Sunday, May 29, 2016

DI Globals 2016: A Tale of Two Teams

For the past 3 years, I have acted as a team manager for Destination Imagination at my school in Guatemala, and each year, my team has earned a trip to Global Finals in Knoxville, Tennessee.  This school year, I was blessed to manage the exact same team I had last year—the Aguaguates, the most wonderful group of kids any DI team manager could wish for.  This group, all 7th graders this year, has everything needed to not only excel at DI, but also make a team manager’s job almost unnecessary.  They have amazing team chemistry, and they understand the importance of teamwork.  They’re crazy creative and hilarious and amazing actors when they get on stage.  They push themselves to improve their performances.  They know what they need to get done for DI, and they create their own practice schedules.  In short, they are a DI dream team, not to mention really, really great people

This year though, I took one look at the school calendar and decided that if the team qualified for Global Finals, I would not be going with them.  The competition lined up exactly with the last week of school.  It being my last year in Guatemala, coupled with the fact that I’d “been there, done that” at Globals two years in a row, and I decided that I would send another chaperone with the kids if at all possible.  I even went so far as to talk with my principal about the possibility and brainstorm chaperones that would be satisfactory to the kids, administration, and parents alike. 

But when the day of the national competition came, and our team won, qualifying for Globals, I knew right then that there was no way anyone but me was taking this team to Global Finals.  I could say good-bye to my other 110 students a week early; the last week of May, my team and I would be in Tennessee.  Their energy and excitement was just too contagious; I wanted to be a part of the experience one last time.

We aimed to make the most of the trip.  Being Globals veterans, we knew how to maximize our schedule, and we squeezed in a lot. Even on the days when our schedule was packed, and I had to hurry the kids through lunch, tell them no pin trading, urge them to walk faster to get to the presentation on time, I still got no complaints, no whining, hardly even a rolled eye.  There are not many groups of 7th graders who have the grace, maturity, and understanding to make a week like Globals enjoyable for everyone.  Because of their cooperation, we balanced our time between pin trading, a trip to the Dollywood theme park, shopping, visiting the Expo on campus, and watching other challenges—especially other Guatemalan teams, and our buddy teams.  

Dollywood--ending the day with a water ride

The bus--where my team sang songs loud and proud each day

Last year, my team was matched up with a buddy team from Duluth, Minnesota called Mission Improvable.  The purpose of buddy teams is to make a connection between a US team and an international team.  Last year, the two teams met each other and clicked right away.  They had lunch together, and even practiced some improv (It’s safe to say Mission Improvable is the reason my team chose the improv challenge this year) and ended up being interviewed and getting on the news.  Since then, the kids have kept in touch via snapchat and Instagram, and I’ve kept up with a couple of the team moms on facebook.   

Both teams, the Aguaguates and Mission Improvable, qualified for Globals again this year, so we made arrangements to meet up and watch each other’s challenges.  We realized belatedly that the buddy team—our friends—were the competition this year.  But there were 88 teams in the Middle Level Improv category.  The kids lightheartedly told each other, “we’ll come in 1st and 2nd place.  Or better yet, let’s tie for first!”  But none of us really believed we’d place quite that high. 

The Aguaguates and Mission Improvable

The kids ended up being able to spend a lot of time with their Minnesota buddy team during the week.  They watched each other’s performances (and I think both felt a little intimidated afterwards, because both teams did extremely well, and they were competing against each other, after all).  For the most part, they ignored the competition and just enjoyed each other’s company, though.  Friday afternoon, after we watched Mission Improvable compete, we found ourselves stuck inside the student union during a brief rainstorm.  After the rain stopped, the kids stayed.  For nearly 6 hours, they sat around a table, playing games, laughing loudly, snapchatting with each other.  To me, it was beautiful that amongst all the stimulation of the Global Finals event, all these kids really needed to entertain themselves was—each other. 

