Friday, September 24, 2010

[Note: I am choosing not to say anything about the defeat this week of the DREAM Act and repeal of DADT in the Senate. There are already enough eloquent words about these. I also don't have anything on the execution in Virginia last night, apart from Lord, have mercy on us. This week, my spectacular students are just too spectacular and even large-scale disappointments are no match.]

I really, really love the kids I teach. Some of them are predictably adolescent and, as is normal, I have a hell of a time getting them to take anything seriously. But they are so great - all of them. Yesterday was our first day of English-only classes and they went so well! I had a whole lesson brewing in my head - a walking tour of the community where we could learn useful vocab while building on asking and answering questions (what we've most recently studied). That all got blown to bits when I found an English copy of Green Eggs and Ham.

Oh my, but that book is perfect for what we've been learning - questions, "I like"/"you like," new vocab - all with a healthy dose of repetition. It also allowed me to set up the future and conditional tenses ("Would you, could you in a boat?" etc.). I had 7th grade first and they were such troopers. There were a couple of momentary crestfallen looks when things didn't compute immediately, which set us up to learn the phrases "this is REALLY, REALLY DIFFICULT" and "just breathe!"

At the end of the 7th grade class, after I had officially closed off the lesson and was almost out the door, I turned around and assured them (in Spanish) that they could come and clarify things with me during recess. A minute later, one of the squirreliest of the 7th graders was in the office grabbing a chair and he was downright ecstatic about the class. It was really difficult, but a lot of fun(!), he said. He also said that they were all really surprised at the end when I switched back to Spanish. "It sounded so strange after hearing you speak English for an hour - we were all shocked!" That level of excitement from Evaristo was one heck of a vote of confidence.

Then later, during recess, another really sweet moment. There's a guava tree in the in schoolyard that reminds me profoundly of The Giving Tree. It has no bard left because the kids climb all over it all day, every day. But it produces hundreds of guayabas each year. At this point in the season, most of the easy-to-reach fruits have been picked and what remains are either close-but-not-ripe or WAY out where only the smallest middle schoolers ought to climb. (Though that does stop some of the medium ones - especially when what they need is for someone to weigh down a limb so that the fruits are reachable from the ground.)

For me it's sort of heart-attack-inducing to watch them - the kind of thing that would give MPS lawyers a liability stroke. But climb they do. And yesterday, after a good 15 minutes of searching, maneuvering, and reaching, one of the kids grabbed himself one. Now, I already sort of have a soft spot in my heart for Milton because he reminds me a TON of a guy from the theater at South and he also is always ready to volunteer in class and willing to make mistakes and learn from them. I'd been watching for several minutes, occasionally encouraging, more often commenting that I was going to die just from watching. So after all of this, he comes up and gives me the guayaba, complete with the wormy part picked out. I tried to deflect, then I suggested sharing it, but he would have none of it. This was my guayaba and that was it. It was quite tasty, and not only because it was perfectly ripe.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Last week (on Wednesday the 15th - though actually beginning Tuesday night) Suchitoto blossomed into celebration of the 189th anniversary of Central American independence from Spain. Granted, that independence lasted a very short time, because Mexico (itself celebrating its own 11th anniversary Sept 15, 1821) annexed the region for a few years. But I digress. What we now know as Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica went from being colonies of Spain to politically independent states (though not in anything like the current map makeup).

Like most other independences of the colonial era (I use the phrase as though that era had ended!), it was much more a transfer of power from far-away wealth to in-house wealth. I have heard arguments that things actually got worse in some cases for the poor and for indigenous communities after independence. Again with the digressing.

After a GRAND pair of parades (a night parade and a morning one, which bookended a long, bumping dance in front of the mayor's office), I sat down with Margaret Jane and Christy for a few minutes at one of the restaurant patios on the plaza. Margaret Jane was telling us about her first several years in El Salvador, in the mid-80s, working in a displaced community camp in the mountains above the capital.

One of the reasons they set up camps in the hills was that in the capital, people were living in buildings and not able to go out. Hundreds in the basements of single churches - sharing single toilets and sinks, having babies, dying. There were also several hundred living on the grounds of the seminary. They just needed to be in a different place - a place with at least a bit more privacy and air.

This got me thinking, though. If refugee/internally displaced camps were located on the grounds of seminaries, what might that do for the Church's willingness to make bold and prophetic witness against all forms of violence that rob people of their homes and communities?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Brief update

I take a boat to school twice a week. Some days, the lechuga (the water lettuce that grows on the lake) is too thick to take the boat home. That happened both days this week and yesterday there wasn't anyone in the community of El Sitio who could give us a ride to the highway to take the bus back to Suchitoto.

So we walked the same road that many of my students walk to and from school each day. We walked with a handful of them. (We being the five of us teachers - four Salvadorans and I.) It was only my second time on that path, the first having been Tuesday, in a truck, so it was the first time walking it. It goes back and forth between cobble-stoned and dirt. It inclines up, gradually but steadily, the whole time, but then you get to a part where you go straight up on just dirt/mud for the length of about three city blocks.

I will never again complain - even in my head - about ending school early due to the rain. I will never again be annoyed when a student shows up late to the first class of the day. I wasn't spending too much time, before, on the latter, but I was definitely a bit irked each time we ended school early. (Which itself has only happened about four or five times total.)

The path was not mucky, but it was slick, even though it hadn't started to rain yet. We were up in the next community by the time it did start to rain. One of my students had picked up a guacal (a big, multi-use tub) of milk from a house on the road and had it on her head. Standing in the rain is the only way I ever really feel cool enough here, so I wasn't about to use my umbrella, but I grabbed it out anyway and held it over Laura's head as we walked. I'm pretty sure we looked like dorks (read: I looked like a dork and she looked like she was just carrying some milk), but we talked and laughed as we walked, so it was alright.

At one point, one of the teachers pointed out a house about 50 meters up the road and explained that a couple of the girls who had gone ahead lived there and their mother made tamales as a business. I thought, "Oh, cool, good to know." Then when we walked by their house, they each came out with bags full of tamales for us. (The one I got had about 10 in it.) This is THE time of year for fresh corn here, so this was an extraordinary gift, given for no particular reason. I was amazed.

About five minutes later, we came to Laura's house and her brother gave us a ride the rest of the way to Suchi in his pickup. This was after we interrupted the football game that he and his friends were in the middle of, but there was no sense of annoyance from him. He drove us fast and direct - and all the way to town, rather than just to the highway, since we'd missed the 5:15 bus and would have had to wait until the 6:15.

One of my other students hopped in the truck bed with us and rode along to town, since his community has an art exposition at a gallery here and he had something to do in town for it. As he jumped in and sat on the edge, a woman came out of the house and said, "Oh no, down on the floor." I asked if that was his mom. She was his aunt, but all the same, definitely an identifiable parental instinct. :) So we rode back to Suchi, the student, two other teachers, a woman from El Cereto, and me. (The other two teachers were in the cab - we didn't leave anyone behind!) And we talked and joked and it was just such a human experience. I was able to let down my linguistic guard and just speak without worrying about messing things up. And then we were in town and all said goodbye until Tuesday (my next day of teaching). And my tamales and I walked home. And it felt like home. Not a permanent home, for me, but a place where I belong for now.

My "brief" updates never end up being that way. Nor do they tend to capture the full feeling (nor the feeling of fullness) of what I experience. But imagine the situation described in the words I have here and then absolutely FILL it with love and contentment. That's at least a bit closer to the real thing.