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Finding Maria This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


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The school was not formal, or exclusive, or neat; it was knowledge's humble house. We passed under the archway, and the humidity outside gave way to a sea of eyes, observing the foreign visitors. When a voice in the back shouted “Gringo!” the room erupted in laughter.

I nervously grinned and crossed the room. Taking a pencil and paper, I sat across from a young girl. Dark locks cascaded around her face, her brown eyes mirrored mine, and her mouth widened into a grin.

“Me llama Maria, y tú?” she asked excitedly. My grin waned, as I searched my mind for the correct response. Immediately, my vocabulary shifted to a hybrid of Spanish and Latin: “Hola, me nomen es-”

I stopped midsentence. On this service trip to an Ecuadorian village 3,000 miles from home, I had utterly forgotten how to speak Spanish.

Maria's smile did not falter. She took my hand in hers, and I could feel her enthusiasm as she playfully combined hand signals and words to teach me Spanish.

“Me llama …” She pointed to herself. “Maria.” Her finger rotated and aimed at me.

“Me llama Juanathon?” I said.

Maria laughed, and I even managed a few chuckles as my fear began to dissipate.

We began to study, she teaching Spanish and learning arithmetic, I learning Spanish and teaching arithmetic. The Spanish words for numbers began to return to me, veiled in memories of watching cartoons as a child on a warm, summer Saturday. The breeze wafts through the screen door into my house as Charlie Brown counts from cero to diez in his black-and-yellow shirt.

Then Maria's patient smile brought me back to Ecuador. Our conversation turned from arithmetic to soccer to local politics. She spoke of dribbling a cracked leather ball with friends on dirt roads, shooting into imaginary nets demarcated by discarded shoes. She explained the spray-paintings that adorned crumbling brick buildings, displaying the names of popular political candidates. My mind was struggling to keep up, but the effort was enjoyable, exciting.

Maria's innocent, exuberant grin ties me to her, despite our age difference and now our geographic separation. Her smile transcended the barriers of language, age, and gender. It tied me, a white Italian-Irish-American teen boy with a shamefully scant Spanish vocabulary, to Maria, a seven-year-old Ecuadorian girl.

It's unlikely that I'll ever see Maria again, however, I will always remember her smile. It will always encourage me to seek the Maria in whomever I meet, regardless of personality or physical appearance or how difficult the endeavor may seem.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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mariasalami This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 23, 2010 at 9:18 am:
It's "me llamo" not "me llama." :)
 
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Gmcgovern said...
May 15, 2010 at 11:44 am:
I like how you tied everything together in the end. I began not knowing the direction of the essay, but looking back at how you wrote it I think that that method turned out as the best possible one. It gives the reader a sense that while you weren't in your comfort zone you still were able to come out of your shell and work with Maria
 
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