Under gray, drizzly skies last evening, a sober line of people on Wisconsin Avenue waited to see the film "Nicaragua, September 1978." Influenced by the weather and memories of friends and relatives dead, many of the Central Americans spoke with sadness about the past, relief about the present and some worry about the future.
Later, however, after the film and a talk by Nicaragua's new charge d'affaires, Dionisio Saul Arana-Castellon, the mood changed to one of great rejoicing. At a reception in an elegant Georgetown home, they lifted their glasses of champagne and shouted triumphantly, "Viva Nicaragua!"
The film, the panel discussion with Arana and the reception afterward were part of a fund-raiser sponsored by the National Association of Nicaraguan Women.
"We planned this as a war relief effort," said Kay Stubbs d'Ortez, whose husband was killed in the recent fighting in Nicaragua. "But much to our joy it has become an effort to contribute to Nicaragua's reconstruction and a celebration of the victory of the Nicaraguan people."
More than 300 people came, contributing more than $4,000. Many expressed relief at the resignation of Anastasio Somoza, ruler of Nicaragua for more than a generation. Some offered personal stories of suffering.
One young woman left Nicaragua a month ago when the war was still raging. "We had to be at home all the time lying on the floor, afraid of the bonbs," she said.
She was against Somoza (many of her classmates were Sandinistas, she said), but her father was a member of Somoza's government. So her relief at Somoza's demise is turned into fear for her father's life.
"I am afraid," she said. "I hope they don't do anything to him."
A middle-aged woman, hair carefully coiffed, told why she had decided to contribute to Nicaragua's reconstruction. Her name was Norma Rodenzo, she was from Honduras and she came last night all alone.
"I had a cousin and he was born the same day as me. He went to Nicaragua to fight and they kill him.
It happened 20 years ago, but I never forget. They put gas in his body and they put it in flame." Her eyes welled with tears. "We never saw him again. His mother is still waiting for him."
After watching the film, an emotional, graphic portrait of the violence of September 1978, about a third of the aduience walked over to the party, where the euphoria of victory overcame them. Old friends greeted each other, kissing first one cheek then the other, exchanging holas and Que tals.
Wearing a traditional white wedding shirt and holding a red carnation. Arana expressed confidence that Nicaragua will become a democratic nation.
"For the past I feel sad, but I feel happy for the future," he said.
The rest of the crowd milled around, the noise level rising as more people arrived and as the punch started flowing. Talking over the sound of the guitars and Spanish voices coming from the stereo, one American woman said, "God, I wish I could have been in Nicaragua when Somoza fell!"
"I was very impressed by the new charge d'affaires," said a man standing in the same semicircle of people.
"Who do you think will be the new ambassador?" asked another.
Arana interrupted the partying to propose a toast to a Nicaragua "without borders -- a nation in which each Nicaraguan, each Latin American, and each North American feels at home.'
The crowd lifted its champagne glasses and held them there for the catch of a breath.
"Viva Nicaragua!" they shouted unanimously, joyously. CAPTION: Picture, Charge d'affaries Arana with Kay Stubbs d'Ortez, by Joe Heiberger -- The Washington Post