The 8th Year (1978): The Rio Grande Valley, Nicaragua and Monteverde, Costa Rica

We left the farm in the care of Raphael and Licha and traveled back to the USA where, with the help of my friend Kevin Morse, we settled in Edinburgh, Texas. I was extremely lucky to get a full-time job teaching eighth grade math in the local public schools. My students were a wonderful group of Mexican migrant worker's children. I also picked up two evening classes at Pan American University - one teaching political science and the other basic mathematics. Ironic that the political science course that I was teaching was a requirement for Texas teacher certification, which I needed to fulfill during the year of my public school teaching. Turns out I enrolled in and passed my course!

February 27: Here goes with a little news from the Rio Grande Valley: Yesterday was Teo's birthday. We did a piñata at Sunday school - a darling roster that Elizabeth made and all the Sunday school kids had a fine time learning Nicaragua style birthday party piñata customs. Teo's big gift was a tinker toy set, and either he, I, Mom, or his friend Ferny, from across the street, have been making incredible machines ever since. Machua got a puzzle and he is sitting here right this minute putting the pieces all back in the box and saying mine, mine, mine, and mumbling all kinds of sounds and semi-words. He needed his own gift too!
On the job front, we have had some luck although a bit unusual. The Quaker community in Monte Verde, Costa Rica answered a letter from us offering us a job the second week in June. We are writing back today saying we'll take it. The college job market is tight and although I'm sure I could land a job by working hard at it, my enthusiasm for this is low, and we are both real excited about working amongst hard working, strict living people who have strong convictions about life and education and community. We should learn a lot and have some fine experiences. The pay is subsistence but a nice little house nestled in a cloud forest clearing about four blocks from the school/community building comes with the job.
So, right now our plans are to finish up here by June - head for Nicaragua to check up on the farm -- and from there on to Costa Rica.

March 1: We heard from Sangarro that all is OK.
Tonight I'm going to the first night of a two-night course in fireman training. Two classes each night - gas fires, house fires, auto fires and how to get people out of wrecked automobiles. These are not lecture classes - but burning houses that we have to put out, wrecked cars that we have to cut apart, etc. Of course all of us green horns are pretty nervous, but excited too to get some good training.

Which reminds me of our last fire. The truck stalled on the way to the fire. For five minutes after we got there the water pump was incorrectly turned on and only a dribble came out of the hose. It was hell standing there eating smoke and waiting for water while a grass fire leapt up against the side of a house! At the last minute before we had a good house fire going, they got the pump working and we quickly put out the fire.

The boys are doing great. They love the nice weather. So do we. Teo is quite the tinker toy mechanic by now and Machua is getting his licks in too when he can get his brother to give him a few sticks.

May 27: Regular school ended yesterday. Me, and every teacher on staff, sighed with relief that we all made it! Students of course were equally elated. You'd never guess what my last teaching act was. Five minutes after the last bell, I smelled smoke and rushed out into the hall to put out a fire, which no doubt some "happy" students had started.

Next week I have three days of testing and paper work at school and Wednesday afternoon we will start our journey. Elizabeth is spending most of her time now preparing for the trip - food, clothing, and school materials. We've sold everything we don't want to take - even the encyclopedias. A few days ago we heard from Costa Rica again - they're expecting us!

June 11:: We arrived at Sangarro safe and sound! Had a wonderful trip considering the distance and all the possible hassles. The truck ran perfectly, no sickness, all boarders crossed with minimum trouble and the farm in perfect shape.

I finished my grading at school and turned in my keys by about 2:30pm and by 3:30pm we were well into Mexico. We slept a little but mostly just drove and four days later we were at Sangarro. We parked the truck in the valley and went into the farm in a jeep - good decision because the road was in terrible shape and was a lot worse by the time we left. At the farm we found it no trouble getting into a work routine and started our daylight to dusk working. We sold five cows, which gave us the money to pay all expenses without dipping into our savings. Best of all, Raphael, had taken marvelous care of the farm, so it was a joy being there. They were eager to stay on another 6 months. We were visited by a band of 30 guerrillas a month before we arrived and they broke into the house "looking for arms." Seeing all the books they said to Raphael, "these people must be teachers" and marveled a bit at the fireplace and left without stealing or harming anything. Should we ever run into this problem face to face hopefully we will come through as well.

