Children of the Calchaqui Mountains

While traveling with and leading a group of youth ambassadors around Argentina, I discovered Isonza de Buena Vista, the smallest towns hidden deep in the Calchaqui Mountains. And in that Argentine town I spent a couple of days working with and teaching nineteen Argentinian children. I experienced incredible moments; the types of moments that only complete immersion reveals to travelers. 

The “town” is really an establishment of five weathered, but strong gray buildings that make up a rural, sustainable school. Isonza de Buena Vista, a small boarding school, welcomes the mountain children to its doors. Children trek up to six hours each way by foot or on horseback to the Isonza campus where they eat, sleep, and learn. On weekends and holidays they embark on the return journey to their families and their mountain villages. Teachers travel from the surrounding “pueblos” and some come from Salta, the capital, over three hours away. The school provides medical and dental services for its students, and for many the school is home. Isonza is the children’s only access to education, to a future.

Beyond the pastel greens and pinks, and the rusty reds and purples of Valle Encantado, I discovered the humility, the vulnerability, the exhaustion, and the beauty in the daily life of these mountain people.

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The children, whose remote locations limit their access to technology, have the most imaginative minds. Creativity courses through the children’s bodies as they draw sketches of the land for art class; write short stories for their language class; make and embroider leather bags and pouches to sell at artisan markets; dance to folk music on the patio, and farm and cook their own food. What they need, they have, and they devote themselves to earning what they want: an education. Together, the children and I wrote down our thoughts, and drew illustrations of people and animals. Our tangled ideas, drawings, and words slowly untangled themselves, as if with a mind of their own, revealing this children’s story.

***

Once upon a time there was a town called Isonza, where all of the humans were very sad. The local animals gather nearby and noticed the humans’ lethargic, despondent behavior. They came to Isonza and wondered why the humans were so sad.

A little fox named Eliseo said, “I have the perfect solution! We will host a soccer match in which both the animals and the humans will play.”

The next day the animals gathered at the Isonza school soccer field. They rang the school bell to get the attention of the townspeople. Slowly, the humans started congregating around the field, asking and wondering what was going on.

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When everyone had gathered around the field Eliseo said, “We want to play a game of soccer with all the humans.”

Confused and anxious, the humans talked amongst themselves and then agreed to play with the animals. The game began, and the animal and human crowds began cheering on each other and their teams. Soon the Isonza townspeople’s happiness returned. After a long game, the two teams tied six versus six, and everybody, animals and humans alike, celebrated the event.

Ever since that soccer game, the Isonza people have been happy, healthy, and full of beautiful, bright smiles.

***

That evening the Calchaqui mountain children, the school teachers and the director, the youth ambassadors and I played a game of soccer, and I felt that we were bringing the children’s story to life.

“¡Gooooooooooolll!” the girls scored, and were the first on the scoreboard. The boys kicked off and lost possession, but quickly regained the ball. The ball flew, spewing dirt across the sky, as the girls’ goalie cleared a shot on goal. Several bodies jumped up to head the ball toward their teammates. And several bodies hit the ground ready for the next play; dribbling the ball up and down the field, the match continued.

Red dust flew into the air and streaked our clothing, “¡Esquina!” the director shouted!  A corner kick, for the boys and then the farmhand, who refereed the game yelled, “¡goooolaaazzo!” The boys’ scored their first goal.

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For an hour we competed side by side: running into each other, racing each other, pushing each other, scoring goals against each other. In playing together we crossed communication and cultural barriers. This game, the “world’s game,” made us citizens not of our cities, towns or countries, but of our world.

As the game concluded, the sun slowly nestled itself behind the wall of mountains. And in that moment, aurora australis danced brilliantly above us in the dusk sky, radiating nature’s allure and the beauty of people coming together as one.


Photos by author

 

Kalindi Naslund is a multi-local Spanish teacher, traveler, home chef, reader, and freelance writer. She currently lives in Catalonia, Spain where she teaches students English and takes Catalan classes. While she’s not busy in the classroom teaching or learning, she explores the Catalonian region, makes frequent visits to Barcelona, and travels around Europe.