At Etoile de Mer, both of the projects in which I am deeply involved have faced setbacks this week but progressed just the same, thanks to optimism and the adaptations it can inspire. For a while, we have been resolved that the garden we are planting should have a fence around it. A clearly delimited piece of land, into which one can step and say “I own this” is a nice thing. Also, people like to steal vegetables. Etoile de Mer is in a town called Roche Noire (black rock), next to a town called Pleine de Roche (Field of rocks). If you are clever enough to see the trend here, you’ll understand why we had to call in a jack-hammer wielding fellow, who worked slowly around the border of our garden, doing what he does best. We had holes in the ground. Next, we needed to fix fence posts in those holes. We intended to do this with the kids last Thursday, but a supremely apathetic hardware store man, with whom one can only communicate through his wife, who refuses to give out his cell-phone number, did not show up on time with the posts. When we expressed irritation, everyone told us the same thing with a knowing smile:
“This is Mauritius.” I think “that guy is an asshole” is Kreol for “what country are we in?”
So we put off post-placing until Friday. On Friday, he showed up with one less post than we asked for, but we got to work. I have worked in construction and, as I was pretty incompetent, was usually assigned to mixing concrete, so I thought I knew something about mixing concrete. But those kids knew exactly what they were doing. Once we brought out the materials, they got to work like ants, organizing themselves organically into an efficient task force. After an hour and a half, the posts were set.
The next class, we affixed the mesh with tie wire. In this job, too, the kids knew better than us. Imagine that. If you told a bunch of suburban 10-15 year olds in the United States to put up a fence, they would tell their parents to call a contractor and then sue the contractor once that became necessary. These kids just put up the fence.
That night, the fence was vandalized. The posts were pulled out of the ground and strewn about, and the mesh was bent out of shape and cut. We don’t know why. We don’t even have vegetables to steal yet, and, if someone wanted to steal, they could have walked through the gap where the door is going to be, like a civilized thief. We were angry and upset because these kids were proud of what they had done, and you have to wonder if there is hope for a world in which people maliciously tear apart kids’ work. All we could do was file a police report and put the fence back up. We are going to put up signs, clearly written by kids, that say “this is our work” because we think that the vandals might have intended the blow for the church from which Etoile de Mer rents its space. Anyway, we now have a garden with a fence around it. It looks pretty nice, and it has survived the last week.
Theater also faced an obstacle this week. I wrote a script for the play, Vedant translated it into Kreol, and I brought it in for a read-through. Then I found out that the kids can barely read, at best. They are functionally illiterate. When you think about it, this makes sense. How can a kid whose first language has no standard written form learn to read? You have to teach the kid another language first, and that is not easy. When I discovered this reality, I told the kids to go outside because I have to think. How can I put on a play if the kids can’t study lines? I decided that it will be a semi-improvised play. I will tell the kids what needs to happen and be said in each scene, and they will figure out how to do that. Over the course of rehearsals, I figure they will fall into a routine of saying more-or-less the same thing every time. The whole group agreed to meet for one hour every day during vacation to rehearse. I will be a theater camp counselor this summer. The district council agreed to help us find and set up a venue and advertise the show. I think the show will be great. But illiteracy is a sad thing. Who would I be without reading? Mauritian Kreol needs a standard written form.