Where the streets have no name

Managuans believe that the song with the above title was written by Bono after U2 had visited their city a few months earlier. Although this assertion worked out to be incorrect (see this article and this wiki), they had good reason to believe it because the streets really have no name in this city. Apart from the odd roundabout (e.g. the one called after national poetry hero Ruben Darío) and a few major roads like the one to nearby Masaya (which is appropriately called Carretera de Masaya), there is no name-system as we know it.

Instead, they explain the addresses using landmarks one is supposed to know. For instance: “from the Petronic gas station, two streets up and one towards the lake. We’re the red house next to the shop.” But also past landmarks, which were wiped away by the 1972 earthquake, are common: “where the Salinas cinema used to be (but not anymore -ed.), three streets down and 15 varas South.”

Going “up” in Managua is going east or towards the Atlantic. Going “down” is west or towards the Pacific. The lake is in the north and the mountains in the south. A vara (say: bara) is a measurement a little less than a yard.

It makes for interesting navigation in this hectic city, and truly the people who know best how to get to places are the taxi-drivers. What’s more, one building can have various addresses, which became evident when I visited the United Nations building to go to UNICEF this past June. Their written address states that it was three streets north of one point, while my driver insisted it was four streets south of some other point. You guessed it: they were both right. How the postman manages, I don’t know.

So think about that in the context of my film. Those who live on the streets in this city enjoy a double level of invisibility. Many of the younger children are not legally registered and have phonetic names without a fixed spelling (my film’s Karla is often also Carla, and Sujeylin can also be Sugeylin, depending on who you talk to). On top of that, they live on nameless streets. It’s abstract, I admit it, but I find it utterly ironic.

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