Sunday, August 31, 2014

Forward Momentum

Alex has once again faded from everyone's mind. After his sentence of seventy years was handed down he was moved several hours west to a prison in Quezaltenango where those with the equivalent of life sentences go. Immediately after his move there was a flurry of phone calls and pleas for Q1000 ($130) to be paid to the prison boss for the privilege of leaving his cell and working. I said "no" and Estela said "no" and then we found Denis in tears. 

I told Denis that he should talk to his sisters and the three of them should decide whether the Q1000 should be paid. I have very mixed feelings about the corrupt system of the families paying for prison privileges as most of the families are fairly destitute. In any event despite Astrid's insistence that the money should not be paid under any circumstances her siblings held the majority vote. I asked Denis if he and Jackie would be willing to contribute from their good grade rewards and his meager earnings. He said "yes" and I thought that it might be good for the two to think that they had done something to help the father who has done very little for them.

Showing off their Google "swag".
Denis did get a haircut shortly after this was taken.

The money was deposited in the bank account of the prison and/or gang boss and Alex was told that the money came from his three eldest children. No doubt he is already fantasizing about the possibilities once the three are gainfully employed. He called a few more times and did express his gratitude to Denis but then he faded away again, thankfully.  The last news was that he was temporarily back in the jail where this all started so that he could be in close proximity to Antigua for yet another trial.

A week after his move Marielos, mother of the younger three, rode a chicken bus for ten hours round trip to visit the convicted kidnapper and murderer. Yes, the seventy year sentence was the result of one of the kidnap victims having been murdered for lack of ransom. I asked Marielos if she planned to visit every Sunday for seventy years. I was pretty sure that my sarcasm would escape her and it did. "Maybe not every week," she responded. 

It was becoming increasingly clear to me that she has a few loose screws. She came back from her prison visit sporting what appeared to be a stainless steel wedding band. Do they sell those in Guatemalan prisons or did she take it with her? I couldn't help but remind her that according to the Renap, the office of vital statistics for Guatemala that Alex was still officially married to "Sylvia," her first cousin. 

Estela had discovered this in trying to get a corrected birth certificate for Astrid. Marielos got quite angry and insisted that there had been a divorce, that she had the papers. As filing the papers required paying a fee I was quite certain that Alex would never have paid that fee but would have just told her that he had. I suggested that she visit Renap herself for confirmation. There is yet another son by this first cousin. A son named "Alex." So, is this Alex a half-brother to Cris and Mishelle or a cousin or both? Marielos is no longer wearing the wedding band.

In any event acknowledging the "loose screws" has made it easier for me to be more sympathetic to Marielos and also determined to keep her kids away from her as much as possible. I have become aware of the fact that her extended family quietly also acknowledges her problems which is why they all take a turn tending to her children. Hopefully, all of our efforts will help these children grow up to be reasonably sane despite of having two sociopaths for parents.

Jackie, 18, and Liam, 1

Jackie graduates from high school in October, the first in her family to do so. She will go to work at the school that Cris and Mishelle attend in January and her son will go with her. Employees get scholarships for their children and the youngest ones start at eighteen months. She will need to attend university classes on Saturdays to gain the equivalent of a teaching credential. She will learn what it is like to have a full-time job, attend university and raise a fatherless child.

Liam will be off to a Montessori school in January. 

Denis, who will be eighteen in March, has chosen to continue for two more years to complete high school. He is doing surprisingly well in school for one who struggled so just a few years ago. With Astrid and Diego he attends a music school on Saturdays where there are other kids their ages and the three are studying piano and are also singing. Denis talks about going to university to become an electrical engineer. He is working for me one day a week doing maintenance on the house. He earns enough to keep himself in condoms (hopefully) and hair gel.

Astrid will be fifteen in November and just started the eight grade at the nearby international school. She is rapidly becoming fluent in English, loves school and her teachers. She has had and does have teachers who take a special interest in her. Her seventh grade math teacher gave her some extra help during her summer vacation in order to give her a head start on eighth grade math. A teacher mentor from two years ago has proposed Astrid for a documentary film with a group out of New York that pairs professional film makers with kids around the world. Astrid''s film will be about the impact of global warming on the coffee industry.  During her school vacation she worked with a local veterinarian who let her assist with surgeries. Her prize was a stillborn kitten that she brought home in a jar of formaldehyde. Her good grades (all in the eighties) earned her a smart phone donated by my Googler niece. She has to pay for the minutes, however, which limits her usage. Her favorite way to communicate is What'sApp.

Astrid at a school soccer tournament.

Diego, the old soul, plugs away at school, music and taking care of his younger siblings. His latest grades reflect a keen interest in computers and robotics but some struggles with classes conducted in English. Currently, I pick him up at school every day and we do his homework together followed by a session in math on the Khan Academy website. I am quite certain that apart from studying in English without any ESL support his grades are suffering from the fact that no one at home is equipped to help him with his homework. He is an eager learner and welcomes the help which is very refreshing. I suspect that the attention that goes with homework support is also important to him. It is too easy to leave Diego to his own devices as he is such a good kid. He not yet twelve and is still in need of some time to be a kid.

Cristofer is winding up the first grade. He loves math and is suddenly reading everything he sees in both languages. He is a natural comedian who never misses an opportunity for a laugh. I was, one day, going through the multiplication tables with Diego in the car. While Diego was thinking about the answer for "eight times six" his younger brother quickly said "forty-eight." When I tell people that Cristofer speaks English he knows that he can get a laugh by saying "no, I don't." Cris is very neat and tidy and occasionally anxious. As he was four when his father disappeared I think the timing of that event contributes to his occasional panic attacks.

Mishelle, 6, translates for Cris when he doesn't understand English. She is addicted to an iPad app called "Learning with Homer" which provides a variety of educational opportunities. She has become devoted to Estela, the one time "other woman." The two cook together on Saturdays at my house and Mishelle confides in Estela. Recently she told Estela that she did not want to go to the prison to visit Alex. Estela told her that she should tell her mother that and she responded that her mother would get angry with her.

Learning with Homer

Life in Guatemala is mostly about waiting for the other shoe to drop. I am already preparing all of them for my six week absence this fall when I go to Africa. Gladly, the timing of the trip is during school vacation for all except Astrid. The younger three are already signed up for a vacation program which will occupy them from nine to three every day. Everyone over twelve is equipped with one form of birth control or another. What is it that I haven't thought of that could go wrong in six weeks time?