Despina's first day in her non-classroom is not among the things she counts as a success. Maybe I was a little harsh, insisting that they only enter through the "door", when there is no door, just a chalk line marking where it would be eventually. But a school is not a school if it has no place to be. I have to admit, I expected more than a chalk line.
Apatheticand uncommunicativeare generous descriptions of her students. No matter how old they are, none even professes to know the alphabet, much less be able to write it or read it. Rather than shame the slowest among them, all claim ignorance. She finally decides to haul some water up from the river in Baby Blue Ram and smooth out the "floor" a bit. Everybody is able to work successfully on that project. Before noon, she is in eminent danger of heat exhaustion, and sends everyone home.
As she walks wearily back to the oven-like hovel, she thinks, That Nancy is a gem. Even though the proffered desks and the blackboard have not arrived yet, she gets a warm glow just thinking about them. Truth to tell, there's no ground level enough to receive them even with the hard work we did to the area today.
After a restless night, Despina arises at five a.m. She decides to focus on Alberto, Cu's youngest, and teach him whatever it is that the class does not know. Nobody expects a four year old to know anything, so that should work.
And for motivation, why, nothing could possibly work as well as a trip to the local library for some hands-on excitement.
Satisfied, she sets out on her walk to the facilities at the hospital. Almost at once, she hears running feet behind her. Turning, she sees Alberto, as if the act of deciding to focus on him has conjured him up in person. “Where did you come from?” wondering if Adriana, his caregiver, is searching for him.
"Vengo de la casa de Adriana. Quiero ir con Ud., por favor."
She offers him her hand, and they proceed together.
One convert to the "flush" part of the club Jacques requested, anyway.
The class is assigned to photograph/illustrate/draw the 30 letters of the Spanish alphabet. Nobody is very enthusiastic, but no open rebellion greets her suggestion.
She busies herself teaching them a marching song to the letters of the alphabet. She calls out the letters, which they then repeat. The tune rambles in and out of key. Well, I wasn't hired to perform a concert. Music aids memory; that's all that is important. The song slowly morphs into something resembling a tribal chant she dimly remembers hearing the night before.
The school still has no roof or walls. In an as yet furnitureless classroom, the organized marching activity works well. No pesky desks to dodge, to adopt a Pollyana viewpoint.
Part way through the morning, a group of Indian workers show up. Using the stake Cu set in the middle of her classroom, then measuring to the scuff mark that represents one side of the door jam, they start a hole. The alphabet holds little attraction compared to the antics of the workers. Almost immediately, they hit earth too hard to jobber through.
A pick-up shows up, filled with buckets of river water. The hole is filled, then they focus on the other side of the door jam. They diligently measure from the center stake and start holes every eight feet around the circular chalked outlines, doggedly dodging marching students to get the post holes centered every eight feet on the proscribed line.
With the arrival of a pick-up emblazoned with the emblem of the local lumber yard full of huge "telephone" style poles and heavy sacks, Despina decides that a nature walk seems in order. She lines up her charges in the time-honored mother duck/duckling fashion universally used in elementary schools everywhere and heads desert-ward as the men continue jobbering door jam and support post holes.
Once out of sight of the workmen, Despina spies the sideways track of a snake. "What letter does this track look like?" she asks hopefully, tracing an Slike section with the tip of one finger. "Snakes hissssss," she hints.
"Ese,"shouts Alberto, jumping up and down excitedly.
"Excelente, Alberto," she praises. "Can anyone spot any other letters?"
Branches and leaves on bushes provide B, D, g. T. Rocks contribute O, C and Q. Guillermo and Miguel begin to sketch the various finds. A patch of bent over grass produces a K. Water rippling past rocks creates a W. The road's two lane track resembles both the l and the ll. A bird's print in the mud is a dotted i.
Before long, they have wandered into an area with a short waterfall, tall cliffs and a pool of water that invites hot bodies. Juan soon broaches the subject of going for a swim. Tempted, but feeling too guilty about encouraging them to play hooky to give in, she shoos everyone back to the road and home for lunch.
