Tuesday, March 17, 2015

An Average Day

I was awakened by the sound of a harp. It was still dark and I realized that the harp was the ringtone on my cellphone. It was just after six in the morning and Estela was calling to alert me to the fact that Denis would not be going to school because he had mucho fiebre, high fever, a symptom of every ailment in Guatemala whether or not infection is involved. I already knew this as I had sat on a stool in a doctor’s office for several hours the previous afternoon waiting for Denis to be seen about an allergic reaction to something. He had been given two prescriptions by a reputable doctor so I wasn't concerned. Estela further asked if she could work the next day instead of the current day as she needed to go into Guatemala City with Jackie regarding the girl’s enrollment in university.

Coffee speeded up the process of greeting the day. An hour or so later after finishing a nice hot latté I heard the harp again. This time it was Marielos who had failed to get Cris and Mishelle to the school bus in time and had only enough money to get them two–thirds of the way to school on the chicken bus. Or so she said. She told me where they were. I pulled on yesterday’s clothes, grabbed my car key and found them in San Sebastian park. Marielos pushed the two children into my car and headed for her stall in the market on foot. I succeeded in getting Cris and Mishelle to school more or less on time.

After a shower and change of clothes I walked to the bank with forty dollars to be deposited into the account of a shipping company so that I might receive a package from the states. Then I went on to the office of a lawyer doing the documentation to register in Guatemala an American non-profit. The secretary wrote the check for me to avoid errors and I signed it. On my way out I bought six large, perfect mangos for two dollars from an indigenous woman sitting on the sidewalk outside the office. I then headed for the office of an accountant who was going to complete the registration of the non-profit. I stopped at central park and ordered a latte. I had a view of the blooming jacaranda trees, which turn the whole town into a spectacle of purple during the Lenten season. 

After a visit to the office of the accountant I drove to the local organic farm where, much to my dismay, they were out of my two regular purchases, kale and arugula. One of the fellows in charge of the shop asked me if I could wait a few minutes and he summoned someone who went out to the fields and picked two pounds of kale and one pound of arugula. On my way home I stopped by one of several pickups in town laden with fresh fruit of every variety. One is handed samples cut with a machete to encourage purchases. I bought some more mangos, a large papaya, bananas and a very sweet smelling pineapple.

After leaving my purchases at home I drove to a school that looks after sixty-four children with special needs. My plan was to take the founder and director, a Guatemalan woman, to observe the Montessori kindergarten class at the school that Cris and Mishelle attend. Fairly quickly I could see that it was going to be difficult to extract her as one mother of two of her students was sitting at her desk and the mother of a nine-year old who had been rejected by a number of schools was expected. 

Letty was talking to the mother at her desk and from where I was standing I thought the mother was in tears but then she started making some odd physical movements. I heard Letty say “I don’t know what is wrong with her” and very quickly we realized that the woman was having a grand mal seizure. Several people grabbed a limb and got her down on to the floor. Drawing on my airline first aid training I looked around for something that could be put between her teeth to protect her tongue. I handed someone a small notepad and asked them to put it between her teeth. Then it was a matter of waiting for the seizure to finish. I suggested calling the bomberos, firemen and paramedics, who handle the most dismal work of dealing with the dead and dying in Guatemala. Letty pointed to one man saying that he was a bombero. I knew that it was also likely that the woman thrashing on the floor didn’t have the spare change that the bomberos would want to transport her to the public hospital where probably nothing would be done for her. 

After about fifteen minutes the woman stopped seizing, was conscious again and very confused. Her student son, who gladly had not witnessed the incident, reported that she had never had a seizure before. Letty decided, quite understandably, that she couldn’t leave the school with a semi-conscious woman lying on the floor of her office so we rescheduled our kindergarten visit. The mother of two special needs children would likely be sent to the local health center where little or nothing would be done for her. I hoped that the next time she experienced a seizure that she would again be in an environment where she could be kept safe and not be in front of her young children. I wondered if she might have a brain tumor or had she suffered abuse at the hands of a family member? Perhaps she had treatable epilepsy but would she ever get the care she obviously needed?

