Friday, December 4, 2009

The Cathedral at Barichara

Today we attended our first "city" social event, a graduation of the niece of our host's partner from elementary school to high school. This "Promotion de 2009" took place in the cathedral because all the schools are under the aegis of the Catholic Church in this country and because this is also the largest building in the 'pueblo' where all the families can gather. The first part of the event was a mass with communion, which was not the organized process found in the U.S. People simply got up as they felt like it and walked to the front of the church, received communion and ambled back, talking to family and friends as they worked their way back to their seats in the rugged benches called "pews" in English, but I don't know the word in Spanish.
The roof of the church is built exactly the same way the roof on a rammed earth house is built, with cane and horse manure. Very insulating factor... see if you can see the cane on the photo looking up the aisle to the entrance which includes a large portion of the roof from the inside.

Then, after the mass, four flags were brought and placed below the alter. Finally, after we listened to four recorded songs (one was the national anthem for Colombia, one was the song for the State of Santander, one for the town of Barichara and one for the school) only after that could the actual graduation ceremony begin. (I admit I looked at my watch and we were already over an hour sitting on those hard benches.)

But we still had to listen to the welcoming address by the school's principal, the valedictorian address, the awards to teachers who had been ten years or more in the school, and then awards to outstanding students. One young lady was recognized for being the highest scorer on the Colombian version of SAT's in the entire country - and she is from this small town. Great amount of applause for that. Due to my limited Spanish, I was needing translation to understand what all the excitement was about.
What surprises me is that as simply as these folks live - many do NOT have running water OR electricity, they do have cell phones and their clothes are crisp, clean and sparkling white. If you saw some of the living conditions, you might be as amazed as I am at this observation. Our dinner conversation last night focused on the fact that in the U.S. being in poverty (without these essentials of water and electricity) is considered shameful and there is a sense that because, for whatever the reason, those individuals are 'less than' those who have more. This is definitely not the case here. There is no shame for poverty - perhaps because for many, living on the land, that is all they have known. Also, there is no expectation that the State or the Government will be bailing them out. They live by their wits and creativity and are proud. It is an important lesson that is lost on those who live on welfare in the U.S. and elsewhere.

We often have a young fellow from another 'finca' coming to charge up his cell phone because we have electricity. Usually we have running water, but the pressure is often debatable. Sometimes, because it has been terribly dry here, they ration the water and we have to go without it for a day or two. Challenging!

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