[050915; 2207 UTC,
Isla Meanguera, Golfo de Fonseca, El Salvador
N 13 degrees 10.08/W 087 degrees 42.7]
We wanted to try to capture for you the details of the grand dedication and fiesta recently held for the new school cruisers built at Isla El Cordoncillo, El Salvador before our memories of the event faded. Photos on the (www.sv-carina.org) website are still forthcoming and dependent on our access to the internet.
So here goes….
We had heard that the villagers on the island planned a dedication and fiesta for the newly completed school, so we decided to delay our departure from Bahia del Sol in order to attend. We are so glad we did!
A date was finally decided upon: September 9th at 11:00 a.m. On the local cruisers' radio net we announced the date and time of the fiesta hoping for a good yachtie turnout. We asked that cruisers bring some sort of light refreshments like cookies or brownies because we had heard that the school planned to serve doughnuts.
Meanwhile, Colette and Murray, who live on the island, began to hear from some villagers that the fiesta was shaping up to be a little more involved than we previously thought. Teachers and parents visited frequently asking for paint, cement and brushes. Colette visited one day and found students and teachers polishing the floors and painting everything. Tiny kids were "painted" in the school colors as they gleefully worked away, sprucing up the entire structure.
Throughout the school's construction, it was sometimes hard for us to gauge the villagers' mood. Were they pleased with our offer to help? Was it appreciated or were we resented for meddling? Sometimes it was difficult to tell, especially with the parents we did not meet during the construction. We would troop through the village pushing wheelbarrows loaded with tools and supplies and pass their very simple and unsubstantial dwellings. Most shacks have open, lean-to roofs of plastic or corrugated tin covering the area where the cooking is done over wood fires - this to keep the heat out of the sleeping areas. Women tending the cooking would glance up and offer a gentle "buenas dias" (often pronounced as a soft "buendia" or simply "buena") oftentimes not smiling or without any discernible expression. We received similar responses from the men and boys repairing fishing nets in areas adjacent to their homes. Then again, once we cruisers started to work, villagers would suddenly materialize; women carrying containers of water on their heads to us, children hanging around offering to pick up tools or to simply watch, and men and boys willingly plunging into heavy labor.
When we arrived at the school for the fiesta we were amazed at the sights and the feeling of festivity. An elaborate arch for signage above the entrance gate was unfinished but clearly underway. The non-kindergarten part of the school had been repainted and decorated. The entire inside of the school was draped in crepe paper chains of white and blue - the national colors. A large black velvet tapestry was tacked up to one outside wall proclaiming "Ignaguracion 2005" in bold gold letters. (The letters were taped on and at random one would fall and someone would rush up and reapply it!) A canopy was set up adjacent to the school and fold-up chairs under the canopy faced the speaking area where a microphone was located. A head table with a tablecloth and bottles of water lined the front. A "disc jockey" commanded an electronic console (powered by an unseen generator), driving loud Spanish music through two large speakers.
Dignitaries included a woman representative of the school district who would host the event, a man representing the mayor of La Herradura and (inexplicably) one woman and two men representing the state police, all three of whom were in uniforms and carried semi-automatic pistols.
Many villagers, dressed in their Sunday best, were already occupying seats and children ran in the schoolyard playing games. A group of young men lined the schoolyard fence to the west, looking amused but curious. Nellie, the kindergarten teacher and Sonya and Maybelle, teachers for the older kids, tried to oversee the preparations of the children inside the school. Maybelle looked especially nervous, pacing about with her cell phone to one ear, while simultaneously directing children in their various tasks. Arriving cruisers deposited food inside the kindergarten alongside the villagers' food. At one point Maybelle dragged Philip into the school and asked him to help tie neckties for four of the teenagers who would be honor guards of the El Salvador flag. Since it had been two years since he's tied a necktie, it took Philip a while to remember how to do it. The teenagers merely giggled at his exasperation at having forgotten!
Next to arrive where a group of teenagers carrying boxes of Mister Donut doughnuts and looking too citified to be village kids. As it turns out they were high school kids from the nearest city, Zacatecoluca, who were there to perform some traditional Salvadoran dances. In addition to the teenagers was a music teacher, also from "Zacate", who would sing some traditional Salvador music while accompanying herself on an acoustic guitar.
At about noon, things began to come together and the program began. Philip was seated at the dignitaries' table with Colette (Leslie decided to act as photographer). As part of the program and as a representative of the cruisers, he was asked to say a few words. We had anticipated and prepared for this and had written a short speech in English, translating it into Spanish using software, our dictionaries and another, more fluent, cruiser. We had printed out both versions and hoped that we could recruit a Spanish-speaker to read Philip's words in Spanish during the presentation.
The school district hostess - a thin woman with a shock of thick black hair, dressed in a casual crew shirt and tight jeans - began by introducing the dignitaries. Next the honor guard kids, one of whom carried the Salvadoran flag, goose-stepped slowly into view to El Salvador's national anthem. Sonya, one of the teachers and the director of the school, gave a short, warm welcoming speech. The music teacher then sang two haunting Salvadoran folk songs in a clear, beautiful voice. The Zacate teenagers, having changed from their modern dress into colorful, traditional outfits, next took the "stage" to dance a ritualized number where the boys tried to entice the girls to be their "novias" or girlfriends.
