Postcards from October
We arrived at the bottom of the gorge sweaty and dirty, carrying a machete and a long stick with a hook tied to the end. In our wake we left small piles of avocados, sour oranges, and limes that we had pulled down from their trees. The river was swollen from recent rains, so we climbed over rocks and down to a narrow part of it where the water was pooling. I peeled off my clothes that were covered in burrs and jumped into the freezing water. It was ice cold, but in the best way possible. Koiki and I took turns sitting in the little waterfall that acted as a natural massage chair. I had a breath-holding contest with the little kid who was with us. We sat in the water without talking, the water rushing by making the only sound. I occasionally looked up and took in the gorgeous views of the mountains rising over the farm that my host family had planted on the slope. I wanted to stay in the water all day, but we had to get back to Baní. So we crawled out, dried off, put our clothes back on, and made the difficult hike back up to the road, picking up our piles of fruit along the way.
The rain pounded onto the roof of the classroom. The last few people had come running in just as the rain started, and took their seats in the tiny chairs designed for kindergartners, not for the adults attending the first session of the Escuela de Padres. I sat in the background while the school psychiatrist did her bit about uniforms, cleanliness, and attendance. Then it was my turn. I talked to the parents about informal education and how important parents are in education. They paid attention, they participated, and they laughed when I said words that didn’t exist. All in all, it was a successful charla.
Covered in sweat, breathing heavily, I run along the road through Villa Güera. I try to meet people’s quizzical stares with a friendly head nod and a smile, but I probably look distressed. The kids I’m running “with” are becoming smaller and smaller ahead in the distance. Finally, I see them stop and turn around to wait for me. My running buddies are twelve and fourteen and in much better shape than I am. It’s getting dark, and I don’t want to get caught up in the mountains or around the baseball field at night—that’s where people get mugged. So when I reach the kids, I breathlessly tell them we have to turn around. We set off running in the opposite direction, the lights of the town below us flickering on in the gathering dusk.
The gazebo rang with the sound of kids shouting at each other, each team accusing the other of cheating or miscounting. I managed to silence them long enough to hear the counts from each group, and wrote the numbers down on the large sheet of paper. The words “Pushups,” “Jumping Jacks,” and “Squats” were each underlined with a number underneath. My boys’ group meets once a week on Wednesday mornings, and this week the theme was Exercise. The main activity of the meeting was to have a competition to see who could do the most of each kind of exercise in thirty seconds. As with anything competitive, things got loud quickly. I generally have a fun time with them, except when they start to fight with each other or shout. Then I have to be The Adult and lay down the law. I’m looking forward to teaching with them about different topics, making art projects, and hopefully turning them into responsible young men.
“What are some words that start with ‘ma?’” I ask the group of third graders in front of me. “Mapa!” “Mamá!” “Mami!” I put down the little index card with “ma” written on it and draw the next one, “pi.” “Piso!” “Pipa!” “Pila!” This continues until we go through all five syllables that start with M, P, and S. One of the kids shifts anxiously and says, “No, not this. I’m bored. Let’s play Bingo!” The others perk up at the mention of the game. “Yeah, Bingo!” I relent, pull out the Bingo sheets covered in syllables and vowels, and then dump out the box of rocks we use as markers. They all put the first rock on the free space in the center and look at me expectantly. I turn over the first card, and they rush to be the first to find the uppercase U on their sheets. When one kid can’t find it, the one next to him helps him by pointing it out. A few weeks ago, they didn’t even know the vowels. Slowly but surely, one game at a time, they’ll learn how to read.