29 December – day 1

Martha Clarissa, the local producer, had suggested we meet first thing on my first day in Managua, but I preferred to go and see Sujeylin before anything else. So, I met Alejandro at the offices of the NGO he works and we went walking to the park where she lives.

When she saw me, she picked up the same moment where we left it off exactly two months earlier: emotional. Her first words were: “fuerza, fuerza, tengo que tener fuerza” (strength, strength, I have to be strong). She repeated this phrase to herself at various times throughout the week. Understandable, her and Juan Carlos spent most of the day together and suddenly he had been arrested. He was the one bringing in some money (first by shining shoes, later also by selling drugs). Although groups of street children tend to be pretty stable with a high grade of solidarity, I guessed she was feeling terribly alone.

She showed me some letters from him. “Have faith, be strong, take care of my (unborn) daughter and go to church every week…”

I told her why I had come to Managua, and that I’d be back later in order to start filming. A first scene was going to be her bringing food to the police station where Juan Carlos was being held, considering they get nothing or very little there.

We met Martha Clarissa and Morena a short while later at that very same station in order to prepare the visit and get permission to shoot. The police was surprisingly cooperative (in Guatemala this wouldn’t have happened I think!) but insisted we get the prisoner’s permission. I already have Sujeylin’s written permission, but not his, so ten minutes later Martha Clarissa and I were led into the station’s cell block, where groups of 6-10 prisoners share 3×2 meter spaces. It was very noisy and extremely rundown and dirty. And very dramatic. We were led into an interrogation-type room, with a small one-way mirror on one wall. There was a rusty desk but no chairs. The walls were in dire need of paint. A minute later, Juan Carlos was led into the room and we were left alone. He recognized me immediately. We quickly drew up a release form, which he signed. He already knew about the film, so it wasn’t a problem. He seemed very realistic about his situation, telling me that these are things life brings us and that we have to accept them. It was a strange mix of indifference and hope. What might help him is that he remains, after all, a very religious person.

One thing that struck me that day was the fact that both Sujeylin and himself are oblivious to what he is accused of, and his chances of getting out soon. The first we heard was that he was caught with 2.9 grams of marijuana, which is considered personal use and should see him out as soon as they can get him in front of a judge, which in the end is scheduled to happen no less than 16 days after his arrest, during which he has been held in inhumane circumstances in a police cell. He wasn’t transferred to a real jail simply because of the holidays. The police told us that he had more than 20 grams on him, which could get him up to five years in prison for dealing. Later, the story changed to 5.9 grams, which remains serious but in this case, prison overcrowding should play in his favor. And finally, we heard he not only had marijuana on him, but also crack!! Again, we’re back to five years… no one knows what it’s going to be.

A little later we returned to Sujeylin and I pulled out the camera. After several years of preparation, research, starting and stopping, trips to Central America, ups and downs, I finally started shooting this project! An amazing feeling.

So at this little market stall we bought some food for Juan Carlos. When it came around to having to pay, she just looked at me a little uncomfortably and I ended up doing exactly what I had told myself I wasn’t going to: pull out some money – who can blame her? We left the food at the station, but weren’t allowed to see Juan Carlos at that time. She did send him another note inside the bag, and somehow he sends them back. This is how she gets her letters.

Then we made our way to a health centre, where Sujeylin did some tests a week earlier. Remember we are in the middle of the Mercado Oriental, one of the biggest (and possibly disorganized) markets in the world, in the second-poorest country in Central America – so a health centre doesn’t look like what one might expect… Anyway, turns out she is relatively healthy considering her situation, nothing serious, and I was able to shoot a beautiful scene where the doctor tries to find the child’s heartbeat with this special microphone.

So, only six hours after having met her again, things had become very lively already. I was already very happy to have made the decision to come in the first place. I passed out in my hotel at 6pm and woke up at 3am…

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