With my newly gained free time I went for my twice-weekly swim in a friend’s lap pool. With a panoramic view of the volcano Agua and the sun warming the surface of the water, once again, I wondered why anyone would want to live anywhere else. Except perhaps the impoverished woman with special needs kids who had just had a seizure that no one was going to do anything about.

Mid-afternoon I collected Diego at school. He asked me if I could give his friend a ride to the bus. His friend’s name was Marvin and he seemed like a very nice boy. As was our routine we stopped at the ice cream store and I bought the two boys ice cream. Marvin indicated that he too spoke English and thanked me for the ice cream. Diego wanted to go to my house because he had left behind the charger for his tablet. I heard him chattering away at his tablet and asked him whom he was talking to and he responded “my friends.” I asked him “how” knowing that he did not have a Skype account. “With messenger,” he replied. At the age of twelve Diego had already outgrown his mother in so many ways. I asked Diego if he would be willing to go to the special needs school with me the following Monday and teach the teachers how to use the Khan Academy videos and website in their classrooms. He said that he would. And he did.

Sometime later I drove Diego and his heavy backpack over to the mercado, market, to meet up with his family. Returning home just as the sun started to set behind the ever puffing volcano, Fuego, I poured myself a glass of wine and went up on the terrace to watch the setting sun create artistic renditions with the clouds and the volcanic eruptions. I had made it through another day and everyone was safely home. I could feed the dogs and cats, including the three feral cats waiting by my living room window, walk the dogs, perhaps get five dollars worth of fish tacos with a friend and read my book for an hour or so before falling into bed.

“Ping,” went my phone and there was a message from Diego’s aunt, Chaito, pleading with me to help the family pay Q4000, or $520, for a colonoscopy for her mother who is suspected of having colon cancer. I responded that we could talk about it and was able to learn that Dr. Oscar, who had once intervened on Mishelle's behalf, could arrange for a Q2000 colonoscopy at the local private hospital. Feliz Noche!

As for the children Jackie, 19, is working as an assistant in the kindergarten classroom at the bi-lingual, Montessori school that Cris and Mishelle attend. She has started university classes, which take place all day Saturday, towards becoming a certified teacher. Jackie is pictured below with one of her students.

Liam, 19 months, is the youngest student in the same school. He receives a scholarship as part of his mother's employment and reportedly loves school. In his backpack are diapers and his food. In his first week he definitely learned to shriek.

Denis just turned eighteen which makes him eligible for a national ID card, a driver's license and a passport. He is still washing neighborhood cars on Saturdays and does light maintenance around my house one day a week. In another year when he graduates from high school he will have to find a real job. Denis and Diego climbed the Tolliman volcano at Lake Átitlan on New Year's Day and following is one of Denis's photos from the 10,000 foot top.

Astrid, 15, is thriving in the eighth grade at the international school where her team took first place in a recent science fair. Yesterday her science class climbed the spewing Pacaya volcano as part of a geology project. A friend who is working at the school told me recently that other students have started approaching Astrid for answers.

Diego, 12, is a kid on a mission. He attempts to communicate first in English and only resorts to Spanish if he gets frustrated. He has an illegal (as he is only 12) Facebook account which he accesses using an internet connection shared with a neighbor in his village. As I set up his account I am able to monitor his use of Facebook. He is working with a math tutor to help him overcome his dubious math beginnings and talks repeatedly about becoming an architect.

Cristofer, 8, remains passionate about math. "Á mi, me gusta por, I prefer multiplication," he says. All of the kids know that they can earn money for points earned on the Khan Academy website. One centavo for every point. Cris earned Q6 on Saturday. He didn't know what to do with it so he gave it to Diego. Cris's favorite food is broccoli which we have every Saturday for lunch.

Mishelle, 6, translates for Cris when he doesn't understand my English. She adores her nephew, Liam, and has started going to music classes on Saturdays with Astrid and Diego. She likes to cook so Estela taught her how to cook broccoli at home for her brother. She is also an eager participant in face painting at birthday parties. 

Otherwise, the volcano, Fuego, that dumped ash all over town last month continues to provide some dramatic scenery not to mention endless work for those cleaning up the ash. While the ash causes respiratory issues in both humans and animals it also provides fertilizer for plants so we expect amazing things once the rains start again in May.