Yesterday I said goodbye to the 31 sixth graders I’ve been teaching for the last three months. It was hard for me to leave the school knowing there is very little chance I will be back again.
We had a good time celebrating all that we had learned over our months together. I was thrilled to see that all of them remembered how to introduce themselves to the friend I brought with me without any prompting from me! They each stood up and proudly said, “My name is _____.” It took me so much effort to get them to speak English at the beginning (especially to speak English in more than a whisper!) Then I shared some gingerbread cookies and talked a little about the tradition of decorating gingerbread men for Christmas. We ended the class period by singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”, doing the “Hokey-Pokey” and playing “Duck, Duck, Goose!” It was a lot of fun! Man I’m going to miss those goofballs!
I will post a few pictures (password protected because I don’t know what the privacy policies are in Nicaragua–though I kind of doubt they exist–just to be on the safe side. If you know me, then you can see them. The password is my dog’s name.)
Wow am I exhausted! I just returned from a fantastic trip to Ometepe, which is a beautiful island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. It is about a two hour drive and one and a half hour ferry ride from Managua. I left early Friday morning with my housemates and a few other friends and we arrived on the island by lunchtime. Our big plan was to climb el Volcan Madera, so we picked a hostel at the base of the volcano.
After dropping our stuff off and having a light lunch, we rented some bicycles to go exploring around town. We rode our bikes down to the beach and saw a spectacular view of la Concepción, the island’s other volcano. The island is much bigger than I was expecting. I thought we could casually ride around the whole thing. Ha! Nope. It was still fun to ride through the hills of Balgüe, though. (Fun fact: Did you know the umlaut, those two dots above the u, makes sure both vowels are pronounced? Without the umlaut the word would be bal-gay, but with the umlaut the word is bal-goo-eh. Thanks, Ms. Skoog!) We cycled for about about an hour and half, with a pit stop in the middle for smoothies, and then returned our bikes and continued exploring on foot—until our stomachs convinced us to stop for dinner.
We all agreed we preferred something a little off the beaten track, and found a small family restaurant, selling pescado chorrizo, which is shredded fish cooked with vegetables and served with rice. It was delicious!
After a pretty decent night’s sleep in our hostel, we woke up at 6:30 am to have breakfast before setting off on our hike. I, of course, opted for gallo pinto and eggs, which I am convinced was an integral part of my success later in the day. Our hike was a long one, eight hours in total. It was challenging to say the least! Narrow paths, muddy streams, and portions that required a bit of rock-climbing kept the hike up interesting and made the hike down feel quite dangerous. The journey was absolutely breathtaking, though, and well worth the layers of dirt that covered me by the end of the hike. We saw monkeys, cacao and coffee plants, butterflies, and some birds I cannot name. At the top, we trekked down a bit further to reach the laguna to swim and have lunch. That gave us the energy we needed to make it back down again, but man were we hurting by the end! The way down was definitely harder than the way up!
We needed to be back at our hostel by around 5 pm because we wanted to catch a bus to another part of the island, and the last bus was at 5:30. We made it to the hostel at 5:15 pm, which meant we had to grab our stuff and run down to the main road! Oh my gosh! I cannot explain to you what we looked like, still covered in dirt and limping from different injuries and blisters, literally running down the dirt road! I carried my suitcase on my head for a while! I’m sure people thought we were crazy!
We reached the main road just before 5:30 and we could see the bus heading towards us—good news!—except the bus drove straight on by as a man yelled out the window, “No more buses until tomorrow!” What!?
Well, having adapted quite nicely to the Nicaraguan way of life, we just had to laugh. We found a place to sit and had some Toña and organic chocolate and called our taxi driver from the day before, who kindly agreed to come pick us up to take us to Altagracia, our next destination.
In Altagracia, we splurged on a $9 hotel and enjoyed the healing power of a good shower. Feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, though still slightly battered, we wandered out in search of dinner. We found a nice big open restaurant and ordered much more food than our stomachs were prepared for. (I did confirm, though, that Nicaraguans make a mean chicken soup!)
Sleep came quite easily, but a talkative neighborhood roster and a 4 am drum parade made staying asleep impossible!
Luckily, in the morning we were off to el Ojo del Agua, which is a natural spring with supposed healing abilities. It was the absolute best thing to do after climbing a volcano. It was so relaxing to lazily float in the water. We even drank out of coconuts! (I mean we were on an island, so we had to!) Kathrin said it best, “We make the nicest plans!”
The afternoon passed all too quickly and before we knew it it was time to catch the ferry back to the mainland and back to reality. Time to get started on my homework I suppose!
There are a lot of things to get used to here in Nicaragua. Some of them are really easy: the food (check!), sun (check!), cold showers (check!), crazy driving (check!). All of the easy things are external changes; I just needed to make up my mind that these things were okay. The harder things require an internal change, require me to give up some control and comfort.
