Welcome to Paraná (myths, baguette and much more)

When : Tuesday 4th September 2012
Where : Escuela Normal, Paraná, Entre Ríos, Argentina
Level : 4e, 5e et 6e grades
Number of pupils : 35
Lenght of the session : 1h40
Chosen myth : Midas and the golden touch
Number of stories told by children: 6

After one week of (relative) calm holidays in Misiones, we finally moved towards Paraná to meet our first class in Argentina. We traveled by night and arrived a little late at the bus station (seven o’clock in the morning, instead of six and forty), because the Police stopped our car for a routine check of the passengers : Carina, Brenda and German were already waiting for us in the cold and kindly welcomed us.

After a swift and delicious breakfast, we went to explore the nice park by the Río Paraná, while Carina and Brenda had to attend to a reunion of the teachers at the Normal School. In the afternoon, we were invited by Brenda in a class of the Alliance Francaise in Paraná to chat a bit in french and answer to the question of the students, mostly adults. It was very nice and interesting to discover how they saw France, the French, and of course French cuisine. The students were rather shy in our presence and wouldn’t talk much in french, although they seemed very curious, so we had to alternate between a more clearly articulated french and our wonderful spanish.

A little while after, we met the directors of the Alliance Francaise and of the Normal School, both very welcoming and enthusiast about the project we were leading, and then had a coffee and biscuits with the french teachers of the school and their assistants : we talked about France, education in Argentina and the french dream, the hard role of the teachers, and a bit of history and politics, all very thought-provoking.

This first day was intense and full of new acquaitances, yet the next day would be far more busy and challenging.

On the 4th September, we had to expose briefly the greek and latin world and tell the story of Midas, the (stupid) king that changed everything into gold by touching it, to a class of 35 children between 8 and 12 years old. Carina had carefully organised everything for us, yet there was a surprise in the morning. On our way to school, Brenda received a call on her cellphone from Carina, saying that the local radio wanted to interview us by phone, to speak about our project, Paris and Buenos Aires. Argh! I hope that my spanish wasn’t too horrible. Brenda and Janyce were so stressed for me that they kept petting Aphrodite and Mister Persident, the beautiful dog and proud cat of Brenda, to calm down. Fortunately, they didn’t saw me blush from head to feet at the phone.

Once in the school, while waiting for the class to begin, the reporter of the school paper did just in time to interview us and take some photos before we were called in. And then, all the eyes were pointed on us. The children were seated in a semi-circle, curious and excited. We did a brief introduction of the Classic culture in french and spanish (a boy kept laughing while we were speaking), and then told the myth of Midas, trying to speak loud and clear, making gestures and showing Janyce’s drawings. At the end of the story, we discovered that the children had found it very difficult to follow in french and understand the drama. So, we decided to repeat the myth more slowly, with simpler words, asking what they had understood and trying to explain the more complex passages in spanish (fortunately, the other teachers helped us very quickly). Some of them already knew the myth and began to tell it to those who hadn’t figured out the main details.

Came the time in which the children had to draw chosen scenes of the story they would tell a little after, and it was very interesting to compare their behaviour with the french pupils we met in Saint-Romain : they were more lively and excited, not to say more loud or expansive, and more prone to work in little groups with friends. Yet, there was still the lonely wolf working by himself, very shy and secretive. We passed among the table to help them finding out stories, but often they would come to us to ask little questions in french (what’s your name? When is your birthday? Do you like mate?). It was not easy to advise them or to keep a certain order, and the teachers have been very helpful. It was funny to observe the implication of every child in the teamwork, and their good will (some of them tried to cheat for the drawing of a dragon). When the storytelling time began, we already had volunteers : however, once in front of the class, the children became very shy, not knowing really how to tell well the story. Some of them were interrupted by the public, when the story didn’t appeal, some received suggestions or corrections from it, when the story was well-known, while others chose to invent or reinterpret a story or a myth : we thus could hear the Little Red Riding Hood, The Ugly Duckling and a story of princess and dragon, mostly of european tradition. One of them told the strange story of the Minotaur, but a very personal one : one day the ugly monster fell again and again, and when he got up, he was beautiful. Only one group told us the inca legend of Cacheute, although they pretty most read it to the class, while another tried to tell the argentinian tale of the Elephant Dailankifki, but was interrupted. Even the most shy girls in the class came to tell a story,  and the children didn’t ask to go out, although it was a very long lesson (normally, they use to have 40 mn of class, and we kept them almost for 2 hours). Halas, due to a lack of time, few groups couldn’t pass and we have now to guess the stories with their drawing (one is suspected to illustrate Dragon Ball Z). They were all very cute. As Brenda pointed it out, children sometimes used a particular language to expose the stories, traditional formulas that they never use in every-day speech. The drawings of the children shall be the main material of a following post. We hadn’t the authorizations to shoot a video with the children, but we have recorded the stories so to write them down as soon as possible. It is true that we have heard only one local tale, Cacheuta, but we must consider that those children are raised in a society impregned by european values and conceptions. I think we should have different results if we could meet indian children. However, it is interesting to note which stories are the most popular, and how children can use the archetypes of the tales to make up one of their own.

At the end of the class, the journalist of El Diario came for an interview, and we told us our first impressions with the children. All this in spanish, of course, but somehow we worked it out. Carina had also scheduled for us a live interview in a local tv program in the afternoon, and oh gosh, this was a stressing experience!

After our exceptional performance at the telly (cof cof), we went to speak to a class of young adults in the Business School of Paraná and chat again about Paris, France (yes, I assure you, French people wash themselves daily – well, almost- and don’t make strong parfums to cover a bad smell), Parisian architecture and talk about the radio project they had to lead about France. Some of them were quite impertinent, some other very interested, and above all, very curious and welcoming.

This busy and eventful day came finally to an end, and Brenda and German prepared a typical and delicious dish of Paraná, the chupin ; then we played ukulele and sang till early hours with German and Jimen, her talented niece who plays Murga-like music.

And next day, Carina brought us a surprise : we were on the front page of El Diario!

Our staying at Paraná has been very stimulating and rich of humanity. It was really heartwarming to see that our project made the children and the teachers so enthusiast. Moreover, we are grateful to Carina for her kind and generous welcome and very neat organisation, and to Brenda and German for hosting us, letting us taste the best argentinian specialities (wine, beer, alfajores santafesinos, mate, tortas fritas), telling us popular tales about food and siesta (we shall soon tell you about the dreadful Solapa, who takes away in his bag the naughty children that don’t respect the siesta time) and giving us contacts to continue our travel.

Muchas Gracias!