In addition to the sharpening room, the building will contain sleeping space for guest instructors, built in desks for office space, and a central, open, multipurpose space for most everything else. He's also trying out some new building techniques, like a shaded skylight that lets in light but not heat, extra rebar to withstand frequent hurricanes, and a whole lot of water tanks to keep the (normally intermittent) water running.
Cultural self-sufficiency is key here, so John's goal is to train a few locals and let them take over the teaching. He tells me the goal as a gringo should always be to make yourself unnecessary, and let the locals teach each other. As we walked to John's friend Ceasar's woodshop across the street, I got a little history lesson.
The Mayans of Quintana Roo are in a similar place today as American Blacks were in the 1960s. A century ago they were enslaved by the neighboring Yucatecos, who were mixed blood Mayan and Spanish. They worked on haciendas, huge land holdings with a large central house, cultivating an Agave like plant used to make textiles. Sound familiar?
They gained their freedom during the War of the Castes, a Mayan uprising which began in 1847 and went on until 1901, and there are still a few old ones who have childhood memories of those times.
According to John, many local Mayan don't even believe that their own ancestors built the pyramids that dot the landscape. Western conspiracy theories about aliens building them are especially harmful in this environment.
Cesar's outer wall is covered in beautiful murals* blending Mayan and Western themes. "The city government hired an artist to teach the local kids how to do better grafitti." He paused. "We noticed, it doesn't really matter what is painted on the walls, even if its a political ad or just any ad, as long as something is painted on it the grafitti kids won't touch it."
The murals were painted by the teacher and a couple of his students. On his own building, which John wants to bill around a "Modern Mayan" theme, he's thinking about a painting of ancient Mayan-style humans with modern logging equipment.
We walked into the shop and met Cesar, who was busy refurbising an old bar from a strip joint for use at a local church. "No, no, it won't be the altar," he told me when he saw my face. His woodshop makes and fixes up furniture, and Cesar also runs a little woodcrafts store in downtown Carrillo, but like most touristy ventures its currently not doing too well.
Cesar is also a parter in John's school, which they hope will become a sort of contractor for the ejido unions. John and Cesar are adamant that they will never become a non-profit. "We don't write grants, thats our rule. We only do the practical side." Sounds like my kind of people.
*I´m trying to get some pictures of said murals, so I'll add them to the post if I do.