Here I am again in Antigua on the 5th of November, 2008. Last night we had a Obama Victory celebration in the neighborhood complete with serious fireworks (witnessed from a neighboring community), Obamanos t-shirts and a lot of hope for the future of the United States which has, it seems, been on a slippery slope for far too long. Estela and Alex's three children complete with Obama face paint were the greeters for the fiesta. Estela and my neighbor's housekeeper, who is a fabulous cook, cooked in my kitchen for two days. The host of the party sent me food as I couldn't even get into my own kitchen. Alexander was on hand as the "Obama taxi" to see that those who didn't want to walk or shouldn't drive got home safely. Today there has been a sense of exhaustion, quiet and wonder about what the future will bring.
Today Estela showed up on time as usual and helped Gloria clean up at my neighbor's house before coming to my house. While they had been cooking I talked to the two women about starting a little catering business together, perhaps just starting out in my neighborhood. They could do dinners for people on the weekends. Both love to cook and, as any of you know who have stayed in my house, Estela loves to clean as well. By midday we were all dragging and I found myself sitting in the "sala" talking with Estela. While Alexander can be charming he is, at the end of the day, a Guatemalan hombre. He conributes very little to the family emotionally or financially, both of which I believe are a function of his growing up as an orphan sleeping on the floor of his school. Estela and I talked about the fact that he is perhaps giving them all that he can but we both tire of his more or less constant whining about not having any money. I see new paint on his car, new seat covers and new dark windows as well but nada for his family. Estela got weepy when she talked about her terror of getting sick and not being able to work and wondering what would happen to her children. Her children are wonderful and soon they will be able to take care of their mother who lives for them. On a brighter note we talked about the future for her children. Jackie, who is almost 13, says she wants to be a blilingual secretary (which is not a bad job here), Denis (God bless him) says that he wants to be an engineer who build big buildings. He loves math and says he is going to study really hard so that he can have a big house like mine and take care of his mother. Astrid, almost 9, has gone recently from aspiring to being a teacher to wanting to be a doctor. It is such a shame that the schools here are not up to their aspirations. Astrid was once again the star student in her class which ended mid-October. School vacation happens here during the coffee picking season so the kids can work. The new school year starts in January. In order to "graduate" from "basico" which is 9th grade the kids need to pass a typing test (on a real typewriter not a computer keyboard as they might cheat and, of course, no one never cheats in this country, least of all its presidents) but the schools don't offer typing classes. A real Guatemalan "catch 22" so Estela is on the lookout for typing classes for Jackie starting in January. Guatemala has some real issues when it comes to education. I guess that is why they are ranked the lowest in this part of the world.
The other day Estela told me that she had gotten a 95 on her final exam for the first year of her cooking school. She was very proud and I joked that soon she would be going to the university. I asked her what she would study and she quickly said that she would like to be a lawyer who helps women. Sadly she needs junior high school and high school first.
I have made arrangements for Estela to volunteer one day soon with WINGS, a local NGO that works with the really poor women in rural communites in the areas of reproductive health, family planning and cervical cancer. (http://www.wingsguate.org/) Estela is very excited at the prospect of spending a day helping women less fortunate than herself and also gaining some knowledge that she can use to help women in her community. Estela really is a star and never asks me for anything. She is thrilled with her new house and on Sunday I was included in the family Sunday lunch. She did ask me if she could borrow some forks from an extra set of cutlery stored in my garage which made me realize why her children struggle with knives and forks when they eat at my house.
Estela and I are also working on a plan to have her "administer" the funds to insure that the four poor children who live behind their new house get to school in January. The two youngest need to go to kindergarten and the other two need to continue. While the lousy government schools are free (and well they should be) families such as this one do not have the funds for the required school supplies. I will find the minimal number of dollars involved and Estela will see that the kids go to school and get help with their homework. Saint Estela.