We ran a VBS for the children in Chemax. Many met us at the church on Tuesday. As the word got ’round town, more and more children appeared each day. Most of the children who came were young: under 10. Many of the smaller ones came accompanied by an older child, presumably a brother or sister. Their chaperones through the small city were usually 10 -14 years old. I watched these older children carefully. Clearly, our games and crafts were designed for younger fingers’ navigation. I watched some of the older ones reluctantly take an extended paper or pen or shaker of glitter, and then fall headfirst into the fun as well.
We took many photos with the babes, they were adorable and their faces so expressive. The older children for the most part held their faces more tightly, especially the girls. Many of those mama’s in training or maybe mamas already, came and stood about the periphery, watching, smiling gently…but not engaging. They seemed intimidated by us and dwelling in a no-man’s land…where they were neither adults nor children. Some of the “teenagers” who met up with us, still went to school. They were more talkative and eager to learn our language and school us in theirs. They chatted and laughed with us. But those around the edges stood mostly quiet. I expect that they had traded lessons in language for lessons in life long ago.
Some of our girls noticed this and that quick escape of Childhood. The Mayan young girls/women who had babies to keep a hold of all the time and toddlers to train in all manner of things and others to keep an eye on… were 10 or 12, maybe 14 years old. Soon, they would marry and have their own to care for in the stead of these siblings. I watched those dark-eyed beauties watch my girls: tall (by their standards) and fair and living lives that must have seemed so foreign or unfair. They laughed and snickered at my girls who at 18 were unmarried, some without even a suitor. I watched them wonder at us, women across the sea from our homes and husbands. In time they took hold of our hands, moved closer and clung tight to us as well as those little hands. I watched some of them appear to think hard, maybe about walking away to a life in our shadow.
We didn’t spend too much time in the homes of the villagers. As you can see, the Mayans were gentle, their children embracing, but they as a people did not seem so welcoming when it came to their homes. We had no invites. ( In Costa Rica we could not travel a block of metal shed homes without an invite to come sit and sup.) So, I don’t know how life goes for those girls who live in large families and feed, cook, clothe their brethren with no running water or power. I don’t know what more awaits them afterward either. More of the same, I imagine.
The babes were beautiful.. I lifted them and embraced all who would come near. But the girls… gained my heart. Quick eyes and sharp wits, hearts hungry for knowledge and new ideas. I watched them in the background of my future doctors and professors and NGO CEO’s. I watched them stand just behind women who have been recruited and wooed by universities to wear their colors, women who will choose their own path and life’s work and where they will live and travel to visit. And I watched them, well one in particular, lean back with her full weight, her hands finally free of small fingers, into womanhood she may not have otherwise ever known, and sense a solidarity deep and driving… and just maybe, destined.
And I wondered what is mine to do, besides just watch.
header image: Hannah Rettig
text images: Kenzie Greer