Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Visitors and Laughter

The first weekend in October, my mom and grandma visited me in Puerto Rico! We spent Thursday evening near our hotel in Isla Verde, eating dinner and walking to the beach.

Friday was a full day of sight seeing in Old San Juan. We started off by eating Mallorca and Quesitos (two typical pastries of Puerto Rico). Next we visited the Paseo de La Princesa, and had a good view of the fort and ocean. From there we caught the trolley up to La Fortuleza (the fort), and spent some time learning its history and exploring the six different levels! We stopped for lunch in a small, local restaurant, and from there we visited the Cathedral, the old convent, and Pigeon Park.

On the trolley!

At the fort!

Pigeon Park

On Saturday morning my mom and I swam in the ocean for a bit, and then we headed to the rain forest called El Yunque. We walked on some of the trails – it was very green and beautiful! From there we followed the shoreline down to Humacao. My mom and grandma quickly met all of the Sisters and got situated in their rooms (my mom upstairs and my grandma downstairs, in the back, where S. Rufina lives). Next, my mom and I headed over to Ivan and Cesar’s house for a delicious dinner of Filipino egg rolls, a roast with potatoes, rice, iced tea, and rolls. I am really glad she had the opportunity to meet Ivan and Cesar – they sing and play instruments in the choir with some of the Sisters.  They are also two of the kindest people ever, and they have “rescued” us from the Monastery a few times :) They live across from the beach in Humacao (about a 15 minute drive from the Monastery), in the beautiful old house that Ivan grew up in! When we got back to the Monastery, we played a few rounds of Rumi-cube in the library, but we made sure we were all in our rooms before the alarm was set at 10pm sharp!

El Yunque

Sunday we spent touring Humacao. In the morning we drove to Palmas del Mar, which is the huge resort and community located on the ocean. It was a beautiful day and the flowers, trees, houses, golf courses, yacht club, and water looked pristine. We made sure we were home by 11am so that we could make it to prayer and lunch! After lunch we visited Colegio San Benito – S. Esther gave us a very complete tour. We were able to see everything from the classrooms I teach in to the third floor where the other three nuns live! Next I showed them the track where I run and play soccer, and then we returned to the monastery. It was extremely hot and humid (like normal), and I think they were both feeling the effects… We spent the rest of the evening on the patio playing cards, Rumi-cube, and looking through my pictures. S. Rufina and my grandma played together on a team for a little bit, and S. MarĂ­a brought us coffee and candy. They were all extremely accommodating and made sure my visitors had everything they needed (at all times!!)

Las Palmas del Mar
My Classroom

I am really happy that my mom and grandma could see and experience the places where I spend the majority of my time – school, Monastery, track, and Old San Juan! It was so nice to relax and spend time with them! I think they will have a better idea of how it feels to live in this community, what it’s like to walk through the town I live in, and how much the heat takes out of you! I feel so lucky that I was able to share some of my life down here with them!

It was sad to say goodbye to them again, but I was really happy to have Sarah back. It would be nearly impossible to survive here by myself. Although my mom and grandma got a small dose of life at the Monastery, there are only three other people in this world (Sarah, the volunteers from last year, and hopefully two more next year) who can truly understand how it feels to be a recent college graduate living in a Monastery and volunteering as a teacher, with absolutely no experience, aside from the previous three months. Nobody else would understand why laughing uncontrollably at inappropriate times (prayer) happens without explanation...

Usually prayer is a very relaxing time and space where I can forget about lesson plans, job applications, being homesick, etc. However, sometimes after a day of letting frustrations, happiness, sadness, excitement, and stress build-up, it is released in the form of laughter, during prayer. Thinking depressing thoughts, pinching myself, and disguising laughter by fake coughing fits doesn’t even help, and as painful as this situation is, it’s nice having one other person in this world sitting next to me who understand exactly why laughter is being released at that moment.

Like I said, prayer is a great time to unwind (sometimes it takes some laughing first) but the place I feel most relaxed and able to connect with God is when I am outside. We actually spend a lot more time inside here that I thought we would. It’s either too stinkin’ hot to be outside, we’re in school, or it’s dark. That being said, the time I do spend outside is when I feel happiest and most at peace. Now that I’ve befriended Luna, I think I will try to do more lesson-planning and reflection outside, where my mind is clearer.

Well, this ended up being a compilation of thoughts. I’ll try to update you sooner next time!

