A little over a month ago, I sat in the most beautiful classroom I have ever encountered. Spanish School at Proyecto Lingüístico Francisco Marroquin was unlike any school I’ve attended. The lush gardens surrounded me, literally from earth to sky, with tropical flowers in bloom, the songs of native birds filling the air, as the sun shone down. I sat with a cup of strong Guatemalan coffee in my hand. My four little ones were nearby, enjoying their own outdoor classroom, transformed to accommodate them with fun Spanish games, art projects, and posters to build their language skills.
Coffee and landscape aside, the most beautiful part of our experience was, undoubtedly, my teacher, Oscar.
I hadn’t really known what to expect from the school experience when we had planned our trip to Guatemala. I knew I would have a private teacher, but expected to spend our week reviewing verb tenses, idiomatic phrases, and vocabulary, all things that needed fine-tuning for me. We started out the first day with a little intro conversation with Oscar, so he could determine my strengths and weaknesses in order to tailor the class for me.
However, instead of moving on to a review of “ser” and “estar,” our conversation just continued…for five days.
In those days, I not only bolstered my Spanish (because you’d better believe that Oscar corrected all of our grammatical errors, verb conjugation issues, and misuse of “por” and “para”), but learned an incredible amount of the history, culture, turmoil, and disaster that has plagued the little country of Guatemala for generations. I was blown away to hear the stories of earthquakes, civil war, floods, genocide, volcanic eruptions, poverty, and atrocities that bring tears to my eyes, even now just thinking of them.
We also discussed things like life in Minnesota (which seemed a little disastrous to Oscar, especially winter,) the rise and fall of breastfeeding across cultures and generations, my plans to have a farm someday, and our families’ medical situations. We laughed together (yeah for cross-cultural humor!) and we cried together, something that I wasn’t sure was part of the curriculum, but felt so incredible and impossible to hold back.
Through it all, the thing that left such a strong imprint on my soul, was the attitude of gratitude that I felt from Oscar. As he shared stories of loss, hardship, and struggle, he ended each one with the same sentiment: “Estas cosas no estaban malas, sólo difíciles”– These things weren’t bad, just difficult. He was so grateful for the things he had (which, by US standards was not much,) for the hard work he had done (most people here wouldn’t consider working 18 hours a day a good thing,) and the wonderful gifts he had received (we’re not talking gold bars or Black Friday deals on big screen TVs.) I was so incredibly humbled by his presence that just sitting with him, and even thinking of him now, has me fighting back tears.
Over the years, especially throughout the last decade of my life, I have been working hard to be grateful, positive, appreciative, and open-minded. I have made changes in my life, surrounded myself with those who support me and share my vision, and am trying to raise my children with this same view on life. It’s not always easy, and it definitely requires effort, but meeting people like Oscar allow for it to happen.
I felt that every word he said to us was one that I’ve felt, or even said myself, but needed to be reminded of. It was if he was some sort of angel brought to me, in that beautiful garden, to give me the strength I needed, the reminder to stay positive as times got tough, and to guide me through a life of gratitude, even when it’s full of hardship. There were a few times throughout the week that I felt, “Is he even real? Like I was sitting in that chair, drinking o coffee, and everyone else is wondering why I’m talking to myself, as my angel is teaching me the secrets of life?” (As you can see by the pictures, he is actually real.)
I encourage you all to be on on lookout for your angel, your guide, your spirit, on your journey of life–they’re out there and most likely where you’d least expect!