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.”


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