Things got a little more emotional after that. Nellie, the kindergarten teacher, then approached the microphone holding a plaque to her chest. She held the plaque out at arms length to read the inscription and then slowly and with great sincerity began to tell the story of the school project. Tears came to many eyes when she said: "Before, we didn't have a real building; we didn't even have a stick or stone, not even dirt! We had nothing! Then, God sent us the cruisers!" Colette and Philip accepted the plaque and Nellie's hugs on behalf of the cruisers. Colette then took the microphone and in halting but animated Spanish expressed amazement and appreciation for all that had been done to make the fiesta magnificent. Philip then stood and gave his prepared talk during which Leslie & John from Encanto unwrapped the cruisers' gift to the school - a sign of beautiful cona caste wood reading "Centro Escolar Canton El Cordoncillo".
Here is Philip's speech:
Good morning. Speaking on behalf of the yachteros here in the Bahia, we wish to thank you for inviting us to this fiesta.
Hablando para todo de los yachteros aquí en la Bahia, nosotros deseamos agradecerle que nos haya invitado a esta fiesta.
We heard recently that your government has sent four hundred Salvadorans to the United States to help with the hurricane Katrina relief efforts in New Orleans. This is an example of how neighbors help each other in time of need. Many of our group are citizens of the USA, and as one of them, I thank your country for this help.
Nosotros oímos recientemente que su gobierno ha enviado a cuatrocientos salvadoreños a los Estados Unidos ayudar con la tormenta tropical "Katrina" alivio esfuerzos en Nuevo Orleans. Éste es un ejemplo de cómo los vecinos nos ayudan a tiempo de necesidad. Muchos de nuestro grupo son ciudadanos del EE.UU., y como uno de ellos, yo agradezco su país para esta ayuda.
Similarly, we yachteros saw the need for replacing the kindergarten here on Isla El Cordoncillo as an example as to how we could help our neighbors.
Nosotros los yachteros vieron la nece reemplazar el jardín de niños aquí en Isla El Cordoncillo como un ejemplo acerca de cómo nosotros pudiéramos ayudar a nuestros vecinos.
Many yachteros, as well as Colette and Murray who live on the island, donated money and worked along side our Isla Cordoncillo island neighbors to make this happen. In addition, friends and family of the yachteros, both in the United States and in Europe, donated money needed for this school project.
Muchos yachteros, así como Colette y Murray que se viven en la isla, el dinero donado y trabajó a lo largo del lado nuestro Isla El Cordoncillo vecinos para hacer esto pasar. Además, los amigos y familia del yachteros, ambos en los Estados Unidos y en Europa, el dinero donado necesitó para este proyecto escolar.
We are very pleased with the result, as we hope you are. We also hope the new kindergarten, and the new books and supplies that fill it, will encourage island children to value education.
Nosotros estamos muy contentos con el resultado, cuando nosotros esperamos que ustedes son tambien. Nosotros también esperamos el nuevo jardín de niños, y los nuevos libros y suministros que lo llenan, animará que los niños de la isla valoren la educación.
We hope also that our efforts will encourage other yachteros who visit your beautiful country in the future to lend a helping hand where needed.
Nosotros también esperamos que nuestros esfuerzos animarán que otros yachteros que visitan su país bonito en el futuro prestar un ayudando dan donde necesitó.
Finally, this sign that was painted by your neighbors, is a gift for your new school.
En fin, este letrero que pintado por sus vecinos, es un regalo para su nueva escuela.
Once more, thank you for inviting us to this fiesta and may God bless this school, the students and teachers.
Una vez más, gracias por invitarnos a esta fiesta y pueda Dios bendiga a esta escuela, los estudiantes y maestras.
Colette was then asked to perform a ribbon cutting ceremony. More traditional dancing and folk singing followed. Rafael, a local fisherman and father of two young men who worked exhaustively on the project, got up to recite a surprisingly long poem that he had written for the occasion. He delivered it in a clear strong voice from memory. In the poem he thanked the cruisers for their efforts and Colette and Murray for helping the local community by employing many of the island men. Next, beautiful, precocious five year old Esmeralda, representing the students, stole the show by giving her speech to the enthusiastic audience.
The program over, the teachers began serving doughnuts first to the visiting dignitaries and invited all others to eat. It was funny to watch the reaction of the village children - lined up to get a doughnut - when they were given rich chocolate brownies. Never having tasted this food, they were at first more interested in doughnuts. Once one of them finally took a bite (probably trying to be polite to Leslie who was passing them out), his eyes opened wide in pleasure and the other kids quickly stepped up to receive a sample on small napkins. After doughnuts, teachers opened crates containing the almuerzo (lunch) of traditional fried estuarine fish, rice with carrots and peas, tortillas and pupusas.
All in all, it was a warm and extravagant event for such a tiny poor island and put to rest our concerns as to what the villagers felt about our helping to build the school. Not only did the people appreciate our work, it appears to us that the school has engendered new pride in their community.
El Salvador is a beautiful country with an astonishingly deep schism between the rich and poor. Wealthy Salvadorans literally drive helicopters over the heads of poor people paddling dugout canoes. The poor are completely invisible to them.
There is still a lot of work cruisers can do to help our friendly Salvadoran hosts. Even though we have reluctantly moved on to points south, we hope - but are also confident that - the cruisers who follow in our wake will develop their own agenda for giving something back to the local Salvadoran communities.
Leslie & Philip with el gato supreme, Jake
Isla Meanguera, Golfo de Fonseca, El Salvador