Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Girly Sleepover

Before Javier and Kerem left I spent an incredible amount of time with them and the kids. We spent countless nights at their house laughing and carrying on, having dinner, telling jokes, grading papers, watching movies, painting nails, just enjoying each other. They are of course a fun couple, and the kids are a great time so we generally ended up awake far too late for teachers who had to entertain hoards of kids bright and early in the morning! The girls had been dying for Kerem to spend the night in their room like a fun little sleepover, and the perfect weekend finally came along. While Javier and Marvin headed to Yoro with some other guys from church, us girls had a great girly sleepover! We painted nails, played with each other's hair, listened to music and danced around, did face masks, ate some junk food, told fun stories, wore girly pajamas and all piled onto pillows and blankets to watch Tangled. As a side note, that's a great little movie if you have a chance to watch it. And the song "Mother Knows Best" is a fun sing-a-long! 

Maria put my hair in these ridiculous pig tails which had us all laughing way too hard. I made face masks out of alpiste and the girls were so funny about it. A few of them were really freaked out at the thought of putting it on their faces, but we all participated and enjoyed our soft, smooth skin. We were determined to make it a slumber party to remember, so when one of the girls, I think it was Carmen or Ana, was ready for bed Kerem wanted nothing of it. She insisted the whole point of a slumber party was to stay up all night and talk about boys, and that just made us all laugh. I definitely fell asleep at some point during the movie, but we rewatched the ending the next day so I didn't feel sad about missing anything. The sleeping arrangements were silly but totally fun. The girls wanted us all in the same room, and their room is decently sized, but there were eight of us girls! We moved mattresses and made it work so that somehow everyone slept well that night. I guess I shouldn't speak for all of us, but I'm pretty sure we all slept pretty well. I climbed into the bunk beds and shared a mattress with Deysi, but we both slept through the night. I woke up to her listening to her iPod and coloring in a Disney princess coloring book. It was nice to feel like a little girl again.

I am pretty sure I spent the entire weekend at their house, but we were just having too much fun with each other. It was also hard to pass on any chance to spend time with them since they were moving away so soon. While the thought of having a daughter can be terrifying, it's fun to think of getting opportunities like that to channel your inner little girl and be silly for a night. Or a weekend. Or a lifetime :)

El Aniversario

I'm not sure when the actual anniversary of the school is, but the anniversary of them being at the current property is November 4th and every year they celebrate with a big deal parade. We were forewarned that the parade can get a little stressful, but to try and take it all in stride. The kids were broken up into different groups, like my baton twirlers I mentioned a while ago. Someone thought it would be a good idea to put me with a group of boys who were marching as cadets, but gracias a Dios Mr. Cook was able to join us. He was apparently a cadete when he went to school is Mexico, and it was a lot of fun to see and hear him with the boys. They got these serious little faces, and I loved getting to yell with them Braveheart style. Too cute. If you hear me shout "YA!!!" as I throw my arm forward and take off at a strong march, don't be alarmed. It's just me channeling my inner cadete.The baton twirlers weren't as budget-friendly as I'd first thought. The reason the made batons out of sticks is because they had to buy new batons (with shiny red knobbies) to match their outfits, and they were waiting for them to arrive. It made me sad that some of the girls weren't able to be palionas because it was so expensive, but the girls who did get to participate twirled with big smiles so that was nice. Some of the boys were mimes, and some got to be robots which was pretty silly. Indira from 2A was so excited to march in the drum line, and that is definitely one thing they do really well here. Listening to the drummers could get anyone off their feet! Now I just need to learn to dance punta...
All of their faces crack me up! The pomponeras are behind us, and the soccer team is behind them. It was quite the parade!
The day before the parade all the teachers stayed late to decorate floats with obscene amounts of colored paper and tape. Some of them turned out really pretty, and it was nice to get that time to chat with a few teachers I didn't know all that well. We were worried about the evening rain, a pretty constant thing around here, but were told there was a backup plan! The backup plan was apparently to move the floats to the gas station if it started to rain, but everyone quickly learned that once the rain came (generally hard and fast) it was too late and just not feasible to get the trucks moved under cover. It was a little sad to spend so much time working so hard on something only to see it wilt and ruin under all the water. But something awesome happened as it was raining that totally trumps any ruined decoration frowns. I saw the hint of a rainbow coming over the mountains, and then realized it was a double rainbow. Too cool! I'm not sure I had ever seen a double rainbow, and if I have it definitely wasn't this deeply colored. It was crazy to see the beams of ROY-G-BIV arching across a mountain. It was a little eerie to watch the rainbows fade away until the disappeared, leaving behind this thick gray bleh in the air. But it was really neat to see the arcoirises (rainbows) and a memory I think I'll hold onto. I didn't have my camera when they popped up, and it was raining far too hard to make a dash for it. Maybe one day I'll learn to paint and capture the mental image!
Ok, so it was a long walk, and Guillermo (like me!) was ready for some water, a snack, some shade and a change of clothes, but his mama wanted a picture so Mr. Cook and I obliged!
The day of the parade was pretty hectic, but the kids and parents seemed to enjoy themselves. Ok, the rest of us ended up having a good time too :) We got to school early to repair the rain's damage, and I think the floats turned out even better than they were the day before. Love how that works! My stomach and I weren't exactly getting along that day, so I wasn't too cheery at the thought of walking through town in the heat, but it was fun to march with my boys! Lots of parents snapped pictures and I loved getting to experience their pride for their children. Kerem was the leader of her Preparatoria kids and their band which was way too stinking cute. Maryann made her a crazy shirt, but she rocked it in all its ridiculousness. After the parade we got to enjoy an earlier than normal release from school, and it's always fun to start your weekend earlier than expected!

