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Faces of calm amid chaos

Nicaragua, 1990: President Daniel Ortega finally had agreed to hold democratic elections, and everybody showed up to watch: 1,700 foreign media, plus former President Jimmy Carter, United Nations observers, actor Ed Asner, and even Bianca Jagger.

The few hotel rooms in the capital - earthquake-ravaged Managua - quickly sold out. A Monitor writer and I stayed in The Associated Press house with other hotel-less journalists. I slept on box springs.

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Ortega held huge campaign rallies, where he'd strut around on stage like Bruce Springsteen. This was what brought us (in a dilapidated car, filled to the brim) and teeming masses to the tiny town of Masaya. The ensuing chaos resembled a traffic jam at a rock concert.

Yet, here sat a family outside their home, enjoying the evening as casually as you please, while cars, trucks, people, and more people flowed past. It was as if they'd seen it all a thousand times before.

Meanwhile, I became separated from my group at the rally. I couldn't find the car. Where was it? This was a town of one-story homes with subtle landmarks I'd failed to notice. Desperate, I stood on a street corner in the center of town, hoping somebody would recognize me. Someone in my group did. Embarrassed but grateful, I apologized profusely for getting lost. (Ortega lost, too, but you probably knew that.)