March 30, 2013
A few snippets from that Spring Musical I mentioned in the last post. Here, the bouquets I was helping make before I headed for my dressing-room post.
The visual aid for the audience. About the closest I got to watching the show was an intermission peek in once the audience had for the most part exited. Well, towards the end of the matinee [I was backstage for 2 shows today], I also ended up running around a bit with phone calls to a doctor-father. One of the nuns got a gash on her hand while on stage. As we butterfly-bandaged her up, she apologized profusely to others for “ruining the scene” with the accident!
What performers look like when they’re biding time in between scenes.
Several scenes later. Still the preferred activity.
March 29, 2013
I never imagined I would see the day when I was ecstatic to be reunited with a polluted patch of pavement. But after a night of off-roading it, my little basket bike and I were thrilled to rediscover the busy road.
It’s been a long week. The sort of week in which everyone is overextended, and tempers get short. My usual teaching and coaching stresses have been compounded with extra teaching deadlines, and then we all have been consumed with the preparation for the Spring Musical, happening now. And what I originally thought was going to be a calm and restful Spring Break has now turned into an exciting, but slightly nerve-wracking, planning for a train journey and hiking trip.
I think this reality of the way the week has been left our little group a bit overly free-spirited this evening as we decided to go exploring after dinner. We didn’t have an agenda, and I think none of us was eager to get back to the paperwork that has consumed other nights, so when someone suggested we go off the road and see if we could find an old fishing village she remembered from years ago, the rest of us shrugged and said, “Sure!”
It went fine for a bit, with a path that was narrow but bike-able. People we encountered along the way gestured us in varying [differing] directions as we asked for help. And a few uniformed folks clearly just wanted us away! So we just kept varying our route heading in the general direction of a main road we knew existed. About this time, I made the discovery that I don’t do very well with slow, controlled biking on a narrow path, in the dark. I guess I’ve never had a reason to find this out before, so it was an odd realization to find that I can’t seem to keep myself going in a straight line when faced with this challenge.
At one point we came to a sort of bridge that appeared to just drop off into nothingness on the other side. But we carried our bikes up the steep stairs and then back down again, back to the dark little path we were following.
Finally we clearly were nearing town again so we quickened our pace a bit. Then we all stopped in disbelief. We were gated in, with no way through the barrier. All we could do now was turn around and go ALL the way back the way we came. We sighed collectively, and started out.
When we came back to that high-stepped bridge, though, someone saw a way to cross through to what appeared to be a construction road on the other side. We decided to try. Shortly into that route, I called out, “Hey, who’s idea was it to trek through the desert?,” as I realized we were slugging through the biker’s equivalent of sand dunes. But the path worked! Suddenly we found ourselves about to pass through a guarded gate that led back to a very familiar main road. The guards watched us as we came. We tensed. One of us said o the rest. “Just don’t say anything!” We all just crossed our fingers and kept going as they watched, perhaps wondering what sort of enforcement they were supposed to enact on a group of straggling foreigners. But they let us through. Once we had come a safe distance, one girl let out a triumphant cheer. The rest of us laughed. And I laughed again when I got home, into the light, and saw that my shoes and pants we covered in a thick layer of sandy dust ☺
March 24, 2013
I guess I was only delaying the inevitable in my insistence that I was going to resist the temptation to get a cat. Soon after settling into my home here, I began to muse on the idea, pushing it away as impractical. But then, all things considered, this is about the most practical-pet-rearing mode I’ve been in for almost a decade. And people here are rather attached to their pets, so it had to rub off on me. Though here it’s more often dogs you see: little “yappy” ones as some of us tend to think of them.
One family I am friends with here enjoys going to the bird and flower market for the sole purpose of looking at the pets for sale. So for 2 weekends now I have joined them on the outing. Yesterday I came as close as picking up a kitten from it’s pen and asking how much it was. The steep price tag, however, quickly confirmed my adamant no-pets-for-me mindset. When I told others about it later at a birthday party, I was teased for being a stereotypical cat-loving librarian—a thought that had not, in fact, occurred to me!
This morning my biking buddies and I headed out for church. I was trying to pay closer attention than usual to the route, knowing I was going to be on my own for the return trip. This was going to be interesting, I knew. I still have not quite gotten over the shock of the crazy adventure that bike-commutes are here. And I’m not terribly good with directions. But my virgin solo voyage had to come sooner or later, so today was going to be as good of a day as any. Heading out after the service, my friend headed out her way and asked if I felt confident. I shook my head no, but then launched into a few lines of Maria Von Trapp’s “I have confidence . . .” and headed out. During the half hour it took to get back, I imagined myself succumbing to death-by-us-impact as one after another city buses careened far too close for comfort. And I almost called someone to try to double check where I was on the road, hoping I was not going the wrong direction altogether. But somehow, surprising myself more than anyone, I made it back without a hitch.
