Panama | Town Life

dscn1899It was something to see, the way the woman could get the horse to tiptoe like that. I had seen her before riding that horse bareback with just a halter. Heads held high on those two. I was walking towards three women who were standing in the middle of the road gabbing away, the horse and women sneaking closer to the back of one of the ladies. That cold wet nose her that warm bare back. She was a shirker that one. A scream of shock and surprise. Everyone on the street falling apart in laughter. That young woman sat proud and gay on that horse. Holding my gut in laughter, I made my way past and into the launderia. I was told the machine on the left was the working one. It took my five quarters, ran for a moment then stopped. The launderia was a concrete shelter of three walls open to the street. I pushed buttons, getting frustrated and ready to pull a Fonz on that baby when out of nowhere in breezes a women holding a kitchen knife. She sticks it between the buttons and gives it a good jiggle—the machine starts running again. She smiles and walks out. I lift the lid, it keeps running with it open but the water is just a trickle, “Man, I will be here all week at this rate.” At this point a man pops in and grabs this six-foot piece of two-inch PVC pipe that is laying under the sink. He sticks that into the open machine, takes the two hoses that are attached to the two faucets, sticks those in the end of the PVC pipe and turns on all the water. He laughs, pats me on the back and walks out. Now we are talking water. Man, I can relate to this kind of technology.

Other women arrive with overflowing laundry baskets. They place them on the floor to determine their place in line for the one working machine. A girl of two is put on top of one of the baskets. She looks some pleased for that cozy place to sit. The ladies are talking away and one would occasionally walk over and check the progress of my load. The fellow who had administered the PVC pipe is now out front in the middle of the road. He is wearing only spandex shorts and he is shadowboxing. The sweat rolls off his back throwing punches into the air. When he threw a hard right a lady on the porch across the street would snap her head like he had connected, humoring the old boy. My laundry finishes and when I am walking out of the launderia, one of the ladies is putting that PVC pipe back in the machine. Got to love it. Love Dave

Panama | Love

You could see just by the way they were standing on the side of the road that they had been through it all. Well past the struggle of the divide between man and woman and into the balance of supporting each other with unconditional love. Their shrinking bodies so tiny compared to all the others on that crowded bus. In the tradition of Latin America, Clara and I gave up our seats to the old couple and stood in the aisle holding the bars hanging from the roof. Standing behind them, I took in the sight of their sound love. Two heads leaning in wearing the traditional hats of the indigenous, finely woven with wonderful patterns and so durable to withstand the blistering sun.

dscn1897The bus rolled on down that dusty road. Music blasting the reedy sound of accordions and high-pitched male voices. The music competed with baby chicks chirping away from boxes in the laps of many of the women on board. The bus stopped along the way to drop off passengers and take on more. A mother of three little ones got on and made her way to the back, random people picking up the kids and putting them in their laps. An elderly woman grabbed with both hands the meaty flesh above the hips of the women standing before me and said in Spanish she was all women, then smacked her a few times on the bottom. She just smiled, bringing a giggle from the old gal.

dscn1901We rode past the dry countryside of open fields skirted with big and broad trees with dried out leaves, occasionally filled with cattle and men on horseback accompanied by their dogs to help herd the cattle. Such a harsh environment to raise anything in. Only getting rain during the rainy season.

I was happy for the breeze from the open windows as the sweat ran down my back. Across from me a grandfather sat with his granddaughter, trying to get her to drink some juice, holding it to her tiny lips with tender love. Those dark shiny eyes of hers never left him. Going past homes of bamboo and grass, others of concrete block and metal roofs. A voice called out for the bus to stop and the old couple made their way off the bus, holding each other dearly as they walked out onto the road.

