Tourist mecca of Grenada hides a daily battle to survive

A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
As with much of Latin America, the street is the local viewing and meeting place.

On the old streets of Granada, Nicaragua, adults sit on their front porch stoops in rocking chairs while kids play fútbol in the road under a street lamp.

These families live separately, yet together when necessary. They lean on each other to endure hardships.

“Everyday is a fight,” they say. This fight is one of survival.

While tourists flock in to enjoy savory dishes such as guapote, a rainbow bass served with a tomato salsa, or vigoron, a Grenada original of yucca topped with fried pork skins and cabbage salad, locals have a different experience.

One resident, Allan Blandón Sánchez, who introduces himself as 200 percent Nicaraguan, explains that a regular dinner at the house is a helping of gallo pinto, a dish which mixes rice and beans together. Somedays there is chicken to accompany the sides, but otherwise its just the two starches.

A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
Allan Blandón Sánchez

His family was raised by his mom, Betty Sánchez Hernández. She was married to a wealthy man who treated her badly, said Blandón.

Since his father left, Blandón has assumed the responsibility of head of the household hustling in the streets to make enough money for the family. The path first pushed him to a route of destruction. He was gang leader in his neighborhood, and even served time in prison for drugs.

“That was my old life,” he said. “I don’t do that anymore.”

A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
Subsistence fishing means no fish, no supper

Now he calls himself “the fixer,” available to make things happen for those who need it, especially tourists who want to experience the culture. Blandón serves as their personal guide.

The young man’s alliance lies strictly with his family. He has the utmost respect for the mother, and has made it his mission to take care of her and not let her witness any wrongdoing.

“I don’t care what you do, just don’t make her cry,” he lectures his younger brother, Kenneth, in a low hushed tone when he caught him drinking a beer.

Also living in the house are the grandparents. The grandmother has Alzheimer’s, and the only person she can remember is Blandón.

A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
Betty Sánchez Hernández in her kitchen

“She doesn’t know anyone else, but she knows if I’m home or if I’m not home or if I come back high, drunk or whatever. She’s the boss,” Blandón said.

According to Blandón, his house dynamic is not an uncommon story for the community,

Nicaragua is Latin America’s second poorest country, with an overall poverty level of 45 percent, according to a report produced by the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Seventeen percent of rural households are managed by women alone and 43 percent of the population reside in rural areas. In the country, these rural areas also house the majority of the poor population, the report says.

To add to this, 15.8 percent of the population lives with less than $1.25 a day, according to the U. N. Development Programme.

Blandón commented that the average monthly income in his neighborhood is $300 a month, mostly which goes toward rent and utilities.

When asked what were typical jobs for the city, the two Blandón brothers respond in unison, “Whatever you can.”

Jobs are limited in the country. Most family incomes come from working as street sellers or laborers. Sitting in the park of Granada, one will be approached by multiple people selling handmade souvenirs.

“It’s my work, always,” said street vendor Lidia as she showed pottery vases.

Children are not exempt. The country mandates that every Nicaraguan spend at least six years in school. Despite this law, many children walk the streets barefooted selling origami made of corn husks. They ask to finish leftovers of tourists in the park and beg for coins with sad looks and phrases such as, “Amigo, tengo hambre,” which translates to “Friend, I am hungry.”

To many, tourism may be the answer to the problem. Nicaragua is slowly developing as foreigners continue to visit and create properties. Many tourists complain about the influx of business, with the claim that that they like Nicaragua more than Costa Rica because of its underdevelopment.

However, the locals see the positive of the change.

“We like people coming here because it brings in money. For example, people buy the islands and hire Nicaraguans to live in and run the houses. It’s good for us,” said Alberto, a tour guide of the Isletas de Granada, when this idea was raised.

“I just hope that it doesn’t get like Costa Rica, and stays beautiful,” he said.

Still the people of Nicaragua recognize the benefits of a simple life and don’t look for too much luxury.

“In America you work to buy things and you have so much but also debt. Here you work hard for the day, but you can sleep because it’s done. Everyday is a new day. You don’t owe anyone anything,” said Blandón.

Although there are many illegal things to earn money, Blandón said he is not willing to compromise his beliefs and uses his family to keep him grounded.

“I won’t give up my morals, no matter how much money,” said Blandón. “I have the love of my family, nothing else matters.”

“You think I’m happy,” he asked with a smile. Then answered his own question with a nod and smile.

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