vacant warehouse to him for 50 cordobas a month, a very reasonable sum.  The warehouse was large enough to be divided into two nice size rooms, it also had its own outhouse and a separate water supply via a well out back.  Once divided the far corner of the front room had a small kerosene stove and refrigerator defining the kitchen, with the remainder including a reading area with a bookcase, a couple of chairs, one all-purpose tables and a small one speaker Panasonic cassette player.  The back room held two cots called tijeras, these were simple wooden frames with canvas stretched over the top, they were foldable like scissors thus tijeras, the Spanish word for scissors.  There were also a table and mirror with a basin for washing and shaving, a chest of drawers and a simple frame Jon had built for hanging clothes.  The lap of luxury in a poor Nicaraguan town.  Jon hoped Rachel would not be too put off by what she was encountering.

As she had so many times before, Rachel thoroughly surprised him.  In a matter of minutes, she had inspected the refrigerator to see what they could eat for dinner, examined his books and music selections and begun to check out the chest of drawers. Seeing he had already cleared out part of the chest for her, she began to put some of her things away as Jon brought the other bags in from the street.  The way the warehouse was designed both rooms had doors opening onto the street and also doors which opened out onto the area out back.  Once Rachel had settled in a little, she put her arm around Jon.

“Show me the rest of the place, Signor.”

It didn’t take long.  In the back of the building was a concrete pad which stretched the length of the warehouse making a narrow porch.  Past that, in the middle, stretching out was a rectangular concrete basin with thick sides.

At the far side of the basin was a small roofed structure with a rope and pulley hanging from the housing.

“There’s our water supply,” Jon pointed in that direction.

Past that he walked Rachel through the vegetable garden he was growing.  There were small stands of tomatoes, peppers, onions, okra and beans.

“I can do this ’cause I have water nearby.”

“You’ve become a regular farmer Jones!” She kidded.

“You got a lot of time on your hands around here.  The seeds come from the tienda.  Beans work best.”

Out about another dozen paces stood the outhouse.  Jon knew it would be interesting the first time she had to use that.  I was growing dark as they completed Rachel’s tour of the back yard.  As they stepped up back into the warehouse lights came on all over town.  With that the streets immediately sprang to life.  The couple had already agreed, for tonight, they were going to stay in.

The last few trips to Chinandega, the province capitol, Jon had brought back a lot of non-perishable items in anticipation of Rachel’s visit.  He had a good stock of crackers, hard salami, tea, spices and candy along with a few bottles of wine from Chile.  This along with local provisions from the tienda such as eggs, rice, beans and cheeses would keep them well fed during Rachel’s stay.

This first night they ate light since the late lunch with the Don and Donna had been ample.  A dinner of cheese, hard salami, crackers and wine was just fine.  As they sat eating, looking over Kerouac and Ferlingetti with the Moody Blues on the Panasonic, Rachel remarked that it seemed just like they were juniors back at Florida State.  It was familiar; Jon sighed, it was so good to have Rachel here.

The warehouse’s one electric light bulb was situated above the passageway between the rooms so that both got some illumination.  Rachel stood up and walked into the bedroom.  She came right back out.

“Hay, where am I going to sleep?”

Jon’s tjjera was open against the back wall.  These cots were less than four feet wide, certainly not big enough for two people to use comfortably.  Rachel followed Jon back into the bedroom.  He unfolded his extra tijera against the outside wall and swept his hand over it.  Rachel took a long look.

“I see,” she said sheepishly, “but you know!”

“Oh Yeah,” he said, “I wouldn’t worry about that, Skip has slept on these things a couple of times and he probably weighs more than the both of us.”

Jon walked back to the living room as Rachel pulled some of the bedding from its cabinet and began to make up her tijera.

She emerged from the bedroom in a couple of minutes.

“I guess I need to see how the facilities work back there.”

“OK, I’ll fire up the lantern.”

