June 12, 2009
By Amy Kathryn Clarke BRONZE, Woodbine, Maryland
Amy Kathryn Clarke BRONZE, Woodbine, Maryland
2 articles 1 photo 6 comments

The coolness of the tile seeped slowly through my damp shirt and jeans to my skin. I laid flat on the wide steps letting myself relax from the day of work trying to regain some energy before the kids came through the doors. Muscle by muscle I felt myself letting go of the tension that had filled my muscles as I pushed them through the unfamiliar tasks. Although it was barely noon I was exhausted. My skin felt gritty from the dirt and cement that clung to me and coated me like sand after a day at the beach. Tiny curls had formed at the nape of my neck from strands of hair that had broken free from my ponytail throughout the day and rebelled against my earlier efforts with a straightener in favor of the humidity. I heard my friends laughing and talking and I was amazed at their energy.

I turned my head slowly to the right to look at my watch. The coldness of the tiles almost stung my red cheeks where sweat was drying adding to the layer of dirt and grime on my skin. It was almost time for us to set up for lunch and I wasn’t eager to get up and serve food to the couple hundred children and teenagers. As I looked past my watch toward my friends playing a silly game I noticed the band-aid on my thumb. The deeply tan color stood out against my pink tinged pale skin as it wrapped itself securely around my thumb. The box had promised that the band-aid would be durable and flexible, adhering to wherever I placed it and flexing to my every move. So far the band-aid had fulfilled the promise protecting the cut on my thumb which I had accidently scraped open earlier in the day. The only problem was that the box had said the band-aids were skin toned and if anyone had looked at the band-aid on my thumb it clearly did not match the color of my skin. In fact, I didn’t ever remember a band-aid being pale enough for my skin but it had never really bothered me before. I decided to let it go, my brain was too tired to figure out why the small smooth cardboard box would make such an impossible promise. My soft, pale and fragile skin was just grateful to be protected by a band-aid and I forgot about the puzzlement of the non-skin toned band-aid when I saw a small silhouette enter the cool cement and tile auditorium.

My eyes followed the miniature shadow as it walked cautiously toward the group of my friends who were playing a game. I lifted my back away from the tiles and propped myself up on my elbows to get a better view. As the child walked further into the room I could make out details of his face and clothes. His face was upturned as he walked through the group looking at all the faces so much paler then his own. His eyes grew puzzled as I watched and a smile tugged at the corner of my mouth as I suppressed my desire to call to him. His steps grew more tentative as he realized he had looked at everyone standing around him and hadn’t found what he was looking for. His wide eyes looked questioningly at the girl he was closest to. She smiled kindly at him and bent to his level. I saw his mouth move to form the word “Amy” and his eyebrows scrunch together in a worried and questioning expression. The girl smiled and pointed toward the stairs where I was lying down a smile playing on my lips. The tan little boys face cracked into a wide grin as he saw me and ran toward me up the stairs to tackle me in a hug. This was my little boy.

“Lester!” I cried playfully smiling and reaching to tickle his sides. He curled up giggling and squirming to get away from my tickling fingers. He was always the first to come of the children and usually I was waiting for him by the door. I stopped my tickling and pulled the little boy onto my lap kissing his sun-browned forehead and tousling his course black hair. I held him close to me as we smiled at each other and then leaned forward to whisper into his ear. “Te amo.” I said softly. I love you. It was one of the few phrases I knew in Spanish but it said everything I would ever need to tell him. “Te amo.” He giggled back to me. This was why I had worked so hard in the morning. I had worked for him.

Building, digging, shoveling cement every morning for the past week I had pushed myself in the sticky heat. I had to help. Lester and his three brothers and sister lived in Guatemala City in a slum nicknamed Paradise. The school they went to was simplistic and large but it still needed to be expanded. The number of children going to the school was always growing. I chose to go to help in any way I could. I had been going to Guatemala City for three years now and I had watched Lester grow up. When we met he was only three and his brother Aaron was four. They had claimed part of my heart almost immediately. They’re chubby tan hands left impressions in mine that never seemed to fade. Every year as I returned to Guatemala my little brothers grew and began to trust that I would come back. This week Lester almost never left my side from the time he came to school at lunch time until he left a couple hours later. After hours of exhausting work in the morning I still found energy for him. We made up jokes and games and laughed almost constantly. I knew I would only be with him for a week and I wanted to show him how much I cared about him and make up for the months of absence. His crazy antics always kept me smiling and he enjoyed amusing me. Serving lunch to the kids and teenagers everyday sometimes took an hour and I would walk through the line over and over again and still he would stay by my side.

