Archive for January, 2007

Extreme Days

Moods are like the weather here: when it’s good, it’s really good. The sun is shining, you can see forever, its warm. Fabulous

When it’s bad… oh boy. Freezing, the electricity goes out, you pile on all your clothes and drink all the cocoa… and you still can’t see across the street for all the fog.

Today has been good.

I was able to get some rechargeable batteries in Santa Eulalia the other night (see “in ganna ach”) and the kids have been going wild with taking pictures this week 🙂

The segundo kids remembered how to turn on the computers, remembered what their user names and passwords were, remembered what program to use to browse the internet, remembered to double click the Firefox icon to open the program, remembered where to type, and remembered the name of the largest circulating daily paper in Guatemala (we don’t actually receive newspapers out here… we’re learning about them by reading internet news articles).

I discovered that there is an Adobe-like graphics editor on Linux… very, very much like Photoshop. YESSSSSS!!!!

I decided that, to facilitate things with the cameras, I will load the pictures on to my computer, upload them as “private” photos onto Flickr, and from there the students can copy and paste (both basic computer functions that they need to practice) the photo into the graphics editor (“Gimp”) and crop/edit as they please (croping will help them practice moving the mouse around!). Then, they will copy/paste their edited photo into the blogger software (I’m setting up a blog for each class) and type their stories that they’ve written and edited in their notebooks.

The only class that doesn’t have computer time during *my* class is tercero, and they have lots of compu classes that they can work in.

I learned that I’ve been telling the students to “light the cameras on fire” instead of “turn the cameras on.” Heh. “incendiar” vs. “encender”. Whoopsies!

I also discovered that there is a SPANISH version of Ubuntu, the Linux OS that we’ve been using in English so far (making things a tad complicated for our second-language Spanish learners in the Computación classes. Try saying “Haz un clik en Programs, y después un clik en Word Processor.”). The jury is out on whether Chat or I discovered it first… 😉

But that would be amazing if Henry had all of the resources he needed to administer the system *in Spanish*, and if our kids could learn to use computers *in Spanish*. Wow. That would be fabulous.

And I love the whole concept of Linux… free software! I mean, that’s great! We don’t have to spend $1000s to support Microsoft just to run our computers!

We’ll see how the computer issues shape up… for now, I’m just happy we have graphics editors!!


Eulalia’s Licenciatura Ceremony

Marimba music!!! constant background music… slight reprieve immediately before the ceremony begain… candidates walked in to marimba music, music continued softly during speeches

in a high school– main room. doors on either side with “quinto” “tercero” and “sexto” written above them (A and B groups).

stage at front… on light blue banner behind stage: “I PROMOCION LICENCIATURA / ADMON. EDUCATIVA/ 2004 2005/ SANTA EULALIA” in shiny red letters, all caps

in center of banner- Maya stella flanked by Maya god of medicine on either side of stella (two gods) (according to Julio)

Guatemalan flag on lower stage left, speaker’s podium lower stage right, table and chairs in center of stage, hats on table.

chairs in two columns, aisle in the middle. camcorder set up on tripod at front center of aisle.

paper cut-out mickey mouse hanging from a light on the ceiling! Pooh poster on the wall that says “¡Sonríe!” (smile!)

Man sitting on left side, 4 rows in front of me and across the aisle from me… dressed in fake-faded “gangster” jeans with patches and a wallet chain and a military-green hoodie, brown tennis shoes… spiked-ish (has gel, shaped in front), dyed hair… younger kids (4 years old, boys, in little jeans and hoodies) gather around to see his camera phone (not a Razr)… he takes their picture. NOT ladino
— holding a fat baby in an orange jumper, pink striped hat
— w/ women all wearing cortes, some in huipiles… young-ish girl next to him in a corte and hoodie w/ flip flops, rests head on his shoulder periodically

Audience mixed ingígena and ladino… ladinos stand out (women in jeans, hoodies, short hair, makeup). some ladinas in pantsuits…makeup is the biggest difference, i think!

