Nicaragua and Sisyphus
(Excerpted from the October 29 commentary on the hurricane by Sofia Montenegro in Barricada)
Damned country! Driven into the ground again! How many times must we retrace our steps? How many times will we have to rebuild? The hurricane left a vision of mud and desolation that inspires a strange mixture of pain and rage, of powerlessness and futility. Must we live with this geography as an eternal punishment? This new disaster, devastating but above all entirely unjust for a country already nearly destroyed by war gives one a sense that the endless efforts to put Nicaragua back on its feet are futile and hopeless.
Against the backdrop of the aggression, the hurricane seems to be less a cruel fluke of nature than a joke, a conspiracy on the part of who knows which gods against our mortal and absurd efforts. The myth of Sisyphus is incarnate in Nicaragua. This peculiar combination of geography, history, space and time makes up the stone out of which we seem to have been hewn.
To our disconcerting geography, we must add a dizzying and sometimes nauseating history given that Nicaragua, like the rest of Latin America, passed in a little more than 300 years from an indigenous society through the conquest, colonization and independence to the formation of a national state; and, in our particular case, through the intoxicating (though no less heart- rending) process of making a revolution.
This quick glance backward is nearly paralyzing and points to the fragility of human existence as well as explaining our seeming lack of progress, particularly if we take into account the many interventions of our yankee neighbor we have had to resist since the last century. It's a rare city in Nicaragua that hasn't had to be built several times. Managua, which is destroyed every time it's nearly rebuilt, is a story in itself.
And for the last eight years we've been caught in a macabre game—where the contras destroy what the revolution has created.... There are cooperatives in the countryside that have lost count of the number of times they have been destroyed and risen up once again. From where does this sisyphic will come to rebuild, over and over again, all that which has been destroyed by nature and by human ravages?
One could say that the force, anarchy, fury and supernatural quality of all the volcanic eruptions, all the earthquakes, all the hurricanes, all the wars—all the screams and pain of thousands of years—have shaped out of this inhabitable place a unique Nicaraguan identity. In the ongoing effort to survive, Nicaraguans have adapted a psychology expressing this essential effort. In this, Sisyphus' country, we can only keep going with a sense of the absurd. This reality, present in the very depths of our consciousness and memory, is transformed into a vital force that spurs us towards rebellion, towards freedom, towards creation.
Perhaps that's where our tenacity comes from, this almost innate obstinacy to follow the same path as many times as necessary, to come into our own as people, as a nation, fully and authentically, without the chains of poverty, without foreign domination, and less vulnerable in the face of natural disasters.
In Nicaragua, we know that the most familiar paths are the easiest ones to take, because the path towards the creation of a nation, of our country, our identity, our independence, our freedom, is one we have set off on a thousand times. Our rock of Sisyphus is the country within, the one we have in our heads and in our hearts, the one we want to create.
Sisyphus has shown us the way from the eternity of his myth. Sisyphus isn't worried about his situation because he controls his rock, he knows it well. The gods can't budge him from his path, neither can they take the rock away from him, they can only send him back down again. The rock belongs to Sisyphus, he has taken control of it and every time he starts back up, he challenges the gods.
As Camus said so well, all of Sisyphus' silent joy springs from that. His destiny belongs to him. The rock belongs to him. That's why he imagines himself to be lucky. "The very effort of trying to make it to the summit is enough to fill one's heart." This gigantic rock that is Nicaragua is nothing without us. And without it, we are nothing as well.