I could hear the patter of small feet before I felt the hands around my waist. A brother and sister who attend the scholl spotted me in the street and ran to greet me. I was out buying supplies for the shop and was making my way back. They walked along, those little bodies falling in rhythm with mine. They said they had been doing homework all morning long, so I started singing out numbers and they added them in song. It was like this all the way back. Andres is eight, his sister Patrice, seven. He is fierce and shows no fear of the bigger kids. I have seen him going after them in the lunch line. She often has a look of fear in her eyes, and I wonder what horrors go on at home. After lunch they are off in some corner squirreling leftovers into their packs, I am told it is for their mother.
Andres was my first student in the shop to build his shoeshine box. What a smile he had on his face when he sent his first nail home. That alone was worth the long trip here. When it came time to put on the tiny hinges with little screws, he got frustrated and went for the hammer. No, no, amigo, steady with the driver. How that boy can swear in Quecha. Now more boxes have been made and the kids really love to work in that tiny shop. I am not even halfway through with lunch when they sit around me wanting to know when they can get to work. They’re jumping up and down when I open up. I can only work with one boy at a time, but there is a bunch of them leaning over my shoulder leaning into my side giving commands. There is only one of me and so many of them. How they want to learn. There are days when I get overwhelmed with the demands and get short with them raising my voice. How they go to shame when I yell. Heads down in silence. It stings my heart some to see it, but they need the discipline. All the contact is good for me, though. I am not used to being touched so much. It is nice how they are always in contact with hands on my back and shoulders.
For a few days I worked over at the old location that was much bigger but too much for them to afford. The new school is way smaller but a better price. The little buggers have done some damage to the old place. I am rebuilding raised panel doors with a skill saw and chisel—a challenge there, I am telling you. For the second day in a row the saw was gone to shit. But here in Bolivia there is always a small shop to fix anything. Today I did not have a key to get into the old place so I was waiting for Ulysses to show up at school with the key. Waiting is a common thing here. All the tools, what few there were, were over at the old place, so I went into the kitchen to help the cooks prepare lunch. Salsa music was playing so I danced a few turns with Mary Beth around the concina before sitting down to chopping carrots. When Ulysses finally showed up, he came to the door of the kitchen and yelled at me saying I am carpenter not a cook, “Vamos.” I got a great laugh out of that one.