The Nicaragua Photo/Testimony Project
Paul Dix and Pam Fitzpatrick
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The letter below is one of a series written by Pam Fitzpatrick and Paul Dix during multiple journeys they took to Nicaragua between 2002 and 2010 to locate people who were the subjects of photos taken by Paul in the 1980s (during the U.S.-sponsored Contra War). Pam and Paul's goal was to document and share with the people of the U.S.—through photographs and testimonies in Nicaraguans' own voices—the horrific long-term effects of the Contra War and ongoing U.S. international policy on the lives of ordinary Nicaraguans.  To see a list of all of the letters and their topics, visit the Letters page.  To learn more about the Nicaragua Photo/Testimony Project, see About the Book and About the Authors.

In 2011 Pam and Paul published a beautiful 220-page book of photographs and testimonies, NICARAGUA: Surviving the Legacy of U.S. Policy. Order it here!

March 8, 2003  Jinotega, Jiguina, Matagalpa

Including stories about or testimonies from: Jose, Juan, Mauricio, Paula, Hipolita, Albertina.

Note: To see some of Paul's photos taken for the Photo/Testimony project, visit the Photos and Stories page.

Dear Friends,

We're feeling the time crunch as our departure date zooms toward us. With this in mind we hired a truck and driver for one day to help us search for several people in a three hour radius of the city of Jinotega.  We were especially hoping to find Jose who had lived in Jiguina in the 1980s.

At about 11 pm Sunday February 15, 1987 five year old Jose was sleeping when his father, Juan, accompanied Jose's 13 year old brother, Mauricio, home from a party.  Mauricio stepped back outside to use the bathroom and saw men up on the hillside. He quickly returned and Juan went out asking "who goes"?

About 12 contra opened fire on the house and threw grenades through the roof. After the attack of about 5 minutes Jose's mother, 32 year old Paula was dead, his brother, Mauricio, was dead, his 3 year old sister, Albertina, was dead, his 16-month-old sister, Hipolita, was wounded, and his father, who survived, had been shot 7 times.

Jose himself was badly wounded with a bullet through the right thigh, and a bullet shattered left thigh. As the contra left they placed 14 land mines, hoping to maim more people as neighbors came to help.

The cause of the attack? Juan had been a volunteer policeman in Jiguina and at the time of the attack was head of the self-defense militia of Jiguina. He wasn't a soldier; he was part of the team that was trying to protect their community from contra attacks.

Paul visited the house soon after the attack, photographed the house, blood on the bed, blood on the door. He also visited Jose in the Jinotega hospital, once at the beginning of his year in the hospital and once near the end.  Then he visited Jose after he had returned to Jiguina to live with his grandmother.

After a couple of hours of bouncing in the truck we did reach Jiguina, and yes, people remembered Jose well, but he no longer lived in the area. Then we were given three other places he might live, all in very different parts of Nicaragua.  With luck we were given the name of his stepmother and a general address in the city of Jinotega. A good lead!

We returned to Jinotega to search for this Angela, walking from one end of Villa Valencia to the other. We found her!  We were feeling hopeful. And even better, she wanted to find Jose and Juan, who lived "way out" off the road to El Cua, and bring them into town to meet with us. What a huge help that would be! So that Thursday we left her with money for the bus fares and some for food and agreed to meet the following Monday in Jinotega.

Paul and I had already made plans to go to Matagalpa with Berta who was going to help us find Americo, her father.  Remember the anti-tank mine in Pantasma that killed 5, wounded 43, with Carmen being one of them?  Berta's mother was killed by that mine and her father lost both legs. So much suffering from one contra-placed land mine.  But Americo is a report for a later date.

Sunday night we returned to Jinotega with our fingers crossed. Would Jose and Juan be there?

We headed over Monday morning and saw there were people in the house, at the very least! Yes, Juan, the father, was there but Angela hadn't been able to find Jose.  So we shared rich hours with Juan, taped his testimony, and photographed the scars of his multiple surgeries that pieced him back together after the contra attack.

He's now 59 and amazingly fit considering those 7 bullets and multiple shrapnel wounds. He says he can't do strenuous work, but he does pick up work here and there. He has no land and no house of his own.