Maine | Couch Surfers

It seems like a blur when I first think back on it. People seemed to come and go so fast, but when I dig some and pin it down to more specifics so I can start to wrap my brain around the couch surfing season. Way back in late May I had my very first guests from Buenos Aires—a young couple traveling the States in a used van they bought in Boston. This is huge because it is extremely hard for South Americans to get visas into this country let alone be able to take six months to travel.

dave-044When they first walked into my home they said it was like a dream come true. Coming from the hustle of a city of fourteen million where the locals no longer feel safe, they could not believe I did not lock my doors. Security and personal safety does not occupy my brain, but it dominates theirs. But beyond that they wish to one day live off the grid as well. So there they sat at my table having come all that way from the tip of South America to the end of North America. They are classic Argentinians, bringing their mate with them and hugging to their culture as they explored mine—he with that strong mix of Italian and her with a little more French and German in her blood, looking very exotic here where she would just be normal back in Argentina.

I took them down to Popham Beach and that blew their socks off. All that beach and rolling surf and a wispy blue sky ground those weary city bones of theirs. So for three days I got to drink mate and wander with their thoughts on differences in culture and lifestyle. Their van was having problems so I took them down to Jimmas. They had the problem looked at back in Rhode Island, and the mechanic there wanted 240 dollars to replace the fan the belt. Jimma did it for fifty. Ah, how that local connection can help the traveler. They left here heading for Florida and after that, California.

Then another first happened. I had guests from the continent of Asia, Shadi from Iran traveling with her friend, Herve, from Brittany, France. She was here studying archeology at NYU. They had met while he was couch surfing in Iran. They both told me Iran has many, many hosts for couch surfers. They love and respect travelers because Iran has historically been a big trade route for Asia. Traders not only brought novelty stuff but also had wonderful stories to tell about the world outside of their own. Herve was going on about how incredible it was to travel there. So more conversations on culture and lifestyle—many differences on that one. The food, what and how it is prepared, is it processed or natural. The manner of dress, do you imbibe alcohol, coffee or tea? How families spend their Sundays and holidays. The dominance of religion in government and home. Enriching conversations. Rarely do we talk about who we are and what our culture is here. Let me ask you this right now—what is your culture? Got you. I dropped them off on the ramp to Route One in Bath so they could hitchhike to Boston. Shadi was planning on hitching to Alaska in September. Saying she hitchhikes all the time in Iran. Rarely do they drive there.

Then there was the quick lightning strike of three Canadians from Alberta. They came in fast and furious from having spent five days playing tourist in New York city while couch surfing in Hoboken. They would start out the day in the same cafe on the Jersey side trying to get as many people as possible to say “coffee”. They were a hoot. Animated in a Canadian way like Saturday Night Live used to animate Russians. Just too much. Kaylee, the ring leader of the group, asked more questions than a five-year-old. Very inquisitive and aware, she wanted to know everything. After the first hour of non-stop questions, she asked me, “What was the scariest thing you ever did?” I replied, “When I lost my virginity.” Well, that slowed her down for about a moment. I took them down to Percy’s for breakfast and Kaylee got a hold of one of the local lobstermen and questioned the shit out of him. Gave me a break. They left for Canada from there and I went home and enjoyed the silence.

There were more, some from England others from here in the states. Oceana from Australia showed up in a rented car with Casandra from NYC who had visited me two years ago. The first repeat surfer. They had met on the site bulletin board. Oceana had made plans to visit me months in advance. When she discussed her plans with Casandra to visit me in Maine, Casandra said, “Oh, I know that guy.” I have to say they moved through my house with grace and style, cooking vegan meals and cleaning up and showering without a hitch. Oceana had grown up in the outback of Australia with just candlelight in her bedroom, a composting toilet, bathing in rain water. No problema here. They got along famously. I have to say I enjoyed just sitting back and hearing their conversations. Oceana openly expressing her fears that when she turns fifty her husband may run off with a young twenty-year-old dish. Casandra replied, “Just go to Cuba. The men will love you. Age does not matter there.” She travels all over the world going to salsa gatherings and Cuba was one of them. The men loved her. I laughed so hard on that one, so much for being the silent observer.

