I wake up to a great ruckus of rooster crows and dogs barking. The near-full moon has confused the creatures of the community into chattering back and forth all night long, but the additional action of a pre-dawn departure of the man of the house has put them over the top. Julia has to get up too, having forgotten to wash her husband's uniform until late in the previous day and still needing to put the iron to it. The loud screech of the chain-link gate, the grinding of the ancient pick-up engine and the final slam of the metal house door wake up the kitten and the five-year old, who also add to the pre-dawn chatter.
Lights out. Back to sleep. The house is still hot from yesterday's sun, the metal roof and block walls retain the heat even though the night air is chilly. It would be so much better if we could open a window, but it is just not safe enough.
I often lay awake for long periods of time when sleeping out in our sister community. Not this morning. By the time we wake again, it is past time to get going. We put on clean clothes. Julia's grandson wiggles his feet into clean white socks and the blue shorts and checked shirt that all of the kindergarten children wear. Julia gets breakfast while the little guy bites on his shoelaces to try to release a stubborn knot. He lets me help him get the knot out and then we hunt for the shoe brush so he can shine his shoes. This happens every day; the shoes need to last for a year and the dusty terrain is hard on them.
We sit down for breakfast. We pray the kindergarten prayer, listening to our expert singer and following his motions. The song ends..."We give thanks for this food and ask God to bless it and to bless those who do not have any food. God bless Mommy and Daddy and my brother. Amen. Buen provecho."
Today's breakfast is a sweet cake made from plantains. Lucia brought it over last night as a special gift in honor of my presence in the community. The cake is sweet and moist with a sugary plantain topping. Julia pours warm water into powdered milk and her grandson brings his clean bottle from the pila - a little plastic bottle that at one time had juice in it. A piece of cake goes into the sandwich box, the milk goes into the bottle, the lunch box is snapped shut and we are ready to go. We unlock the gate, sneak out so the dogs don't escape, relock the gate and walk down the hill to the school.
Normally, three little ones walk together with their grandmas, but today we are late because we overslept. Arriving late is not a big deal in the little school, at least for the kindergartners. The older kids are out for gym class and are learning to jump rope. I see one green jump rope with sparkly handles. The other ropes are made from random pieces of twine and rope of different shapes and sizes tied together.
Moms and Grandmas take turns cooking at the school. Each day the government provides 5 pounds of rice for 80 children. The parents are supposed to take turns bringing other items. Yesterday's pile included 5 tiny potatoes, 1 package of chicken flavor, 1 onion and a couple of tiny tomatoes. This was not going to feed 80 children. Julia and the other grandma-cook for the day talked it over and decided they needed to buy some carrots and other things to make a rice soup. This is typical of the grandmas, who have very little for their own families but somehow find a way to share with others. I headed off for some morning visits. They told me later that the soup was very good.
The mornings pass quickly and soon the little ones are ready to walk home. They gather at the concrete picnic table on the school grounds to eat their "refreshments" from their little lunch boxes. (This is after they have eaten the school food.) Then they walk home.
Julia's grandson has his afternoon routine. He pushes a big desk out into the yard and carefully takes papers out from the drawer. "La oficina esta abierta." The office is open. He carefully takes up his crayons and works to complete workbook pages from a homemade book left over from 4-year old kindergarten. He is very serious.
At about 3 pm, it is time to eat again. Something simple - an egg or some beans or a tortilla. Then, after the heat of the day diminishes a bit, the kids come out to play in the open space near the church. Eight or ten soldiers lean up against the little fence outside of the church, smiling at the kids, chatting on their cell phones, holding their weapons across their chests. It is safe to play while the soldiers are watching. The community is once again in a time of increased gang activity. As the sun goes down, everyone heads for home. A few couples pass by. Women come home from selling door to door or in the market. A few women who have factory jobs come home carrying their purses, $5.30 richer after 8 hours of work.
We sit out on the edge of the concrete steps outside of the gate. Julia says it is time to go in. The nearly full moon rises just enough so I can see it over the top of the dirt pile behind the church. The little guy cannot see it, so I take him by the hand and walk to the top of the dirt hill. I crouch down and whisper that the moon is made of green cheese. We laugh and enjoy a few moments whispering back and forth about the moon, the soldiers grin and then it is time to go inside and close the doors for the night.