Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Morning Three in La Libertad

Morning Three:

My notes from my third morning in the village cover my first full day of teaching, my first full day alone in the village, and a whole lot of “first” experiences. By this point in the trip I was really thankful I hadn't gotten sick yet. Before I left I'd had to get immunizations, buy a bunch of pills, and stock up on Neosporin, Tylenol, Immodium, and the like – because there are no medical facilities in the village and my travel doctor highly advised against purchasing anything in-country in the event it wasn't what I was used to in the States. However, by my third day in the village, I hadn't used anything aside of melatonin to help me sleep at night – which I take in the States anyway. So, here's the recap from Morning Three:
Yesterday Ben, David, Gustavo, and some more men from the village went to Leticia for supplies. We'd started keeping a notebook of things we needed the moment we unpacked on day one, and there was a lot to get. This meant I was also alone in the village for the day. My Spanish was rapidly (and out of necessity) coming back to me, so I was able to communicate, but I tried my best to stay out of the way since I didn't really know anybody. Before the men left, we agreed we'd start my first class at 10am so I spent the quiet hours in between poring over the lesson materials to figure out what to teach, and eating lime cookies for breakfast so I wouldn't have to cook just for myself.

After I studied I noticed many of the villagers were gathered in a house to drink chicha, which I'd never heard of. Aní, one of Gustavo's daughters who has been incredibly helpful and friendly, told me I was welcome to join in, so I went over to see what was going on before my class. I walked in the door and was handed a plastic bowl filled with a milky-white liquid. I remembered the final email I'd gotten from my father before I boarded my first flight: “Be sure to try whatever foods they put in front of you and tell them they taste good.” My father had lived in Manaus, Brasil, also on the Amazon River, for a time when I was younger. (Actually, my father has lived on every continent except Antarctica, but I'll be writing an entire entry about him later). He hadn't lived with an indigenous tribe as I was doing, but he'd made enough friends worldwide to have a pretty good idea how to treat others. So, that in mind, I accepted the plastic bowl and gingerly took a small sip. I smiled, thanked them, said it was delicious, and asked if anyone else wanted any. The men laughed and explained the entire bowl was for me and you are supposed to shoot it. I wasn't entirely sure I could pull that off, but I was determined to finish my bowl, because they had been so kind to share with me – some strange American woman with bad Spanish who just arrived a few days ago with their friend Ben and liked to play guitar, and yet they were so welcoming and inviting. It took me probably about 45 minutes, but I finished the chicha and everyone cheered. It wasn't bad either, just a very different taste I'd never had before. :)

I taught my first classes beginning at 10am as agreed, and 2pm in the afternoon. Two hours each, but it was hard because there are kids and young adults at all different levels. They are SO eager to learn but I'm not sure their school system prepares them well. They're good at copying words but not at copying the translations so once I leave it will likely be difficult for them to make sense of the words they'd copied down. We also couldn't get into anything beyond vocabulary – no sentence structure, no phrases. The children were somewhat shy about speaking aloud in either language. Each class had a few outgoing students who were proud to show off a few English words they'd picked up, but overall I wasn't sure how helpful I'd been. I knew I'd have to hit the books and get some more ideas for the rest of the week. I made a mental note to ask Ben to get some markers next time they went to Leticia. I could have used some tape, crayons/markers and activities for the kids, and possibly some more songs – they LOVED the alphabet song and we sang it multiple times in every lesson.

I've noticed the philosophy that it takes a village to raise a child is truly alive and well here. There are plenty of teenagers but I haven't seen nor heard a single teen scream at his or her parents. Toddlers are everywhere and yet there haven't been any tantrums. Tiny babies abound, but you rarely hear crying, and if you do, the crying is easily appeased by either a breast offering food, or an older sibling offering a hand and a hug. The children all help one another and it's really intriguing to see in practice. Teens – including Aní – were often seen spending most of their time watching younger siblings while the mothers cooked and cleaned. All of the kids are curious and imaginative because they don't have videogames or TV. They're motivated to help and they try to figure things out. They can make a toy out of anything – a cardboard box, a piece of a computer motherboard, leaves from a palm tree.

That said, there are many ways the children are universally the same. They're all fascinated by my camera and borrow it to take photos any time I allow (note: by the end of the trip I had over 650 photos, many taken by the children!!) just like kids here...except, of course, they don't have Instagram to upload everything. They love listening to music on cell phones or clicking through photos and music on Ben's computer. Ben's tablet has movies, games, and a keyboard, and the teens spend hours playing with each app.

One small moment with a very young child that stuck with me was on this day while I was in the kitchen watching Aní cook some pan de arbol – bread from the tree, which had a rich, nutty flavor when it was done. A baby who could barely speak – she was at the stage of just pointing and naming objects – pointed at me and said “¡Cantadora!” (singer) in the kitchen. Knowing how small her vocabulary is, and knowing I'd made enough of an impact on her to know me as the singer made me feel like I'd definitely made the right choice in coming here.

I was treated with much kindness (or perhaps sympathy) in the kitchen trying to cook for Ben, David, and myself when the men returned. Rainforest wood is, of course, rather damp, and I had immense troubles getting the fire hot enough to boil water for pasta. A silent grandmother who was always nearby and always working, but quietly, came up to me with an armful of wood after I'd pretty much destroyed the wood already in the fire. She arrived at the perfect time and seemed to brush off my intense gratitude as unnecessary – she was simply doing the right thing. Shortly afterward, one of Gustavo's daughters, a 7yr old student of mine named Estefani, wandered into the kitchen with her 4 year old brother Angel. The two of them saw the fire was less than fantastic, and without being asked, adjusted the wood, blew on the flames, and got my water boiling in no time. That kind of gave me some perspective – in my “vida aburrida” I live on the outskirts of the biggest city in the US, working for a world-renowned business, I have a cat, a Jeep, and a college degree. Yet I can't build a fire well enough to make dinner for the three of us?? I gave much credit to ancient humanity, for being able to cook with an open fire for thousands of years, and I also gave much credit to the villagers for continuing to be able to do so with all of today's technological advances. Cooking is more of a production in the village so the families usually only eat twice, instead of three times, but still, they're far better at it than I am, and I learned a few lessons in humility in that kitchen.

We are looking into an organization that provides clean cookstoves for women because the smoke from the fires is harmful to one's health, but again, that won't be happening overnight. I do hope we're able to make that connection though – the smoky wood made my eyes tear up so badly and my throat feel so sore. I can't imagine cooking like that twice a day, every day, for your entire life being very good for your health.

The day ended with more music, and Ben telling us scary stories at bedtime. As long as I've known him he has been a great storyteller, but this was the first time I'd heard scary stories in Spanish. He relayed some tales Gustavo had once told him that still give me the creeps to think about. I'd fill you in, but I'll let Ben tell the tales in whichever language he chooses. :)  

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