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Thursday, July 31, 2014

San Jose Las Flores



The crowing wakes us up, at three, three-twenty, four, four-thirty...a flock of renegade roosters
with seriously challenged inner clocks. They wake us up to a dark, dormitory room and the soft
sounds of breathing, the scuttle of a gecko on the wall, the scratch of tree leaves. They follow
us as we walk around the village, in the ditches, in first-scratched gardens, among mango trees.
They are our own fowl compadres.

We have to come to stay in this beautiful village for three days. Ringed by mountains, one with
a guardian crucifix, it is centred around a town square. A concrete square with a gazebo, a
basketball court, a statue of Che Guevera and old government armaments from the civil war.
There is a strangely commercial pizza stand that lies empty all day. Strange because there is
such a strong sense of family and community here, with little signs of commercialism. We stay
in the pastoral centre in two dormitory rooms with high windows, just large enough to let in the
sounds of errant roosters. Hammocks swing in the inner courtyard, opposite the rudimentary
toilets, the cistern and concrete sinks. Rough stairs lead to an upper terrace, a classroom, and
a spare lawn that looks down on the lush, tropical valley. I spend many quiet moments perched
in a child's school desk, writing in my journal and staring out at the valley, sniffing out any slight
breeze that comes through the trees.

We eat the at the local community kitchen, operated by women. It sits on a central street just
down from the bakery, the panadería. Wrought iron doors halfheartedly keep out the always
skinny, always hungry dogs. The women work in the hot kitchen, stirring boiling pots of water and beans, frying plantains, patting out and frying tortillas. We sit and wait at the picnic tables, talking and laughing, watching the life of the street, the dogs circling and sniffing, people stopping and talking, a woman leaning on her stone windowsill calling out to passersby, dropping food for the dogs. Men walk by with machetes, their faces and arms dirty, leaves hanging from their clothes. In the heat, women rock by with large baskets on their heads. The elementary children, in white shirts and blue pants, return from school with mothers. High school students saunter by in large groups, cell phones in hands, ear bug wires hanging down their shirts. When the food comes out, we line up and eat gratefully the inevitable frijoles, eggs and fried plantains.

One afternoon, tired and hot, we seek shelter in the dark community kitchen. Our nurturers are
at the back in the shadows, drinking water and resting. We watch as the room gets darker and
people scurry past. The skies open up suddenly and violently with pelting rain. The water runs
down the tiled roofs and the rough streets. The village is full of the sound of water and thunder.

No roosters.

We visit the village school, written about so well by my friend, Anna. Entering the gates is like
entering an enchanted village, trees everywhere, radiant flowers and butterflies brushing by
our hands and faces. The children seem completely at home, slurping milk, eating tortillas,
running, laughing and playing. Our visit to the kindergarten class, in a new, separate building,
is wonderful. We are serenaded with two songs, with hand actions, and then treated to stories
loudly delivered by Vincente who came from Los Angeles in an airplane and needs to represent
his class. The junior students race around the basketball court, shooting hoops, chasing each
other and calling out, teasing and laughing.



Entering the garden is like being in a children's book where everything is larger, lusher and greener than you can ever imagine. The air is green and humid, the sun beating down on giant sunflowers, eggplants, mangoes. Hens scratch in the few patches of unplanted dirt. Vines climb everywhere, from recycled pop bottles, plastic containers.  Corn is planted precariously on a steep slope between the garden shed and a school building.

All along the cinder block walls of the school buildings are children's pictures of the war, a
living memorial to where they come from and what they work away from. The walls lead to two
outdoor stoves where the school cooks are preparing lunch. The air is full of the smell of hot oil.

We are tired and happy as we walk slowly down the hill from the school. We feel as if we have
been given a gift of being able to visit. Ahead of us, walking just behind the larger forms of Paul
and Miguel, is a young boy going home from school. Dark head bobbing, shirt flapping over his
dusty pants, shoelaces training, and a Japanese animé knapsack knocking against his back.



We are intrigued by his purposeful walk. He crosses the street to a food stand run by two men.
We all watch as he confidently speaks up to the men, indicating which sandwich he would like
to buy, crossing his tiny arms as he waits for his order. His sense of comfort and solitary walk
make the village seem safe.



We do not want to leave the village, our dormitory room, the rough streets, the bakery,
community kitchen, school and church from where the sound of piano music comes in the
afternoons. A woman beckons to us on our last night and we all crowd into her home, one light
burning against the dark. We buy her jewelry collected in a plastic bag and say that we will
return.

The van is strangely quiet as we pull out of the village's narrow streets, its sides almost scraping
the rough hewn buildings. All look out quietly, assembling images and memories of a very
special place.

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