most men dress similarly… jeans, sweater or button-down shirt (indigena and ladino). a few men in button-down shirts and capixai… some men in traditional shirt and capixai– mostly older men. mostly traditional dress on women– all but ladinas in cortes and shirt. most wear blusas or huipiles… babies in fleece jumpers and hats.

kid w/ Razr… camera phones everywhere! lots of teenagers have Razrs or other camera phone

professional fotógrafo at the front– film camera with big hotfoot flash (looks like a Minolta SR-201… my stepsister’s old cam that i found in a drawer and it turns out the light meter is broken…. can’t get close enough to find out!) and RCA video camera. front and center in the aisle. later in the ceremony he picks up the video camera (rests on shoulder, not handycam) and films each candidate’s family individually as they stand and clap. during the speeches, he takes breaks to film the audience (turns and pans audience w/ camera)… take still photo of each candidate as they get their robes and hat.

LOTS of cameras… at least one camera in every family (either camera phone, digicam, film point and shoot, camcorder). estimate 1/4 people have cameras… about equal numbers of each… possibly more cameraphones and digicams… but a lot of film cams too

lots and lots of camcorders… about 40 people line either side of the seating area at the front with camcorders, filming the entire ceremony (2 hours? 3 hours?). Some more people with camcorders get up, sit down throughout… move closer to get better shot of their candidate.

everyone with digicams takes pictures, immediately checks outcome of pictures… over and over again, in the middle of the speech. kids playing with camera phones throughout….

candidates enter 1×1, holding their official robes folded in front of them. men wearing western suits/ties, women mostly in cortes and huipiles

mostly male candidates– 20 total, 5 women

robes are black with light blue trim on the neck/chest and sleeves, pillbox hats with matching light blue pompom are already on stage.

after an introductory speech, each candidate is called on stage and dressed by the two professors in their official robes. handshake and a hug. no hat yet.

firecrackers (sound like little bombs! always startle me, but no one pays any attention) outside the doors during the presentation of the robes

after each candidate is dressed, they say a vow… hold up right hand… candidates stand in front of stage, on the floor.

general restlessness at this point… people standing and sitting, moving up front to get pictures, coming back to sit down.

i move closer to get a picture of Eulalia when she gets her robes. people are staring at me… i have to think it’s the camera (tele lens on it) and not the gringa-ness. chat, jess, angela have smaller cameras, i don’t notice people staring as much. maybe i’m imagining it… i don’t get nearly as many stares as normal.

crowd at front of seating area… most people still in seats, though. only those taking pictures of relatives/candidates getting up and moving. small kids playing in aisle! kid in front of me keeps turning and staring. he’s doing something to irritate his mom, and she threatens to take him outside.

the speaker invites people to come up and take a picture “como un recuerdo” during the vow portion… about 15 more people get up and move towards the front of the aisle.

background music changes… american pop w/o words. “all for you” plays.. MIDI file on a keyboard

is that KidSongs playing???

Ladino guy with long-ish streaked hair (light brown with some almost-blond streaks)… jeans and a button-down… with ladina woman in jeans and a red hoodie, short-short dark hair (cut like Lindsay’s), makeup. has cameraphone up in front of him constantly! about 2 rows right in front of me

after vows, candidates get up and receive pillbox hat… i go up and take a picture of Eulalia getting hers… people move closer and go back to their seats again…

something political…. some guy was not allowed to come to the ceremony? why? the university wouldn’t allow it for some reason. he still received his degree, though… weird. his family didn’t come either… profoto doesn’t have anyone to film

ceremonial presentation of diplomas to the three professors… one of the presenters (one of the new licenciados) addresses audience almost entirely in Qan’ qobal … Chat asked Juan Jacinto to confirm what language it was. I thought it was Chu’j because of the glottal stops… but those could be feature of other Maya languages too (not familiar enough with them yet). Chu’j speakers can understand Qan’qobal, but not the other way around, apparently (according to Julio and Juan Jacinto) speaker mixes Spanish words in (ie: licenciado, other academic words)

candidates parade out to MIDI files of american pop w/o words… everyone congregates in front of the building… i leave to go buy batteries! come back and Eulalia’s group (BIG group! family, friends, co-workers –ie: us!– all walk through Santa Eulalia to a restaurant for dinner).