Piggy back races

Just chillin'

The night of Closing Ceremonies finally came to close out the week.  The kids felt good about their performance, and my team was pretty confident they would place in the top 10.  I was preparing myself to comfort disappointed kids and hoping their hearts weren’t already too set on the trophy.  88 teams…we hadn’t seen all of the others perform, but I felt I’d watched 1 or 2 that did about as well as we did, and that had to mean there were others who’d been better than us, right?

Still, as we sat in the stands of the arena on Saturday night, I found myself planning out the route we’d take if we had to run down to the stage to accept an award.  So perhaps I had a bit of a premonition that my kids had done really well, after all. 

Closing Ceremony

They finally came to our category.  Places 4 through 10 were shown on the board.  No Guatemalan team.  I sighed inwardly; if we didn’t come in in one of those positions, we probably hadn’t placed.  I looked down at my kids.  They still seemed excited.  Santiago couldn’t contain himself and was already standing up.  Well, maybe they had a right to be so pumped.  But I didn’t have a lot of hope.
Third place—not us.

Second place—not us.

Then the woman announced there was a tie for first.
The first team in first place, they announced, was a middle school in Duluth, Minnesota.  Our buddy team!! 
The second team in first place… from Guatemala City, Guatemala… US!!!! 

I couldn’t believe it.  I’m still in shock.  What are the odds that not only would we come in first, but we’d have the opportunity to share the honor with friends.  That neither of us had to lose, or come in second place.  The teams had a celebration like you’ve never seen when they met on the arena floor to accept their medals.  There were tears, and hugs, and a lot of cheering. 

Nearly 24 hours later, I still can’t quite believe it. 

What are the odds?  Not only that the kids would win, but that they would tie with none other than their buddy team friends.  It seems nearly impossible.  

To put it simply, I am very, very glad I went on the trip to Global Finals this year.  My team gave me the very best going-away present before I left Guatemala that I could ever have asked for or dreamed of.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Fuse's Visit to Guatemala

Apparently in April, my resolution to write once a week fell apart.  I am not sure why.  April wasn’t boring.  It certainly flew by, but it was not boring.  I ran a few races, went a few places, had a few job interviews, and reconnected with old friends.  Life has been good—great, even. 

But all of a sudden it’s May.  I’m down to two more days with my kiddos at school, then it’s off to Tennessee for DI Global Finals, and then when I’m  back, 3 teacher work days, and then family arrives to tour the country and help me pack, and by the time they leave, my time will be pretty much over.  Time is flying.  Going way too fast.  But things are slowly and surely falling into place. 

Last week, I took three personal days off from school (and from all of the stress associated with ending the year and moving) and traveled with Fuse, a drumline friend from college who was able to come and visit.  Fuse (whose given name is actually Janelle, but I prefer the drumline nickname and intend to keep using it throughout this post) is a woman after my own heart.  She lives abroad and enjoys a good adventure in a new country as much as I do. 

I enjoyed being able to share a bit of Guatemala’s culture with her.  We found ourselves talking often about the state of things here—why the country is how it is, and some of the sad stories that go on here that you wouldn’t hear about if you didn’t live in Guate.  Invariably, of course, when talking politics I got to the point where I would have to say, “That’s really all I know.  I don’t want to give false information—we should talk to my friend Annette; she’s my source of news.” 

Fuse and I also were able to see a huge chunk of the country in just five days together.  We visited Antigua for a day (did some serious shopping at the market), then went on to Lake Atitlan.

We spent two full days there, which included a kayaking and hiking adventure and a trip on the extreme zipline cables in Panajachel.  It was a perfect trip.  When we arrived, the view was hazy, and we couldn’t see the volcanoes across the lake, but the next day, the clouds burned off and Fuse was able to appreciate the view—and the reason so many people love Lake Atitlan.  We made new friends at our hostel and were able to convince them to join us for kayaking.  We also spent the evening with them and several others at the hostel, playing games and discussing serious topics like whether or not Justin Bieber’s music is “objectively good” or not.  On the morning that we took the ziplines, the view was clear again, and the ride was as exhilarating and beautiful as ever.  After lunch on the waterfront, he headed off for our next stop: Xela.