The outhouse was far enough from the Jon’s quarters that no illumination reached back there even with both warehouse doors wide open.  Jon put a match to one of the kerosene lanterns he hung on the back porch in order to keep their smell out of the warehouse.  Soon they were walking between small rows of vegetables accompanied by the soft yellow orange glow of a lantern.  Jon stopped fifteen feet from the back of the outhouse.  Rachel reached for the light.

“I’m a big girl, I can take it from here.”

“Wait a minute,” Jon cautioned.

He reached down and picking up a good sized rock threw it at the outhouse.  They heard a couple of grunts and a soft snort.

“They’re in there” he said.

He picked up another rock and threw it.  He followed that with a loud heehaw.  This time there was a prolonged banging and grunting then long squeals which faded off into the night.

“A couple of pigs that like to sleep in there.”


“Yeah, it’s warm on the concrete.  Don’t worry about it, pigs are really clean animals, they are not going to go to the bathroom where they sleep, or anything like that.”  He handed her the lantern.

“There’s a stand around the front,” he said, “you can’t miss it.  Don’t take the lantern in there”.

In a few of minute, Rachel came back in view lantern in hand.

“Pigs!” she said.

“Yeah, the door is kind of high off the floor and those suckers can get under it.  I been meaning to add a little wood to the bottom to keep them out.”

“That would be a great idea!” she emphasized.

They stepped up onto the back porch, through the kitchen and into the living room.  They could hear the music coming from the small cantina at the end of the street.

“Sometimes I go down there for a couple of hours,” Jon said.  “It helps me with my Spanish.”

“Yeah I am sure that’s the only reason you walk into a bar!”  Rachel ribbed him.

Suddenly, the lights went out and the music stopped instantly.

“Must be ten o’clock Don Ramon doesn’t miss a lick.”

“It’s that late?”

“Yep, his diesel generator is the only electricity in town. Six to ten every night everybody gets real upset if he shuts us down early.”

“Well we been two days on the road,” Rachel declared.  “I’m not going to bed without a shower, show me how that works.”

Jon walked into the bedroom and grabbed a fresh washcloth.

He headed out the back door.  Rachel brushed by him.

“Wait a minute, I got to get my shampoo.”

They stepped out onto the back porch.  The large basin out back held about four hundred gallons of water.  It was all concrete with thick sides.  If you pulled up a few

buckets every day you could keep it nearly full.  Using this system impurities were constantly settling to the bottom with clean water on top.  The thick sideswalls kept the water cool a real luxury in the  tropical climate.

Jon had built an enclosure that hung over the near end of the basin so he could dip water out of it and take a shower in private.  He had even nailed wood slats to the floor so he wouldn’t be standing in water while he showered.  Across from the door to the shower he had built a shelf on the outside warehouse wall to hold clothes.  He slipped out of his pants, folded them and set them on the shelf.

“Come on,” he said, “I’ll show you the ropes.”

Within a minute all their clothes we on the shelf and they were through the door into the shower stall.  There was plenty of room for two.

Jon started, “The water is real cold so I don’t get all wet to begin with.”

He dipped what looked like a metal gold mining pan into the basin and set it, full of water, onto the broad top of the basin.

“I dunk my washcloth to get it real wet then soap it up and start washing myself.”  He went through this process as Rachel watched.  She took the fresh washcloth he had handed her and with the second bar of soap from the shower shelf she followed his lead.  She was soon in the spirit. Once Rachel was soaped up she doubled her hands into a scoop and leaning over the basin pulled enough water up onto her hair to get it good and soaked.  Using the shampoo she worked her hair into a lather to make sure her head was thoroughly clean.

Jon prompted, “Now here is the tough part.”

He emptied the half used pan out through the slats on the floor, then dipped it into the clean water and pulled it out full again.

“Close your eyes,” Jon poured the fresh water over her head.  Rachel caught on, shivering she scrunched her hair around so the water rinse out the shampoo as it cascaded down her body.

Jon repeated the process then poured a pan over his own head.

“Wow that’s cold!”

