“It’s always good to have a plan but it’s even better not to worry when it doesn’t come together.”
This is probably the best place in the world for that quote, this country makes even the most organised person in the world panic, I’m not that organised, worrying is my best and most useless skill, but I do enjoy a challenge and this place breeds challenges in a way that make you continually think outside of the box… I like that, once I’ve found a solution of course.
We needed to hire a truck to take all of the paint and equipment up to Miraflor, an expensive option but even the sturdiest horse was not going to be able to manage the gallons of paint we had. Loading everything up and the Marlon the artist, so he too could take a look at the building we headed up to El Jilguero. We had to leave everything at the school, then return to Sontule where we were staying, the plan was to ride the following morning to start painting the comeodor a base coat of white sealant inside and out so it would be ready and dry for the painting of the mural to commence. Horse riding is something I take for granted and Katie’s recent prowess had reassured me that it was not going to be a problem for anyone else, I should have known better.
Italians like fast cars, motorbikes anything with go faster stripes and a large engine , I realise that is a sweeping generalisation but for the purposes of this blog I am sticking to it. Horses do not come equipped with a gear stick and brakes and if you add a pair of spurs (not my doing) to a novice horse rider and a nervous horse then you are asking for trouble. Poor bloke, with instructions shouted in a mix of Spanish English and Italian the horse galloped off with a petrified Italian trying desperately to slow him down. It was agreed that horse riding was not for him and once had regained the use of his legs he decided that he would walk to the community each day.
Once we arrived in El Jilguero it became plain that the community was not going to allow us to do all the work, they had promised to be there and all sorts of members from the community had turned up to lend a hand, children of all ages, some of the coffee farmers and community leaders. It was an absolute breath of fresh air to see so many who wanted to get stuck in and help as much as possible. Within a short space of time we had painted the inside and the outside with two paints of coat and the children who had barely said two words when they had turned up were now running around screaming as they were invariably chased by the rest of us with loaded paintbrushes or they returned the favour. Some of the younger girls had turned up after hours of preparation making their hair and clothes look beautiful and they stood around shyly staring at us and giggling, but Bladi was having none of it and shoved paintbrushes in their hands and told them to do some work, within minutes clean clothes and stylish accessories were forgotten and they were covered in paint but their hairstyles remained intact throughout.
There were a few things which needed finishing on the building, windows and two doors, the doors weren’t a problem, we just needed to buy hinges, plane down some wood and fit them in, how hard could that be? Ahem….more of that later. The windows were a different matter, there was no way I had enough money to sort those out this time so it was decided that the community would build these using resources they already had such as chicken wire and wood, Bladi assured me that this would be something they would make and it would not look like a botched job as they wanted to make sure everything looked great, the fact that they were willing to resolve the problem and not leave everything to me was overwhelming. We also had a meeting with the coffee farmers to organise, letters from children in English to be read out by the children when they returned to school the following week and a party, yes a party, the community wanted a grand opening of their new building and a blessing and a presentation, this was going to be arranged for the following Wednesday 13th February. We had one week to sort everything out. No pressure then.
The following day Ricky joined the Italian on his 14km round trip hike. Now, whether he was choosing walking out of solidarity or due to his quite painful saddle sore remains to be seen but they both set off quite happily while Katie and I stuck to our four legged transport. As we came into view of the school we couldn’t quite believe it, the mural had been started and it already looked incredible. Back in England over 24 children had submitted entries into an art competition at Dunhurst and Marlon the artist and the coffee producers had chosen a mix of seven of the entries, Marlon had then come up with one design which combined all of these. The mural shows what their own school means to the Dunhurst children. At the other end of the building there would be a design representing the Nicaraguan community complete with coffee, flowers and volcanoes, at the side there would be a line of children holding hands to show the link between the two countries. We had originally wanted to draw the children on both sides of the building but we couldn’t in the end, nothing technical, we simply ran out of paint.
One of the best things about Marlon the artist was his total ease with everyone helping out, he had pencilled in the design and all we had to do was colour it in, everyone had a go and he had no issue with anyone going over the lines, “tranquillo” was his favourite expression. The Italian was brilliant at the top bits as he reached the parts others could not reach, I knew this already. Ricky took a long time to painstakingly paint a part of the Union Jack and stepping back he announced it was definitely the best and that no one need be envious he just had artistic genius flowing through him, until that is the Italian also stepped back and pointed out that it didn’t match at all with the other side. Crestfallen, Ricky made excuses about sunlight, bad brushes and difficult lines to follow, no further mention of his rare talent…
Over the next two days the mural took real shape and colour, the line of children was to stretch all of our artistic capabilities as we mixed colours to make sure they had differing skin tones and brightly coloured clothes, Katie misunderstood and we spent a long time rectifying the brightly coloured skin tone on one particular person but we forgave her. It was one of those rare days when everything just comes together and no one can stop smiling at our work and the sheer enjoyment of doing something so special, I’m sure there are management companies who have dreadfully expensive team building days to try and do the same thing, we had paint, sunshine, a huge amount of goodwill and no chanting at all. It was brilliant. As we rode away at the end of the week it was fantastic to look back and see a unique slice of bright beautiful Britishness sitting comfortably in the Nicaraguan cloud forest.
