Sunday, January 28, 2007

San Juan Chamula

I finally made the trip to San Juan Chamula. I have been meaning to go since before I knew what or where it is. Allow me to explain. There are two churches that I had seen pictures of and have wanted to go see, but I hadn't known where they were located. *

The church with the spectacular door is actually not a Catholic church. It is a hybrid of the the pagan beliefs and of Catholicism resulting in a bizarre ritualistic church that is unique to this area. I wanted to go in but apparently tourists have to buy tickets from a tourist office and I never saw it. I was also a little intimidated as I know that they are very sensitive to tourists and I do not want to offend anyone. I also have heard so much about this church, that I also didn't feel ready to go in.

Not many churches these days openly slaughter chickens as part of their rituals, not to mention drinking coke and/or beer as part of the process of releasing evil spirits. I did not spend enough time or even go in, therefore, I do not feel qualified to describe the scene I witnessed. For a much better description of San Juan Chamula and it's rituals:, cut and paste this URL into your browser's address bar:

San Sebastian was a church but it is now ruins. I heard that about a century ago the Tzotzil people killed the Christians and buried them in the churchyard. I have yet to confirm this story, but you know what they say, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story." I will go back and when I have some time (summer?), I will try to research the history.

* If you are one of my three faithful readers, you may recall that I posted a picture of the door of the church in Chamula. The picture was 'borrowed' from Flickr as I didn't have a camera yet.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Construction by Snails?

When we started at the school in August, we were told that the addition would be completed in October, possibly as late as January. Well it is late January and now next October is starting to look much more likely given the pace at which things are not moving. The slow progress is not necessarily typical of Mexico as I have seen other buildings in town go up in lightning speed.

The second picture is (obviously) a closer look. There seems to be enough rebar to put up four floors. We were told it would be three. At this point almost nothing would surprise me (seven floors?).

I considered having a 'Guess the Project Completion Date Contest' until I realized I will not likely be around to see its opening.

As an aside I just realized that every school I have ever taught in has had an ongoing construction project at some point.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

One of My Strangest Lessons Ever!

Before the men in white coats come to get me, I thought I'd post one last time. Recently I taught a lesson from our curriculum that was about producers and consumers including some questions about a family of dairy farmers. I felt the lesson was a little dry. I enlisted the aid of our principal, Michy and she designed the body of a cow and I gave the cow the ability to give milk.

Alejandro showed promise as a dairy farmer.

Michy was helping the kids to squeeze as it took a strong grip to milk this 'cow'.

Tomorrow the kids vote on a name for the cow. (Of course, we are voting with secret ballots.) The suggestions have been narrowed down to Wanda the Cow and Click Clack Moo. The latter name refers to one of the funniest children's books ever, Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Science Center

Although it may not be very interesting to the non-teachers out there, the Science Center that I made for my students feels like a significant part of my life as I spent several weeks planning and shopping for it and more than two days making it. Having made a very popular Math Center in the fall, I decided it was time for science. There are various games and toys related to science and I made a few things like a wave machine, a pressure diver, a bubble station and much more.

Alejandro, Eddie and Andres have discovered the spinning tops.

Gabriela, Maria Jose and Eunice seem to like the bubble station.

Amado has mastered the slinky.

Daniela is experimenting with static electricity.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Happy Belated Three Kings Day

Now I understand why the Three Wise Men were hanging out in the mall AFTER Christmas (previous post). I thought they just hadn't gotten a calendar last Christmas, but as it turns out they were getting ready for their big day. January 6th is Three King's day in Mexico. Apparently kids open some of their Christmas gifts on this day which suggests that Mexican children are more patient than I thought. You also eat a kind of cake similar to shortcake. It has a small plastic figure cooked into it. The figure is hidden in the cake to symbolize Baby Jesus being hidden from King Herod's army. If you get the figure in your piece and you manage not to choke to death, you have to throw a party on the 2nd of February.

I have long thought that Mexicans are remarkably skilled at coming up with new reasons to have a party, but this one has all the other plans beat. Not only is Three King's Day a huge party, but then somebody is sure to find the baby Jesus figure and then they have to hold a party. Am I the only one or do you see a pattern here?

