La Escuela De La Montaña Part 2

My first evening at the mountain school, Lynn, the coordinator (who is a North American, from Wisconsin…and she has been here since before the founding of the mountain school, she seems to be kind of a force around here, well known by the locals, and I believe well-respected), took us down the hill on the side of the school’s property, down some concrete steps, to the dirt streets of the neighboring village, Fatima…she then led us down the street, and dropped some of us off at the houses of our families for dinner.

My house was three houses down on the right, and it had a little fence with a little gate, and the house itself was of cinderblocks and lamina (which is the rusted corrugated metal roof that is almost standard here). I was welcomed in by the mother, and she sat me down in their front room, which had a bare concrete floor, two beds, some faded looney tunes posters, and a homemade bulletin board with family pictures on it…and a table with a red checkerboard tablecloth, like an Italian restaurant.

The father sat with me while the mother cooked dinner somewhere in the back, and I talked with him about the history of Fatima, his family, and his work (he commutes every day by bus to another town to do construction work…and he’s lucky because the majority of men there don’t have work, and take buses every day just to find work, or do day labor)…and then my dinner, which was fried tortillas (tostadas) with homemade guacamole on them (really, really good!!!)…and then I met the kids…all six of them (and they have another one, who lives in Guatemala City and works in factory making mosquito nets for beds)…and then about 10 minutes of awkward silence, and I headed back to the school…

That night, at orientation, I learned a little bit about the history of the school and of its relationship to the nearby villages: that the school partially chose its location in 1997 because of Nuevo San Jose and its story of struggle…and Lynn spent many months before the school was open developing relationships with the families to make sure it was okay with them, and they set it up so that students would be a source of income for the families…and there was already a woman’s group organized in Nuevo San Jose, so Lynn worked with the woman on things like cooking hygenically and such, and established payment that was signicantly above that of working in a finca for a week…and they set up a rotation system so that the families (really, it’s the women…) would share students and thus the income…and at first there was a big problem because the women thought that it would be rude of them to actually have guests eat with the family in the kitchen (which is behind the house, with dirt floors, open walls or lamina walls, and a wood-burning cement stove), and so they would serve students in the front like in a restaurant (which actually was my experience with the first family…I was never invited into their second room or kitchen, which I respected but felt weird about)…but actually, even before that…right before the school opened, the women had a big meeting and decided not to work with the school after all…because they didn’t want to have to cook pizza and hamburgers, and because they were embarrassed about their poverty (so says Lynn)…and so Lynn worked with them and made it clear that this was about sharing their lifestyles, not adopting North American lifestyles…that it was okay to serve tortillas and beans, that it was okay to eat with their hands…etc…and now everyone I’ve talked with says that they love the school, and they love what it’s offered, economically and culturally, to their communities…but more about that later.

In fact…once again…I have to go study…so this is just have to be extended again. Lo siento. I’m sorry.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi



Are people curious at all about your background? Your life here in the US? US foreign policy? How isolated is it from world affairs? Does the relationship between the school and the towns seem sustainable?


Interesting questions, for sure.

As far as curiosity about me…there has been almost none. For these people, including the kids, this is much more of a job than anything fun…so no they don’t have much curiosity about me or about the US. They are curious about a few things, however…how big my family is and how close we are…and how much stuff costs for me…those are engaging topics of conversation.

As far as US foreign policy, we haven’t talked much about it…but it’s no secret here that the US supported some really horrible governments here for a long time…but people seem much more concerned about their own country than other countries…including other Latin American countries…I’ve found, for example that I know more about movements in Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Bolivia…and even the Zapatistas who are actually quite close…than even my teachers…so far. It’s interesting that I don’t see a lot of that sort of internationalism, global struggle kind of sentiment that I’ve seen expressed in the ideas of other Latin American social movements…here, mostly I think because of how recent the war was and how specific the context of Guatemala is, I see people being much more focused on local and national politics than international stuff…except, of course, that everyone knows Bush and hates him!

Now, in terms of isolation, the adults in the villages that I talked to didn’t have much of a sense of the world situation at all…in fact I don’t even know if the adults can read…although the kids can. Adults I talked to, for example, didn’t have a sense of world geography…or even of religions beyond Catholics and Evangelicals…

As for the relationship between the school and the towns…yes, I think it is sustainable…if you think about it as an industry…tourism…which is has its fluctuations just like any other industry…but is actually much more stable than coffee right now, for example. From what I saw in my two weeks, asking everyone I could…the school is relatively healthy for these towns…because it provides needed resources, stable income, and a context for the young people to get some mostly respectful worldly connections…however, and I want to write about this as an actual blog post…these women are still EMPLOYEES of the school…they don’t run it or anything…so I think it would be a much, much better situation if the school was directly owned and controlled by the communities and was less of a charity project…which in its charity aspects is kind of gross.

Thanks for these great questions!