half of the group eats at a time– rice flavored with chicken broth, blackbeans, chicken. we can hear them hacking the rotisserie chickens apart right behind the divider our table pushes up against!

random assortment of refrescos…. Eulalia opens one and passes it until someone decides it’s the flavor they’d like. i get piña (Canada Dry label…). tortillas are softer than in San Mateo… stay soft even when cool. also paler, less yellow, more white

I ask Chico about “kaxlan” (“chicken” in Chu’j, supposedly used by Pan-Mayan movement to refer to non-Mayans, according to Warren). He inisists (as did Gloria, and María) that “kaxlan” refers ONLY to Ladinos, and not gringos. I swear I heard my students using it to describe me… they said it once when we were going over descriptive words, and then i asked what it meant, and they wouldn’t answer, and then one of them said “not Guatemalan”… and then said it was the opposite of “Chapín”. he looks slightly uncomfortable… but i can never read his facial expressions. he might be laughing at me, he might just be amused that i picked up on “kaxlan”, he might even be pissed off that i’m questioning what he said. who knows?!

people rotate in and out to eat… Eulalia opens gifts… crowd walks back towards main road to pile into busito that we rented to drive back to San Mateo. all of about 1 hour… drive back to San Mateo takes about 1.5 hours (arrive home at exactly 8:20)

In ganna ach

(“I love you” in Chu’j)

Classes were canceled this afternoon in honor of Eulalia’s (a fellow teacher, and the only female Guatemalan teacher) graduation.

Licenciatura is about equal to a bachelor’s degree– Eulalia is now the one licenciada at the high school. Needless to say, it is a very big deal that she has received her licenciatura, both personally for her and for the school. And, as she told us, she is now eligable to begin Master’s level training if she wants.

The ceremony was really interesting– it was the first time I actually took “Field Notes” per-say!! I mean, I’m not going to be taking notes when I’m teaching… and while I try to write up a little refelction on class each day/week… it doesn’t always happen and it’s not always the same.

Perhaps since there are many fewer undergrads graduating (?) and they tend to be older than in the USA, the ceremony was long, formal, and recognized each individual. It seemed more similar to a doctoral ceremony in the states (and at first I thought it was) with each person getting “robed” and “hatted” by a professor, taking a vow, and lots of long speeches.

At first I thought it was a doctoral ceremony, because of the robing and the hatting…

The candidates were graduating from U San Carlos, the largest university in the country, which is based in Guatemala City. It was a local ceremony for students who lived in the area and usually traveled to get to classes at nights or on the weekends (in Santa Eulalia… the USC has a branch there). Maybe this is why there was a more personal/formal feel to it?

Marimba music played steadily in the background, louder before the ceremony and as the candidates entered, and softly continued during the speeches and robing/hatting. At the end, the music changed to electronic MIDI files of American pop music and KidSongs played off of the Casio keyboard… oh boy. I’ve never heard “All For You” or “The Ants Go Marching In” quite like that before!

After the ceremony, we congregated out in front of the high school where it had been held. Juan Jacinto suggested that I run and buy some rechargeable batteries while we were waiting.

Not only did the store have rechargeable batteries— they process film too!! Mental note: if I decide to switch to film later on, the place to get it processed is just an hour and a half away. Sweet!

As we were walking back to the high school, we met up with the rest of the group, which included Eulalia’s extended family, friends, and co-workers (us). We walked through the little town (which somehow felt much larger than San Mateo does) to a comedor.

We could only fit half of the group in the comedor at a time, so we ate in shifts. Chat, Jess, Angela and I ate at once and could hear them hacking the rotisserie chickens apart behind the divider at the end of our table. Yummy.

Dinner was rice flavored with chicken broth, black beans, fresh tortillas and part of a rotisserie chicken. The tortillas were whiter than they are in San Mateo… and stayed soft even when they were cold. Interesting… I wonder what was different about them?

We all piled into a busito that we had rented to drive back to Mateo… we had the requisite 2-extra people crammed into the 20-passenger bus. Sure! No problem! Winding through the mountains at night, camionetas trundling past us on blind curves. Who needs an amusement park when you can just hop in a moving vehicle and drive home?!

