NOVEMBER in Nicaragua means trees full of ripe oranges, lemons and grapefruit. We find our breakfast under the trees each morning. Before this citrus harvest we had had three months of bananas and bread-fruit, and before that it was mostly coconuts (in fact I had a recurrent dream in May and June that I was about to be killed by a ripe coconut falling accurately and forcefully on my head!)
There are many other tropical fruits eaten by my parishioners here in Central Zelaya. When at last peace comes the survivors will inhabit a Garden of Eden.
In the meantime the maiming, the killing and the enforced recruitment have all increased. On October 14 a civilian bus was ambushed by the "contras" on its way to Muelle de los Bueyes. One of our catechists was on board. Three civilians (two women and an old man), a Sandinista soldier and two "contras" were killed in the skirmish. The "contras" took four hostages, including the bus driver.
Just five days ago I travelled on the same bus and chatted to the same driver, happily back in his old job after a forced march in torrential storms through the rain-forests of Central Zelaya. Although he had not been tortured, there was a glazed look on his face, similar perhaps to that of any other Lazarus called back unexpectedly to a new lease of life.
On October 15, the day after the ambush of the bus, two Sandinista officers were shot dead while riding a motorbike between Muelle and Cara de Mono.
On October 26, in the village of Tamalera (four hours by horseback from Muelle) the "campesinos" (peasant farmers) were assembled in the Catholic chapel for their weekly "Celebration of the Word". A group of armed "contras" burst into the chapel. Using threats and physical violence, they took away nine young men against their will for what must be presumed to be military recruitment. No regard was paid to the protests of parents and relations. We heard this week that two of the nine have managed to escape and return to Tamalera.
In spite of increased violence on the road linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, newspapers and letters have been getting through to us without too much delay. For over a month now the chief news item in the Managua dailies has been the trial of US pilot Eugene Hasenfus, sole survivor of a C-123 aircraft carrying military hardware to the "contras", shot down on October 5 by a portable groundto-air missile. Whatever the eventual outcome (the present government has abolished the death penalty and has established 30 years as the maximum jail sentence) there is great interest in the trial.
I was intrigued by a notebook belonging to Hasenfus, which revealed the codenames used by the "contras" in their squalid little war against Nicaragua; the daily newspapers published a few examples: U,S,A, = "playboy", Washington = "Top Floor", Rifles – "Apples", Explosives = "Pears".
So the "playboy" on the "top floor" is kindly despatching more planeloads of "apples" and "pears" to a country (codename "Nickers" perhaps?) whose people desperately want peace, a country where oranges and bananas and passion-fruit are not military codenames for destruction, but real food and drink — for life!