I made it to the top of the mountain after a 30-minute trek, and there sat a school. It was an unlikely spot for one – not only because it lie at the top of a hill nearly impossible to climb in anything besides perfect weather, but also because there were only seven buildings within sight.
Yet it existed there for a reason.
I knew I was looking at a school in front of me, although it didn’t stand out as such among the other small shacks. Every person I asked on the way up said the only thing this direction was the school. By the third fellow traveler, I could pass off a confused question about where I was going with just “the school.”
Surrounded by corn fields patched to the sides of steep hills, I asked the first person I saw about the school. He was without a shirt, working on his motorbike. I wouldn’t be surprised if his bike simply broke down after traveling this road where shifting your weight could gash open a tire.
He knew it was a school, but couldn’t name which grades were taught there. Nor could he name the number of students, the number of teachers, or the name of the school. He was surprised I was alone; I was surprised a man finding his way around a motorbike shack as if it were his can’t name a fact about the school.
I continued into the cluster of homes. The brightly painted school stood on my right, but two stilted shacks paralleled the color on my left. In the middle, a dirt courtyard the size of a large bedroom. Another small hills rolls up behind it, hugging a home emitting techno music loud enough for the quiet valley to hear.
A man crouched next to the mosque, opening a cigarette box. He had a bright smile and hair wavy enough to grant him a spot in a hairdresser’s magazine. Perhaps the school was not the center of this small community, so I asked about the community.
Not many people live up here, he says. Clearly. The building blasting music was the home of the imam for the mosque, the cleanest building here, followed by the school. The imam is away, although his house gives no signs of emptiness.
A woman emerges from the house on the edge of the hill. She is holding her son’s hand, and sparrows are darting in circles in the valley behind her.
Today is Sunday, and the man, his wife and their child are alone on the mountain.
I spot some corn stalks hidden behind a building. Are you a farmer?
Yes. I ask who he sells to. The shop right here.
The shop is boarded up for the weekend, but houses a kitchen that provides for the kids and teachers during the week.
The man and his wife disagree on the number of teachers at the school. Two or three. I tell them I am also a teacher, and they immediately recognize where I live down the mountain.
One of the teachers lives near me. Another lives not too far away. That means they would have to make the hike up the mountain every day for school. I ask the husband and wife and they are equally astounded – that’s why there is rarely school in the rainy season.
The 15-20 students in grades 1 to 6 may only have access to education for half the year, if that. An imam, two farmers, and a shop serve the school at the top of the mountain.