School has really been the hardest part of being here. If you know me at all, you know that I am a type-A person. I like things organized. I like a clear plan. I want to know why I am learning what I am learning and why I am learning it the way I am learning it. I like being prepared for class. I like being responsible for myself. And I like when my classmates are responsible for themselves.
In Nicaragua, I have to rely heavily on other people. I have to constantly ask for clarification. Assignments are structured differently (or sometimes not structured at all!) I can’t read the readings as fast as my classmates, so when we do a reading in groups (yes, sometimes three people read one packet together at the same time!) I am the one slowing down the group. Sometimes I panic because I can’t remember if desafío means challenge or advantage (and that makes a big difference!) Class discussions can be a disaster for me! I if I stop paying attention for half a second (which is easy to do in those hot classrooms) I get lost. Everything takes so much more effort here, and sometimes it just feels like too much.
Sometimes I try to contribute in a group discussion and my group just kind of looks at me funny. I have the answer in my head, and I cannot find the right words in Spanish. Or sometimes I have absolutely no answer in either language because the question just does not make sense to me. It is times like this I get really overwhelmed. It’s enough to make me want to cry sometimes. And I have.
What am I doing?
Do I really know Spanish?
I feel like an idiot.
I was reflecting one day after a particularly rough group meeting, and I thought about how thankful I was that I have had many experiences where I have felt intelligent. I have had over fifteen years of experience in a context I thrive in, the American classroom, but how many people have spend their whole lives in a context that doesn’t work for them? They must feel pain and frustration similar to what I feel—probably worse! They may have only had a handful of experiences where their way of thinking was praised and rewarded.
I can tough out this time in my life because I know that I am smart. But how awful it must be to go to school each day and have no one recognize the value of your way of thinking. How frustrating it must be when the language you think in doesn’t translate well into the language your teachers think in. How many brilliant ideas are we as a society missing out on because we think that all intelligence should come in the same neatly labeled box and contain test scores and a five paragraph writing sample?
Sure I can’t be type-A here, but I also can’t only be type-A when I become a teacher. I have to be type-A-Z and probably also type-57. Or at least design my class that way. Everyone deserves to know that they are smart—that their way of thinking has value. Maybe it’s better at math problems than essays. Maybe it’s better at making split-second judgment calls than long-term goals. Maybe it can convey feeling though music but can’t pass a standardized test.
And yes, it is important to be able to write, read, do math, and plan for the future. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try hard to get better at it, but the greater point here is there is no one correct way of evaluating intelligence. And I, for one, am very grateful for that!
Now let’s all try to convince our politicians!!
I would like to report that today at lunch a woman told me I speak Spanish with very little accent. I think she was exaggerating, but I’ll take it anyway!
In other news, I accomplished my goal of drinking out of a bag! On the street they sell juice out of giant buckets. They fill a plastic baggy up with ice, pour the juice over it, stick a straw in, tie it up nice and tight, and you’re good to go. It’s quite refreshing, and much more tuani than drinking out of a cup.
And finally, I used my newly acquired bus skills to help a Nicaraguan woman get where she needed to go. That’s right, people! I knew the way!
It has been a good Thursday! ← “Thhhh-urrrs-day!” as I practiced with my sixth graders this morning.
In an effort to be a more consistent blogger, but without the time or energy to write a finely crafted blog post, I present my Monday musings, which are just a jumbled assortment of things that are interesting to me, over which I tried to put a crafty title (alliteration!) to distract you from how disjointed it is.
- This weekend I went to la Concepción with my friend David, where I ate delicious gallo pinto for both dinner and breakfast; met up with Juliana and some other friends at la Laguna de Apoyo on Sunday; got a bad sunburn (even though I swear I put on sunscreen!); and took no pictures. I’m a bad tourist. I know.
- I have started confusing English and Spanish—talking in Spanish to people who speak English and talking in English to people who speak Spanish. (Is this a step in the language acquisition process? I sure hope so!)
- One night about two weeks ago, a bunch of bats showed up at the house. Now they come every night to eat the mangoes. They are very messy eaters and constantly drop their mangoes on the metal roof, resulting in a very loud bang.
- School here has continued to be very group-work-centered. When we have readings, we don’t just do the reading. We have to prepare a group presentation on the reading. (And presentations here mean putting lots of text (copied right out of the reading) in a powerpoint presentation and reading right from the slide. Where are my Socratic seminars!?
- Every morning I have delicious Nicaraguan coffee with breakfast. It’s okay, you can be jealous.
- Practically everyone here has facebook, but they pronounce it “fay-boo” or sometimes they just say “fay.” It took me weeks to understand that “mándame por fay” meant “send it to me on facebook”. It didn’t help that I didn’t know you could send documents through facebook. How fancy of you, fay-boo!
- And perhaps the most exciting news of all: I have a new favorite Nicaraguan food, güirilas! They are tortillas made from sweet corn, and they are oh so delicious! I would like to clarify, however, that I am not replacing gallo pinto, simply adding güirilas to my list of favorites. In fact, do you know what would be the absolute best? Eating gallo pinto in a güirila! I’m hungry just writing about it! Second lunch?