Please don’t think that I mean that negatively… because I don’t. I really do get a kick out of “how things work” down here. It’s a huge lesson in patience and relaxation for folks from the Great White North (meaning the States). More on this topic later!

So in the bus, we were all speaking English and our Guatemalan counterparts were all speaking Chu’j, and we realized that the hour and a half was ripe for language exchange!

What’s the first phrase we asked for? Well, Fer and Chat asked how to say “I love you” in Chu’j, and then “I could loose myself in your eyes.” Hmmm, what’s their motivation?! 🙂

The Things You Learn The "Hard Way"…

Add “difference between ‘normal’ batteries and ‘alkaline’ batteries” to the list.

Apparently, we live in a “technologically-enhanced” bubble in the United States. Which I already suspected, for better or for worse, but have just now confirmed. The only batteries you can purchase at home are alkaline, and therefore function in the majority of digital devices such as cameras.

Here, however, there are “normal” batteries, made only to function in pre-1999 devices such as film cameras and WalkMans. Also first-generation digital cameras (thankfully we have two of those… I never thought I’d be saying that!).

Being ignorant to the variety of batteries, I purchased bulk “normal” batteries yesterday. I was thrilled they were so affordable!

After turning on the cameras, we got a “Warning, Battery Exhausted!” sign.

This answers my film-vs-digital questions… next time it’s film, grant money or no. Unless I can find rechargable batteries in Santa Eulalia this afternoon– fingers crossed!

I feel the worst for the kids, who just looked at me like I was a complete idiot for buying them crappy batteries. They were like “what do you mean the cameras don’t work”… they just looked crushed!


Looks like I have a case of the Mondays!

Not All Who Wander Are Lost…

the best boots and pants i have ever purchased

The Saturday Hiking Club strikes again!Yesterday afternoon, Jess, Angela and I set off for a little walk towards the ruins. Angela and I continued hiking, following the dubious directions of a band of kiddios shouting English phrases at us (F@#$ you! Hello! F$@% you! What you name?).

We ended up in the middle of someone’s cornfield with the option of either continuing on the path down towards the river or heading back up to town. It was getting late, and we had no idea how far the river was, so we headed back.

But– after a crazy game of truth or dare last night (i bowed out after just a few rounds… people always find that i’m incredibly boring to play the game with.) this morning dawned bright and clear and just begged us to head out again.

Around 10 am we took off towards the ruins again, and retraced Angela’s and my steps through the cornfields. We stopped at the last little

tienda before we were officially “out” of town and bought two sweet rolls each for lunch later on.Angela and I promptly ate one each– the coffee just wasn’t going to get us as far as we wanted to go.

Chat was dead-set on finding “Pittsburgh”… or the confluence of the two rivers that flow down the valleys on either side of town.

We reached a little stone bridge after passing by a couple of farms, but decided that the two rivers that met just below the bridge couldn’t be the ones we were looking for. The second river was just too small! It must just be a spring that fed into this river… “Pittsburgh” must still be farther down the valley.The hiking was gorgeous. The trail was very well-traveled (people use it every day, after all, to get from home to San Mateo for business!) and the vegetation was really surprising!

At one point I was watching my footing, and noticed a fern growing across the trail– lady fern! I had spent all summer identifying those things for school groups out in Seattle! And then– horsetail! and sword fern! Woo hoo! I must be in a “wetlands”… that explained all the mud! 🙂

It got significantly warmer as we moved down-valley. At one point I was actually warm enough to go in just a tank top… I think that might have frightened the only other two people we saw walking.

After about 2 hours moving down-valley, we decided that we’d better turn around and head back up, since we didn’t really know how long it would take us to get back to town.

In all, we ended up walking about 4.5 hours total. Not too bad! By the time we climbed up the mountain back into town, we were starving. The sweet rolls (which are usually too dry for me to really stomach) were devoured around hour 2.5… unfortunately our favorite comedor did not have food ready-to-eat. Thankfully, María’s family’s place did! Delicious beef stew and lots (and lots) of tortillas.

