Sixth grade was such an interesting year for me: super small class (only 5 girls + the boys), incredible teachers, baby brother, and finally an entry in the science fair. Sixth grade for Juana, Maria, Victoria, and the other students I met at St. Francis Coll is a very different experience than mine was; at the core, however, the similarities outweigh the differences.
The day I worked with machetes began with an opportunity to sit in with classes at St. Francis Coll for half of us (the other half went to the nursery); I went to the school, as my Spanish was a bit better than Jen’s, and she accompanied the other group to the nursery. We dispersed the teenagers and the other adult into classrooms with children in them, and I waited in the library for about 15 minutes until the 6th graders returned from their physical education class (really, just playing soccer).
I heard them shuffle into their classroom–loud balls of energy–and so I went next door, to their classroom. In my broken Spanish I told the teacher (who was probably in her late 20s) “Me llamo Monica;” she had expected me and had me sit in a pod of four with three other students. As soon as I sat down, the bell rang, the children hopped up, and everyone poured out of the classroom. One of the girls linked her arm with mine and told me to come with her. It was recess time and snack time.
The familiar alleys were no longer familiar! Women selling snacks had lined the streets outside the school: everything was colorful and unidentifiable! There were frozen drinks, cooked foods, things balled up into greasy napkins, and little children milling about, going to the vendors and buying little snacks. I didn’t try anything, although Maria offered to share her snack with me. I wasn’t quite that brave; we had been told that even the Guatemalans who worked at the school but lived elsewhere didn’t eat the food or drink the water. Andres had warned that the children in the garbage dump community had stomachs accustomed to the germs and microbes.
Maria and I walked around until we came to a group of girls gathered on the sidewalk. These were the 6th graders– the top of the school. While all the other ages ran around, the 6th graders chatted in clumps, and the boys and girls teased each other. Maria introduced me to the other girls and they circled around me, firing question after question at me. My Spanish sounded good, until they realized that I really didn’t speak it very well and then the questions slowed down. They wanted to know how old I was, did I have any children, did my sisters or brothers have any children, how many brothers did I have. The oldest, Juana, was taller than the other girls– she was 15 (and in 6th grade). She introduced me to her younger sister who was also in 6th grade. Juana’s eyes were dark and moody; she pulled me away from Maria and sent Maria off… She almost got in a fight with a girl, Letty, who seemed a bit slower and had been hulking around right near our cluster.
The bell rang, and Juana grabbed my arm, claiming me as hers, as we all walked back into St. Francis Coll.
What do you think happened when we got back into the classroom?