Sunday, August 4, 2013

Expedition Yucatan (part 3)

6/20 DAY 5
We headed to the village of Yunku, a small place where we would engage in our service learning, on day 4 after our adventures in Mani and Loltun Cave. It was definitely a shorter drive than the one we experienced on the way to Merida, but after the events of the day, we got there in the evening. We would be staying in a hacienda, formerly a henequen and cattle hacienda, one of the smaller ones owned by the Peon family, restored by Dr. Vick's friend Ruth. Day 5 was the first day with the children though, the entire reason why I came. That's right, children is the ENTIRE REASON why I came. It's how Mike (my professor) pulled me into this trip, quite honestly. Knowing I want to teach in an international setting one day, he used the kids to convince me that this was what I wanted to do with my summer. Yes, he was right!
Having prior experience with working with children, the lack of planning and structure around the curriculum definitely bothered me, but all went... not well, but alright for the first day. We walked around the village rounding up children. One thing that struck me as interesting was how willing almost all of the families were to let their children go with perfect strangers. We would say (in Spanish of course) something like, "Hi, we're students from the United States, and we're staying at the hacienda and having a program for the kids here. Is it okay if your children come with us for a few hours?" and they would just get their kids and tell them to go with us.

The first day we made name tags, introduced ourselves with name, age, and hobby, and made "getting to know you" bracelets (which ended up just being regular bracelets without the "getting to know you" part because of lack of planning). We concluded our day with dinner, and of course, more homework.

6/21 DAY 6
Thankfully, a little more planning went in to the second day. Older and younger kids were divided up. We decided to use "animals" as a theme to direct activities around. The older kids learned words for a bunch of different animals in English and Maya and played charades with them. Maya is the traditional language in this area, but it's also a dying language. A lot of grandparents know it, but even most parents in this village didn't. The parents stress the importance of English to their kids, hoping that the knowledge of English will open more doors to more opportunities for them, but they neglect to emphasize the importance of Maya as well. With the death of this language, a death of an important cultural element would occur as well. So part of our task here was to teach some English, but also to try (in the short 5 days we would spend with the children) to instill an appreciation and value for Maya and the Mayan culture.

6/22 DAY 7

Saturday was probably the most fun for the kids. We had a photo scavenger hunt, or busqueda. We planned it out very thoughtfully the night before, dividing ourselves into five groups with the five strongest Spanish speakers and one or two others to lead each group. I have to say, the kids absolutely loved the cameras (and our phones, if we left them out), so we thought it would be perfect to let them use cameras for our activity.

My little group was very excited about the busqueda, and the children ended up wanting to find several of every item on the list. We had about ten pictures for each thing we needed. I've included a couple of the bunch here.

To the left is "una foto con un lugar donde te gusta jugar" (a photo with a place where you like to play, and below is "caras chistosas" (funny faces).

 6/23 DAY 8
We had an easier day with the kids on our fourth day. By this point, I knew pretty much every one of their names, and our whole group seemed comfortable together. We did some word searches and made our own stories about alux'ob (alux is the singular; in Maya 'ob is to pluralize a word... also, that's pronounced more like "ah-loosh"). There is a myth about people called alux who, from what I understand, are miniature people who have six toes and can take the form of rocks (so be careful which rocks you touch, if you go to Yucatan!) and some other things. They apparently are very mischievous if you upset them, and they can make your life miserable. Now, this may seem like a cute little fantasy to you, but people genuinely believe in the alux, they say things like "oh, an aluz must have taken it" when things go missing, and they even give alux'ob offerings to appease them when they're messing things up. Some of the stories the kids came up with were quite entertaining. 
We had the kids earlier this day, from about 9:00 to 11:30am, instead of 2:00 to 5:00pm like we were doing because it was a Sunday, so they didn't have school. We also all had a communion to attend at 12:30. Some of the kids we were working with were having their first communion, and we were invited. I have to say, I have been to a few Catholic services here in the US, and they were very tedious and not very lively, but the only word I can think of to describe the communion we attended is "beautiful." From start to finish, there was just a simple beauty to it. The church where I grew up has invested several thousand dollars on high-tech sound systems, colored and moving theatrical lights, computer systems for projection, and nice instruments, and none of that is bad necessarily. There was just something about the simplicity of a five-person choir with hymnals, without microphones and fancy lights. There's a beautiful simplicity to having one little drum and two acoustic guitars instead of a full drum set, computerized sound tracks, a bass, an electric guitar, an acoustic-electric, a keyboard, an organ, a grand piano, a trumpet, and a saxophone. I am in no way trying to devalue or criticize what that church I grew up in has or how they run a service, but like I said, there was just something beautiful about the simplicity of the communion. I felt very privileged to have been in attendance.

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