A breeze blows offering a little push to the hammock stretched between two trees. Don Inez looked out in quiet repose onto the dusty street in front of his house as the occasional truck, motorbike and cow passed by. Don Inez Torre Llave is, of course, not a Don, but Latin American society reserves the title for men of a certain age. Don Inez is 79 years old. He was born around sometime around when General Somoza had the rebel leader Augusto Sandino assassinated (1934). I asked him where he was born. Don Inez replied, “One does not know when or where one is born, nor where or when one will die.” He knows he was born in Las Salinas, Rivas Nicaragua and has lived his whole life in these parts, but the place or date… he’s not sure.
Don Inez has a thin body and his age shows in the leather skin of his face. He may look elderly, but looks are deceiving. Muscles cling to his slight frame offering a glimpse at his lifetime of working outdoors. Don Inez as a young man harvested sea salt from the ocean. Las Salinas is a village on the western coast of Nicaragua on the Pacific. In recent decades the mining of salt has become a way of life for Las Salinas. Today salt mines dot the coastal region and for a couple decades Don Inez raked sea salt in these mines.
I asked Don Inez about his life, about his family, and about Nicaragua. He is one of eight siblings and himself has eleven children, had twelve, one died at thirteen days old. One of his children lives in the United States, the rest live around him in Las Salinas. Don Inez has an over abundance of daughters he says, but they take care of him and his wife. He does not know really how many grand and great-grandchildren he has, too many.
I asked him about life in Nicaragua how has it changed. At this question, the soft-spoken man becomes animated in his frustration at the Nicaraguan government since the take over of the Sandinistas. Don Inez does not care about politics. What he cares about is being able to buy food for his family. He tells me that during the time of Somoza a liter of sugar cost 1 Cordoba and one liter of rice cost 1 Cordoba 20. Now and since the rise of the Sandinistas a liter of sugar costs 20 Cordoba and a liter of rice costs 10 Cordoba. Don Inez turns to me and asks, “How can a poor person live?” Look around rural Nicaragua; this becomes your question. Indeed, how can a poor person live?
I turned the questions towards the Sandinistas and ask Don Inez if there was every any fighting in the area or did anyone join the Sandinistas in the 1970s or 1980s. He tells me one guy from Virgen Morena, a small area within Las Salinas. No the fighting never came to the coast. All the fighting was in the north and around Managua. Here in Las Salinas he says before the Sandinistas life was “dulce y suave” (sweet and easy). At that time there was an abundance of crops, food, and production. Since the end of the Somoza rule life has been “mas duro” (harder). Don Inez is not swayed by Sandinista campaigns he says they always try to bribe campesinos around elections with new roofing materials or something else. The system is corrupt, he says.
Don Inez looks at me his face is narrow and his eyes are large and asks why am I inquiring about his life, who is he? I smiled and told him that would like to write a portrait of him, because he is Nicaragua. Don Inez looked off for a moment lost in thought and then turned, touched my arm and asked me, “When will you return?” I told him … soon. Don Inez in a gentle voice then said, “Pues entonces, te esperamos.” (Well, then we will wait for you)
O jala que si.