„Good morning students! This is your new classmate, Maya. She will be studying with us in fourth grade. I want you to welcome her in our class and show her respect. Maya comes from another country, from Canada. We all have to help her to feel welcomed in our school and in our country, Guatemala. We are all happy when someone from another country comes to study with us. That means they want to learn about our country, our culture, and language. But we are also lucky to have them among us because we also learn from them, about their country and culture. The foreign students enrich our knowledge about other places in the world. And this is why today we are very fortunate to have Maya with us, we have to appreciate this. Welcome in fourth grade, Maya! Luis-Pedro, bring a chair and a desk for Maya from the other room and put it over there.“
Facing the class, Maya beside him looking at the cement floor, her heart racing with excitement, el profe Estuardo says these words in Spanish, his right hand resting on Maya’s shoulder. She doesn’t understand what he has just said, she doesn’t speak Spanish yet, but I do. I lean at the door of the classroom peeking inside. About twenty kids in uniforms, from eight to fourteen years old, are standing up very still, listening carefully to their teacher. His words bring tears in my eyes. I will never forget this moment.
Maya starts school two days after we arrive in Rio Dulce. The subscription procedure takes less than a minute consisting in meeting the teacher and asking him if she can start school. Sure she can, no problem, he answers with a smile, and so she is immediately admitted. No paperwork, no photocopies, no fees. The only thing we have to provide is a few cuadernos (notebooks) and a school uniform.
The school is a small one-story building under a great ceiba tree: a row of four classrooms with permanently open doors and windows where a total of about sixty local kids between five and fourteen years of age gather every day from 7:40 am to 12:30 pm. There are a bunch of sun-stricken village dogs who also attend the classes on daily bases walking in and out the open doors, undisturbed, occasionally chasing the neighboring chickens who venture in the schoolyard looking for bugs.
The schoolyard is covered with gravel and mud puddles, with palm trees and flowers that never cease blooming in the humid hot air of Rio Dulce. Between classes, kids run around and women from the village come to sell snacks: coquitos (peeled orange halves with salt and pepper), jugo (juice), heladitos (small ice creams).
In the morning, instead of a school bus, a lancha passes by to pick up Maya and the other boatkids as well as kids who live further down the river.
Maya is not the only boatkid going to El Relleno school.
Noial, Lovam, Ilan, and Coline, also go there.
Maya loves her new school. Next Monday, she will be doing an oral presentation about Guatemala’s national flower, La Monja Blanca.