Meeting the Cast - Chapter I
Gaspar Hernandez (Cash) and Bartolo Lopez (Bart) are perhaps the hardest working, most interesting and enthusiastic guys you and I have ever met. While I won’t bore you with a lengthy description of each right now, I think throughout these atypical adventures you will come to agree with me. They were born and bred in the Northwestern Cuchumatanes mountain region of Guatemala in a town called San Mateo Ixtatan. This town in the state of Huehuetenango is the capital of the Chuj Maya community. You arrive there after a completely treacherous, exhausting, breathtaking and wonderful 5 hour trip on an old-beat up school bus that is repaired three times during your ride around every one of the Cuchumatan mountains. The place is simply amazing and unique. For a great description published in the Penn Yan Chronicle Express please see my great friend Chat Hull’s blog entry which also describes in detail how we all came to be there.
I met Cash and Bart when I taught them Spanish, Literature and soccer at the Yinhatil Nab’en School in San Mateo. Yinhatil Nab’en means “Seed of Wisdom” in Ixtatan’s native Chuj language and it is exactly that idea of planting a seed that brought Beth-Neville Evans, a Charlottesville seamstress/philanthropist/educator/foundation director to found the Ixtatan Foundation and the school that educated Cash and Bart in the middle of the mountains. (www.ixtatan.org) My linkedin recommendation of Beth is
“I worked for Beth at her school in the mountains in 2007, and remain at work for her. I try to constantly link myself to her education development mission. She is brought to tears every time she has to leave the foundation at San Mateo Ixtatan for her home in Virginia where most of her work for the foundation is done. She's sad not because of the many things the foundation and she bring to the Maya town, but because she will miss the many more things the people of San Mateo have to offer her and us all. I am happy knowing she's at the front line of the complex process of development.”
I know, I know…a little dramatic and corny, but it was a recommendation don’t fault me (you know who you are…) Anyways, as foundation director Beth is a big part of these adventures.
During my year in San Mateo, and for the next few months afterwards, I took it upon myself - with some help from Beth - to find a school outside of Guatemala where Cash and Bart might get a scholarship and an opportunity to experience something completely different that they might take back to San Mateo. After many months of trying to catch a break and following up with dead-end contacts, I was finally offered help by a good family friend, my best friend Arturo’s dad – Jorge Brake. Jorge Brake is the President and CEO at Laureate, which operates amazing schools and campuses all throughout Mexico and Latin America that have a social as well as an educational mission. These universities, (UVM – Universidad del Valle de Mexico) in Mexico are crucial stepping-stones for students that may be working or may not have had the opportunity to attend similar universities in the past. They also serve as simply great universities to high-achieving students, competitive with Mexican national and international universities. A perfect fit for Cash and Bart! And guess what, they were offered a full ride - including housing, living expenses, tuition, and transportation. Thanks UVM! These adventures wouldn’t have been possible without Laureate, Mr. Brake, Chat coordinating from San Mateo while I was in the City, Beth, and many other people that work in San Mateo, at the Foundation and at Laureate.
So began the first chapter of these academically atypical adventures for the two young men. I accompanied them to Antigua and Guatemala City to help them process their Visas to study in Mexico and we explored Pacaya volcano, the old capital and even stayed at the house of a friend from SMI while in the capital. Although it was only their second time in beautiful Antigua they mostly wanted to stay in their hotel room and watch Chavo del Ocho while they ate their chocolate surprises. Different chocolate surprises than the ones you get in San Mateo mind you. They also did a way above average job meeting international travelers and getting many girls’ phone numbers and facebook info, which I was of course very proud of. Those two are always confirming all the faith I’ve put in them. Police aggressively interrogated us every 2-3 hours in Antigua. I attribute this to (a) them thinking that I was kidnapping the two kids, (b) them thinking that the two kids were kidnapping me, or (c) how awesome and edgy we looked in our matching hats.
Unfortunately only one of the matching hats is featured here, fortunately I’m wearing it… Those are some nice hats.
A couple of weeks later our two heroes had their passports and Visas in hand, dreams of their Mexican adventures in their hearts and had learned a little more about their strange old capital. I left Guatemala the very next day with my hats in tow, I had bought the three of them after all (ok Bartolo?) and a new chapter of their academic adventure would soon begin with me far away in New York City.