domingo, 20 de abril de 2008

Movie Reel

There are certain experiences that impact you that they play over and over in your head like a movie. You watch the reel again as your eyes stare wide open into the depths of your memories, and you notice new details every time. And you can’t help watching the second, third, tenth time; sometimes that’s good, if the experience was a happy one, and sometimes it’s almost torture, but unlike a movie you can’t close your eyes and ears and block it out. Sometimes it’s an image, sometimes it’s a sound, and sometimes it’s a whole movie.

This clip that keeps on playing on and on in my head, is something I meant to write about months ago. But it wasn’t a good experience, or a bad one, exactly, just one of those you aren’t sure what to think about it, and hoping with its fourth, fifth, tenth showing, you might have an epiphany about it’s significance to you.


SCENE: a hot morning in the central plaza of Jocotenango, on the concrete futbolito field

Characters: Myself, The guys of Los Patojos (Juan Carlos, Erwin, Daniel, Oscar, Joseph, ), Jorge (The ex-soccer player), Chema (the young one), Lupe (the temporarily sober one); extras- soccer players

The scene opens with all of us dividing up into teams. Jorge, Chema, and Lupe, unknown to me at that point, are lined up against the wall watching us with an unidentifiable plastic bottle in their hands. The Los Patojos guys, extras, and I play soccer, sweating profusely and the occasional ego trip-driven soccer trick. After a while of playing, Chema, whose identity is unknown at this point stumbles onto the soccer court, and joins the game. His eyes are wide and glassy, he can’t walk straight and is delusional. He trips over an inexistent obstacle various times before finally getting to the ball and missing it. After a few minutes, he wanders off the court, takes the plastic bottle from Chema and takes a long wiff from it as his wild eyes continue staring at us.

Juan Carlos: (huffing and puffing) Do you wanna take a rest?

All: (Also huffing and puffing, nod)

(Everyone goes to the shade and leans against the wall. Juan Carlos says hi to Jorge, and invites them to come over. Just then I realize that he knew who they were. The three of them stumble over with their plastic bottles in their hands. I finally recognize the look in their eyes from what I have read, and from this I infer that the substance in their bottles is either glue or thinner.)

Juan Carlos: (to Chema) are you playing soccer anymore?

Jorge: No, my knees have gotten really bad since I started this stuff (putting the bottle in his pocket).

Juan Carlos: (to the guys) Do you remember him? He was a soccer legend around here! We all used to get together after school to come here and watch him play.

Oscar: Si hombre, que cabrón!

Daniel: (whispering to me) He used to be amazing at soccer when we were kids. Then he started sniffing thinner, and he got into this rehab center close by that doesn’t exist anymore. Recruiters wanted to put him on the national team. Who knows what happened. Probobly from sniffing too much. That stuff messed him up.

Juan Carlos: (to Chema) how long does that stuff last you?

Lupe: (sniff) like (sniff) an hour (sniff).

Chema: (To Mauricio) Hey, give me your shoes (sniff).

Oscar: Sorry, these are the only ones I have. Next time, k?

(Chema nods, and continues sniffing the bottle).

(Juan Pablo, Mauricio, Chema, Jorge, and Lupe continue talking)

Joseph: (to Daniel) How old is Chema?

Daniel: (to me and Joseph) Maybe 15 or 16. He doesn’t really have a home or a family, so he hangs around with these guys.

(Jorge gets up and starts playing with the ball, much more coordinated now)

Me: (aside) Once he started talking about soccer, he put the thinner away, and he’s sobering up now. I can’t believe how normal everyone is acting. I guess it’s different when you know the people and the situation they are in. Especially if it is normal to them. And they do this in public? I wonder if they harm anyone else. This is so surreal. How am I supposed to act?

(lights dim)

This is the movie that has rerun over and over in my head. I’m still not sure what to make of it. It was something I observed more than anything I was personally involved in. More than anything, I realized there are so many issues and situations I claim to know about, but am still shocked when I’m placed face to face with them. I freeze and stay quiet, not knowing how to act.
Does every difficult situation one is faced with also present an opportunity to do something about it? Or at least learn something from it? Is this something that is going to affect whatever I decide to do in the future?
Whatever it is, I continue to think about this often. At least it keeps my mind working.

jueves, 10 de abril de 2008


Whenever I can, I take a few minutes to talk to the kids. I thought it was because of that innocence that we like to think we can relate to that I loved to talk to them. But they defenitly aren't innocent, in many senses of the word, anyway... just frank.

I sat down with a group of kids all in third and fourth grade. Daniela was anxious to tell me what happened in front of her residence. Some mess about her cousins friend getting killed because a relative had been kidnapped and they hadn't paid the ransom. She knew how many guns they had, how many days went by, with a face so serious it scared all the kids sitting around her. Now, this wasn't the older sister trying to scare her younger siblings, it was a 3rd-grade peer telling me something that was so real to her, and no doubt to many others who were listening.

Then Alberto started about how he owned a gun, telling story upon story about how many people he had shot, then later assuring us they were only dolls. He talked about how he was a warrior in real kife, proved by his camoflauge pants and jacket, but that he couldn't bring his gun to school becuase his parents wouldnt let him. Now I keep telling myself "Sasha, your the teacher, the role model, do something, say something to make him be less prideful of his violent thoughts"... I stuck a few workds in here and there, talking about how violence is used only as a last resort for those who feel there is no other way, people who are angry, frustrated. I tried to tell him that violence begets violence, like a teacher should...

The internal conversation continued though, and I laughed at myself... who am I to tell them the right thing to do, what they should feel, how they should react to headline-quality stories right in front of their eyes when I have been fortunate enough to never to have to experience what they experience daily.

