Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Party

Two examples of Trini-style dancing: wining. We may still have some work to do before complete mastery.

The best staff party ever.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Nariva Aftermath AKA National Boards

I was itchy when I got home, but assumed that that’s what being in the tropical bush for 72 hours would do to you. Then Aaron noticed some different things—one circle on my thigh that looked alarmingly like ringworm and some blistery looking things on my ankles—scabies? Chiggers? Something we’d never heard of??
Friday, November 21st, we could log on at 6 AM Seattle time to see what our National Boards scores were. For the past 15 months, I had pictured myself at home and checking in private, so I could huddle in a corner at bad news or celebrate and bask at good news, but since 6=10AM for me, no chance-- it's in the middle of my day. At 9:55, I told my kids I needed 5 minutes of I’m-a-real-person-time as opposed to I'm-a-teacher-time and I went in my office and checked. At 9:59, I clicked submit and a few seconds later: Congratulations! I got all Miss America, jumping up and down. I looked up to see my kids’ faces plastered on the window of my office trying to see what I was doing. I told them that I had passed a teacher test. Always the optimists, they said, “No way, it has to be cooler than that!” Nope. So we all walked over to Aaron's room and did a simultaneous thumbs up. On the way, I ran into the director’s wife, and told her the news.
As soon as class ended, I called Amy, my friend who had gone through it all with me, to see how she had fared. (She passed!) As we were talking, on my cell phone, the director of the school comes into my office. I assume he’d talked to his wife and he’s there to congratulate me. Odd for him, I think I’ve had one conversation with him since being here, but you know, it’s a big deal. I tell Amy I have to get off the phone and explain to him why I’m on my cell phone. “Great,” he says. “But you’re not getting a raise. So, do you have 200$ I can borrow? Your husband says you have some cash.” I must have looked confused. “I have to pay a mechanic.” Isn’t there a petty cash fund?? I did have it, that’s about 40$ US, so I gave it to him and he said, as he left, “Thanks! I’ll pay you back. Congrats.”
About an hour later, my bites got worse. I found a doctor and the receptionist told me there was no way—the doctor was supposed to leave in 20 minutes and there were two people in front of me. The lady stared at me until I asked her if she could suggest someone else, she called, got a no, called someone else, got a yes, and then started to tell me directions. I started to get a little teary at that point. Being told directions to a new place doesn’t usually work out well for me. A man sitting, watching my ankles oozing, said, “Take my appointment. I was just dropping off paperwork. I come by here every day on my way home.” Really? “Sure.” Okay. I wasn’t going to ask again. The doctor took one look at them and said, “Sandflies. You’re having an allergic reaction to them. Take this. They’ll get really bad, but after four weeks you should be fine. If not, come back. And yes, that’s ringworm. Take this.” I do know where the pharmacy is and I went straight there. So, to celebrate the honor of becoming a National Board certified teacher, Aaron helped me slather on some crème, both on my pizza legs and on my ringworm thigh, and I laid on top of our bed, trying not to juice more than necessary.
But I passed!

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.