Granada, Nicaragua, June 10, 2018.

It was drizzling the morning I left. On the way to the early boat I tried to soak up every last bit of the gentle beauty of North Road and store it away for safekeeping. After 32 years, the house I had built was sold, my car gone to greener junkyard pastures, the lovely wooden canoe sold, my clothes bagged up for the Red Cross and my library given away to people who I thought still read books.

I spent the previous month throwing away things that no longer carried the same meaning as before. Their significance had apparently seeped away over time.

The new owner took possession contents and all, so there was no need to move furniture or pack boxes. My must have-choices were few and a bit strange. The Gustav Stickley desk that had significant monetary value was left behind. (What the hell — I found it sitting in a pile of trash in Manhattan in 1979. Let someone else enjoy it.) But I still wasn’t ready to part company with my favorite iron skillet. Otherwise, let it go became a sort of mantra for my last few weeks on Martha’s Vineyard.

There were piles of papers, old letters and photographs to sort through and it was a daunting task. There were a lot of photographs. The people and events most dear to me captured in those photos were still vivid in my memory. I let them go, along with others. I found a letter from my father and one from my mother and kept both.

Each morning I sat on the bench in front of 7a Foods lingering over a coffee. It was my parting ritual: saying a few goodbyes and explaining that I was finally moving full time to Nicaragua where I have spent a significant amount of time over the past 12 years. Over the course of those years my roots there have grown much deeper than I had suspected. I recently opened a restaurant there with the woman I live with, and I had launched a promising social initiative called Payfair Nicaragua. I was turning the page and starting a new chapter. It wasn’t the first time. In the end I took just one duffel bag and a box of framed photos in addition to the usual luggage.

When I arrived back in Managua, the civil unrest I had seen fomenting before leaving Nicaragua a month earlier had erupted into violent street fighting and armed confrontations. The government had launched a proxy war against its own people who were calling for democratic reform. The speed at which everything changed was incomprehensible to me.

My flight was eerily empty and there were army personnel stationed outside the terminal when I arrived. Otherwise things seemed oddly normal for Nicaragua.

The days that followed were like none I have ever experienced. The tension and anticipation in the air was palpable, and the level of violence in Managua was escalating daily. Granada, where we lived, was still calm but several other cities were under armed assault by the police. I mistakenly thought that the police were supposed to uphold law and order. It was the first of many misconceptions I had.

Meanwhile, people were nailing corrugated metal sheets over their doorways and student demonstrators who had spearheaded peaceful protests were being targeted and killed. The government was denying everything, but mounting evidence showed that the police were funding paramilitary gangs to sow terror and violence throughout the cities.

The death toll climbed day by day and the outrage of the people boiled over.

On Mother’s Day (celebrated here on May 30) there was a march in the capital to honor the dozens killed in the previous weeks. Mothers marched with photographs and posters of their slain children. Several hundred thousand people waving the blue and white Nicaraguan flag flowed like a brightly-colored river through the main arteries of Managua. In a country of a little more than six million people that is truly an enormous gathering and an amazing sight.

The Ortega government, increasingly known for its lack of tolerance for dissent, ended the march by turning it into the Mother’s Day massacre. Sharpshooters armed with high-powered sniper rifles positioned atop the new sports stadium killed 16 young men with head shots and wounded others. The peaceful blue and white march was spattered red with blood.

Daniel Ortega, the former revolutionary-turned dictator, is dug in like a tick. Calls for his departure from every quarter of society have so far been summarily dismissed, and he has remained largely out of public view.

Nightly fighting between the paramilitary mercenaries drawn from the poorest barrios and the people of Granada started on my block a week ago. For hours each night the explosions from homemade mortars rattled the roof tiles. The police remained out of sight but continued supplying the paid combatants with tear gas canisters and live ammunition while the citizen militia was armed with stones and slingshots. After three sleepless nights we decided to leave and found a room in a small guest house just a few doors down from our restaurant in an area that seemed safer. Hours after we arrived the owner suddenly decided to flee the country and left us alone with the keys.

The defensive line on my street was finally breached after several more nights of fighting and then the looting began. The nighttime skirmishes continued past dawn into broad daylight, and by the end of the following night the historic town hall had been set ablaze and the big appliance stores along the commercial center were sacked and torched.

Meanwhile, heavily armored riot squads in Managua were shooting people from moving vehicles and abducting student protesters who ended up being tortured and later dumped along roads, dead. Ortega began spinning an alternate universe story, blaming the violence on outside anti-government conspirators, drug cartels and similar nonsense. His wife who refers to herself grandly as “the mother of Nicaragua” declared that the students barricaded in the universities were delinquents and “a plague.” Neither would accept any responsibility for the repression and the genocide being committed.

I have no idea when or how this finally ends. Right now it all feels completely surreal. Adding to that feeling, the U.S. media is giving this story a wide berth while the government destroys the country. Gangs of hoodlums collecting a per diem from the police roam freely, attacking, looting and burning. The full story of Nicaragua and what is happening now isn’t one I will attempt to tell here. We are simply trying to stay safe and survive.

I don’t reminisce about my old life on the Vineyard, but this morning I found myself conjuring up the smell of lilacs while the entire city around me smelled of wet ashes. People in the U.S. I had been in touch with urged me to come home. It was a constant refrain. Several offered me places to stay. They were concerned. I appreciated their offers, but they didn’t seem to understand. I was home.