“You will have more happiness growing down than up” – Anon. Amen to that!
I don’t even feel like I have the words to completely sum up my time at Casa Guatemala and I’ll be honest I have been putting off writing this one because leaving it all behind is still very raw. It was a bittersweet farewell for me because technically I didn’t feel completely ready to leave but I am en route to meet my family whom I haven’t seen in a year and a half. We will be partying it up Mexico for a wedding which is extremely exciting but it certainly didn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to all of those beautiful little faces at Casa! Of course they are very much used to the goodbyes and I am sure I will feel the absence of them in my life a lot more than they will. After just a few days of being away I already do; I am like a little lost lamb without a purpose!
I came to Casa to volunteer and care for the children, I thought I would be able to help and make a difference, but honestly I never expected the reality of it. The kids here have taught me more than I could ever teach them, they brought out the best in me and put a huge smile on my face every single day. The pure joy and innocence they have has reminded me to enjoy the simple things in life, to be carefree and cherish every moment! They really are the happiest children I have ever seen.
One thing I will miss for sure is the “Neverland effect” Casa has where in some moments I was able to revert back to just being a kid again without a care in the world! I had a genuine amount of competitiveness when playing hide and seek around the park area with the little boys and on another occasion a giant game with all of the kids in the dark using flashlights! Another activity both I and the little ones consistently looked forward to was swimming! I would jump in the water with them, throw them around as repeatedly requested and also have the pleasure of teaching some of them to swim! Although this was especially incredible when all of the groups and volunteers made the trip to Rio Frio! I was lucky enough to go four times all together: two of those times with all of the kids! Some of the simplest times however will also be ones that I’ll remember forever; playing card games with the boys, drawing with them and chatting with them in the evenings was the perfect wind down to the days.
It’s important to note that the children’s first language is not actually Spanish, it’s the Mayan language Q’eqchi. As a result when some of the children arrive from their poor villages they can’t speak any Spanish. I had one little boy, Vinicio, who arrived just before I got to Casa and he wasn’t able to speak it. As a result he was very shy and it took an awful lot of coaxing to get him to come around from both myself, the other volunteers and the teachers. Sitting with him reading a baby book of first Spanish words and the moment he began to actually repeat and use those words was delightful!
The children definitely bring out my maternal instinct in full force as well; I have had to help them through illnesses, applying too many “cold-compresses” to count and holding their hands while they had teeth pulled out, for which I will note they are so unbelievably brave! They’ve tested me (and my stomach) to the limits when I’ve had to clean up their vomit and help them change wet sheets when they have had an accident during the night! I’ve had some kids crying so inconsolably that I had to sit with them for half an hour calming them down, which is actually extremely humbling and satisfying when you are able to help a situation. There are difficult times when the kids are being a bit bratty or disobedient of course, but they are definitely outweighed by the good times we have with them!
My absolute favourite part of the day was putting them to bed, not because I wanted to be away from them but because I would get to go round and give them a kiss and cuddle before wishing them sweet peaceful dreams. It’s the only part of the day where I could go around each one individually and show them how much I appreciate every single one of them as their own selves! I also preferred going to sleep in the boy’s house as they are generally great at sleeping throughout the whole night. There was often the occasional moments in the night where the kids would sleep talk, in Q’eqchi of course which strangely was both spooky and funny! There was one instance when the boys had just been put to bed when the newest little boy, Alex who has been having quite a few issues, began shouting for his mum but also for me! It was really quite humbling and of course I was there within a heartbeat to calm him down and to stroke his head until he eventually fell asleep.
Of course a lot of my memories have been primarily with the little boys, however that being said some of my biggest breakthroughs have been with the older kids at Casa. When I arrived of course I could speak little to none Spanish so I had to pick it up very quickly indeed! As a result though this meant I had difficulty in the beginning conversing with the older children! This is especially true with the older teenage girls who are still just like all other teenage girls going through all the usual emotions! Gradually throughout my time it got easier and easier both with the language and even just by being involved in activities with the older kids at the weekends. On one of my last weekends at Casa, when we were short on volunteers as a chunk had just left, I had to sleep for the first time in the big girl’s house. A large amount of the kids had also left for this particular weekend so everything felt a little more close-knit, but it was particularly nice to have some quality time hanging out with the big girls. I definitely have a huge soft spot for the big girls as they really are breaking the norm of what would have been their life and they have such determination to be successful it’s very inspiring!
While on the Rio Dulce I was lucky enough to see the incredible phenomenon of luminescent water, the fish flitting beneath the surface or anything such as a rock disturbing the water would cause the water to illuminate and glow; it was absolutely magical and only happened over a few days while I was there. However this is where began one of my favourite moments with the big boys and possibly in my life. Me and Kelli were hanging out with the big boys as their volunteers Paco & Guilio were due to leave the next day; so of course Paco decided to launch himself into the river causing an eruption of glowing water! This sparked mass bombing into the river with all of the big boys and I sat and watched as splash after splash lit up the water like fireworks. That wasn’t even the end of it as me and Kelli were peer pressured and thrown into the water ourselves! I was launched in twice more by the big boy’s every time I tried to get out, however I won’t complain because actually swimming in the water was a completely different perspective! With every stroke and movement I made the water around me illuminated and when it was dripping from my hands it literally looked like fairy-dust. It was quite possibly the most magical thing I have seen!
Although the kids do kind of become the centre of our personal universes there is also the social side of Casa which seems to attract some of the best sorts of people around! I have certainly met some wonderful personalities, people who I will always remember and some genuine friends for life!
During our free-time if we didn’t have anything specifically to organise we could generally be found whiling the hours away in the boy’s house; it was used as a gym for many of the crazy workout routines we would try or just to relax in the hammock enjoying the breeze and the wonderful view out onto the river. If the fancy took us we would also saunter up to the local village Brisa’s for a topos (frozen juice) or soda! It was a simple life but I’ll miss those moments more than I can say; laughing and joking every step of the way with some of my favourite people!
Wednesday nights were also very important for the social aspect of Casa as we could go to the local town for one night a week and let our hair down! We did a variety of things, sometimes just going and getting something different to eat than rice and beans and grabbing a beer. However by far the best nights I had in Fronteras were the desperdidas when volunteers were leaving, which is actually pretty ironic! We had some fantastic nights dancing away in Hotel Backpackers and an epic night when a local fair came to town! To be honest all of the nights out could have potentially been pretty lame because Fronteras is in the back of beyond but I’ll definitely say that my friends were what made it awesome; you know who you are, so thank you for the many many belly-achingly funny times we had together!
I also want to add that all of the teachers at Casa are so amazing! The volunteers of course come and go more frequently but Seño Lilley and all of the teachers are the glue that holds everything together. At first I found it most difficult to converse with them due to my terrible lack of Spanish but even I could see the deep respect and fondness that all of the children and volunteers had for them! Of course not forgetting Heather who if the teachers are the glue she is the bow that wraps it all up into a complete package! I am beyond grateful that the opportunity to come to Casa presented itself, I can’t even remember exactly how I found it or why I picked it but I truly believe everything happens for a reason. It drew me in and now has a hold on me that will last a lifetime.
It’s not a goodbye, it’s a see you later!
Gracias a todos, ya extraño mucho!