This is Alesseo.
He lives in a small village outside Xela, Guatemala where many of the men from the village have gone to the USA to work, including his father.
Like many of the men, Alesseo’s father has all but disappeared, lured by a new life and new women in the first world.
The money he promised to send never arrived and so Alesseo’s mother is forced to work to support herself, Alesseo and his baby sister.
Next door to the cramped, open-air and mud-floored house where Alesseo lives with his mother and sister, his neighbours are building a grand, concrete two-storey home with the money the husband is sending home.
I met Alesseo when I visited his village to help finishing building his mother’s new stove, one of the projects that my Spanish school in Xela runs.
His story was one of many that I learned during my time in Xela and it seemed to be the same story over and over.
Many of the men who leave the village to work in the United States quickly find themselves in trouble. Recently four men from the village were murdered by other Guatemalans in New York City, leaving behind four wives and four families.
Learning spanish, learning to communicate
Both my teachers in Antigua and Xela were impressed at how quickly I picked up Spanish.
I can understand most of what is said to me, even if I get stage fright when it’s time for me to answer back and often accidentally revert to French.
But it wasn’t until my last couple of days in Xela that I realised just how valuable this little Spanish that I had learned in two weeks of private lessons was.
In Xela, my teacher and I spent much of our five hours together each day talking. Not learning vocab or conjugating verbs but sharing stories. I told her about life in Australia and she taught me about life in Guatemala.
We talked about the cost of housing (expensive in both Sydney and Xela) and how young Australian adults often live with their parents well into their twenties.
We spoke about the indigenous population in Guatemala and the indigenous population in Australia.
And we spoke about Alesseo and his family.
We discussed another indigenous woman we met who has six children and forces her seven year old daughter to work from 5 in the morning until 7 in the evening because her husband is in prison for sexually abusing their eldest daughter.
I learned enough Spanish to interact with the charges at a daycare centre for children from single-mother households. She taught me enough Spanish to get the seven year old daughter to smile and laugh on her brief break from her duties.
I spent only a short amount of time in Guatemala but thanks to my ability to communicate (albeit not brilliantly) I learned more about life in Guatemala than I have about life in many of the countries I’ve spent more time in.
Go to Xela. Learn Spanish. And talk to the people around you. Listen to their stories. And in turn, tell their stories.
If, through my blog, I can encourage just one other traveller to visit Xela, participate in local projects, help where help is needed and learn about life in rural Guatemala, then it has served its purpose.