The Dorm In The Mountains

I came to the mountain school upset, because of the woman in the street, and in my first days there I remained upset, because I (and a few other folks) was trying to solely use Spanish, and yet it seemed like almost all of the students were using English all the time. Even more, there is actually rule at the mountain school to only use Spanish when there are Guatemelans around, but still, even then, there was so much English…

Plus, in general I’m not one for group social dynamics, and I was definitely feeling anti-social. I’m the same way at parties…I just sit in the corner and wait for people to talk with me…and if not…I’ll just pout there the whole time.

But the mountain school is such a unique environment, with like 4 bedrooms with 2-4 beds in each, that social interaction is required…and so I pretty quickly became friendly and open with the group…and also, the school is excellent in that it does a really good job of making people feel welcome, and every Monday, everyone (including the teachers, who actually live in other towns 10-15 minutes away) plays a name game…and that really solidifies bonds.

So there in my two weeks at the school, I had my share of joking nights, group cooking experiences, political discussions, study sessions, personal story exhibitions…and this is a reason that I didn’t want to leave…it just felt good to be there, in the school, in my classes, in the whole environment…even in the many emotionally intense times in the villages, or hearing stories.

One night, for example, I started talking with just 2 people about how I didn’t know what to do in regard to buying gifts for people back home…because I want to bring things back, and I want to support local economies a bit…but at the same time I think it’s extremely problematic when folks buy things from other cultures that are culturally significant, and just take it as a souvenir…what activists in the states call cultural appropriation…for example, I’ve read and heard numerous times here that Mayan women hate to see non-Mayans with their clothing, their blouses and skirts…because this is something that they have fought more than 500 years to have the right to wear, to hold onto their culture…and yet they sell this stuff, because people will buy it and it will provide an income…yet I don’t want to be that person…taking a piece of their culture, a piece of their struggle, and just bringing it home as a gift that will go on some friend’s or family’s wall…that’s just not me…

And so this conversation started with just the 3 of us, and pretty soon half the students were involved, and there was arguing, but mostly there was just reflection about what our place is as North Americans here…with our money that can buy us pretty much anything we want…if we wanted, it could probably even buy people…so what does it mean to be responsible in that kind of situation of unequal power between us and them?

Anyhow, the school was really fun, in just a dorm style social sense…and, of course, it was vast majority women, which is always where I’m most comfortable…so that added to the fun of it, because I didn’t feel weird being a feminist man around a bunch of non-feminist tourist dudes or anything (and there are such dudes, cruizing for Guatemalan women in the bars…but not as many as I’d feared…although I don’t actually go to the bars!!!)

Still waiting to see if I’ll get to go back…

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi