Los Estados Unidos = the United States
Encantado de conocerle = I am enchanted to meet you.
Pobre = poor
Colon = the basic unit of currency for El Salvador
Como se llama? = What is your name? (Literally, “How do they call you?”)
No tengo = I do not have
Un libro = A book
Like two puppets on strings, Guy and I stood up to get a better view of Bundo. The scowling boy wore faded jeans and a T-shirt with a picture on the front.
“How,” asked Guy, “can he hang out with gang members and still go to the academy?”
“He’s not a dorm student–he lives in town,” she said. “His father is a policeman.”
“That’s even stranger,” said Guy.
“Bundo is very–how do you say–angry boy.”
“Angry about what?” I asked. I wasn’t sure she’d heard my question, for she turned to stare at the herd of dusty brown cattle that was making the passage of our bus nearly impossible.
I was surprised at how nice the academy looked. Though needing a new coat of paint, the cement block buildings were solidly constructed.
Our bus rumbled to a stop in front of the boys’ dorm, where we’d be living for the next 10 days. The dorm had a round, small gymnasium-sized central room with four doorways leading off into hallways where the students’ rooms were. Since it was spring break, most of the students were gone.
Our room had bunk beds and a floor mattress (which Dad promptly claimed for himself). Guy let me have the bottom bunk because I’m a little scared of heights.
“OK now,” murmured Dad as he sprung his suitcase open. “Where did Georgie pack my extra film?”
A loud clang of a slamming door sounded from the hall.
Dad winced. “These doors are going to keep us awake at night. I’m glad they’re steel, though.”
“Why?” asked Guy.
“Thieves. See the window bars?”
Nervously we looked at the vented windows with their venetian blind-type glass panes–in front of the black iron bars. I felt safe and afraid at the same time.
“I guess we are in the mission field,” said Guy soberly.
Well, like us, the apostle Paul wanted to do mission work in foreign countries, I told myself in an effort to calm a sudden case of nerves, and he didn’t always have everything that safe.
And Mr. Kinney’s comments after supper in the central dormitory room didn’t make me feel any easier. Guy and I had washed out trays and were leaning against the cement block wall by the front entrance. Victoria, who’d eaten her supper somewhere else, had come back to join us, wearing a backpack with a picture of Pocahontas on it. Looking out through the doorway I could see Bundo sitting out under a big tree and talking to a little kid.
“Please listen carefully.” Mr. Kinney stood by the serving line. Most of the people were still sitting at their tables, and a few squeaked their chairs around to face him. “I hope I will not alarm you by what I say, but I want to make sure that all of you know about a number of precautions we should take.”
“What is ‘precaution’?” Victoria asked Guy.
“It means ‘be careful.’”
“You’ve noticed the bars on the windows,” Mr. Kinney was saying. “They’re there for a reason.” He repeated what I’d heard him say on the bus, about armed bands of former soldiers turned bandits. “The news that a large group of Americans is on this campus might cause interest among such groups.”
“Is that true?” I asked Victoria.
She shrugged. “Yes.”
“This,” said Mr. Kinney, “is why during the night this building will be surrounded by armed guards. You won’t see them, but they will be out in the fields watching. All the doors will be locked until 7:00 a.m.”
Guy looked at me, fear growing in his eyes. “Interested in going home?” he whispered.
“During the day,” Mr. Kinney continued, “there will probably be no problem. But if you go off campus, you should not go alone. Travel together in groups. That’s all.”
Victoria suddenly smiled. “I can take you to the markets in town,” she said.
“I don’t think so,” Guy whispered to me.
“Come,” she suddenly said. “Meet Bundo.” She walked away from us toward where the teenager was sitting.
“After all this talk about bandits and armed guards, the last thing I want to meet is a gang member,” Guy said tensely.
“Victoria said he was just a friend of the gang,” I reminded him.
“Oh, that makes me feel better,” he answered sarcastically.
Long-legged and slender, Bundo sat with his back against the trunk. Since he looked about 15, I was surprised to see him wearing a T-shirt with a pig and the word “Babe” under it.
He was growling at the little boy who was amusing himself by throwing kidney bean-sized seeds at him. Neither smiled when we walked up.
Victoria spoke rapid Spanish to him, and he flicked an annoyed glance at her.
“Hello,” he said to us carefully, in a flat, emotionless voice. “My name is Farabundo Lopez.”
Victoria said, “Bundo and I studied English from the same teacher, here at the school. He can speak better than me.”
A quick, half-humorous scowl flickered across Bundo’s face for an instant. He shook his head, then said to Guy, “What is your name?”
Guy introduced us. “I like your shirt,” he said.
Bundo’s scowl deepened.
Victoria quickly said: “Guy and Mark are here with the old people from Los Estados Unidos. To build the orphanage.”
Suddenly Bundo got to his feet. “Encantado de conocerle,” he snapped, dipped his head in a quick formal bow, and walked away.
Victoria said some more machine gun-like Spanish to his back, but he kept walking. She turned back to us.
“I am sorry,” she said. “Bundo is not happy.”
He turned for an instant as though he’d been given a military “about-face” command, and snarled, “I am happy!” Then he whirled and resumed his long strides.
Guy and I exchanged an uneasy glance.
The tiny boy suddenly stood in front of me. “Colones?” he said, smiling widely. Several of his upper front teeth were gone.
“What’s he saying?” I asked.
“He wants a colon.”
“Money.” Victoria rolled her eyes. “He lives here at the school. He is one of the orphans.”
Hearing that made me sad. Suddenly I felt glad I’d come to help with an orphanage–in spite of the bars on the dormitory windows.
“What’s his name?”
“Como se llama?” she translated.
“Nestorrrrrrrr!” answered the little boy, impressively rolling the “r” at the end of his name. Then he immediately returned to “Colones?”
“No tengo colones,” I said cautiously.
Victoria raised her eyebrows in surprised approval. “Very good,” she said. “You learned some Spanish?”
“From a libro,” I answered.
“Un libro,” Guy corrected me.
Nestor tugged at my jeans. “Dollar?” he asked hopefully.
The rest of us burst into laughter. I asked, “Should I give him a dollar?”
“No,” answered Victoria. “If you do, all his friends will soon be here asking you for more.”
“And then,” said Guy, “they’ll all bring their friends?”
Victoria nodded. “He has food,” she said. “He does not need money.” Suddenly her voice became very grave. “Do not show him your money. And be careful. When you are in the market, do not let people see that you have much money. They will hear your American accent and think you are rich. People in El Salvador are very poor–and poor people can become very angry.”
Two days later we found out how true that was.