They say Leon is one of the safest cities in Central America. It is also one of the hottest. It is not a big tourist destination, so when I walk down the street I DO NOT FEEL LIKE A DOLLAR SIGN but a human being. Students stop me in the street to practice their English and ask where I am from. It is an old city with many churches that rise up against the faded buildings, radiating the passions and pains of the past. They still use horses here so the streets are full of horse and buggies that move construction supplies and serve as collectivoes to carry as many as 20 people like taxis.
At times it reminds me of Cuba, but here many of the children go hungry. Nicaragua is poor so that we can be rich; U.S. foreign policy has exploited this country for decades. There are many street kids here, some look 6 but they are really 12 and 14. The glue they sniff to take away hunger pains has stunted their growth. Last night when Joanna and I were eating at an outdoor café, the kids waited in the shadows. When they felt we had eaten all we could they asked us very politely if they could eat our leftovers, shyly taking away our plates. In the park there are many young barefoot boys who shine shoes. I get mine shined a lot to help a little. At times the boys argue with one another because they feel I am their customer and no one else should shine my boots. When they argue, their faces are those of grown men. Life is very hard here for them.
Las Tias means “aunts” and is an organization that the women of the market started to help out the street kids. I am working with some of the young men who are carpenters and are making furniture to sell in the market so the profits can help feed the children. They need tools, a planer, a good table saw. They are good workers, but it is hard for them to compete. I do what I can to help. Las Tias has two buildings—one for the young kids and another for the teenagers. Two days ago I visited the one with the children. It was so wonderful to see these kids looking so happy. When they look you in the eyes and smile it goes clear to your soul.
Then came the Americans from the Southern Baptist church. They made the kids line up on the basketball court and roared out their indoctrination. I had to leave. The church is dividing Latin America, telling teenagers not to use birth control and of course no abortions. Many young girls become mothers too early in their lives. It is a very big problem, and families are divided. Las Tias has no choice because these groups bring food and money so they have to swallow the conditions that are attached. They provide dental care but only if you go to church first. This city is raw. It is life and I feel happy here.