Until then,

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Stories" and other updates

In my History of the Americas class we started with some basic geography of the world – I thought it was important for my eighth graders to understand where in the world the Americas even are. Most of them could not identify the seven continents, which I thought was a bit surprising and unsettling. At least I figured out our starting point. Once I stopped receiving answers such as “New Mexico, Alaska, and China” for the question “Name the seven continents”, we moved on to actual history of the Americas. When we started on Central America, I was excited. I think about my experiences in Guatemala almost everyday…

After the five months I spent living and studying in Guatemala, I had realized that my place amongst all the chaos of the world was to go home and tell the stories that were shared with me. I shared pictures, told stories to my roommates and friends, and wrote my senior thesis based on the “stories” from Guatemala. And then I ended up in a classroom in Puerto Rico, teaching “History of the Americas” to eighth graders. How extremely random. However, now that we’ve gotten to the specific history of Central America, I have started to realize how perfect it really is that I ended up in this very classroom.

Now my struggle is to decide what is appropriate to teach. I was given a textbook to follow, but it would be a huge understatement to say it describes accurately what has happened in Guatemala since the Spanish conquest, a similar story in most Latin American countries. However, I don’t want to step on anyone’s feet by describing everything I saw and learned almost two years ago – things that are intentionally left out of textbooks all over the world. 

Every time I think of this issue, I am brought back to the dark hut in Chajul, where brave men and women shared their stories. As these poor human beings embraced me with smiles and prayer, and shared their losses, suffering, frustration, hunger, and fear, I was abandoned by my previous life of naivety. How could I help?

Share their stories… be a voice. Now that I am in Puerto Rico, spending my time with eighth graders, young individuals figuring out who they are and where they fit into the chaos of the world, I have found my audience. I have decided to explain as much as I think they will understand as eighth graders. If they, or their parents find it to be a concern, I will be happy to talk to them, give them my senior thesis (luckily, it’s already in Spanish), and describe my experiences. I was determined to tell these stories upon returning from Guatemala, so someone was thinking when they sent me to Puerto Rico to teach history to young learners who speak and understand English!

“If you have much, give of your wealth; if you have little, give of your heart.” –My favorite quotes from The Prophet (Thank Tia, for giving me that book!)

Other notes/updates

Sarah and I have started a website for the Monastery – it is “up and running”, but needs a lot of work still. Check it out and feel free to make suggestions: www.monasterio-santa-escolastica.webs.com

My eighth grade class is still working on decorating boxes that can be used to collect recycling. When they are done, they will be placed in the intermediate classrooms. Next time I find myself at Wal-Mart with a bunch of nuns (a likely situation), I am going to convince them to buy some large garbage cans that we can bring to school to collect plastic bottles and aluminum cans for recycling.

I have “joined” a girls’ soccer team in Humacao! They practice on Mondays and Wednesdays, and have games on weekends. It has been really fun, but I found out that I am actually not eligible to play in games with them, because you must to be 20 years old or younger to compete. Even though I am one of the smallest girls on the team, I cannot prove that I am younger than 20 with valid identification. One of the teachers at the school said he would try to convince the league to make an exception – we’ll see.

Another issue that Sarah and I have both been thinking about a lot is food waste; the school serves every student at the school two free meals a day, which is really great, except when it’s not taken advantage of. The meals are served in the lunchroom, but just outside of the lunchroom are two meriendas (snack bars), where students can purchase snacks and drinks with their own money. Rather, their parents’ money. And almost every student spends money at the merienda, buying peanut M&Ms, Doritos, hot-dogs, Coca-Cola, Jolly Rancher suckers, and any other tasty, sugary, processed food you can think of. So the mountainous portions of perfectly good and healthy chicken, rice, beans, fruit, vegetables, and milk served in the lunchroom goes straight to the bottom of the huge trashcan before the students head to the merienda. It was painful watching a bucket of untouched apples be dumped into the trash today, when I am sure some of the people living in the “projects” (the government sponsored neighborhood next to the school) may not even know where their next meal will come from.

This situation has been difficult: I want to tell them to close the meriendas, especially during lunch, and teach kids to appreciate what they have – if they aren’t satisfied with school lunch, they can bring their own. Has anyone ever told them about the “starving kids in Africa”, or within their very own neighborhood? But it isn’t my place to tell them how I would do things – I am a visitor in their culture and I need to respect that. I know it might be hard to start changing the amount of food waste this year, but it is something Sarah and I will keep thinking about. Maybe we can work with some of the faculty here to see if there is anything that we can do. As for now, I ask to be served smaller portions and clear my tray in order to set a good example for both students and teachers.