I didn’t know what to expect the first time I walked into the Ciber Doña Lola internet café to give my first computer class in Teotitlan. How many women would come? What would they know? More importantly, what wouldn’t they know? I’d given English classes, business classes…but this was something new.
Not to mention I’m no computer geek myself; I can turn it on, check my email, turn it off. If anything goes wrong it’s a call to mom. And if you ask me how to make the “@” key on a foreign keyboard, forget about it. I’m lost.Fortunately, what I would consider a computer expert isn’t necessary in Teotitlan. The women, of course, are always wonderful, patient, eager to learn, and extremely grateful for our assistance, and most of them are in the basic stages—open a word document, find the letters on the keyboard, create an email account—I can handle that.
As it turns out, the computer classes are an incredibly eye-opening experience. At least 3 women come each Tuesday, and usually more, and they are surprisingly punctual, which demonstrates their desire to maximize their time with us. They are always so passionate about learning, and it’s rewarding to see their optimism that this new skill will help them grow their businesses in ways that weren’t possible before. They anticipate using the internet to keep in touch with old clients and hopefully reach new ones. They see the internet for what it is—a giant market full of possibilities.
The women do a variety of different things during our hour together. Many practice checking their email in an attempt to remember all of the steps. One young woman spent the full hour last week working with a typing program to start memorizing where all the keys are. Others are captivated by YouTube and spend their hour watching videos on making papier-mache or travelling the world. It is fun to see their excitement when we Google “Teotitlan” and pictures of their friends or celebrations appear: “That’s the Danza de las Plumas!” “There’s the municipal building!” During the hour last week, several of the women visited the Vatican and toured the streets of Rome. It’s great to see how animated these women are to learn about other places, even though “we’ll never actually be there,” as one young lady said today. Watching this happen really makes one remember how much information we have access to, and how much we can learn by utilizing these resources.
Those of us who have been using the internet ever since it came screeching into our worlds with that terrible dial-up tone so often take for granted the resources we have at our fingertips, and in no way take advantage of everything that is available to us. Then you have people like Maria, the sweetest woman you will ever meet, who is truly utilizing this new resource to the best of her ability. She has spent the last several weeks battling with the mouse (“Me desespera!” she cries, as she touches it ever so slightly and the cursor goes shooting across the screen) in order to enter her brand new email account. And who, might you ask, is she writing to? Why, the Director of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, of course. An old friend. Seriously?! Give them the resources, and these women are connected and powerful. They will never cease to amaze me.
Of course there are also younger women who are more familiar with computers; the ones who are already creating their own websites and transferring pictures from their digital cameras onto their blogs. In some cases, their frustrations become our frustrations as we struggle with formatting and alignment that, hard as we may try, will never allow us to get it quite right. But they are progressing, and rapidly. They are hopeful that their websites will start to help their businesses soon, and each week they come with new pictures and new ideas to improve their sites. We are all optimistic that they will soon get their sites up and running.
As with every class I give to the wonderful entrepreneurs of Teotitlan, I always leave feeling like I am the one who has been taught. Of course, these classes are a lesson in patience for me, the daughter of an era accustomed to completing a search in 0.2 seconds, to having everything right here and right now. I have to remind myself that speed is not the goal, and stop myself from saying, “Here, just let me do it” as they struggle to double-click fast enough or remember which button means “go.” However, their own patience and perseverance is calming and reminds me that I, too, had to learn, and someone had patience with me as well. Their perpetual excitement at discovering new things reminds me to never give up that thirst for learning, and their optimism and perseverance is a reminder to appreciate the opportunities we have to further our education and further ourselves, just as these amazing women are doing. I am optimistic that all of these women will continue to learn, and I hope that in the near future they will be able to share with the world not only their merchandise but also their lives, their stories, and the culture that stands so strongly behind their work; that Teotitlan will not only be renowned for its beautiful rugs but also the amazing women and men that make them, and who touch us in so many ways.
Charlotte and Maria
By Charlotte Newman. Photos by Kim Groves