used to receive direct deposit checks containing my daily bread, as
well as withdrawals from government acronyms.
One day last week, my salary was a live chicken and a bundle
of bananas. As freaked
out as I was to receive such a thing, I was humbled to learn that
the average Mayan in the Guatemalan highlands works for an entire
day to earn enough Quetzales to purchase a still-clucking bird.
to clients: Those of
you now wishing to use our pay-by-poultry plan must fill out our
list could go on for pages and pages. However, the point is that the environment here forces a
person to throw expectations out the window and adopt a new mindset.
In the U.S., I had grown accustomed to combing the latest
trade publications and books to find the latest information on
leadership trends and interpersonal dynamics.
my audience is largely indigenous. They have never heard of Tom Peters or Zig Ziglar.
They have little interest in the latest management trends
from the “industrialized world.” Communication and negotiation in the U.S. and Europe are
marked by a directness that Guatemalans view as offensive. Instead, they prefer a softer approach. They find their inspiration and direction in all things
spiritual and musical. This
was not what I expected, but I have adapted.
Old lesson plans and program designs have been tossed out the
past weekend, I had an interesting opportunity.
A church in the village of Los Angeles had asked me to come
and deliver a workshop. (Not
to be confused with Southern California) They wanted me to
teach music with a positive message.
These songs would later form the foundation of a program on
leadership and empowerment. It
was going to be a rather informal gathering.
Due to the size of families here (huge) and the lack of
resources, I was told to expect that many people would be bringing
had visited Los Angeles before, and noticed that the people LOVED
music, and responded to it with tremendous energy. However, most of their songs reflected struggle, pain, and
hardship. In fact, this
is true of much of the Guatemalan musical tradition.
However, these depressing themes are not something you want
to use as the basis for your development program.
So, I amassed a list of some positive songs. Due to the time of year, I yanked the majority of them from
Kasey Kasem’s Holiday Favorites list.
Songs of hope. Songs
of happiness. Songs of
joy. I hopped into the back of the pickup truck with my guitar and
a bag of materials and rode 90 minutes to Los Angeles.
I arrived at the church, I
greeted everyone individually with a handshake and pleasantries,
which is the custom here. To
just shout “Hello Everybody!” to the room is viewed as cold.
After the exchanges, I took a look around the room.
About 20 people had arrived.
Some were there as participants.
Others were there as tag-alongs.
Everyone was eager and attentive.
However, I noticed one boy in particular sitting by his
mother, staring off into space. He was probably eight years
old, wearing a pair of brown, well-worn jeans and a hand-me-down
plaid shirt that was mis-buttoned. She would lean over and say
a few words to him, but he was unresponsive.
He had a blank look on his face, and looked completely
miserable. I wrote him off as a lost cause and focused on the
the next two hours, we talked about joy, empowerment, fulfillment
and relationships. We
used songs and spiritual passages to punctuate points.
There was a lot of activity.
Everyone tried their hand at playing the piano.
We belted out happy Christmas songs until we were hoarse.
Most sang loud enough to rattle the tin roof.
Still others offered opinions and insights.
Though many couldn’t read (including the boy’s mother),
they participated by quickly memorizing songs (truly amazing to
witness) and commenting on the words that were read and spoken.
The energy in the room was contagious.
the boy was a lump. A
complete void. Never
we had finished, I gave the floor to the leader, the pastor of the
church. As is customary
in Guatemala, he was incredibly gracious and thanked me for being
there. There was genuine appreciation in his voice.
What’s more, he wanted the group to pray for my health and
safety for my remaining time in Guatemala.
“It can be dangerous here for tall gringos like Scott” he
said. Everyone laughed. Humbled,
my face turned the shade of a rose.
he motioned to the mother of the boy. She took her son by the
arm and led him to the front of the church to stand by me and the
pastor then looked at me and said, "Scott, I'd like to
introduce you to Josue. He fell down an incline four years ago and
badly hurt himself. Three months later, he lost his
then pointed to a six inch scar on the boy's head, visible through
his close-cropped hair.
continued, “The doctors in Guatemala City operated to remove a
tumor that had formed, but that's about all they could do.
So... today, we would also like to pray for Josue. If you
would be so kind, we would like you to say a few words in your own
was floored. I finally
realized why Josue was so miserable.
Poverty is hard on a society, but it is especially hard on
the handicapped. Here,
because of the scarcity of resources, the expectation is that a
handicapped person is a drain on society.
Josue had been tossed aside.
He had spent the past four years sitting around the village
or being led around by his mother on her errands.
we prayed, many people came up and touched the boy and said
"God Bless YOU". There was a lot of pity and
compassion for the boy, but it was obvious that they didn't see much
hope for him, save for some miracle from above that would give him
people continued to mill about.
In the crowd, a man invited me to join him for lunch at a his
family's house. Another
asked for music. A tiny
women asked me when I would be coming back.
Through it all, I noticed Josue sitting in the corner by his
walked over to him and said, "Hi, would you like to play the
didn't respond. He wouldn't talk to me. Then, his mother
turned to me and said "El no puede." (He can't)
I wouldn’t challenge a mother. However, this was different.
By pure luck, I was born in a country where Stevie Wonder and
Ray Charles do American Bandstand and sing Pepsi jingles.
grabbed the boy by the arms. "Tu Puedes! Ven Acá!"
(You can! Come here!).
I basically kidnapped the boy and carted him up to the front of the
room. There, the keyboard sat on a table. Josue was
still expressionless. I took his hand and ran it around the
perimeter of the keyboard. Finally,
his hands rested on the keys. I
said, "Tócalo" (Play it).
was incredibly shy, but understandably so. Finally, he pressed
down on one of the keys and it made the sound of a pipe organ.
He giggled as the corners of his mouth turned upward.
spent the next fifteen minutes running his hands across the keys to
learn the difference between the black ones and the white ones.
We learned where middle C was.
I asked, "¿Puede sentirlo?" (can you feel
it) He answered me... "Sí!” As the
minutes wore on, he responded more and more.
he started playing the keys by himself. He was smiling and giggling the whole time. I stood
behind him with my arms around him, holding his hands in different
positions so he could play the chords. Finally, I asked him if
he wanted to play and sing "Silent Night." He agreed
with a big nod. So, with my hand over his, we played and sang
I looked up, the rest of the group was watching us – silent.
ride motioned to me that we needed to leave, so I walked Josue
toward his chair. I asked him if he had a good time. “Sí”, he said. When
we had found our way back, Josue’s mom was smiling with a tear on
her cheek. We sat next to her. She put her hand on
his head and mussed his hair.
all have images in our head of what the future looks like.
Unfortunately, these preconceptions are often the wall
between opportunity and possibility. The promise of the human spirit has the ability to
transform all of our expectations, if we only give it the chance.
what are you expecting today?