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An Inauguration Celebration in Chu'Chen

Written on: Tuesday May 13th, 2008

A journal entry from: North America in our Camper Van!

Schools for Chiapas received a large grant from the Larson Legacy to fund the construction of several new basketball courts in the Highlands and in the North of Chiapas. And in fact, ?basketball court? is an oversimplification; having been there I know that these areas will be used as multi-purpose sports centers, school play areas, recitals, community gathering places, fiesta locations, dance floors, and perhaps even a place for drying coffee beans!

Basketball is to the Chiapas indigenous what hockey is to Canadians and soccer is to Mexicans. On a historical note, Mesoamericans cultures have played a Ballgame for three thousand years, with ball courts found at many archaeological sites. I found it interesting to learn that the Mesoamerican ballgame consisted of two teams, a rubber ball and two vertical rings, the object of which was to pass the ball through the ring? sound familiar?

Sadly, students of the autonomous schools are prohibited from using the existing government school courts or government-funded community courts. The timing of our delegations was lucky enough to span two inauguration festivals for courts in two separate communities.

We awoke and left Oventik early in the morning to drive out along a bumpy road to the first community called Chu?Chen. Upon arriving we discovered that the officials were awaiting our arrival to start the ceremony. We quickly parked and were the instructed to jump in line behind the band and the officials as they marched their way up the hill to the basketball court. The officials, representing various levels of the Zapatista autonomous government were dressed in their traditional costumes. Actually, most indigenous women always wear the traditional costume while the men seem to wear it for special occasions. For men, a long white tunic, white shorts, an intricately stitched cloth belt, a stitched cloth hung over the shoulders and a broad rimmed straw hat with a multitude of colored ribbons attached to the top. For women, the slightly different costumes are indicative of the community the woman is from. They generally wear a black skirt with a beautiful sash, and either a brightly colored satin-looking top or a white tunic with intricate stitching designs. Back in Oventik Peter actually pointed out one woman who was a Master Weaver, based on the complicated and fabulous designs on her shirt.

After the procession, some speeches and a blessing of the basketball court, it was time to make the inauguration basket. An official headed over to the free-throw line and had to sink a basketball to ?break-through? the paper barrier covering the hoop. Everyone ?ooo-ed? and ?awe-ed? as several attempts were made and broke into cheers when the ?swoosh? finally happened. Without wasting any more time basketball tournament got underway.

I watched the first few games of basketball and was very impressed with the overall skill level. The court itself was equally impressive, especially considering that it had been built by only 38 families. Men, from those families, had donated 5-6 hours a day for nearly six months. Of that, it had taken nearly 3 months to excavate and level the site they had chosen for the court, a previous coffee field on a hillside. I think that they must have chosen the site for the breathtaking panoramic views into the valley below. Admiring the quality and levelness of the court, I would have never guessed that none of the men had previous experience working with cement, nor did they have modern survey equipment, nor can I imagine the hard labour involved with mixing that quantity of cement by hand with gravel, water and shovels. The court and the inauguration was an absolute tribute to their hard work and perseverance.

I eventually decided to go play with the kids, who were already quite enamoured with us gringos, following us around, making noises so that we would turn but then run away. Rob agreed to join me and we went down to the van to grab our Frisbee. Rob climbed up on the van, and while rummaging through the roof rack looking for the Frisbee, we attracted a gathering of little ones already curious what we were up to. The Frisbee was a sensation. The children quickly overcame any shyness and after we taught them how to throw and catch we had fun for hours. When we brought out the camera the children got especially excited and I discovered how much they love to get their photos taken. Needless to say we had a blast, and we were as entertained by these lovely children equally as much as they were entertained with our Frisbee and with us.

We were fed lunch at the Inauguration, and as special guests were requested to eat first and at the table with the officials. The food was simple but delicious, beans and rice with fresh tortillas.

I also offered to play in the tournament, if there was a woman?s team looking for another player. I was quickly introduced to a group of girls and told them to come and get me when we were ready to play. I was on the court later that day and chuckling to myself that this would have to go down in the history books. Michelle Avis, 5 foot 3 inches (and a quarter) was the tallest player not only on the team but on the court!! I?ve never had so much fun going for rebounds before! The girls on my team wore sweat pants, runners and T-shirts, but the team we played against were in traditional dress and barefoot. Have you ever tried running (and stopping) on concrete barefoot? I don?t recommend trying it. But these women didn?t seem to mind, and all could run faster than me.

With only 3 women?s teams, there were only two games: semi-finals and the finals. With the score not actually posted, I had no idea if our team won when the whistle finally blew? but I was pretty exhausted and so I didn?t bother to try and find out, instead I went and found a chair and some water. I was honoured when I was then asked to take part in the closing ceremony and help give out the prizes for the teams. My role was to hand out the 1st place prize for the women?s team (which was 200 pesos, relatively quite a bit of money). There I stood, in a long line with the officials (all masked and ready for the photo-op), musicians playing in the background, a beautiful panoramic vista ahead ? ?Is this for real??. Certainly one of those moments I will remember for a long time. When the women?s 1st place team was called up, I was excited to see my team approach the officials? we had won the tournament!

The basketball tournament now over, it was time to eat again and also time for the younger children to get a chance to play on the new court. After enjoying some cabbage stew, Susan took out the 5 Frisbees that Schools for Chiapas were donating to the community and we set out to show all the children how to play with them. The small group of kids we had taught earlier were also keen to show off what they had already learnt. We had so much fun with the children on the courts, Frisbees flying overhead everywhere.

When it was time to leave, I knew we had made an impression on the children, as one of my favourite little friends named Laura looked as though she was about to cry. I was so touched with the overall experience that, after giving her a big hug, I swiftly climbed into the van before getting teary-eyed myself.

 

From Erika on May 5th, 2013

*demswin* and *fauxrepubs* are complete IDIOTS! Do you peploe not watch the news? I myself can't stomach the news anymore because of all the things this so-called president has done to our great nation. The ones that voted for osama/obama are the RACISTS. Yes, you can be black and racist.I wonder how the other idiots that thought they were going to get free heatlhcare by voting for this socialist bastard are going to PAY for their free healthcare!!! Just pray, pray hard that the next president is REPUBLICAN because that is the only true hope we have left now.