The season ended with an Italian couple from Rome—Marfisa and her husband. They walked right in, put down their one shared suitcase and pulled out a very nice bottle of red wine from Italy that they had bought to share with me. Talk about bringing their culture. They loved sitting by the fire and being surrounded by a house made of wood and no concrete. Each separately asking, “But you do have another home?” A very enriching visit. So much passion in conversation. Marfisa raised her voice and brought her fingers together and waved them up and down when she was feeling strongly about something. Italy right here on Billygoat ridge.

This was the point at which I was going to go on about ethnic persona. You know, put it in a box kind of talk. But something happened to me the other day that changed my thinking. I was over at the Phippsburg Library having one of those days when I was struggling for a foothold. I was out at the front desk and down the stairs from the children’s room came a whole tribe of kids. A girl of about four was holding her brother’s hand. When she got a hold of my eye she gave me a smile from the depths of her soul that gave me a much needed footing and is still lingering strongly in my mind’s eye. She gave me that smile with everything she had for a long time. I took in as much of it as I could and walked out of that library in a much better place. So what I have to say is not about cultural persona but about giving the world your smile from the very bottom of your soul be you American, Italian, Iranian, Australian. Be a tourist in your own back yard. Explore every day like there are still many more mysteries to be uncovered. Love Dave.

Spain

She was staring with no shame right into my eyes. When I looked away she would squawk demanding my attention, insist that I stare back. Unblinking, she took in all she could, always winning the contest. Funny how social norms take away the wonder of looking into a stranger’s eyes trying for a peek into the soul. But there she was resting in her father’s arms looking over his shoulder, too young to know or care about such things as social norms. For a moment she let me forget all that, and I took in all I could of her soul, her spirit, which seemed so pure and honest. Beyond her and her father was the Mediterranean Sea with its blue green color and soft scent of salt, so different from the Atlantic. There is a narrow beach cut short by a bulkhead that supports a concrete pavilion that runs the length of the sea. On the weekdays it is light with pedestrians, but on the weekends it’s a river of flesh, some walking, others on bikes, roller blades, skateboards and scooters. Plenty to see and find something to laugh over. Almost like a circus, really.

scotland-and-spain-115When the child and father left, I took my leave as well. I went down to the beach and took off my boots and socks and walked along the breaking surf. Mmm, that water and wet sand felt so good. The sound of the crashing surf and distant laughter up on the pavilion. I still had the taste of olives in my mouth, fitting for the walk. When I got to the street for my hostel I walked up onto the pavilion and sat for a bit taking in what I could of the circus. The sound of Spanish and Catalan taking over the noise of the sea. At first I enjoyed watching the dogs running here and there trying not to miss a thing, sight or smell. The male dogs smelled where another had peed, growling then pissing back. Take that. Then the kids, most using wheels of some kind. The small ones sat and pushed with their legs.

Where I sat there was a winding concrete turn that went down to the beach. A boy of about four saw his opportunity for adventure and aimed his scooter down the hill. His father caught him just before he got up any speed for a taste of true freedom. He was not happy at all about it and wailed away. He kept trying to turn back and make the fun run, but his old man would have none of it. There was a girl of about ten on roller blades giving a go at the hill. She held onto the wall that went around the curve, learning with care. At times she would stop and stare over the wall at a girl of her age who was a true wonder on her roller blades. The girl peered over that wall with envy at those smooth moves. All the families happy to be together. It’s always interesting for me to see the cultural norm of touch. How much more touching than there is in the States. Brother and sister, sister and sister with arms round each other. So many couples holding hands then stopping and openly kissing. When you are greeted here it is with the cheek to cheek and smacking of the lips. Ahh, the differences, they make life.

scotland and spain 103.jpgI made my way back to the hostel. When I walked in I could hear the sound of sizzling from the kitchen, so in I went. The girls were in there speaking Irish. When I entered they talked to me in clear English, but when they talked with each other there was no understanding it.

“You cooking for the group?”

“No, just the two of us.”

“You’re kidding me. That is a lot of food.”

