I’m back….back to grocery shopping and grading papers, back to the putting away, the picking up, and the sorting through the stuff that we call life. I don’t always like the coming back. Even though I’ve been to Guatemala three times I consistently fail to remember how hard it is to come back.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of good things to come back to: dear friends whom I love, wonderful roommates, a home that’s a few blocks from the beach, a job that is fulfilling AND enjoyable, not to mention being able to flush toilet paper down the toilet again. (Trust me this is a luxury that many central American sewer systems cannot handle). But there is something, something about Guatemala that is hard to bring back with me.
The richness of simplicity.
Having time to linger over meals.
Freedom to wander and wait without a sense of urgency.
Surprisingly, I am able to find joy in what I would normally classify as inefficient or impractical. I have been able to see and experience first hand what happens when a country chooses to value relationships over accomplishments. Guatemalans will sacrifice any task at hand to be with a person. It’s a beautiful thing, really. And one that I am often guilty of neglecting when I am in my-north-american-practical-efficient-to-do-list-gotta-get’er done mentality.
The highlight from the trip was working with the 17 teachers from the two schools, Proximos Pasos and Vida y Esperanza. Now, I tend to always like teacher-type people (probably because I am one) but I get easily frustrated with some teachers when all they do is complain about the school, the students, the administration, etc, etc. I was so encouraged by these 17 teachers because not once did I hear them complain. And if any of you have sat through any type of conference you know that it can be draining and tiring (even the most exciting types when the speakers bring games and candy)
We spent four days talking about learning styles and different ways to engage students in the classroom. We modeled some different techniques and activities for introducing new vocabulary and some review strategies to aide in memorization. We gave the teachers time to practice and had them share some of their ideas and struggles.
I met Edgar: a 20-year old, who wakes up at 4am everyday to help his uncle as an ayudante for his bus company. He does one trip from his village to the capital and then takes a 40 min bus to the school, where he teaches 28 2nd graders. When school day ends at 1pm he goes back to work with the bus company and gets home around 8pm. Then does the whole thing over again!
And Joselino: He’s a 26-year old, talented musician and excellent teacher who walk around always humming a tune. He spent over 10 hours gluing empty egg cartons to the cement walls of his classroom just to improve the acoustics!
And then there’s Vivian: a 20-year old women, who stands barely 5 feet tall, but she manages and teaches 31 kindergartens and Pre-K kids with the grace and patience of someone twice her age. She takes 2 buses to get to and from work each day and she spends her Saturdays studying English.
And I could go on and on.
I have the utmost respect for these men and women, many who are between the ages of 21-24 and working for less than 12 dollars a day.
As I was talking with Wally, (the principal at Vida y Esperanza) he shared his monthly struggle to make sure the school has enough money to pay its teachers. Mirna, (the principal at Proximos Pasos) expressed how she often has to choose between “Do I pay the teachers their salary or pay the electric bill?” (She often opts for the former). And where I feel so humbled is that we are not talking about thousands or even hundreds of dollars we’re talking about 80 queztales a day (which is roughly $11.50- that’s how much I spend on a sandwich and a drink for lunch).
It just keeps things in perspective. I have access to money and resources that many Guatemalans will never know, but on the other hand they have mastered the fullness and richness of loving people. While I was there I spent some time thinking and praying.
Maybe I should to move to Guatemala? Maybe I could teach here at one of the schools?
I felt a very real, yet subtle reminder that I am supposed to be in Santa Barbara right now. I have students and kids and friends who I care deeply about. I spent one day wondering around the quaint, tourist infiltrated streets of Antigua. In the heat of the afternoon, I parked myself on a bench right near the fountain in central park. I sat silently and watched as a little boy, no more than 8 years old scrubbed and shined the shoes of an elderly man on the bench across from me. The little boy came over to me next and motioned to my shoes. I explained empathetically that my black and white converse didn’t need to be shined, but we started a conversation.
He asked me, “De donde eres?”
Soy de los estados unidos.
He looked intrigued. Normally, someone would follow up with “Que parte? or “Cual estado?” But this little boy asked me, “Por que vienes?
That question made me think. Why do you come?
I answered, “estoy visitando solomente.”
I am visiting.
Yes, I was visiting. And I know, without a doubt I’ll go back.