Today was just what I needed, communication, hard work and reward. Being the only student in my group who speaks Spanish had its perks because no one could judge me on my poor grammar. I could just throw out some Spanish words fearlessly because no one even knew if I was saying the right thing at all. After some good work, I went to a classroom and taught with George [Clifford] and Abby [Long]. The teacher was great because he helped us communicate through the language barrier, which I luckily had less of. By drawing pictures of animals on the board, we were able to exchange knowledge in Spanish, English and Quiché. As Abby, George and I struggled to say the animals in Quiché, the whole class laughed and we couldn’t help but let out a few giggles. The roles reversed when we came to the word cat and we heard the children and teacher eagerly try to imitate our pronunciation. They had trouble pronouncing the "C" and ended up saying “gat”, which sounds strikingly like the Spanish translation of cat which is “gato”. The Mayan Quiché language was unlike anything I had ever heard. I imagined it to be like a dialect of Spanish, but it was nothing like that. There is no language I know of to compare it to. Laughing with each other making language mistakes felt nice and made me feel closer to the kids. The next thing we did was go up to the boards and write our names. I chose my Spanish name, “Carolina”, knowing the kids would remember it better than “Carolyn”. Doing this was a great idea because they haven’t stopped calling my name since.
When the teacher told them it was time for recess, they ran outside. Everything these kids did was at a sprint. It was all fun. My favorite part of the whole entire time in Guatemala was the walk to the soccer field which I spent making friends. This was the first time I really felt like I was communicating with the kids and not just being an object to stare at. One of the older girls in the class who I had noticed because she was wearing pants instead of traditional "huipil" Mayan clothing, tried to tell me her name. I could not make out any of the stereotypical Spanish names I had learned in school, so I asked her to say it again. Instead of responding, she took out a small piece of paper that said “Flor Cherly”. She introduced me to her friends and we all started talking. The only people that talked directly to me were Flor Cherly and the teacher, the rest would just giggle and whisper questions for these two to ask me. Nevertheless, I was finally learning more than just names and ages. On the way down to the soccer field, we passed enough animals out in yards to freshen up on the lesson they had just been taught in school. I got to teach them many things in English, like the days of the week, the months and how to say sun, tree and many more. It was so great that the initial awkwardness of meeting them was over and they were finally asking me real questions about my family and what I liked to do. Flor Cherly, her friend Veranda and other friends were all about 13 or 14, and I was worried they would soon drop out of school, like so many do. There was something special about Flor Cherly that made me think she will go a long way. She is feisty and I can’t see her giving up.
We arrived at the soccer field after a journey that felt so long because my outlook changed so much during the walk. The soccer field consisted of a massive open lot of dust, with two goals constructed out of sticks. Ali [Stackhouse] later that day described to me that the soccer field was where the road ended. That was so true because we would drive for a whole hour without turning off the road until we came to a halt at this dust filled field. The games we played on the field mainly revolved around sprinting and chasing kids or vise versa. After sufficient chasing, we changed to a boys vs girls soccer game. The heat and dust were getting to me and making my previously sore throat feel even worse. I was heavily regretting leaving my cough drops and water bottle in the school which was a ten minute walk up the hill. Going back to get these items would ruin my soccer experience, so I decided to keep playing and ignore the dust. I was practically saved by the bell when Flor Cheryl came up to me and pulled out a small piece of hard candy from her pocket and asked me if I wanted it. My throat was so dry that I had to say yes. I felt bad taking it, knowing that this piece of candy had been in the piñata that we shared with the kids yesterday. I could just imagine how hard she must have fought to get the treat as the piñata’s contents spilled to the ground. This encounter got me thinking that not all people in conditions of poverty were constantly suffering and sticking their hand out waiting for help. They, too, find joy in putting others’ needs in front of their own. Helping people revolves in a circle and is not centered around people with more money helping people with less. I will forever be grateful to Flor Cherly for this piece of candy which acted as a cough drop and got me back to being able to enjoy my soccer match with the class.
The walk back to the classroom was just as exciting as the walk there. This time, since they had already learned most of my general information, they started asking personal questions, like my religion. I was sure that Unitarian Universalism did not exist in Guatemala, and was not surprised that they were confused. Even though they sometimes did not know what I was talking about, it felt good to know that they really wanted to get to know who I was and what my life was like.
Friday, Day 7, 2/21/14: My Goodbye With Flor Cherly
The goodbyes were hard, but I knew they had to happen. Like all of the other School the World students, I put the card from my name tag by the tree I had planted earlier in the week. But the beaded lanyard which I had worn all week seemed like it would be best if given to someone else. I saw Flor Cherly watching me very closely so I ran to her and placed the lanyard around her neck. She kept saying, “Gracias Carolina” and giving me hugs. Then while I was walking away I saw her run to my tree, take my name card, and put it in her lanyard. When I saw her for the last time, it felt right that she was wearing my name around her neck, so that we would have something connecting us. Saying goodbye was tough, but everything good must come to an end. The last thing I told her was to study very hard, and I’m certain she will do that. She responded confidently to this by saying she would see me next year. She just might.