“Hey, we need the protein. We’ve been dancing all day.”

dscn1194There was a group of students staying there that were mostly from the UK but some were from Spain and Germany. They were students of dance and theater attending the UNI. They had been there since September, and it was always interesting for me to hear what they were up to. For some it was their first time away from home. Since September they had gone from that distant group of people from different places and cultures to a close-knit family. So supportive of each other. I made salsa and shared that with the group as more came into the kitchen. Such random conversations, love it.

Some mornings I liked to sit outside this one café enjoying some coffee and Spanish tortilla. There were these ladies who sat at the tables close to the street holding court. Everyone seemed to greet them when they walked by. One man walking by said, “Hola Bonitas,” then blew them kisses. Other men came, one at a time, and sat with them for a bit, exchanging some laughs before heading on their way. What a hoot. There was a park across the street and some old boys were resting their life weary bones in the sun. I wondered what they were thinking about. Looking back on their lives? Or looking forward to the time they have left? For me my time in Spain had come to an end. Be home soon.

Colombia | What a Day

It was one of those mornings when you can just feel something is up. It’s in the air. Clear, still and hot for that early.

I was heading for the bridge, still on the dirt road, when a stallion went charging past me with bulging eyes of fury. Something had spooked him and he was running with all that fury towards the bridge. Not good, a wild horse on the bridge with too many fast moving buses. One teen on a motor bike spotted the commotion, alerted another motor bike going the other way, and then it was like all hands on deck as more motor bikes appeared to divert the wild horse from the bridge. I ran up to the guardrail and spread my arms right as he went charging by making that panicked whinnying noise horses make. It took some time—that crazy stallion was stubborn and determined for the bridge. It made several attempts only to be diverted by the boys on the motes. Finally they got him running with all that spooked fury down a rural dirt road and all went on their way.

From what I can tell, all animals here seem to run free. There are fences, but those are more to mark property lines then to keep any animals in. It’s very random. You never know what combination of animals you will see wondering down the road. Last Saturday night there were three horses standing in one lane of the road just before the bridge. There was a lot of traffic and everyone just drove around them. Hey, it was Saturday night and those horses just wanted to be part of the action. What a crack up. Rabbits running around chasing the chickens. But all with a rhythm that seems to work, that spooked horse not being the norm. What really gets me is when a horse and a couple of cows are just wandering down the road on their merry way and they check you out on the way by. Not lacking for entertainment around here. Love that kind of stuff.

Well, here it was being Saturday again and the hostel was expecting over twenty Colombians coming to use the downstairs apartments. Sounded like fun to me. I had been staying away from the party and focusing on my health by taking advantage of cheap and plentiful fruits and vegetables. The restaurants there were not very good, just a lot of rice, chicken or beef and not much imagination in the way of spices. I had been cooking a lot in the hostel kitchen. But I could feel the mood for a good party coming on. About two that very afternoon a bus pulled up in front of the hostel and Nick went out to greet them.

“It’s all women,” he hollered.

I went out on the balcony to check it out and sure enough, packed right full with women of all ages streaming out of that bus waving and hollering. They’d already been into the Agauirdiente. That is by far the drink of Colombians. It tastes like Sambuca and kerosene. I took a couple of sips weeks before and swore off drinking. Wow, muy peligroso.

“Well, boys we are in for a night of it.”

They all went off for a boat ride on the lake and came back later just dancing off that bus. After a healthy barbeque they cranked up the music and started dancing. Greg, another one of the owners, came up and told me they needed male dancers and to get down there. No brainer on that one; I headed right on down. When I walked in there half of the ladies were wearing crazy wigs.

Oh, yay, they were ready for me. I jumped on into the madness, took a lady by her hand and started right in on dancing. They all hollered with joy. There were two other Colombian men trying to keep the ladies dancing—they welcomed my help. Things progressed along, with some women pouring me shots of Agauirdiente—hey, when in Rome—so much for swearing off the stuff.

