Leon, Nicaragua

July 8, 1996

Yesterday was Liberation Day here.  The day Leon was liberated.  It was Sunday, but we worked until 2 p.m., then went downtown to listen to some political speeches in the parque.  It was a good-natured crowd with a bunch of college kids doing typical college-kid nonsense.  Like four guys making a square then four more guys climbing up (or jumping up) and standing on their shoulders, and two or three others trying to make a third layer on their shoulders.  Contesting with other groups.  Big crowd.

Then we went on the march to El Fortin.  Itís a celebration of the take-over of Somozaís infamous prison fortress on the hill above town, where the Guardia performed terrible tortures on political prisoners.  It was a beautiful day, hot and sunny.  The countryside is spectacular this time of year with all the greens.  Hundreds and hundreds of people walked from town to the top of the hill.  The prison is now a ruin, thank goodness, but the view of Leon is lovely.  Lee told me it was a five-mile walk up the hill and back.  Some people do that walk every year.  Like Danelia.  I enjoyed the experience.

This is my last week here and Iím having doubts about what Iíve accomplished.  When they took the warp off the last loom where they produced their local-sale colchas I about died.  ďOtra dibujo,Ē they said.  (Another design) Can I really do that for them?  They re so excited about the new designs they are weaving they decided to go for broke.  I hope these things sell!

Iíve been emphasizing quality to the extent I tell them of some things, ďNo vende.Ē (Donít sell.) Danelia is spearheading the effort, thank goodness, otherwise Iíd know for sure some of them would ignore my advice as soon as I left.  But I try to set an example, working to correct errors, sometimes plugging away at it all day long.  Iíve been trying to tell them the weaver is responsible for correcting errors she makes.  Iíve had them take out 6 to 8 inches of weaving when Iíve spotted an error, telling them itís easier to correct it on the loom than it is with a needle.  They are learning that.  And then I tell them they have to price things as seconds when they arenít well done.  And we are raising prices.  They shouldnít be working for nothing.

The escuela: I told you Iíd received a letter from a school teacher asking me to come visit her school, and she hoped in the generosity of my heart I would be able to do something that would help.  One might know Cecilio had something to do with this.  He had gone to this school for a year when he was little and is a friend of the teacher.  Thatís how she heard about me.  Susan Trucksess, Cecilio and I went out to the school one day.  Susan speaks Spanish well and I needed an interpreter.

The school was bigger than I expected, having several buildings.  But the pre-school (is that kindergarten?)  and the first grade kids do indeed go to school in a classroom with no roof.  The teacher seemed more concerned that they had no protection from the sun than they did from the rain, though the rain was bad enough.  There were no chairs or tables.  They sat on old concrete blocks or stood up or sat on the floor.  They wrote on their laps.  There are 73 students in those two classes.

The classroom was once three little rooms, but the interior walls have been torn down to make one large room.  There are no doors or windows, just open doorways, so they canít leave anything in the classroom for fear it will be stolen.  To say nothing of being ruined by rain.

The classroom needs a roof  Ė zinc-plated metal.  It needs grille work to cover the doors and windows.  They do a lot of beautiful grille work down here.  One doesnít see a lot of glass in the windows; thereís not much need to keep out the cold.  So the grille work does just fine and provides the same safety element those fancy grilles that are popping up all over San Francisco do.  There are eight doorways and six of them will be grilled to be windows, two to be doors.

As far as seating is concerned, I tried to be realistic.  There are things I can and cannot do.  If there are rules and regulations that chairs have to meet federal standards, that lets me out.  Thereís no way I could raise that kind of money.  I asked the teacher  Ė principal, really Ė if she would be interested in benches for the kids.  She would be interested in anything that got the kids off the floor.  I volunteered that Cecilio might make some benches; then I asked Cecilio if he would be interested.  He said heíd be happy to.  So we agreed that before I left, he would have built one or two benches to see if they would be what the maestra wanted.

So we went back, I drew up specs for the benches: 48 inches long, 16 inches high.  And we went and bought lumber for four of them.  In three days Cecilio had planed the lumber and built and varnished the benches.
Maestra Felix was delighted Ė she didnít want them to let them out of her sight.  We took them out to the classroom to see how they would fit in, and how many would be needed.  She said four could sit on a bench, but I said no, only three.  But five kids sat happily on the benches we brought.

We drew up plans for desks to go with the benches.  Cecilio hadnít made one before I left so Iíll be wondering how thatís going to be.  I gave my tools to Cecilio when I left so heíd have something to work with.  Skimpy enough tools to work with as it is Ė you and I probably wouldnít be willing to do it, but he was the kid I watched take out nails and straighten and save every one, and when he glued something, he carefully took the glue that squeezed out when the piece was clamped and returned the glue to the container.  I never bought new screws, either, until we started working on the benches.

So I need to raise $1000 for the school.  For the part that Iím going to have anything to do with, anyway.  Heaven knows the whole school needs things drastically.  There are chairs that have one leg broken off that kids sit on, balancing themselves carefully.  But Iím restricting myself to something I think I can actually accomplish.  With Cecilioís help, of course.  Without him it wouldnít begin to be possible.

The roof will cost $400 with labor, the grille work will cost approximately the same for the rebar to make it out of, the paint and approximately $150 for labor. $200 should buy most of the wood needed for the benches and desks.  Cecilio really watches the pennies, since he rarely has any.  He pays close attention to what things cost and why. The  teachers at the school start at 400 cordobas a month.  At the current exchange rate of 8.50 cordobas to a US dollar, thatís less than $50 a month.  I was impressed by the dedication of the teachers I met.  They reminded me of the teachers I had back in the Depression who taught even when they were paid with vouchers.  Warrants, they called them, worth 60 cents on the dollar.

Winding up to go home is rough.  What havenít I done that I should have done?  What have I done?  Is it enough?  Are they going to be able to continue with what Iíve tried to do?  Was my coming down here worth it to them?  I was awake most of the night worrying about these things and not ready to go to work at 7:30.  Danelia asked me what was wrong and I told her what I was worrying about.  She hugged me and started crying, assuring me that what Iíd done here was ďbuenoĒ in many ways.  And ďMira Cecilio,Ē she said.  Cecilio is my success story.  He has bloomed, from a shy young man into self-confident, respected person.  All I did was introduce him to a few tools, give him his head, treat him with respect and he took off.  I still say he is one of the most intelligent people Iíve ever met.  Competent.  Good hearted.  Great personality.  Now he has a career to look forward to, and Iím glad I had taken those few tools with me.  As I told him, with tools anything is possible, without tools, nothing is possible.  Heís already been asked to do a few repair jobs.  Someday heíll be paid to work.

I sure hope we can get him here to the States to study carpentry.  If not at the Krenov  School of Woodworking in Fort Bragg, somewhere else.  Iím not liable to scratch the surface of what he needs to know.

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