Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Antigua Taxi #36

Jaqueline, Astrid, Denis and "Papa." Papa Alex was abandoned by his mother as a toddler. When his grandmother died he was allowed to sleep in his school. A friend who was in "basico" (middle school) paid for his books and backpack. He worked after school for food and his friend often slept in the school with him so he wouldn't be alone. After the 6th grade Alex was on his own. He remains friends with the fellow who bought his books; he is now a teacher.

In November of this year Alexander drove us to Lake Atitlan. As the children were out of school I encouraged him to bring his son along. Neither father nor son had ever been on a boat before and Denis, like his mother and sisters, had only ever heard of Lake Atitlan. Though it was clearly a challenge for Alexander to take a day off from working both enjoyed the journey around the lake on "la lancha" and even spent some time at the Posada de Santiago trying together to get a kite aloft. Both are very happy that "Papa" didn't leave for the United States.

December 2007

2007 was the year that Selena and George decided that they wanted to live with their "Auntie Joan." Their mother, pregnant with her fourth child by her third hombre and once again out of work, would have none of it. She declared Auntie Joan "the enemy" and took her kids kicking and screaming back into the ghetto. No more private school, no more homework assistance, no more piano lessons. Selena's braces were removed prematurely as her mother couldn't be trusted to take her for follow-up care. No more school sporting events, no more birthday parties, no more puppy (Taco Bella lives with Auntie Joan now), no more trips, no more horseback riding for Selena, no more piano recitals for George who had a passion for Beethoven and could, at age 8, play "Ode to Joy" in several different keys.

When last heard from the family of many last names had lost their home purchased with a sub-prime loan by "Carlos" (step-father #1 (George) and #2 (Selena)) who is not only illegal but had no social security # (of his own) or money. How does that happen? Is it any wonder that the mortgage market is in a state of chaos? They are apparently once again living in the tiny, shabby house in East (not to be confused with West) Menlo Park and back in a ghetto school in East Palo Alto, the one-time "murder capital of the United States." Selena is no doubt once again struggling in school as her mother has also denied her support for her ADHD which consisted of educational therapy and medication.

Hopefully, they got some Toys for Tots from Santa Claus. Last year George rode the fire engine with the Woodside Fire Department and distributed toys that he had selected himself and purchased with Rotary Club funds. Selena spent the holidays last year in Guatemala where she experienced the best kind of mothering from my housekeeper, Estela. Estela just accepted Selena as another one of her children and though desperately poor Estela bought a modest Christmas gift for all four of the children. It is true that it is the thought that counts. Selena had never received a gift of any kind from her own mother. Estela took Selena to their one-room cinder block and lamina house and had her join the neighborhood Christmas posada with her own children. Estela's husband, Alexander, was equally kind to the Hispanic child with braces and a gringa haircut who was at ease in either language. For the first time ever Selena briefly experienced what it might have been like to have had a father. It was very hard for Selena to say "adios" to this Guatemalan family who frequently had only rice, beans and tortillas to eat yet offered her such a wealth of caring, acceptance and affection. A year later Estela and Alex ask each time I see them if I have heard from Selena. There is no doubt in my mind that one day Selena's mother will pay "big-time" for what she has done to her children. Hopefully, the children are resilient enough to find their way out without too many scars.

Mid-year I arrived in Antigua to find that, for a variety of reasons, Alexander had given up all hope of ever getting ahead in Guatemala. He had made up his mind that he was going to leave for the US. His taxi had been stolen and he was renting a car which was costing him more than he could make. Estela and the children were distraught convinced that he was going to die in his attempt to cross the border. Things do seem to happen for a reason and I quickly realized that it would be cheaper for me to support Alexander in Guatemala than in the Bay area. A contract was hammered out and I bought a 1993 Toyota Corolla (with a 1998 engine) ... Antigua Taxi #36. Having been on the other side of illegal immigration in dealing with Selena's mother it became very obvious to me that the "solution" is intervention at the source. Make it possible for them to stay in their home countries and keep the families intact. Sometime later Alexander asked me if he could call me "Tia Joan" as he has no family (none) and I was the only person who had ever helped him.

So, Tia Joan rides herd on Alexander and make sure that some of his profits go to his family and even a bit more each month goes into a savings account which is in Estela's name. Their three children are about to start their second year in a private school in Antigua courtesy of Tia Joan. The government schools in Guatemala are hopeless, the private schools a bit better. The children are very bright and all three mention "matematica" as their favorite subject. In January (the Guatemalan school "summer" break is during the coffee picking season October - January so the kids can work) the oldest, Jacqueline, who is 12 will be the first person in her family to attend the 7th grade. I let them use the computer in my house and Denis, 9, already knows how to download musica. Astrid, 8, was the first grade valedictorian and is determined to grow up and be a gringa. Hopefully, by the time she grows up she will realize that she doesn't have to be a gringa to be successful.

Shortly after the New Year I hope to finalize the purchase of a small piece of land in the pueblo of San Antonio Aguas Calientes which is about ten minutes by car from Antigua. It is only 15 meters by 18 meters but, Estela tells me, it is four times the size of their current dwelling where they share a latrine and a kitchen with other families. It has a valley and volcano view that would cost millions in the Bay area. One of my (many) Spanish teachers who lives in that village found the lot. Assuming that the current owner is not selling the lot over and over (this is, after all, Guatemala) as will be determined by an attorney we will start planning a modest home with a kitchen, a flushing toilet and even a shower (their first ever) and a small garden. Estela thanks "el Senor" daily in her prayers for things she never, ever expected to have and thinks that I have been sent by God. So in the year of 2007 I have gone from being "the enemy" to being a gift from God. A staggering journey. Stay tuned!