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Guatemala, Day 4: Things start gelling - JonM

Dec. 3rd, 2008

10:12 pm - Guatemala, Day 4: Things start gelling

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At breakfast, we all learned the new plan for handling twice as many kids for twice the time. We'd split the whole group into two, with half going outside to work through the four station rotation, and the other half staying inside to play games and do more music. With half the kids outside, we'd have a much easier time managing them and getting them to pay attention, but it meant that there would have to be people inside the whole time working with a large group.

Jenn agreed to stay inside, since she is the most fluent with Spanish, with Matt and Sari to help her. The rest of us would work outside with the other half of the kids, except for Mark, who would document the goings on with photographs and video.

We headed off to the Democracia, with Lisa replaced by Brooks, a tall young man who also agreed to play "jailer" for the truly unruly individuals. We were wary from the events of yesterday, but optimistic that we could work with our new plan.

The morning group got off to a slow start; I was still finishing up the rigging as the kids arrived. We started with another demonstration, varying things and doing some tumbling, more acro, a hilarious paddle-ball performance by Dan, with Mark as a "volunteer" from the audience, and different aerial: me on the rope and Kerri and Noel doing doubles on a knot in the tissu. Due to some issue with the busses, only the younger group of kids showed up for the demonstration, which is unfortunate because we primarily wanted to do the demonstration for the older group that had missed out yesterday.

We moved inside for the music portion, which was only slightly interrupted when the group of other kids finally showed up. The little kids really enjoyed the music exercises, but it wasn't such a hit with the older ones, especially the boys, who were determined to maintain machismo.

After the music, we got up and formed the kids into a big circle. Jim led a large group warmup, with some fun exercises and body movements that the kids all enjoyed. To track the kids as they worked through the various activities, we assigned them all numbers and wrote them on their hands, and then split the groups up, with the older kids going outside as one group, and the younger kids divided into four groups.

We ran outside and started our stations. Jim and I had two stations for acro, which we ran separately for a short while until we realized that it worked better to combine our two groups and teach them together. With the two ages we had in the morning, 8-11 and 12-15, things went pretty well. The kids were willing to do things, and had the ability to focus on what we were telling them. The hour or so went by pretty quick and soon enough the kids filed out and we were left standing in the empty grass.

We circled up and, comparing notes, agreed that today was a vast improvement over yesterday. We kept the kids under control while maintaining our sanity, and they still had a good time.

We stowed the gear and headed off to lunch, again at the comidera next to the project. The food was tasty and cheap; I got chile rellenos with rice, salsa, guacamole, salad and a horchata for only 23 quetzales (~$3).

With food safely tucked away, we went into main Camino Seguro project building. We were there to meet with Ed, the volunteer director, but were a little early. While we waited, we watched some of the kids who were playing jump rope in the courtyard; we had these kids in the circus camp, so they already knew us and invited us to come play with them.

After some vigorous rounds of jump rope, we headed up to meet Ed. He talked about some of the early history of Camino Seguro, and how the building we were in got funded and built. He told us about the things Camino Seguro does to help the children and their families, and described the sort of ecosystem of aide organizations that work together in Guatemala.

We need a rest before the next group of kids showed up, so we headed back to the Democracia for an afternoon siesta. We weren't quite as beat as yesterday, so only a couple of us napped while the rest of us juggled or hacky-sacked.

Soon enough, the kids arrived, in a screaming running mass. With some effort, we got them settled and seated inside. Due to more bus issues, we'd only have 90 minutes with this group, and since all of them had already had a demonstration the day before, we decided to do just a short demonstration, with Dan and Mark reprising the paddle ball skit. From there it was straight into the music, and then circling up for a group warm up.

Jim was outside guarding the equipment, so Jenn ran through the warmup, with some help on ideas from the rest of us. At one point we ran out of ideas, so Jenn pointed at Dan and said "go get him!". Hilarity ensued and a screeching mass of little kids chased him all around the building. Eventually Dan jumped into a big red can that was lying around, and then proceeded to be piled on by child after child. Spontaneously, one of the children picked a new target, pointing at Jenn and shouting, with the other kids following her. This proceeded for a short while longer, until we quieted things down enough to split the kids up into groups.

Back outside, Jim and I manned the acro station. Again the older kids were engaged, did good work, and enjoyed themselves. For the younger kids, we decided that the best approach would be to turn it into structured play, so we did things like having the kids make tunnels with their bodies and crawl through them, spinning them around, and some basic tumbling. It definitely wasn't as bad as yesterday, but it was still quite a bit of work keeping them engaged.

We quickly broke camp and packed up into the van. On the way back, Brooks congratulated us on keeping our composure in the face of such adversity, saying that he'd seen other volunteer groups crumble under much less stress. We were feeling pretty good about the day, telling bad jokes and singing dirty songs on the way back to Antigua.

Back at the hotel, there was about an hour and a half until dinner, so I uploaded some pictures to Flickr over the hotel's slow connection, and then Dan and I headed out to do some shopping. Dan wanted a bag to carry the juggling balls in, and I wanted to get some postcards and scope out what would be good souvenirs.

We went over to the mercado, a sprawling complex of vendor stalls selling everything from shoes to tools to raw meat. Dan found a sack in short order, and I helped him talk the price down from 75 quetzales to 55 quetzales (about 8 dollars). However, I had no luck finding postcards. You'd think that in one of the most tourist oriented cities in Antigua, there'd be postcards everywhere, but no, not even in the proper stores and markets. When we got back to the hotel, Lara suggested that I try the other side of town, which is more touristy. Another day, perhaps.

Dinner tonight was at a nicer restaurant, with Lisa joining us, as well as Barbara, the director of Camino Seguro. When we arrived, Lisa had set the table with little pouches, which we discovered contained gold pendants in the shape of the Camino Seguro logo, which she had gotten for us all after seeing how well we handled things yesterday.

Today was Kerri's birthday, so we surprised her with a cake, although we had to stop her from going to the bathroom just before they walked it in. Trick candles in quantities of 5 or less are great, but 34 of them become quite a handful; after Kerri took several attempts at blowing them out, I started pulling them out, still burning, and piled them on a plate where they turned into quite the conflagration.

With a tasty meal, some drinks and a slice of cake in our bellies, we wandered back to the hotel. Dan had a bottle of wine, so we went up to the rooftop to help him take care of that problem. We sat and took in the cool night air of a city that gets quiet after dark. In amongst the talk of scatalogical pets and strange Internet animations, we all agreed that without Jenn and her fluent spanish abilities, our trip would have been a complete failure. I have to say that, even above her spanish, her bright cheery expressiveness helped out to no end; any other person speaking fluent spanish would not have met the same success without being able to establish that energetic connection with the kids.

Tomorrow's the last day of the camp and, if trends continue, should improve more on the success of today. Passing the half way point, it's awe inspiring to think about how far we've come and what we've done...