The day of the doors…having bought enough hinges for an entire community and endlessly waiting for it to stop raining we headed once again out to El Jilguero. Bladi was waiting for us with a plastic bag of ‘tools’ and the two doors were in the comeodor ready to be fixed into the frames. Much to the consternation of the two blokes there was no electric drill, electric plane or electric saw, in fact there was no electricity. I was unfazed, they had doors everywhere in the community , they hadn’t been put up by magic, it would be fine. Well fine is probably a bit of an exaggeration, having realised that the doors were much too big for the frames Ricky sawed part of his off and then wisely said “It’s much better to saw too little off than too much as you can’t stick it back on” he then spent the best part of the next four hours hand planing off the extra he had been so careful not to manually saw off. The Italian, true to form, watched someone him make this mistake and made sure he cut more off. Regardless they were both planing for hours… I’m not in any way shape or form in the slightest bit adept at DIY, in fact I find it exhausting just watching it, perhaps foolishly I mentioned this to Katie and she empathised how draining it was, much to the utter disbelief of a worn out and sweating Ricky who was now taking swipes at the door frame with a machete. Doors fitted and all of the blokes did that very blokey thing of standing back and admiring their handy-work, this seemed to go on for a long time and it felt as if we were at a BBQ, looking at beautifully cooked sausages. Men, fire and wood, no matter how developed we are there are some things which will never change. Fair play to them, they did an excellent job.
13th February 2013 , not a day I am likely to forget in a hurry. No rain at all, no clouds just clear blue skies and burning sunshine, the perfect day for an inauguration party. The plan was to have a meeting with the coffee farmers, show the letters written in Spanish from a language class in Dunhurst to the children in their classes and celebrate the opening of the new building.
Simples… You’d think.
Only thing was I had completely underestimated how this community felt about what had been done for them, living in an isolated community where they rarely saw foreigners and with no other outside help for the education of their children or assistance with their further education this was an event which was to be celebrated, they wanted to show their appreciation to all of us and that party atmosphere started in the farmer’s meeting. I explained about the sales situation at home and listened as they talked about the difficult harvest they had just had, we discussed where the business was going with the support of Fabretto, I explained that I would not be building anymore in the community but would instead be focusing on grants to enable the children to continue on to secondary school and university, primary school is where it starts but certainly not where the support ends. It was fine until one of them made a speech and said that until I had started buying their coffee they had been unaware of its unique quality and taste, that as a result of this knowledge they were able to be more selective when selling it to outside markets and they were looking at ways of preserving the plantations through better education and using more natural fertilisers. Cue my first lot of tears. Don Pedro whose hands holding a coffee plant have been immortalised on a Hada Del Café postcard held one of the cards in those very same hands and spoke about the loyalty and respect they had for the relationship we had built up over the last 6 years, and that they had found the comedor and the mural to be ‘magnificent’. More tears. It was all a bit much for me crying in front of a group of stalwart men who had supported me so much and put their entire faith in this crazy haired white woman with big ideas and quite often no clue on how to implement them. It was time to party.
I love a school which has the scope to turn itself into so many different things in the course of one afternoon. We had a meeting room, for myself and the farmers, a piñata party room, where kids from the ages of four right up to well, my age actually, bashed a piñata the size of a small child until it’s ceramic insides were smashed and sweets fell onto the floor, health and safety is not an issue here. Another classroom doubled up as an afternoon disco where the local lasses spying an opportunity had kitted themselves out in high heels, over the knee boots and tight tops and with music pumping by the end of the afternoon they were locked in tight embraces with the local lads. I like to think of my work as reaching everyone…
Leaving the classroom after the piñata it was time for the official opening. More and more people were arriving and by now quite a crowd had gathered to hear the speeches and see the ribbon being cut. Okay it was more like police tape but it was there, and it was for me to cut. If only my teachers who had written ‘could try harder’ on my school reports could have seen me. I wish I could write something funny now to stop the sentimentality of this but it’s hopeless, even comedy genius Ricky was reduced to the status of a grinning muppet, the Italian was almost bursting with pride and Katie just sparkled, I was called up and given a framed certificate which was to honour the work I had done in the community, they had been planning this for six months. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.