The Autumn of My Immersionship: Slowing Down

The unforgettable flags.

The unforgettable flags.

Life is slowing down as expected. It’s amazing to think how I’ve been here for about 2 months. I recognize all the people (and dogs) on the various routes to school. I can somehow make myself understood. It’s messy but authentic.

Students call Abraham professor while I’m simply Tom. I learned that everyone here loves to arm wrestle. So naturally I turn to my students and single-handedly whoop up on them. It feels great to squash these teenagers. I tell them to call me uncle Tom from now on. The guys who work at the warehouse, they are a different story. Every day they are lugging around bags of concrete and rebar. That’s all I see them doing and they have arms of steel; no way Jose I am getting in the ring with them.

Abraham tells about witches and how there used to be many in Momostenango ten years ago. However, do to the rise of religions, the witches are seen less and less. He mentions a man who gave up his radio as payment to a witch. His payment was for her help in acquiring a third wife. The payment also included the opportunity to see the witch change the color of a black pen to red. As I write this I’m pretty sure something got lost in translation. But you have to admit, it’s a pretty cool story nonetheless. Oh, and the story about the guy after three wives? It ended with Abraham telling me the man is now sleeping at the cemetery.

The churches also curbed the drinking problems in the area, at least according to Abraham. Don’t get me wrong, there are still drunks all over the place, passed out on the street covered in urine. However, due to the fear of hell and the influence the priests and pastors, the number of illegal distilleries and vendors have drastically decreased. It’s a supply chain issue.

Speaking of this, one heart wrenching story that comes to mind was when I saw a student on the street in town. As I walked over to greet him I was intercepted by a drunkard out of his mind. My student walked over and introduced him as his dad. Even his mother came over and patiently waved to me something like, “so sorry, he’s really drunk.” My student and his mother were quite casual about it and supposedly this is a normal occurrence. My students face some serious hurdles.

Abraham, one of our FTF Impresarios, is a real storyteller. When both of us hear the soothing sound of classical music nearby Abraham explains that the other day a young girl hung herself. The music is a part of our families mourning process. He says around 10% of young girls in their teens hang themselves. He mentioned that some of the kids at our school (his life’s work is the little Kawama’ik School where I teach) have confessed to having such desires. He doesn’t know why. Or at least he didn’t share on this day.  I want to learn more.

Another story Abraham tells me is how he took in three children after their mother handed him fifteen dollars and left town. They didn’t see her for 3 years and even now she lives in some other town. It’s a struggle for him to feed so many mouths. But that is what his school does. Our little, dusty, homegrown school is his donation to others. To kids. To his community.

That’s why, when just the other day we celebrated the end of the school year, I nearly wept. See, nine of our graduating students asked me to serve as their Godfather. That’s the term the students use to describe their educational pal, or elder, or dear helper person. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how the term works, but it doesn’t really matter. The honor was clear.

Of course, it is Guatemala, so learning I was a school Godfather graduation guy thingy happened at the last minute. So did the realization that I had to buy gifts for my Godchildren. What does an education Godfather buy for his pupil Godchildren you ask? Well, according to the market ladies, a coffee mug full of candy and paper all wrapped up in a transparent paper is quite fitting. The Godfather, that’s me, also had to start the graduation ceremony with a prayer, punctuating the prayer by randomly handing out diplomas. Then a speech. Then pictures. And some more pictures. There wasn’t much room for thinking about all of it either, I kept getting the microphone five seconds before getting an invitation to speak. How was I even doing this, my Spanish still feels clunky. The thought “I’m learning!” dawns on me. And then the flags came out. Two kids in white gloves brought them, the Guatemala flag and the United States flag. Abraham said the local city flag was too hard to get his hands on. High demand. Getting the American flag was easier it seems. The kids all liked that the flag was there and that I was there too. Their gringo Godfather. Weird. But somehow moving. And beautiful.

Weird and moving and beautiful. Gosh, that’s the perfect description of my FTF Immersionship. Of my life in Guatemala. Maybe of life in general, everywhere, always. Yes. Maybe of life everywhere!

Next time I’ll tell you about when the FIeld Grinch and Fr. Hans showed up from The States. It involves a yelling match, some thievery and a blessing or three.

Support our work monthly. Any and every amount is just perfect. We use your small recurring donations to eat local food and take local transport. When you put coins in our pockets we are free to give our lives to local impresarios. Help us help them build their dreams for a better life.

Tom Hornyak