Joe and I have recently been working on painting our first world map at a local school. (Quick sidenote: Joe is finishing his work in the cumbre this coming week. He's been an absolute pleasure to work with, and I have to say he will be greatly missed. Joe is moving on to Tactic to work on another project, replacing the existing insufficient 4 latrines with a modern bathroom complex at a school of over 600 students. He is still short on funds, but determined to finish the bathrooms, even if it has to come out of his already tired pockets (unlike me, he earns no paycheck for his work here). Please visit his blog - joesguatemalanexperience.blogspot.com - every little bit helps.)
Anywho, not to brag or anything, but I feel like its quite possibly the best world map that has ever been painted. You'll have to take my word on that of course, but we were painstakingly accurate. We carefully graphed out our map of the world, did a little math to accurately increase its size for the wall, and tediously drew in the countries grid by grid, 336 grids in total. Then we returned to paint the countries and the oceans, putting on two coats in most places, and spent another 4 hours scribing on the country names. I have been eager to paint a school map, somewhat for the change in my work pace, and also because it's just the kind of thing that I really enjoy doing. However the satisfaction that I have now after its completion is ten times what I thought it would be. That's because I came to find out that virtually none of the children or their parents had ever seen a map of the world before. As Joe and I were finishing up our country outlines, a local community leader and parent came up to us and asked, "What is that?" My eyes grew large and I looked at Joe and back towards the man and replied, "This is a map of the world." Having never seen a map before, this aroused his curiosity even more. "Where is Guatemala?" he asked. Joe chimed in, "Guatemala is this little country here. And here are the States, Spain, Russia, China, this is Africa, and here is the greatest country in the world, Ireland."I can't imagine how it must have felt to see a map of the world for the first time nearing the age of 40.
The next day, a group of men huddled around usas we were painting the individual countries. I heard one man ask, "Where are we?" Just as I was about to break the silence when no one seemed to be able to answer, one man pointed at the map and said, "We're this little green one." As we were adding the second layer, we could here the men debating our color choices. "Why is China the same color as New Zealand?" Another man suggested that it was because they spoke the same language, and that all of the similar colored countries shared languages. Then they came to the logic that it was only to differentiate, either because every Central American country was a different color, or someone figured that there must have been more than just 7 languages in the world. As the people around me were looking at the world for the first time, a solution fell into my lap. The problem is that our school gardens are almost all harvested for the year, and I have been searching for some sort of work that I really want to do with the kids when there is no more planting, weeding, fertilizing, and harvesting. Eureka, Geography! I wasn't too excited about the prospect of teaching more English classes anyways.
For these kids, the world has always been this tiny little bubble up in the Western Highlands, although, I believe every child grows up in their own little bubble. Now that they have a map to look at, I want to show them what it's all about. I have always believed that education is among the greatest problems in the cumbre, even with the level of malnutrition and poverty. I feel like an educated person would have the tools at hand to help alleviate some of the other problems here. Most of the people here who are considered educated can only read, write, and solve the simplest of math problems. Geography may be something that we take for granted back home. I can't remember a time when I didn't know what a map of the world looked like, or the location of continents and influential countries. To know about other places in the world is a big part of a solid education. It opens doors to new ideas, cultures, and can help a person better understand their surroundings. It can spark the imagination, and boost curiosity. I think that the kids will have a genuine interest in learning about the world, and an unparalleled enthusiasm for exploring, at least in their daydreams, the mysteries of the world around them. I may be a dreamer myself, but if I can help spark more of a global interest in these cumbre kids, it might end up being what I look back on as the most valuable service I provided in my time here.