Arecent Parents’ Night at the one-room, one-teacher Chimurria elementary school proved a unique experience.
The people of this one-lane hillside village (also known more respectably as El Roble), overlooking north-central Costa Rica’s Lake Arenal, walled in one family’s double detached carport to make the school in 2003. Most Chimurria children still go to schools in the bigger villages of San Luis and Tronadora, so teacher Oscar Pérez has just 12 students ages 7 to 15 in grades one through six.
Six fathers and a grandfather showed up – a pretty good percentage – and I learned that this was not Parents’ Night but Fathers’ Night, Mothers’ Night coming on Aug. 22.
The five women present were to serve a meal of arroz cantonés (fried rice) and soft drinks from a large cooler.
One of them handed to each man a scroll tied with a bit of gold cord. The teacher joined the circle of men at children’s desks, and asked them to undo their scrolls to follow along as one of the women stood in front and read from the scroll, which told of a father learning a lesson about spending time with his son in the evenings, helping with homework and watching television together.
At least two of the men seemed unable to read, quite unlike their children, who all write very industriously and neatly in their copybooks. When my wife Laura arrives once a week to teach English for an hour, they all stand immediately to greet her, spend the hour eagerly trying to enunciate the English sounds, and, except for the 15-year-old, hug and kiss her when she leaves.
Also polite, though more roughly dressed than their uniformed children, the fathers sat patiently as Professor Pérez at length exhorted them not only to do well in nurturing their children but also in helping their wives.
After that, the games began. First was a messy eating game in which blind-folded teams tried to be first to finish a typical jar of Gerber baby food. In the second contest, teams of two tried to be first in blowing up three balloons and popping them between their vigorously embracing bodies.
The hilarity ended with the serving of the arroz cantonés, chips and drinks in two paper cups, each with Fanta but the smaller one spiked with rum – another first in my school
open-house experience. Before addressing his own plateful, Professor Pérez displayed his musical talent, breaking out his guitar and singing a single song, which received brief applause from the hungry fathers.
Professor Pérez, a man in his 40s with a serious mien, leaves his home on the other side of the lake at Nuevo Arenal each weekday to start class in El Roble at 7 a.m.
One day not long ago, he started in the other direction, driving to San José to see why he hadn’t been paid in five months.
Alex Murray and his wife Laura own Casa Mañana Bed and Breakfast, located about 300 yards from the school on the road to Chimurria. They have been in Costa Rica for three years. Alex writes the weekly Arenal Report for The Tico Times’ Community Connection page.