Sunday, August 21, 2011

My blog posts are all over the place, just like my life has been lately, so it's hard to think of an appropriate title!

I was going to work on lesson plans tonight, but school has been canceled Monday for the entire island because of hurricane Irene. So, I will update my blog while listening to the rain outside…

One of the first days here, Sister Rufina brought us with her to meet her family who lives in Maunabo, a town in the mountains about 30 minutes away. When we arrived, we met her brother, Felix, who was on bed rest on the living room, because he has some type of cancer that has now spread throughout his entire body. Most of the family was at his house spending time with him for the last few days of his life.  We didn’t know that he was sick, so I was surprised that Rufina invited us to meet her family at such a tough time. I felt sad for everyone, especially the brothers and sisters of Rufina and the wife of Felix. However, like all of the Puerto Ricans I have met so far, everyone was very open to meeting us and making us comfortable in their home. Later in the week, we got the news that Felix had passed away, so we packed into the van with the sisters and headed up to Maunabo for the wake. All of Rufina’s family was there, including the wife of Felix. When we walked into the room Felix’s wife embraced Sarah and I into a hug filled with so much warmth and emotion that it felt like we had known her our entire lives, definitely not like we had only met her once before. It was very special. Later, Rufina told us that Felix and one of her other brothers hadn’t been talking because of a serious dispute they had many years ago. This was something that was very tough on Rufina - she told us she prayed for them everyday for many years, and the night before Felix passed away, the brothers forgave each other, a relief for the whole family. I was amazed by the strength of the loved ones of Felix, especially the women. It made me think of a story I had heard about consequences:
There once was a farmer who owned a horse. And one day the horse ran away. All the people in the town came to console him because of the loss. “Oh, I don’t know,” said the farmer, “maybe it’s a bad thing and maybe it’s not.”
A few days later, the horse returned to the farm accompanied by 20 other horses. (Apparently he had found some wild horses and made friends!) All the townspeople came to congratulate him: “Now you have a stable full of horses!” “Oh, I don’t know,” said the farmer, “maybe it’s a good thing and maybe it’s not.”
A few days later, the farmer’s son was out riding one of the new horses. The horse got wild and threw him off, breaking the son’s leg. So all the people in town came to console the farmer because of the accident. “Oh, I don’t know,” said the farmer, “maybe it’s a bad thing and maybe it’s not.”
A few days later, the government declared war and instituted a draft of all able-bodied young men. They came to the town and carted off hundreds of young men, except for the farmer’s son who had a broken leg. “Now I know,” said the farmer, “that it was a good thing my horse ran away.”
So the passing of Felix was hard, but it led to forgiveness between brothers and relief for the family. Life happens and most of the time it’s hard to know why things are happening. However, I think throughout the course of life everything falls into place. Sometimes we think we are being punished, but it’s really a time for growth. God gives us difficulties to make us stronger. I am trying to remember this throughout my experiences here in Puerto Rico. Sometimes I get caught up in the stress of teaching or communicating in Spanish, but I know that through both good and bad experiences, I am growing and learning.

Sarah and I have decided that our life (yes, our life – we eat, run, pray, travel, etc. together, haha!) could be a good plot for a reality TV show. Within the last three weeks we have found ourselves in many situations asking, how? How did we get here again and what are we doing?! For example, I never thought that I would be sitting on the patio of a Monastery correcting papers (that I had assigned as homework to my students) on a Saturday afternoon. Later that day, at Felix’s wake, we were asked to play tambourine in the choir. Then, driving home from the wake, we piled back into the van. There was one nun driving, three more as passengers, one choir member, one friend, and two young volunteers, for a total of eight people in a seven-passenger van. We were speeding down the road when all of a sudden a group of people riding horses on the other side of the road appeared in the darkness. We continued to drive quickly down the mountain (not sure what the rush was, usually there is no pressure to get places on time…) and all of a sudden a horse with a cowboy on it appeared in our lane. The driver laid on the horn - a maneuver not recommended around animals that get spooked easily. We ended up broadsiding the horse, and kept driving… yikes.

Last Sunday, the leader of the running team picked us up and drove us back to Maunabo for a 5K race with the running team! It was extremely hot (around 100 degrees) and very humid. There were about 1000 runners at the race and I ended up placing 297th. My time was pretty decent, but I wasn’t very tired or sore when I finished, just hot, so I probably could have run a little harder. At least at the next race I will have a personal time in mind to beat! As you ran across the finish line there was a giant sprinkler and they handed you a medal, water, Gatorade, bananas and apples! I am so thankful for the running team. They are all extremely kind and caring. They have told us multiple times that if we ever need anything at all that we shouldn’t hesitate to let them know. They are also determined people who I can learn a lot from. I was talking to one of the guys about his service in Iraq that led to a severe accident that disabled him from running for two years. Through the  help of the running team he is finally able to run again and feel like his life is back to normal. They are a tight community of people who love, support, and want the best for each other.

I finally caught a lizard – I was in my room and I could hear one of the sisters yelling from the stairs for me to come out. She was saying something and pointing at the little lizard on the stairs that she wanted me to catch. As I made a dive at it, it ran into the living room and I ended up chasing it around while she laughed at me from the stairs. Finally I got it and let it go outside.

School has been going well still. I have now survived two weeks with the thirteen-year-olds. The biggest challenges have been the varying levels of English the students know, the technology, and the textbooks. It is hard not to get frustrated with technology, because I have always had up-to-date computers/projectors/etc. I find myself relying on technology, especially projectors, since that is how I was taught. However, everyday that I have had a powerpoint planned or needed an internet site, the electricity has gone out or the projectors are not compatible with my computer. I am hoping I can eventually find a compatible projector and a good balance of using my computer and using other methods of teaching. The problem with the textbook is that the books that the students were required to buy are a completely different than the one I was given, and their books are in Spanish and mine is in English – it makes it interesting.

I appreciate paperweights more than I ever used to. In the classroom I teach in, one complete wall is covered in windows that are open as often as possible in the hopes of providing a draft to evaporate sweat produced merely from wearing clothes to school. There are also multiple fans in each classroom in order to provide additional airflow so we can breathe in class! (Okay, I am making it sound pretty awful, but it is awfully hot …) That being said, with all the air currents swirling around the room, papers are always flying everywhere, so paperweights are valued. I forgot to mention above that another challenge I have is how noisy the classrooms get. Even when every student is completely silent, I find myself struggling to talk over the loud fans!

This past weekend was a blast! We were invited to go to San Juan with a teacher I work with, so she picked us up from the Monastery and brought us to meet a bunch of her friends. We went to a small hole-in-the-wall bar that was outside. Her friends were all very friendly, and she let us sleep at her house for the night (in order to avoid the 10pm curfew at the Monastery). The next day she drove us to Fajardo, and we caught a ferry to the island of Vieques and went to the beach! It was an absolutely perfect day to spend at the beach. We traded off lying under the palm tree and cooling off in the water, even though it was just as warm as the air. That night we returned to Old San Juan for a friend’s birthday party. We are lucky we decided to come back to the mainland Saturday evening instead of Sunday, because they ended up shutting down the ferry due to the approaching hurricane, leaving a lot of very angry and rioting people stranded on the island for the time being.

I will try to get better at posting smaller, more concise blogs, sorry!

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