Mmmm, I like this Saturday hiking thing. Hopefully it will be sunny tomorrow and I can go for a bike ride…

Week of Jan 22-27

This entry comes from my personal field notes, but I thought that some of the points I addressed were worth publishing, because of the frustration and confusion they cause me. Names have been removed where the subject in question might have been offended by the commentary.


Kids reading photos—interesting points
→ student in 4o Magisterio can tell where person is from based on clothing…. Can tell what region, etc by the design on the huiple
→ try to fit the entire body in the camera frame when taking pictures of themselves
–> Motorola Razors and other camera phones… 1/3 kids has one, i swear—- i should take a survey. that would be really interesting… just a poll of hands in class. i already asked who owned a digital camera, and no one said that they did. nearly all have taken photos before, however… last year the tercero, quinto, and segundo classes did a project with disposable film cameras. about a month long. each class focused on a different theme (3o= historical buildings, 2o= stories of self, 5o= i’m not sure)

something I stopped myself from saying today about the students acting out in class:
“Did you get the savages under control?”
YIKES! We’d say this at home re: unruly students without giving second thought! But that carries some pretty bad connotations…. I have the same sort of reaction to a bet my fellow teachers have going. They agreed to buy whomever “hooks up” with a “native” first five beers (one from each of the other teachers). The one rule is, no Ladinos count. I asked “why” and got made fun of for being too PC. Interesting… the guys’ reaction to me and Angela pointing out that “the furniture girls”– the girls that work at the local furniture store– are most definitely white (or Ladina) was funny– they got pretty pissed off.

the other teachers keep refering to “the Mayans” and “the native girls”… why do i bristle so much? do “Mayans” refer to themselves as such? I haven’t heard anyone say so yet… only on the ABC special on “Apocolypto” har har. where everyone they interviewed (in Antigua! aka: Gringotenango, crawling with US and Euro ex-pats) responded affirmatively to the question “Are you Mayan? Do you call yourself Mayan?” well gee, there’s a camera shoved in their face, and they’re probably being paid to prove Disney’s point that “the Mayans” are so proud of an ancient history that (supposedly, according to Mel Gibson’s Apocolypto) has lead them to poverty today. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the Spanish conquest and subsequent US economic and military conquests in the region…

everyone here (that i’ve heard so far) refers to themselves as “Chu’j”, not “Mayan,” although the “Pan-Mayanist” movement supposedly smoothed over (and continues to smooth over) regional differences… there is the “Matematicas Maya” class… but that’s about it so far.

—–’s description of the Sunday market (on a sunny day) as “sensory overload”… all the colors, noises, food, different modes of dress, etc

—– wanted a “mind-blowing” experience. Mind blowing. Interesting… you blow your mind, and then go home to the same things you had before. As hard as you claim your life is at home… you have choices. There are no choices here. Not the ones we have… Some of my students asked me if they could come to the US someday… what was I supposed to say? I said “finish high school, and go to college here, and then come study in the US.” Is that even an option? Maybe. They could finish high school here and get a scholarship to the local University… and work for a bit here… but chances are if they finish college they’ll become high school teachers here. They would have to fight against everyone telling them that that’s what they’re supposed to do with their college degree, if they wanted to do otherwise.

As — tried to argue to me (argue? Why the hell was he arguing this??) poverty is about not having choices. Right, that is exactly right. We choose to be here, we have the luxury of being here, using this place to “blow our minds,” marvel over the simplicity of live, the friendliness and truthfulness of the people, and then go home to our comfortable “first-world” (WHY do people still use those terms? but really, is “developed” vs. “developing” any better? how about priviledged and not priviledge? excessive and not excessive? but that’s just reversing the essentialism, isn’t it? is there any “nice” or “correct” way of labeling the different economic levels? am i just way off topic right now?) lives, therefore we are not poor. We come here and feel better about ourselves after living “simply” here (really, we’re living like kings here compared to the vast majority of people) and thinking that our lives are somehow purer having passed through here.

