Thursday, October 25, 2007

Confessions of a Workaholic

I would like to begin by saying that my English is falling apart (Feel free to think, “We’ve noticed, Leah.”). I recently wrote an article that I submitted for a volunteer publication and I must say it was quite a challenge getting through writing it and finding the correct English words, instead of using some Spanish words that seem easier to come by these days. Nothing to be alarmed about, this is a normal occurrence among volunteers- thinking and speaking in Spanglish…it just seems more pronounced once one tries to write on paper in one language. I don’t feel too bad because I’m not the only one; the only thing is that I hope Peace Corps would start an “English Rehabilitation” program before sending all volunteers back to the U.S. Or the rest of America can catch up on their Spanglish too; that way returned Spanish-speaking volunteers can just blend right back in!

On another note, one of my dearest friends in the world, Connie, told me not too long ago: “You haven’t changed, Leah. Your life is still the same. The only thing that has changed is your location.” She was referring to how I live my life non-stop regardless if I’m doing something for a living or voluntarily. Some people know me too well. It may seem that I have fallen into the black hole these days, as I have been quiet on my blog and on emails. I have to confess, I’ve backslid once more into overdrive mode. This is the last time I’ll let it happen again, I swear! Yeah, right. I must sound like a recovering addict trying to say over and over that I’ll slow down…so and so…and at the same time committing to another project or engagement. On the bright side, I can’t really complain this one time because, finally, I’m beginning to see the fruits of my labor as a volunteer.

To begin with, the project I got approved for the Casa de la Cultura is finally being executed. I had this bright idea of including a million components in my project, hence, there have been a lot of things to be done. But in essence, this project (that is being funded by a grant from USAID and the Municipality of Olanchito) aims to recover the identity of the community as the country’s capital of civic and culture through the construction of a Children’s Library, various installations in the building (bars and mirrors for dance classes), purchase of equipment (sound system, lights, costumes for performing groups) and different cultural activities. It’s not true that the only measure of development is through infrastructures being built, because development is not only about the tangibles. But in terms of instant gratification, it sure is nice to be able to see things being built right before my eyes and know that I helped make that happen.

Case in point: the ballet class I am teaching now is official. The kids and I used to dance bare feet and in plain clothes, while using backs of chairs as barres. Now, thanks to the group’s fundraising efforts and the grant I got, all the seven girls have complete ballet uniforms and real barres to use. And drum roll please...full-length mirrors to top it all off! Despite the fact that we are not in a ballet academy, the teacher is nowhere near a prima ballerina and that there are no wooden floors, nor a real studio…we are still doing ballet! And isn’t it all about working with what you have? And on that note, the class is busy preparing for its debut performance on November 3rd. I am staging a dance recital just for them that includes dance pieces using various music including classical and Honduran folk. It has been a lot of work and I am exhausted, but I’m really excited about it. The girls aren’t quite ready for Swan Lake, but they’re precious regardless.

Continuing with the list of things keeping me on my toes, I recently concluded a 6-part workshop on basic business administration with a group of women who have their micro-enterprise. What do I know about business? Up until recently, nothing, really. I fully understood through this experience the expression that says something about teachers being only a page ahead of their students. That’s where the beauty of Peace Corps and manuals steps in. As a volunteer, we have a plethora of resources about any conceivable topic related to development work and a lot of them are manuals that enable any of us to teach the most fundamental concepts of any subject to locals. It is wonderful because I’m personally learning a lot as well. This particular endeavor seriously kicked my butt because I had a ton of material to cover and prepare (sans Power Point, i.e. all of my visual aids were done with good ol’ fashioned markers and paper). But in the end it was all worth it because the women I worked with (aged between 20-something to 70-something) were very grateful for the new things they learned. Furthermore, it was a great experience for me going into a rural community to work (literally “home schooling” the women right out of their houses) and spend a few nights there to see the women in their element. Needless to say, I was lulled to sleep by nature’s choir- roosters, pigs, mosquitoes. Life in a farm, indeed!

And then there’s my public policy project with some high school kids that was on hiatus for six weeks due to a combination of reasons why there were no classes or students were too busy, namely: preparations for Civic Week (where ALL schools participate in parades for an entire week), a break from Civic Week, a marching band competition, and finally, a teachers’ strike that lasted two weeks. It’s the same group that I couldn’t meet with the entire month of July due to another set of reasons just as fascinating. The good news is, this week we got the ball rolling again and there is actually hope of finishing the project before they go into their exams in a couple of weeks. Vamos a ver.

Did I mention that in between all this I was helping out a high school group to prepare for a cheering competition? Um…yeah. Well, until I had to pull myself out of it because by our fourth rehearsal day, out of a group of 30 that was supposed to be practicing, only nine people showed up. Yet another classic scenario of my life here- people commit to something and in the end they don’t want to do any work. It’s all across the board, whether it’s with kids or adults, whether it’s about doing a project or doing something fun like preparing (which is work) for a dance performance. It’s frustrating to the teeth, but ultimately, it’s just sad. But, what else can I do?

It all worked out in the end, though. I took that incident as a sign that God wants me to REST. I realize that staying committed has been one of my greatest skills, but that I shouldn’t overdo making commitments right and left. These days when delays or cancellations happen, instead of getting upset, I just take it as an opportunity to have more down time. I promised myself to just focus on what I have on my plate now and not to even dare think of ordering “seconds.” No more stress, no more burning-out. No more being behind on my own life whether it’s doing the laundry (by hand, let’s not forget) or finishing the books I’ve been trying to read forever. At least, this is the plan.

It’s not going to be easy…but once my family and friends start hearing more and sooner from me, then it means I’m being good on my promise. Of course, they can feel free to cheer me on at any time.