Isabel and Evaristo meet with the Seattle schools superintendent during the delegation's visit to Beacon Hill.

By Rich Murphy

When the Seattle Metro #36 bus arrived at 14th Ave. and South Holgate St., I paid the fare for Evaristo Montiel and Isabel Maliaño, and we stepped off into a gray Friday Seattle morning.

“We’re lost,” Evaristo said with a smile. He was confident enough that I wouldn’t mislead or abandon them, but also certain that they didn’t know where they were.

He turned around on the sidewalk, took in the strange street, the unfamiliar houses, the cyclone fence enclosing an empty neighborhood park. “Lost,” he said again, this time to Isabel.

“No,” I said, laughing. “You’re not lost. You’re here. This is it. This is your sister school.” And it was.

The wonder of the first visit is hard to describe.

Delegations from Beacon Hill International School have been traveling to Balgüe for eight years, building a relationship with the primaria there and with its teachers, administrators, students, and families.

This fall the first delegation from Balgüe is visiting Beacon Hill. Evaristo is the school’s principal and the director of the district that includes all the elementary schools on Cerro Maderas. Isabel is Balgüe’s kindergarten teacher, and the lead kindergarten teacher for the entire district.

When I left them this morning, Isabel was teaching the Spanish immersion kindergarten class a song-and-dance about Los Gallos. Evaristo was in the gym, watching a class of eight-year-olds get ready to do PE (and getting ready to join them in running and climbing). They had already spent an hour in the pre-school literacy program coordinated by Chilo Granizo, helping parents and children learn to read.

Of course, everything is new for Isabel and Everisto—the Managua airport, jets, escalators, microwaves, ferries that carry more than 100 cars and 1000 passengers and that make the island crossing in 15 minutes, the way Ometepe coffee is roasted and bagged on Bainbridge, Mount Rainier backed by a pristine sky, the roof of Safeco Field closing soundlessly against the rain.

But they are teachers. This is a school. These are children. And suddenly—in a way that neither our Balgüe visitors nor our Beacon Hill school community was quite prepared for—we are both more real to each other.

Sure, they had met and welcomed Beacon Hill delegates to Balgüe, but here is the world we come from. Sure, Beacon Hill students, teachers, and parents had watched slide shows of delegation visits to Ometepe, and appreciated news stories (as well as periodic updates in the Sister Islands newsletter), and enjoyed exhibits in the School foyer display cabinets about that community so far away.

But here they are. Real. In real time. In their real voices.

They speak their boundless thanks to the staff in a school-wide meeting. They answer 4th graders’ questions about Ometepe—about fishing, shoes, and food, about house construction, about who’s doing your work when you’re here with us? With the help of an astonishing large screen image from Google Earth, they and their host students all gaze down together into Balgüe, onto the roof of the school, along the callejon that leads up to Evaristo’s house and back up among the trees to Isabel’s. They sing Nicaragua Mia at the despedida, hardly able to contain their tears at the words, “. . . nicaraguense por gracias de Dios.” They read to kindergartners, play math games with 5th graders, meet the Seattle Superintendant of Schools, console a distraught, weeping little girl on her first day in school, holding her hand and reassuring her that she’s not lost. She’s among friends.

So are they. This is their sister school. It’s a place where she, and they, and we—hermanos y hermanas in Seattle and Balgüe­—all thrive.