My Two Families In The Mountain School

Okay, so I had just gotten started talking about the families I ate with in the mountain school, and now I want to continue with that…

Like I said, my first family was a little bit awkard, because the mother was very busy with other things (she had a son sick with a tooth infection…because, as Lynn told me, here dental care amounts to getting your teeth pulled or filled, without much medicine or hygeine…because such things are caro…they are expensive…hence why nearly every adult Guatemalan I met in those two villages had many, many gold and silver teeth…looking very much, I must say, like Ol’ Dirty Bastard, or other rappers who decided to make such a thing a fashion), and she also talked really fast and didn’t make much of an effort to see if I understood her (which I usually didn’t)…however…the kids were great.

The oldest girl, whose nickname was China (Chee-na…named that way because her eyes looked asian when she was little…which is actually a common, and obviously racist, nickname around here) was extremely responsible, basically being the mom when the mom wasn’t around, and she was only 12 years old.

There were also two older brothers both claiming to be 15…but they don’t know their birthdays for sure…and they played checkers with me every single day…on their own homemade board made of notebook paper, with pieces of maize for red and dried beans for black…however they play with their own crazy rules…in which a ¨king me¨ actually turns the piece into this crazy super piece which is basically like a queen in chess, and it can move anywhere and devour like 4 pieces in a turn…they beat me consistently for four days, and then I picked up the logic of the game and I won…once in awhile.

Also, there were the youngest kids, the youngest being 5, who would read to me from their school books, and then on Sunday morning, my last morning, they read the bible with me…and they actually read it incredibly well for how difficult it is.

The majority of these kids go to school every day, which is just one school house where kids of all ages go…but sometimes China and the oldest boy would have to stay home to do work in the house (wash clothes…always by hand…make tortillas…always by hand…or clean the house…or gather firewood), or because the family couldn’t afford to send all of the kids to school everyday…here they have to pay to go school, because the government barely pays anything.

I had a lot of fun with these kids, and they were super friendly with me, but I could definitely see how fast they have to grow up here, and even more I could see the gender difference very clearly…while the boys would watch TV (one time it was like this really bad US ¨B movie¨ about snakes with really bad Spanish dubbing), the oldest girls were always working…and sometimes getting yelled at by their mom…every single day, this was the pattern.

My second family was in Nuevo San Jose, the older and larger village, with a woman who had 6 kids (although I think she has 8, but two of them are now grown and live in their own houses…I couldn’t be sure), all of whom were super friendly with me. This woman was older, she wore the traje, or the traditional Mayan dress for women of the embroidered shirt and woven shirt, and she told me that she also speaks Mam…which is one of the larger indigenous languages…but her kids don’t.

With this family, I was invited to eat with them in their kitchen, with its dirt floor and holes in the lamina walls, and I was a lot more comfortable with them than the first family. We talked about the history of their town, the struggle to move, about the weather and about cooking…they taught me how to make tortillas by hand (at least the flattening part), and they would actually let me do the dishes…which made me feel a lot more comfortable.

Also, the kids loved to read with me, especially the two younger girls…and so everyday I’d bring a children’s book from the school (mostly indigenous stories published by a multicultural press in San Francisco…but actually the favorite book…by far…was Donde Viven Los Monstruos…Where The Wild Things Are!!!), and we’d take turns reading one page apiece. It was really fun…and then afterwards, I’d go into the house with the girls, and we’d play jax…jax is like THE game right now among girls in those villages…and these girls have abilities in jax that I could have never imagined…seriously, they’ve got some crazy tricks. I was horribly bad my first night, but by the end of the week, I could get to where I was scooping up 6 at a time…which is really not very impressive compared to these girls.

Now, with this family, I didn’t even know there was a husband…until my last day, when he came home at 8 in the morning, without a shirt, wailing and totally, completely drunk…and the poor mom just looked at me and laughed with clear embarrassment…and then, obviously, my whole understanding of the house situation changed…as my little bubble of this family living happily and serenely in their village was suddenly popped…seeing the look on the youngest boy’s face when his dad came home is one of the permanent memories I will take home…as cliche as that may sound.

And this brings me to the deeper level of the family discussion…which I want to make a separate post.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi