Rituals and Education

Written July 7 and 8
I am suddenly back in Cusco for a day to attend education workshops with Martin.
An interesting moment in history has arrived: the Peruvian Ministry of Education has committed itself legally if not economically for the next seven years, to develop decentralized and native language education for all citizens (with support from UNICEF and the Canadian government.)
A small group of university educated indigenous leaders has been promoting the revitalization and respect of Andean religious, artistic and agricultural wisdom in schools. The prejudices and forces operating against this are palpable, and the official acknowledgement of this type of revitalization activity is quite unusual and seems fragile. I feel proud to be working closely with the indigenous educators who are moving so effectively within the various power structures to maintain a voice in their people’s education.
Here are some of the rituals that these teachers would like to have recognized and not stigmatized, but rather practiced at schools:
One ritual is the sharing of three coca leaves which one holds a special way and presents to a friend or blows over directly in four directions to the mountain gods. Then you chew the coca leaves and hold them in a pouch in your cheek while working.
It is typical to pour some of anything you are drinking on the ground for mother Earth as an offering.
Another ritual is the wathiya, the creation of an earth dome made of mud bricks left over from potato cultivation. Orient the door toward the wind so it will blow on the fire. Put sticks, leftover corn husks or any dried organic matter in there and light it on fire. Let it burn for about a half hour until the bricks are blackened and super hot. Throw in a lot of small potatoes and they sizzle loudly; quickly collapse the dome over the potatoes and break them up so no steam can escape. They can cook in 10-30 minutes. Then you uncover the pile and fish them out with your bare hands, peel and eat. Martin and I had a wathiya the first day in Ccotatoclla with my compadres, and the second day, another with the teachers.
When starting meals and conversations with strangers, people establish indigenous cultural/spiritual solidarity by telling ghost stories or stories of supernatural events as if they were recently and authentically experienced by the teller. I asked Martin if he takes the stories literally and he said no, they are metaphors, but the way people tell them, it would be hard for an outsider to discern that.
The hard life of the rural teacher
Many rural teachers are women with infants or toddlers in tow. One of our friend, Lourdes, had premature twins in December, and one of her twins is sickly. She keeps the sickly one with her in the classroom while she leaves the other healthier one with her mother in Cusco. The babies were in an incubator for two months. Yesterday the baby ruptured an eardrum during class, so the mother was anxious to leave for Cusco at the end of the schoolday at 1:30 pm. She had to wait for a 4:30 bus.
She, Martin and I set out on foot with our backpacks, bags and she with her baby on her back. We walked about twenty minutes down the hill to the bus, only to find several buses had passed by earlier. The only chance of getting to the city that night was to hop on the back of a potato truck and ride to the nearest big town to catch another bus. Martin and I jumped on to the bus only to find that the driver would not let our friend ride with her baby in the cab. She ended up having to hike back up to the school and stay the night, to take the next ride at dawn so her baby could see the doctor in the afternoon. She was back at work the next day… but explained to me she is on the verge of taking an unpaid leave because she can’t find a sub to take her place.
Imagine being a rural teacher: in addition to teaching class, you must also bring food for the week and cook your own meals, often while caring for your own infant. Sometimes food preparation involves getting water, although there is running water and an outhouse at this school behind the teacher’s quarters, which has a room with bed, electricity and gas burner for each teacher.
After the workshops in Cusco I headed back to the countryside without Martin.
Yesterday I got up at 4 am, bathed in a basin at Martin and Mary Carmen’s in Cusco, then Martin took me out to a taxi and I was at the San Jerónimo bus station by 5 am. I looked around for my friend, teacher Lourdes, who helped us last year with this research. She wasn’t there so I finally got on the bus that was going to the school at Mik’a (a half hour walk from Ccotatóclla) and I saved her a seat. Luckily she did make it and we had to ride separately but we got off at Mik’a and walked together up to the school. Her baby was crying on her back so halfway up we stopped outside a farm and she nursed her baby. A farm woman came out and asked if the baby was OK and she explained that the baby has an ear infection and had slept through her usual nighttime feeding, so had woken up too cranky to calm down.
Lourdes told me as we walked that it might be better for us to work at a different school because she is hoping to take a leave of absence at any moment and there are no arrangements for a sub; her two fellow teachers will have to be looking in on her class as well. The teacher who is the director of the school is only director because of seniority (she has tenure in a different district) and really hopes to retire by December. And the third teacher is just here on a yearly contract and it is her first year of teaching, although she is clearly the one with the most energy (and she herself is sick with an infection at the moment.)
I began to really doubt if it makes sense to work here at this school with so many internal obstacles among the teachers. They also clearly have a very weak relationship with the community, which was different last year when Lourdes was director.
On the other hand I have potential for a strong relationship with the community by living in one of the leaders’ homes and people have been stopping by to get to know me casually, morning and evening. The only alternative I see is to work at the school down the hill, which is much bigger. We shall see.

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