The same with [my friend] ——… he wanted an “authentic” “broadening” experience in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico… and got sick of it after a month so went back to the USA and his car and school and a job. He was upset that he couldn’t go walking in the hills (he was surprised he had to “fear” the Zapatistas.. well duh.) he was pissed that he couldn’t get whole wheat or other health products (aren’t “indians” supposed to be closer to the earth? don’t they eat healthier food?), and he was irritated at the noisey vendors and cars all over the place (must be evidence of American-commercialization, right?). He didn’t have a single good thing to say– his Spanish classes focused too much on slang and dirty words, his host family wasn’t “indigenous”, and therefore it wasn’t worth accepting their invitation to church or learning their culture.

What makes us think that we’re better people for choosing to pass through this place, and these peoples’ lives?

It eases our guilt at living as we do at home, with such excess. It gives us an excuse to be hypocrites—we can go home with a “pure” conscious after living simply here for a few months, weeks, or even days.

Is there a solution? Would we want the solution? Can one person even make a difference? Or would it take a mass effort—would it even be worth one person making an effort without the effort of the masses? Or is it better to just go on as we are, until we destroy ourselves, and let nature start over from scratch?

I get a lot of crap for reading, studying, and being here for a purpose other than “imparting my knowledge” (choke, gag) on the students and drinking cheap beer (choke, gag). — is constantly making fun of me for reading about the Guatemalan Civil War (tonight, during “truth or dare”– I can’t believe i actually played that– he had the “dare” of imitating one person in the room. he imitated me talking about Rigoberta Menchú. because i’ve been reading that book for the past week?

I don’t think people see what i’m doing as being very worthwhile. my students aren’t memorizing math tables, or reading literature, or learning english. according to one of the Guatemalan teachers they’re “expresando nuestros lindos sentimientos” [said sarcastically to my face]. ha ha, we’re playing with cameras!

i feel like even the students sometimes are just “humoring the gringa.”

Rain and Basquet

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px;

more pictures:

We had Thursday afternoon off from classes (the entire school) so that primer, segundo, and tercero básico could play in an invitational basketball tournament.

By “invitational basketball tournament,” I mean an invitation from the one other school in town. The ones that wear red uniforms (“red for the devil” we say… they’re an Evangelical school, so there’s an added irony). We received a very official letter from them a few days ago, and decided at our Wednesday teacher-lunch-meeting that we would cancel classes in honor of the occasion.

Somehow (and I didn’t see the letter, so I don’t know if it was in fact the cause) we thought that we needed to be at the cancha at 1:30.

When we got there, the other school’s students were playing basketball during their lunch hour. And then they left.

Our kids played basketball until 4 pm, when the other school showed up with (our, borrowed) sound equipment and uniforms.

It was somewhat surreal, playing basketball by the church (and yes, I played).

There is a photo in the October 1989 National Geographic, part of the article that inspired my project, of kids playing basketball by a church on Palm Sunday:

This is that church:

Every time I look at the photos I’ve taken, I’m completely taken aback by that church!

Looking back at the National Geographic photo, I’m struck by how I read it now that I’ve learned more about this place.

In the photo, there is a woman sitting on the edge of the court, exactly where I stood on Thursday to take a picture of one of my students passing the basketball.

On my first “reading” of the photo, I had no idea that the colorful poncho she wore was in fact a huipile embroidered in the identifying design of San Mateo.

Nor did I know that the boy who had just shot the basketball in the photo was wearing San Mateo’s traditional capichai. The younger boys rarely wear capichai now (some of the men do occasionally, including Julio) except for on special occasions.

The caption of the photo reads: “The soul of the Maya finds expression in all they touch, even things borrowed from other cultures. In San Mateo Ixtatán, a basketball backboard and Catholic icons are colored by a distinctively Maya hand. By promoting limited cultural interaction, La Ruta Maya [the tourist route proposed by National Geographic] aims to ease the burdens of poverty and isolation while keeping the true Maya colors from fading away.”

Interestingly enough, the church as since been painted. White. With some pink highlights.

Have the “true Maya colors” already “faded away”?

What the heck do we mean by “true Maya colors” anyway??

According to Henry, the church is painted every year in September, for the feria. It’s always a shade of yellow… this year it’s “cream.” Interesting.