Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bougainvillea Lane ... Poco a Poco

Curious that there is never a dull day here in Guatemala.  Perhaps, that is the "hook".  It might have to do with the small size of the community or the fact that those without resources or education circle around the gringos with interesting and innovative tales of woe.  Or that all of the ex-pats who choose to live here have the same loose screw.

I now officially have six children on the dole.  While Marielos does not miss a beat in terms of her children's schooling I noticed that she was walking a mile or so round-trip across town twice a day to the pre-school to deliver and fetch Cris and Mishelle.  That meant that she didn't have the $20 per month for the "busito" which delivered them back to the market at the end of the day.  I asked her about Diego (9) and she started crying.  It turns out that she has been paying for him to go to a private "colegio" (deemed better than a government school but sometimes only a profit center) since pre-school.  Education, which she never had, is obviously very important to her.  Since food and shoes come first she is four months behind and Diego is being denied passage to the fifth grade.  I gave her $100.00 so that Diego could finish the school year which ends next week (in time for children to help harvesting coffee).  Diego might well be the brightest of the bunch and he really likes school. Marielos's mother (who wouldn't let Marielos and her sisters attend school) told Marielos that she should just take him out of school. Can you imagine? His father was assassinated, his step-father is in prison (no longer in jail but prison), he is a nice, bright nine-year old who likes school. Take him out of school for lack of $25 a month?  Marielos told me that Diego asks her a lot of questions about his school work and it makes her sad that she can't help him because "I never studied." Between now and January we will be looking for the best school option for Diego who, like Denis, is now hooked on the Khan Academy math videos.

Mesmerized by Sal Khan's math
Denis is 15.  On his birthday in March I bought a birthday cake with a "15" candle on it.  The following day Estela reported that Denis was really 16.  Hmmm.  I asked her how it was possible that she had two children aged 16 who were not twins.  She was adamant and seemed surprised when I told her that if Jackie was born in November that there was no way that Denis could have been born in March of the following year.  She told me that he was early.  Not that early.  I suggested that she go home and look at Denis's birth certificate, that Denis deserved to know how old he was.  Denis is 15.  He was born in March of 1997.  His is a very difficult age without a father in prison, without having flunked out of a fancy international school, without possible learning disorders, without being a boy.

Perhaps because this small community is full of ex-pats with the same loose screw there are people willing to help Denis.  He worked with a tutor on both English and Spanish along with his younger sister, Astrid, during the summer months.  He continues daily tutoring sessions at the same school that Cris and Mishelle attend.  I quickly made the arrangement for him to walk Cris and Mishelle to the market after school saving Marielos the a mile a day.  Denis adores the two little ones and takes his responsibility very seriously.  Good for everybody.

Last week Denis and I met with an educational psychologist who is on the staff of a home schooling program.  I decided that they merited a visit because none of the materials that they sent me had a single spelling or grammatical error.  Almost unheard of in Guatemala because of the poor quality of the education. I liked the woman. Denis liked the woman. She said that she would like to see him once a week for the balance of the calendar year, that he could then start (again) the equivalent of the 8th grade in January (when the coffee has all been picked).  Walking out of that meeting Denis was almost teary eyed and he gave me a big hug and, in English, thanked me "for helping" him.

While Denis had been offered the chance to return to the international school for their "extra-curricular" program (after all he was their star soccer player) Denis told me that he did not want to go.  Done.  I understand.  His favorite teacher was his math teacher who had made a real effort to move Denis forward.  Oddly enough this man is also called Alex.  Alex and his wife (who was the second grade teacher) are Canadians and wander the world teaching.  Three years in Columbia, three years in Libya among their most recent adventures.  At the end of the school year Alex offered to help me with a math program for Denis.  We had a tentative plan to meet this past Wednesday.  On Monday morning I received an email from Alex indicating that he and his wife had both resigned from the international school the previous Friday over what sounds like a ridiculous issue with the new director.  Alex said that he was now free to help Denis.

Alex and his wife will be around until Christmas and he now comes to my house several days a week in the afternoons to spend time with Denis and tutor him in both math and life.  They go to the market and do math problems with bananas and avocados.  They walk and they talk in Spanglish. Alex's Spanish is about the same as Denis's English.  Soon I will ask Alex if he wouldn't mind working condoms into a math problem for Denis. Denis cannot believe that so many people want to help him.  I have told him "no peace until there is a high school (big deal here) graduation."  He and Alex use the Khan Academy website (check it out if you haven't and materials that Alex has.  The real value is that he is teaching Denis that there are people who care whether or nor he succeeds.  He is also teaching him to understand the concepts behind math and to reason and, heaven knows, he has way more patience than I have.

After all the school work I give Denis Facebook time (I set up his account and made sure that all of the privacy settings were on).  Yesterday he ran the battery out on my laptop but in order to do that he had to read, write and type.  Go Facebook!

Astrid is back at the international school along with her determination to graduate.  She was somewhat dismayed to find out that she would have to repeat the 6th grade having lost most of last year to learning English.  On the first day of school, however, after a year's time she finally found a friend, another girl who is being sponsored, whose mother is a maid and who is also struggling with English.  Not only does Astrid have a friend but she now gets to be a mentor to the kid she was a year ago.  She is smiling.  She is happy.  School is hard.  Last Friday there were no classes so she came to my house and worked on the school math website for five hours doing over 500 problems.  She is studying the solar system in science, her hardest class.  Sal Khan to the rescue with his videos on the solar system.

Jackie is in a rotten school which she originally picked, I suspect, because the only career she had ever heard of besides maid was bi-lingual secretary.  She is a diligent student who loves to read and who should be a teacher.  Her only B is in English.  She is flunking most other subjects (silly things like shorthand, typing, nothing academic) which means that she will not graduate next year (I suspect that this is a sustainability program on the part of her rotten school).  If diligent students are flunking out then there is something wrong with the school.  It is quite likely that she too will be enrolled in home schooling with Denis come January.  I have already told Estela that I will not give this school another centavo. Not exactly what I thought that retirement would be about but I suppose it should be about something.  During the coffee picking school break Jackie will be working as a volunteer at the bi-lingual Montessori  that her younger siblings attend.

The "chiquitos" (little ones) are flourishing, mixing English with Spanish.  They are both such happy kids.  I credit their mother and extended family full of doting grandparents and aunts for that. Cristopher takes one look at me and pleads for my iPhone.  Mishelle just grins showing dimples inherited from her father who isn't around to see them.

Mishelle (r) and friend getting down and dirty at school.
Speaking of their father Alex (the felon not the cherished teacher) has been transferred from the local jail to one of the nastiest prisons in the world, Pavon, on the other side of Guatemala City.  It is out of reach for any of his many families thus he likely hasn't had a visitor in the four months he has been there.  Still no trial, no sentence.  A Guatemalan friend has suggested that the reason that his case has taken so long to make its way through the shabby justice system is, perhaps, because it is a very big and involved case.  Just today he called the house pleading for food. When I asked him where he was he answered "zone 18." I gave the phone to Denis who seemed under-impressed   Once again Alex expects his case to be resolved in November (there was last November too).  He has yet another new lawyer. Of course, despite evidence and witnesses to the contrary he maintains his innocence.  Vamos a ver.

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