Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"Chapinear" and the Art of Guatemalan Improvisation

Americans are to Yankees as Guatemalans are to __________.

Chapins. The world chapin (pronounced chah-peen) is a term that has evolved affectionately over the years among Guatemalans to refer to the idiosyncrasies that make them uniquely Guatemalan. Hour late for a meeting? So chapin. Love eating tortillas and black beans? What a chapin. Put chile on all your food? Yep, pretty chapin. But careful, just like yankee can have charged connotations, referring to someone as a chapin can be offensive if said by the wrong person in the wrong context.

While the word chapin refers to people, chapinear (the verb) refers to the act of being a chapin and the inherent improvisation that goes with it. Over the course of the last six weeks of construction on the bottle school, I have been impressed time and time again by the ability of my co-workers to solve unexpected challenges in incredibly creative ways. I have been impressed by their ability to chapinear. Instances where I was ready to throw-up my hands and call it quits because we hadn't planned for a certain problem didn't so much as phase our lead mason. One such example was when we started placing the chicken wire in the walls to which the plastic bottles would be fastened. We needed certain pins in the cross-beams so we could run chicken wire the length of the wall and clamp it down with the pins. A miscommunication between the masons, a friend from our sponsor NGO, and me led to the complete omitting of pins on the top part of the crossbeams. Oops.

The sinking feeling I had, mainly derived from the thought of having to chip away at all the crossbeams to insert more pins, lasted only a few moments. The lead mason shrugged-off our predicament, saying we could weave reinforced wire through the chicken wire, tie it to the crossbeam, and crank-it down to tighten it. Problem solved.

Examples like this have been common over the last few weeks. Challenges arise, as they always do with logistically-intensive projects like the bottle school, I scratch my head and summon my liberal arts college education to find few - if no answers, then turn to my Guatemalan counterpart who barely finished fifth grade to come up with the solution. And he always delivers.

Whereas in the States we rely on power tools, technology, and abundant resources to build things, Guatemalans rely on their wit, creativity, and tough as nails work ethic (no power tools here) to build their future. I've worked side-by-side with them for a number of weeks now, and have only had access to saws, hammers, and other rudimentary tools that require good ol' fashion elbow grease to get the job done. Efficient? Not really. Admirable? Definitely.


The tools: hammer, nails, machete, measuring tape, and pliers

"World Class Cheerleading": Ever wonder where your used t-shirts end up?

Don Beto putting bottles in a wall

Hello Ismael

Paco working on the roof

The school with about 1,000 bottles in place

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Jamie. You really get down to the core of things here!