Sunday, February 17, 2013

And Two Steps Back ...

Just when I thought I had it all figured out cultural differences erupted.  I began hearing, second hand, that Estela (and what does she know being barely literate herself?) thought that Denis and Jackie should be in a proper school where they would be with friends.  I guess she had forgotten that both had flunked out of their most recent proper school. Also she didn't really understand that home schooling was not only the last choice but was likely the best.  Neither Estela nor the children could figure out where to place Victoria.  Was she a Guatemalan because she had a brown face or was she a gringa because she was raised in the US and spoke English as well as any other American?  Estela asked her if she had a maid (that would make her a gringa).  When Victoria told her that she did not Estela asked her if she had a washing machine.  When the answer to that question was also "no" she asked her who washed her clothes.  Victoria told Estela that she washed the family's clothes in a sink just as Estela does.  

Perhaps it was then that Estela decided that Victoria was really too Guatemalan to be teaching her children and she apparently communicated that fact to Denis and Jackie.  Denis did his best imitation of "macho" and announced that he should be able to listen to music while studying because it relaxed him.  While never impolite I heard Denis speaking to Victoria as a macho Guatemalan might speak to a Guatemalan woman.  One is always aware of the fact that the poor, dependent on the generosity of others, often have two very different faces:  one for gringos and quite another for their own kind.  The non-gringo face is quite often not a very pretty one and it is one that I fear that Estela's kids see all too often in their home. I was disappointed to hear it coming from Denis.

Whatever happened, Victoria announced that she was quitting.  We talked and I think that many of her buttons had been pushed as a result of the cultural confusion and the assumption that her brown face meant that she wasn't up to standard. And suddenly I found that I had reached my limit with the two adolescents.

Victoria and I made a plan.  We would talk to the two the next day before their mother arrived for work and then we would include Estela so there would only be one version of the conversation. I told them that Victoria was quitting, that I was tired of pouring money down the toilet and that, if they were not interested and willing to participate, they could just go home and just pick coffee for $3 a day for the rest of their lives.  I mean't it and they got it. When we had said everything we had to say I sent Estela and the two tormented teens home to decide what their future was going to look like.

I felt a sense of relief.  I had my house back and I had stopped the cash drain into the toilet.  I had done everything possible for the two and, as I had told them, I had run out of options and could not force them to take an interest in an opportunity that many other Guatemalan children could only dream about.  The three scurried out of the house wondering, I am sure, what had hit them.

Estela was very quiet the next day.  I was relishing the chance to get some other things done.  Towards the end of the day I told Estela that Victoria had reported that Jackie blamed all her recent failures and health issues on worry about her father.  Worry about a man who didn't care enough about any of his kids to stay out of jail, worry about a man who participated in a gang that kidnapped and raped women, worry about a man who won't even tell his children why he is still in prison after more than a year and a half? From the Internet I printed the front page newspaper articles from when Alex had been arrested and suggested that Estela take them home and have the two older children read them out loud.  Time for them to do a reality check rather than continue to believe the lies of their father who, of course, maintains that he is innocent, that it is all a big mistake and that he will be free very soon. I suspect that the truth is that he has been given a lengthy sentence but won't admit that to any of those whom he has devastated. 

I told Estela that, if the two didn't come to terms with the facts about their father that Denis would likely follow him to jail and Jackie would likely die from her inability to eat without vomiting.  And have a nice weekend!

On Monday Estela reported that the two had studied most of the weekend. True?  Hard to tell.  I was back and forth with the educational psychologist overseeing the homeschooling program.  She asked for a meeting.  I used the power of my checkbook and told her that Denis simply could not absorb another failure at the current time.  I had already been told that if the kids did not pass the exams scheduled for Wednesday they would not be able to continue.  I agreed to meet the director on Wednesday and told Estela that I was leaving at 8:30am, that if the children had decided that if either one or both wanted to continue their education that they should be at my house before 8:30.  I had no idea whether or not they would show up.  I further told Estela that if either wanted help I would be available Tuesday afternoon.

On Tuesday two smiling teens showed up at my door.  Jackie reported that she had finished everything but math and she needed help with reciprocals (in Spanish no less).  Astrid was there and found the appropriate Khan Academy video in Spanish and the two dealt with reciprocals.  Denis was in a panic as nothing came up when he googled "números cuadraticos" on the Khan Spanish channel.  I noticed that his favorite math teacher was online and typed in a message.  We need help with "números cuadraticos."  Within minutes I heard the Skype call from Ottawa, Canada and Denis got the help he needed.

Wednesday morning two very tense teens showed up at the appointed time.  We discussed that it would not be the end of the world if either failed the test.  That did little to reduce the tension.  Upon arriving at the homeschooling office, to the intense relief of Denis especially, the decision had been made to put off their exams until the following week.  A new schedule was settled on which includes more tutoring thus two visits a week for both.  Back in Antigua we went to a very cheap, cheerful and popular place for lunch.  We shared a table with a friend and her son who, coincidentally, was at the international school with Denis, did not want to go back and is now doing an online homeschooling program in English.  I could almost see Denis's brain make the switch from "stupid" to "privileged, even cool."  Homeschooling kids get to go out to lunch. The two boys are likely going to satisfy an extra-curricular requirement by volunteering together at a primary school in a nearby rural village.  We shall take it one month at a time and will hope for the best.  There is a Q100 phone card available to anyone who shows improvement. And that is just part of the bribery component.  It is my hope to drag these two, kicking and screaming if necessary, across the great divide from poverty.

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