Shortly after I had returned home, a got a call from the mother of a student. Her neighbors had a cat they had gotten but had had to kick out of the house. It had been roaming outside her place and she wanted to adopt it herself but had a cat of her own who would not cooperate with the idea. She wondered if I would take it. I figured it was meant to be, so was soon carrying home my own “Jinx,” trying to keep her calm during the much-longer-than-usual walk home. I was nervous about how the settling would be, but it’s obvious I didn’t need to be. She has claimed the space quite happily and even seems to be attached to me, following me if I move from one room to the next. I may need to brush up on my pet-training skills now, though, to work on her playful biting habit. But other than that, so far so good ☺
March 22, 2013
In case you ever wondered, I can vouch for the fact that a relay involving wheelbarrow races, leapfrog, and 2-person jump rope works great for 4th graders. It does not work so well for kindergarteners. I picked up on the difficulty of it quickly enough to make a fast change to the program, but not before a hysterical show of little bitty arms and legs rather un-gracefully making their way across a lawn in fits and starts of halting motion.
Today was field day. The morning was a usual one for my class, including a Middle Ages test in Social Studies and word problems in Math [which I am learning is a tricky lesson for second-language learners]. But as soon as lunchtime hit, we began a flurry of activities for kindergarten through 5th graders.
The week leading up to it had involved some preparation, mainly surrounding the creation of a banner for each class. We had actually ended up feuding with the fifth grade, needing a bit of grownup-lectures from both of us classroom teachers, after they began to tease each other about the level of teacher-involvement in the banner painting for each group. But the day itself ended up passing with relatively little argumentativeness, and I do think a good time was had by all.
I was, by the end of it, utterly [once more] a cooked goose. Though in this particular case, the “cooked” part is more literal than before; for this time I was in full, high altitude sun, demonstrating races, for an entire afternoon. But weariness notwithstanding, I really cannot complain: how can I argue with an excuse to play leapfrog all afternoon? ☺
March 16, 2013
“How are you doing today?” she said breezily as I walked in primed to apologize for my paltry potluck contribution. I began my usual “Good,” then stopped myself. “Frankly,” I said. “I’m a cooked goose.” She laughed ay my honesty and I realized that I was so completely overextended that I had lost the tendency to feel I needed to have it all together, especially when in a setting in which I am still getting my bearings.
I know myself well enough to know better than to over-commit. I know I get overwhelmed more easily than others around me seem to think. I should know better than to let it get to this point. But it crept up on me. One good activity added onto another and, still on the high of knowing how much I love living here, I just felt like I could keep enjoying each new thing.
But the truth of it is that my nature does not change just because my circumstances have. And as much as I love my life here, if I try to do too much, I will impair my ability to love anything.
This has hit home with a vengeance now because of the fact that my worlds have collided, in a sense, bringing an emotional heaviness to the simpler stress of a demanding workload. And I find myself with humbled by the stark reality of the worst parts of my stressed self.
There is another factor in the equation, though, so far as life realities. Sometimes life does not offer a choice when it comes to obligations and responsibilities. And here is where grace kicks in. Here is where all you can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, trusting that when you feel you have nothing left to give, God gives it for you. When your heart is cold and your nerves are strung, His heart will step in.
Yesterday I took my class on a field trip. Thankfully, I had a wonderful coworker to organize things with; otherwise I doubt I could have managed. But we did it, and the kids had a truly worthwhile time. They dashed about the museum with a gratifying display of awe at the zoological marvels. And they labored over the scavenger hunt we had prepared to go along with the trip. I was proud of them. And in the midst of my anxious heart, I was still able to enjoy the little one who grabbed my hand and jumped up and down, unable to contain her excitement over the day. I was still able to laugh with the kids as the mini origami cap one of the made landed on my head for a photo op. And I was still able to know that the eternal significance of the day was there whether or not my emotional state had caught up with it.
