Friday, September 2, 2011

Strangers in a Foreign Land

This week's post comes from Cameron, the fourth and final member of the 2011-2012 MPIG team. Enjoy!

Have you ever been stared at like you’re an alien from a different planet? I’ve been in the beautiful country of Guatemala for almost two months, and I’ve been gawked at almost every day by countless Guatemalans. To clarify, these aren’t the kind of stares that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie receive. No, the Guatemalans aren’t rolling out the red carpet and pushing through crowds to get our autographs. We just look different.

Personally, at an (American) average height of five feet and nine inches, with brown hair and white skin, I fit in perfectly… in the United States. But nobody in Guatemala looks like me. Countless times I have been on a chicken bus (the lovely converted school buses that are packed like sardine cans, but with people—definitely illegal in the United States) and have had young Guatemalan children shamelessly stare at me. I’ll make a funny face, they’ll laugh and turn away for a second, but rest assured, they will fix their deep brown eyes on me once again. And I don’t even have the worst of it. The kids love Dana’s freckles, Emily’s extremely foreign, blonde hair, and Kelsey’s gold, sparkly shoes (imagine Dorothy’s, but gold). 

And, even after community members have grown accustomed to the way we look, any change in our day-to-day appearance is cause for renewed staring. The students and teachers were shocked when I first wore my glasses to school, and I immediately became cuatro ojos (four eyes) for the day. One of my students looked up at me for a solid thirty seconds (I’m the tallest person in the school… again, something that would never happen at home) and finally said, “Hey…what happened?” 

The kids love to look at us, whisper to each other, point and laugh. Do we take offense? Of course not, because they’re just having fun. We are in their country, playing by their rules. We are here to build relationships, put our ear to the ground, and help in whatever way we can. But to do any of that successfully, we need to learn to laugh at ourselves. That’s part of the fun.

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