“I told you,” Jon poured another pan over Rachel’s head slowly. This one washed away most of the remaining soap.

He poured a second pan over himself.

That last cold scoop had straightened Rachel up and she stood facing him with her nipples practically stretching out of their skin.

Jon put the pan down on the side of the basin.  He reached over with both hands and cupped her breasts gently.  Her eyes got wide and she stared at him as if to say

“Oh my, sir!” then turned away coyly.  This was not a bad thing; if there was anything Jon Browne liked more than Rachel Lofton’s breasts it was her buttocks.

The lamp was hung on the warehouse wall high up across from the shower door. This kept the water away from the kerosene but lighted the shower enough so the occupants could see what they were doing.  At the moment the soft yellow orange light illuminated Rachel down to where her backside jutted out in a lovely soft curl.  Jon reached over and patted her derriere fondly.  She suddenly whirled around; draping her arms around his neck she grabbed her left wrist pulling herself up, crushing her body against his as she gave him a long deep kiss.  The moment seemed to go on and on.  She slipped back down onto the wood slats which caused her to pull away from him ever so slightly.  They looked into each other’s eyes and came together again.  Unfortunately the cold water that had hardened Rachel’s breasts so dramatically had the opposite effect on Jon’s equipment.  They worked on that there in the shower for a little while but were not able to resolve the situation.

Rachel looked up at Jon with a wry smiled.  “Let’s go back inside where it’s warmer,” she said softly.

In November, when he was in Managua Jon had spent some time looking for decent bath towels.  He finally purchased the softest he could find knowing Rachel would appreciate this indulgence while in Cinco Pinos.  Now the two sat in his living area comfortably wrapped in the largest towels he had brought back.

They both seemed to be recovering from the passionate exchange in the shower, at least for the moment.  There was a long silence.

“I lost my wedding ring.”  Jon spoke first.

Rachel glanced at the gold band on her own left ring finger then looked at Jon’s left hand.  There was an identical band there.

“What’s that?”  She inquired nodding toward his hand.

“Oh, I got it back.  It’s the same one.”

“Well what happened?” Rachel was obviously curious about something that was so near and dear to her heart.

“It wasn’t a big deal.”

Rachel frowned. “Well considering how important these are” she held up her hand, “It is A Big Deal”

“Anyway there was this kid Aldo, probably about 15 years old and he was coming around a lot to help me.  He helped me build that shower.”

Rachel nodded at his reference to the shower.

“Well one day my hand got irritated by some mango sap and I took the ring off so I could deal with it.”

“It was maybe two days, my hand was better and when I went to get the ring it was gone from my dresser.  I was stunned.  Here in Nicaragua, I was going to lose my one constant connection with you.”

Rachel held up her left hand again, “I never take mine off.”

“Hay, cut me some slack the rash was under the ring.  Well I thought the week over and realized only Aldo had been in here the whole week.  So I knew he had it.”

“Now back in Tallahassee I would have called the cops.  I bet that’s not what you did here.”

“You got it right, I do something stupid like that here and I wouldn’t ever see the ring again.”

“Next time I ran into Aldo I pulled him aside and told him the ring was missing.  Told him what it looked like and how important it was to me.  Said I would pay 100 cordobas to anyone who found it.”

“Now 100 cords is like 15 dollars American, that’s big money on this mountain especially for a fifteen year old kid.”

“Well two days later Aldo shows up at my door, hands me the ring.  Says he saw this guy walking outside of town yesterday with the ring on his finger and talked him out of it.  Said he told the guy he knew it was Don Juan’s and he better give it back.”

Rachel’s eyes got big at the Don Juan reference, “Don Juan?”

“I guess you haven’t heard that yet.  That is what they call me here.”


‘         “Rachel, Don is a sign of respect, Juan is Jon in Spanish.  It has nothing to do with the great lover, although I hope you think I’m a great lover.  People around here probably don’t have any idea who that guy was.”

“So what did you do with Aldo?”