March 12, 2013
Children can have pretty impeccable timing, in both positive and negative ways. As my class headed out to their special today, I lamented to a coworker that I was having a “bad teacher day,” feeling as if I had failed my students on several counts today. Then, as I sat down to an open Science text on my desk, I saw this not tucked neatly underneath. Feeling empowered now to “keep it up” :-)
March 10, 2013
It was supposed to be a simple Saturday excursion. Relatively short, as well, given that fact that everything seems to take longer than I expect these days, in the adjustment stages to life in this country. I was already feeling the crunch of a weekend that had run away too quickly. Friday evening went to a shopping trip for next week’s field trip. Saturday morning went to a track coaches’ planning meeting. Saturday afternoon went to a 3-hour school talent show [with some of my own students making me feel rather teacherly-proud, and some of the high-schoolers making for a jaw-dropped “Wow!” response]. R and I were both feeling the pressure of needing to plan our next week’s lessons, but we also knew the importance of fitting in necessary weekend stuff when we could. So we still set out after the show, on our mission to the flower market. I had not yet bought an orchid, and the luxury of a scooter to ride on, and to transport such things as plants, was not to be passed up. Once there, however, I spied a miniature gardenia plant that diverted me from my orchid intentions. I still would like that orchid at some point, but at the time the happy childhood associations with gardenias made me quite thrilled with the find. And, as I told R, I do love it when a day surprises me with something that is better than what I had in mind. Little did I know the sorts of unexpected surprises the day had yet in store . . .
After making our purchases, we headed from the market to dinner, thinking we would get back early enough to still have some solid work time before the night was done. But shortly after beginning the ride home, R realized she wasn’t sure where we were. We rode around the city a while, periodically referring to the map, but we still ended up somehow just riding in circles, more or less. We were, quite simply, cheery but very lost. Soon, R also realized that we were about to lose power. With limited charge capacity on the scooter, we had to plug in quickly. Sure enough, at one busy intersection, we sputtered to a stop. R knew that some roadside shops will sell electricity in situations like this, but neither of us knew enough Mandarin to be able to ask. We fumbled through some attempts until a man came up and asked if he could help us. He did not speak English himself but was willing to call his English-teacher friend on our behalf. Somehow in the mix of translation efforts, we managed to find a nearby fix-it station that sold us 30 minutes of charge time. At this point R began asking me to just take a taxi home. She could get back on her own and, as she sheepishly admitted, this had actually happened to her before. “I’ll do no such thing,” I replied, mildly annoyed that she would even suggest such a thing.
We practiced our language skills as we waited out those 30 minutes, and I noted the brilliance of this portable repair station. May come in handy, I mused, to know there are such options for flat tires, broken chains, and the like, while out on my bicycle. Somewhat charged up at the end of our time slot, we started out again. And, once again, puttered to a stop after only a few minutes’ time.
“Just take a taxi!” R suggested once more.
“Nothing doing,” I retorted, and we consulted the map once more to re-tweak our plan. Thinking she might know which way to go from here, we began to simply push the scooter home. It was a relatively painless process, and I was reminded of a similar situation that I had found myself in, in Zambia, quite a few years ago. I told R the story. Then I told many more stories, for we had some time yet. Too much time, in any normal situation. It took us several hours, in fact. Late that night, we rolled in, weary and ready for bed. What I told R when she tried to apologize again, was that I really didn’t mind—that I was grateful to have spent the evening with her. And it was true. Somehow that “wasted” time didn’t seem so wasted at all. It was time spent working through a life challenge with someone I enjoy, and respect. Growing closer as coworkers, and as friends. Experiencing life as it is here . . . just another life adventure ☺
The photo at the top is one of my students as they were awaiting their hour on the stage, captivated by the other performers. They looked lovely, I thought.
March 6, 2013
Who knew? I was, in fact, terrified at the prospect of this new job. Teaching all day, sure. But a classroom teacher? I always admired the teachers I knew, observing their hard work and dedication with awe; but I always assumed that I could not do such a thing—could not be what seemed to be, for all practical reasons, mom to a roomful of little ones.
Yet here I find myself, smitten with my new work, and life—and “mom” to 23 little ones who are rapidly stealing my heart. And I have a sneaking suspicion that I am getting away with some sort of guilty pleasure. I mean, really—I get recess twice a day!
Today we played hockey, and I was on the losing team of our roundup. But in between comforting a teary-eyed young perfectionist [who had just been scored against] and lecturing my team about the merits of teamwork [as opposed to simply dashing for the puck and whacking it as hard as possible in whatever direction was convenient], I also managed to score a couple goals myself. I must say, it caught me off guard to hear a couple on the opposing team moan that they were doomed now, as I positioned myself against them ☺
But of course, there is much more to a Grade 4 day than just recess and P.E.
We must also labor through readings of James and the Giant Peach [and yes, I managed to amuse the class quite thoroughly with today’s musically-enhanced reading performance].
We must keep our columns straight in 3-digit long division. Truth be told, remembering my own tear-provoking laboring over this lesson back in boarding school days, I was rather impressed by their quick grasp of the concept.
