2/15 I’m here! It was a beautiful day! My cousin Abel, his brother-in-law and his daughter Luciana picked me up at the airport and brought me to Antigua. I was greeted by my Aunt and Unlce, Marielena and Jorge. I grabbed some great typical food at La Cuevita de los Urquizú and got to work on making sure the telescopes are ready for tomorrow!
2/16 It took Isabella 2 hours in traffic leaving at 7am to get to Antigua by 9! We were supposed to be at the school to begin at 9, but what can you do? Guatemalan traffic es horible!
We arrived, settled in, I met Mecky, one of the Ortega sisters who until now, I just corresponded with via email. They were so excited to have me there!
The same day, a Norwegian buyer who buys their coffee was visiting too and donating items to the students at the schools. It was going to be a big day for everyone!
We finally arrived at the two 6th grade classes. They were eager to begin! I took turns with each class taking them on a tour of the solar system called The Thousand Yard Model, always a hit! They really enjoyed it.
We encouraged them to come back that night to see the Moon and the stars through the telescopes I brought to donate. We hoped at least a handful would show up that night. They have to walk far on trails from their homes to school so we weren’t sure if anyone would really come back and at night! School begins at 7:30am and goes until 12:30 when they go home for lunch. When I made it to the upper grade classes to do the activity, it was 12:30 and they had brought lunch from home to eat at school so they could stay later that day for our activity. They were soo very patient! (Isabella was my right hand that day! I am so thankful for her.)
The last group I worked with asked me the one question I was certain NO ONE would ask! “Is Pluto still a planet?” Oh my gosh I was mad I didn’t prepare a spanish translation of the answer, so I had Mecky translate for me. They also asked, “What is the streak in the sky at night? The one that is very bright?” So I explained what meteors are. Their curiosity was so exciting! I wonder if they would have asked those questions if I hadn’t been there? One boy stopped me and wanted to know how he could become an astronomer and how many years of school he needed to become one. I left there feeling like it was all very worth the trip! Then they presented me with a certificate and all thanked me after. It was very special =)
We went back to the house, I took a short nap and we drank their amazing coffee and prepared for that evening. Mecky and Isabella showed me the improvements of another school.
I thought there was just one, but there are about 6 schools in the entire plantation. There are about 150 people or so living there working at the coffee farm La Merced. The schools are run by smaller communities made up of parents that work at the plantation and the directors of the schools.
That night, we arrived a little early. There were already kids and parents waiting for us to begin! I set up the ‘scopes and realized at some point between adjusting the ‘scopes to see the Moon and finding my star chart that we had about 125 or so people there! The lines for the telescopes were packed with kids and mothers and fathers! They were so patient. I heard lots of giggles from them as they saw the Moon for the first time.
As we were beginning to pack up, I took some time to teach the directors of the lower and upper school how to use the scopes. While I was using one telescope to teach them with and let them practice with before I left it to their care, I turned around and saw a group of about 5 boys using the other ‘scope and finding things on their own. They were so excited and completely absorbed! It was the highlight of that night. When it was time to go, I made sure they also learned how to stow the telescopes properly, how to use the eyepieces and how to use the red dot finder. I told them they could ask the teachers to email me their questions if they had any. One of them took out his iPhone and asked if I was on Facebook! I was a little speechless to realize that these kids had no running water in their homes, but they had cell phones and were on Facebook. I’ll let your brain explode pondering that one…
We got back and had a late dinner with the Norwegian buyer, his mother and father who came along with him. It was a wonderful night eating together, talking about coffee and astronomy and drinking Ron Zacapa =) I can’t thank the Ortega sister enough for their hospitality, generosity and excitement about bringing astronomy to the students. They put their heart and soul into the schools at the farm and are constantly involved in improvement projects for the benefit of the students and communities.
Each time I think about how many people came to see the Moon and to hear star stories and see the Orion Nebula and the 7 sisters, I get a little choked up. It was such a beautiful experience truly knowing that we are all united under one sky, todos juntos, here on this planet together.
As Mecky said, I came here and left a light on… So I know I will be coming back to take care of that light sometime soon I hope.