It’s not just the places that make a trip unforgettable, but more so the people you meet along the way.
I’ve met a wealth of interesting characters over my years of wandering Earth and there are a few of them who I’ve become really good friends with. Most of the time I travel alone but never am I really alone. I always meet individuals who are just like me in one particular aspect: a strong will to experience a totally different world. Here in Antigua, Guatemala, I was fortunate to meet a whole crew of new characters who are nothing but kind and are here for all the right reasons.
The night I arrived home from Semuc Champey, I met Uma, reunited with Katie, and met three other new volunteers who would live with me at Olga’s house: Carly (Australia) and sisters Ellie and Laura, both from Australia as well. I met them and the three were quite receptive and happy to meet me. I felt a good vibe off of them almost instantly. They mentioned going out to dinner and said we had to meet a few more new volunteers underneath the famous yellow arch near the park.
At the arch I met another new housemate of mine. His name is Jacob (Canada). Before getting something to eat, we all went to a wine house near the arch. We sat in the squared center, in the spotlight of hoards of aging wine and toasted to new memories in Guatemala. A few minutes later, three more new volunteers came to join us. Three Italian dudes Mark, Marco, and Valerio. The three of them live in a separate homestay but planned on joining us that evening.
The ten of us enjoyed dinner at a nearby restaurant and introduced ourselves and what we did back home. Afterwards, we went to another spot called Monoloco where Mark suggested that we play “Werewolf” in which I played many times in many countries much to his liking. By the end of the night, I was glad that a great, easy going group came in while I was away for the weekend. I went to sleep in my monks room ready for a new week of teaching!
The next morning during breakfast, I received a text message from Hanni:
“Did Jonathan call you about the party? We’re meeting at Maximo at 7:45 :).”
I didn’t get a call, but since it was only a few minutes to, I briefly made my way to Maximo to find out what was going on. I was told of a holiday party before, but the details were unknown to me. When I arrived, I met up with Hanni, Roxy, and a couple others from their house who had their bags and looked like they were ready to go somewhere.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“We’re just waiting on Johnathan to take us to the school,” replied Hanni.
“We’re going now???”
“Yeah, for the Christmas party.”
I can’t go now! I had too much stuff to take care of in the morning. I had to book a bus to Monterrico Beach for Christmas, I had to do my laundry, I had to respond to loads of emails; questions about my blog and questions on why haven’t I posted anything new in over a week. I had to blog because at that point, I was dragging behind. I would be missing out on the party for the children with special needs…and instantly I felt guilt flowing through my veins. So I put everything on hold and joined them for the party.
There were two vans picking us up. I saw all the volunteers from my house and the three Italians come up to Maximo. They mentioned they had a Christmas party this morning but I didn’t think it was the same one that I was told about. Regardless, I was glad they were able to join us. I heard there were going to be up to 55 children there! So we needed all the help we could get to keep them occupied. I sat next to Frosty and we were on our way!
Upon arriving at my school, Johnathan gave us a bag of balloons to blow up and hang around the main hall, but we just left most of them grazing along the floor. The kids liked that and we found ourselves in a balloon frenzy for the first part of the party. More and more children arrived and sat along the desks spread along the sides of the hall. I went around taking photos of everyone in action, as holiday tunes and classic Michael Jackson played in the background.
I was impressed with my fellow volunteers. Every single one of them completely engaged themselves into entertaining the children. Each child had a certain disability and each required slightly different methods of care but all required the upmost patience. There was one boy who would have sat in a corner all by himself, only if Hanni wasn’t there to keep him company for the majority of her time.
Carly, who has the voice of an angel, was very motherly towards the kids and always kept a smile on her face as she gave each child the attention they deserved.
Mark, Valerio, and Marco put on a giant-sized show of “Ring-Around-The-Rosie” which the kids really loved.
The other volunteers all spent time engaging other kids and especially the kids who sat by themselves.
I’ve barely dealt with special needs, but no matter the disability EVERY kid loves gadgets, gizmos, and video games! I handed over my camera to a brother and sister duo and let them have at it.
I also gave my phone to two girls sitting by their lonesome and helped them learn to play “Fruit Ninja” in which they were really amused. While we all played with the kids, the staff from Maximo Nivel were busy setting up a snowman piñata outside. Once they finally hung it up appropriately, we were all summoned there!
Gradually, we all brought the kids to the front. Some of them we helped along because it was difficult for them to walk. Some were in wheelchairs and some had to be carried. We left no child behind and made sure each had a proper place outside to view all of the action.
Valerio manned the rope attached to the snowman while I sat on the opposite side of the yard to capture every moment. As I sat on the grass, looking through the view finder of my camera, all I captured were smiles upon smiles as eager kids came up in turns to swat at the piñata. They did some damage! In order to get as many kids to have a turn, Johnathan constantly had to tape up the piñata to add extra durability. Spurts of candy would pop out occasionally. Some of the kids would grab them.
Eventually, one child who had the strength of a bulldozer bashed open the snowman’s abdomen and all sorts of sweets and treats came pouring out. As a chunk of the kids rushed out to grab all they could, the volunteers were on the lookout and grabbed candy for the ones who weren’t physically able to get the sweets for themselves. We made sure everyone got a little something.
We cleaned up and went back inside the school. Maximo supplied lunch, cake, and juices for all the children.
While they ate, we continued to play with them some more. Later on, Maximo passed out wrapped gifts to all the boys and girls. Some boys got monster trucks and race cars while some girls got dolls and ponies.
Each child had a really great day, catered all just for them! It felt really great to be a part of that.
I told Roxy, my fellow English teacher, that I wouldn’t be staying at the school today to teach with her. I had to take care of too many things that I meant to take care of this morning. Thankfully, Roxy is a trooper and willfully stayed behind while I went back with the others to Antigua.
Christmas was approaching and I had special plans. Months ago, I knew I wanted to spend Christmas on a nice beach. A first for me. I told Katie, Laura, Ellie, Carly, Mark, Valerio, and Marco of my idea and they were all in!
This was going to be one very hot Christmas! 🙂