Sunday, December 14, 2014

Holding Heads Above Water

So, my African escape was great and I recommend it for all especially for anyone, including those needing a break from raising other people's children in Guatemala. Camping in game parks listening to the roar of lions and the bellow of hippos at night is quite an experience along with watching a herd of elephants wandering through your campsite by the light of a full moon.

As Astrid's school is on the North American schedule she is the only one in school right now. The younger three have been attending a vacation program at school which is yet another attempt to minimize their time with their goofy mother. Astrid finally obtained a passport after I gave in and paid a substantial bribe to the immigration authorities who were not going to let her have a passport by any other means. As a result she was able to represent her school at a leadership conference in El Salvador, her first ever trip of any kind. She was thrilled. She now also has a visa to visit the United States which is good for ten years.

During the course of my African journey I received a message from Astrid's favorite teacher of last year who had been tutoring her in math. Not only had Astrid lied to him but she had tricked him into helping her cheat on a math test. I have put her on notice that such behavior will not be tolerated, that if it happens again she will need to find a job selling avocados on the street. Perhaps it is not possible to leapfrog someone from abject poverty to a world where honesty is of great value and important to one's success. However, she and I have talked about the importance of finding the right role models and her teachers are on board as well. There were lots of tears when I asked her if she wanted to grow up and be like her father or Marielos.

Astrid at the immigration office for the sixth time.

Diego was in danger of not passing the fifth grade as he failed the final math exam. Some intensive tutoring by one of the teachers at the vacation program worked and helped him to pass on the second retake. So, he will enter the sixth grade in January and has chosen to return to the same school. I was hoping to get him to move to a slightly better option but, given his home situation, I think stability is important right now.

The afternoon before I returned to Guatemala I called Estela to confirm plans for a music concert that Astrid, Denis and Diego were to participate in. Estela told me that Marielos (mother of the younger three AKA "the other woman") had come to the house and told Estela that she didn't have enough money to feed her kids and that she wanted either Estela or myself to take them. WHAT? Estela would take them and they would prosper but I know that she doesn't make enough money to support seven kids. She told Marielos that she would only take them with all the proper paperwork from the courts. Estela gave Marielos bus fare as she didn't have any. Welcome home, Tia Joan.

Shortly after my return Marielos came to the house with yet a different variation of her sob story. Once again, or still, she has debts and is being hounded by loan sharks or so she says. One "señora" came to the family home and her mother told Marielos that she had to leave the house. I reminded her that I had already "loaned" her Q11,000 (US $1400) that I would never see again and told her, once again, that her debts were not my problem and that she was not going to get any more money from me. Period. I am quite certain, as are Denis and Estela, that she is operating on Alex's instructions and attempting to raise money for his "buy out" from prison. She repeatedly denies that she sees him but I told her that Alex calls Estela and tells her everything including the fact that she visits him every Sunday. She then said that she didn't give him any money. I don't believe her. Why would I believe her?

I gave them all a ride home and Diego asked plaintively in English, "what time are you coming for us tomorrow?" When I collected the boys (once again Marielos had taken Mishelle with her to the market as Mishelle loves to come to my house on Saturdays and cook with Estela) I asked Diego to tell his grandmother I would like to talk to her. With the boys in the car out of earshot I told the grandmother that I hoped she would understand that I could not pay the debts of Marielos. This led to a long conversation, some of which I even understood, and many tears. Marielos goes to the market and supposedly works six, even seven, days a week. She tells me that her debts are all for buying inventory. Since she sells barrettes and other hair accessories she should have lots of inventory. She contributes nothing to the family home yet her parents house and feed her and her three illegitimate children. The grandmother also thinks that the money goes to Alex. We agreed that he should be imprisoned for life

Thankfully the children are well cared for and I give the grandparents and Marielos's siblings credit for that. I told the grandmother that Marielos had tried to give her children to Estela and she was horrified. I also told her that while Estela would gladly take them she had told Marielos that she would only do so with approval from the courts. Tearfully, she told me that she didn't know what to do about her, that in spite of Marielos being her daughter she wanted her to go away. We agreed that, whatever happens, the children should stay with the family. I told her that I would continue to help with the children but would not give Marielos any money. She understood, I think.

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that Diego sees me as his lifeline. He is, at least, old enough to (sadly) understand and to escape as necessary. So, for the time being anyway I have given up my one time peaceful Sundays to give the three more respite from all the nonsense. I suggested to Diego that he should help me fill a large market basket with food for the family for Christmas and he liked that idea. I will take him to the capital next week for a day of Christmas shopping and his first ever visit to Pricesmart (aka Costco). Diego has reported back to me what everyone else would like for Christmas but says that he doesn't know what he wants. Probably peace and quiet in the house. Mishelle who was denied after school cooking classes because her mother refused to pay the Q150 ($18) fee has said that all she wants for Christmas is "cooking classes at school." I think Santa can handle that.

Tia Mishelle, 6, with her nephew, Liam, 16 months

Meanwhile Marielos called a friend who used to be the director at the younger kids' school. While she told me she owed Q10,000 ( a nice round number) she told Karen that she had to pay Q7,000 that day (coincidentally the day she "doesn't" visit Alex in prison) and she didn't know what she was going to do. She complained to Karen that I was angry with her which was correct and that I told her that she was an adult and needed to take responsibility for her own problems. Was that a surprise to her?

At this juncture I am mildly concerned that she might feel desperate enough to compromise one or more of her children. My hope is that she wouldn't stoop that low and given that they have been kept safe until now hopefully my concerns are unfounded. Perhaps the best scenario would be that she do something that would land her in jail and also out of the children's' lives.

One must be careful what they ask for. Marielos called, once again, in tears to tell me that a "denuncia" (formal police complaint) was being filed against her by whomever loaned her money (silly person).  I told her that I was sorry and asked if the kids needed a ride to school. I picked them up a short time later and they were without lunches or lunch money. Of course she knows that I will see that they are fed. What she doesn't know is that she will lose her children as they realize that they cannot count on her to keep them safe and fed.  

Apparently Marielos will have to go before a judge and present her side of the story and there is a very real risk of incarceration if she makes no effort to pay off her debts. For now I am not asking any questions but it sounds like mom has, once again, taken to her bed with another case of depression. Estela thinks the grandmother should kick mom in the butt and tell her to get out of the house and go to work. Good idea. 

On a more positive note for several years we have gone on an excursion to a Christmas tree farm about an hour up in the hill from Antigua. This year our planned trek was thwarted by the knowledge that the obvious capitalists who run the farm had cut their limit of trees and sold them all at a premium in the zone in Guatemala City where Guatemala's 1% live.  Gladly, a Facebook message to a local group found me buying a beautiful, very fresh tree on the other side of town for a mere $40. And it was delivered to the house too.

May all of your Christmas wishes be so quickly granted.  All the best in 2015!

Cristofer, 7, Astrid, 15, Mishelle, 6, Denis, 17, Liam, 16 months, Jaquelin, 19, Diego, 12

No comments: