Monday, April 09, 2007

Teaching Adventures, Pointed Toes and Time Flying

Who would’ve ever thought that Peace Corps life would be so hectic? Where are the lazy days on a hammock, the periods of sheer boredom? But then again, I also initially thought that I was going to be living in a hut by candlelight. My life is quite the contrary, as I enjoy electricity and running water 24/7 and live in a city with at least 4 Internet cafes. However, there remains a Peace Corps-esque element: I still wash all of my clothes by hand. I iron them too.

I figured it’s not Peace Corps but a Leah thing- I have a gift, to somehow, some way get so busy with responsibilities that I end up not being able to catch up with my own life. I have a ton of books that I have yet to read, e-mails from months ago to respond to and pending “personal time” to indulge myself in. For a while this really got me down, how my Honduras life ironically mirrored my ├╝ber-hectic, fast-paced former U.S. life. But I am on the road to recovery, pausing every so often to reflect on my priorities more and escape from a neurotic life that has been my own doing. However, I would say this in my defense, despite reverting back into overdrive, there is one important difference between my life then and now: at least now I’m doing things that I really want to do.

Charla Marathon. March 8 was International Women’s Day and in order to continue the momentum from the National Women’s Day celebration, I honored the day, however, taking a different route. I wanted to give charlas (remember, a mini-lecture or workshop) to high school students about the history of the occasion and possibly about sex and gender concepts. My “great” idea was to go to two different public high schools and perhaps, give two charlas in the morning in one school, and then two more in the afternoon at another (note: high school classes here are only HALF a day long). But as I explained this to the school facilitators, they basically responded quizzically asking me why I would want to give two sessions when there are seven sections each for the morning and afternoon sessions? Okaay. I don’t know what possessed me to agree to the arrangements, but at the least I was able to bargain myself a lunch break and schedule TEN charlas instead of fourteen.

On the day itself, heaven favored me considerably such that some classes were combined; hence I only ended up giving seven forty-minute charlas instead of the original 10. Mind you, I never really had any formal teaching experience nor have no idea why I signed up with the toughest crowd there is (i.e., adolescents). But 357 students later (yes, I counted, I had a sign-up sheet) – I survived my own brilliant plan and surprisingly, ended up feeling very gratified. I was terrified more than I cared to show prior to my sessions, but everything worked out in the end. It went almost too well, but naturally, there always is that ONE class, specifically, ONE student that kept things very, very real. Up until that one student, I actually thought to myself for the first time ever that perhaps, I have what it takes to be a teacher. Um, I will not be quitting my day job any time soon.

Seriously, though, the experience was very sobering, because it gave me a taste of what Honduran teachers have to go through everyday. Obnoxious student behavior aside, the very dismal conditions of the classrooms and lack of many basics (e.g. in one high school, the students had to go around carrying their own chairs to their different classes because there weren’t sufficient seats in all of the rooms) just explains the poor quality of education in the country (a student is at a disadvantage from the beginning, with the classrooms falling apart) and why teachers are notorious for going on strike for higher wages all the time – must be all the stress they deal with on a daily basis! But to end on a high note, although I only I was able to only touch the tip of an iceberg through my sessions, I am pleased to claim that at the least I may have planted some seeds here and there and expanded their vision on society even just a tad wider and encouraged questioning, for example, why there are no women in their history books or why inequality exists between genders and how this is reflected in their own lives.

To end this subject, I would like to say, kudos to all the real teachers out there! Hats off, thumbs up, high five and all that good stuff to y’all brave and steadfast souls.

I’m a Gringa too, I swear! On a different occasion, a group of Peace Corps volunteers and myself gave a charla (yes, another one) on ethnic diversity to a group of students in a town called Siguatepeque to raise awareness and dispel existing stereotypes on the subject and discuss the origin of the term gringo. We had an activity where all the volunteers (of diverse backgrounds) were lined up and the students were to pick which ones were North Americans (here we can’t just say “Americans” because it’s offensive to Latin Americans to refer exclusively to U.S. citizens as the only Americans) and sure enough, the results of the activity and discussions reinforced what we already knew that the majority of Hondurans think that white, tall, with blue eyes define what it is to be estadounidense. It was great however, that out of the 21 students, 2 or 3 of them knew otherwise; so there is hope for the future! The funny thing was, after we, the volunteers, divulged that we are all “North Americans” despite having different roots, in the end of all the discussions on history, etc., the students still seemed incredulous that not all gringos are the typical white, tall with blue eyes. This was akin to telling a kid that Santa does not exist. But it was a lot of fun, and surely a lot less stressful than my previous marathon charlas.

Ballet Basics. When I was in San Francisco, I was taking an average of three classes per week, whether it was jazz, ballet, hip-hop or capoeira. Needless to say, it was only a matter of time where I would reach the point where due to the inexistence of dance classes for me to take in my town, I would go ahead and give them instead. Hence, I am now an official unofficial ballet teacher for Olanchito with kids ranging from 6-14 years old. Couldn’t stay away…couldn’t resist. I’m no prima ballerina, but I’m as good as it gets where I am and I am confident in being able to teach at least the basics to a group of first-timers. By the way, have I mentioned that I have never taught kids and especially not dance classes to people with no prior experience? Oh, and that I’m not exactly a big kid-person either? Hmm…notice the pattern I am developing here?

Ha! But so far so good…I started with a “trial period” of four weeks to test the waters and in the end all the kids and parents want to continue. I had a survey and all the good stuff to ensure a proper evaluation of my class- one of the comments I received that they like how I stress discipline (especially punctuality- a rare trait among Hondurans!) in my classes. This goes to show my plan is working…ballet was the last thing I wanted to teach but I want to transfer the greatest values that I personally learned from it as a kid, the discipline and a sense of a responsibility that I was later on able to and still continue to apply to all other aspects of my life. Through this process, I have been learning myself, to basically, uh…learn to deal with kids, improve my “instructional Spanish” and have a creative outlet that hopefully bears good fruit in the future.

Special mention to my dear friend, Ericka, who, provided me a cd of ballet class music and a ballet book to serve as my reference for my classes. Gracias! All other contributions accepted from anybody, anytime. ☺

A Moment to Pause. I never thought I would say that time here in Honduras flies, but it does. I have been here over nine months now and although there are plenty of petty things that I can legitimately complain about, I won’t, at least not now. To this point I remain thankful for having the chance to live a dream and I will continue to do so the best way that I can, even if it means getting over my hang-ups with politicians, kids and apathy in general. I am simultaneously excited and panicked – excited to complete my service and find out how “it all turns out” and panicked that I may not accomplish the things that I would like to by the time I finish next year. But is this my overdrive persona thinking? Either way, I will keep trying to achieve a good balance in all that I do, so I end with one of my favorite sayings- work hard, chill hard.