Saturday, January 1, 2011

Along Came Diego

Happy New Year from Guatemala!  After hours of fireworks last night I am certain that the Chinese economy is doing better this morning.  Odd how people who can't feed their kids and tourists set free from legal restrictions on fireworks will drop hundreds of dollars on Chinese made fireworks.  The first day of 2011 will be about cleaning up the debris on the terrace and getting the dog to go outside again.

Veronica, 13,  lacks confidence, could use a tutor
Another year has passed and "poco a poco" there is progress in Guatemala.  I visited Casa Broccoli to see the two indigenous children who are being sponsored to attend school in San Antonio Aguas Caliente.  Interestingly they are siblings of Charlie's whom you may remember from earlier blog postings couldn't cope with being the oldest in the third grade.  He dropped out of school in the middle of the third grade at 13 and, his siblings report that, a year later, he is working.  Picking vegetables no doubt..

I was expecting to see Veronica, 13, and Elmer, 8, but there was a third child with them.  Diego is 6 and indicated that he is very eager to go to school so he will.  Elmer and Veronica both demonstrated their reading skills.  They are both in the same grade despite their age difference.  They will enter fourth grade in January.  Elmer is an excellent reader while Veronica is coming along (Jackie needed to help her).  She is perhaps inhibited by a lack of confidence not uncommon in girls in this country, sadly.  I gave each of them a package of educational games, one math based and the other language based. I found myself wishing I had the time and the patience to tutor Veronica.

Diego, 6, wants to go to school

Elmer, 8, reads like a champ

Which 8-year old grew up in the US?
Casa Broccoli was neat and tidy and it was a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours sitting in the garden taking in their million dollar (by US standards) view.   Estela served us something dry and starchy with fruit for a visiting friend who is a vegetarian.  My vegetarian friend and his wife have a son adopted shortly after birth from Guatemala.  Ruben is the same age as Elmer so having seen the recent 20/20 report on malnutrition and stunting in Guatemala we photographed the two 8-year olds who did have the same exact dental configuration (missing the same teeth).  Can you guess which one has grown up in the US?

The very poor neighbors next door have been discovered by an aid agency that is building them a very small cinder block house and is now sponsoring the girls to continue in school.  Every December I send them replacements for their two water filters filled with staple food items.  There are seven children in this family.  The eldest son is married and I was dismayed to see his young wife cradling her third child.  Estela reported that she had tried to get her to go to the WINGS ( office in Antigua for some family planning assistance but that she was not interested.   Perhaps this family will only ever understand the hazards of 7 children bearing 7 children and so on when they run out of space on their tiny little plot of land.  If we can just keep the girls in school there is a chance that they won't all have seven.

The Guatemalans do seem to enjoy a party more than their gringo neighbors.  Central Park is all lighted up for the holidays and musicians just show up serenading the whole park in Christmas carols.  A brown Santa hangs around the fountain and earns his tortillas by posing for photos and doling out hugs.  The shoe shine boys and peddlers are in abundance.  One evening a little boy named "Amadeo" tried to sell me some silly Christmas light thing.  We had a chat and I gave him Q50 ($6) and told him "Feliz Navidad."  He willingly posed for a photo as the going rate for a photo is Q1.  He told me he was six and when asked where he lived he rattled off his complete address including the apartment number in Solola near Lake Atitlan.  At six he is a master salesman.  I encountered him again on New Years' Eve as well when he was selling scarves.  The advantage of speaking Spanish is that you can engage beyond the "I need money so I can go to school" dialogue.  A friend and I chatted a bit with Amadeo and told him we didn't need any scarves at which point he dropped the price by 50%.  (By the way there are gringos who teach them phrases in English, French, German designed to earn them a few more quetzales from unsuspecting tourists.) I gave Amadeo some spare change so he wouldn't get in trouble with his mother and told him we would catch him later and he said "OK."  The good news is that he did know how to spell his name so perhaps he is going to school.  I didn't ask because I knew I would get the answer that he thought I wanted to hear but not necessarily the truth. I expect I will see Amadeo again as he will always keep an eye out for the gringa who gave him Q50.  How does a six-year old become such a ruthless salesman?  Aren't there a zillion companies who would want such a salesperson?

Estela and children came on Christmas Eve without Alex for the first time.  Alex comes and goes from his bachelor pad at the far end of Casa Broccoli but is pretty much out of favor with Estela and the children as well who are tiring of his steady stream of untruths.  One wonders if becoming a sociopath is always the end result of a child growing up alone on the street struggling to survive.  Sad to think that Amadeo might become Alex though Amadeo does have a mother at age 6.  Alex did not.  Denis at 13 is obviously conflicted about his father and is desperately in need of a good male role model (they are in short supply in Guatemala).  He lacks self-confidence and is not doing as well as his sisters in school.  I suspect that he might be suffering from dyslexia which no one here is equipped to deal with.  A gringo friend is spending the occasional Saturday with Denis in the hope of bolstering his self-confidence and giving him the idea that he doesn't have to follow in his father's footsteps/missteps.

What does 2011 bring for Guatemala?

New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, is recommending that everyone study Spanish which could help the Spanish schools and teachers in Guatemala.

CNN recommends Guatemala as the #8 out of 9 places one should visit in 2011.

Elmer and Veronica can read and Diego will get to go to school   Hopefully, Amadeo too.  Jackie starts a bi-lingual "diversificado" (high school) this month and spends most of her free time with my old Kindle that I loaded up with books in Spanish for Christmas.  Denis is using iTunes to put music on a Nano for his mother.

Two well qualified women gained high government posts based on merit over male contenders.

The Mexican drug cartel, the Zetas, has moved into the Coban area and has declared war on Guatemala.

Although the tourist areas are quite well patrolled the average Guatemalan suffers daily from a lack of security and corruption at all levels of government.

ABC News launched a year long series called "Be the Change, Save a Life" with a piece on malnutrition and stunting  in Guatemala anchored by Christiane Amanpour.  Look for the December 17th piece entitled "Tortillas and Coffee as Baby Food."

The first North American producer of Plumpy Nut, a highly acclaimed nutritional supplement, Edesia, is seeing that their products get to some of the neediest in Guatemala.

Riecken Guatemala has received a donation to build a new community discovery center in nearby Jocotenango which will not only change the community but be conveniently accessible to visitors to Antigua.

So, it is still a muddle but a pleasant, always entertaining muddle.  Where else can you experience perfect weather, stunning views, $15 gourmet meals, devastating poverty, AK-47s, talented craftsmen and happy smiling people on any given day?