Thanks to their fortitude and years of listening to Patti’s Spanish, they quickly began talking, reading, and writing in Spanish. During the first week Sam’s classmates placed their hands on their hearts and pledged to support him as he learned a new language. During recess, the boys were initially reticent, but with teachers’ encouragement Sam joined the futbol (soccer) kids, while Finn played with the cops & robbers (policias y ladrones) and freeze tag (conhelados) crowd.
Our daily routine diverged sharply with the boys’ US elementary school. School started at 7:30am with a twenty-minute transition period to accommodate Lima’s unpredictable traffic; the day ended at 3:15pm. (In California the boys were accustomed to an 8:20am start and a 2:50pm release most days and an early 1:30 release on Wednesdays). Unlike Alameda where we strolled .4 miles for less than ten minutes and were assisted across streets by friendly crossing guards, our 17-minute scooter route to school in Lima was .8 miles long through traffic clogged streets with blaring horns and drivers oblivious to pedestrians. Fortunately, there were still friendly neighborhood characters along the trek to greet us.
their classrooms and prayed before each meal. They handled these transitions with relative ease and we were pleasantly surprised with their success. Finn even managed to be elected Delegado of his class within the first month and stayed on the honor roll all year (one of five 4th graders with this distinction).
One highlight of Carmelitas was the after school "talleres" program, which ran from 3:15-5:15. Finn started with Robotics and wowed us at his July exhibition by being the spokesman to describe his group’s project – a house with a motion sensitive light system. Both boys also participated in basketball – for Sam this involved 2 days a week and by mid-year involved 3 afternoons and Saturday mornings for Finn. The boys competed in a number of Copa tournaments against other schools and enjoyed the camaraderie and physical exercise offered through their teams.
Mother’s Day & Father’s Day (May & June)
The school went all out to celebrate parents. The Friday before the Sundays on which we in the US traditionally observe Mother’s and Father’s Day, parents were invited into classrooms and feted with paper crowns and medallions, as well as entertainment – songs, games, dance party, and poem recitations. Classrooms already cramped with 35 little bodies became even more crowded as mothers and fathers (on their respective days) contorted their bodies into little chairs. The noise level floored me and I marveled as mothers and children swayed together performing line dances while belting out the lyrics of popular songs like Osmani Garcia's El Taxi. Clearly, Peruvians LOVE loud music and dancing. These days were early release days and afternoon athletic workshops were cancelled so children could spend more time with their parents.
One of the primary fund raising events for the year was the Kermesse. When we received notices of this event I had to look up the word and discovered that it means “Catholic religious bazaar.” The Kermesse was a day-long extravaganza replete with amusement park rides in the quad of the secondary school, a performance stage with bands playing all day long, field activities, and a row of carnival games sponsored by each grade level and staffed by moms. Our apartment is near the school and we could hear the music blasting until midnight. The boys loved the carnival games and rides, but eventually the noise (and yes the El Taxi song blaring) got the best of all of us and we headed home. An impressive fundraising team organized this event and raised the equivalent of $25,000.00 USD.
The school’s patroness is the Virgin of Mt. Carmel and she is celebrated in July with a 3-hour parade where her statue atop a flower-strewn float is carried through police blocked streets. Devotees march along solemnly while a band plays and children throw flower petals and hold decorated torches to illuminate the walk. Unfamiliar with this tradition, we joined the procession early and were among the masses as the virgin made her way through our barrio. Absorbing the swirling and euphoric energy of the faithful, the color, and the high pomp of the gathering, I teared up and found myself thinking, “It is for events like this that we are here.” Despite being swept up in the fervor, our sons grew hungry and we retreated early, only to discover later that we missed out on the Virgin’s reception party, which culminated with fireworks. Next year we plan to join the procession late and discover what we missed.
During the first week of school Finn’s homeroom teacher shared with us that the focus of the year in his religion class would be his first communion. Finn relished these preparations and took seriously various ceremonies and studies leading up to the big day. On the day of his first communion as we were leaving the house, Finn said, “This is probably the most important day of my life so far.” Reflecting on this rite of passage, he shared, “It was a beautiful day – afterwards I felt like a new person drained of my problems and starting fresh.” As parents, it pleased us to see him so engaged and so invested.
Steve and Finn ran in a community 5K race to benefit the people of Chumbivilcas Province outside of Cusco.
Sharing Day (November 21st)
One noteworthy curricular difference is a course entitled “Proyectos,” in which each class selects a topic and spends the entire year investigating it. Sam’s class chose the theme “Under the earth” and explored geology and phenomena like volcanoes and geysers. Finn’s class selected “movies” and researched the history of film and the mechanics of cameras. I got the impression from the kids that Proyectos was a looser environment with lots of collaborative group activities. Finn confessed that one of his memories of Proyectos involved his friend Isabella throwing toothpicks at Carlos who tried to shield himself while they were ostensibly building faux movie cameras out of recycled materials. In the penultimate month of school, Carmelitas opened its doors one Saturday and invited parents to learn from their children’s projects. These exhibitions also featured presentations from other subjects as well. Finn directed his class’ English performance of “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp,” while Sam was a narrator in Pinochio.
The school year ended with an Olympic themed competition and the school split into colors (red, green, yellow, and blue) with each associated with a symbol from the school’s crest - stars (happiness), sword (justice/leadership), crown (loyalty), and mountain (strength). The Olympics featured a variety of challenges, including: basketball, running, an obstacle course, soccer, tug of war, and relay races. Finn likened the excitement to Maya Lin’s jogathon spread out over several days. The week launched with a parade where team mascots like Elmo, Mike from monsters Inc. Big Bird, Cookie monster, and Oscar made appearances and students brought posters, balloons, pompoms and other celebratory props to show their team spirit.
In December we received a letter from Padre Adolfo informing us that Sam would receive recognition for embodying the values of Carmelitas, specifically the strength and perseverance symbolized in the image of the montaña displayed on the school’s crest. The ceremony was full of high pomp and symbolism and witnessed by a packed house that included teachers and families. Pairs of students holding hands (a secondary student matched with a younger student) marched into the auditorium in groups led by banner carriers displaying the symbols of the mountain, crown, stars, and sword.
The evening commenced with prayer and the national anthem and then every student was individually recognized and given a medal for his/her distinction. Sam explained to us that he got the award because he entered school only being able to say “Hola” but kept learning and working hard all year long. “I learned a ton of Spanish this year. I can respond to any question in Spanish now.” According to the boys’ official Carmelitas handbook, montaña signifies, “Sacrificio, perserverancia, esfuerzo; capacidad de superación constante y sacrificadamente para alcanzar sus metas y objectivos de manera reciproca, trabajar en forma paciente y sostenida apoyándose en la amplitud de mente y solaridad.” Roughly translated this means: “Sacrifice, perseverance, effort; capacity to constantly and sacrificially improve in order to achieve goals and objectives, work patiently and in a sustained way to support the expansion of the mind and solidarity.” Needless to say, Sam is very proud of this accomplishment and so are we.