“I gave him the money.”

“What, he stole from you and you gave him some money!”

“Yeah I gave him the money.  In the first place, there was a 1% chance he didn’t steal the ring, then I would have been totally wrong to take it and not live up to the bargain.  Better than that, I had the ring, really the only thing I cared about.”

“Oh, so you are so noble, you just let him walk off scot free.”

“Well not exactly.  He was still working for me.  One day when I knew he was coming over I waited until he knocked on the door. Told him to wait.  Went over to the dresser, counted the money in my wallet and laid it on a diagonal with the corner of the table.  Then I let him in.”

“We talked for a few minutes about what we were going to do that day.  Then I got up and walked out back gazing at the garden. I made sure he could see that my back was turned to him.”

“When I walked back in I took a look at the dresser.  My wallet was straight up in the middle of the table.  I walked over, picked up the wallet and slowly counted the money.  A bunch was gone.  I walked over to Aldo and said you just stole some money from me, give it back.  He got these big eyes all innocent, “Don Juan, I wouldn’t steal nothing from you!”

“I said, ‘No man, you stole it, give it back!’

“Again he protested, ‘Don Juan I wouldn’t.'”

I reached over grabber his shirt collar and raised my fist.

“This time I said, ‘Give me my money or I’ll kill you!’     Now you know me Rachel not only would I not kill anyone but I have never said that to any other person.  However, he didn’t not know that.  Suddenly Aldo was reaching in his pants and money was flying everywhere.  In another second he was out the door.”

“Did you ever talk to him about the ring?”

“No, these people are so poor.  I understand where he is coming from and if it hadn’t been so important to us I would have probably let him have it.  I just didn’t want him to think he had pulled anything over on me.  You know, fooled the dumb Gringo.”

The rings were extremely important to Rachel and Jon.  They represented their commitment to each other.  One week before the pair had planned to elope and get married without any fanfare, Jon’s acceptance letter had come from the Peace Corps.  This was something he had wanted to do ever since he had going on a high school exchange program to Peru.  That trip had given him an undying love for Spanish culture and the Spanish people.  The Peace Corps had offered him an earlier assignment to somewhere in Africa but Jon had turned it down saying he would go anywhere as long as the country spoke Spanish.  Now he was living in Nicaragua, the heart of Central America, after assuming he would never hear from the Peace Corps again.  An astounding gift.

The day after that assignment letter Rachel and Jon talked about the situation in depth.  They had both just graduated from Florida State University.  Rachel was going on for her Master’s degree but Jon wanted no more of higher education.  e saw the Peace Corps as an opportunity to get some life experience at something he loved.  Rachel loved him and agreed that their love would be able to weather the time apart.  Rachel also said that she did not feel they should get married only to then be separated for the next two years.  This was a little unsettling but made sense to both of them.  They had not told their families nor anyone else about their plans to elope.  So two years later, at Christmas time in 1977, they sat in a warehouse in Cinco Pinos, Nicaragua wearing wedding bands with the inscription Nov. 18, 1975.  A remembrance of a wedding that never was but some time, they were certain, would be.

Jon put the Love Forever Changes on the Panasonic.  A gift from his brother Jim, it was one of their favorite albums.

With the electricity out in Cinco Pinos the town had become very quiet.  Arthur Lee’s battery powered soft edgy voice filled the warehouse.  Rachel got up with her towel wrapped loosely around her.  She walked over to Jon and gently tugged on his towel leading him into the bedroom.

Jon had been right.  His tijera held up quite nicely.

Saturday morning the sun came up on a bright Christmas Eve.  This day was   the most important in the long Nicaraguan Christmas season.  It started way back on December 8th with something called “La Purisima,” a celebration of the purity of the Virgin Mary.  This includes much dancing and singing in the streets carried out mainly by the young people.  Those serenaded in the houses give out treats and small representations of the nativity to the performers.  People also start decorating their houses at this time for the coming Christmas celebrations.