We must detail diagrams of animal cells. As I started one for test review, I joked that they better look closely, since my whiteboard sketch would one day sell for millions in a famous gallery. They warned me that I had better take a picture of it, then. I told them they were right ☺
We must create character sketches, and map out plot outlines, as we outline our own story creations. This afternoon one girl asked me to help with one of the questions. What does your character want most in the world? She was stumped. “What is your character’s name?” I began. “Bouncy.” “Ok, and what does Bouncy do in your story?” Turns out she knew exactly what Bouncy wanted most. Tootsie Rolls. In fact, Bouncy’s main action in the story, thus far, consisted of begging Mr. Mac [the school principal] for lots and lots of Tootsie Rolls. It was all I could do to keep from bursting into a few lines of “. . . let me see your tootsie roll!” and pulling out some hip-hop moves, while I instead straight-facedly counseled her about Bouncy.
We must, in fact, carry out a good deal of serious school business on any given day. And, to be sure, I am drained by the end of each of them. But as each new day begins, excitement returns for the newness of it.
As so oftentimes in the past, there is grace for my weaknesses, failings, and fears. And when it comes down to it, I know I have been divinely plucked, and plopped.
Running some after-school errands, my friend and I came upon a stretch of road so striking that we stopped to stare at the contrast between old-town ruins and new-world high rises. We biked back to the same spot later, this time with a camera. In many ways, I think this contrast epitomizes this place, my home now. A land of long and rich history, and of rapid growth. A fascinating land to me, and one that I look forward to experiencing more fully as time goes by.
March 3, 2013
Today I bought a beta fish.
After church one of my fluent coworkers had planned to accompany me to the mobile office so I could figure out one of the features of my phone plan. Once that was done, we decided to continue on to the wet market to buy some groceries. As appetizing as it looked, we passed on the very large and rather hairy cow’s tail. But when I saw the stand of goldfish baggies, I stopped. Seeing as how I had promised my students that I would consider the idea of a class pet, I couldn’t help but be tempted at the idea of surprising them tomorrow morning with a fish. So I started looking at the goldfish, and then noticed that there were betas as well [which definitely trumped the goldfish in my book, thanks to childhood beta sagas]. B said I should name him “Alpha.” I agreed to the name. Then she noticed the baby turtles and decided to buy one of those while we were there. I told her she should name him “Icthus”: the turtle who wished he were a fish. She agreed ☺
On our way back, while maneuvering through the traffic jam caused by a car that had insisted to drive along a road intended for vendors, pedestrians, and bikers, I wondered what Alpha’s perspective was, dangling from the handle of my bike. And I hoped he had been fed relatively recently, since I will not be taking him out the baggie until I can safely deposit him into his classroom fishbowl tomorrow morning. Then it occurred to me that this must mean I am settled now, committed to a pet ☺
March 1, 2013
I knew I was gonna like it here when a staff Professional Development day was cut short because the planned “fire safety” demonstration turned out to be a hoax. As we geared up for the hour and a half long, translated session, the director got up and said, “Well folks, it seems we’ve been duped!” A mistranslation caused us to expect a government-regulation school safety program; it was, in fact, a fire hydrant salesman looking to sell us on the newest, greatest model. “Welcome to China!” a coworker said to me as we all, chuckling, left the room.
Seriously, though, the amusement this incident provoked was a bit of a confirmation to me of the rumblings that had already begun within me about how many things just seem to “fit” me here [clothing sizes perhaps being one of them :-)]. And perhaps that is why, in the midst of being utterly overwhelmed by the hugeness of my job, battling feelings of inadequacy over the task of properly educating my 23 youngsters, there is a deeper calm. The calm, I think, of knowing that I love this place, already. And that I am at home here.
Case in point: every night, outside of my apartment building, a group of ladies dances outside, on an open public patio. One brings a boom box with her and leads the dances–simply choreographed steps to what I presume to be musical hits among the older generation. I had seen them for the first time yesterday evening while walking home from dinner with a neighbor. This neighbor is also my after-work walking buddy, so I asked her about it as she and I walked past the same spot. “Oh yes–they just like to dance, for fun and for health. Every night. Anyone can join them” Anyone? I questioned. She assured me that they would not mind. So this evening I joined right in. I got a few inquisitive looks: that amused expression that I’ve grown used to when first participating in something outside of my culture, or comfort zone. Or both. But they didn’t pause in the dances, and the first time I tried to leave the instructor motioned me back, convincing me to carry on. So I did.
Yes, I know I’m gonna like it here :-)
This photo is a glimpse of the schoolyard, as it looks each day when the students are doing their dances . . . yes, every day!