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Chandra's Blog


Entries in school (1)


Piper to School -- La Vida Tranquila

the steps to Piper's schoolToday I walked my daughter up the hill to her school on the island of Utila. The stairs are cracking and steep, some as high as Piper’s skinny thigh. At the top, there is a huge mango tree that arches wide, casting shade over the crest of the hill. Often we have to stop and wait for the little boys at the top to stop throwing stones and chunks of wood at the higher branches to knock fruit down.

When we reach the high street at the top, we turn--and to be honest, catch our breath--and we look out over the main street, and the sea beyond it.

Then Piper chatters to me as we wind through the street above Town to Wisdom Paradise Bilingual School. There are houses with broken beer bottles cemented to the peaks of their walls, an effective if primitive security system, and others where chickens run wild in the fuschia bougainvillea. Piper talks about her classmates, who earned the most smiley faces, who sat on Time Out and why, how she showed her beloved Miss Nery to make healthy sandwiches of her snack, (raisins and peanuts) and she rattles off the new words of the day in two languages.


 “You know, you can speak to the Spanish kids in English, but you have to do it in a Spah-nish accent,” Piper tells me, spreading her mouth wide to form the vowels in the island dialect. She knows how to use the term “among you”, the island’s version of the American South’s "y’all" or our hometown Philly’s “youse guys”.

“Clean up clean up, all among you clean up,” she sings the Barney theme song, clutching my hand in hers. HerPiper and Bine in uniform, crazy hair day uniform is the school’s cheery yellow T-shirt with a logo of a red-roof schoolhouse on a rock in the sea, and a happy dolphin jumping in the baby blue wave behind it.


Of the ten children in her class who swing on the row of swings behind the colorfully painted fence, Piper speaks the least Spanish. Sometimes, this makes her nervous. Today, right before she follows her friends through the gate, a handful of plucked cherry hibiscus to hand to Miss Nery, she throws her arms around my waist and squeezes hard. She holds on for a moment, and then runs to join in.


The gate to Wisdom Paradise










In a few short months, we will go back to the States. I’ll walk Piper through the same suburban town where I grew up, to the same private school I attended. The trees will be grandfatherly oaks and silvers maples, spindly hemlocks and bushy Scotch pines. She’ll wear a different uniform, khakis and Land's End polos, her brothers in navy plaid ties, their bleached-out, shaggy island hair cut to dress code standards. It is a good school—they will come home with backpacks full of projects and tasks, enriched by their full days and friendships and activities. If they speak any Spanish, it will be at home with me, if we remember to do our Utila nights, when I cut a circle out of a plastic bag and make tortillas by hand with Maseca corn flour I order off


In our other life, there will be no mango trees, no scampering geckoes on our bedroom walls, no apple bananas ripening on the back porch, no cangrejos en la casa, no leisurely morning snorkel, the reef in front of our island house as familiar to them as their childhood neighborhood, with sea fans and swim-through coral arches as landmarks. We’ll leave behind friends, memories, and our handprints in the cement of the bottle cap trash-to-treasure art project we are creating.


Trash to treasure bottle cap project

In our other life, if we want to see the ocean, we will have to play hooky while it is still warm enough, Indian Summer and drive hours through the state of New Jersey to play in the icy, darker water of the Atlantic. Maybe we will catch a glimpse of the Caribbean in the background when we Skype with our friends back on the island.


Today, as I walked Piper up the hillside stairs to her school, our feet gritty inside our flip flops, I wondered aloud if she would remember this crazy, Bohemian island life, when we go back to the States, or later, when she grows up.

It’s possible. My husband says his first memories are of walking to kindergarten with his mother in Buffalo’s nastiest weather, the wind off the lake stinging his cheeks and blowing her long brown hair. There is a story, family folklore, of the time he cried all the way to school, because she had accidentally zipped her prickly hairbrush inside his snowsuit.

So it is possible that these moments of our island life are tethering themselves to Piper’s long-term memory, that she’ll remember how she smiled shyly and called out a quiet ‘hola’ to the cheeky boys knocking down mangos around us while we stopped at the top of the hill and looked out at the sparkling sea, the wind tangling our hair, before we walked back down the high road to home. 

¡Ojala!, as they say in Utila. Would that it be so 

 * *** *


the view down the hill