Surprise at the Yerba Buena Coffee House

One weekday night during my second trip to Managua in January 1986, having no scheduled speakers to hear or occasions to attend, I decided to walk across the large field opposite the Hospedaje San Juan (my hotelito) to the local Sandinista coffee house, the Yerba Buena. It was dark early (though I later came to understand that it seemed to get dark early, but the sun went down at almost the same time all year round (about 6PM) due to its closer proximity to the equator).

A Managua night life spot, the Yerba Buena always offered good music, strong coffee, beer, and the pleasant company of locals. There were books, music, and pamphlets for sale, along with posters, paintings, sketches by local artists, and plenty of political literature.

Once inside, I could see a spotlight at the front of the room, feigning a stage, with a group of men surrounding one in the middle. He was reading poetry. Great! I thought. I’ll go closer to hear better.

After weaving through the crowd, I recognized the man in the middle of the spotlight. It was Allen Ginsberg, reading his poetry in English.  This is the photo that I took that night!Poet Allen Ginsberg reading his poetry in a coffee house in Managua.

“Bomb ’em; bomb ’em,” he chanted, recognizing the war zone that was Nicaragua at that time, with Contra attacks funded by the U.S. government maiming and killing Nicaraguans in the countryside, away from the bustle of the city.

Poignant images and a true sympathy for the Nicaraguan experience characterized his poetry. The excitement was palpable; all the patrons of the coffee house were thrilled to hear this dynamic poet.

I stayed (way too late) to be able to hear him finish his reading. Having spent all my cash on books and music, I had no money left for a taxi. It was the field again for me, this time in pitch dark, alone, with tiny lights from nearby shanties off several hundred yards to the left. The moonless night offered no help in getting me across the wide field with a narrow dirt path, across a plank over a stream, and back to the lights of the Hospedaje. A night to remember!

Mary Engle
Managua evening, January 1986