Early Friday morning we left the farm and yesterday afternoon arrived here in Monteverde. We stopped at the first farm and announced we were the new teachers and could they take us to a member of the school committee. Since then it's been meeting one person right after another, drinking coffee, getting moved in to our beautiful, not so little house, and trying to get a feel for what's going on here, and what kind of school we will put together. Actually I guess I'm too tired to adequately describe either what we've seen or experienced. Every moment is such a new experience. There are all kinds of people here - Quakers and non-Quakers, English speakers and Spanish, hard working dairy farmers (probably the core), retired people, a large contingent of scientists and students because of a national park cloud forest (very unique) area near by and artists and hippie types! Plenty of room for conflict! Oh, yes and us!

July 1: The school: we have 7 senior high students, 3 junior high, two elementary (including Teo) and a group of ten pre-school students which we started as a parent cooperative. The ten older kids are as different as any ten kids could be, from a couple who are children of a law professor and planning to go to college, one boy who feels that dance and music may be his calling, several who milk a bunch of cows before and after school and plan to stay right on their family farms, and two 12 year old girls who mostly seem like 12 year old girls - best of friends and in love with horses.

School starts at 8 o'clock with a religiously oriented assembly and goes until three. The morning is mainly academic classes, an hour at noon of volleyball or soccer and an afternoon of activities such as arts, carpentry and working with the local veterinary or mechanic. Classes we teach include applied math, drafting, algebra, science, history, world culture, reading, Spanish and we have a parent who comes in who teach a bible class. Some classes have only two students; several have only three. In world culture we include everybody. Sound like a lot for only 10 kids?

The school as it now exists was almost all planned by us. The parents you see, taught the first trimester, waiting for us to get here, and they gladly threw the whole thing in our laps and withdrew to their freedom away from their children! Mostly the people seem very enthusiastic about what we're doing and we're pretty pleased, except for some pretty severe run-ins with the father/law professor who is as arrogant a person as we've ever met. He's quite used to having teachers bow to his sharp rhetoric. Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on how it works out) we are used to such crap and will not tolerate his discourteous ways - apparently most of the plain people here are rather pleased that someone is finally calling him on the carpet.

Back to more pleasant things -- The little schoolhouse nests in a clearing of gigantic trees. It has one big room, which serves also as the Quaker meetinghouse and all-purpose community meeting room. Then there is a small second room for the senior high; a third larger room for the elementary school and preschool. Off to one side are the two outhouses, to the other side is a small building which is the community library and another half completed building which is the school shop. In back is a beautiful open playing field for sports. The shop building couldn't be more to my liking. They had lost momentum on it so my drafting and carpentry class have picked it up as their project and much planning and hammering are going on every afternoon.

Teo and Machua go to school with us at 7:45am and come home at whatever time we wrap things up. It's working out incredibly naturally to the school committee's surprise. All of the older students participate in various ways at playing with them and teaching them. And the nursery school, for three hours a day, is a ball for both of them. At certain periods, when either of us don't have a class, we give Teo and, 7-year old Amy, formal lessons in math and reading.

Today a new teacher arrived who will start giving more formal instruction to the little ones tomorrow. Hope she works in well because it's sure been going well so far.

As for the religious part of the school, we have help from some of the parents and we find it easy to handle as the whole emphasis is upon an individualistic, meditative relation to the God who lives within from which a Christian way of life should flow. They take the "way of life" part of their religion very seriously - being kind and considerate to one another, honesty, hard work, moderation in all things, including making money, and being against war in any form. They see their mission in war to try to give aid to the harmed and to try to bring the warring powers to understanding and compromise.