Who am I to tell them to smile, or to play or to laugh, when I am completely unaware of the type of situation they have temporarily escaped from.

I sat down on the floor with the children while watching a performance by the little kids for some visitors. Jesica, despite her regular shyness, confidently plops down on my lap. She remained quiet during the performance except for the muffled giggles as she peeked at the digital screen to see the pictures I took. But when it was time for everyone to go into their classrooms, she stayed behind, and I did too feeling she wanted to tell me something.

"My Dad doesn't have any pictures of my Mom."


"Only of his woman."


My internal conversation told me I should say something. "Does he live with you?"

"Yes." Then off to her classroom.

I felt like our conversation abruplty stopped, and that I should have said something to make her feel better. Than again, at 7 years old, you don't really have a concept of apruptness, or proper conversation closures. Too many movies and past experience told me I should have said "Don't worry, it's all going to be ok." But she even knows it probobly not. Just as her mother had come to accept it, Jesica had learned to as well.

These conversations, clips of their life, what they have to go through, what they learn from their environment, teaches me more than anything about how life works. Sometimes, in real-life conversations, you can't say the "right thing", because all they want to do is talk. That's what helps, knowing that in spite of it all of these negative, they have confided in me, an older person to tell their reality to. They know I won't judge them, and that I won't lie to them. That I can make them feel comfortable, let them feel sad when they need to feel it, but most importantly, give them the opportunity to be happy, allow them to see that there are options, that they can smile, laugh, play when they feel like it (even if it is only for a few hours a day at the project). The best I can do for me and for them, is to be open to conversation.

domingo, 18 de noviembre de 2007

cardboard visits

So much of what we say we know of the world we are told by our friends and family, or we read in newspapers. We seem to draw the line between ignorance and awareness when we open our mind to the reality of the world, no matter how hard it is to hear about it. We turn the page in our newspapers as we read, again, that ten families were killed in a landslide where their house made out of scratch came tumbling down fromt he side of a mountain even though they were warned many times it was going to happen sooner or later. We turn the page and turn our heads from the harsh truth, though very few of us actually know of it.

Juan Carlos often does house visits to families whose children stopped going to the program due to... personal reasons. We stood at a space between brush a trees that hid the shabby house that stood behind. A woman came out, whose past has dragged the weight of 20 years she hasn't yet experienced, and is visible in her features. The woman saw Juan Carlos and knew that he came to inquire about their lack of attendance to the program, but mostly to make sure they were all ok. Three familiar faces peek out from behind shabby wooden house, soggy from the incessant rains, and their smile warms me despite their mothers choked tears as she tells her story. Her husband is abusive when he drinks, which seems to be more often then not. Her eldest child, Alex, has a learning disability, probobly ADHD and slight dyslexia, which the teachers do not want to deal with. Alex feels like he has to be a father to his younger siblings; Esteban, who was previously thought to be mute, didn't say a work until he started coming to Los Patojos, and now we know its because he slurs his words and is probobly almost deaf. Mostly, we think he will not speak due to his unspeakable past. He is six years old. Kiki, as she calls herself, is five and has the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. I told her that, and told her no matter what, that sparkle was something no one could take away from her. Alejandro is the man of the family, and he is ten years old.

Kiki clings tight to my neck when I carry her. I watch out of the corner of my eye when Alex looks at me nervously making sure I wont drop her. Esteban has the most hearty laugh I have ever heard, and loves to watch me laugh when he tickles me. I jump everytime when the two of them sneak up on me to get me in my side where it tickles most. Esteban can't control how loud he laughs, so I smile and put my finger over my mouth so he does the same over his white teeth between gaps of the ones missing. Soon I have Kiki hanging from my neck and Esteban climbing on my back and they laguh in harmony into my ear.

How is it that despite everything, they still laugh, they still are able to transmit a love and innocence to those around them after unspeakable happenings at home? No matter what, children carry a peace within them that we can all learn from. That is somthing that I will never turn my hear from, no matter what the risk of what I'll see.

sábado, 17 de noviembre de 2007

A Friday...

I wake up to the sound of my alarm, and am tempted to go back to sleep as my head sinks back into my one-too-many pillows. But then I picture Maria del Carmen and Blanca's face and remember what the alarm was reminging me of. My eyes widen and I suddenly play close attention to what they allow me to see. I get ready and get into the car to get where I need to go. Sure enough, as I walk into the small school the door knocks behind me. I open the door and am greeted by three sisters, two as white as snow and eyes that are closed and the waking sun, and one who's undiagnosed neurological disorder makes her struggle to give me the customary "Los Patojos" club handshake. They are all related, despite obvious differences, but it all becomes a little clearer when the young girls 84-year-old father walks in the door after them. Then I realize how much they look alike. The two albino girls and their physically challenged younger sister are the result of a lasting relationship between an uncle and his neice. I volunteered to take them to a hospital in the city that specializes in vision impairment because they were not able to pay the bus trip to the Guatemala city from Antigua.

Over the next few days, I got to know them well, and was inevitably emotionally connected. The girls completely aware and secretly ashamed of what everyone knew they were a result of, wanted nothing more but to blend in, somthing they knew was not an option for them. I found out they had won various running competitions for young people with vision impairments on the Central American level, yet do not own a pair of tennis shoes. I learned of the deep root of love in the world, beyond polital or social correctness, illustrated by this old man's ability to remember what kind of candy his wife loved stopping on the street to use what little money he had on it, but who was inable to remember if he had been in the hospital before.

The girls see me almost everyday now and never forget to run up to me and give me a hug. They feel they have found a friend in me because I was able to see beyond their striking physical aspects and see them as good kids with great abilities. Through my eyes, they are simply kids, trying to remember to be kids.