When we arrived in the village the bus driver stopped and set a plastic bag containing flour outside one of the thatched roof homes. A young Mayan girl burst out her front door with excitement, face planted in the ground, cradled the bag in her arms and brought it inside. I was dropped off at the village coordinator Luis's house to get my family assignment. When I entered their home I was very surprised to find a young girl eating a tortilla and watching Land of the Lost on a small television in the corner. His wife escorted me down the rocky dirt road to a small hut toward the outskirts of the village. There I was introduced to the Ack family, the family who I would be staying with for the next five days.
Mariano (25) and Rutilia (22) have three children ages three, two, and six months: Oliver, Serena, and Melva. The family had no idea I was coming, but as members of the homestay program they were told to be ready for visitors at any time. Mariano and Rutilia's faces lit up when they saw me walking toward their hut with my backpack. They showed me around their home, which was one room with a dirt floor about 30 by 15 feet. They explained that the small area enclosed by slabs of scrap material that had a small bed and was for me. I noticed there were five of them, three hammocks, and no other beds. Confused, I asked, "wait...then where are you going to sleep?" Mariano laughed and replied, "well actually, we like the hammock." Oliver and Serena stood outside the opening of my new little room and stared at me while I set up my stuff. I talked with the parents for a bit, then decided to play with the kids so that they would warm up to me. They were both very shy at first and I quickly relized that none of the children spoke English. Rutilia explained that English isn't taught until the chilren are sent to primary school at age five. I brought the children outside and tried to use hand gestures to get them to play with me. I started throwing around a broken clothespin I found in the grass and soon enough Serena, Oliver and I were rolling in the grass laughing. I laid on my back and put Serena on my feet like she was flying through the air. She was repeatedly squealing something in her language that I couldn't understand, but I assumed it meant "again". She was laughing so hard she was nearly in tears. We played airplane and clothespin catch until they were exhausted.
I have a lot to share about my experience with the Ack family. First, I will start with what I learned about their family and the village. The villlage of Aguacate has about 45 families, one school, and five churches. They recently acquired electricity which means that all families have one or two light bulbs in their homes, some have a radio, a few have a television, and two have a stove. The creek is used to do laundry as well as bathe. All villagers are free to use the materials and land to build and grow whatever they want. For food each family has their own farm. They grow things like corn, mango, pineapple, oranges, bananas, beans, and other vegetables I've never heard of. For meat they raise chickens, fish in the creek, and hunt animals like iguanas, armadillos, and sometimes even monkeys in the bush. A medicine van comes to the village once every two weeks and delivers any kind of medicince to the villagers free of charge. As far as schooling, children are required to be in school from the age of 5 until 14. If the children choose to further their education, they take a bus an hour and a half each way every day into town to attend high school. Since most parents cannot afford to purchase the uniforms or the books for their children to attend high school, their opportunity to learn ends at 14. As anticipated, this is a huge problem. The only way for the villagers to make money to buy things like clothes, soap, and other necessities is to sell something that they've made or find a job for a short while in town. Right now there are no jobs in town for the villagers, and the jobs that are available require higher education which the villagers dont' have. Their lives depend on their crops, and they wait to purchase needed items until they can sell something they've grown or made. Soon after 14, it is common to move in with someone in the village and start having kids. Many of the families in the village are huge, consisting of 10+ children.
Mariano's grandfather lives on one side of him, and his parents are raising their other 12 children (all living in one room) on the other side of him. Rutilia's entire family lives about five houses away down the road.
to be continued....the internet cafe is closing :)