Sunday, March 17, 2013

And Three Steps Forward .... except for Dad

Two days before the dreaded exams I was reading the newspaper while waiting for Jackie and Denis to finish their tutoring session.  A headline caught my eye and there it was.  Their father along with his three sleazy amigos had been sentenced to 42 years in prison, thirty each for kidnapping and twelve each for rape.  For some strange reason a prison "year" in Guatemala is only nine months long which immediately reduces that sentence by 25%. Estela and I decided to keep the news to ourselves until after the exams.  Estela collected the cell phones allegedly so that the two wouldn't be distracted from studying.  I sent a text message to Marielos who was visiting Alex that day asking her please not to communicate with the children about the news before Thursday afternoon.

Denis was the first to come out of the exams.  He was wearing a big grin so I knew that he had passed.  Jackie soon followed.  They said that they had only taken half of the exams, that the other half would come the following week but that they had passed the most difficult ones.  Over lunch their mother and I told them that we had news about their father, that he had been sentenced to a number of years but we weren't clear as to how many as there were conflicting reports. Marielos had reported that the sociopath himself had told her that his sentence was 12 years which was inconsistent with the news reports.  While Denis has pretty much written his father off Jackie is still wrestling with conflicting emotions. Now she knows that her father, while proclaiming his innocence and soon to be freedom, has been lying to her as well.  Likely also to himself.

Dad got 42 years today, kids got ice cream
We talked about life going on and the fact that everyone gets something that they have to deal with in life.  I reminded them that their father was very interested in them getting educated so the best thing that they could do was to distract themselves with their studies.  I told Jackie that each day it would be a little bit easier to accept.  I expected that the three would break the news to Astrid that afternoon but  apparently Astrid had read the same newspaper on the bus on her way home from school two days earlier.  At age 13, she had taken it upon herself not to say anything to her family because of the upcoming exams.  She had taken the newspaper off of the "chicken" bus and had thrown it away.  "I told you he was trash, " she told her older siblings.  

So, Marielos is finally mourning and well she should be but, hopefully, not for very long.  She told me that she was going to vist Alex and take Cris and Mishelle with her as they haven't seen their father for a year.  (So, why take them to a prison?) It is clear to me that he is pleading to see his children as a last desperate means of staying connected with his old, rotten life. He didn't care about his kids then, why would he now? He wants his desperately poor women to bring him food and money that they will be taking away from their children. Pay your dues dude. Too bad you can't hear your children all laughing together. Your loss.  

Denis is booming, his confidence well on its way to being restored.  He mentioned that he was studying astronomy in science and I told him that there was a Khan video on astronomy.  He had already watched it.  Last week he turned sixteen and I had vowed to find him some sex education so that he would know that his father's way of indiscrimate propagation wasn't the only way.  A friend helped me get him an appointment with a male staff person at WINGS, a non-profit family planning organization. I had promised him a box of condoms for his birthday.  With a visiting cousin I visited a local "farmacia" and said "please, we would like some condoms." The woman behind the counter was certain that I hadn't realized what I had asked for.  When I repeated my request her eyes got very large. After a pregnant (pun intended) moment I explained that they were a birthday present for a young man.  She then spread out the whole inventory and helped us to put together a great variety of "extra" this and "extra" that.  As I was afraid that Denis might try and escape I didn't tell him what we were up to until I dropped him off for his meeting.  I then told him that he was going to meet with a fellow who was going to tell him everything he wanted to know about sex and that he could ask him anything he wanted to.  Off I went. Much to my surprise several hours later Denis turned up and thanked me for setting up the meeting and said that it was very interesting. I am sure it was.

A day later Astrid showed up on for her Saturday volunteer job at the local vet clinic.  She seemed a little bit down.  I asked her what was wrong and she told me that the sister of her best friend at school was having her "quincenera" (15th birthday party) that evening at 6 and that she was unable to go because she didn't have a dress.  Her mother, who could well have afforded a dress for her daughter, clearly did not understand the importance of letting her daughter participate in school social events and even if she did wasn't about to participate financially.  I called Marielos in the market and asked her if she could help Astrid buy a dress and shoes so that she could go to the party.  Marielos and his sister spent the afternoon getting Astrid ready for the party. And what a party it was.  Guards, searchlights, music, dancing, fake champage (sparkling apple juice) and every kind of teen food imaginable.  Astrid had a blast.  One more step out of poverty.

Astrid ready for the party.

My next challenge is going to be to tackle Marielos's miserable level of self-esteem.  For reasons I don't yet understand she was not allowed to go past the second grade in school.  Now that she is starting to realize that her hombre is a lost cause she is dealing with the fact that she can scarcely support his children alone by selling hair ribbons in the market.  She is a good salesperson but getting a job elsewhere is impossible without a certificate showing that she has at least a sixth grade education.  She is looking for proof of completion of second grade and then we will talk about enrolling her in a home schooling program which would offer her the opportunity to not only build her self-esteem but complete more formal education.  The good news is that there are a number of children who are more than willing to help her.  The youngest (of the known children of Alex) who will be five in May will be able to help her with her English.

I speak English.

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