Even. More. Boxes.

Big, huge, belated thanks to Mom, North Elementary, Grumpy and his Sunday School class and Cheryl Watts and family. You guys know how to make a struggling teacher smile! We headed to Santa Cruz to check with the mail lady one afternoon and I seriously didn't believe her when she said I'd received four boxes. FOUR! My eyes watered just seeing Mom's handwriting on the packages, and then when I realized a couple were from Grumpy I thought I'd have to take a minute to regain composure. Thanks you guys!

The boxes were filled with an unbelievable amount of school supplies, some wall decorations, lots of interesting idea books, a whole box of early reader books and I'm sure a number of other things I'm rudely forgetting to include in this list. The donations were so abundant they will be able to support a number of students from different schools and towns. It would have been cool if I'd gotten a picture before I started dispersing supplies, but the teachers were excited to receive classroom sets of markers, colored pencils, crayons, regular pencils. A couple decks of alphabet cards have helped in both first and second grade classrooms. Christmas borders and a fun wreath were used to make the hallways more festive.

I met a young boy in San Luis Planes who is nine years old and had to quit school after first grade. He's been out of school for two years now because his parents can't afford to send all of their children. The supplies are expensive, and tuition for three isn't in their budget. Being blessed with care packages like these help kids like Josue get back into school. He's very excited to start his studies, and Pastor Alfonso and I are determined to get him reading by the end of the year. Let this serve as an outpouring of my love and appreciation for all of your support, and I don't just mean sending expensive-to-ship boxes filled with donations.The boxes are of course great, but the spiritual support I'm receiving from so many of you, the kind thoughts and well wishes, those are what get me through the days. Those are what bring me closer to kids like Josue and the different schools I've visited. Thank yous, love and hugs all around!

Eager Readers

Apparently life picked up somewhere toward the end of October, and didn't start to slow down until now! Hell it still hasn't slowed down. A while ago I had such a breakthrough reading day with the kids I couldn't wait to journal all about it. And here we are, months later, journaling about it. I'm just good like that! It's the general trend that 2A can be a little more outgoing than 2B, but of course they sometimes surprise me. Reading class with 2A can be a cricket show, so the same with 2B is one of those times I plan a rack of different activities in case the response for my first few plans is a room full of blank stares...

Color me ecstatic when my little angels in 2B came to life one day during reading class! I was sure some of the hands in the air must have had dust and/or cobwebs on them. I am embarrassed to admit that I expected a few of them to be asking to go to the bathroom. Kids who might not have raised their hands all year threw them up excitedly when I asked who wanted to read us parts of the story. I'm blushing just starting to type this, but seeing their little faces so stoked to read out loud, and hearing them practice their phonics on the words they found more difficult got my heart so warm I had to remind myself it would likely startle them if I started to cry. With my hand on my heart I let them all know how very proud I was at their progress and how contagiously exciting their energy was. I honestly don't know what brought it out in them that day, but I'm certainly not complaining. I was so overjoyed by this surprise increase in participation I decided to give a little sticker to each of my readers. It's incredible how much stickers mean to the little ones. I hope they don't lose that excitement, but I think I still have most of my excitement for the little things, so I'll just have faith they'll hang on to theirs as long as they can. I will go ahead and put it out there that yes, I was that teacher who bragged about her kids all throughout lunch. One of my guys wants to stay after school for tutoring "so he can read with the miss" --there are not enough hugs and/or happy tears in the world to express how much that touched my heart!