Wednesdays are a most unusual school day. At 10:30am the community and school meet for their midweek hour of silence followed by a half hour of socializing and sometimes the whole afternoon is taken up by the town meeting during which all community matters are worked out. These can be quite drawn out because they work on a basis of consensus, not majority rule. It works like this: say someone proposes that a new schoolroom be added. The proposal is discussed all around and eventually someone asks if everyone is in agreement. If even one person gives a reason against the proposal it is discussed all around again. And agreement is called for again. If disagreement is voiced it well be referred to committee and for future discussion. No action is taken unless no disagreement is expressed. As I see it this gives a person quite a different orientation to controversy. Instead of just thinking of your side, you are obligated to try hard to understand the other person's point of view because there is no problem of having to win people over to your side - you are a majority of one. Apparently Quakers are accused of being slow to get things done!!! But maybe that beats the kind of uncontrolled change we see on all sides!

As for the community: The core is Quaker dairy-farmers with two families who disserted to Seventh Day Adventism. Next in line are Quaker couples or sympathizers who have retired here from professional careers in the U.S. They are a bit wealthier than the farmers and have plenty of time to participate in community affairs. Next come a group who I would describe as artists. They are drawn here by the uniqueness of the community and the beauty of the surroundings. Next come scientist/ecology/biology type people who are here studying the unique flora and fauna of the cloud forest. Lastly are assorted odd-balls, the law professor fellow, who lives here six-months and teaches in the States six months, the single intellectual lady with her eight year old boy who lives down the road and us. I almost forgot, and the Costa Ricans! They are partly intermarried with the Quakers, adopted children and laborers. For such a small community, it is quite a mix - I'd say there are at most 150 people with no real town, just assorted homes, farms, a store, the cheese factory, a pension, small restaurant and the school - all scattered about a very mountainous area covered with tall thick forest everywhere there isn't a cleared grassy pasture with Holstein and Guernsey cows munching.

Our home is nestled in a hollow, overlooking our newly planted garden, and from there you look into dense forest. One of the main community paths runs right by the front yard and crosses the roaring creek by a hanging bridge. A quarter of a mile on this path takes us to the schoolhouse. The house is two-bedroom with a large living room and kitchen. A woodstove serves for heat but electricity runs the refrigerator, stove, and lights. The toilet flushes! And hot water runs into the bathtub. The back room has a washing machine and spinner. A hand ring telephone connects us on the one party line to about 30 other telephones n the community. It is used sparingly and about once a day a community ring brings across some message of general interest. It is the most luxurious home we have ever lived in. The School Committee is most pleased at how much we like it - some teachers have left because they didn't like having to cut wood to keep warm!

We are almost as far away from civilization as at Sangarro. It is a rough two-hour trip on a rocky mountain road before you get to pavement. From there it's an hour to a good sized city and only one more hour to the capital city, San Jose - which is a whole lot nicer than Managua. We went to San Jose and back yesterday to get our visas extended but four in the morning to eight at night made for a mighty tiring trip.

Since arriving three weeks ago, we've only missed one community function, which was last night's community sing. We've made six church meetings (meetings in silence), one wedding, two square dances, one town meeting, and today's potluck lunch (after meeting) followed by volleyball games and socializing, which lasted until the rains poured down at 4 o'clock. Playing on the same volleyball team was a 12-year old girl and a 65-year old grandfather with all ages in between. Teo and Mach were engrossed the whole time with two other kids playing in a low-level tree house.

July 16: We have had quite an eventful weekend. Friday morning we took off with the whole school on the first school trip. We hiked all day and arrived at a cabin far into the cloud forest at about 3 o'clock, just as the afternoon rains started. That evening we were joined by one of the fathers of 3 of our students and his two companions. They had been out in the bush for 5 days! -- exploring a trail to a distant volcano. They were wet, tired, bruised and bleeding and enjoyed joining us in the warm cabin with hot food. The next day they led an expedition for the older students to a distant waterfall. Two of the younger students and Mach, Teo, Elizabeth, me and Ann (the newly arrived elementary school teacher - a real nice person) went on a short 4-hour hike along a ridgeline through dense forest exploring the wonders of this tropical, cloud forest jungle. We saw wild turkeys and quetzals, multicolored frogs and insects, thousands of kinds of plants but didn't see monkeys or wild pigs, which can be seen with luck. Our luck was the weather - blue sky the whole time we were out. We came back from the trip about 4 in the afternoon on Saturday. Teo, with his friend Amy (6 years old), made the whole hike on their own feet - about 20 miles! And they ran the last quarter mile home!

