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Last updateWed, 15 Nov 2017 2pm

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Through the Eyes of a 7-Year-Old Guatemalan

manuelaIt was just like any other normal day, I guess. I woke up to the sound of my mother getting ready to take me to school. But this time, she was moving so fast, I was getting dizzy spinning around the room watching her.  She kept talking to herself about “special people” that were coming to visit the school. In the midst of the madness, I had noticed, whether it was last night or some time ago, she had lost the last tooth in her mouth.

My name is Manuela, and I am 7-years-old.  I live in a house made of cement bricks with my mother and brother, Chepe, down the road from Chichicastenango, a small town in the mountains of Guatemala where I walk every day to school with my mom. But it’s not too bad; I know of people who must walk hours for their water supply and live in houses made of mud and sticks. I hear people in town say we live only four hours from Guatemala City, but I have never been there. It’s like a mystical legend. I like to smile a lot.  I don’t like to talk much, I get very shy, and smiling is a way to make people happy without so many confusing words. I like making people happy.

We had gotten to school when a strange bus pulled up carrying a crowd of people in it. They were odd; stepping off the bus I was scared by their white skin, but almost thrilled to see them.  Some of them had shirts that said “MONMOUTH” on them, which I later was told is the school they went to, but was in the United States.  

My brother saw my fear and came over to calm me down. He told me that these were good people coming to fix the schoolhouse. They had sent a different group of people the year before to work and everybody in town was pleased with what they had done. All my friends seemed to be so happy to see them; I was too.

Then, she stepped off the bus.  She was tall and thin, with long blonde hair and bright blue eyes; like a princess.  Her name was Amy Maginnis; MAH-GIN-NUS.  Right when I saw her I knew I wanted to be just like that. My friends noticed her and ran to the bus, trying to sell her things and get some of the bracelets she had on her arms.  Those bracelets were so nice, but I was too shy to walk over, so I stood behind.  After all the other children dispersed, she came up to me and gave me one.  I still have it.

The other Americans were nice, too.  They were all really tall, at least, compared to me.  They walked around our city just looking at everything.  I heard they had to get shots before they came, to stay healthy, and drink water out of their own plastic jugs.  I couldn’t tell whether they thought it was great or horrible and I soon became embarrassed.

amyandgirl3The big group of them worked on our school for a long time, they were putting in a new floor and cementing the walls.  The group last year finished the roof that is there right now covering the new addition onto the classroom.  It protects us from the hot sun and the wet rain.  I like it.

The group would take breaks to eat lunch with us every day on top of the schoolhouse.  Mom says it’s not dangerous to be up there as long as you’re careful.  Amy and I would eat there, me sitting on her lap.  One day, while I ate my can of beans and an egg given to us every day, she ripped off a small part of her sandwich; and gave me the BIGGER half.  It tasted so sweet, and then she filled my cup up with the water the American group had, and it tasted pure.  Agua pura.  

After the long day the Americans would leave on their bus and go back to a hotel they stayed at a few minutes away.  I have seen it before, it is large and has big gates around it, maybe to keep out burglars or wild animals.  I would get sad when Amy left, but Mom told me she would be back the next day.  I liked that, too.

Being with Amy gave me hope; it made me feel like everything was eventually going to be okay for me and my town.  She was my “amiga,” my friend.  We used to stick our tongues out at each other while she was working on the school and laugh together.  And we would play this game where we ran towards one another from opposite directions and she would pick me up and spin me around.  This would make me dizzy too, but a different dizzy, a happy dizzy.  

The funny thing about my amiga and I is that we never got to talk much.  She spoke some bits of Spanish like the rest of the Americans, but that combined with my shyness stopped us from speaking as much as I would have liked.  However, even without words there was a connection; which was peculiar since we live two completely different lives.  I heard her say she loved me, it made my head and my skin warm, but not like the sun does.  It was tingly and felt like I had little pins in my hands and feet.  It was amazing.

All of my family and friends and strangers of the town were so happy with the help and care the Americans provided.  We don’t get many outside visitors, sometimes I feel like people forget about us, like we’re in a corner of the world all on our own.  But Amy and her people made us feel like the ones who were special, not them like Mom had said.

One day came when the Americans’ bus had driven to school to pick them up and everyone looked really sad.  They were all hugging and I even heard a few people say goodbye.  This is when I knew that bus would not come back the next day.

I was always following and looking around for Amy, so I found her right away even with all the people gathering around.  She smiled at me and we said goodbye.  After our embrace, I saw her turn and begin to cry.  I knew Amy didn’t want me to see, but I did.  Mom says it’s okay for big girls to cry, too.

As the bus pulled away I saw Amy through the windows with tears on her cheeks, looking out in my direction and waving.  I ran after the big machine, stopping at the schoolhouse and grabbing its side.  It was my true connection with Amy. It felt like I was holding onto her hand one last time when I touched the school.  I hope she comes back.

PHOTOS COURTESY of Amy Magginis

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Monmouth University
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