Sunday Translation

This has been so long ago I really can't believe how quickly time is passing. Leah commented that I could update more regularly if I said a little less in each post, but I don't seem to work that way. Apparently I'm chatty no matter what my medium! Toward the very end of October a Barnabas team was here, and Melvin Martinez invited them to a service at his church. Don Melvin's church services are of course in Spanish, and he was asking about translation help for the team. I didn't have any plans for the night he needed me, so I agreed no problemo. I'd never been to his church, Ebenezer, and I love any chance to do something new while I'm here. While I know I'm not fluent, especially when it comes to scripture, I figured it would be nice to hear a new pastor and whisper translate to the person next to me. I love getting to know the teams who come down, so it's hard not to jump at an opportunity to help them! Don Melvin had told me Ebenezer was organized pretty similarly to La Roca, so I fell into the rhythm of the round of alabanzas before the sermon. As we took our seats after the prayer and worship songs Kerlin, Melvin's daughter, came up to tell me there was a microphone for me up front. I looked at her like she had eight heads and said she must be confused. Don Melvin then came into view and he made quick moves with his eyes and without opening his mouth clearly told me, "Get that look off your face and walk your happy butt to the front. Gracias."

It's funny to write about this now, and I'm making a mental note of some potentials for my "work on me in 2012" journal as promptly as possible and embrace self-confidence a little more quickly. This first translation at Ebenezer was enveloped with so many different feelings. I remember leaving feeling sort of strange. Like I'd pushed my comfort zone to its extreme, and successfully, which was motivating. But now I've translated a few more times, and it's sort of funny to remember all the initial nervousness. Pastor Martir is so animated and passionate I think he does a wonderful job motivating people with scripture and his preaching. And all his animation makes translating for him a little fun, because I can gesture toward him and say, "What he did" rather than acting things out. He had a great message that night, but I spent about the first half of the sermon in this mental war. Part of me was having trouble not imagining dropping the microphone and running out of there, part of me was considering crying and another part of me was saying hellloooo you can do this, and you kind of have to do this so please get on board! From what I heard after the service, no one noticed this internal debate, so that's comforting. I gained experience that night that I'll always cherish. While I was struggling in my head I was reminding myself that this was so much bigger than my little worries about saying the wrong thing or not knowing the words. It felt like a weight was lifted when I decided all I could do was stand up there at the big scary microphone and break a language barrier to bring some of God's people closer together. Of course I could worry about missing something, but then that's what would have my focus. Instead I decided to focus on opening my heart to receiving the message, and giving it my all to convey that message to a couple rows of smiling faces. I could go on and on about the amazing power of perspective and the intent behind your actions, but instead I'll just recommend pushing your limits a little further than you think you can handle.

After the service Nancy came up and gave me the best hug and said some of the nicest things. She really is a special new friend. We spent hours one night talking about faith and all sorts of life lessons, and it was great getting closer to her. Most of the medical teams travel with cross necklaces that they wear everyday to give to people they meet throughout the week. They're given to someone you think needs the cross, or someone who touched your heart. I am pretty sure most teams travel with an abundance of necklaces, because their goal is to give lots away. I know when I was down here in March I gave a couple crosses away to people I didn't want to stop hugging. This country is full of kind hearts and incredibly interesting people. After Nancy's hug she told me some great things about the service, and then gave me her cross! It is a beautiful cross of nails and white wire. I have it hanging on my wall, and looking at it reminds me of the power of pushing your comfort zone and embracing your potential to grow. That team was full of lovely people, and they all had great hugs after the service. I spent a little more time with them before they returned to the States, and I feel blessed to have met them. It is pretty neat to bond with the teams as they travel, especially since the majority of the people are from Virginia! I think Melvin was the best after the service though. You see, he knows me well enough to know what was going through my head, but fortunately also knows how much I needed to experience that push. He had the sweetest face when he smiled and said to forgive him, but he knew I could do it.

