The Blind Feeding the Blind

I’ve been studying Spanish intensively for two weeks in Guatemala. I had 20 hours a week of one-on-one lessons with Ruben, a 27-year-old, football obsessed, father of 6-year-old twins. Once we’d established that I had 6-year-old nephews, it became difficult to fill the next 39 class hours with conversation. I mainly wanted to learn to speak Spanish, so we carried on anyway, talking in circles and comparing life in various countries. After two weeks I can stumble confidently through almost any conversation in Spanish, and have learned more about Guatemalan football than I ever wanted to know.

Ruben works at the Cooperativa Spanish School in San Pedro La Laguna. Since it’s a cooperative, teachers get paid more fairly than they would at other schools. Still, at $100 a week for 20 hours of private instruction, it couldn’t be cheaper. And life isn’t exactly expensive in San Pedro; it cost me $3 a night for a private hotel room (though shared with Liz, a pretty awesome roommate from NYC). The Cooperativa allocates 10% of what students pay in tuition to developmental projects. They pay the salaries of an art and a PE teacher in the local elementary school. They are also saving money to build a new home for a disadvantaged family.

I got to experience one of their developmental projects first hand last Friday. Every two weeks the school delivers bags of food (rice, pasta, oil, soap, eggs) to 26 poor families. Ruben and I were in charge of delivering two bags. The first went to a 76-year-old woman living alone. Her husband sold everything to pay for cancer treatment before ultimately dying, leaving her with nothing. She now relies entirely on the school for food. She thanked me and god profusely in Tzu’tjuhil, Ruben translating for her.

The next bag went to a larger family where the father had been blinded in an accident 12 years before, making it impossible for him to support his five young children. Feeling his way along stone paths, he makes his way to the same spot every day to beg for Quetzales. This second family didn’t speak Spanish either, leaving Ruben to translate everything. Again, they thanked me profusely. Choking on wood smoke in their two room hut, I’d never felt so embarrassingly, uncomfortably, rich. Extremely poor people are supposed to exist in World Vision infomercials, and my (semi)-rational fears of being mugged late at night. Standing in this family’s mud hut and clumsily taking their photo with my $600 camera was considerably more unsettling.


I left San Pedro yesterday. Tonight I head off into the jungle to visit caves and ruins, and maybe even impress some locals with my knowledge of last week’s soccer doping scandal.


2 Responses

  1. Is this the emily from Carleton U?

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