At one point in the night the ladies had me in the middle of a circle all clapping and me giving the moves. Then they had me dance with each in turn in the circle. I was hard out of breath after that and had to take a seat. One of the men asked me if a had a wife. “No wife, no girlfriend,” I replied. Well, the ladies erupted on that one, pointing to the one who seemed the most lively of the bunch saying she was solo. Well, I just played up the role chasing her around the room like I was a bull with my head down and all. She ran into the bathroom and they all fell about the place in laughter.

Not long after my princess came out with her hair all fixed up coming up to me batting her eyelashes. All was well but she had on fake buck teeth. I told her how beautiful she looked and irresistible and started the chase again, this time picking her up and putting her on my shoulder and making for the door. Well, that just brought the house down. We were all in tears of laughter. Not a dry eye in the place. The night went on with more foolishness. At some point I was wearing the lampshade. The dam burst that night. I had lived a night with no pretenses, willing to take the risk to be foolish and alive, all giving to the moment.

Bolivia | The Garden

We were sitting around in the garden chopping vegetables and potatoes for the daily lunch. It had been slow at school that week, just how it goes. The kids come only when they wanted to, it was totally voluntary. So that day it was just some of us volunteers, a couple of the bigger boys, two little girls and Ester and Janeti, the cooks. Janeti is the most important person at the school: a big woman with a bigger heart who cooks great meals for little money. She talks non-stop and looks after the bigger boys, tries to keep them on the straight and narrow. Her relationship with Luis is a great example. He is twenty-five and has come up through the school system. He came to the school as a troubled youth years ago, a street fighter. Now he works here doing maintenance and helping in the kitchen. I have seen some funny moments with Janeti chasing him around the garden with a big frying pan. I’ve never seen her connect, but she regularly gets him in the back of the head with her hand.  Luis can be good and bad. He looks after the kids, they look up to him, he is always smacking them around. It is just the way here. Even the grownups show their affection by smacking each other. I still get a kick out of it.

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Lena was sitting in my lap cutting peppers. I was cutting garlic. She was complaining about the garlic. I was going on about how I love it. She said I was crazy. Yes was always my reply. Jan Luis showed up and started giving me shit saying here I was helping my girlfriend, again, Don Janeti. They all laughed. We finished up with the chopping and I went into the shop and got out some tools to fix some of the wooden benches. As usual the chicos showed up and took over the job, taking the tools out of my hands and fixing the bench. More chicos showed off giving advice. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. I just let it go and fixed what went wrong later.

Roberto was one of the commandeers, he was on the hike. It is something to see these kids at school, but it’s something else to get a glimpse of their lives on the outside. I was still shaken from the day of the hike when I was walking with Roberto and Ever in the streets of Sucre and ran into his mother and his brother Andros on the street. They were sitting on the sidewalk selling candy. Andros was curled up next to her like a stray dog. What shook me was her appearance; this woman of thirty-four looked older than sixty with a long scar under her left eye from an auto accident in which she lost two of her eight kids. Her clothes were ragged and she looked haggard. Her kids always look so well dressed. It really shook me, and I can’t really say why. I was told they live just out of town in a one-room house with no electricity or running water. They had to walk ten minutes to a dirty river to bathe. This is how it has been, always the layers of understanding revealing another reality.

I had to eat lunch in a rush. I was supposed to be at the cemetery to help the kids build their wooden ladders. I arrived by cab with my box of tools—it costs fifty cents to go anywhere in the city. A twelve-year-old boy met me and took me by the hand through the cemetery and down some stairs to a shaded spot under big cedar trees. There was a pile of at least twenty-five wooden ladders. Holy shit, where to begin? I took out four hammers and a kilo of nails and began the work. More kids showed up and the circus began. We took ladders apart, salvaged the good parts and rebuilt ladders. The hard part was pulling the nails from the stubborn hardwood. I would be helping some kids when there would be the hand tapping my back wanting help elsewhere. The kids who did not have hammers were using big sticks to take ladders apart. I just kept moving, going where I thought I could help the most. One girl of eight with one of those high tone little girl voices took it upon herself to direct me. Quite the little bossy boots, that one. Two of the hammers broke from pulling nails, and one of the bigger boys made a handle out of a tree branch. The little one made me fix the other one by whittling down one of the broken handles and refitting. These kids were not deterred by any setback. Get ‘er done. When we ran out of nails they took the bent ones and straightened them for reuse. It was really something to watch. These kids were workers. After four hours of this I was exhausted, and only three ladders were left to fix with two girls and a boy remaining. The guards blew the whistle to clear the cemetery for closing. The kids worked on ignoring the guards until the job was done.

