Leon, a city of revolution fever, where bullet holes pierced decaying cathedrals and adobe walls during the Sandinista Revolution of 1979. We visited Leon to gain an understanding of the history, culture, and traditions of our adopted country. We left with a greater appreciation of the sacrifices made, and the impact of the controversial Sandinista Revolution. In one year, Nicaraguans went from being ruled by a strict right-wing Somoza dictatorship, to being controlled by left-wing idealistic revolutionaries.
On the western side of town is one of the Sandinista’s strongholds, a rather decrepit looking building that now houses the Asociacion de Combatientes Historicos Heroes de Veracruz, or better known as the Museum of Revolution. The building, which has not seen any renovations since the revolution, housed the former Palace of Communications of Somoza. Riddled with bullet holes inside and out, I felt as if I was walking through a recent battle site. The walls oozed smells of gunfire and the whispers of the wounded cried out from beyond their graves.
Our guide, Dionisio Meza Romero, a former Sandinista soldier, sorrowfully pointed out photos of friends with whom he had fought and who had died for the cause. In one old photo, he proudly pointed out his picture, as a very young and idealistic soldier smiling for the camera. Then, to our surprise, he lifted his t-shirt and showed us the shrapnel wound in his back. This was his badge of courage.
The intimacy of this first-person gesture and the passion he demonstrated for the revolution, made the experience REAL and unforgettable. It reminded me of the time I visited the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Museum in Hiroshima, Japan. Surrounded by twisted children’s lunch boxes and photos of charred bodies, I began to weep with uncontrollable sorrow. A young Japanese woman sensed my despair and silently wrapped her arms around me to comfort me. She whispered in my ear and patted me on the back until my tears stopped flowing.
We climbed to the third story of the building, out a window, and on the tin roof where we were greeted with a spectacular panoramic view of the city. Busy streets full of people, volcanoes in the distance, and cathedrals in all directions dotted the landscape. Where in the world can a person visit a museum and be treated to a roof top perch of the city?
Returning to street level, as another Sandinista soldier chased after us hoping we would buy a painting of Sandino, I was reminded why we chose Nicaragua as our adopted country. Like the museum, it is raw, real, and passionately unforgettable.