PORTFOLIO: One Year in Nicaragua

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I was born in Managua, Nicaragua just weeks before a great earthquake destroyed the city in late December of 1972. I spent the first part of my childhood in a broken capital within a country on the road to war, two notable markers of the turbulent times that plagued this unique part of the world for most of the last century. All of it came to a head in the summer of 1979, when the Sandinista Revolution took hold. And much like thousands of other Nicaraguans, my family was forced to leave with little idea of ever returning. The rest of my early years were spent growing up in New Orleans.

I still carry a handful of memories from my Nicaraguan childhood, which I like to think of as dreams because they often appear in my mind as otherworldly experiences, as flashes that show up unannounced at seemingly random times. These dreams are companions which remind me of where my family lived, of my maternal grandmother, of a few places visited, and of moments that will always be inextricably associated with my parents and siblings.

For many, many reasons, I did not return to Nicaragua until the summer of 2010, shortly after my mother passed away in Managua. I was the last person in my immediate family to reconnect in a tangible way. Some may call it fate, others will insist it is destiny, yet for whatever mystical reason, I was meant to go back and in a small way pick up where I had left off. I like to think that my mother’s death was the impetus for my return. Better yet, I like to think that she was silently urging me, as she had always done, to follow my interests and to continue growing, while regaining a part of my identity that had lain dormant for so long.

A little over a year later, I moved to Managua for twelve months, due mainly to a Fulbright Fellowship. While plenty of time was devoted to researching various aspects of Nicaraguan music history, presenting lectures, giving concerts, and getting to know members of my family, I also traveled throughout as much of the western half of the country as possible. I took on the philosophy that one cannot understand a place without exploring it, which meant that I had to get around quite a bit, usually going with family or friends, and on many an occasion, braving the notorious inter-city bus system by myself, in search of knowledge, in search of contemplation, in search of understanding. Of the country’s seventeen departments, I visited fourteen of them, including each of their respective capital towns. As for the departments that eluded me (Boaco, the R.A.A.N. and R.A.A.S.), I look to the future in the hopes of continuing my pilgrimage, especially to the Caribbean Coast, whose multi-cultural towns exist, for now, only in my imagination.

The photographs in the series represent the people, places, and traditions I came across throughout the year. They are a small selection from the thousands of images taken, reduced down to approximately 1300 that I chose to share online over a period of many months, further reduced to the 290 published in my book “Un Año en Nicaragua / One Year in Nicaragua.” They tell as much about my sense of curiosity and the way I see the world as they (hopefully) do about Nicaragua, her people, and their transcendental beauty. I’ve included a map of the country with all of the cities I captured in some way with my camera. I hope to have created an intimate visual diary of living in my native country for one year.

Towns and cities visited throughout the year (click to enlarge):