Bolivia | Tidbits

The kids call him Chu Chus which in Quechea means “Tits”. Why is beyond us all. The fertile brains of the youth and their inside jokes. It was his twenty-fifth birthday. He stood before his cake and all the kids stood on chairs and tables with great smiles, happy to be involved in the celebration of the birth of this man who had come into their lives and given them comfort. From France but speaking fluent Spanish, he had been with the school for four months with two to go. He coaches the chicos in soccer, helps with the swimming and tutors them with their homework. He’s patient and gentle, and they love him for this. I was outside leaning into one of the open windows with Natalo and Juan Carlos leaning over me, taking it all in. After he blew out the candles they all started clapping and chanting cabesa en postre. He put his face close to the cake and Pablo pushed the back of his head so his face went into the top of the cake. A tradition here in Bolivia. Photos were taken of his face covered in cake with lots of laughs. Then of course thin slices were cut so all could enjoy.

I was standing on the corner of a busy street getting ready to cross when a small hand entered mine. I looked down into the open eyes of Rolando, a four-year-old boy who visits he school daily with his mother for lunch. That simple act completely disarmed me. That social barrier we carry in public was dissolved in seconds with trust this little boy placed in me to bring him across the street. His mother trailed behind us as we crossed. On the other side we all stood facing each other with Rolando still holding my hand. In the other he carried a box of candy, which he was trying to sell by the piece to people in the street. I asked the Senora where they were going, and she pointed in the opposite direction I was heading. I freed my hand from his warm clutch and placed my other on the top of his head and said, “I will see you later.” He looked up into my eyes, making it hard to walk away.

I call him Tiger, because often he comes into the shop after lunch and is a force to reckon with. Whatever we are doing he wants to do. If we are nailing, he grabs the hammer out of the hands of the bigger boys and starts hammering. They try to discipline him in Quechea, but it rarely works. His persistence is something else. I have learned to give him a small hammer and nails and some scrap wood and let him have at it. That boy has some skills. If he bends a nail by a miss hit, he pulls it out, straightens it with the hammer and sends it home. The chicos from the dorm get a big kick out of him. They love to rough him up, wrestling and kick boxing with him. How they laugh enjoying his fierceness in rough play.

When I was sitting on the bench in the shop he asked if he could sit on my lap. Normally they don’t ask, they just make their way there. I wrapped my arms around him and held him tight, knowing that’s what he needed. He melted into me with no resistance. It was an overwhelming experience. At the same time, I felt both empowered by the complete trust and sad for the knowledge of why. Fifty percent of the population in Sucre is below the age of eighteen. The street in the morning and evenings before and after school is a river of Yutes. They come to Sucre from the countryside for the schools. There is no work to speak of here, so their fathers are far off in places like Santa Cruz working the sugar cane fields or in Argentina picking grapes and in some cases in Spain working illegally and sending money home. Or the father has run off starting a new family with another woman. The kids are with their mothers or aunts or grandmothers, and some are alone living in shacks out by the airport. The kids’ need for male comfort is overwhelming at times. All the men at Nanta give what they can but it is very sad. The needs are endless. I could go on about the negatives of the adult world here but I won’t. If there is anything I have learned from these kids it is that regardless of the hardships before you, you greet each day with a smile and look to the sun.

Bolivia | The Family

In the fall, you can hear the crickets in the afternoon on sunny days. That slanted light just before twilight, so rich in the trees. The sun hides a welcome chill in the air. I dreamed of the sea, the sound of the surf, and wind playing in the dune grass back home. Air, sweet salt air is what I need. Being here has been like swimming in pudding with a clothespin over my nose. The high altitude and the pollution in the streets in Sucre has taken a toll on my health. Some days are better than others, but it’s a daily struggle for my old strength.

