A year and a half ago, on the stairs in the private school Voluntad de Dios in the middle of one of the absolute poorest areas in Aguablanca, I saw this cute little girl who was waiting for her mother to come and pick her up. She had waited roughly an hour by the time Patrik and I arrived with Gerardo to visit the school. After my almost 1 hour meeting with the principal, Rigoberto, I got out to meet this cute girl and hear the story from Patrik and Gerardo. She had not been able to pay the 100-pesos-lunch that the school provided and was sitting hungry waiting for her mother. Adding to this sad story, with a funny twist, is that she had asked Gerardo if Patrik was ill or something since he spoke so strangely. She never understood we were foreigners and did not have Spanish as our first and only language.
The above image has traveled around with me to numerous presentations as my favourite picture to show from our field work in 2007. (Thanks Patrik for having taken the picture!) Now I have a new favourite picture.
Only yesterday did I find out that the girl's name is Vanesa. She's now 7 years old, with her birthday someday this very month. I was lucky enough to recognise her suddenly on the visit to the school yesterday, when together with Gerardo we wanted Michael to get to know La Florida, the poor invasion I hope to show more pictures from. She was playing in the stairs with her friends before she got down and passed me.
I caught her attention with an "hola señorita" noting that she didn't recognise me at first, which was of course to expect. I probably only remembered her so well because of the situation with the picture and the fact that I've seen the picture in my Aguablanca tribute video so many times. I continued saying that I have a picture of her and me together, and in just a moment she remembered me. I asked if she remembered that we had taken the picture over there in the stairs and if she remembered my tall friend who spoke strangely. With a timid smile she nodded her head saying softly: "my mother wanted to see the picture". I didn't hear her at first but she repeated that her mother had wanted to see the picture we had taken a year and a half ago. Obviously she had told her mother about us that day. I told her I still had the picture and that I would bring a copy of it to her. "When?" she asked. Thinking fast and realizing that we would actually come back the very next day to pick up some questionnaires that Michael was to leave I said that we'd come back tomorrow. I asked what her name was. "Vanesa" she said. I introduced myself as Joni. She was satisfied and suddenly said she had to go to her class that had just started.
While waiting for Michael to finish his meeting with Rigoberto, joining them back and forth, I could see Vanesa smiling and waving from her class room as I waved to her. The re-encounter really made my day. She had been smiling already when I saw her playing in the stairs. A much more happy image than the one of our first encounter. Only that was pleasing enough to see. Something to tell Patrik. Now, I was looking forward to print the picture for her for the next day.
This is my new favourite picture from my time in Aguablanca. Taken about 8 hours ago. I can't but feel happy about this great opportunity to reconnect with the people who helped realizing my own field work by now helping Michael with his. It's of course part of the purpose of my thesis work to present our findings and start realizing projects accordingly, so to actually find myself useful in the field again really feels amazing. Thanks to my fiancée I thought of bringing a bunch of different sweets together with the picture to Vanesa. I saw her happily enjoy them right after our re-encounter. A very special encounter for me making me determined to follow and help Vanesa's and her likes' progress towards a good future. With a friend like Michael, if he returns after finishing his Master's, I'm sure we can achieve something, hopefully together with our friends and connections in Europe.
(A link to Michael's blog might be in order: blogs.ncl.ac.uk/m.j.burgess1.)