You know that Ronnie has been busy starting up a belly dance movement, and Jess is working hard to get the marching band reading music and playing notes—hopefully the ones in the national anthem!—by Independence Day. Many of you also know that I am by no means qualified to help with either of those endeavors. I can barely play music on the radio, much less an instrument, and nothing about my dancing would build anyone’s confidence or self-esteem (except maybe by comparison). So, though I haven’t been able to make even the smallest contribution to the artistic community in San Andres, I have been able to spend a lot of time at my favorite place in town—no, not the helado de banano store—the biblioteca run by Volunteer Petén.
Though it’s known as “la biblioteca,” it’s more like a community center than a library. People of all ages—from babies to grandparents, but mostly somewhere in between—come to the biblioteca to read the newspaper or a book, practice English with the volunteers, work on homework, play ajedrez (chess) or damas (checkers), or color.
Especially for kids and teenagers, the library is an important place—they are supervised, surrounded by books, exposed to volunteers from many different countries, and encouraged to think and learn for themselves—and they seem to love it. Many faces appear every day like clockwork, and if we open the library a bit early or keep it open a little late, there is always someone who’s glad we did.
Sadie is one of the kids I know will be there whenever the doors are open. Her mom works just across the street, selling papas y pollo (potatoes and chicken) at a roadside stand. Though she’s only 11, Sadie is in charge of caring for her baby sister while her mom works, and the library gives her someplace safe to go that’s fun for both of them.
In the States, you don’t usually see teenagers hanging out alongside elementary school kids, but the library brings age groups together—a normal afternoon brings both diversificado (high school) students and preschoolers to the biblioteca. Saturday night movie nights—which always feature kid-friendly films—draw a similarly mixed crowd. I wasn’t in the least bit shocked to see a group of 18-20 year old boys thoroughly enjoying Kung-Fu Panda, but it was a pleasant surprise to see them having such a good time watching it in a library, next to a group of elementary-schoolers, on a Saturday night.
Saturday nights were movie nights long before we came, but we, along with some other volunteers, have started a new tradition. Wednesday is now game night at the biblioteca. So far we’ve had Bingo—to practice English colors, numbers, and letters—Simon Dice (Simon Says)—with some English body part vocab thrown in—and Sillas Musicales (Musical Chairs) for fun. After musical chairs, some of our students commandeered Ronnie’s Mp3 player and the speakers to DJ their own dance-off, which is right here on Youtube for your viewing pleasure. Trust me, you want to see it.
There are also more serious studies. We’ve been teaching English classes at a few of the local schools, and we’ve successfully encouraged many of our students come to the library for extra practice—either reading stories in English, going over verbs or vocab, or just having simple conversations. Most of the School of Natural Resources’ students are regular fixtures at the biblioteca as well, and you’ll almost always find a group working on geometry, ecology, or economics homework.
David, a bright second-year student, comes almost every day. Often, he’s working on tarea (homework), but he also sharpens his chess skills—“para mí, es una ciencia,” he says (“for me, it’s a science”)—and, though he’s a little shy, he likes talking with the volunteers. Ronnie has even been teaching him French, which he’s picking up quickly. You’ll probably hear more about David from her soon, and I’m looking forward to introducing a few more of the biblioteca’s familiar faces before we go, so stay tuned!