eb’ li ch’ina ixqa’al

The girls.

What does a volunteer in a village have in common with a student in middle school? Social acceptance is top priority. But instead of waiting around to deliver sarcastic one-liners, a volunteer has to invest time and energy into becoming a part of the community.
But communities are stratified, and you can’t get to know everyone with the same approach. Based on age and gender I’ve identified five interaction groups: Men, married women, unmarried women, boys, and girls.

Getting to know the men is simple and straightforward. We can go out in the morning, pick coffee or plant corn in the mountains all day and by dinner we know each other.

The boys are also easy. They want to play soccer, they want to learn English words, they want to know what I’m doing, they want to hang out.
I’m great at soccer, so we play soccer. I’m not great at basketball, but I’m Meadowlark Lemon next to these kids.
Or we play a game called Hit Me where they ask how to say ‘hit me’ in English and I say, “Hit me.”
And then they say, “Hit me.” And then I hit them.
We would play this game a lot less if they could just remember the words, but they honestly can’t remember them from day to day and the curiosity eats them up.

Married women don’t work in the fields and they don’t play sports. So I have to go to the kitchens and have them teach me how to do something. This is pretty funny to them because they never see men chopping chicken or keeping the fire.
The married women are still impressed with my progress in Q’eqchi’ which is lucky for me because I don’t have any other tricks.

Unmarried women are sort of similar to married women but they have a habit of totally losing their minds at the sight of me. If I turn a corner and see them on the road I can watch them trying to decide if they should keep going or turn around or disappear down a side path. If there’s a group of them they can at least turn to each other and whisper until I’m gone.
There are a few that will talk to me. Sometimes they make romantic jokes that I need a day or two to decipher. This is a tough group to reach.

But the girls are the best. They’re shy like the young women, but they’re enthusiastic and playful like the boys. So they’re always trying to balance how to act around me. If there are one or two, they might say hello and keep it together until I pass and then yell as much of the English alphabet as they can remember while they run away.
Individually, they hover and disappear like butterflies. But sometimes they travel in packs. When they do, they’re brave enough to ask for photographs. And suddenly they’re borrowing art supplies and singing songs and showing me the dances they know.

The men have jokes, the women have gossip, the boys play games, but only the girls give dance recitals and draw pictures and wear costumes. So when a pack of girls shows up, I drop what I’m doing and go see what they want to show me.

4 Responses to “eb’ li ch’ina ixqa’al”

  1. jackie small Says:

    i’m so glad this is back. i love angelica’s drawing, especially her depiction of you. spot on.

  2. oneAM Says:

    She was not the only one to include my clothesline and label it, “Pedro’s pants.”

  3. marie funk Says:

    You’re the smartest. Please keep posting this stuff!

  4. mw Says:

    Love this post. Fail to see how the reactions of girls and women are any different from your effect in this country, but excellent post