I’ve decided that I would have liked Valentine’s Day a lot more at home if they had canceled classes like they do in Guatemala. Or at least, in San Mateo Ixtatán.
Yesterday (yes, I am aware that •today• is actually Valentine’s Day, but I’ll get to that point) classes were canceled in honor of Valentine’s Day, so that we could go on a paseo together as a school. Classes weren’t canceled today, because the students in sexto magisterio had to go student teach in the elementary school and had their own paseo.
We left the school at about 7:30 in the morning, and walked for 2 hours to “Hit Hop” (I don’t know how it’s actually spelled, but that’s what it sounds like). Hit Hop is a very large (about 3/4 mile in diameter) field surrounded by pine trees. The grass is short and perfect for playing soccer, and the field was divided in parts by large rocks/boulders that stuck up from the ground.
Basically, kids goofed around and played games until lunch. And threw pica pica, or confetti, in each others’ hair.
And in my hair.
But they didn’t just •throw• it, mind you, they took big handfuls of it and •ground• it into your •scalp•. Awesome.
They’d also get their hands wet, cover them in glitter, and smear glitter on your face and in your hair.
I seemed to be a favorite target– I wasn’t sure at first whether to be flattered or pissed.
I was flattered. I shreeked and chased them and took my own handfuls of pica pica and ground it in to their little scalps. It was fun. At one point, a group of girls from cuarto magisterio tackled me, camera and all, to the ground and all threw big handfuls of glitter and confetti on me, until everyone gave up in giggles.
I was •starving• by the time lunch rolled around– we hadn’t brought any snacks, and between the glitter/confetti-ing and the sun… whew. My bloodsugar was non-existant.
Thankfully, lunch was delicious fried chicken, black beans, chicken-flavored rice, and ample tortillas. And soda in glass bottles, (aka: “agua” har har) of course.
After devouring the food, we began the “secret gift exchange.” This had been planned a week in advance, so we all knew who to buy gifts for. The rule was, you couldn’t spend more than 10Q. (about $1.50). To pick secret friends, we drew names out of a hat. All students and teachers included.
I bought 5 mini snickers, a bag of peanuts, a bag of corn balls, and a bag of pica pica for Enrique in quinto magisterio. And wrapped it up in a piece of red tissue paper with a BIG PINK HEART. hee hee.
The gift exchange was a long, drawn-out, and chaotic production. About par for the course.
A volunteer began by standing up and describing their “amigo secreto.” Then, the amigo secreto would have to come up and take the gift, and repeat the description of their own “amigo secreto.” Yes, it makes sense, but the system would break down when someone received a gift but forgot to bring one to give, gave a gift to someone who had already given theirs away, or left early and was not there to claim their gift. A lot of people, after having received and then given away their gift, would just walk away or start goofing off and distracting other students.
As I waited for my secret amigo to announce my name… I watched my legs slowly get sunburned. Yeowch.
My secret amiga was María from segundo básico… one of the toughest basquet players around 🙂 She bought me a “say it with roses/ i love you bear-with-flowers” (yes, it was labeled in English :-)) and a rosary. A very sweet gift!
A lot of the kids really went all-out for the gift exchange. I mean, nice wrapping paper and everything! The stores around town have been stocking heart-themed tschochky for a couple of weeks. Everything from plastic flowers to plastic hearts to plastic bears and random molded plastic shapes that say “I Love You” or “Día de Cariño.” Everything sells for between 10 and 30 quetzales. Candy unfortunately didn’t seem to be such a popular gift… sad day.
After the gift exchange, we rounded up and headed home.
Except….. the once-pristine field that we had walked to in the morning was now covered with garbage. And I do mean •covered•.
Plastic bottles, bottle caps, wrapping paper, plastic pica pica bags, pica pica itself, food scraps, chip bags, candy wrappers, boxes. Lots of plastic bottles.
The solution? Throw everything into one of the natural sink-holes in the field and burn it. Well… almost everything. Somehow the organic materials, the one •safe• thing to burn, were left out. And only a small portion of the total garbage amount ever made it in to the fire in the first place.
And the gringos were able to rescue some of the plastic materials for the trash heap. Awesome (not).
We ended up leaving a large portion of garbage in the field, while Jess and Brian hauled a torn garbage bag full of plastic bottles back to San Mateo, only to be scolded for not leaving it at the field where “the municipal government would pick it up.” Yeah, right.
I wonder where we went wrong? Well. For one thing, we did not warn the students ahead of time that they needed to pick up their garbage. Nor did we provide ample garbage bags.
But the interesting thing is, everyone can talk the talk about garbage and waste management. They all know throwing garbage on the ground or on the floor of the classroom leads to too much garbage in the street and a dirty-looking place. But they keep doing it.
Why? Is this the difference between “communication” and “education” that we talked about in Environmental Ed last semester? I think it is. We’re “communicating” the correct things to do, we’re just not “teaching” the correct things to do.
It was especially interesting that María brought the issue up at the faculty meeting today, pointing out that the “voluntarios” (gringos) were the only ones that stayed behind picking up the garbage. This brought up the issue of trash management in the school in general, which somehow led to a discussion of spitting on the floor, which prompted Julio to say that it is “just part of our culture.”
The “just part of our culture” bit was not kindly-received by the well-intentioned gringos present, but I could see his point to a certain extent. Maybe not in regards to leaving a once-pristine field full of garbage (which goes against my personal values to such an extreme that I can’t write it off as “cultural relativity”), but definitely in regards to some of the gringo teachers’ complaints on how the school and classes are run. I was almost glad Julio finally pointed out that perhaps some of the “improvements” the gringos (myself included) are trying to make (aka: force) are not, in fact, “improvements” at all, but just “how things are here” (this mostly in regards to how classes and disciplinary actions are run).
I also wonder if Julio’s “outburst” (with such a laid-back guy, that’s as close as we’ll get to an “outburst”) was perhaps a bit of underlying animosity towards the foreign-managed Foundation? We have to keep in mind that the Foundation is based in the US, is run by US Citizens, and has come here and opened up the first high school in town and changed quite a few things around. Plus, this is the largest number of US volunteers that they’ve had yet. There is a lot of resentment from other people in town, which resulted in a confrontation once. Even if the compañeros at the school generally like the support of the Foundation (be it monetary or otherwise), there is still the possiblity for underlying resentment of the foreigners trying to change things (and worse, we’re gringos, who always seem to want to run the world– well intentioned or not).
In my personal opinion, I think it would be more of a challenge for all of us volunteering here to change •our• “save-the-world” “our-way-or-the-high-way” “scare tactic and memorization” attitudes to conform more to the laid-back, cancel class for Valentine’s Day attitudes of the guatemaltecos.
After all, when a year (or three months, in my case) is up, we’re all going to go back to our homes, and the guatemaltecos will stay here in their home, and we’ll all get back in to our respective routines. Maybe our students will have learned something useful, maybe they won’t have.
The only thing we can really control is what we will take home with us— how our attitudes and beliefs about how the world “should” work* have changed over the course of our being here this short time.
*(isn’t that a joke? “should work”? like there’s an absolute right way to do •anything•)
On a very happy side note— I was accepted by UM’s Environmental Justice Master of Science program!!! WOO! Still waiting for responses from the four anthro programs I applied to…