That afternoon, as she wearily trudges back to the oven of a hovel, Cu appears. "Después de la siesta, todos vienen a una reunión." After delivering this cryptic message, he disappears.
"What's that all about?" she asks Paul Peter.
"Oh. Every night, after sundown, the White Eyesall gather at the campfire, joined by whatever Indians feel so inclined, for a social hour. This place can get downright lively once the heat lifts."
"Did they do a chant type song last night?"
"A? Try an hours' worth. It was a regular sing along."
"And I am expected to put in an appearance, even if I can't hold my head up?"
"Well, your absence was commented upon the last two nights. Everyone stopped in for a spell to meet you, only the guest of honor never showed up."
"Since nobody bothered to inform me of this custom, you can hardly use THAT tone."
"If anyone had seen you Sunday evening, or yesterday any time after noon, they would have. You just disappeared. Until about 5 a.m. this morning, so I am told."
"Now I know how a fish in an aquarium must feel when everyone can see right in and watch every move it makes. Where is this marvelous campground?"
"Just stand on the road and look toward the mountains, then walk toward the fire."
"Good directions. I know just what mountains you mean; the ones on the north, no, the west, or is it the south? Never mind. I bet Alberto can show me the exact spot and fine a few letters en route."
"Letters? Nobody writes letters around here much, nor would they strew them like a trail of breadcrumbs through the forest. Wrong legends."
"Letters of the alphabet. We found them on a nature hike today. He's very good at it. The waterfall has a rock sticking out part way up, making the water look like an upside down 'Y'."
"Sounds like playing hooky to me. Swimming on school time."
"I did NOT let them swim," she responds with considerable heat.
"Bad move, Teach. Heat stroke, and all, you know," he quips, moving off to collect his smokes, laughing gleefully.
How could I ever have found him fascinating? For Pete's sake, indeed! She enters her hovel in a huff.
That evening, she finds Alberto, who takes her hand without prompting and leads the way to the campfire. Look for the fire, indeed! All that's here is a ring of fire-blackened rocks. They'd show up well after dark, I'm sure.
A pile of dried sagebrush soon appears, and a roaring fire springs to life as the natural light dies. People drift by in groups of two or three, chatting animatedly in Spanish or Náhuatl, an Aztec tongue whose ancient roots are in central México according to Jacques. She meets the two German engineers, taking an instant liking to Bruno, the older, quite dignified gentleman who teaches science, and just as instantly a dislike to Horst, the younger one who teaches the math classes. A well-formed blue-eyed blond Hitler would have been proud of, his genial smile is marred by his words. Shortly after talking about their wives in Germany, he invites her to warm his bed during the cold desert nights rather than doing something as distasteful as consorting with the "Indians".
After she explains about Miquel drawing the letters they'd found, she continues, "Each student is supposed to find two examples of letters that they can bring back to the school."
"Where will you display them?" pipes up Paul Peter. "Have you given any thought at all to the storage problem? When it rains, adobe gets pretty soggy. Maybe you could store them in that cave we visited on the way out."
Ignoring him, she turns toward Bruno, who had started to talk until Paul Peter cut him off.
Bruno offers the use of his digital camera to capture the various naturally occurring phenomenon without disturbing them, in keeping with Indian philosophy. Biology is his specialty, and he really warms to her project.
Delighted, she takes him up on the use of the camera, while her mind frantically searches for a solution to the very real problem Paul Peter has raised.
Necessity, the mother of invention. "I thought about going to the hardware store in town once I get the rest of my stuff out of the back of Baby Blue Ram and begging some of those discarded refrigerators we saw. I want to make a trip to the library to get some real books into their hands, and we can keep them on the shelves."
"Rusty refrigerators. Just what every school needs."
"We can sand and paint them, too," she ad libs hastily.
It is soon settled. The English class will load derelict refrigerators with intact doors into tribal pick-ups while the elementary roam through the local library. One benefit is that it absents the children while the rest of the posts get set, effectively removing the temptation of wet cement.
Last updated 2/25/02.