19 October 2007

Think Michelle Pfeiffer in dangerous minds ... Guatemalan style

It's been a while since I got kicked out of a classroom, I was always the loud kid, the one who laughed just a little bit too much ( I have hazy memories of telling one substitute she was two fries short of a happy meal) And here I'm 24 years old, getting kicked out of class again by my friend, Simon, who told me I was disrupting his "ninos" a little bit too much with my camera and it'd probably be best if I left so they could concentrate.

In this case, "the class" is a group of underpriveleged Guatemalan kids who go to this small ghetto school where my friend Simon has been volunteering as a teacher for the past week. There are no books, these kids barely have enough money to buy the cheap notebooks they scribble in. I asked Simon if I could tag along, he's been telling me about his "ninos" for a while and I was really curious about a school system that takes on traveling tourists as instructors, so desperate they are, they'll take on anyone, even if it's just for a few days.

Most of the people who travel through Antigua are tourists in their early twenties, people just looking for a good time that consists of getting drunk every night and stumbling back to the hostal where I work ( I swear to God if one more person asks me where they can get some cocaine I'm going to start selling blocks of talcum powder)... My point is, most of the tourists my age sleep until noon or so and then yell at the bar staff because breakfast is only served until 11 a.m. and nothing sounds better than a big greasy Guatemalan breakfast when you wake up at 1 p.m. and with a hangover.

Simon gets up every day at 7:30 to go spend four hours with these kids, and it blew me away. When the girl he was traveling with got bored and moved onto San Pedro, Simon stayed in Antigua because he had made a commitment to the school and his "ninos." Getting to know him and spending time at the school was one of the best parts of this trip, I mean, sure, I spent most of the time making fun of Simon's accent and telling Pedro, the kid in front row, all the answers on his test and Simon spent most of our time together yelling: "Woman, has anyone ever told you that you are CRAZY!!"

I told him yes, many, many times.

But we had each other's back the other night, when this drunk Guatemalan guy stumbled into the bar and asked Simon what he was doing in Latin America. Simon told him he was teaching at a local school and Mr. Drunk Guy essentially told him he was a piece of crap for spending only a week with these kids and then leaving. He told Simon that if he'd really wanted to make a difference he'd stay for a year, and then he pointed at the dinner Simon was eating and told him that the kids in his class could probably live for a week off of what the meal had cost.

I told him to shut up.

He started yelling, reminding me that this was his country and I was just a stupid gringa and I couldn't talk to him like that. I couldn't help but see there was a very visible line that had formed, the division between the white people who travel here and the Guatemalans who have grown up in this country hating us and our "priveleged" lives. It's division I've experienced one too many times. The drunk guy eventually bowed out, got into a fight when another guy who told him to leave me alone. I left the bar until they were gone. Simon had already stalked out, the drunk guy made him feel like crap about himself and what he was doing here. But the next morning, the drunk guy somewhere else sleeping off his hangover, and here was Simon, getting up at 7:30 to go spend the day with his "ninos."

I made sure he knew that I was really proud of him and that he should feel really good about himself and what he was trying to do here. I tried to remind him that guys (ladies, you too) say really stupid things when they're drunk and for the most part, people can only make you feel bad if you let them.

a nice shot of Pedro the "special" kid who sits in the back and tries to stay awake.

Simon, feeling good again.


lackofintellect said...

Great story, I had wondered where you had wandered off to.

People who are privileged should only be ashamed when they don't use their privileges to better other peoples lives as well as theirs.

Keep on keeping on sister!

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