Saturday evening we went to the pie social. It was fun bidding on pies and finally joining in the community eat, sharing pie around, and generally having a good time. Elizabeth made a rhubarb cobbler, which sold for 10 dollars. Sunday we had meeting, community dinner, and afternoon volleyball.

August 27: School has settled down and we are creating lots of engaging activities for students. We seem to have gained the confidence of the parents. The pace of social activities here is really quite hard to believe. Here is last weeks sample: Monday evening -- school committee meeting. Tuesday evening -- dinner at a student's home followed by a weekly meditation group. During the dinner there was the hardest earthquake tremor that we have ever felt! The whole house shook; lamps swung back and forth about 1 foot. One cup fell off a shelf. The tremors passed after about 30 seconds, which is a very long time when you're wondering if it's going to get worse and whether to run outside or get under a table. Wednesday - we spent a quiet evening at home after the school day when we have both the mid-week silent community meeting and the student banquet lunch. For this special lunch we all bring hot dishes, sit around a big table together and sing and have a bit of planned entertainment instead of the usual bag lunches. It is really quite a picture with the two littlest ones (Mach and Gail), the middle-sized ones, the teenagers, and us old ones all gathered around a community lunch (really gives one good feelings), which is not unlike many of the school activities in which there is so much sharing across age groups. Thursday evening we had one of the younger farming couples over for dinner and conversation. Friday evening we had two of the 13-year old girls over for baking (goodies for a Saturday night affair) and dinner. Saturday I worked all day in the wood shop, which I have now closed in and am commencing to build workbenches and install tools. Elizabeth worked all day with the elementary teacher Ann, making puppets, scenery, plot, and lines for a puppet show. Saturday evening we had a couple and their seven-year old daughter, Amy, over for supper and then we all went up for the evening "coffee house."

Every other week there is a community square dance at the meeting house and on the off weekends the school, namely Ann, Elizabeth and a few of the more talented older kids, have started this coffee house. It consists of turning the Quaker meeting hall into a nightclub! Little tables with candles burning and lots of coffee, punch, cake, etc (which produces school activities income) and entertainment. The first act this week was the great puppet show in which Elizabeth played the court jester and King of the happy valley and Ann played the Queen and princess of the happy valley and the Queen and prince of the sad valley, with a horse and a dragon involved. Teo made his debut as the purple monster! The moral was that happy people make other people happy and the whole production really brought the house down. Imagine, this purple monster creeping across the stage making great, fierce sounds, and all the time being able to see the top of a little blond head bouncing along. This was followed by a community grandmother reading a story to the smallest children gathered around her, skits, songs, guitars, and harmonicas. All of the entertainment was done by community people for the entertainment of themselves and other community people. The whole scene was very mellow and happy, which is a very nice contrast to much of the serious fighting and hard feelings which also abound in this small community. After the evening Amy came home and spent the night with Teo and Mach. Today we went to Sunday meeting and then worked this afternoon in our garden. There were alternatives to staying home like volleyball at school and an agricultural crop meeting in the nearby town of Santa Elena, both of which we declined.

We have also lately heard from Nicaragua that all is fine on our farm despite the terrible upheaval in the country. In a week we have a two-week vacation from school and have decided not to go back to the farm but rather divide our time here between the woodshop and a trip to the beach. We are planning to return to the farm in December and do not yet know if we will return here for another school year.

