Jardin de Niño Diaries, Part Four

We break for summer and I decide that when school starts again in August, I am going to start the mural project. This will require planning. This is not my strong point. I have never painted a mural before. Here's my idea: to paint a jardin de niños literally. I want the mural to be a garden of children who are half kids/half trees, cactus, flowers and plants. The wall had been painted again and so I already have a good background for the mural. The first plan is to trace the kids bodies in the form of the plant they want to be. I use a permanent marker. I write their names on each outline.

Then hurricane odile hits Baja. When we check out the school we see that the entire roof and one of the walls to the outside classroom is gone. There are papers and books and garbage everywhere. I look at the other wall. The paint is gone, and so is the permanent marker outline of the kids bodies. Not a big deal to re-do, but it is a bit shocking what wind can do. The building got a power wash.

The hurricane pulls the rug from under us. Everyone is in shock. We continue to live in fear of the next one. Or the rain. Any rain. Slowly the creatures come out of hiding and I want to reach through the isolation. I decide I am going to start hosting the first Mariposa Night. The theme is "Stories of the Storm." I start to ask people to share their stories. Again, reaching beyond my shyness into connection with others. It starts out a bit clumsy. I am unpracticed after being a holed up hermit all summer. I wonder if people are ready to come out of hiding. I want to draw them out. I want to draw myself out.

Lucas suggests I try to raise money for to rebuild the Elias Calles school. Then I think of Vanessa, the teacher—how she could share her story of the hurricane and her experience at the Elias Calles school.  She is shy too, and very young and inexperienced, but she knows it will help raise money.

On Mariposa Night Lucas picks her up on the way to Todos Santos. She is all dolled up, with makeup and her hair down. She looks beautiful and nervous when she arrives. We buy her a margarita that costs more than her weekly salary. Then I wonder if she is old enough to drink. I am nervous too. We tell our stories and Vanessa is last she shares her concern for her “pollitos” little chicks, expressing a deep affection for the kids and the community in Elias Calles. They have taken her in, even though she lives in La Paz. We raise 1800 pesos. About $130.

The money sits in a jar in our house for months. My classes start at Cuatro Vientos, and I don’t have time to even think about the mural. And then one day Vanessa asks me—maybe we can use the money to buy paint for the school? Of course. Why did I not think of that? I buy paint for the background, for the mural and for the classroom. The week before that Vanessa had asked the parents to come and clean the school yard. It had not been cleaned since the summer weeds grew, turned to grass, nor since the hurricane.

I arrive with Emilio and Lucas. Vanessa is there with her husband and infant son. A few other parents are there. I walk over with Emilio. I bring garbage bags to pick up the garbage that is scattered all over the school yard. The men are carting large amounts of cement rubble and dried weeds by wheelbarrow to a dump pile in the open field behind the school. We sweep, we throw away all the destroyed books. After a few hours of working in the twilight, the yard starts to look decent again.

The next week Vanessa informs the other parents that we will be painting and some of them show up that day. I have bought yellow for the inside of the school. The room is quite narrow, but big enough for this group of 4-10 kids (at any time the amount changes.) It was built to be the bodega of the school but the kids have been using it for their classroom. We paint the outside wall: blue for sky,  green for grass, and brown for earth. The mural will be added in parts over the following weeks.

The following week week I ask the kids to choose if they will paint a flower, cactus or tree. Then I ask them to form the shape of their plant with their body, and I trace an outline in the wall in pencil.

What I have learned from my involvement with the school is how to be flexible. I often don’t know what’s going on, and I have little understanding during the meetings. Vanessa cancels class last minute  when her baby is sick or she has some teacher related meeting she has to attend for her training. I have learned to absorb patience and humor when all else seems out of my hands. One time Vanessa forgot the key to school in her home in La Paz and the kids had to climb through the window for the entire week.

To be continued...