Beauty in random moments. (View from local bar in Xpujil)

First Impressions

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I’ve been in Xpujil, Campeche for two weeks now. Xpujil is a pop-up town that seemed to form mostly as a hub, connecting other more inspiring destinations. I’ve realized that it’s a place where many paths cross. And while the town leaves much to be desired, there are some pleasant breaks in the facade, surprises even. One of those surprises is the Centro Cultural Germina, where I’m working. Located in an unassuming, but cute bungalow, it is a hole in the wall, but an oasis in the desert. Besides the English classes, Germina organizes small workshops for those in the area and events, like movie-debate nights. The idea is to promote open, respectful discussions about social and environmental topics related to the region. I’ll be teaching English here for the next four months!

Vibrant, floral street corner in Xpujil

Vibrant, floral street corner in Xpujil

Beauty in random moments. (View from local bar in Xpujil)

Beauty in random moments. (View from local bar in Xpujil)

I teach to lovely groups of children, teens, and adults, some of whom seem to suffer from a most curious condition in which they exhibit signs of fleeting and ephemeral existences. There is certainly a different conception of time here. Of course, Dalí perfectly captured this ambient in his now famous landscape of Xpujil, “The Persistence of Memory” 🙂  The students don’t always make it to class, but when they do, it’s clear that they’re happy to be there. Sometimes you can even tell when they are on the brink of disappearing, because they begin to slightly flicker in and out. The color fades from their faces and their voices become noticeably more high-pitched and soft, as if they were whispering after sucking a helium balloon. An extreme case the other morning involved a new student who had begun the lesson with earnest enthusiasm. We went along with the first vocabulary words, learning and repeating the body parts in English: Nose, Eyes, Mouth, Arms, Toes. At about the hour mark, I noticed her hands were losing their saturation and flickering in-and-out between opaqueness and complete transparency. She no longer had the capacity to copy the new words in her notebook. And after a few minutes, there were not enough visible body parts for us to play our game of Simon Says. The episode progressed rapidly and by the end of the class, all that was left was a pair of dusty New Balance sneakers. I calmly picked them up and set them outside of the classroom door and by the next morning, they were gone, so one would hope that our dear student will be back. So, my goal right now is to promote the classes, as well as reach out to current students and encourage them to take full advantage of the lessons by 1, coming to class and 2, by making the effort to learn. One benefit of the small size of the groups (the largest class I have is a group of 7 kids), is that each student gets the attention they need. Campeche has a solid tourist industry, so knowing English provides a lot of opportunities close to home for the people here.

This past Saturday I had the chance to visit the beautiful ruins of Calakmul or “the city of two adjacent pyramids”. I went with a small group, led by a student of mine, who is a professional tour guide. Wandering the sinuous paths, we saw tiny toucans (!!!!), oscillated turkeys with their colorful feathers, and lizards darting along the forest floor. The intimidating roars of the howler monkeys reverberated in the distance. This is the heart of the jungle.

Imposing temple in Calakmul

Calakmul’s imposing North-facing Temple

Stele depicting a powerful woman in Calakmul

Stele depicting a powerful woman (perhaps a governess?) in Calakmul

Life in southern Mexico is surreal. It offers moments of contemplation, of unfastening oneself from the arbitrary limits of time so far instilled in the mind. For the Mayans, time was a cyclical measure of change where each day invited fresh, yet antecedent (or experienced previously by ancestors) sentiments. Living here is a lesson in patience, as well as personal initiative. Dreams walk alongside us in the shadows cast by the sun. With some work, I know it will be possible to bring those to fruition.

Laura Gilchrist

March 1st, 2017 View Profile

Calakmul, Campeche, spring 2017