A Weekend of Culture
Despite what your typical Teacher of the Year might tell you, I believe that dumb questions exist. However, sometimes a question is posed that is perfectly legitimate in reality, but somebody else considers it laughable. I don´t know if you know what I´m talking about, but it happened to me twice this week. The first time was in geography class and we were deciding if we were going to do a group presentation project or take a written test. Due to the fact that the test would cover an outrageous amount of subject matter, I simply asked the profe, practically with a halo above my head, if he would provide a summary of the basic concepts to go over as a study guide. As if in planned unison, the whole class immediately let out a burst of laughter as if I had just finished telling a joke; following of course by a swift rejection of the idea by the profe. I quickly went over in my head what exactly I said in spanish to make sure I didn´t make a funny mistake, but the script was good. I was confounded. Was that a dumb question? The second instance happened this weekend on a volunteer trip you´ll shortly hear all about. Apparently our group coordinator had this idea that a full 2 hours were required in the mornings to get ready, so he would wake us up at 5 am. I assured him that I was perfectly capable of getting dressed, eating breakfast and boarding the bus all in a mere 30 minutes, so it was okay if I slept just a bit longer. He was confused as to when I was going to fit in my morning shower, but I asked him why I would shower in the morning if I already showered last night. As you might guess, the planned unison chuckle phenomenon happened again, this time including the 4 other guys in the room, of course with their towels, soap and hair gel already in hand on their way to their first of at least a pair of showers that day. After confirming my adequately executed spanish, I was left feeling like the weird foreign kid with poor hygiene. I still don´t know what they need that other hour for.
Before I go any further, I have to share something strange that happened today. Armando was watching the last 4 minutes of a closely-matched NBA playoff game when I got home, and all I could do was ask him how the big soccer tournament was going that I missed for being gone this weekend. Sure enough, he had forgotten there was a game going on so he immediately switched it to the soccer channel… and I didn´t even care! In fact, I enjoyed watching it! I don´t know what´s wrong with me or if this is the beginning of some sort of paradigm shift for me, but this kind of behavior can´t be healthy for someone from the United States, can it?
Okay, to give you an idea of what I actually did this weekend, a group of about 60 of us from Universidad Nacional (UNA) spent 4 days in the Talamanca region doing some volunteer work with the indigenous population. We were split up into 4 groups, each with a specific tribe, site and task. My group interacted with the Amubri and helped advance their project by basically digging a huge hole and putting huge rocks in it (and it was tough!). In addition to constructing the drainage system, we also put some walls up in a bathroom, but didn´t quite finish due to our almost-hourly snack/coffee breaks. We got to learn quite a bit about the Amurbi culture and language (Bri-Bri) and how until recently the government did not even recognize their rights as citizens because they did not have any form of legal identification. It was kind of a situation of “If we don´t bother them, they won´t bother us,” but now it´s looking like they´re starting to bother each other. Their traditions, diet and even architecture are all heavily influenced by their spiritual beliefs and deep connections with nature. While they were actually pretty modernized in the sense that some had TVs, radios and most wore “normal” clothes (though some would say even I don´t wear “normal” clothes all the time), it is apparent they are trying to maintain their identity through surviving cultural traditions and their unique language. From being exposed to and working with these clans to meeting new UNA students to chowing down on buffet-style meals to getting a free t-shirt (is it still considered volunteering if you get a free t-shirt?), the trip was a huge success.