The second week of Christmas began December 16th, with mass prayers being held in churches and individual homes all over the county. Rachel had flown in on the afew days later just as this part of the celebration was ramping up.  Jon and Rachel had seen evidence of these festivities as they moved around the country but now they were about to experience the final days of Christmas in Cinco Pinos.  Early this Christmas Eve morning they woke up to the sound of fireworks.  The celebration had begun and would not end until after midnight.  Cinco Pinos, not being large enough to have a church, the people had set up their community center as a place to worship the nativity.  The fireworks parade built slowly culminating at the center by midday.  From there a visiting priest led a procession of performers imitating characters from the Bible who re-enacted the birth, life and passion of Jesus Christ.  This nativity procession led back to the community center which was now set up for a full-fledged festival of music, food and dancing.  This was the one night in the year when Don Ramon let the electricity stay on after 10:00.  As a result Christmas songs rang throughout the streets of Cinco Pinos until midnight as fireworks lit up the night sky long well after that.

In this celebration, Rachel saw the Nicaraguan people at their finest.  Jon had said nobody parties like Nicaraguans, which was in full evidence.  There was a simplicity to these people’s joy that they both found endearing.  In a place where the population had nothing, they seemed to find pleasure in everything.  In every part of the festivities, Jon and Rachel were caught up and welcomed as if they had lived here all their lives.  Rachel was beginning to understand what Jon loved about this place and this country.  They walked back to the warehouse hand in hand, their way being lighted by the occasional pop of a bottle rocket.  Christmas Day in Cinco Pinos would be a quiet time of gift giving.  After that, they had been invited to the Carlos house for Christmas Dinner, the crowning end of a teo week long celebration of the birth of Christ Jesus.

For most of the people in Cinco Pinos, gift giving started the minute the lights went out at midnight.  That was tradition.  After getting back to the warehouse Jon and Rachel talked well into the night then went to bed.  It had been a long day, tired they even kept to their own tijeras.  Up a little before midday, they decided to exchange gifts first thing.  This didn’t not take long.  They had agreed to keep their gifts to fifty dollars apiece.  In order for Rachel to make the trip to Nicaragua they had set money aside for the whole year.  Rachel had worked all summer selling clothes at a little boutique called Nich’s Toggery in Tallahassee.  Jon had kicked in from his Peace Corps pay of $100.00 per month and together they were able to make the trip happen.  Neither of their parents had been willing to help them out, both saying that the couple would be “living in sin” which was unacceptable.

The resulting gifts were modest but from the heart.  Unbeknownst to each other, they had both settled on musical presents.  Rachel had brought Jon a dozen cassettes for his Panasonic player.  He had written to her many times that other than her it was listening to all the new music coming out that he missed.  She had brought him up to date here with this one flourish.  Jon gave her a flute and a small guitar, both instruments that Rachel loved to play.  They were handmade by local craftsmen and,

as Jon said, unbelievably inexpensive quality.

Those were the Christmas gifts.  The trip was a birthday gift from each to the other.  Within a few weeks of meeting on the campus at Florida State they’d found out that they had been born on the same date, December 25, 1955, Christmas Day.  Jon who was already head over heels in love with Rachel had quipped,

“We might as well get married; it’ll save on a couple a celebrations!”

At the time, that hadn’t gone over well with Rachel.  If only she had known.

The big downtown Christmas Day celebration included Don Ramon’s tienda and the other businesses in town that were open.  Although small itself, the town swelled in size on these days, as all the people from the surrounding area brought their children in to celebrate the birth of Christ.  In the spirit of generosity everybody purchased candy and toys for the children and small gifts to exchange among the grownups.  Jon had also purchased two comforters he’d found in the tienda and taken them back to the warehouse during the festivities.

The tijeras were fine to sleep on just slightly uncomfortable.  However when other activities were in progress things became a little precarious at times.  Jon’s warehouse had a tile floor, one of the few in the town, and he had a plan to firm up their sleeping and love making situation.  He folded up the tijeras and laid them against the far wall.  Then he spread the quilts one on top of the other added layers of blankets and a sheet or two and he had kind of a makeshift bed.  He lay down on the creation.

