Helping the Nicaraguan university students who were occupying their campus in 2018 changed Laura’s life forever. Not in a positive way. She offered them therapeutic massages, brought aid, and even safeguarded some of them in her home. This made her a target, and Daniel Ortega’s paramilitary and Police began to stalk her.
Even now, Laura (not her real name) finds it difficult to tell her story; she recalls the events with tears in her eyes. That September 11, 2018, when she decided to flee Nicaragua, feels like yesterday to her. She still recalls going to look for a small suitcase, to hold her three-year-old son’s clothes and her own. With that in hand, she began the trip to Spain, her date of return uncertain.
Her tragic situation didn’t begin with her exile. It began months previously, when the Ortega regime unleashed a raw and violent repression against the citizens demanding democracy. Laura’s relatively peaceful life came to an end. Many nights she couldn’t sleep. The sound of a vehicle, or someone setting off fireworks set her nerves screaming.
“I left Nicaragua because I felt my life wasn’t safe (…) Amid all of the conflict that was happening there, I was trying to support the students with my work. I’m a therapist, and I use different types of therapy. I began to post on my Facebook page, offering help for the people who’d been in jail. Or those who’d been harmed some other way; for example, going to the marches, or they’d hurt their feet running. I was doing all that publicly, and the moment came when I felt very insecure.”
From the moment when Laura began to contribute openly to the citizens’ civic struggle, a series of anomalies began occurring. First, was the appearance of a white Hilux pickup in the gated neighborhood where she lived. An unknown man asserted that Laura had ordered some construction materials. Laura denied this, and wouldn’t let him in. A few days later, she began to feel she was being watched and followed every time she left her home.
“Situations began to arise. A friend told me: “You should go to Costa Rica, because you’re not safe,” Laura recalls. She knew that an FSLN militant lived across the street from her. That person seemed to be monitoring those who entered or left her house. At that time, they were young people, rural residents or other people who were receiving physical or psychological therapy.
Without offering her parents any details, she merely told them that she was leaving Nicaragua. She did so with the aim of protecting the lives of her loved ones, especially that of her son.
Struggle to create a stable life for her child
When Laura left Nicaragua, her main objective was to distance the boy from the ongoing tension and violence in the country. When they arrived in Spain, she became aware that her child was having speech difficulties.
“When we left Nicaragua, my son barely spoke. I was beginning to be concerned that he talked so little. That’s pretty much the same time everything else happened. When we came here, (Spain), that was the first thing I wanted to do – check on what was going on with my child. I spent a lot of time going to the appointments and doing the paperwork.”
The situation with her son made it hard for her to find work. She was limited by few contacts, and a lack of time. She didn’t let that hold her back though. She continued struggling, because her objective is to assure her little one economic and psychological stability.
The lack of a home wears on her
Three years after going into exile, Laura still doesn’t have enough money to afford an apartment. The pandemic and Spain’s economic situation have impacted her.
Laura told Republica 18 that she’s lived in approximately 10 different places. She spoke of the friendships she’d made along the way. Many people have extended a hand to her. She’s tried hard to keep her son in the first school he entered, to protect his emotional stability. As such, she’s had to commute long distances to drop the child off and pick him up.
“It’s affected us a lot that every little while we have to be looking for another flat (…) One of the things that causes me a lot of instability is not being able to supply the main necessities. Not having a secure place, and not feeling secure in a home or a job. It’s super difficult.”
Over the Christmas period, she and her son found themselves in the sad situation of having to change places three times, spending two weeks in each. This has caused her to feel disoriented, and to fall into emotional chaos.
“So many powerful events going by at the same time. You can’t seem get ahead, only go from one situation to another. That all provokes mental and emotional instability. It also affects you physically, like everything comes together there.”
Given her emotionally vulnerable situation, she’s had to find a therapist herself. Therapy has helped alleviate the pain of her exile, and to cope with her worries about the lack of resources. The therapy she’s received has helped her see things from another perspective.
Her application for asylum denied
Amid all her grief and her unemployment, Laura recently received yet another piece of bad news. The denied her application for political asylum, for lack of sufficient proof. She hadn’t managed to record any of the episodes she faced in Nicaragua. Her testimony was based only on her word, and some witnesses who saw what happened.
“We’re in limbo. We don’t exist,” Laura expressed. She feels like she’s in a cloud, because she’s now without papers to allow her to remain in the country. She’s also without a work permit, and can’t apply for formal employment. A formal job could offer her a better income to sustain her household.
For advice, she turned to organizations that protect migrants. They advised her to wait out three years, instead of appealing her case. After three years, immigrants in Spain can apply for legal permission to stay as an immigrant with social ties. That’s a status conceded by Spain that she’d have a right to.
After receiving the bad news about her asylum denial, Laura hasn’t been able to sleep. Her desire to return to Nicaragua has increased, but her priority remains. She needs to safeguard her life and that of her son.
The exile tells us she’s had dreams where she sees herself at home in Nicaragua, with her family. In these dreams, she has stable work there and is happy. But it’s all a trick of her subconscious. When she wakes, she returns to her harsh reality, in a country where she’s struggling to start a new life.
Exiles help each other
Despite everything, Laura decided not to cut herself off from the Nicaraguan struggle. She joined groups that are holding virtual meetings due to the pandemic. Through these, they vent some of the pain and grief of exile. Also, the groups offer support to those who arrive alone and without help, as happened with her.
“I have tools they didn’t have. It’s a way to give back, and support my fellows that are here.” She hasn’t only given help to Nicaraguans. She’s also joined organizations of women from the region, and from the rest of the American continent. These women have all had to leave their native countries because of violence, persecution and other problems.
That challenge has given her some satisfaction in her life. It means doing what she loves, and using her profession to support the struggles of a lot of people. In the same way, she’s decided not to give her parents any details about her situation, to avoid causing them pain.