Tuesday, November 13, 2007


We finished painting the murals at the escuela today. Its amazing how just one week at a place can give you so much insight that you feel like you could possibly write a pilot episode for a new sitcom. This one would be called “Academic Anarchy” and it would be based on the antics and behavior of the children and teachers at Tortuga Escuela; the elementary school in the village of Ojochal.
The atmosphere of this school is pure mayhem. Think about that Michelle Pfiefer movie, Dangerous Minds in terms of the level of disrespect for the teacher, but without the threat of violence. The length of each lesson taught ranges from 1-5 minutes on average. A few times a week it seemed the teachers were feeling quite energetic and would indulge in an approximately 8 minute long-winded sermon of knowledge. Perhaps sermon paints the wrong image. These children don’t sit still. These children never shut their mouths. Truly. Their mouths are open for shouting, screaming, talking loudly, or to receive the endless stream of candy, suckers, gum, chips, etc. they eat DURING CLASS. Before you imagine their brownbags or lunchpails stuffed with such riches, I’ll tell you exactly where they get them. Across and down the road from the school about 50 yards sits a “Pulperia” a tiny convenience store for food, water, beer, etc. These kids wander endlessly in and out of their classrooms ALL DAY and buy snacks. They holler answers out which are strangled by suckers. Yesterday “Alexis” was eating an ICE CREAM CONE during math! But of COURSE the kids do this... SO DO THE TEACHERS! Its a sight for us to see such feasting...we who were only allowed to even chew gum in class on special days...As we paint right outside the classrooms, the artificial fruit breeze wafts into our expectant yet chaste noses.

The woman who cleans the school at the end of the day sweeps up dustpans FULL of wrappers and debris. The kids DO NOT use the trash cans. Wrappers are strewn upon the grass and collect along the chainlink fence in the schoolyard.

As a result of this steady sugar intake, you can imagine the high voltage energy (and the resulting crash and emotional turmoil their parents get to live with later.) Think back to the classroom climate of those days in elementary when there was a substitute teacher. Conjure up the most unruly, smart-ass misbehaved kids. Now think about the energy level of the last day of school before christmas break. Add to that the high pitched fervor of the last day of school for the year. Multiply that by 10. Add in the fragrance of artificial tropical fruit flavor. hmmm. this really BARELY begins to explain.

Yesterday, after FIREWORKS were lit off IN THE CLASS I thought what a shame it was my parents weren’t cognizant of this fine educational system...my brother the pyrotechnic could have flourished here. He would have never had to drop out of 10th grade! When the ping pong games began and balls were bouncing on the floors, we sorta began to lose it. We were yelling cusswords, (they don’t understand English) singing super loud, and laughing maniacally. No one noticed.

The kids were our audience while we painted. They watched us for six-and-a-half DAYS. They watched while we painted the Costa Rican "coat of arms", the flag, and the village emblem. They watched us paint the bathroom doors. They watched us paint two 12' long walls. At first we felt guilty for being such a distraction. HA. Now that cracks us up. We were so self centered to think the teachers were giving the kids permission to watch us for hours. The truth is, the teachers LOVED that we were were there to distract. That meant more freedom for them. I mean, those short lessons really wear a guy out. So, with us providing hours of entertainment there was time to walk to the Pulperpia for snacks, to socialize.... friends walking by need not keep walking,.....come on in! What’s happening? Pura vida...... We witnessed many many lengthy conversations conducted between passersby and the teachers...sometimes the teachers were mid-lesson and would see a friend walk by, and stop to shout out, halting class for a quick chat.

Perhaps our sweetest memory of one of the teachers is when he asked some of the boys to wash his motorcycle. During class. During a rainy afternoon. This is the same teacher who would chat it UP on his CELL PHONE during "class".

As we paint the last stripes of the Costa Rican flag on this fine establishment, we salute each and every student and teacher. Thank you for granting us access to your walls, your customs, your sugar coated school...


leslie said...

OK, I hit "fireworks in the classroom" and threw a wrench in Tim's bedtime story for the kids. I haven't whooped so whole-heartedly in weeks! Beats hell out of the time the boys in Wellsville drove their tractors to school to block the parking lot.

Lawrence misses you, too, but damn we need you to stay south for a while longer. These stories are priceless. We'll work on Chinese names for your eventual, triumphant return.

Tim said...

fuckin' a.

JOhn said...

I half wonder if this is what my students hope for. I do get quite animated in attempts to get them to loosen up and stretch their thoughts toward investigation rather than the tired solutions they are so wont to chase.
I'll be treating them all to Silas & Maddys soon OR maybe I'll conjure up an ice truck behind our studio . . .

Nancy & Bill said...

Hey, Aaron & Kendra, Bill and I were just in Costa Rica last week and saw the school in Tortuguero! I wasn't sure while I was there that it was the one you painted, and I guess I only got one picture of it. But if you would like to see how at least one of the murals is holding up, send us your email and I'll send it to you. ~ Nancy