Paola’s Report #3
Summer Session, 2009
Week of July 20, 2009 – English
It was 3:05 pm as I pedaled my bike hurriedly towards the park. All I need to do to find my class is to look for the big cluster of light blue T-shirts. There is a usual spot we meet at, but the kids seem to have slowly gravitated to different areas around it throughout the course of the summer. Always with high spirits and fully geared in their Planet Drum attire, I’ve gotten into the habit of not questioning their decisions. In fact, I’m realizing that I’ve developed a tendency to let the kids guide our class activities. I am not always sure whether it is always the best plan or not, but it is in response to the trust they’ve earned. Looking back now, my instinct of going with their flow may have empowered them and further encouraged them to be useful participants in our class.
As I turn the corner, John Paul comes running towards me, repeating “I’ll get your bike señorita, let me get your bike.” And then Yerson sprints in, also whining to get my bike. The children here have become accustomed to attaining teachers’ attention by yelling the loudest and being the most persistent. I did not understand why until I visited the school during recess one day and was distressed to see the chaos that took place as all the kids pushed and shoved and waved their money around, shouting their orders at the snack bar attendees. The most shocking thing was that the most relentless students were the ones who were served first. Since then, I have made a point to not accidentally allow myself to be trained in that manner.
So as I had now grown accustomed to doing, I put both my hands out in front of me, told John Paul and Yerson to take a deep breath with me and I proceeded to hear myself think. I let one take my bike and the other my extra bags the rest of the 200 feet. Were they trying to be helpful or just trying to get on my bike? Who knows for sure, but they were glad to help. It’s hard not to feel cared for and loved with this kind of attention. I suspect that’s how they win my trust.
We gathered near the street. Nearby, some people were kicking around a soccer ball, so I asked if we could join. One thing that has been consistent through out our program has been constant visits from foreigners in our classes, usually other Planet Drum volunteers. The kids are always excited to meet our guests and I feel like the more exposure they have to different kinds of people, the more they will be open to new ideas. So the kids played soccer while we waited for more of our students to arrive. Usually we wait for half an hour, but the kids were enjoying themselves so 15 more minutes of fun wouldn’t hurt.
As another example of my developing habits, originally class always started with a game, and then we’d discuss matters and conclude with another game. However, somewhere along the way of leaving matters into the hands of the little ones, I had stopped initiating games because they were astoundingly resourceful in entertaining themselves. I still find it intriguing how genuinely thrilled they are to come to class; they feed off each other, stay energized throughout class and are always eager to make it to the beach afterwards.
Today’s class was titled “The Watershed.” The reading was short and focused on the natural water cycle and the impact that floods, erosion and contaminated water have on marine habitats. The El Niño phenomenon, a subject covered in every reading, was mentioned once again. The kids can easily recite what happened during the natural disaster but yet they seem far removed from it. I wonder if it is because they don’t learn much about it at school or at home and/or because it happened before they were born. Either way, during our class discussions, it is evident to me that they don’t recognize how much influence it’s had on shaping their environment.
The students answered the comprehension questions effortlessly. One question asked for other ideas to treat sewage water, as opposed to discharging it into the oceans. The kids suggested a composting system, like the volcanic ash based toilet we had seen at the Cerro Seco reserve. I was pleased that they recalled what they had learned on one of our field trips.
The field trip of the week was by far the most extravagant yet. Our mission was to explore “Isla de los Pajaros”, which was only the beginning of our adventures. We rented boats, the ones that typically travel to and from San Vicente carrying passengers across the estuary. We filled three boats with all three classes plus an abundant amount of volunteers.
The kids wriggled with excitement as they tried to stand patiently in a single file so that I could count them, which was a way of showing their appreciation that I was paying their fare, something that never goes unacknowledged with them. We loaded into our boat and the kids were everything but serene. They sang, they laughed, they flirted and at five minute intervals would start a sort of collective grunting chant as they rocked the boat leaning from side to side as if to tip it. And this never got old; it went on the whole way there, and the whole way home.
On our way there we were able to see pelicans up close but that didn’t seem to be nearly as exciting as the view of the backside of Leonidas Plaza, where the majority of the kids live. They rushed to jump up and point at their house excitedly, as if they had never looked at their homes from that angle.
Our boat ride took a total of what felt like 35 to 40 minutes. As we approached our destination, the kids asked if we were going to an island of mud. I didn’t believe their rhetorical comment because it was not what I expected, and by the look on everyone’s faces it was not what they had ever even imagined. But there was no time to ponder; as soon as the boat was docked, the kids were jumping off one after the other. Had there been any more time or thinking involved we might have taken off some clothes before lunging into straight mud.
From that point forward all I could hear was the everlasting sound of giggles for the uncomfortable fact that the mud was enveloping us more and more as we struggled through each step. We followed the herd in front of us into a deep river of mud, where suddenly, I found myself lugging eight kids, who were frantically yelling “Ayudeme senorita!” Sure enough they were the smallest of the bunch; they clung on to my arms, my shoulders and neck like parasites. At first, I thought it was cute but as we got deeper and their nervous grip grew tighter, I realized I was sinking fast meanwhile still laughing hysterically, which only made the situation worse. Somehow as I gasped for air, I also managed to yell for help.
Our time at the island was short-lived but unforgettable. Most of us surrendered to the mud and took the time to cover our entire bodies and faces with it. There were some mud fights and the best of ideas was to run full speed and belly flop into to as if it were a slip and slide. We didn’t run into too many birds, but we discovered all sorts of tiny bird footprints and varieties of shells.
I made sure to gather other volunteers as backup for the return walk through the river of mud. And here’s the best part: all the little kids realized that they could reach the bottom and walk across just fine. I guess fear is imperative to having a crazy adventure. The experience was invigorating; the kind that leaves you a good feeling, lingering for days to come.
Translated by Paola Divita