La Chureca

This blog was written as a collaboration by two of our PDs that direct our Child Sponsorship program in La Chureca (Managua dump). Over the past several years, the Spanish and Nicaraguan governments have been working through a development project to improve the lives of the families living in La Chureca by providing new housing, a cleaner environment, and hopefully more steady and safe jobs. The story they tell is one of displacement, change, despair, and hope.

           I have this recurring nightmare of people living in a garbage dump. In this dream, I wake in the comfort of my home and board a bus bound for the city. After numerous twists and turns, the bus ventures down another normal city street to end at the entrance to a sprawling garbage dump. There is no sign- no marker to say you've arrived- no proclamation that the garbage dump stretching out before me is a neighborhood, just an entrance littered with burning heaps of refuse and a steady flow of garbage trucks. Within the mountains of trash lies a community of 200 families in ramshackle homes of recycled material. "Just blink," I tell myself in hopes that the sight before me will disappear, yet every time they remain. I watch the children file out of school to run barefoot through the feces and dirt pathways to their homes. I fall in-step beside a forty-five-year-old mother carrying her sick baby to the clinic. I see wailing children sitting at the feet of their teenage mother while she sits slumped over in a chair with blood pouring from her mouth. I round the corner to behold a young girl eating meager rice and beans in the dirt beside a pig. It is about this time that I wonder how my subconscious has produced such horrific images in the uninhibited state of my dreams.

              This has been my nightmare for five months. Each time I do what little I can to reach out to them in their pain, abandonment, hunger, and sorrow. I offer a shoulder to cry on, food to fill their bellies, and open the doors to the clinic that has become their lifeline. Over the months, there have been glimpses of hope- a laughing child, a grateful mother, and a positive prognosis- yet the nightmare continues, each time with painful familiarity or new horrors. It has continued in this dire manner for months now without real change, which is why this week came as such a shock to me. The nightmare changed drastically...for the worst. 

               This week the nightmare started on its normal path, until I realized that in the place of many of these broken homes were no homes at all. It was eerily quiet. I blinked repeatedly in hopes that these people that I've come to love so dearly would reappear before me. I ran my hands along a post here or a scrap of plastic there trying to imagine back the houses that had become so ingrained in my heart. I fought back tears as a new kind of despair crept over my heart. It was chilling to behold a house here and a house there, with nothing but whispers of all the ones that used to stand in between. Where were my children? If there was nothing left of their existence here in a garbage dump, where had life taken them? So many times I dreamed these people away to different lives and out of this hell. Now that it had happened, what was the haunting sense of dread and fear waging war inside me? I left praying that it was the calm after the storm- the pause before rebirth and new life. 

                And new life is truly an understatement to describe the turn my dreams took yet again. It started much the same, but as I drew close to the dump the bus took a different turn. I ended up not geographically far from the desolate picture I’d just seen before, however it seemed so very far away in the points of detail.  Rusted tin houses and dirt floors and streets were replaced by what can only be described as a concrete jungle. I felt apprehensive and nervous.  What evoked these feelings were not the faces we would find behind each sturdy door frame but rather the faces that we could never recover. My nightmare was now replaced by visions of where the cheeks I squeezed or the hands I held were displaced too.  Our journey to unlock the mysteries of the current whereabouts of our beloved families began with the recognition of one of the mothers in our program, Jenny, lugging along her son Brandon in the blazing sun.  I was used to seeing her peer out of her hunky metal gate tending her disheveled garden of coconut trees, chickens and weeds.  Her house is now a concrete box with three bedrooms, a kitchen and spacious living area; a bit excessive for families used to sleeping in the same bed.  As we walked through this new neighborhood, the sense of community was lost as people were shut inside their houses and the playground of the hilly terrain was replaced by whitewashed perpendicular streets.  All we could do was continue to walk forward and hope to see a face we recognized peek out of their window.  When we did see those faces, the same ones we had seen with tears, smiles and anguish, the feeling of relief was overwhelming.  All we could do was hug their small, malnourished bodies to let them know even though everything else in their world has changed, we will always be a constant source of protection.

         This is no nightmare- not even a dream- it is the reality we face here in Nicaragua. We do not face it alone. We walk, often hand-in-hand, with the fifty children in our Child Sponsorship program and the women of our cooperative through the messy reality of life in La Chureca. The long awaited changes are taking place, for the better or for the worst we cannot yet say, but they are happening. We wait with courage that together the changes will not overwhelm us, that nightmares that become realities still have hope of happy endings. Things are changing here in Nica and each day we try to be a small part of the adventure.