Revolutions attempt to give new meaning to life. Sometimes changing the definition of words is part of the attempt to change reality. At other times, reality changes first. Nowhere does the traveler have more old words with new meanings than in revolutionary Nicaragua. To help those whose first days in the country are as confused as mine, here is an abridged dictionary of the revolution (with apologies to Ambrose Bierce):

Agricultural loan: a government loan to large or small farmer carrying the patriotic interest rates of 20 to 30 percent rather than the 10 percent rate that the government considers “imperialistic” in international lending.

Air conditioners: machines that cool people as they do in other countries, but here they are also political markers found mainly in the following places: pro-government radio and television stations, offices of high government officials, and Marxist-Leninist book stores. In this classless, workers’ state where most people dress alike, seeking out the air conditioners is a good way to find the important communists.

Alfabeticizacion: the national literacy campaign somewhat like the U.S. pro gram “Hooked on Books” but based on the theory that politics makes good reading if it is full of revolutionary action and party politics: C is for Carlos (founder of the Sandinista Party); G is for Guerrillero; F is for Fusi! (rifle); by Lesson 4 a student can read “The FSLN (Sandinista party) is the organization of the vanguard of the Nicaraguan people.”

Bluejeans: one of the few permissible statements of affection for U.S. capitalism and its culture; the pants preferred by the younger government officials from middle-class backgrounds who still have some family money, relatives in the U.S., or who have traveled abroad on government jun kets. Sometimes available on the black market for about five months’ wages.

Brigadistas: members of the American and European middle class or bourgeoisie who come to the workers’ state where they work for nothing ($10 a month less than the native workers) building schools and clinics or picking coffee for two weeks or a month before returning home to their bourgeois jobs or to attend college on the money provided by their bourgeois parents or their imperialistic government.

Burguesia: anyone who used to make a living without a government license or economic aid; people who used to have air conditioners; in the Marxist Leninist literature of Nicaragua, bourgeoisie has the same function as the word devil in Christian writing, although it appears more frequently.

Bus: a relatively rare species of vehicle in which crowds are often used to immobilize and numb travelers so wealth can be redistributed manually. Recently riders have complained that drivers have developed a Fagan-like patronage for pickpockets.

Cordoba: the official currency and the best bargain in Nicaragua since every day an American dollar buys more and more. A one cordoba coin is used for pay phones, the world’s greatest phone bargain. But since it takes 100 of them to equal a nickel, almost no one carries them and you can never find one when you need to make a call.

Democracy (workers’): the process whereby workers and campesinos may offer constructive Marxist ideas to improve production and the Sandinista system of government.

Democracy (capitalist): distinguished from workers’ democracy by its diversionary emphasis on elections to decide what party and which persons will run the government. Commandante Bayardo Arce called the 1984 elections “a nuisance” necessary to placate foreign observers.

Free speech: “Thought that is correct, that is with the revolution” (President Daniel Ortega).

FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front): the political party whose red and black flag flies on government buildings more often than the national flag; that political party which allows the fewest number of official members but which controls the greatest number of guns; the only political party in Latin America with its own army; the political party that “exercises control in the name of the workers or to put it another way, the workers control power through the FSLN” (Sandinista National Directorate, 1979).

“Heroes and Martyrs”: a phrase used to distinguish government-approved organizations from their privately organized counterparts, e.g., CON APRO is the independent Council of Professionals, and CONAPRO Heroes y Martires is the government-approved council allowed to participate in de bate on the new constitution.

Hotel: the main interface between police and visitors. Hotels must report daily to police the names of all visitors in residence.

Inturismo: the tourist bureau whose official mission is to publicize and promote the Marxist-Leninist principles of the Sandinista party to bourgeois visitors from capitalist countries. Inturismo recently announced that its contribution to Nicaragua’s “mixed economy” would be a $40 million gambling casino and resort on the Pacific coast, where all spending will be in dollars.

Lake Managua: the big empty lake that lies near Managua and one of the world’s most polluted bodies of water. Government officials blame the pollution on the capitalists of Somoza’s time, but seven years after the Revolution all the storm sewers and toilets of the capital still empty into the lake. It may be that some people’s—doesn’t stink.

Private sector: a pejorative term refer ring to backward, paranoid, or greedy people who do not believe that their countrymen trained in Bulgaria, Ro mania, and the Soviet Union can run the Nicaraguan economy; also in the body politic of a Marxist workers’ state, a vestigial economic structure similar in utility to the body’s appendix; that part of the prerevolutionary business community whose survival serves as evidence of a “mixed economy.”

Somocista: the name commonly used for anyone who suggests that communism might not be the best form of government for Nicaragua; also a legal term whose application to any person allows the government to legally confiscate his property and personal assets.

Taxi: a car that looks like it is taking a vacation from a demolition derby. The owners are actually waiting for spare parts to appear at the government parts depot. Visitors do not have to worry about a taxi breaking down on a long trip since the government will not let them leave their home town limits any day except Sunday. 

Unions (independent): capitalist workers’ organizations whose economic self-interest leads them to “separate themselves from the collective interest because they do not see the whole picture with a patriotic conscience” (Minister of Labor). 

Winter: one of the two seasons in Nicaragua, being the dry season when the temperature usually hovers near 100 degrees and when the country’s failing pumps leave people without water two to five days a week. Summer is the rainy season by the end of which there is a little more water in the reservoirs but no more parts for the pumps.