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November 23

At breakfast, Francisco mentions that there is a graduation ceremony at the school today and I might like to go.  Well, Iím certainly not going to miss that!  There are actually two graduations taking place:  the kindergarten class is graduating into grade one and grade nine is graduating into high school, or bachiller, as it is called here.  The teachers are delighted that I would take the time to come.  To my considerable astonishment, I am seated at la mesa de honor (the head table) and asked to hand out the diplomas.  Had I known, I might have worn something nicer than jeans.

Each six-year-old kindergarten graduate is announced and enters on the arm of an escort, a brother, sister or a cousin of about the same age.    The girls all wear tiny purple floor-length formal gowns and the boys wear black suits with purple dress shirts (The school colours are purple and black and they are much in evidence on this day).  Of course, the kids are bewildered by the pomp and circumstance and are mostly all huge brown eyes.  Parents and teachers herd them to their seats and later up to receive their diplomas and get their photographs taken.  Itís just about the cutest thing I have ever seen.

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The kindergarten class (more or less) assembled

Prof. Raoul Salamanca is an excellent Master of Ceremonies

 

Then the grade nine graduates are announced.  The girls are escorted by their fathers and the boys by their mothers.  The girls all wear fancy dresses, in some shade of purple or mauve and the boys wear black suits or dress pants and nice (purple) shirts.  One very nice young man, Mario Santana, whom I particularly like because he is sincerely interested in learning and tried his best to do well on the tests, is escorted by his abuela (grandmother).  She is very old and walks slowly, doesnít have a fancy dress and wears her traditional apron, but she is so proud to be there while her grandson receives his diploma Ė and he is so proud to have her there with him.  I think I have tears in my eyes.

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Proud graduates into grade one

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Mario Santana, receiving his diploma, with his abuela watching proudly

David Quintanilla, a keen student

 

The brief time that I spend at the school over a couple of weeks, is the highlight of my visit.  I would like to think that I made a good impression on the students; I know they made a terrific impression on me.  I always feel like a visible minority in this community, but now I canít walk down the street without people waving or calling a greeting.  One evening, just at dark, two girls on bicycles approach and I hear a cheery:  ďHola, Meester Bob

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This moppet appears at my shoulder at the head table and then obliging poses for pictures.

 

The dark side of the situation is that teachers are paid appallingly badly, even for this economy.  A teacher, who requires a three-year university degree, earns between four and six hundred dollars a month Ė five to seven thousand a year.  My teacher friend, Freddy, and I go out for dinner a couple of times to discuss teaching, learning and politics.  On his salary of five hundred dollars a month, Freddy supports a wife, four children and a grandchild.  Freddy takes me home to meet his family and see his house: dirt floors, thatch roof, walls made of sticks and his wife cooks over a wood fire.  Of course, everyone asks me how much teachers make in my country.  My feeble efforts to explain that fifty or sixty thousand dollars a year isnít really all that much money in our economy, donít earn much credibility here.

 

November 28

IíM A STATUS SYMBOL

Frequently, if Francisco has to drive into the nearby town of Zacatecoluca (try saying that after several glasses of wine) or if he has to travel into San Salvador to pick up parts or visit clients, he invites me to go along.  He appears to enjoy my company and of course he has the services of a captive English tutor for several hours at a stretch.  I enjoy these outings because I get to see a lot of the city, which I find endlessly fascinating.  Most of Franciscoís clients are wealthy SalvadoreŮos who have vacation properties in the Costa del Sol.  Some of these people are quite a bit more than just wealthy and, by tagging along as he collects payment or quotes on new jobs, I catch glimpses into lifestyles that we can only dream about. 

Francisco always introduces me to these people and occasionally their reactions strike me as unusual, even though I have gotten used to being the token gringo.  Skin colour has a distinct bearing on social status and Francisco tells me that the people he introduces me to are invariably surprised and impressed that he has a friend like me.  Imagine that  Ė  Iím a status symbol!  He usually doesnít tell them that Iím really just a garbage man!

