Quilali, Nicaragua, 1986, was in the midst of a civil war. The town had the aura of fear, of the uncertainty of life in the time of war, of the hopelessness and resignation in the face of
the void that had replaced their future. Young men were absent from the streets. The only ones I saw were the soldiers in my hotel, young men with old faces and new weapons. Sandinista soldiers. I spent the evening in that edge-of-town motel, handling their AK-47s, trading things, talking about the government army’s rules of engagement with the insurgents. Sometime that night the unmistakable crackling of automatic weapons ﬁre startled me out of a ﬁtful sleep. Gunﬁre erupted in the jungles at the perimeter of the town, and I crouched down on the dirt ﬂoor of my room hoping that no errant bullets would come my way, hoping that the walls were strong enough to keep them out. There I was, all warnings unheeded, drowning in the thrill of being in a war zone. I had discovered where all the young men of the town had gone. The next morning the soldiers, too, were gone. The road out of Quilali was notorious for rebel ambushes, so I left with trepidation, but a sense of puzzlement most of all. What did it take? What made a man leave the world he knew in pursuit of change when that pursuit might cost him his life?