September 25: Everyone here is very preoccupied with the full-scale war going on in Nicaragua. There was a military boarder crossing in Costa Rica by Nicaragua and some bombs dropped in Costa Rica by their Air Force killing a school teacher and student. You can imagine how excited Costa Rica became about that. We are one of the few countries in the world that maintains no army! Panama sent planes as did Venezuela for the disposal of Costa Rica and thank goodness they have not been used. There is long standing animosity between these two countries mainly because of the long-standing Somaza dictatorship in Nicaragua and their huge military (mainly from the U.S) and the fervent tradition of democracy and pacifism here in Costa Rica. The specific clashes, however, involve Nicaraguan troops chasing rebel fighters who are fleeing across the boarder for safety. Meanwhile inside Nicaragua the army is furiously fighting to regain cities and territories that have been taken over by rebel forces. Apparently thousands of civilians are being killed in the battles. Thousands of refugees are pouring into Costa Rica to get away from the war or because they have no homes or food. Just before the main war we had a letter from the farm saying that all was well - no news since then. Needless to say, we're glad to be here.

We've been offered the job here for next year and are quite undecided as of yet as to what we'll do. Still there are many positive and negative things in this little community; however, we are pleased that they want us back. We have only ten more weeks of school to finish out this school year!

Three weeks ago we had a two-week, between terms vacation. We went to the beach on the Pacific and camped for 5 days - skin diving (Teo learned to use the snorkel and goggles!)) shell hunting, sun and good relaxing. Then 4 days in San Jose - eating, movies, shopping, visiting and generally taking in the big city. What mobs of people!

Today, back at school, my older male students and I wired the wood shop with 12 outlets and in a few days we will have lights too.

We have some very special neighbors just across the bridge, kind of like grandparents to the boys. He's a master mechanic and they both love music. They loaned us their spare marimba, which we are having fun pounding on. Elizabeth, by the way, got a new guitar on our trip, which she is delighted with.

October 29: We've just come back from a week of school at the beach! We had been working on the plans for this beach trip for some time, never really knowing if we could pull it off, but we did, and it was a smashing success and good time. We took the whole school plus a few extra children and adults (21 people in all) in three vehicles with five tents and food, camping gear, books, microscopes, etc., for one solid school week and lived on our favorite Pacific beach. We had classes in skin diving, tide pool study, crab behavior study, swimming and tons of just fun stuff plus all the work, fun and learning that goes with group camping. The community held its breath and enjoyed the peace and quiet while we were gone and we had a triumphal return with no injuries and everyone happy!

We only have five more weeks of school here to finish out our contracts. We still don't know what we'll do next year yet, but we are almost certainly going to spend December, January and February at Sangarro. We'll go back to farming and finding out what the war and political situation is there. Certainly tragic things are happening in that poor country and are far from over as of now.

November 19: We are planning to come back here in March and teach another year. Elizabeth will be the school director and me the shop director. We were petty aggressive in getting the woodshop finished and turned it into just the kind of shop we want to teach and work in. So they gave us another job, which was good, since the school will be only half as big on the secondary level and they would have had trouble keeping us on were it not for the shop program. One of the big shot families really didn't want us to stay and a couple others too, but, believe it or not, the Quakers rallied behind us (maybe liking us for at time jostling these folks on their high horses as well as running an imaginative school) so they asked us to stay. The way things are in Nicaragua, we are also planning to spend December here, go back to the farm for January and February and return here for March.

This last weekend we made another trip to the beach! This time only us and our neighbor couple and another friend and her 10-year old boy. We went to a new area - an isolated peninsula, which was difficult to get to but well worth the effort. We discovered coves that seemed untouched by man and have water almost as clear as the Caribbean and with thousands of varieties of phosphorescent fish. So next year we may do quite a bit of weekend exploring in this area.

We also plan to try to move to a house here in Monteverde, which, believe it or not, is not quite so fancy. We want a place which is smaller, has more land, is not in the middle of the community, has a view of the Gulf (that's 100 miles away) and maybe get a couple of horses and chickens too.