For those of you who’ve kept up with Yaxunah over the past number of years, I hope you’ll be interested in all the new doings going on there. But I’ll bet a number of you are thinking: “What’s a Yaxunah? What does it have to do with MRP?” Maybe you’ve noticed that tab on the left of the MRP Website homepage that says, “Live in a Mayan Village.” Well, that tab is what this newsletter is about.
I hope you get excited about Yaxunah and decide to give this MRP volunteer experience a try, as well. If you want to see more views of the village and learn more about it, go to <yaxunahcentrocultural.org>.
Director MRP Programs in México
Celebrating the New Yaxunah Community Cultural Center
After many years of talking about it and after five years of planning and construction, we were able to bring our dream to reality. We celebrated the opening of the Yaxunah Community Cultural Center on October 16, 2010. It was a day most of us will never forget. We partied all day long. Everybody got involved. We had visitors from Mérida, from the press, schools and universities, state agencies, non-profit organizations, neighboring communities, and many more. Please look at the Yaxunah website to see more of what goes on at the Center. <yaxunahcentrocultural.org>
This October 16th we had a first anniversary celebration for the Center. Come and see what all the excitement is about. Actually, Yaxunah is truly worth a trip south any time of the year.
The star feature of the Yaxunah Community Cultural Center is the Ethnographic and Historical Interpretive Center (museum). For a long time people in the community wanted to have the artifacts discovered at the Yaxunah archaeological site placed in a museum in the village. Though they have received permission to display very few actual artifacts to date, this has not held them back in designing a wonderfully picturesque and educational interpretive center. Many members of the community donated old household and farm implements. These are on display in a tableau explaining the complementary roles of men and women in processing the products of the traditional Maya cornfield. Village members are proud to have the tools of their grandmothers and grandfathers in the museum with explanations about their use.
Among several other displays in the museum are views of two traditional ceremonies important to community cultural life. The Hetz Mek, still observed in Yaxunah, is a baby welcoming ceremony, and no child is considered truly Maya if it is not done. The Dance with the Head of the Pig is done annually to commemorate the village patron saint’s birthday. Explanations of both these ceremonies make for colorful displays in the Interpretive Center.
But without a doubt the crowning displays in the museum are the replicas of the royal tombs that were discovered in the Yaxunah archaeological site. These two tableaus and the information interpreting what happened to the persons in these two tombs are truly dramatic and worth a trip to Yaxunah to see.
The Botanical Gardens
Last summer Dr. Charles Klein and nine of his students, from the Department of Landscape Architecture at Texas Tech University, came to the village to help put in the Botanical Gardens around the Yaxunah Community Cultural Center grounds. Despite torrential rains and maximum temperatures they pitched right in making flowerbeds and walkways. It’s surprising how much big tall Texans with a will to work can accomplish in just one week. Since then another tropical rainy season and much care by the Center staff have caused the gardens to flourish. They provide an oasis of real beauty, plus an educational opportunity to learn about the flora of the area.
Maya Heritage – The Mural
Come to Yaxunah just to see the mural at the Community Cultural Center. In keeping with the focus on Sense of Place, we held a statewide contest looking to support a young artist who was willing to create a work that contained an element representative of the Maya culture and representations of the local flora and fauna. Villagers voted on their favorite entry. What we got was a truly wonderful work of art from a uniquely gifted young woman only 21 years old, Nubia Monserrat Álverez López. You can see the mural on the Yaxunah website. We have an explanation of each local plant and animal species represented in the mural, so send me an e-mail if you’d like more details.
Easy Plug-In English Lessons
We have been incredibly lucky that Betsy Kraft, accompanied by her husband Rick, came to Yaxunah to design an English program for volunteers. Betsy has been a university professor and teacher of English as a foreign language in the Yucatán and elsewhere for a number of years. She used her expertise to create a plan for people who have as little as two weeks to give to be able to plug into the English program and help students advance in improving their competencies.
Her curriculum is simple yet builds speaking and comprehension skills without being bookish. Betsy has provided a stepwise program based on oral interactions, rather than textbooks and worksheets. The young people learn while speaking, singing and doing. Lessons are focused on what the young people feel they want to learn about – their culture, their environment, skills that will help them to articulate with the wider world.
