Clearing Scorpions from Rock-Piles to Build a School

I sneak off to an empty hammock, and carefully, carefully lower my aching backside into a semi-comfortable position. I hug my laptop to my chest and hope for sleep. Just 15 minute refresher. Anything to lessen the cracked-out, tireder-than-anything, living-by-coffee feel.

But it’s not to be. Jackson and Marciela alternate visits, Jackson showing me things or dropping Flea in my  lap. Marciela leaning into my hammock curious about the photos on my computer.

A tired yawn and resignation. An awkward launch from the hammock, as Spencer, Martina and I head back to the school, now strangely deserted and quiet with the children gone for the day.The men were to leave their wheelbarrow, but there’s nothing, no tools. So we do it the old-fashioned way.

With bare hands, one at a time, we root through the weeds and drag out massive cement blocks from the pile (the remnants of a dilapidated building to be recycled into  foundation filler for the new building.)

Every rock we kick and turn over gingerly before picking up–waiting a minute, to give the scorpions a chance to run and find a new hiding place.

Every rock we lug saves Martina that much in fresh cement costs. So we work all afternoon, in the hot sun, coughing in the dust, our hands covered in cuts, until the pile is reduced to a clearing and the only rocks left are so massive we couldn’t move them, even with all of us trying.

Martina is beside herself with appreciation.

We sit on the stoop of the school, in the afternoon sun, sipping water and catching our breath. She tells of the children who have helped her, lugging baskets of rocks on their recess.

She points to the row of coleus, bravely sprouting, from rusted tins–“I don’t believe it, those are the paint cans we brought up to paint the school last time….nothing is wasted. Nothing.”

A Morning at School

After a night of tossing and turning, I wake up in the gray-gold light of dawn to a chorus of roosters and people.

I am sore beyond belief. Every little muscle screams pain, and now that I’m awake, there’s no more sleep. After breakfast, Martina and I hike to the school with the mural.

The children are outside, on recess, playing. Boys throw homemade baseballs that they hit with bat-sized sticks and antiquated gear. Girls kick a soccer ball across the rubble filled cement pad, lined with rusted out tin and rocks.

The teachers sit on a block of cement, planning the rest of the day, while a couple women work in a shed-like kitchen, preparing a watery soup for lunch. On the ground sit thirty or so jugs filled with water, which the children bring each day.

In the midst of it all, three men work on smoothing grout between cinderblocks of a waist-high new building. This is building Martina’s fundraising efforts has helped construct, and she inspects it carefully.

Then it’s time for a little fun. Martina gathers up the children and delivers a speech, encouraging them to do well in their studies and listen to their teachers, and let’s them know with the help of her UK donors (also schoolchildren), they’ll have a new play ground in the months to come.

Excitement and candy is passed around the little crowd. As a complete outsider, who is even more on the outside as I walk around the group with my snapping camera, I see clearly how they hang on her every word. How, long after the sugary treats are passed around, they linger at her side. The girls smile shyly. Even the “tough” boys give up their baseball to sit at her side.

Then we’re walking home with Santos, the lead builder. He delivers the bad news. The bid has increased. Significantly.

“Of course I want doors and a roof, for a school in the jungle!” Martina laughs tensely, “I thought that was included in the bid!!”

Santos smiles, looks at his feet as he unwraps the sucker she’d given him and each of his men, as he shakes his head, it was not.

He lets the filmy, plastic wrapper slip from his fingers, it floats to the side of the road. (I roll my eyes. The litter is atrocious in the lowlands, not here too.)

But Martina stops him. “Pick it up!” He looks at her, smiling, but un-moving. “You think I’m kidding, pick it up. This isn’t a garbage bin, this is your home!”

Santos, still smiling, stoops to pick up the refuse. (I mentally add “jungle ecosystem defender” to Martina’s growing list of titles.)

That afternoon, they sit in Myra’s empty kitchen. Papers and bids spread across the table. Martina, looks up, “How could he have not included a roof or doors.” Her hand on her head, as they run through the numbers again, and she murmurs,”I don’t know where I am to get the money.”