A Stroll Through a Barrio and Beyond

It was midday when I decided to take a random stroll upward, into the hills of Matagalpa, to explore potential photo taking opportunities.  Never in my life have I been such a photo enthusiast, such a camera carrying addict.  The great picture I was searching for wouldn’t transpire, but something else did.

Upon walking uphill, a high school boy approached me.  This is rare here in Matagalpa where touts don’t exist.  He didn’t seem to be a scammer as he was modestly trying to speak English.  He said that he loves to speak English but never has the chance, that English in school is so boring.  He claimed that he needs to use English as opposed to study it.  I wanted to shake him off as I didn’t feel like talking to him.

He asked where I was from, where I was going, how long I’d be in Matagalpa and the most common question I get from Nicaraguans:

Are you was traveling alone.”

I usually provide an ambiguous answer:

Right now I’m alone, but I have to meet a friend in a while.”

The boy told me that his dream is to travel to the United States, but that it is economically impossible.

He then said that if I wanted to get a great view of the city, he’d take me up through his barrio.  Usually I’d be very reluctant; thus making an excuse and being on my way.  But he only wanted to practice his broken English.  I sensed that he was genuine, that he wasn’t looking for anything more.

We were on dirt roads ascending up into his neighborhood. Here, residents were probably lucky if they could earn six or seven dollars a day.

He was on his way home from school and wanted to drop off his bag.

After a short diversion to his home he motioned for me to come inside.  The dwelling resembled something not much bigger than a small shack.  It was clean and had cement floors and wooden walls.  There must have been only two rooms.  I only saw the first one.

His mom and friend were sitting in the tiny room on plastic stools.  I don’t think that the minuscule home had a bathroom.  However, the three of them were clean and not dressed shabbily.  Surely they cleaned themselves with buckets of water, a task that’s practiced by a huge chunk of the world’s people.

We were only there for a minute.  I’d found my dream photo opportunity, but I just couldn’t bring it upon myself to treat these people like zoo animals.  I didn’t have it in me.

I’d read somewhere that rural people in Nicaragua may not talk to you, as they have a fear of foreigners, a fear of the unknown.  I remembered this while witnessing his Mom’s perplexed look and what she said to him as we were walking out:


Even though these people live off of dirt paths in foothills, I’m not sure if I’d call the area rural as they still live in what’s considered the city of Matagalpa.

He came up with an interesting idea.

You want?  We walk up, look city then walk to other barrio and to city.”

This sounded like a plan.

The boy took me through his neighborhood of walking paths.  There weren’t too many people around, but to those that were; I politely saluted them with an ever so slight nod, and a:


Before I knew it we were beyond the shantytown and up in the foothills overlooking Matagalpa.  My gut told me that this couldn’t be a set up.

He was struggling with his English, I corrected him as much as I could.  He was only in high school.  He didn’t even know what a raya (ray) was.  Perhaps he’d never been to the pacific coast which was just hours away on a bus that only cost a couple of bucks.  Perhaps he’d never jumped online, or used a computer.

We walked, I felt odd snapping photos; thus I was taking them sparsely and too quickly; hence, no great ones were produced.  I didn’t ask him to take one of me.  Who knows how long it would take his family to earn enough to buy a $100 camera.  This would never take precedence over their hand to mouth needs.

This mini trek provided for a nice view.

We descended along steep dirt paths and into another barrio where he didn’t know the people.  I managed to get the camera out for some quick shots but didn’t want him to notice me taking a million photos, nor did I want the wrong poverty-stricken person to see me.

It would be impossible to explain to them why I wanted these pictures, that this wasn’t some half-baked exploitative mission, or was it?

Eventually, during our descent, we reached a welcoming concrete staircase.  A kind older woman approached us.  We stopped and talked for a bit.  She told me that I needed to be very careful up there, especially with that camera.  I’d thought I’d been inconspicuous with it. She seemed honest.  she told me that she really likes foreigners, but that not everyone there did.

I didn’t notice any danger.    The vibes I felt were beyond tranquil.

Upon getting back to the city, I tried to give the boy the best advice I could:

Study hard.”

I wondered: Will this kid ever have a chance to find way out of this extreme poverty, in this, an unfair and unforgiving world.


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