Monday, December 1, 2008

Nariva Swamp

Last week, I went to the southeastern corner of the island to go to Nariva Swamp with five other teachers, all of the 6th graders at ISPS, 3 ISPS security guards, and 4 private security guards (hired by kids’ families). I’ve never spent 24 hours straight with a kid, let alone 72 hours with 36 kids. (Keeping track of the firsts on this trip might be a fun game.) It has taken me about a week to recover. Well, actually, I am still recovering—see pizza legs below. ISPS has gone to Nariva Swamp for an interdisciplinary outdoor education field trip for the past few years. Students study soil and plant samples and look at things like erosion and photosynthesis in action. On the humanities side, we interview residents of the tiny fishing village, and take notes for a case study of how humans interact with the land in such a rural environment. Wednesday morning, everybody’s pockets were secretly stuffed with contraband like Ipods and cell phones and suitcases were stuffed with spanking new L.L. Bean gear and snacks. All the parents were there, many in tears. It was a heart-breaker. Two buses pulled up, and eventually a third bus came for us too. We hopped on and the kids sang, talked smack, and shared snacks—snacks for which they knew the origin since they had been created by their relatives—for the two hour trip. The day before, we’d been told that Alicia, my principal, needed to take our car (Aaron was staying in Port of Spain) on the trip. Since the cars were handed to us, we didn’t really have a say, but that was a bit of a surprise. She drove along behind the bus.

We got to Kernaham Village, the fishing village, and my kids took out their packets and got ready to interview people whose lives were drastically different from theirs. We’d been training for this for weeks, so as to avoid any negatives surrounding these cultural differences. It seemed to go well—I always love situations where kids have to step up and act like professionals. They learned that the residents grew 90% of their own food, which was mostly cucumber, squash, and rice. One lady even let my kids pick a few cucumbers, I think because she was shocked they were so shocked to see cucumber didn’t grow in plastic. They asked about the stilts all of the houses were on and what the rain bins attached to the gutters were. They took pictures of the one religious center in the village where Muslims, Christians, and Hindus all worship. We looked for caiman (like alligator—the school mascot—We caiman we conquered), but saw only buffalypso (a breed of buffalo engineered by a proud Trini—calypso originated in Trinidad). We searched for scarlet ibis, the pink national bird, but found only the white cattle egret.
When the day quieted down, we headed to our hotel. I had been assigned a room with four boys—all the teachers are female, so while this wasn’t a huge surprise, it was new territory. The windows of our room had all its shades down and as I opened the door, there was quick shuffling and eyes staring, waiting to get reprimanded. I watched them all look at each other and make some kind of silent agreement. They raised their arms and uncovered a poker game on the kitchen table. Against the rules? Judging from their faces, probably. But after 5 minutes of playing with them, I realized they had no idea how to play. So I figured since it wasn’t actually poker, no harm done. And I quickly realized I had to figure out which battles I was going to pick. For instance, a few times they took off their shirts to compare ab muscles. You know how boys are--trying to compete in as many ways as possible. I kept having to tell them to put their clothes back on. Another first, although, more harmless than you’d think as they all showed off their prepubescent baby bellies. Plus, they had snacks in bowls (in bowls?!) and were treating each other well, so as far as I was concerned: Game On. (Although I quickly got bored of non-poker and taught them a few other, less cool, but more fun games.)
The room consisted of a living area/kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms with two beds each, so I figured I’d sleep on the couch and not make a big deal of it…especially after one of the boys offered me his blanket. We made dinner together, fun and a little crazy, and then they declared they were going to stay up all night playing Cheat (Bullshit). About 9 PM, after a full round, ace to king, with no one calling Cheat, I realized I was the only one awake enough to recognize the collapse of the game. I told them to go to bed, and they went. I had expected that to be trickier.
That morning, at 5 AM, one of the boys woke me up by tapping me on the arm, “Miss?! Can I make pancakes yet?” Nother first. “Not yet.” Fifty minutes later, same deal, so I said yes and he got out his canister of Bisquick and turned on the stove and whipped us up some pancakes before we even brushed our teeth. It’s fun seeing what kids can do outside of the classroom. This kid had said he was saving up for a KitchenAid, but I’d had no idea how serious he was.
That day, we headed out to the river sites to conduct the science side of our research. Hot and sticky. Came home, played in the pool, made dinner, taught them the card game Spoons, practiced our skit that everyone was assigned to present that night. (My boys got roaring applause thanks to the song they wrote and their MJ dance moves at the end!) After the show, one of them walked in our room, opened his mouth, and threw up. Then he crashed on my couch. I asked the maids to clean it up, which they quickly did, but when he repeated the same thing an hour later, they had already gone home. So I did my best, gagging the whole time, and even still, we couldn’t escape the puke smell for the rest of the trip. Since he was on my couch, I could only go to his bed. So I slept next to a student of mine: obviously, different bed, but, interestingly, same room. As I turned off the lights, I started to shut the door, but realized it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep it open. Early that morning, Justin woke me up saying that he had a nightmare. Bleary eyed and nervous of US laws, I patted him on the back until he fell asleep again. He forgot about it soon enough, and was up ready for more flapjacks that morning too. Are you keeping track of these?
The third day, we were scheduled for a four hour hike through Bush-Bush, a forest in the swamp, known to be an anaconda and howler monkey habitat. The guides showed us every plant and animal on the trail. They carried machetes, called cutlasses here. One of the private security guards followed us as long as he could in his SUV—for a fast getaway in case kidnappers lurked. It was beautiful, but no anaconda.
One of the other groups found a baby monkey and the guide said that the mother had been killed by poachers, so he let the teacher hold him. We heard blue and gold macaw, too, but didn’t see them. Afterward, we started home, but it took twice as long because of traffic. It’s not like there are gas stations or Starbucks along the way to stop, so four hours in a van with no bathroom breaks was killer. Remind me not to have 12 kids. When we got back to school, there were more tears, and the mother of the boy who I had slept next to brought me chocolates to thank me for taking such good care of her son. English is not her first language, so she must not have realized that the chocolates said “Naughty” in bold letters all over the wrapping. Another first.


jenbaum said...

OMG! I was so excited to open your blog and NOT see pussy (I hate the spelling of that word) feet! BUT - even better was that I just laughed my ass off through the whole thing!!!! That was hysterical! You are going to make a GREAT mom, and I kinda wanna go on your next trip to Nariva Swamp!!! Sounds like a great time! (My experiences at fifth grade camp never seemed to go that smoothly!) :)

Gamble said...

Katie & Aaron: Wonderful stories! You should teach Aaron to write some! Aren't you ready for some relaxing winter weather from the Edmonds area? Aaron, only two and a half weeks until GBB tryouts begin! VB teams are doing great; 8th graders haven't lost a set so far, and the 7th grade team is 4-1. Manza's team is undefeated. Take care.