Bolivia | The Union Meeting

I wanted to kick back that Sunday, but I had to get going. I headed over to the cemetery for the union meeting of the children who clean the tombs. People here believe that if the bodies of the dead are above ground the soul is closer to God, and if you hire children and the handicapped to clean the tombs, even better connection to God. Thus they have, for those with the money, rock tombs with glass door openings that hold flowers and remembrances in front of the blocked off coffins. Eight doors high, it looks like a beautiful colored wall. I was going to the meeting to meet the children and pick some days to come and help them rebuild their wooden ladders that are essential in the job of cleaning the wall of graves.

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But first I had to stop by the Café  to support the Fajita Fundraiser dinner for the school. Linda from the Netherlands runs the cafe. She brings in the money that runs the center. The profits from the cafe and donations carry the brunt of it. Linda has been here seven years. Her dedication to the children is amazing.

I walked into the back bar that divided the kitchen. Lina and Roberto, kids from the school, were sitting at the bar cutting up a pineapple for the fruit salad. Natalo was there, as was Lina’s sister, Patrice. The kids were there to help wait on the tables and help in the kitchen. Hey, “All fish under.” I helped by harassing the kids then sat down with them to sample the fajita dinner before the crowds were to arrive. Got to love that Mexican food. I sat across from Roberto and Lina, and their affections towards one another prompted me to ask if they were brother and sister. Lina moved close to Roberto and said, “Yes.” He said, “No.” She said, “Yes,” again. He said, “No,” even louder. Well, Lina gave him a dead leg so hard I felt the vibrations through the floor. Roberto winced in pain then gave a smile my way that said, “See the way she loves me.” Some people started coming in and Lina went over to take their orders. She lounged across the table and looked up at them with those shiny timeless eyes, slowly writing down their order. Not the actions of your everyday waitress.

I had to get going to the meeting. I walked across town, then entered the open streets lined with tiendas selling food and fruit drinks that dead end to the majestic gates of the cemetery. I stood knocking on the locked gate looking at the beautiful cedar trees that lined the walkways of the cemetery. The door to a small church opened and a chico peered out and then came to see what I was about. When I said I was the carpenter he opened the gate and led me into the church.

I was not prepared for so many kids; about sixty of them all peered my way, about eight to twelve years old, girls just outnumbering the boys. Pablo, the president of the union, was up front and announced, “Ahhh, the carpenter is here,” and all the kids gave me an applause. Pablo, about seventeen and his vice president, sixteen, tried to keep order up front. Their helpers of the same age were wandering the rows maintaining discipline by smacking the kids on the head that were smacking the kids next to them. It was quite something to watch in action. Pablo called me to the front and I gave a small talk on why I was there and that I was ready to set up some days to come work with them. After my little talk, one of the boys close to the front was causing so much trouble the keepers of the peace got a hold on him and put him in one of the corners of the church facing the wall. He was not there more than a minute before he made his merry way to the front table, placing himself between the President and V.P. He laid across that table with his arms out before him, surveying his peers and liking the view. Some of the kids up front were pointing at him and looking at Pablo for action, but he ignored it, all too consumed with controlling the circus.

When the question of days was put out, all seemed to speak at once. Pablo tried to hear it all but soon his face turned to confusion raising his hand for control as the crowd got louder. Well, the boy in between the keepers of the meeting started pounding on the table yelling, “Silencio!” It took all I had to keep from busting a gut right there. Well, some silence did come, sort of, and days were picked. Other business was taken up with me still standing up front. One of the kids was sound asleep and the chico of discipline went over to him, took his index finger and thumb, and opened up one of the eyes of the sleeping boy. He peered inside and shook his head—it was hopeless to try to wake him. Well, the madness went on until the end, with the kids rushing and screaming for the door. Those close to me shook my hand or smacked my back on the way by. Without a doubt it was an experience of a lifetime.

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