After a movie with a friend on Saturday, I got some pictures of the the fair downtown for Three King's Day.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Classic Tuxtla

This picture pretty much sums up up Tuxtla for me. Yes, it is one of the three wise men checking messages on his cel phone. Tuxtla is the modern face of a state that feels somewhat ancient outside the capital.

I took this photo today in a shopping mall. The best part was that my camera flashed and the wise man looked up quite guiltily and tried to put away his cel. Several bystanders were watching amused, none more than myself, however.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Chicken Buses!

Much of my travel in Guatemala was done on what are commonly referred to as 'Chicken Buses'. Besides being vastly cheaper than first class tourist buses, chicken buses are an awful lot of fun, that is, if you don't mind a little discomfort. You can end up standing for an hour or two on the most windy roads or you can be squished between people and realize that personal space has no meaning. You become well acquainted with G-forces as the buses make sharp turns at high speeds and your body tries to keep moving straight. Newton would have had a field day on these buses. I have to admit that I left Guatemala feeling disappointed that despite all the time I spent on chicken buses, I was not accosted by chickens even once. In fact no one even brought a chicken onto the bus. But it's a great name for a type of bus.

I am not sure if you can read the name of the bus, but it says "Huehue Mesilla". I thought that I had to become quite familiar with the names of the towns on my way to La Mesilla so that I did not take the wrong bus and end up in the middle of nowhere. I was wrong as it seemed that (literally) everyone was looking out for me. Other passengers would ask where I was going to be sure I had gotten on the right bus. Once I had missed a turnoff where I had to change buses. Having seen a sign indicating that my destination, Panajachel was down a different road, I realized first, but everyone around me immediately helped to get my backpack down and people whistled to get the drivers attention. I felt a real warmth for Guatemaltecans after this.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Mayan People

I am back in Tuxtla and reflecting about my time in Guatemala. The first thing that comes to mind is that I think the Mayans are the most beautiful and dignified race of people I have ever come across (and that's a few). However, they are very resistant to being photographed. The children selling souvenirs insisted on receiving a tip if you wanted their picture and others were not much easier to convince. Paying 14 cents to have someone's photo isn't such a bad deal anyway. There is a story behind most of these photos.

* I admit I cheated on the above photo. I was looking at a pyramid and surreptitiously snapping a picture of this family having a Christmas Day picnic at Tikal. I knew they would not let me take a photo.

* This is Pablo Culum. He informed me that he is a school official trying to raise money for a school in a small town on Lago de Atitlan. Naturally I was suspicious but his notarized documents stating these facts certainly gave him some credibility. When he was stumped by my question about what the name of the school was, his credibility took a real hit.

* The Mayan kids I met have much more responsibility than kids at home in Canada. Often they are looking after a baby or selling souvenirs all day without any kind of supervision. It is rare to see them smile. I stopped asking them to smile for photos because they didn't seem to have a lot to smile about. Why should I make them smile for posterity if they weren't happy to begin with?

* I met this little guy in the market in Solola. he seemed quite interested in who I was and where I was from. He wasn't working and I am guessing he is not from a poor family.

* Cindy couldn't have been more than five or six and worked from morning until night selling little fridge magnet dolls. She was very persistent and after three or four attempts to sell me a doll, I finally coughed over the paltry sum of 5 quetzales (thinking she wouldn't keep trying to sell me stuff). Of course she kept appearing trying to sell more dolls. She would never remember that I had bought one from her. Even after I pointed out this out, she insisted I buy more. I suggested that if I had bought one hundred dolls, she would still come to me asking me to buy one more. She looked reflective for a moment, smiled sweetly and told me, Yes (she would). Fortunately she was not too cycnical and burnt out to smile for the camera.

* I met Rius in Parque Central in Antigua. She was quite determined to sell me some weavings, and was willing to accept payment in pesos. She was very friendly and interested in who I was instead of just getting my money and I quite enjoyed talking to her. The vast majority of vendors (children and adults alike) just saw us (tourists) as faceless moneybags. Ruis was different and I was happy to have met and talked with her. I purchased a beautiful weaving similar to the one she is holding.

** PS: I finally was able to add the photos that I tried to post on Christmas day. If any of the three of you are interested, the post is called Feliz Navidad from Guatemala, Tikal. It now has a few more photos than it did.

*** By the way, Feliz Año Nuevo.