The rubrics of teaching outlined in the model are simple enough for any volunteer to pick up on and feel s/he is making a difference. Betsy used her own vast experience and creativity to provide a number of simple activity tools for the novice teacher, but also encourages volunteers to invent more tools - work with the students to make up games, tell stories, sing songs and learn the lyrics, look at appropriate YouTubes, create videos, write and perform a play, etc. All these activities are designed to help develop oral competencies, and to hold the attention of young learners.
Don’t worry if you’ve never taught English before, much less to non-native speakers. Betsy has made it easier for you. Think about your next vacation making a difference. All you need is a willing heart and sense of adventure.
Focus on Ecology
We’ve also been fortunate enough to have Dr. Adrian Southern and Dr. Beatriz Contreras, scholars from East Anglia University in Yaxunah for several months. They are focusing their attentions on the sustainability of Maya corn production. They are also working with community young people at the Community Cultural Center to enrich their Sense of Place, to help them have a more profound knowledge of the flora, fauna and overall environment around them. Beatriz and Adrian draw from a SAW (Science, Art, and Writing) perspective helping to enchant the children’s connection with the environment through hands-on experiences using the various senses and their own artistic creativity. Anyone who has the naturalist bent or ever done any outdoor training is welcome to come along and lend a hand to help the young people of Yaxunah deepen their love of nature.
Some of you may remember that we started a young peoples’ club called the Jaguars in 1997. Besides socialization and fun, it focuses on recycling plastic and metal trash that would otherwise needlessly fill up the town garbage dump. The Jaguars are still going out every Saturday all around the village to collect bottles, cans and the like, helping to make sure the village maintains a certain standard of cleanliness. The little bits of money they make from selling the recycling go for Christmas and New Years parties, educational trips out of the village, and the like.
Amigos de las Americas and Painting the Town Green
The Jaguars have also helped out with a new initiative, painting the buildings in Yaxunah green to go along with their focus on the environment and adding another interesting feature for visitors to the community to see. In Maya, the word Ya’ax means green, and the word Nah means house. So, while we are not completely sure what the name, Yaxunah, was intended to mean in the distant past, it could have had something to do with a green house.
Last New Year’s holiday, Dr. Bascopé designed a 5-day trip for interested alumni of Amigos de las Americas. Amigos is a service organization that has sent well trained American young people to participate in community projects throughout Latin America since 1965. They now have an alumni corps of some 35 thousand and are always looking for interesting ways for them to stay involved in the organization. The trip Grace created combined cultural, historical and archaeological elements, plus a day of service in Yaxunah helping to paint the town green. Eleven Amigos alums participated, and their help made a difference. You can see more about this trip on the Amigos website. If you think you and your family or other group would like to plan such a trip with a service element, get in touch with Dr. Bascopé through the MRP website.
Link up here to see Amigo’s video of their Yaxunah service day.
We’ve been lucky to get the services of Arq. Juan Santos Cortez, a musiographer with years of experience and a gifted artist in his own right. Not only did Juan take on the job of making the displays in the Interpretative Center, but he also agreed to stay on at the Center to teach art classes to the young people of the village. He’s helped them create a puppet theatre, has taught them to make useful and saleable products out of recycled paper, and has taught oil painting to what turns out to be a talented group of kids. Juan offered to let them set up an art exhibition in a small gallery he has charge of in the larger tourist town of Izamal. This display of works from the children of Yaxunah ran from the beginning of June through 31st of August 2011 and brought us some great publicity.
The Morning After!
We are planning something big to celebrate the end - or should we say the new beginning - of the Maya Calendar in Dec. 2012. So far the Yaxunah Community Cultural Center is the only group we know of planning an “after party!” We are offering a public breakfast and great entertainment on the 22nd of Dec. If you are planning to be on the Peninsula for the great Maya calendric event on Dec. 21st, be sure to plan to include Yaxunah in your itinerary. You’ll be glad you did!
Most of you have been volunteers at the archaeological site at Blue Creek, but when you get ready for an equally rewarding though different type of life-enriching experience, consider coming to Yaxunah for a couple of weeks or more to help us out with our programs. Look under the tab “Live in a Mayan Village” on the Maya Research Program website to learn about all the kinds of service opportunities available and see how to sign up. You won’t be sorry.