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Dave El Pulpo

For many people, my name is difficult to pronounce. It doesn’t matter where I am in the world, someone will manage to mispronounce it. I became used to this at a young age and I don’t mind gently correcting people. Many of the kids in Guatemala find my name especially difficult to say due to the “v”/ “b” pronunciation and subsequently call me Meif, or pronounce my name phonetically in Spanish as Mai-ev-ay.

Several weeks ago one of the boys in the 3rd grade English class I teach, Bryan, ran up to me and said, “Hola Dave!” I was obviously confused and replied, “I think you mean Maeve.” One of my brightest students, Bryan never had any difficulty pronouncing my name. He shook his head and enthusiastically said something along the lines of, “No, I mean Dave! Your name is just like Dave el pulpo.”

I wracked my brain trying to remember what the heck a pulpo was. I asked Bryan, “Is that an animal?” He looked at me like I was especially moronic and nodded. “From ‘Madagascar!’”

I’m well-versed in children’s pop culture (shoutout to my 9-year old sister) so I immediately knew that Bryan was talking about the movie “Madagascar” and not the country. Perhaps a more cultured person would have thought about all the different kinds of animals that live in Madagascar, but I pictured Chris Rock’s zebra.

From that moment on I became “Dave” to all 28 boys at Valley of the Angels. Now when one of the boys greets me it generally goes, “Hola Dave!” or “Hola Dave…Maeve!” Once during Sunday Mass at the sign of peace an 11 year old grabbed my hand and whispered, “La paz, Dave el pulpo.”

But did you ever learn what el pulpo is? you ask. Of course, and it was the children who helped me. I recently taught a unit to my 3rd graders on the parts of the body. I posed the question to the kids in English, “How many arms does an octopus have?” and drew a crude octopus on the whiteboard. Immediately screams of “DAVE EL PULPO” filled the classroom.

Wait, Dave is an octopus? Why don’t I remember him from the movie? A quick online search told me that it’s because he was in the “Penguins of Madagascar” movie, which I’ve never seen. He’s also apparently the villain so I hope the kids aren’t projecting any characteristics onto me.

Maeve the missioner and Dave el pulpo

Maeve the missioner and Dave el pulpo

Honestly, I’m thrilled that the kids are learning to rhyme words because it means they’re one step closer to being excellent readers, writers, and poets! I felt a real sense of pride when I overcame my confusion and realized that Bryan was rhyming words.

The education system in Guatemala is deeply segregated between those who can afford to go to private schools and those who are forced to endure the failing public school system. Valley of the Angels accepts students from some of the poorest areas in the country and charges them nothing. Even with a private education, there are countless other factors in the lives of those in poverty that make it difficult to succeed in society.

That’s why I consider every success in the classroom, no matter how seemingly insignificant, a victory. Rhyming two words together may not be challenging for some people, but I see it as another step in Bryan’s journey to break free from the violence of poverty.

Maeve Gilheney-Gallagher is a returned lay missioner with Franciscan Mission Service who served for two years at Valley of the Angels orphanage in Guatemala City, Guatemala. She currently serves on the FMS Board and works as the Global Solidarity Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Mission. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, Dan, and three-legged dog, Lola.