Well, where to start? Our lives were turned upside down within a week.
On Monday April 16 the president of Nicaragua and his wife, who is also the vice president, bypassed congress and announced a major change to the social security program. The social security program has been mishandled for a long time and is close to bankrupt. The changes were increases to employee taxes and employer taxes. The biggest change was a 5% reduction to retirement pension pay outs. With already meager pension incomes the retired Nicaraguans can't made ends meet as it is, a 5% reduction created a panic.
Tuesday some elderly people went to the streets in protest over the changes. Unfortunately, the police overreacted and some peacefully protesting elderly people were injured by police batons. Understandably, this caused outrage from a lot of people. The university students reacted strongly and began to protest against the social security changes.
Wednesday the protests became more heated as the unarmed university students rallied and the police responded in force. The government shut down all of the independent news stations in effort to control the news being disseminated. This was a huge shock to everyone since the Nicaraguan constitution guarantees freedom of press as well as the right to organize and demonstrate peacefully. The government was clearly overstepping their authority in effort to maintain power. This strategy caused even more outrage among the people and only fueled the fire. Maybe the president didn't realize that more information is spread through social media than the news? Plenty of first hand reports were being shared through Facebook Live, Twitter, and other social media platforms.
By Thursday this had turned into a full blown conflict and as the university students rallied, the police arrived in riot gear and began throwing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets. Thursday morning I stocked up on food and water and charged all of our devices and battery packs expecting that we would likely have to stay in our house for a few days. Thursday afternoon the school notified the parents and suspended classes the rest of the afternoon and Friday. I picked up the kids from school and then waited in a long line to fill up the car with gas. It was surreal to see people filling barrels with gasoline; that's when I began to think this conflict may be more serious than I originally thought. It seemed that many people were expecting this unrest to last a while. That night the situation quickly devolved when live rounds were fired into the groups of university students and several students, and one police officer died. Many were injured that night.
|These trees were installed throughout Managua and other parts of Nicaragua as a gift from the First Lady. She is extremely unpopular and many of them were torn down and burned as part of the anti-government protesting.|
|This is in front of the artisan market in Masaya. Masaya endured a particularly intense battle in the streets.|
On Saturday morning we were all really sick of being stuck in the house for several days and really wanted to get out. Since the riots were mostly starting in the late afternoons and lasting until late in the night I felt it was safe enough to venture out Saturday morning to the grocery store.
|The line to check out was halfway back the warehouse! The tension was palpable, no one seemed panicked but everyone felt that this was a grave situation.|
While Mitchell was gone I had a family council with the kids to explain what was going on and that we were going to leave. It was a hard conversation and felt really scary to tell the kids that we were basically fleeing. I wanted to stay calm at least on the outside so they wouldn't be scared but I did start to cry a bit. We knelt down and said a prayer and as soon as I asked for angels to accompany us on the journey I felt immense calm. It was confirmation enough for me that we were doing the wise thing.
I had each of the kids gather 3 changes of clothes and one "special thing." Meanwhile, I gathered all of the cash we had on hand and separated it into ziplock bags. I had seen videos of road barricades and heard of people having to pay bribes to get to the airport. I truly hoped and prayed that we wouldn't encounter any hostile barricades or have to pay any bribes. I prepared nonetheless. It was quite an experience reducing everything we own to 1 suitcase! Rather than feel loss at everything we were leaving behind, I just felt really blessed that we were together and safe. It's a huge blessing that we had the means and ability so easily leave and return to the US. I also felt good knowing that the useful things and food we were leaving behind would be distributed to those in need by a trusted friend.
When I checked on the kids they had gathered their 3 changes of clothes and Reid, our rule follower, added his prized wallet to the pile. Redick came out with 3 blankets and 2 stuffed animals and big tears coming down his cheeks, "Mom, I can't decide." I sobbed and hugged him and told him he definitely did not need to choose and to bring all of it. Audrey took matters into her own hands and stuffed as much of her precious things into a tote bag as would fit. When Mitchell got home with our residency renewal documents he removed the hard drive from our computer and we closed everything up and got in the car. We dropped off our house keys with a trusted friend with instructions to be sure to not let any of the food go to waste and we started for the border.
We were pretty nervous about how the road conditions would be. Our main goal was to get out of Managua without encountering any groups of people and to get to the border before dark. It was such a relief to find that the only thing that looked out of the ordinary leaving Managua were the long lines coming out of crowded gas stations.
|So thankful I had waited in a much shorter line on Thursday to fill up our gas tank.|
|My whole world right there walking in to Costa Rica|
|Everyone was calm and in good spirits throughout the day.|
|We made it! What a relief!|
It was a long bus ride and we didn't get to San Jose until after 11:30pm. As promised, Ashley and her husband Andres were waiting for us at the bus terminal. They took us to his grandparent's house and got us set up for the night. We are so grateful to their family for opening their home to us! In the morning we met the grandparents and they were so generous and kind. We ended up staying there for 3 nights instead of finding an Airbnb or hotel as we had planned. We had a fun couple of days in Costa Rica. The next morning was Monday and the US Embassy in Managua ordered all non-essential embassy staff and all family members of embassy employees to evacuate the country. We knew we had left at exactly the right time. When we read that notice we decided for sure that we wouldn't go back to Nicaragua. Mitchell's company was very accommodating and helpful. The HR director was able to completely re-book our plane tickets with no extra fees or cost. They were originally scheduled for June 29 from Managua to Sacramento, CA and she got me and the kids tickets for Wednesday that week from San Jose, Costa Rica to Salt Lake City.
On Wednesday morning the kids and I arrived at the airport really early in the morning and got on a long flight to LAX. The kids were so good on our long flights! It helped that they each had a personal screen loaded with movies, cartoons and games. The fight attendant even gave them headphones for free! On our layover in Los Angeles they wanted to play hide and seek but I gave that idea a firm NO and suggested Red Light, Green Light instead. The layover passed quickly and our shorter flight to SLC was as enjoyable as the first. Even flying alone with 4 kids I was able to watch 2 movies and doze a little! Hooray!
|Our first ever UBER!|
|Waiting to check baggage at 5:30am|
|Having fun feeling like tourists|
|Waiting for a pancake breakfast, with bacon!|
|What's an airport visit without a Cinnabon!!??!|
|My traveling buddies. They are great travelers!|
|These screens made the day so easy! Why are screens so hypnotic for kids?|
That morning Mitchell took a bus from San Jose back to the border and drove our car back to Managua. He was able to spend Thursday sorting through our house with the help of 5 friends. Most of our stuff was donated to the community but Mitchell was able to bring another suitcase and a half back with him. He flew to SLC from Managua on Friday.