There’s No Birthday like a School’s Birthday

For three days during the week of May 21st our beloved school, the Centro Comunitario de Educación Yinhatil Nab’en (“Seeds of Knowledge” Education Center), celebrated its second birthday.   

Curious that it should have its birthday in the middle of the school year, which clearly means that the first five months of the school’s existence were “illegal”…but hey, we’ve gotten used to that sort of thing around these parts in Guatemala! 

The first day’s sole activity was the inauguration, and what an inauguration it was: it started Wednesday at 1 p.m. in the blazing afternoon sun, and the clean-up had to be hastened due to the fact that the sun was quickly setting…at 6:30!   

The majority of my anniversary pictures are pictures I took during the inauguration, and can be seen here: 

[] [Anniversary] 

Also, the week prior we went on a nice waterfall-hike excursion.  See here for that album: 

[] [Waterfall Hike] 

But back to the anniversary—not only did the inauguration include opening formalities such as the national anthem and words from the mayor (who said our school’s name a different way every time, not once correctly), and closing formalities such as speeches from the new Reina Yinhatil Nab’en (queen of the school) and the two runners-up; but the audience also enjoyed (we hope) an impressive gamut of comedy sketches, poorly choreographed dances, and what seemed like hundreds of lip-synced songs. 

As mediocre and poorly rehearsed as some of the acts were, it was still fun to see our students up there singing, dancing, and acting in outrageous costumes.  (In the case of our generally conservative, corte-wearing girls, many of their costumes consisted of revealing, Ladina-type schoolgirl outfits.  That certainly says something about what Mayan girls think it means to be “sexy,” if not about the general Mayan view of Ladino culture.)   

The acts were also a nice counterpoint to the very formal “exchange of power” between the new and old queens and runners-up, all of whom were decked out in the most traditional of garb, and escorted to and from the stage by their male counterparts, who looked just as excellent in their capixays and white pants as the ladies did in their cortes, huipiles, and headdresses.   

However, as humorous as some of skits were, I had trouble paying much attention to them on account of how preoccupied I was with my own impending bi-and-a-half-lingual appearance!   

Yes indeed, Profe Chat did in fact grace the stage during one of the aforementioned poorly rehearsed comedy sketches as a gringo from “Okay, Arizona,” who met up with several Chuj-speaking illegals on the other side of the border.  However, this was no normal gringo: while Profe Chat couldn’t speak much Spanish (and spoke lots of patronizing English), he just happened to be able to speak…Chuj? 

“Speak” is, of course, all relative to my language abilities in, say, Czech, Japanese, Swahili, and Basque…  Although, I did manage to spit out a few coherent sentences in Chuj including, “You want work?!”, “Your arms are too small!”, “Your butt is too big!”, and a few others that got a good laugh out of the agèd, Chuj-speaking dames in the crowd.  Silly, yes.  But fun, and a good—albeit very strange—bonding experience with some of my trouble-maker tercero kids. 

Overall, an excellent first day: the kids looked great, the weather was perfect, the venue was packed, and we all successfully spent nearly 25% of a 24-hour period in the town basketball court.  Impressive!  The only thing that cast a bit of a shadow on the whole thing for me was how the queen and her two runners-up had been chosen: money. 

Apparently our 2007 Queen Competition was typical of San Mateo, but it seemed strange to me how in an area as poor as San Mateo Ixtatán, people could think it’s fair to crown the girl who receives the largest amount of money in her name!   

The way the “voting” worked was simple: students filed into the voting room one by one, flashed whatever bill they were going to deposit in their chosen candidate’s box, and then dropped the money in as the teachers wrote down all of the contributions.  Any given student could “vote” as many times and he or she liked, and deposit as much money during the “voting” period as he or she desired. 

And the total of all three together?  More than one thousand U.S. dollars!  I can’t even imagine that the high-rolling Woodberry kids I taught last fall would come close to that absurd amount if they had an election like that.   

And to make things even more incredible, Maribel, the new queen from cuarto, won over 75% of the quetzal-votes.  The third-place candidate, in contrast, won barely 5% of the money, and had, at least theoretically, more support from the 50-some primero kids in her class than the other two candidates combined! 

Of course, the money was used to fund the anniversary’s various expenses, which was good, but the whole idea behind the money-based competition may forever remain a mystery to me.  Perhaps I’m missing how similar the whole competition was to actual politics?  Hmmm… 

Day number two involved an endless number of soccer and basketball games between our kids and teams from Monte Horeb (the evangelical school in the center of town) and Mayalán, a town northeast of San Mateo in the hot-and-spicy lowlands.  The whole day was highly enjoyable, whether the other team creamed us, we creamed the other team, or both sides were evenly matched—although the latter were the best.   

Day number three included a variety of unrelated activities: a marathon, a cycling race, a spelling bee, and last but most certainly not least, the requisite social dance!   

Not only have I learned to enjoy the marimba music and the only-vaguely-rhythmic dancing of the San Mateo folks, but I also think the social tension (read: sexual tension—just don’t say those words in San Mateo!) between all of our students is hilarious, so I had a great time, dancing virtually every dance with ladies from ages 5 to 75, and watching my poor visiting UVa friend Eunice get swung around the dance floor by and endless number of our students and teachers. 

There ended the anniversary, after much planning, much fund-raising (!), much paying, much playing, and much festivating.  After that, just two more weeks of exams were in store before all of us Foundation dwellers blew our popsicle stand for a second time in search of far-away vacationary adventure…

1 Comment

Filed under Guatemalan Travels

One response to “There’s No Birthday like a School’s Birthday

  1. Guenter

    Hello Mr. Chat, apparently you are having a good time there. Are you still there? When are you coming back? – Saludos – Guenter

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