My Guatemalan friend who built my house is building the house of my friend Alex. Yesterday he asked me if I would go to Santa Elena with him to help him pick up some things for Alex’s house. He wanted to make sure that he was getting exactly what Alex had requested.
Our errands ended up taking more time than anticipated, and we stopped at my friend’s favorite restaurant for lunch.
As we waited for our food, we naturally started talking. He has four children and a deep desire that each of his children has a better life then he has. Every person around the world that I’ve spoken with shares this desire. I truly believe that this is one way that we are all connected and one way that we can work together to bring about positive, lasting change in this world.
Anyway, he shared with me how important it is that his children have a good education. He knows that a good education is critical to his vision of a better life for his children. He sits down with his kids every night to discuss and review their homework, and has been known to make up homework exercises for his kids so that they fully grasp the content they are learning.
He then told me that he didn’t have the opportunity to go to school like his children have. He was one of a dozen children, and times were tough. The family didn’t have much money for extras beyond food and clothing, and unfortunately paying for and going to school had to move to the “extras” category. (Public school is not free in Guatemala.) He considered himself fortunate because he was able to go to grammar school for six years before having to drop out to work to help his family.
Even when he was going to school, it wasn’t a picnic. They lived in a small house with a dirt floor. At the time, the village he lived in didn’t have running water. In fact, his village got running tap water just a few years ago.
Every morning at 5 his father, he, and a couple of the older siblings would each take a large, 5-gallon plastic bucket and walk the 3.5 miles to the lake in the town I live in. They would fill up the buckets and carry them the 3.5 miles back to his village, which required them to carry the full buckets up a steep and large hill. When he got home from school, he would make another walk to the lake to get more water for the family.
When he got married twenty-plus years ago, he and his wife (and children when they came along) continued doing this routine. They too lived in a small house with a dirt floor, but my friend vowed it would be different for his children. And it has been. My friend has come to the United States twice and worked long hours to save as much money as possible to provide for his family.
His family now lives in a nice house with a ceramic tile floor. He has made sure that his children will all have the opportunity to go to school: his oldest son has graduated the Guatemalan version of high school and will be starting night classes at the local university this year; his second son graduates high school in 2019 and is looking at going to university as well; his 10-year old daughter is number one in her class; and I have no doubt that his 2-year old son will go to school when he is old enough.
His life experience is rich and varied. In fact, I often go to him for advice. He uses that wisdom to raise his children, who are all a joy to be around. They are well-mannered and well-adjusted, and enjoy joking around with “Tia Jenny.” They are not afraid of hard work, and I know each one of them will go far in life.
With all of his personal hardships and the realities of his life, you would think that he might be discouraged, bitter, or even jealous of what he sees of my life. He is exactly the opposite. He is one of the happiest people I know and truly content with every blessing in his life. He doesn’t appear to have an envious bone in his body, and I trust him explicitly…to the point where he has a full set of keys to my house and truck here.
I’ve known him and his family now for about two years, and every day I learn something new from them. Today his life gift to me was a reminder to be grateful for the many blessings I have in my life and to remember that not everyone has had the opportunities that I have had. And yet, even with those differences, we can connect and be friends. Thank you, amigo.