Meeting with Juan was important, but we knew we still needed to find Jose. So the next day we hired a truck and driver again, and headed out with Juan as our guide to find Jose.  After a solid three hours of continuous bouncing and jerking we reached a car trail that took us to the top of a hill that took us to a foot trail heading down to the bottom of the valley of a coffee plantation. The people that Jose lived with lived down that trail. Exactly how far down were we going to have to walk? Jose wasn't sure.

We started walking down, down, down, asking for Jose at each house as it appeared. No, not here, further down.  I kept hoping he didn't live at the very bottom of this valley.

After about 20 minutes of steady and then steep decline, we found the house. But no Jose.   He had received word we were looking for him and had started his journey that very morning at 3:30 am, heading to Jinotega to find us!

The house, a small wood plank house, sits on a hillside in the middle of a coffee plantation. No other houses are nearby and I hesitated to ask how far they had to walk for water.

We climbed back out of the valley and bounced and jerked back to Jinotega.  Handsome, sweet, strong spirited Jose was waiting for us.

We chatted for some time and then Paul took pictures, some of him walking to show that his left foot is turned inward at a 90 degree angle. Later his stepmother, Angela, urged him to put on shorts so we could see his legs.

I can honestly say Paul and I were both shocked by what we saw. Both thighs have huge indentations, the left foot actually looks more like a stump, and had oozing sores. He also had problems with his right knee which sometimes nearly doubles in size due to swelling. All much worse than we had realized.

How does he work? How does he walk up that hill at 3:30am to reach the car path that leads to the bus road? On top of this he's not had one day of schooling; it was too far away when he was young. He'll need to support himself with hard physical labor. Because of his slower pace it's likely he's paid less than the going rate of 30 cordobas a day.

We felt his infected leg should be seen by a doctor, so we took him back to that same hospital he'd stayed in for a year when he was 5. He seemed glad to be returning, and was recognized by one of the nurses. Paul had been told in 1987 that the nurses absolutely loved Jose.

The staff took blood, and since Jose had been exposed to TB and had indications of having TB they took lung x-rays. After 3 and a half hours we walked out with a list of prescriptions to buy and directions to return for the next three days for consecutive TB tests.

We noted he only had a sock for his left foot, a sock with holes, and no sock for his "good" foot. So we bought him 4 new pairs of socks, simple white athletic socks at 31 cordobas a pair. How could he buy socks as the doctor urged?

We put him in a taxi, gave him money for his return to the hospital and his long bus ride home after those three days.

This was feeling like one of the more hopeless situations. The lack of schooling, the shattered legs, the long walks, the hard work. I kept seeing Jose's oozing foot and his sweet cheerful smile.

But there is something called grace. On our return to Managua we met with Father Joseph Mulligan, a priest from Detroit and Chicago who has been in Nicaragua since the 80s. A true saint. We're told he's always surrounded by the blind and physically "challenged" he's helped in one way or another.

On this day we were meeting with Father Mulligan because of his work around the exhumations and return of the remains of Nicaraguans found in contra camps in Honduras. Paul has photographed exhumations in Guatemala and we were wondering about the status of his work in Honduras.

At the end of our chat I had to ask Father Mulligan if he knew of any organization that might help someone like Jose. Well, the long and the short of it is that Father Mulligan will oversee getting Jose to the Alvo Chavarria Rehabilitation Hospital in Managua and he'll find a place for Jose to live while he's staying in Managua for these doctor appointments!

It's up to me to get Jose to Managua, and I've already begun the process of getting a message to Jose.  I plan to bring Jose to Managua on Sunday March 23rd.  Father Mulligan returns from Honduras Saturday March 22nd, celebrates two masses on Sunday March 23rd, and said he'd be ready to receive Jose anytime after 1:30 on Sunday. Father Mulligan is truly an amazing and generous human!  We're hoping Jose can, at the very least, be fitted for an orthopedic boot.

Paul's off to Siuna tomorrow, I'm off to Esteli for two weeks. The time crunch has us going in separate directions for these two weeks, but we're feeling healthy and productive.

Thanks for all your help. We appreciate each and every one of you!

Pam and Paul