6 November 2013
Finally, a post which is not about birds! 🙂 Here’s proof that we actually do other things than just go birding. Last week we randomly met a couple at a restaurant and wine bar in San Cristobal. We asked if we could share their table and ended up talking to them all evening long. They even invited us to their home the following evening for drinks. Of course we accepted their offer as we are always looking for opportunities to converse in Spanish. We talked about everything under the sun, the teacher protests in Mexico, the state of the environment in Mexico, life in America, the cost of life, and much more. At the end of the evening Monica invited us visit an indigenous community near San Cristobal where she teaches English. She wanted her students to be able to practice speaking English with native speakers. Who could say no?
A few mornings later we headed up to Romerillo up in the mountains surrounding San Cristobal. Romerillo is an indigenous village composed primarily of Tzotzil (Bat) people. Tzotzil is one of the most widespread indigenous groups and languages in the central highlands of Chiapas, and Tzotzil is broadly grouped as one of the native Mayan languages. The Tzotzil people (the women at least) frequently still dress in traditional clothing. The women wear long wool wraps that are bundled with a cotton scarf around their waist with an ornate top. However, as the world becomes more modern their culture has also changed and you frequently see a mix of dress and customs in the central highlands.
As soon as we arrived at the school, we were clearly the focus of attention as well as intense whispering and giggling. It was clear that we were the star attraction of the day. Josh and I did not know what to expect and had not prepared any lessons, so we taught simple English phrases and names of animals, body parts, colors, and professions to three different levels of students in what we consider in the U.S. to be Junior High.
The students were very shy and did not really want to speak up, but once the class progressed they started to feel a little more at ease. During one class, we taught them parts of the body by playing the “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” game, which the students loved. Not only did they learn English words, they laughed and smiled, and it was absolutely a joy for me to see them engage in learning. For many of the students school is challenging because they frequently go without food and home life can be very difficult. Monica told us a few stories about students whose parents drink too much Pox (or Posh as it is pronounced), a traditional (and theoretically ceremonial) corn and sugar based liquor. It is also very common for children to be shown to drink Pox at a very early age. Along the road to the village every little store and house sold Pox out of giant plastic containers that looked like they should have contained gasoline. It doesn’t taste much better than gasoline in my opinion either. The children here face a lot of obstacles and learning can be challenging. Most of the students in the classes did not have notebooks and only four girls were taking notes but their writing was almost illegible.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to step into their lives a little and try to teach them a few English words. Not many tourists are able to have these experiences and it will be one that I will never forget. At the end of one class several girls came up to us after class and gave us hugs, which brought a huge smile to both of our faces. Before we left there was also a little photo shoot, while the girls traded places posing in photographs with us.