Sunday, January 9, 2011

monkey feet

Learning a language. Al and I have set off for Nicaragua for the second year running to attempt to improve our Spanish, and I confess, to get away from the New York winter. We're in the same place as last year -- La Mariposa Spanish school. Great place! Paulette Goudge conceived of it, and built the eco-compatible building and grounds. What I hadn't realized last year was that our shower water somehow finds its way into large cisterns in the lush grounds which in turn are are used to water the plants. She asks that we use environmentally friendly shampoo and soap. So we're nicely entwined w/ our plant friends. I pored over the label on my beloved hair conditioner. Paulette has rescued all of the animals that live here, including a large cage of white faced monkeys. (They were bound for the U.S. on some nefarious mission. They're not released into the wild for their own safety, not being native to this region.) As I was standing by them this morning, chatting with some other guests, one of them -- the monkeys that is -- put its foot in my cup of mint tea and then sucked it dry, looking avidly at what was left in my cup. Of course I obliged, and this wiley monkey managed to drink it down completely using a combination of hands, feet and tail. Proceeds from the school and inn go to support many worthy projects in the community, which is very very poor. Paulette informs us that some of our neighbors live on less than $2/ day.

I haven't gotten down to convey what it feels like to study Spanish here. I can't seem to do it, really talk about what it feels like in my case to learn Spanish, not till I describe the afternoon I spent last week at a local afterschool program. I'd collected toys, games and stuffed animals from friends and neighbors (who were incredibly generous. More teddy bears than I'd thought existed in Brooklyn) to bring down to the small school that serves toddlers in the a.m. and older kids in the afternoon.

We arrived at the afterschool program at around two. One of the interns, Allison, who had signed up to spend six months here, was my guide and companion. (Allison, reading, in photo)

It's completely voluntary. The kids come if and when they feel like it. The school is simple, white-washed with these amazing cartoon characters painted on the outside walls -- I snapped a picture of a fox who looks like he's about to sell you land in Florida as well a wolf perched on a roof top. The interior is strung with paper decorations, and all kinds of things. The place in its entirety looks as though it's ready for a party.

But no one was there. Then, as if a gang of children were staking us out, they suddenly appeared. From out of nowhere, our small room filled with about a dozen boys and girls -- from mabye 5 - 13. And they took these tiny brightly painted chairs and sat down and began to read, some on their own (the boys). Girls clustered around to hear Cenicienta. Not what I, the feminist from New York, thought I would have chosen. But for some reason I had chosen it. Perusing a shelf of Spanish language books in Barnes and Noble, I'd bought it because of its beautiful illustrations and also because it had an English translation at the bottom of each page. I should have realized that the young girls of the village of Santiago (not a paved road, not a car in sight. chickens and goats in the front yard) were intimate with the story. They nodded and smiled shyly as I began and went all the way to the Prince finding the girl who'd worn the 'cristal' slipper to the ball.

I've been informed that all State funding for Santiago's after-school program has dried up and since then, Paulette has directed some of the profits from La Mariposa Spanish School towards the one teacher's salary.

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