Remember a few weeks ago, when I talked about how I hired the 18-year old son of one of my friends to do some yard work for me? We’ll call him John. He was looking to earn some extra money for a class field trip. Well, last week on Tuesday John showed up to work, but he looked pretty sad. I asked him what was wrong, and he told me that the field trip was going to have to be canceled because they couldn’t find a female chaperone, which was necessary since nearly half of the students were young women.
Without thinking, I said, “I’ll do it,” and then immediately thought What the heck did I just say that for???
I don’t have kids. I don’t spend significant amounts of time with kids. I like kids, but I just don’t have much exposure to them in my day-to-day life. And as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized that if I were to chaperone, I would be responsible for a bunch of other peoples’ kids. I would have to be…the ADULT.
John perked right up and immediately texted his teacher to let him know that I was a possible chaperone candidate. The teacher called an emergency meeting with the parents on Wednesday, and apparently was able to convince everyone that a foreign woman who didn’t speak much Spanish and didn’t have children was a viable chaperone, because on Thursday I became “The Chaperone.”
We were going by bus to several different locations in Guatemala. John said that the bus would pick me up at midnight; they ran into some delays and John and another student showed up at my house to help me with my suitcase around 1:30 a.m. We walked down the hill to where the bus – which was more like an extended van – was waiting.
Inside were 26 kids…and none of them were sleeping. The teacher came over to me and told me that they had left the front passenger seat open for me, in case I wanted to sleep. There was no passenger door for the front seat so I had to climb over a set of seats, crawl under a flat-screen TV that had been jerry-rigged to the ceiling, and then curl up into a ball so I could roll into my seat. Once in my seat, I discovered that there wasn’t quite enough room for my legs, so I curled back up, put my heels on the edge of the seat and hugged my knees. With everyone back in the bus, we got started on our 7-hour drive to our first stop, Puerto Barrios.
The kids were in high spirits and very excited. They sang along with every song playing on the radio and joked, talked and laughed. They were all studying for careers in the tourism industry, which included being tour guides, working at travel agencies, restaurants and hotels.
I was a little bit nervous about being a chaperone, since I had never done it before and had heard horror stories from cousins who are teachers. However, I discovered that I didn’t need to worry. These kids were good kids. There were 10 girls and 16 boys. The boys were your typical teenage boys – boisterous, loud, playing jokes on each other (there was a never-ending game of “Who poked me?” that went on) – but also extremely courteous and polite. While John took it upon himself to make sure I knew where we were going, when, etc., every single one of them also looked out for me. If I so much as tried to lift the handle of my wheelie-board, one of them was right there taking it for me. They opened door, walked next to me at night, climbed a tree to get me a fresh coconut because it was hot out and they thought I was thirsty, and kept me in stitches with all of the harmless pranks they were doing.
They were also very responsible. One night, around midnight, the hotel manager came to my room and asked me to ask the kids to quiet down, since some families were trying to sleep. We had just gotten back, and a bunch of the boys had headed down to the beach for a late-night swim and some soccer. I wasn’t sure how open they would be to me asking them to quiet down – after all, I was a completely stranger, but I gave it a shot. I walked down to the beach and spoke with one of the boys. I told him they were fine staying on the beach, but to quiet down, since their noise had woken up some small children. He told me he understood and then started walking back to the hotel with me. I told him I was fine, but he said something that I didn’t understand. He walked back to the lobby, where the family was, and gave a heartfelt apology to the family. He assured them that they would be quieter and that he would make sure of it. And he kept his word. The kids quieted down immediately. I stayed up for another hour just to make sure, but other than the occasional laugh, you wouldn’t have even known that they were there.
The girls kept me busy with personal confidences, shopping and fashion…just like in the States. We laughed at the boys together, commiserated over monthly cramps, and discussed makeup tips. One girl in particular was going through a difficult time (divorced parents) and spent a lot of time talking with me. I did my best to give her my full attention and gave her the best advice I could.
My primary job as chaperone to the girls ended up being as the towel holder. Over the course of the trip we went to two fresh water pools with waterfalls, several beaches and one swimming pool. Most places did not have cabanas to change in, so I would hold up a large towel in front of each girl so that the boys couldn’t see her changing her clothes.
While I knew that I probably wasn’t like other chaperones they had had in the past (if for no other reason than I was from a different culture), I didn’t realize how much different I was until the first night. John told me that they were going to be going out to dinner and then to a party, and asked me if I wanted to come. Of course I wanted to come! John seemed surprised, so I told him that if he didn’t want me there, I wouldn’t go. My going wasn’t an issue – he was just surprised because apparently other female chaperones hadn’t gone.
The kids were thrilled that I was going and kept asking me if I was going to dance. And of course I was going to dance. We went out every night, and every night I was on the dance floor with the kids, dancing. Both the boys and the girls asked me to dance, and we had a great time. It really broke the ice and I think they started to think of me as a fun person to hang out with. I have to say, I was pretty proud of myself: not only did I keep up with them, but I out-danced them!
The five days went by fast. Our bus ride home was a bit quieter than when we headed out – most of the kids were exhausted. I was really impressed with them. While I wasn’t able to talk one-on-one with all of them, the ones that I talked with were intelligent, well-spoken and had energy, vitality and dreams. When we got to my bus stop, one of the boys volunteered to carry my suitcase (and his!) up the hill to my house. It turns out he lives just around the corner from me.
I thoroughly enjoyed adult-ing, and would chaperone again if asked.
The day after we got back home, I was down in the center of town, and a small collectivo (public transportation bus that runs between towns) went by me. A kid stuck his head out of the window, called my name, and waved frantically. It was one of the kids from the trip…a new friend :).