“Not bad.” He looked up at Rachel who was plunking away on her new guitar.

“It’s not Serta, but come on, let’s give it a try.”

“I’m not sure your intentions are totally honorable sir!” she said coyly.

“I know they’re not honorable that’s why I want to give it a try.”

At the very moment a knock came on the door.  It was Chico letting them know that the afternoon Christmas banquet was ready at the Carlos house.  This being the most important meal of the year in all of Nicaragua, other plans would have wait.   Manuella, Chico’s mother, was the domestic who served the Carlos household.   Chico had gone along with his mother as she worked and had himself become a house boy doing odd jobs for the Carlos family.  When Jon had been dropped off in Cinco Pinos, Don Ramon Carlos had been his first point of contact in the town.  To help Jon adjust to life in Cinco Pinos, Don Ramon had set up Chico as Jon’s guide to the town and his Spanish practice partner.  Chico was 12 years younger than Jon but the two had developed a friendly bond as Jon worked his way around the town and the language.  Now while the three walked toward the banquet, as always, friendly bantering struck up between Jon and Chico.  The Carlos’ house was two blocks away

so they were there in a couple of minutes.

This year the entire Carlos family had come to the mountain to celebrate Christmas Day with their parents.  The two sons and a daughter along with their spouses and 4 children were already settled in when Jon and Rachel arrived with Chico in the lead.  Don Ramon did the introductions all around.  Two of his children had been educated in the U.S. and one of their spouses was an American so Rachel was relieved to learn that her sticking to English would not be a total inconvenience.  Chico joined up with his mother and they went back home to their own family.  Witle that the Carlos clan and their guests sat down to the afternoon festivities.

Manuella, an excellent cook, had prepared a traditional Spanish Christmas meal at Donna Flora’s direction. The feast consisted of stuffed chicken, nacatamal (a steamed maize dumpling with savoury filling wrapped in a banana leaf), Paella and fresh baked bread.  Biscochos were served as the traditional Christmas dessert.  Wine had been brought from Managua to add to the occasion.  In upper-class Spanish fashion, it took about 2 hours to eat the meal accompanied with lots of interesting conversation.  After the meal, the ladies moved all the dishes to the kitchen for clean up by Manuella in the morning, while the men retired to the veranda for cigars and politics, this also a Latin American tradition.

Around 5:30 their little group headed for the community center which had been set up for the evening Christmas mass.  No priest lived on the mountain so Father Gallo from Matagalpa had come in especially to give all those in the area an opportunity to

celebrate this last seasonal tribute of the year to the Mother Mary and her baby.  As he began to conduct the service people were still streaming in from all over the mountain.  Don Ramon had set up a loud speaker system just for the occasion knowing, from experience, that there would be many more in attendance then the center could hold.  As in years past, the service was candle lit to add to the solemnity of the occasion.  When the mass ended, the town generator was cranked up again and the little pueblo sprang to life, the lights assisting everyone on their way home.  Activity in the crowded streets exposed through clouds of red dust not only an enormous assemblage of humanity but as many vehicles at one time as Cinco Pinos usually experienced in several months.

Back at the Carlos house Jon and Rachel thanked their hosts and said goodbye to the entire family.  It had been a truly interesting day and they walked back to Jon’s place amid a constant chorus of Faliz Navidad, Merry Christmas.  Back in the living room they began to talk about the evening.

“So how was the man talk?” Rachel inquired.

“Just a lot of bitching about Somoza.”

“So what’s he done now?”

“For them it’s what he hasn’t done.  No improvement in the political system or the economy.  Roads and school are a mess.  There is constant rebellion in the countryside.  And most of all nothing has been done to put Managua back together since the ’72 earthquake.”

“So all you talked about was politics?”

