Saturday, January 3, 2009

Charlie and Santa Estela

The good stories continue. A few weeks ago I had an email request from former Antigua house tenants who were eager to reconnect with his one-time Spanish teacher. The man had had a streak of bad luck which culminated with his medical student son being hit by a bus in the capital, Guatemala City. I made some inquiries and was told that Julio was a good man who had suffered a lot. The tenants asked me to give him some money on their behalf. I went to the Spanish school and gave Julio a check explaining that it was from "Doctor Jaimie." Julio immediately told me that he was going to use the money to return to his studies to become a physical therapist, that because of the medical bills for his son he had had to stop going to school. I offered to connect him with an American physical therapist in Antigua who might well be looking for help in her very busy practice here.

Brenda, who clearly likes, puppies recently lost her educational sponsor. She had been attending a private school in Antigua with Estela's children, her cousins. As Brenda's father is seriously ill with complications from diabetes the family is not able to pay the fees to keep her in the school. Brenda had been told that she would have to return to her neighborhood government (very substandard) school and was quite dismayed. As it had become apparent to me that Brenda was flourishing in the private school I was determined to find her another sponsor. By the way, private primary school costs here including fees, books, uniform and supplies run about $600 a year. A friend from California who already knew Brenda has offered to take over the responsibility of her education. Brenda is delighted and the two already have a date to stand in line together with Brenda's list and purchase
everything she needs for a successful year in third grade. Brenda will be 9 in May and is in the same class as her cousin, Astrid. In Guatemala the school year starts on the 19th of January.

Enter Charlie. More donors wanted to have a look at Alex and Estela's new house. We quickly noticed that there was an extra child there. Estela explained that his father (brother of "la senora," the neighbor in the back) was "sick in the head, crazy" (that's the most specific diagnosis I have gotten) and that Carlos was spending all his time at her house with her son, Denis. She further said that Carlos was crazy about the computer, that he and Denis spent hours playing games on the computer (no internet in their village, thankfully). He seemed like an usually bright and polite fellow especially considering his circumstances which involve far too many siblings all living on the ground together under plastic sheeting supported by cane. When his father goes off (I have since found that alcohol plays a role) he beats his wife and kids and once tried to hang himself in front of the children. Carlos who is very small for his age told me that he was 12 which makes him a year older but smaller (probably due to early malnutrition) than Denis. He also told me that he was in the third grade but that his family had told him that he could not return to school because the family only had enough money for food (and apparently alcohol). Carlos said he loved school and that he had no books at home. Needless to say Carlos will be going back to school this month and Astrid will be loaning him some books. Saint Estela who welcomes all children into her home and I will see that he has the necessary supplies to return to school. In this case, we are probably talking about $25 or so. It would be wonderful to get a bright, motivated child like Carlos to a private school but it might be too big of a jump, culturally, at this juncture. Perhaps next year. He speaks the Mayan language, Kachikel, and of course, Spanish. Carlos came along with all the rest of the group for dinner at my house. He had only ever been to Antigua once before to the mercado and once inside my house kept telling me what a beautiful house I had. We told him that his name was "Charlie" in English and he then insisted on being called Charlie. Denis took him upstairs to introduce him to the internet and Charlie's eyes glazed over as the kids zoomed around the planet with Google Earth. Charlie confessed to Denis that he never dreamed that he would ever be inside the house of a gringa.

Charlie was given a seat at the head of the table where he reveled in all the attention. He consumed a full plate of Estela's cooking and, with the other kids, asked for seconds of ice cream. In the background Denis coached Charlie as the evening progressed and Charlie even had his napkin in his lap. I did cut his meat for him as cutlery in his world is a tortilla. Everyone present got a big hug and a "gracias" from Charlie upon their departure. He is very excited about the chance to return to school and it wouldn't surprise me a bit if he doesn't end up living on the top bunk in Denis's room. Estela has room in her heart for every needy child she sees. This morning Estela reported that Charlie had spent the night and when he went to see his family this morning announced that his name was now "Charlie, no more Carlos" and that he had a big dinner with gringos. Estela will see that he gets a haircut and gets back to school. Stay tuned for Charlie's progress.

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