There are some special people in this world. You come across them and there is something more than ordinary that makes you pause and think.
While we met many incredible people on our trip, there is one who is particularly memorable and continues to occupy my thoughts, which are not just about him in particular, but about the institutions we create for power and order, the ways they fail and promote injustice, the spirit of humankind, and what I am supposed to do as an individual in a world that I know should be, could be and must be better.
Alan is twelve years old, well, really eleven, eleven and three-quarters, so almost twelve. Remember the days when your years were divided into quarters? I’ll give you a second. Alright. He isn’t tall for his age, but not too short either. Brown eyes, dark, short hair. Average I guess, but just watch and you’ll start to see something far more interesting. Alan is Comcáac (Seri), maybe only half, and joined us on our camping trip to Tiburon. I looked past him at first, I was busy loading and unloading pangas after an exhausting day, and I thought kids were generally useless after a long day, especially when they’re hungry and tired. Not this one.
Alan jumped at the opportunity to help with anything he could and turned out to be more resourceful and thoughtful in setting up the kitchen tent than the rest of us gringas. He seemed especially independent for an 11 year old with wisdom that comes from necessity, not age. Alan quickly became friends with the entire group, lending a helping hand, asking questions, joking around and absorbing everything to unfold around him. He is perceptive and it seemed like he knew what was going on even when everyone was speaking English.
When asked if he wanted to be a fisherman, Alan said he already was one. He proved it later by catching several puffer fish with a line, hook and bait. We tried to be more specific, “do you want to be a diver when you are older?” The answer was a definitive no. Fishermen are the people who can’t finish school. The answer was unexpected; I figured any job in a community with few options would be regarded well. But Alan didn’t exactly like school either. He was happy to ditch to join us on our camping trip and wasn’t looking forward to going back. He claimed the teacher didn’t teach them anything; she just made them write a lot. We asked what he wanted to learn about and after a thoughtful pause his face lit up and he said “everything!”
The reality is that Alan’s family doesn’t have much money, which will directly limit his ability to continue in school. His family situation is unclear. His mom seems to have remarried and his dad may be out of the picture or in a band. Alfredo expressed that Alan will probably have to be a fishermen. No one has ever told me I have to be anything.
In the meantime, Alan will continue to be a goofy, resourceful kid who loves Nutella, but will eat just about anything. I think he already has valuable interpersonal skills and will learn the ways to the worlds with or without his teacher. He made us laugh and reminded me how different and exciting the world looks when you are eleven and three-quarters. I just wonder if I should have given him more than extra Marias for the entertainment, inspiration and reality-check all rolled into one.