And MachetesNo sooner had I put my trailer up at the place that we call La Huerta here in Puerto Perdido than I was set upon by two officials of the local "secondaria" --- the public school. They came by to tell me that they admired my truck and said that they would like for me to contribute it to their school.
I responded by saying that I often had trouble with the language and was probably going deaf on top of that so that perhaps they could repeat their words so that I might better understand what they were asking of me.
The group leader looked not unlike a grizzled Peter Lorre, and his compadre was a parody of the Mexican bandito --- dirty white pants, unshaven face, scar on the left upper lip, no smile. He had on a tee-shirt which praised the virtues of Acapulco and showed the backside of a plump lady in the buff. Both of my visitors --- but not the nude lady --- were carrying machetes.
They repeated that they would like my truck. As a gift. For their school.
Now I well understand that carrying machetes here in this part of Mexico is not unlike people carrying an umbrella in England --- it goes with the territory. Still, it made our conversation somewhat strained, especially since the bandito type kept whacking the machete against his thigh for emphasis.
After some back and forth I said, "Look. I can't give you my truck. I need it to do things in. Like get to the store, get around town, and eventually --- if I survive --- to go back to the U. S. What I could do, if you want, is perhaps when I come back I could bring you something for the school like a computer."
No sooner said than done. Peter Lorre and his slippery companion slipped away and I immediately forget the conversation. They didn't.We had many visits after that, always accompanied by machetes. I came to understand that schools here have no local tax base; they are dependent for operating expenses on whatever they can wheedle from the state. People, especially gringoes, who live in the school's territory are expected to give what they call "una cooperación." I also found that those who make promises, even ones extracted by the proximity of machetes, are expected to live up to them.
So this year, after several needlings, I found an old Macintosh Quadra up north and flew it down with me. When the Machete Squad turned up, I showed it to them and said I would carry it out to the school next day.
When I arrived, and as I was getting out of the car, a bell was rung, and 200 freshly washed students in their clean white and khaki uniforms marched out of their classrooms and stood in formation, in the sun.
The school director stood up and made a speech about my generosity, the special projects chief made a speech about my generosity, their star student --- a lovely young lady with walnut-colored skin and long black hair --- gave a speech about my generosity. Then they handed me the microphone and in my John Gorrie Junior High School Spanish, I thanked them for thanking me. Peter Lorre and his sidekick were nowhere to be seen.
Later, I thought of all the things I should have said. I should have said that they were the hope of Mexico, the dream of the future of their country and the world; that the world and their lives were filled with hope; that they would be assuming the burdens that were soon to be laid down by my generation, and, like a tree growing by the side of the deep river, they would extend their roots of hope and dreams into the heartland of their homeland, or the homeland of their heartland, with branches stretching up into the bright skies which would carry all our hopes and dreams like clouds, sailing along smartly into the future.
That was the speech I should have given but I didn't because the sun was hot and they in their crisp clean uniforms were standing directly in the sun and furthermore my John Gorrie Junior High Spanish didn't include in its vocabulary words like "heartland" and "homeland" and "aspirations."
One thing I did notice about my local school were the bright faces and the fact that no one was laughing at me and at the ceremony for my $400 used Quadra computer. I know these people, I've visited their homes, some of their parents have worked for me. I knew what a sacrifice many of them were making to keep the kids in school --- to buy the uniforms and the books and, most important of all, not to let them drop out and work in the fields, to pay for the food and shelter for the family.
I also noticed no metal detectors, no guards, no ID badges. Just 200 bright-faced, clean, uniformed kids, standing in gentle formation, applauding me, and my humble gift, with a great deal of enthusiasm.--- Carlos Amantea
Note: This story also appeared at salon.com