This week, I had an amazing opportunity. I got to accompany our school pastor on a house visit, and I doubled the number of my online students that I’ve now met!
You’ll remember that the vast majority of our students are not allowed to come to school and only receive lessons by video through Facebook (elementary students – high school students are fortunate enough to have Zoom classes). So besides the three in-person students that I teach (children of my colleagues who are allowed to come to school), prior to this week, I had met a grand total of two students.
My boss Beth texted me on Monday and said, “Hey! I have a great opportunity for you! What about going on a home visit?!” Pastor Jervin was heading to a family with students in segundo básico (grade 8) on Tuesday, and I was invited. Lexi would come with as my official translator.
We left the school pretty early on Tuesday morning because there have been some protests and lots of traffic lately. We made it to the other side of Antigua without too much traffic, and found our way to a quiet village beside the highway connecting Antigua to Guatemala City.
As soon as we entered the house, I was introduced to Mom, Dad, and Little Brother. Boy Twin and Girl Twin soon joined us.
[Side note but very important: families agree that photos and stories of their children can be used online and in other media the share the story of Global Shore. I am allowed to share this story – and I’m allowed to use student names and pictures. I’ve thought a lot about this, and I’ve decided not to use names. I have thought a lot about being a teenager and having my teacher write about me online. So I’ve decided to share the story and not any details that feel too personal.]
I actually didn’t know about Little Brother – because I teach students by recording videos and then receiving homework papers at the end of the week. There is only so much sharing about personal life one can do that way. But as soon as I entered the dining room where we sat, Dad announced me to the rest of the family as “The famosa Miss Pasma!” Why am I famosa? Because even Little Brother watches the English videos with his big brother and sister, practicing his English with them!
Little Brother is quite the student in other ways, too. He is four years old, not attending school yet, but he sat quietly at the table, and in between smiling shyly at us visitors, he was practicing his writing in a lined paper notebook. He has already mastered manuscript (printing), so now he’s developing his cursive skills. At four years old.
He’s not the only very capable student in the family. Both the twins are excellent English speakers, so we got to know each other using a lot of English and the occasional translation from Lexi. Girl Twin told about starting ballet lessons from the age of four, and I got to watch some videos of dance recitals at various ages. Boy Twin told us about learning the marimba (Guatemala’s national instrument) from about the same age. I was shocked, and joked about him not being tall enough to play but having to reach above his head in order to play. Dad said that was why they had turned him away the first year he’d tried to take lessons, so the next year, when he’d grown one more centimetre, they brought him back – along with a stool for him to stand on. Sure enough, in watching the videos of him playing in marimba groups, in the earliest years, he’s standing on the stool in order to reach the marimba.
As we sat and talked, looking at photos and watching videos, Mom made some horchata for us to enjoy. Everyone’s horchata recipe is a little different, and Mom made hers with sesame in addition to the traditional rice and nuts. Yum!
Lexi eventually asked the twins to head outside with her in order to film short videos to send to their sponsors. (Each student at the school can be sponsored – this helps to defray the cost of their education. Some of my students still need sponsors! If you’d like to sponsor one of them, head to the Global Shore website and look for students in Grade 8 or Grade 9! There are two Grade 8 girls available as I’m writing this!) While Lexi had the twins outside, I moved around the table to sit right next to Little Brother. I asked him if he could read, too, or just write. He happily flipped to earlier pages in his notebook and read to me the sentences that he had written in previous weeks. That is a kid who is very ready for kindergarten!
Eventually it was time for us to say goodbye. Pastor Jervin asked me if I would pray for the students and family. My Spanish teacher here at the school has been telling me that this time would come – that when we have students in person again eventually, I’ll pray for students regularly, and sure, I can do it in English, but how meaningful is it if I can do it in Spanish and the student can understand me too? So she has been assigning me homework like writing out a prayer in Spanish – one to do in prayer meetings with the staff, one to pray over students. She’s been challenging me to pray in Spanish in my own prayer time. I agreed to pray… but chickened out on the Spanish front and asked Lexi if she would translate from my English. I’ll get there eventually, Marielos!
Before leaving, I asked if we could take some pictures first – with the whole family and then with the twins and me. Little Brother was sad about us leaving, so he got his own picture with me. [As I said above, I have decided not to post these photos here, but since my social media settings are private and not public, if you’re friends with me, you can see photos there!]
Thus ends the story of the house visit – but our day was not quite over.
Since we were on the other side of Antigua, Lexi and I headed out for an errand a little ways down the highway. Contrary to what we had expected – given the protests, we had no issues with traffic. We returned through Antigua and came back towards the school and home. As we approached our village along the highway, we suddenly ran into completely stopped traffic. The intersection where two highways sort of… cross each other? (it’s complicated) was at a standstill. Apparently the roads to Chimaltenango are where protests were happening, and the road on either sides of a Y, both of which head north-northwest to Chimaltenango, were totally stopped. We waited for a bit, with traffic edging forward ever so slightly. Eventually one of the guys who stands in the door of a bus and yells at people got out and directed traffic, and that moved things enough that we could slip by on the shoulder of the road. We wouldn’t take the route through the village of Tizate anyway, always choosing to loop around the back way for a much less insane ascent, but the bridge at the bottom of the village has been closed for the last two weeks anyway, so you can’t take that route. As we started climbing up the back way, we came upon a chicken bus backing its way down the hill. This road is not really designed for two-way traffic at the best of times, and it’s certainly not designed for chicken buses or trucks – but that hasn’t stopped them. So when a truck coming down met a bus going up, one of them had to back up out of the way. We backed all the way down to the highway and waited, eventually heading up behind another truck. About halfway up, our line of vehicles was stopped when we ran into another truck trying to come down. We put the car in park and waited, not really able to see what was happening around the curve of the road, but trusting that we would eventually see traffic heading one way or the other. And sure enough, eventually, traffic started creeping forward again. The truck had been moved off the road onto a driveway, but behind it was a pickup that had basically driven halfway up onto the shoulder at a pretty steep angle. Since the truck in front of us could squeak past it, we knew we could, too. And we did. As we finally made it up to the top, back to school and home, Lexi looked at her phone and told me she had texted someone as we first stopped in traffic at the bottom of the hill… 25 minutes earlier. I could have walked home up the hill twice in the amount of time it took us to drive up. Fun times.
Throughout the rest of Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday, each time I looked out from our porch, I could see a line of traffic snaking down the highway from Parramos to Pastores, that Chimaltenango route still apparently slowed down by protests. However, there were also police stationed at the bottom of the hill (and apparently at the other end of the road), preventing people from taking our teeny little road as a “shortcut”.