THE BRIONES FAMILY
Lucia Briones Perez, age 32 (1)
Ligia Maria Briones Rodriguez, 14 (2)
Naraya Patricia Briones Rodriguez, 11 (3)
Arturo Alberto Briones Rodriguez, 7 (4)
Alba Nubia Vargas Briones (cousin), 17 (5)
Francisco Javier Vargas Briones (cousin), 16 (6)
Denis Vargas Briones (cousin), 15 (7)
Nelson Antonio Vargas Briones (cousin), 13 (absent from picture)
Edrulfo Ivan Rodriguez (cousin), 14 months (8)
The sun’s first rays peek above the roof of the Briones family’s little wooden house and awaken the colors of the flowers and fruit trees in the small interior garden. Lucia Briones turns on the radio, and eight children come from the house’s two bedrooms to congregate in the kitchen and listen to the first news broadcast of the day. Esteli is a small rural town that lies at the base of the mountains where the country’s civil war is being fought. The daily broadcasts have become a vital part of the family’s existence. Lucia serves coffee and cake. The older children will prepare a real breakfast of tortillas and sour cream after she leaves for work.
6:45. Lucia reminds everyone of their chores. Dressed in jeans and a shirt to protect her from the chilly November morning, she leaves the house. Her daughter Patricia accompanies her as far as the end of the road, on her way to buy meat. She must get in line early, as the meat will all be sold by midday. Lucia’ s nephew Javier leaves as well. He is an electrical mechanic for the government transportation company. Like most of Nicaragua’s young adults, he works during the day and attends school in the evening.
Lucia Briones has an unusually large household to manage by herself. She has adopted her four nieces and nephews whose parents were casualties of the war. She also cares for her sister’s baby while the mother finishes her studies in biology in Cuba. The baby’s father, an agricultural engineer and tobacco expert, is working in the North in the war zone.
For the past fifteen years, Lucia has worked for the national tobacco company. Until last year she rolled tobacco in the town factory, a tiring and monotonous job. Now she has been transferred to the company’s day-care center and is in charge of the infants. The promotion brought her a much needed wage increase. Left alone by her husband six years ago, Lucia has struggled to provide enough food for the children. Fortunately, another sister, who is a teacher in the northern part of the country, sends her money for clothes.
8:00. The younger children stay home until their afternoon classes. They have an impressive sense of responsibility and carry out their assigned daily tasks quietly. Patricia makes the beds, cleans the rooms, and wipes a cloth over the red earth tiles on the living-room floor. Then she sweeps the patio. In one comer of the garden, Nubia washes the diapers and baby clothes in a cement tub. In another corner, Ligia lights the fire to cook the black beans. Gas is scarce and to economize, long cooking jobs are done over a wood fire. Nelson and Denis then leave with a gas bottle; they will have to stand in line for at least three hours to exchange their ration card for this month’s allotment. Patricia grumbles a little this morning. It’s her tum to look after her little cousin, Edrulfo Ivan, when she could be preparing for her examination this afternoon. She’ll get a chance when the baby naps later on in the morning.
10:30. Breakfast has been eaten, the baby is sleeping, and the house is silent. The children are concentrating on their studies. It is examination time and school ends in ten days. During a study break the children excitedly discuss their vacation, which in fact is three months of work harvesting coffee beans. All over Nicaragua students and teachers volunteer for the coffee harvest, the country’s primary resource. Even Javier will go. His employer is required to give him leave. “The young people for the harvest, the adults for the defense of the nation,” reads a popular political slogan. The Briones children feel strongly about helping their country.
Seventeen-year-old Nubia has been arguing with her aunt Lucia. Lucia relies on Nubia to look after the house and the baby while she is at work and doesn’t want Nubia to go to the harvest. But Nubia looks forward to this summer’s harvest, even though it is in an area where there is fighting between government forces .and the Contra rebels. For her the harvest is also fun, a chance to be with and act like other children her age. It’s an incongruous image. In a country tom by war, amid coffee fields protected by Sandinista soldiers, students and teachers harvest as people have harvested through all time, with enthusiasm and festivity.
Lucia worries about all of them despite the protection of the Sandinista army. She has the painful memory of the death of her fifteen-year-old son barely a year ago. “He said it was his duty to go and fight for his country,” Lucia explains. She did not oppose his going, and he did not return. She also thinks of her children’s father, who left the country during the revolution and has not been heard from since. Lucia wants to protect those who are left.
11:30. The girls close their books to prepare lunch. Nelson and Denis return with the gas. The boys are volunteers for the militia and contribute one day or night a week for civil defense-guarding bridges, schools, and other strategic points. Since the death of their brother and cousin, their adolescent zeal has been tempered, and they will wait until they’re seventeen, when they will be drafted for their compulsory military service.
Ligia serves the meal: rice, beans, and a few pieces of boiled beef. After eating, the students shower, change, and head off to class, leaving Nubia behind for the afternoon. She and the baby will take a short nap, after which she will quickly iron all the family’s clothes. Electricity is so expensive that even though they have a refrigerator, it stays unplugged.
4:00. Home from work, Lucia relaxes for a few minutes in the rocking chair watching her little nephew playing at her feet. She loves children but doesn’t want any more. “My family has doubled in a short time,” she says. “And I don’t want any more men in my house. Things are fine as they are.” Her mother arrives from the countryside, where she lives alone. Her plot of land is in the war zone; every other day she comes to Esteli to sell eggs, chickens, or vegetables and buy her ration of rice and sugar. Today she brings three ducks for the family to fatten for the New Year’s celebration. She leaves to catch the bus home, and Lucia rises to prepare the evening meal of eggs, beans, and tortillas.
5:45. The streets of the town are swarming with students coming from and going to their classes. Finished with their dinner, Javier and Nubia search for their friends and join the crowd. The rest of the family sit at the table and converse. As night falls, the wooden house trembles and their voices are drowned out by army helicopters coming in to land at the military base, a mere two blocks away. Lucia gets up from the table to go to the yard. As she leaves the kitchen, she unscrews the light bulb and takes it with her to the outdoor socket. The bulb accompanies Lucia from room to room, leaving the rest of the house in darkness.
7:30. With dinner over, a few clothes washed, and the baby in his pajamas, Lucia resumes rocking in the chair with little Edrulfo Ivan on her lap. Only half paying attention, she watches the television set, which is so old it leaves the viewer guessing at pictures. She rocks the child for a long, long time.