Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Sky's the Limit

My transition from the world of grown-up children, better known as office life, to a world of real children, many of them, running, screaming, crying (all in Spanish no less), has had its ups and downs.

Last week at random, I remembered a two-year-old girl, Megan, I used to babysit for now-and-then while I was in college. Megan used to run around the house grabbing handfuls of dirt from potted plants and then throw it on the floor. When I’d catch her in the act, moving quickly to stand in the way of her plans for destruction, she’d look up at me with a devilish few-toothed smile, and with her limited toddler vocabulary, she’d squeal “Hap-py, Hap-py, Hap-py.”

Megan knew at this early age that she was being bad, bad, bad… that there were limits to her rambunctious two-year old behavior. And at her early age, test those limits she would.

Now imagine Megan, plus about 10-12 years times 200. Yes, Escuela Republica Argentina here in Punta Arenas has served me up no less than 200 9-15 year olds ready, eager to test the limits of their new English teacher, whose limited Spanish-speaking ability puts them in a perfect position to take advantage to the situation.

Week one: I laid down the law. Class will be fun if there is respect in my classroom. I make that understood and we move on with our lives. No sooner had I started my lesson than I had to throw two boys out of my class for starting to beat the crap out of each other in the back of the room.

Moving on. My next class with the sixth graders, I handed out magazine cutouts for a lesson on style-vocabulary. The kids were going to describe what their magazine cutout was wearing and create a story about them. The kids were mostly good, with the exception of two boys who weren’t doing anything. After class, I collected the magazine cutouts and of course the two boys say they’ve lost theirs.

“Where is it?” I insisit (in Spanish).

“I don’t know,” says Rolando, the worser of the two boys.

After a few times asking, I see something crumpled up on the floor. “What’s that?” I ask and Rolando shakes his head and says its nothing. So no problem if I pick it up then, right? Except as I’m going to do so, Rolando dives under his desk and grabs it first. A mini-fight ensues in which I have to wrestle the crumpled-up magazine cutout from Rolando’s chubby little hand and then shoo him out of class. After he’s gone, I uncrumple the magazine cutout to find that Rolando’s drawn vulgar drawings all over this lovely, stylishly dressed magazine cutout (one which I need to use in my other 6th grade level courses).

Good lord, and we’ve only just begun. Within two weeks, I’ve managed to throw no less than 10 boys out of my classroom. But they’re testing my limits and I’m here to show them that for all intents and purposes I’m ready to kick some ass and take some names! (and maybe teach some English as well)

But I have to keep in mind that it’s normal, what they’re doing. Testing their limits, testing mine. I can’t entirely blame them.

Like I said, I’ve had my ups and downs, adjusting to living with a host family after about 5 years of independence, self-sufficiency. Still wondering what I’m doing with myself, what brought me here, last weekend I took a trip to Puerto Natales. Natales is the entrance way to Bernardo O’Higgins National Park—the major attraction in Patagonia for outdoor adventure travelers from around the globe who come for camping, hiking, mountain climbing, kayaking, horseback riding. In the presence of Torres del Paine, the famous Patagonia mountains, in a rugged arctic terrain dotted with sheep, guanacos, nandu and pumas, I am so close to nearly untouched landscape, thousands of years of geological history—a kind of true nature that scarcely exists any other place I’ve visited that I can barely regret anything about my decision to come down here.

During my trip to the park, we weren’t able to see the Torres del Paine due to the typical overlying fog that envelops the mountains on most days. In a one-day tour van, we weren’t able to get close enough to see the famous Glacier Grey either, but I saw lakes formed of the most incredibly-colored glacial water, while driving past herds of guanacos.

At one point we got out of the van for a 40-minute hike across a silty grey-brown beach in freezing rain to see Lago Grey, formed out of the melting ice from Glacier Grey. The entire lake was floating with surreal electric-blue chunks of iceberg with snow-capped mountains hovering in the distance.

I bent down to pick up some rocks and sediment from the beach—thousands of years-old dirt from this ancient park carved out of the ever-changing planet earth—I threw my fistful of dirt with all my might, as far as it would go into the painfully freezing waters of Lago Grey, into the morose, reprimanding face of the real world and all I’d left behind, on the coldest Sunday afternoon in August I’d experienced in all my 25 years—and I realized that, like my students, I was testing my limits, too.

In that moment, the only thing running through my mind was “Happy, Happy, Happy”.


Anonymous said...

Comparto cada uno de tus comentarios... y tus palabras vienen en perfecto momento tambien las leo... Creo que solo debemos recordar esas tres palabras: "Happy, Happy, Happy"

Juan Andrés said...

Loved this post, and keep kicking Rolando's ass!

Don't forget Megan's story next time "you smell like a bar"