 

Saturday December 3

Francisco announces that we are going fishing out on the ocean.  He has been working very hard and needs a day off and it will be a special treat for me.  Some of my friends know that I am about as enthusiastic about fishing as I am about opera, but Iím not about to tell Francisco that.  Bright and early Saturday morning, we go down to the dock where Julio and Raphael are waiting for us.  There is a big, shiny cabin cruiser sportfisher, with three flying bridges Ö but that is not our craft.  Ours is an open lancha about twenty feet long and four feet wide, with a 65 hp Yamaha outboard.

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Our fishing boat Ė not the one behind!

Raphael takes us off-shore

 

 We clamber on board about 7:30 am, with water, soft drinks, sandwiches and coconuts (and a machete, of course) and head down the estero towards the bocana, to go out into the ocean.  The Pacific swell is very calm today, so the passage over the bar is unexciting.  Still, the surf booms and crashes to either side of us and only experienced boatmen with extensive local knowledge ever attempt it.  It is breathtakingly beautiful out on the ocean.  The sun shines in a cloudless sky and the water is a gorgeous deep blue.  The long shallow swell is almost unnoticeable unless you are watching another boat and realize that for long seconds at a time, you canít see it.  Then, both boats rise up on the swell and can see each other again.  A moderate breeze blows off the land to keep us comfortable under the awning and kicks up a confused chop about the size of waves on our lakes at home.  We head out about ten Km offshore

Fishing is pretty slow.  We troll for awhile -- at about six knots Ė our fish at home would never be able to catch up to the hook to bite it!  Then, I get a bite!  It takes me six or seven minutes to crank in about a twenty-pound fish and thatís good fun.  Itís called a jurel.   http://www.acapulconet.com/jurel.html  We troll for another hour or so and then decide itís time to still-fish.  Julio and Raphael bait handlines with weights and we pitch them over the side.  The action isnít brisk, but we do catch a variety of smaller fish. They are unfamiliar to me, but the boys assure me that they are all good eating.  We catch a little hammerhead shark about twenty inches long and everyone is enthused about that.  Evidently, they make the best ceviche!  We troll some more and I catch another, smaller fish.  We still-fish some more and eventually have a bucketful to show for our efforts, but itís a good thing we arenít doing this for a living.

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Me catch fish!

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Julio times the breakers

Safely through the surf

 

About 4:00 in the afternoon, we head back through the surf of the bocana and into the calm estero again.  This time we are running with the breaking waves, which has more potential for peril, but the sea is calm today and Julio is a veteran boatman, so our passage is uneventful. Altogether, it was a gorgeous day, but Iím just as glad we didnít go forty or fifty miles offshore to the really deep water, where the big tuna and marlin hang out.

 

 

Sunday December 11

It's my last evening and everybody gathers at Miguelito's Restaurant to say good bye.  Misael says:  "What's wrong Bob?  You don't look happy."  I reply:  "Of course I'm not happy.  I don't want to go home!"  After a meal of pupusas, the national dish of El Salvador, adults and kids take turns telling me how much they appreciated my efforts to help them to learn English and that they hope I will come back and see them again.  My eyes are damp and I struggle for eloquence in my newly-acquired second language.  I try to thank them for not just welcoming me into their community and into their families but also for taking me into their hearts.  I assure them that they are all in my heart and that I will come back to see them again one day before too long.  This place has truly become my second home and I will never forget these people who have allowed me to become a part of it.

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Good bye at Miguelito's Restaurant

Some of my favourite students

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Jose making his speech

Struggling for eloquence in Spanish

 

Monday December 12

Up at 4:30am to get to the airport and three long flights: Houston, Chicago and Winnipeg.  I arrive in the shiny new Richardson terminal.  Chris is there to meet me Ė she forgets to bring my coat!  Fortunately, it isn't minus 30į

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