“Well there’s not much else going on in Nicaragua.”

“Luis lives in Managua and Ramon in Granada nearby.  They have seen this stuff for years.  The Sandinistas have become a force in the campo and the National Guard spends time chasing them around rather than improving the life of the country.  You know on Tuesday it will be five years since the earthquake hit Managua.  They say all kinds of aid was sent after the quake and it disappeared into what everyone calls, “the black hole of Somoza.”

“You were there, we passed right through the destroyed center of Managua.”

“It was really bad.”

They had been playing Jon’s new albums; Rod Stewart came on the Panasonic singing “Tonight’s the Night”.

Jon started singing along with Rod and took a long look at Rachel.  “Hay we haven’t tried out our new bed yet.”

“Not tonight, not after that service.”

“What, we’re not even Catholic.”

“I know it just doesn’t feel right to me somehow, you know.”

“No I don’t know, when will it feel right?”

“I don’t know, not on this day. Hay, why’d Chico keep calling me La Rachel?”

“A term of endearment, I guess.  He’s always kidding around with me, he wanted to include you.”

“So what were you ladies doing while the boys talked politics?”

“Just girl stuff.  Jane is pretty cool, Maria’s English is good too.  What was that puta stuff, every time we heard it the ladies cringed.”

“Oh, you weren’t supposed to hear that, I guess.  They were complaining about Somoza.  It’s pretty bad when the rich start saying that stuff about him.”

“You know, I told you when that driver was complaining about Somoza on the ride out of Managua.   What they are saying is ‘hijo de la gran puta,’ it means son of the great whore in English.  It is the same thing as our son of a bitch.”

“They seemed to be so into it.”

“Well they are really passionate about what is happening to their country.  And they can best express it by calling Somoza, “Hijo de la gran puta.’

“That is such a versatile phrase in Spanish.  You will hear guys shout ‘hijo’ or “la puta” or “puta” or “la gran” I even heard a guy say “de la” one time, all that means is “of the” but with the right emphasis we knew what he meant.  Spanish is such a versitle language, so much of it depends on how you say something.”

Stevie Nicks, singing ‘Dreams’ came up on the Panasonic.

“Man this is good stuff.  You really brought me some fine music.  It’s so nice to have new tunes around here.”

“So all you guys did was talk politics.”

“Well Don Ramon really wants to know what is happening.  Up here they are so isolated from the center of things It’s hard to get any real information.  Just two papers, Novidades which gives the Somoza line and La Prensa which is always hammering him, I don’t know why Somoza hasn’t shut that guy down or killed him. Besides that, there’s just word of mouth.  The Don’s sons are plugged in to what is happening in Nicaragua, these are not poor people, you know we just had the nicest Christmas celebration on this mountain.  We may be way out in the sticks but Don Ramon is no dummy he has a lot of stuff and he knows politics affects him and his family.”

“It just seems so calm around here.”

“Well Somoza puts a member of the National Guard in every town to keep things tamped down.  I’ll take you by to meet Berto tomorrow, he’s our Somoza guy.  We’ll visit the poor coffee farmers and peasants I work with also. Then you’ll see what it’s really like on my mountain”

Jon looked at his watch.  “Hay it’s after midnight, its tomorrow!”

“OK” said Rachel.  “Wait a second, listen to this, it is by Gato Barbieri, brand new it’s called Caliente, I know that means hot in Spanish.  I think it is the sexiest music

ever.”  Jon listened as the sweeping strains of a slow deliberate saxophone engulfed the room where they were staying.  Wow, he thought, that is hot!

So on a mountain, in the middle of nowhere, near the border between Honduras and Nicaragua, in a makeshift bed on a tile floor in a warehouse in Cinco Pinos, Nicaragua with Gato Barbari in the background Rachel Lofton and Jon Browne celebrated their birthdays, the day after Christmas, 1977.

Tomorrow, Rachel Lofton would meet the real Nicaragua.

Copyright © 2022. Peace Corps Worldwide.