by Daniel Haywood
Saturday we woke up at the usual 7 a.m., had an excellent breakfast of steak and eggs fajita style, and then headed off to field day.
The plan was to play soccer and basketball, do arts and crafts, give hip hop dance lessons, play board games, and paint faces. I didn’t know what to really expect or how many kids there would be, but I was pretty excited about it. I was hoping I would be able to keep busy without showcasing my lack of sports ability.
It was a pretty decent walk to the school, which has sort of become the standard for going anywhere. We arrived safely at the site despite the numerous schemes involving intentional fictional personal injury to warrant hiring a toktok (local taxi-tricycle thing) for the trip there and back.
There was a big soccer field next to a basketball/soccer concrete court, and a big stadium with another soccer/basketball court. We went into the stadium and divided up into teams. Board games were an easy choice for me.
It was pretty funny when the kids first split off and chose what to go play, because they all chose crafts, face paint, and dancing, and left me and my board game comrades all alone.
We had checkers, chess, Chinese checkers, and connect four. Another easy choice, I set up the chess set and was eventually challenged by a young girl. I stomped her, which was nice for my ego, and moved on to the next.
Unfortunately, she didn’t know how to play and didn’t speak English. I tried to explain that it was a very complicated game and tried to get a translator. I quickly realized there is no way I would be able to teach the entire game through a translator and still have time to play.
A boy volunteered his competency and took her place, thankfully. After a couple games we attracted a small crowd of kids all giving their advice on how to beat the gringo, I assume. It was all said in Ixil so I couldn’t glean even the smallest tidbit of information other than when they pointed out potential moves (that kinda helped me more then it helped them I think).
In all I enjoyed 4 or 5 decisive victories and lost twice. I was surprised at how many of the kids really liked chess, knew all the rules and played intelligently. There were some very young, unassuming boys and girls that put up a pretty good fight. It was also really cool how not a word was spoken between my opponents and me but we never had a problem with the game. Pointing and saying “no” to enforce rules, and pointing at the king to declare check was very effective.
I really enjoyed playing chess with those kids. It was the first time I had really sat down and interacted with any of them since being here. They were all good sports and didn’t try to cheat or complain, which I thought was rather different than my experiences back in the States with little kids playing games.
After my second loss, I relinquished my place and went to investigate the other forms of frivolities taking place around me. I played soccer a bit and was pleased to just make contact with the ball once in a while.
I was blown away at how quick these kids are! One little guy was better than good players my age, and he ran circles around everyone.
Soon it was time to sing “Happy Birthday” to Poleth and go back to the LHI office for lunch. Elma cooked up some lo mien for us, and wow it was delicious! The meals at the office with her are always really good, but I think today was my favorite.
We then went back to home base, had a little class time, and then prepared for the home stays. I was the only guy in our group who wanted to participate, and only 2 other girls had not backed out after seeing what it would be like. Dr. Lockett was too sick to go, but thankfully our fearless leader Jake volunteered to go with me.
I was rather pleased with this arrangement because it meant that he could translate everything, and it wouldn’t be a night of charades and awkward silence. I took a little nap until it was time, and then we headed off.
I was rather nervous about my first Guatemalan sleep over and didn’t envision it being particularly comfortable or fun, but I wanted to experience it for the sake of culture and seeing how these people really lived. I always like the excitement of going into something unprepared and unaware of what to expect, because flying by the seat of my pants and making it up as I go is my preferred style.
That philosophy is not as much fun in school.
We arrived and were greeted by big smiles, handshakes and lots of little eyes watching us intently. I noticed one little guy in the corner quietly trying to do a trick with his hands that I later learned was taught to him last year by Jake. We had some good small talk about general stuff while dinner was cooking, and then the kids asked us to play with them.
Of course we obliged and followed them into their backyard. Now when I say backyard, I mean that we climbed up a little hill past the homemade latrines and simple wooden corn hutch until we arrived at a little bit of mostly flat ground that had the most incredible view of the village and the surrounding mountains. I
t was breathtaking, and I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the game. Naturally, the game was soccer. The little ones ran around somewhat aimlessly kicking the ball, and I clumsily tried to play along. They were smiling and giggling the entire time we were up there.
Our audience was a little piggy running around amidst us perusing the menu of grass and bugs and a big pig tied up on the hill. I think they were rooting for my team, but they were pretty hard to read.
I was overwhelmed by the gorgeous view of the town with all the huts sending up their individual hazes of cooking fires, the sun setting, the kids laughing, and the pigs running around the lush green landscape.
I can confidently say it was the best soccer game of my life even though I hardly scored a goal.
Eventually word came that it was time for dinner, and we returned to the house. We had tortillas with eggs and beans, and it was delicious. The kids all ate with us, and it was really nice.
After dinner, we took turns teaching each other games and songs with the kids. There was only one light in the house which was the only visible use of electricity in the whole place, so it got very dark very quickly. I hung my light from the ceiling, and we kept playing until it was time for bed.
We had a good conversation with the dad about America and how it was nigh impossible for him to visit America no matter how much he wanted to. He was very intelligent and curious and wanted to see pictures of America, so Jake pulled out a magazine and everyone huddled around and very intently looked at each page.
I think they noticed how sleepy Jake and I were and got some wooden planks and a blanket to get us off the dirt floor. Since everyone lived in one room it was definitely a group thing to declare it time to go to bed, but it went pretty smoothly, and the kids quieted down quickly.
I finally got to try out my new sleeping bag, and it worked wonderfully. I fell asleep quickly and slept through the night, to awake to roosters crowing and the muted sounds of the village coming to life at about 5:30 or 6.
We were given a cup of coffee and a sweet roll and headed back home. It was an incredible experience, and I hope I never forget it.
I was surprised by how enjoyable it all was and how easily life seemed to flow despite the lack of all of the necessities and technology that I am accustomed to.
I walked home thinking I would enjoy doing it again the next night. I wish everyone could have an experience like this.