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Ignorance and Education

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I try to imagine the death and devastation littering the social landscape of Guatemala. My mind paints pictures of brutal murders in the night, lives stolen by a power struggle few know exist. I smell incense, its perfume consuming the church. I feel the bitter lament of a village, united by the death of their Shaman. I see how one community drifts from its beliefs with out their leader. This is the path my thoughts embark on as I gaze out the window, the sounds of Jack Johnson filling my ears. What else has my education thus far held from me? What other atrocities occur on this planet as I obliviously live out my life?



Before such questions haunted my thoughts, my feet rose and fell, making a rhythm on the aged cobblestone streets of Antigua, Guatemala. Engulfed within a group of eleven other teenage girls, my ears fill with their endless chatter as we snake in a single file line across lively streets. Tuning out the whirlwind of conversations, I submerge myself in the new world surrounding me. I observe the hustle and bustle of the passersby and gawk at the looming yellow churches covered with intricate carvings. My mind wanders to the purpose of our walk; a visit to Catherine Doctor'­s house. A family friend of Emily's, my Traveling School history teacher, Catherine and her husband have spent their lives traveling abroad and living amongst different cultures. Eager to hear her stories, I quicken my pace.



Our group eagerly crowds into a small shop full of beautifully woven tapestries and blankets descending upon every inch of floor space.Catherine greets us, her blond hair perfectly perched on her head. With a kind smile she ushers us through a narrow doorway that opens into a lush court yard. We enter her living room, sit, and look at the enthralling objects filling her home. I find myself fascinated with a centerpiece on the coffee table; a simple, worn pot. Its lack of extravagance leaves me baffled as to its importance. Catherine informs us that this pot was made by the Olmec in 600 B.C., giving me a new appreciation for its existence. A monkey statue stares back at me with unblinking, circular eyes; eyes that have been open since Christ walked the earth. Each object revealed to me a new part of history, a part that came alive as she spoke. My attention was directed abruptly away from an intricately carved stone head adorning a garden rock when Catherine said the word “ Murders.”



Catherine went on to tell our now silent group about the killings of 140 indigenous Shaman leaders in Guatemala which reportedly occurred over the last eight years. The killers, new converts of the Evangelical Church, commit such crimes to bring more people to their religion. I prepare to ask why this issue has not been all over the news, but my question is answered for me. The Shamans have historically been viewed as second class citizens by the government and Spanish populations of Guatemala, a problem many indigenous people still struggle with. Portrayed by their oppressors as, “Old, drunk, men,” Catherine claims these religious leaders are being slaughtered.



As we move on to learn about a statue that once looked over a congregation, I wonder why this, and many other issues relevant to our neighboring countries in Central America, have never been addressed in my public school education. I certainly learned a great deal about wars and misunderstandings that occurred across the world in Europe, yet a country I share a continent with remains a mystery. Another sign of our country's ignorance was revealed to me in a phone conversation I had with my father while staying in Chiapas, Mexico. When asked what I was learning in school, I chose to share with him what I recently learned about the Zapatistas, an organized group of indigenous Mayan people whose cause was unfamiliar to him. I eagerly explained to him all I learned about the Zapatista uprisings; about how ingenious populations of Mexico fight for the rights of the poor like a band of modern day Robin Hoods. This revolutionary saga of the Zapatista occurs in a country that shares a border with the United States, yet very few Americans know about their struggles and triumphs. Why is it that typical secondary education in the United States focuses on the dead and gone past of countries oceans away rather than the complex past and current events of our entire continent?


A month after meeting Catherine, I am basking in the sun in Chiapas, Mexico, wondering why I never learned about Central America's struggles before coming to The Traveling School. Every country on our vast planet possesses rich and fascinating histories and complex issues I have never learned about. I plan to see, learn, and experience all I can of the cultures surrounding me throughout my travels. I now strive to learn more about changes in the various governments and cultures I encounter; for a lifetime of true learning is a journey we partake in, not a destination we seek.





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