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A new family of kids came to Nanta, three girls and a small boy of five. They were shy at first, all huddled together, not sure of their steps around all the madness of the other children. The girls looked after their brother like their mother would. Dirty faces with grand smiles. Two of the girls sported big pocketbooks for backpacks, one black with fake alligator skin, the other white, both chock full of school supplies and stuff to survive in the streets with. That first day they sat with me at lunch looking at me with wide dark eyes, trying to feel me out. I was struck with the care Patricia took with her brother, moving the bowl of soup close to his place at the table then arranging his shirt so the spills would not dirty it. He sat staring at me while she coaxed him to eat. I asked her age, only six yet so responsible. She said she shines shoes near the central market place, probably only one of the three girls in all of Sucre to shine. That’s a boy’s world here. When I found out she had no shoeshine box I told her she could make one here. “Cuantos?” “Gratis,” the eyes wide and big on that one. “Cuando?” “Mana despues comida.”

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They followed me into the shop that next afternoon with anxious faces. I handed Patricia the pieces of wood and divided the glue and nails amongst the rest to bring out to the table in the garden. After she applied the glue to one of the pieces, I held them together and told her to nail. “Me?” “Yes you, nail!” Her was brother there with his chin resting on the table. The two sisters huddled close waiting the action. The first taps were soft and uncertain, but with each stroke she gained confidence until she sank her first nail. Big cheers from the family. Lou Lou, one of the Bolivian staff of eighteen, was at the sink watching in awe as this young girl invaded the boys’ territory with each swing of the hammer. Her brother and two sisters were there for total support through the whole project, inching closer and closer to me making contact with their small bodies. Their collective breath was so bad it could knock a bear over. Just one of the job hazards at Nanta. The next day her sister built a caja and that broke the dam for the other girls to want to build cajas and money boxes. It was a mad day for me, trying to grant their wishes and keep it all together. The boys watched with territorial suspicion. I was exhausted at the end of the day.

Bolivia | Father’s Day

It was Father’s Day here, and we were celebrating on a Saturday at the school. The kids put on a show for us in the music room. All of the fathers were invited but only one showed up. He sat there on that wooden bench looking shy but dapper with his hat with a pink feather in it. Beth had told the volunteer men many times throughout the week: be there, no falta. The kids had mentioned us all by name and looked to us as fathers. When we finally all gathered and sat down, three of the boys of about eight sang a song about what fathers meant to them. Well, that one brought the old lump to the throat. Then came some of the boys and girls creating a human pyramid, which was really funny knowing the cast of characters involved. Next were the dancing couples. The girls with their braided hair and nice skirts and blouses, que linda. The boys dressed in black pants and white shirts. The dance was a traditional one that I have seen before. They act out some of the male female relations with the boys trying to sneak a kiss on the girls’ cheeks and the girls pushing the boys away. They did a good job of it. For the last act, some of the boys from the dormitory came in dressed like women and started dancing with some of the volunteers, very funny. Then some of the kids presented each of the volunteer males with a Father’s Day card that they had made. Florin presented my card to me and gave me a hug and a kiss on each cheek. Some of the crowd went out in the garden to wait for lunch while a group of the chicos and Marylu played music. A base and snare drum accompanied with reed flutes of various sizes. A lot of the kids were sitting around listening, when in came Linda who grabbed me for a dance. I swung her around for a bit, then we grabbed some of the kids holding hands and dancing in a circle. I kept grabbing more of the girls dancing with them in the middle of the circle. They tried acting shy but they loved it. Leave it to Linda to get the party going. A lot of the kids and volunteers were up and dancing by now in circles and in couples, great fun. I was out of breath and went out in the garden. The one father was there sitting in the sun holding the card his daughter gave to him. He held it like a treasure. I could picture the wall in his kitchen at home with the one picture of his wedding the cross of Jesus and now that Father’s Day card.