The Guatemalan women dished the food onto cheap white Styrofoam trays for us to serve. They had spent hours in the small hot kitchen cooking for these children and their abilities always impressed me. They spent hours every morning making tortillas and other food with their tanned and skilled hands. While the women were in the claustrophobic kitchen cooking for the couple hundred children they fed many of the men assisted us in our labor. It seemed that for every shovel full I bent my back to scoop these men had scooped three with they’re sun bronzed arms working the shovels with zeal. I didn’t understand how in the heat they could work as fast and hard as they did and without ever taking a break it seemed.

The last day of my trip drew closer and I artfully ignored it until it came. Dressing for church I knew it would be the last day I saw my little brothers and sister for a year and I vowed I wouldn’t cry. I sat in the church service watching the people because I couldn’t understand the fast Spanish sermon. The children had gone to Sunday school classes and the tile and cement auditorium was filled with adults sitting and listening to Pastor Alvaro speak. I sat on the hard metal chair watching the people around me and breathing in the stale dusty air.

An elderly lady with completely white hair sat next to a young woman holding a baby. I watched as the white haired lady reached her wrinkled hand toward the baby to brush his maple colored cheek adoringly with her deeply bronzed fingers that were full of age. The young mother’s tan cheeks glowed as she smiled at the elderly lady. Throughout the service I watched the Guatemalan people surrounding me. The men with muscles hidden under their coffee colored skin sat patiently next to their wives and friends taking a well deserved break from their week of hard work. Women sat taking a break too from cooking and working and taking care of their families their black hair fixed and often wearing bright colors that stood out against their cinnamon-colored complexions. I could clearly see my friends spaced throughout the room our pale skin making us stand out as well as our lighter and different colored hair. After the service I said goodbye to my family tears coursing down my cheeks and promises flowing off my lips to reassure them I would come back. Their warm hands stayed in mine until they had to leave and even after they left I could still feel the places on my cheeks where their kisses had burned my skin making me remember them.

On the bus taking my group home from church I watched out of the grimy windows at the scenery I would miss for a year. Through alleys and over low buildings you could glimpse parts of Paradise. The tin and plywood shacks stood crowded together forming haphazard streets. Everything seemed to be covered with a layer of dust and dirt. Faded colors shone dimly in the bright light giving the homes a forlorn and worn out feeling. It seemed that the shaky structures were barely holding together. I placed my right hand on the warm glass reaching to touch the city with the people I loved and I saw my band-aid.

It had fulfilled the boxes promise. Flexing with every bend my thumb took and staying attached to my pale skin. The color of the band-aid made me stop for a second and frown slightly. It still didn’t match my skin but I knew why. The tan of the band-aid was for the people that would need it. It was skin toned after all. Skin toned for the people who worked the hardest and needed something as simple as a band-aid if they got hurt. My pale skin was only used to being pampered with air conditioning and sun screen, large houses and easy work I wasn’t the one likely to need a band-aid. The people that needed the tan band-aids were the men who worked in the sun until their skin was as dark and tough as leather, the women who worked to keep their families fed and happy and the children who would grow up too fast and be forced to work too hard. The lives they would face in the slums they grew up in would change even my bright eyed little boy. There were too many. The countless tin roofs and faded paint stretched farther than the eye could see. I lived a pampered life and I wasn’t the one in need of help but somehow I was the one who would get enough fancy band-aids to fix whatever I hurt. Why did I deserve the simplicity of being catered to with my easily broken skin when they worked harder than I ever had every day of their lives? The band-aids were meant for them although their skin was far from fragile.

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This article has 5 comments.

Aunt Sharon said...
on Jul. 6 2009 at 6:57 pm
This is a wonderful and powerful piece of writing. How will you bear to leave the children for the last time? Do you have plans to go back on your own in the future? You have such a big heart, and it shows in everyword of that piece.

Lisa W. said...
on Jul. 6 2009 at 6:09 pm
Hey Am,

I can see where your coming from considering I have experienced going and coming back. Every time we leave SHALOM it's hard for anyone not to cry. We get attached to these kids who show unconditional love. I'm so excited to go back. Reading this just made me think of all of the friends we make down in Guatemala and I miss it terribly. Good story :) Reading this made me think of Luis who helped us pour the cement on the third level. I can completely agree with you with the Band-Aid doesn't make a band-aid pale enough. But your heart goes out to all of the people who need things more than us.

Love ya deary.


N!coleee. said...
on Jul. 6 2009 at 2:46 am
:D i'm glad that i understand where you are coming from. this is great baby girl!!!


Claire x3 said...
on Jul. 5 2009 at 5:04 pm
this is reallyy goodddd (:

Cierra said...
on Jul. 4 2009 at 9:59 pm
Awesome work, Amy! I loved reading about your adventure!

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