Feel the Rhythm, Feel the Rhyme…

In the last two weeks, since my last ‘happenings’ post, I’ve begun to feel more a part of the community, meet people, keep busy, practice lesson planning and teaching and continue to read and relax. After those challenging first couple of weeks when I was fighting a cold, dealing with an injured ankle, aimless without structure in my activities and socially isolated, just about everything has moved in a positive direction. I feel physically good, though my ankle has continued to have issues. I’ve begun teaching for a little more than an hour every day at the community center just up the street from me. I’ve really started to fit in with my family, my Spanish has been going through another cycle of improvement and I have enough contacts in the community to keep me socially occupied most days.

My classes are small, just 4-7 students. Ages range from 7-40, but the median age is probably 13. Monday, Wednesday and Friday is the beginner class, while Tuesday and Thursday is a bit more advanced, though we’re going through similar material in each. I began teaching by helping out in a class that another American was giving in the community center, but when he had to leave last week, I took over. It’s been an excellent experience so far, partly because it’s fun and partly because it’s challenging. I’m having to lesson plan from nothing(in training we worked from the national curriculum), sequence the lesson plans, work with ages very different from what I was trained for(highschoolers), and work through the challenges of teaching every day rather than every few days. These classes help me structure my weekday mornings, give me a balance against my free time and give me experience that will be really helpful when the new school year starts. The students are great, and are patient with my beginning teaching blunders. I always try to teach too much material and forget to include games and dynamic activities as much as I should. Still, they’re persistent and smart and are making great progress.

Another contact that has been growing is with a local artist named Harold. We met when he stopped by the soccer field during my second week as I was watching, injured, from the sidelines. He was interested in learning English and started coming to my Tues/Thurs classes but also began talking about his struggles to make his love of art into a viable business. He paints, but does not have many options for painting subjects. He can paint around his house, but does not have the equipment for moving around or the cooperation of the animals and people he would like to paint. So I have been spending some afternoons with him, both of us using my digital camera to take pictures of things that he wants to paint. Then he can print the pictures and use them as subjects in his paintings. This has been a great opportunity for me to do some more photography, practice my Spanish, meet people, and help a friendly and hardworking guy. I had forgotten how much I like photography and how little I have been able to do here because of its tourist connotations and the relative wealth that it implies to my family and neighbors. Harold and I have a nice partnership.

I also caught up with one of the teachers that I’ll be working with for the next two years and he took me to a couple of spots on the island that I hadn’t been to before. We explored a little natural reserve area, went swimming, and talked about Spanish, English, Nicaragua, the US and families. He’s a great guy, and I’m excited to get to know him better.

I have found little projects to fill in the hours in between teaching, planning, spending time with family and new friends. These have helped in a number of ways. Not only do they give me something constructive to do, but they help me feel more at home here. For example, my room was in dire need of some coziness. I had been living out of my suitcases on the floor for more than three weeks when I finally had the time, knowledge and motivation to do something about it. I asked my host family how I could get my hands on some boards and cement blocks to build a simple little shelf to hold my stuff. They introduced me to a guy in town who has a bunch of wood in his yard and we spent an hour chatting about my job here, his life here and about construction projects he has supplied. During this time we were picking out a couple of boards and he cut them to size, cut off the rough ends, sanded both sides and, for about $13, presented me with two solid boards of about 3 feet by one foot each. Next it was off to the house down the street where they make and sell cement blocks. It was about a half-mile walk over there, they were about 75 cents each and I bought six of them. I looked at the 30 pound things. I looked at the road. I looked at the young guys who sold them to me. How many trips would I take to bring them back? Of course with people watching, I was not about to take the easy route. One of them helped me hoist three blocks on to my shoulder. Using both my arms to hold them in place, I staggered toward my house. It only took about one minute for the regret to sink in. The cement surfaces were rough and jagged and my shoulders are bony enough to feel like I was being slowly axed in the neck. I made it about a third of the way back like that before sinking to the ground and gently dropping them on the side of the road. This wouldn’t have been so bad, but the road I was trudging is the main road in town, winding past nearly every house. I can only imagine how many times the thought ‘what the heck is this white guy doing, panting and dusty, straining and scratched up, walking down the road with these bricks?’ followed me as I struggled on. I shifted to cradling the three bricks in front of my stomach, but my fingers soon gave out. Finally, after several rests, soaked with sweat in the midday sun and repeating silently ‘builds character, builds character,’ I left one of the three at the ¾ mark and came back for it after dropping off the others. This was round one. Luckily, suffering bred innovation, or at least capitulation, and I emptied my backpack to use for my round two. One of the blocks fit neatly and it was just one block per hand. My fingers, forearms and shoulders still burned and ached, but there was less scraping of skin and embarrassingly obvious overexertion through town. I made it back to the house, set the blocks down as gently as I could manage and, shaking with fatigue, sunk into a plastic chair. After about 30 minutes of numb recovery, I found the energy to stand back up, put on some music and reshape my room. The result is extremely satisfying, partly because of the organizational appeal and partly because of the blood and sweat that went into it. I suppose it was also technically tears, seeing as I’m sure even my eyeballs were sweating from effort.

Adding to my shelf-building adventure, I’ve switched out the 20 watt light bulb for a 100 watt-er that made my heart leap for joy when I first flicked the sucker on. I never realized how much poor lighting had been affecting my mood and limiting my ability to read or do anything after dusk. I hung up my world map, which is a small link to my past rooms and a comforting reminder that all that separates me from my family and friends are a few multicolored splotches representing countries. Not so bad.

In other news, my host family got a new piglet(no name yet) and everyone but me came down with a cold. The weather has been in the low to mid 80s during the day and low 70s at night, which has been awesome for me, but everyone else is complaining that it’s freezing. It hasn’t rained in weeks and the roads are dry enough to whip dust into the eyes with any hint of wind. I’m told that this will persist for months.

After The Fountainhead I read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, though I wouldn’t recommend it, and now I’m working on a book called ‘The River Why.’ It’s a book about life and fishing, similar to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in its analogous approach to philosophy. It’s all right. Very clever and amusing writing, but not much of a plot. I’m linking to my photo album, with new pictures of how coffee is processed, and a video tour of my house with a look at the home improvements I’ve made. Enjoy!



One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Janet Boddy on January 14, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Dear Andrew,
    I don’t know how I missed this entry, but I just discovered it today (January 14th)! I love hearing even older stuff about your life. I could use a “character list” like I enjoy with the books I read. How about one of those, maybe even listing the people from your training time? Don’t mean to give you homework, it’s just a thought.
    Love, Mom


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