By Jan Dynes
Ah, to swim in inky black water rippling gently, surrounding you like the comfort of loving arms, knowing sunrise is still hours away. I don’t care that I should be sleeping, I am floating, floating in my own special infinite world under a sky of twinkles, brighter and fainter with what looks like skim milk clouds behind them, thin and tinged slightly blue. A firefly appears then disappears over me and a fish bumps my foot then tastes me just a little…good, he finds me unacceptable after two more bumps and tastes. He moves on, I roll over and surface dive to experience his world.
I swim with long lazy strokes away from the boat and realize the shape of another boat loaming close at anchorage in our bay. With outer lights all off, I almost missed seeing him, but the starlight made a playground of his mast as it rocked back and forth hiding first one then the other, I swim away….
This is a time for just me, 4 a.m. I am at peace here under s very big sky and swimming in deep crystal turquoise water…it may be pitch black, now but yesterday’s vivid blues are still indelibly imprinted on my soul; this water, those stars, my healers. They wash away everything and although tomorrow brings some decisions, this swim makes everything all worthwhile. I let nothing intrude on my peace here and now in a paradise of heart and soul.
Yesterday was so special. The village in the middle of the Island without the view or wealth of the sea to help their economy has a wonderful woman also named Jan who started a reading program for the village youngsters. On Saturdays she has the use of the town hall there, a run-down ramshackle, little open-air, stick frame. This is all at Jan’s expense and she broadcasts on the Marine radio for volunteer teachers for the program. I was blessed by the day free so I of course signed up. The adventure began when 16 of us were picked up at the dinghy dock and had to fit in one (seating for eight size van) about 35 yrs old in rust years. We made it all very good-naturedly and with a volunteer spirit. We thought we were to capacity…but were rewarded for our assuming with two more stops and four more people! We were making very good friends now, we strangers who had nothing prior in common except boats. However the conversation was a lively discussion of past islands and passages and the joy of being water dwellers. And of course it would have been impossible to ignore each other. We salty sailors are usually genuine characters full of a lust for other cultures and ultimate adventures!
A bumpy dirt mountain-road took us flying along on of course the left side of the road (a British territory until 1974) at what seemed like Dale Ernhardt speeds…. I may be exaggerating, sailors are prone to tall tales based on truth but perhaps with a tad bit of enhancement!
Still it was a tad exciting tinging on unnerving to we sardines in the back, but it only actually took about an hour and there were no casualties when we unfolded, unentangled our limbs and slithered out.
All age children awaited, some unsure, some rebellious, many appearing to be ADD. Then Jan demanded with polite authority a large circle, this was made up of 19 adults and 45 children. We prayed and sang holding hands in the circle. It was so sweet a moment I will treasure the memory forever.
After we were given 2 or 3 students each, (I had three.) We set up our table, unfolded some folding chairs and I with no guidance was left to figure out my methods, I taught some reading and spelling, from flashcards to Hang-Man to make it fun, at the end of the 1st hour we did math (I did my best to make this fun with some stories). Hour three I chose a game of Charades mixed with spelling the answers (this was a hit) and kept them engaged in the third hour. It was challenging, but oh so rewarding…..
I tried to make it fun and keep their attention. I had two little girls, one very easy and sweet who chose me immediately when I came in the door and held my hand or leaned against me as much as she could, her name was Elia, she had 8 brothers… Then to my left I had Ruth, very smart but completely unable to be still, I would have to say very ADD, but she loved looking at my left hand, hugging and put two rub-on tattoos on me, then braided my hair. If it kept her at our table I let her. My third student was actually one of our cruising kids who came with his Dad to do this but chose my table, Brendon was 8 and way ahead of my two 10 year olds, so he had to be curbed in not to beat them at everything. I made him my helper and that worked well. It was a very busy and somewhat patience testing 3 hours. But I absolutely loved it.
After lessons we sat in a huge circle and I was asked to read aloud to the whole group as we only had one copy of Black Beauty. I was the only accent free cruiser, hence why I was chosen. English with French or German or Czeck accents would have been too hard, so by process of elimination Jan choose me, I had now been dubbed Jan #2. I had forgotten what a sweet book it was and all the kids were very attentive for the story. It felt so good to know they liked it. After the reading Jan went around the circle and asked questions to test comprehension. I was so glad that they all did so well and that my reading had been clear. There was an amazing happiness that just came from the whole adventure. Going in-island would never have been an option without this opportunity. Thanks to Jan and her program I saw the real Grenada. She is a living Saint and I was impressed by her so much. Cruising introduces us to ever so many of those people who just give their all to others and in so doing belong to the universal community of angels on earth. In all my travels I was drawn to them and fortunate enough to join in for a moment in time.
To wind things up, Jan unpacked sandwiches and desserts for all the kids (she had handmade them all at her home). This is probably her secret that gets most of the kids to even come. They had been well trained though, Jan had them wash up orderly and then get quietly in the snack line. They complied beautifully; even though immediately after eating they turned into wild things just outside….
It all started when a local rowdy 10 year old broke her window with a rock. This was 4 years ago. She caught him and told him he had to show up on Saturday and work off his damage. A skulking 10 year old showed up as told. She asked him whether he would prefer weeding, scrubbing mold off the outside walls or reading? No surprise, the boy picked reading. The next Saturday he showed up again although there was no plan for that. Jan adapted her plans immediately and they read. The following Saturday he brought a friend and on the next Saturday 5 friends. So Jan made those kids her Saturday plan (always) and when her house grew too small arranged the Community center, which at her own expense is being fixed up. Jan works full time Mon. thru Fri., 2 jobs and 12 hours a day. The second job is just to fund the kids reading program. She has never asked for donations beyond other adult’s time. Did I mention Jan is 69 years old? On Sundays she plays the church organ and then cleans the church after services. Devotion is woven into her tapestry in myriad ways. We need more people devoted to humanity and our planet.
I admired this woman beyond hardly anyone I ever met. She receives no recognition, asks nothing and does it with a simple loving spirit. I was blessed to be a part of it even in an inkling. All the other participants felt the same way, discussed on our ride back to the dinghy dock. My other thought was how kind most boating folks are; they heard a simple request over their marine radios, as they were passing by and they came. Several were only fueling in Prickly Bay with no plans to stay and gave their time for a day!
Our internal character is its most glowing when we are kind to one another and in the service and care of others. Why do some seek wealth when they could seek joy by giving. I am proud to live in Cuenca now that my world sailing days are over. It is a city full of humble kindness and heartfelt charity to one another. The expats who chose Cuenca found so many loving giving others here. I am so grateful this is home.
Jan Dynes, the author of Refraction, Dottie’s Gift, Jamal’s Story, The River and Hear Our Voices moved to Cuenca Easter two years ago and fell in love with the city and its people. She lives on a finca on a mountaintop 25 minutes out of Cuenca at 10,400 ft. She found her paradise!