Sunday, October 5, 2008

Finally in the Slow Swing of Things ... and lemme tell you, they move slowwwly

It´s a lazy Vallenar Sunday. I´ve come to appreciate these Sundays more and more, but my first several weekends here I was completely unprepared. Nothing is opened past 1 pm except for the Deca supermarket and hardly any stores bother opening in the morning anyway. To walk down the main street downtown at 3 pm on a Vallenar Sunday is to essentially walk through a ghost town. Coming from Queens, N.Y., it scares the crap outta me. WHERE ARE ALL THE PÈOPLE!??? I thought the first time I made that mistake. I don´t dare walk the (ridiculously safe) downtown streets of this city on Sunday afternoons because, while I´ve adjusted and appreciate the charms of my small town, I don´t like the eerie feeling that creeps through me when I pass by NOT EVEN ONE other person on a stroll. There is a lone car now and again and there´s always the mangy dogs. But, from the safety of my cerro (hill) overlooking the valley, I find the peace and quiet quite nice actually. I sit contentedly on a low, stone wall and gaze at the light-purplish mountains in the distance. My eyes sweep the town below. Ohp! There´s an old lady walking down the sidewalk! Spotted one (human life form, that is)! I strain my ears for sounds of life ... I hear a rooster crow. I´m not kidding. A motorcycle guns, a ways off, over the small bridge out of town. The rooster crows a second time. I see a big Pullman bus pulling into town. An old man passes me on a bicycle, moving deathly slow. (It´s like the whole town has been drugged ...) I am bathed in the hot, dry sun of the desert and need only to cross the street to ring the doorbell of Milena´s house. (Reminder: she is one of Dora´s daughters, with five children and a working computer.) But, I sit and watch and wait for ... nothing. I feel completely at peace. I´m vaguely aware of an attachment that I am forming to this place, to these hills and far-away mountains and particularly to the top of the church tower, the highest point in the center of downtown (about seven-storey´s high?), a half-dome structure that shines bright copper in the sun. Sure enough I am falling for this place, for my students, for my extended family (Milena and her kids, Tico and his kids). Clearly, I am already head-over-heels for my Dorita. Marcela jokingly (but not really) warns me at the lunch table, "She´s my mother! MINE!" OOOokkkkk lady, whatever you say. I don´t dare tell her that just yesterday after I finished helping Dora with the dishes she told me, in no uncertain terms, "eres mi hija adoptiva," (you are my adopted daughter). I´m so in.

Last week was a good week because, just as I am beginning to note how harmoniously I am coexisting with my town, I am noticing a developing equilibrium in my high school. I have become quite a natural at "playing teacher." Whereas my first month I couldn´t walk the hallways without being harrassed by whistles and catcalls, I am now stopped several times by students who want hugs, kisses, help with English homework or a private session with me to work on the pronunciation of songs in English. The theater kids smile and wave, "He-llo Miss Teresa!" The cheerleaders who I´ve just started helping (don´t worry I´ll get to that some other day) smile shyly and wave. Kids from my (awesome) classes that week shout "Good Morning!" down from the second and third floors. I don´t have to look up to see if they are talking to me, the English greeting (seemingly so simple to me) is a huge feat overcome for them and reserved solely for Miss Teresa. Bravely screaming out words in English, they are ... reaching out? Let´s just say, English was not heard in the hallways of Liceo A-7 before I arrived. I push through a swarm of "He-llo´s", "Good morn-ing´s" and without fail, the occasional "I love you" before I reach the stairs and a quiet 4th grader, who I pass every single morning, hands me a tiny flower made of a lollipop wrapper. I don´t know his name. Later, I tape the flower to the side of my computer screen in my class, alongside several other friendship roses (made of similar materials) and a note that says "Miss Teresa, te kiero. Love, Clelia." The teachers are not my friends (except Marcela), and while this baffles me, I can´t quite care anymore because, well, the students ARE. Not to discount the fact that this week my friendliness towards my fellow compañeros nauseates even me. I am being so friggin approachable and lovely that I think I may have swayed some of them, just a little. If I am not to be accepted fine, but I will NOT let them treat me as an outcast and get away with saying "oh, she never said hi to me in the hallway," or "she wasn´t very friendly!" Puuhleeeze, grow up. AND, watch out -- I intend to kill you with kindness.

I brought cake for my "Winter Camp" class -- basically an English club -- this past Wednesday to celebrate one girl´s birthday and make another girl feel better. Makarena (a replacement-turned-cast member in the play, who also regularly attends Winter Camp and has a class with me) fled to my vacant classroom earlier that day sobbing about a boyfriend, accompanied by her two friends (also regulars) Karina and Judith. After I had hugged her, given her some candy (which I ALWAYS keep on hand for prizes and dramatic teenage situations like this one) and sent her on her way, I couldn´t stop smiling. She picked me. I´m her teacher and I´m her friend and while many people told me I would not be able to be both to my students, I am. I have made myself available to them whenever they need me and yet I have demanded (and earned) respect when I am before them giving a lesson as their teacher. There are constant knocks on my door throughout the day and visits from students for help or just for company. My Winter Camp is no more than 13 or so kids on any given Wednesday, but we just talk and laugh and play games and, I noted the day of the cake, that this classroom has brought unlikely pairs of students together (quiet 1st graders and boisterous 4th graders) and we have become a sort of family which I have grown to love. And it is amazing what a successful lesson plan will do for my spirits. This week I worked with flashcards I brought from home with verbs and pictures on them in the past and present tense and then had what I can only describe as a lightning round quiz. I split the class into two teams, lined them up in two rows and quized them on tense and pronunciation. The first of the two opponents to answer correctly gets a point for their team. When both kids who are up falter or continually get the pronunciation incorrect, I take a big breath and slowly scream "N-EE-EEEXT!!!!" and the kids. go. nuts. I don´t know how many adults will be familiar with the stimulating MTV series called "NEXT," but it involves one girl or boy and a bus filled with 6 suitors of the opposite sex. Each gets about 30 minutes with the chosen one until he or she decides, alas, it simply won´t work, and then usually says something both painfully witty and cheesy like, "I´m sorry, I´m lookin´for a man, not a mama´s boy! ... NEEEEXT!" At which point the rejected suitor returns to the bus and sends the next unworthy suitor on his/her date. My flashcard game has nothing in common with this tv show except the rejection bit, but this is definitely what the manuals mean about relating teaching material to your student audience. They just know they are playing a game where they get to shout "NEXT" and the cutthroat competition that ensues is unprecedented in my 2 and a half month experience. (Dear volunteer/teacher friends, you must try this.)


Josephine said...

Oh,my goodness Gervase, How awsomely Fun are you as a Teacher? I want to be in your class! I love that you use the NEXT! series, I watch it sometimes(even though I am an adult!)It can be hillarious! As for the Idiot teachers, they DON'T DESERVE YOU!! so it's their loss. The hell with them!! You are accomplishing what you set out to do from the beginning, Making a difference in the lives of the students! That is very obvious. Be VERY PROUD of what you are doing, You just ROCK!! as a Teacher!! I love you and can't wait to read your next blog! Love you Aunt Jo

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