Sunday, November 14, 2010

Jackie Sprouts Wings

Today marks the fifteenth birthday of Jaquelin, Estela and Alexander's eldest.  Last year during her "summer" school vacation (summer in Guatemala for some strange reason occurs in November and December despite being in the northern hemisphere) Jackie, on her own, started a reading program for the younger children in her village.  I donated some plastic chairs to accommodate the 20 or so children who would come to listen to stories and answer questions about what they had heard.  A friend who is the director of Child Aid ( donated books.

This "summer" (as in the US the school calendar was originally designed around harvest time, in this case coffee) the friend with Child Aid offered to have Jackie work as a volunteer at a reading program in Chimaltenango which is a double chicken bus ride from Casa Broccoli in San Antonio Aquas Calientes.  Jackie would need to ride the bus alone to Chimaltenango and back.  Both parents objected strenuously thus the first day Estela who has only ever been once to Chimaltenango herself went along as did a Child Aid employee.  Once Estela discovered that the bus stopped right in front on the school where Jackie needed to go she gave up her objections.  Once Alexander saw how delighted Jackie was to be doing something useful he drove her to Antigua to get the bus to Chimaltenango though he remains mystified as to why anyone would work for free.  While I am giving Jackie the $2 per day bus fare there is no other compensation but Estela understands that she is gaining experience and future job skills and that there is no turning back for Jackie.

So, Jackie leaves home each morning at 6:30am to spend about three hours a day on the bus so that she can read stories to kids and play educational games with them for three hours a day.  Yesterday she was invited to attend an all-adult librarian/teacher training workshop and spent the day learning skills that she can not only use but pass on to others.   There is a childrens'  library in the village of Casa Broccoli, about 1/2 block away.  Jackie and her siblings had never been there as, for the most part in Guatemala, children are locked away in their houses when there parents are working.  Jackie has been introduced to the man who tends this library two hours every afternoon and has been invited to help him with the younger children and to bring some more little ones around.  This is something that she will be able to continue when school starts again in January.

Last month Jackie became the first in her family (on either side) to finish "basico" (middle school, 9th grade).  Her choice at this point is to pursue a bilingual secretarial program for "diversicado" (high school).  She will learn English and computer skills and could choose to go on to university.  With her loves of books and reading I can certainly see her being sought after as a librarian by several organizations when she has finished her education.  Last week we registered her at her new school and I was pleased to see a "No Spanish" sign on the office door.  The director allowed as how it did not apply to me, however.  The school has a good feel to it and is conveniently a five minute walk from my house.

A fifteenth birthday is a big affair for a Hispanic girl and frequently money that is needed for essentials is squandered on a ridiculously expensive party.  I am slowing learning how to manage the expectations in Guatemala and each time I was told how much a party would cost I ignored it.  Finally I said that I was not paying for any parties but that I would take anyone who finished basico with a grade average of more than 75% on a trip anywhere they wanted to go within Guatemala.  The mention of an airplane ride to get to Tikal gave that location a very obvious edge.

Last Saturday Jackie and I were picked up at the ungodly hour of 4am for that airplane ride to Tikal.  We stayed in a hotel, climbed up Mayan ruins, saw monkeys and other jungle creatures, learned about her ancestors, talked about safe sex and not getting pregnant when the time comes that she has a boyfriend (thankfully, she has no interest at the moment which may be partly about the shenanigans of her father).   On our 45 minute flight back to Guatemala City we had a "meal" service (take that, American Airlines) which consisted of choice of potato chips and soft drinks.  By then Jackie had mastered my camera and was taking some pretty interesting photos of her own.

Estela and Astrid were waiting by the gate when we got back to Antigua.  Estela reported that tears of excitement were rolling down Jackie's cheeks as she told her family about her trip.  Estela's brother, who was also at the gate, said that for him it was a dream to go to Tikal.

Tikal by Jaquelin
I had offered to put a book in Spanish on my Kindle for Jackie as I wanted to see if she would take to the electronic book.  She picked a 500 page biography of Queen Isabella of Spain.  When she finished it I told her if she would write a book review on the book I would let her choose another Kindle book.  The next day she turned up with a well written book report.  It is the norm in Guatemala to find unbelievably bad spelling so I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of Jackie's writing.  She has now decided that she is going to write a book, the story of her life.  Yes, Alexander is worried and with good reason.  This could be a best seller in the US of A.  So, yesterday I gave her as a birthday present a very thick spiral notebook and six pens to get her launched.  If she pursues it perhaps we can do something jointly - my perspective and then her perspective.  She went home with Pride and Prejudice and Robinson Crusoe on the "borrowed" Kindle which I do intend to give her as a Christmas present.  Poco a poco.