I would now like to take this opportunity to answer the most pressing question on my Mama’s mind other than safety: Are you making any friends? (*For the record, my Mama would like to state that she thinks I’m cool and no, she does not actually worry about this for me—BUT IT MAKES A GREAT SEGWAY!) I will answer this made-up question in three parts.
Part One: Friends from Gringolandia (Forty points if you knew there was such a phrase as Gringolandia.)
I’ve made some great friends from my program. I’m attending the University of Arizona’s first ever IDEAS-AVANSCO program in Antigua where we study a variety of different topics depending on our interests, all with a social and political focus. These lovely ladies and gentleman have been such a reassuring rock. We struggle together with plenty of things, whether it’s trying to speak in grammatically correct Spanish sentences, finding our way to new cafés, understanding the social and political climate of Guatemala while living in effectively a tourist town (a wonderful one though), or trying to get all of our work done on time. In a phrase, we’re all figuring out how to walk and talk like real adults. And like any true strangers-turned-friends, it’s amazing how much we’ve come to trust one another with the stories of our lives.
Part Two: Friends from Antigua
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about four special people from Guatemala who have been my friends when they really didn’t have to be. Ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you the first friend: Claudia Alonzo!!
Claudia is our supervisor, La Jefa, and the General Manager of this non-baseball team we like to call AVANSCO. She arranges everything for us even when she doesn’t have to, politely corrects our mangled Spanish, and floods us with kindness. Last weekend at Semuc Champey would not have been possible if Claudia hadn’t arranged it for us, despite the fact that it was our independent trip and she had no obligation to us. From that same strain of kindness comes Stephany Montenegro!!
Stephany is right alongside Claudia, working at our school trying to make sure we get the best experience. She has maturity and grace that well surpasses her age, which is the same as mine—meaning she is oodles cooler than me. What struck me the most about Stephany, besides her general friendliness, was how genuine her kindness and concern for our well-being is. She must have called or texted me more than a pollster during election season to make sure that I was feeling better after my first-week-sickness. And I hope that metaphor doesn’t make it seem like she bothered me; to the contrary, she warmed my heart, extending me the same amount of care I’d expect from an old friend. The final double duo of friendship comes in the form of my host parents, Lucky and José Morales!!
The second they opened their door to me nearly two weeks ago, they greeted me with shouts of joy and hugs like they were another long-lost set of cool aunt and uncle (to clarify uncles and aunts in my readership, I said another—you’re cool too). They hug me, pack me food, tease me, and remain patient with me when I stumble with my words. That last part, their willingness to talk to me, is something I treasure to an incalculable extent. We don’t think about it, but with our families we have the ease and comfort of knowing that we can relax and talk as much as we want. We know for certain that they care about us. We also know that fear with people outside of our comfort zone that we’re talking too much, that we could be disappointing or boring them. Every time I’ve had that fear, Lucky and José have dashed it. Their boundless care for others exhibited in even the smallest gesture like motioning for me to sit down and tell them about my day makes, as my friend Alessondra says, my heart full. For all of these wonderful friends who make my heart full, know that it’s my goal to return the favor.
Part Three: The Friend I Want To Have
This week I met the coolest person that I’ve ever met. His name is Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes. Juan Pablo is from Jocotengango (just outside of Antigua) and runs a school called Los Patojos, which means The Little Ones, that he started out of his house for kids in a community rampant with indescribable and inequitable tragedies. His school has had thousands of students, and now stands in a new facility that looks like it came straight out of a children’s book or a dream. I get the privilege to intern there, and I had to stop myself from physically bouncing in excitement during the car ride over. On my first day at Los Patojos on Wednesday, the depth of care and intelligence with which Los Patojos approaches education floored me. They take care of nutritional, health, clothing, and emotional problems that face these kids so that it’s possible to clear those hurdles and actually learn. In addition to regular school subjects, Los Patojos kids can learn dancing, sports, music, art, cooking, and whatever else they can dream of learning. To learn more about the school and Juan Pablo, watch this video. In person, Juan Pablo is even more hilarious and insightful than he seems in the video. His hospitality and openness to me and my fellow gringo interns made me feel like I belonged, which is an incredibly generous gesture to extend to a foreigner to the program, not to mention to the country. But that’s who Juan Pablo is. I hope that I get to call him my friend in the same way my sister hopes to someday call Taylor Swift her friend. It would be an honor.
Maybe you noticed a trend of effusive kindness and willingness to welcome amongst all my friends. (Twenty points if you did—I know it’s generous, but so are they. Much like my imaginary point system, their kindness is free and limitless, so their mindset is ‘why not give a lot?’) In the spirit of friendship, I am trying hard every day to treat everyone I meet with the same level of respect and humanity I’ve received. Let’s be honest: it’s easy to ignore every street vendor with indifference, to suspect and fear the guys standing on the corner, or talk without thoughtfulness to the people in restaurants or museums. But we have to remember that each person we meet is actually a person—a person with family, friends, inside jokes, a first grade teacher, and passions. Empathy is to indifference as smiling is to frowning: easier (here’s looking at you, SATs). It may take some effort, but it takes more effort to stifle humanity than it does to let it flourish.
Thanks for listening, friends. Hug someone you love today.