March 20, 2017
We’ve had big days here in Xix, the celebration of the School for New Mayas’ 15th anniversary of its founding. The previous Saturday, a 4:30 a.m. wake-up concert by the marching band got everyone up before dawn. Before breakfast students weeded and swept, organized, and whitewashed walls in preparation for the festivities. Everyone in the community was invited. An Exposition planned for an outdoor field, which highlighted students’ and graduates’ projects—art, weavings, carpentry, and business ventures—was moved under the colonnades, protection against the persistent rains and cold temperatures. Still, the weather didn’t discourage visitors, who came, sheltered by umbrellas or shawls, to see what the young people were up to. Occasionally, someone bought a jar of canned fruit or vegetables, a wooden spoon, weavings, or some homemade sweets, giving our young entrepreneurs an exhilarating taste of profit.
No matter the showers, a spectacular show, with costumes reminiscent of lavish Mardi Gras parades, took place on the outdoor basketball court. Spirited dancers moved barefoot and unfazed through deep puddles, driving rain and falling temperatures, while the audience huddled beneath building overhangs. (My camera, unfortunately, lay forgotten in my room.) Though drenched and cold, the students’ radiance and energy vanquished the gloom. The sparkle, the creativity of the choreography and the mastery of movement stunned me.
“How did she learn Middle Eastern dance?” I asked one teacher, amazed at a fifteen-year-old student whose routine would have garnered applause in Egypt. “Watching videos,” the teacher said. In addition, there were dances in a modern R@B style, restrained traditional pieces, as well as stylized re-creations of ancient Mayan myths and culture.
Festivities concluded on Friday with a parade through town to the soccer field, where both senoritas and young men and boys took on teams from visiting towns. The final pleasure was a dinner for all contenders, of chicken pepian, a Guatemalan specialty.
I had arrived at the school a week earlier, in time to get caught up in the excitement of the preparations. It is always heartwarming to observe students creating art for the festival, maneuvering immense speakers, practicing their music. But, most of all, I love feeling their pride in their school and in their own achievements.
There are a lot of changes here at the School for New Mayas, challenges and bold proposed solutions, which I will discuss in the future. But, in the meantime, it is enough to admire the accomplishments and promise of the last fifteen years.