So as the initial shock of meeting the countless giant stuffed animals was fading, and the constant of the Chavo del Ocho playing on TV was bringing me back to reality, a plan for the day began to form. We would walk downtown in the hope of meeting the members of a creative/artistic/social group with whom Beth wanted the foundation to partner. Before we left however, I was thrilled to see one of my precious San Mateo student’s sister who now lived with Ronnie and was preparing us a delicious lunch. She made us an amazing meal, it really is truly earth-shatteringly wonderful when young people that don’t have a whole lot give more than they actually should to make you feel welcome.
Cash, Bart, Ronnie, Ema (another Yinhatil Nab’en student), Beth and I went to the local offices of the aforementioned group “Caja Ludica” to find that they were preparing for an upcoming show in the Centro Cultural Miguel Angel Asturias. Caja Ludica is an amazing collective that works with former gang-members in Guatemala (they’re called mareros) and give them a space to be creative, to voice and express their cultural heritage and to be involved in a group in a far more positive way than their participation in maras. The Maya communities have so many valuable stories to tell, and the show they put on as the medium is absolutely wonderful too. We were able to get into the theater to see the rehearsal after I summoned my gaucho heritage - also immensely rich with treachery, subtlety and deception – to convince the guard we were somehow involved.
Cash and Bart loved it, the best part was that the energetically fierce Colombian lady running the show came over and talked to our kids, answering their questions, asking them what they thought – giving them a voice. They now work with Beth and the Ixtatan Foundation in San Mateo, and the kids are thrilled. One complaint that Cash did have though, as the kids performing bent their bodies in a million different ways was, “Profe, they couldn’t do that after carrying huge sacks of corn and cement on their backs for the last 15 years.” Scary or awesome side note is that Cash is just pushing 20.
We returned from Caja Ludica refreshed and ready to celebrate our last night in Guate - because frankly, there was so much to celebrate. With the scholarship coming down to the embassy the very next day for Bart and Cash, Emanuel going to Cuba for medicine in an arrangement with the embassy that really makes Cuba look pretty great, and Ronnie + Eleazar’s sister doing so well in Guate University, it was a total success for Beth’s Ixtatan Foundation and the five kids that were all writing their own Academically Atypical Adventures. Hours of partying, strong debate with friends, a rooftop view of Guate, and sure, some awful but appreciated wine, left us excited and exhausted and ready to go to bed.
My sleeping arrangement involved the living room, the four other guys (Ronnie, Cash, Bart, and Ema) side by side by side by side by side, sleeping on… You guessed it!? A foot-deep layer of giant stuffed animals that completely covered the floor. Please do not let your mind think that these stuffed animals are atypical in any way, that they are meant for sleeping would be absolutely false, you’d be deceiving yourself. These animals are large, but normal, their necks are very thin, they are full of some nondescript filler thing. The pink panther below me had a head that was not circular but exactly the head of the pink panther. Cash took Winnie the Pooh, which was the superior pillow, home-court advantage Ronnie quickly chose Spongebob Squarepants, Bart had stashed the Pokemon JigglyPuff hours before. My combination of Pink Panther and I think Oscar the Grouch (the one that lives in a trash can) for the body was horrendous. My pillow was the Jamaican lobster from Little Mermaid… A lobster pillow.
I had dreams of the giant bear Charles and how I had defeated him so often in my youth, our constant after school battles where I was always victorious and he so shamed would return inconsolable to my brother’s room. As I awoke at around 4 in the morning completely refreshed, I thought maybe going to Mexico to study at an incredibly challenging university that would be infinitely difficult on social, academic, economic and psychological levels was like their Charles. A giant bear of calculus, travel, home sick, culture shock, and near absolute poverty. But I thought, “No. They have me, I’ve defeated Charles before.”