Update: The title changed from “Field School: Day X” to “Field Work: Day X” to indicate the change in content of my days here. Instead of taking language classes, I’m conducting my investigations and collecting data!
Kaqchikel classes came to a bittersweet end on Friday. Honestly I could do with another few months of classes but definitely not to the same extent of immersion that these were. After two weeks, we were all quite happy to see the tail end of eight hour days of seemingly nonstop Kaqchikel. To celebrate, we got a pizza, a cake, and a piñata! Jokes were made about filling the piñata with ceviche, but luckily for us all we went for the more traditional candy filling. We also wrote little “matyoxinika” or “thank you speeches” that we read out to our teachers and to the class. Unfortunately I got nervous when I read mine and skipped a line… but that’s okay. We all mess up sometimes, especially when we’re doing public speaking in a language we’ve only been speaking for two weeks!
It’s amazing how much we learned in nine and a half days of classes though. Unfortunately because I’m not a linguist like my fellow group members, I’m not doing a linguistics project that requires my speaking in depth with my host family in Kaqchikel, so I don’t think I learned at the same depth and it’s escaping me a little faster than it is the others. My host family and I are still using Kaqchikel together, even more so than during classes… I think they could tell that I was disappointed that classes were over and wanted to keep helping me learn.
On the bright side, my own research project started bright and early this morning when I went to the bilingual school at 7 am to talk to the principal about using the facilities after the school day. After I drop my informed consent letters off with the kids shortly and get them back tomorrow morning, I will be able to start talking to kids about their numerical knowledge and asking them all sorts of fun math questions! Hopefully I’ll be able to get 10-15 kids run through my procedure before my time here is up and I have to return to Utah.
While I might not be getting the 40 children I’d hoped for, I’m having exactly as much fun as expected, if not more. Coming to Patzún with 14 other graduate students has resulted in a lot of unexpected entertainment, like threats of ceviche-filled piñatas, our laughter when Kawoq says “tachapan” and makes grabby-hands motions, and even at our own horrible grammar and pronunciation mistakes.
We’ve also gone on a few adventures, on our own and in groups. On June 4, we visited the Reserva Natural Atítlan in Panajachel and the weaving co-ops in San Juan La Laguna. I loved the nature reserve; despite having spent more than 4 weeks total in Pana, I’d never visited before. The waterfalls and rope bridges were a total surprise, and seeing spider monkeys and coati roam around in the jungly underbrush was delightful. While walking through the windy hiking paths in the reserves, it was hard not to imagine a hunter quietly walking through the jungle with me, spear at the ready for some unknown prey. It seemed to me that a jaguar could leap out at any moment, even though the nature reserve is closed off and there are no jaguars near Panajachel anymore.
As always, crossing the lake from Panajachel to San Juan La Laguna was my favorite part of the day. Having grown up near the water, I’ve spent a bit of time on boats and never truly seen the appeal (apart from one sailing lesson after which I would have sailed every day but somehow, never managed to get onto a sailboat again). However, something about the lake just speaks to me on a really spiritual level. Maybe it’s the volcanoes that border the lake.
Last Wednesday (June 7) we visited the aj q’ij, the daykeeper that keeps track of the Mayan calendar, advises people on what to do on certain days, and performs ceremonies. He told us about how the chol q’ij, or sacred Mayan calendar, works and described some of the personality attributes that are associated with people born on each of the 20 days. This is something I happen to know a bit about already, having done some of my own research on the Mayan calendar system and how it relates to the development of the base-20 numerical system (hint: it has to do with Venus!), but it was awesome to hear it firsthand from a knowledgeable source instead of reading it from some website or in a book.
Last weekend, some of us visited Iximché while others attended a wedding here in Patzún. I visited Iximché last April with Habitat for Humanity, but apparently visiting during the rainy season is where it’s at. The grass was green and lush, and the fog and clouds hung over the temple making everything seem perhaps even more ancient and powerful than it is.
Between Iximché and the nature reserve and the lake, it’s becoming more and more obvious why the post-Classisal Kaqchikel Mayans would blossom here. I don’t mean to get mystical, but there’s just something profoundly spiritual about this place. So many people here in Patzún still speak Kaqchikel despite the constant linguistic pressure of Spanish, still wear the traditional clothes despite the cultural pressure from the north… Even in the cities and the towns where the Spanish influence is unavoidable, there’s always this feeling for me that something ancient and powerful is going on in the background. But it’s just the volcano Acatenango, quietly sleeping on the southeast horizon.