Learning Journey 2014: Experiential Learning (Day 2)

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Day 2

If yesterday was just a gateway, it’s safe to say that today we’re all in.

Learning Journey’s have always been a unique combination of cultural immersion and experiential learning. We show participants the realities of this place, expose them to the clash of ancient tradition and modern demands, challenge folks to understand the complexities of life as an indigenous Guatemalan. That’s the culture piece. We ask them to do all of this while standing in the hot sun, feet in the dry dirt, back strained and knees weak from hours of humbling observation. That’s experiential. Today existed at the intersection of these ways of learning and I’m confident that we all walked away slightly less confused and significantly more sunburnt then we started this journey.

After a deep night sleep under a thin sheet in the warm air, we woke to weak coffee and high spirits. Today we were headed for the highest hills, we’d climb to some 7,000 feet to witness the scholarship, leadership, and literacy work being done in the communities of Chuacruz and Los Morales. We passed through the department capital of Sololá with its narrow streets and loud radios. We drove past the University that so graciously donated (very old) books to our teen’s latest library, and turned right down the dirt road just past the choco-banana stand and before the main highway. High above Lake Atitlan vistas opened up of dry fields, harvested corn, and soft green cabbage just coming into season. Red bricks dried in the sun. Stucco homes with tin roofs dotted the horizon.

One of those homes belonged to our scholar, Laura, and her family of hugely talented weavers. In the blazing heat of their modest courtyard we watched as they explained the complex and stunningly intricate process of weaving traditional Mayan clothing. As our skin burnt crisp and our knees swayed, we barely began to experience the strength it must take to operate a back loom or the attention one must pay to tying knots in tiny threads. Within this home and around the women’s weaving coop to which they contribute, we began to wrap our heads around the real meaning of a work of art.

From here we took to some shade at the Chuacruz Elementary School where our scholars had recently opened their community’s very first public library. It’s crisp blue walls and freshly washed windows were strung with streamers and balloons to celebrate our arrival – which after all was only a product of our interest in celebrating their accomplishments. Kids gathered at the tables and we experienced first hand the joy of books being read and imaginations sparked. And then like all good celebrations, we moved quickly to a grand feast of fresh fruit, homemade tamales, and warm plantain drinks that just barely quenched our growing appetites. How, we mused, might they work all day in the fields on this or less? We munched on fresh banana bread and pressed on. No matter how filthy our feet were, there was more culture to see and more questions to ask. Our hearts were satiated and our eyes wide open.

Our final stop for the day was at the home and sacred space of a Mayan spiritual healer, who whispered some of his secrets across the smoke. To give is to receive, he said; we are only alive in relationship with each other; we live in a troubled time, which only makes for greater responsibility. As it turned out, the man to whom the universe directed both incredible trust and perverse disrespect, had all too recently survived the death of his brother – a school principal who had been slain. Education and empowerment is effective enough to pose a threat in this part of the world. The impact is as real as the risk, we realized as we walked away from the soot and back into the sunshine. We left with more questions then answers, but such is the nature of any rich experience, leaving us only to linger in the energy of the moment.

Sleepy and feeling the overwhelm of such rare experience, we headed back home toward the lake.

Today was about gratitude, and I for one am more grateful for an easy shower and a cold drink then I was before I left this morning. But I am also grateful for the lives shared, the homes opened, and the experience gained. I’ll scrub the dirt from my toes tonight, but an impression will remain. This work is hard, but it is good. Shouldn’t we all be so lucky to say the same about our own lives?!

Addendum: Turns out I lied. Today was about generosity (not gratitude). Alas, I am grateful to feel the recipient of much generosity today, so that counts for something 😉



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