The Foreign Service Journal, September 2006

92 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 6 R EFLECTIONS I Found Huck Finn in El Salvador B Y J ACK G ALLAGHER P resident Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress programs in the 1960s included a school construction initiative that, with Salvadoran coop- eration, extended to the most remote areas of El Salvador. Schools sprouted at the rate of one a day, mostly small, bare-essentials buildings, sometimes with only seven or eight classrooms. These schools also served as commu- nity centers where the campesinos could gather and discuss their con- cerns. As Embassy San Salvador’s cultur- al affairs officer, I frequently repre- sented our country at the dedicatory ceremonies for the new escuelas. Recalling one of these formal occa- sions still brings a most joyful smile to my face. It took place in a small agri- cultural village in the departamento of San Miguel, a hot, dusty area. When I arrived there I joined Governor Miguel Charlaix on the speakers’ platform and delivered our embassy’s greetings to the villagers. Gov. Charlaix then walked over to the microphone and, after officially rec- ognizing each of the many dignitaries, began delivering his speech. While the governor spoke, I looked out at the capacity audience. Behind the overflow crowd, but off to one side, I could see a little boy elbowing his way onto the patio. He was wear- ing a straw hat and was barefoot. It seemed that Mark Twain’s ghost had infiltrated the audience, and had brought that lad with him. “Huck Finn is alive and well in El Salvador,” I thought to myself. The youngster’s face revealed a lively curiosity. Obviously, he had never before witnessed such an event. It was easy to see that he was wonder- ing why so many people had congre- gated on the patio. Next, I noticed that this Salvadoran Huck was looking for somewhere to sit. His curiosity had convinced him to stay and watch all the strange goings-on. Huck walked up and down the aisles searching for a seat. Not one chair was available, but this little fel- low was no quitter. He kept on look- ing. Suddenly his eyes lit up. He had finally found an unoccupied seat and, with his boyhood logic leading him on, he headed straight for it. When he got there, he sat down quietly — right in the governor’s chair on the speakers’ platform. I looked at that marvelous country lad and smiled. He smiled back, total- ly happy. The audience snickered, which must have surprised the gover- nor, who was concentrating on his speech and hadn’t noticed Huck’s almost silent capture of the seat of honor. In a few moments, the governor finished speaking, turned around to walk back to his seat and immediately saw the new straw-hatted and bare- foot governor-elect. Instinctively, and with genuine affection, Gov. Charlaix picked up the youngster and held him on his lap until the ceremony ended. I never saw a happier boy. A number of years after that unfor- gettable day, the Salvadoran newspa- pers headlined the sad news that the governor had perished in an airplane crash. At least one Salvadoran boy, now several years older, must surely have wept — and Mark Twain in heaven must surely have been the first to welcome the governor to that celestial realm. Jack Gallagher, a retired FSO (USIA), is a freelancer whose writing has appeared in some 20 publications. He received a Golden Quill award from the Western Pennsylvania Press Association in 2004. Stamp courtesy of the Stamp Corner. He was wearing a straw hat and was barefoot. “Huck Finn is alive and well in El Salvador,” I thought to myself.