We arrived in Xela before dark, and after checking into the hotel, wandered to the main square, where we found street food for dinner and enjoyed the plaza.  

Karina and Rachel met us late that night, after an epic, traffic-filled drive from the city on a Friday night.  The next morning, we were all up before dawn, packs filled, ready to tackle Tajumulco, the highest volcanic peak in Central America. 

We were blessed with great weather on our trek.  I had been told by multiple people that Tajumulco is a rather miserable hike—that the campsite is freezing and that a splitting headache due to the altitude is nearly unavoidable.  Fortunately for us, I didn’t notice either of these things.  Perhaps I wasn’t cold because I prepared for it (I had 5 layers on my top half and 3 pairs of pants on, as well as a hat and gloves and thick wool socks).  And perhaps I didn’t feel the effects of the altitude as acutely because of the slow, steady pace I maintained on the way up the mountain.  Whatever the reason, I felt very fortunate that the hike was pleasant in every way and not uncomfortable at all.  We had a great view from the top at sunrise the next morning, and then we booked it down the mountain to be down in time for lunch. 

Sunset behind Tajumulco's peak

Sunrise on the summit

Fuse and I

We arrived back in Xela on Sunday afternoon around 4:30pm, which was great.  We were delayed in our departure back to the city, however, by a flat tire on my car, which was sitting in a parking lot.  With a bit of help from a guy who happened to be around, and the tire iron and jack from Karina’s car (which are better quality than the ones in mine), we got my spare on the car, and we were on the road for home by 6:00pm, arriving in Guatemala City before 10pm (a respectable bed time for a school night, even!) 

It was an adventure filled five days, and I’m so happy I was able to share it with Fuse!  We made many memories and took plenty of pictures.  It’s a trip I’ll remember fondly forever.  

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Writing Club

At the beginning of the 2015 school year, Mel proposed the idea of starting a writing club.  It would be a place for a few of us to come together, share things we’d written or were working on, and get feedback.  A way to motivate us to keep writing, and a place to share our work.  As the year went on, a group of 5-7 of us met consistently, once a month, and writing club became one of the highlights of my time in Guatemala.  

For our first meeting, Mel asked that we write a true story—something that had happened to us.  As the group was made up primarily of teachers I knew and liked as acquaintances, but not as intimate friends, I came to the first writing club with a superficial story of a travel mishap.  I soon learned, however, that writing club would become not just a place to share stories, but a place to bare your soul. 

Throughout the year, my writings became more and more personal.  This group of acquaintances became confidants of a sort.  They were people who knew my biggest insecurities, and accepted and supported me as I accepted and embraced some of theirs. 

I never dreamed writing club would become a therapy session.  And of course, it was much more than that.  Each month, I looked forward to hearing the submissions of my fellow writers.  Their pieces blew me away with the depth of thought, the craft of the writing, the beauty of words put in a certain order.  These people have a gift of turning poetry into music, prose into phrases that stick with you for days to come.  I wish I had a written copy of everything that we shared.  I wish we could publish it! 

Last night was our last writing club of the year.  (My last writing club—at least with this group—ever).  It was a bit bittersweet as we realized we wouldn’t be gathering again.  I’ve been so inspired by these people to learn, practice my craft, improve my writing, take chances in life, embrace the adventure, take on a new hobby, etc etc etc… 

I ended up sharing my work last, and I closed with a reflection on all of the things I love and will miss about Guatemala.  When I finished, there was dead silence.  Not normal – my writing hadn’t been that shocking or awe inspiring.  To break the awkward silence, Annette asked, “Can I start?  Okay, Sue, we really planned tonight as an intervention…”  And then everyone went on to write me a postcard (and Mel pointed out that each postcard had a photo of a single woman on the front, which was poignant) addressing all those insecurities I’d shared throughout the year and assuring me I am well and truly loved.  I got teary eyed then, and I’m a little misty again as I’m writing this.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—I am so blessed to have met the people who make up my family here in Guatemala.  It’s rare to find such community in a place, I think.  So much support, love.  Blessed is the only word to describe it.