It is nice to know there are so many people believing in me. Very cool to gain experiences I wasn't expecting over this year away, and motivating to think how much I'll gain if I push limits at every opportunity!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Wedding en video

October 29th was a special day for a special young woman. My "baby" cousin Lori married her sweetheart, Matt. She's actually just two years my junior, but I think I'll always feel like her big sister--and like she's still too young to be all grown up! I was feeling sad about the idea of missing her wedding, but smiled thinking ahead to all the anniversary celebrations I'll get to share. Dad decided to try taking his iPad to the reception with some fancy pocket wifi device. I wasn't sure what to expect, and had these funny images of me being videod in for cake cutting, bouquet catching and the oh so popular Electric Slide. When he talked to Lori about it she liked the idea so much she wanted him to call me in for the wedding! I felt a little underdressed in my tank top (I don't think you could make out the bleach stain) and messy hair, but it was such a blessing to "be" there to celebrate with my girl. Dad called right before they started the ceremony, and I watched from start to finish. A few people said hi before things got started, and I was holding up rather well until I saw Aunt Deborah. She was looking all kinds of beautiful in the dress Nana wore when she was mother of the bride, and I couldn't stop the tears as I realized I was too far away to give her the hug my arms were craving. It's like I (of course) knew and understood that Lori was getting married and I'd be unable to attend the wedding, but I didn't fully comprehend what it would feel like to miss such a big day.

I will go ahead and openly confess that I cried some during the ceremony. I cried some big, sappy tears. Tears of joy, and a few tears of pure emotion as I was aching over not being there. I didn't feel too embarrassed about crying because I figured I was just propped on my Dad's lap with my face under the screen cover, and I was confident I'd be able to pull it together by the end of the ceremony. I'm learning the more weddings I attend how intrigued I am by vows, and how powerfully moving I find the exchange of them to be. But again, confident I'd pull it together by the end, and happy to say I was able to do that. Something about "seeing" people I hadn't seen since the move, and accepting the absence of actual time with them on such an important day had me all torn up. I was pretty relieved when Dad said he'd call me in a few hours from the reception. Technology really is something, because this video call let the family feel like I was at the wedding with them, at least in some part. But for me, it was like I had never felt farther away. Our geographical gap was more palpable than ever before. I didn't anticipate much homesickness when I was thinking about moving away for a year, but it turns out I have a great bunch of friends and family who really warrant missing.
Aunt Deborah, Lori and the flower girl saying hi--creepy to think they're talking to me through that shiny rectangle.
Do I have the cutest Grumpy or what? It was noisy with the DJ, but if he leaned in just right we could hear each other. 

In the time that lapsed between the wedding and the dance party I was able to wash my face, laugh with the bunch at Javier and Kerem's and get a few exams written. For a little background, the wedding took place the weekend we were all working hard on our first period guides and exams, so I was already on edge. Let's think back to when I admitted my stoic defeat during the ceremony, but how it was all cheque (ok) because it's not like anyone could see me. Right. That's where we're wrong. Not only did Dad have the screen facing out, but he stood so close to Lori (during the entire ceremony I think I was told) that Matt saw every tear and sniffle. Lori said she was doing great until she saw me crying, poor thing, but I suppose it's a special thing when cousins can embrace in joyful, although long distance tears. Friends and family sharing now sharing in this memory: please take note that your girl has toughened up and can take on all sorts of challenges. Please take bolder note that she does not miss weddings well.

That night we had communion at church, and we stood in a big circle for a while singing alabanzas and sharing in the joy of our spiritual community. I was still relatively new to the church, but starting to get to know a few people better. I did not know the man next to me, though I've now come to know him as Hermano Redin, the Sunday school teacher, a very kind and intelligent man. While we were in the circle I saw him put his arm around his son and hold him in a hug as they began to pray together. I wonder if anyone is surprised, but this got my eyes a little misty. I was really missing home and craving the embrace of family. I closed my eyes and focused on all the blessings surrounding those feelings, and all of a sudden Redin's arm was over my shoulders and he started to pray. He talked about God taking care of my family while I'm so far away, and taking care of me while he's sure I'm missing my support system at home. He has a gift of delicate verbiage, and his prayer was so greatly appreciated. How did he know I was so craving a hug from my dad? I was in awe of his perfect timing, and how spot on point he was with his kind, soothing words. Of course it wasn't a Daddy hug, but it did just fine for what I needed. It does get hard to think about what I'm missing, but I have a special group of people supporting me back home, and I'm getting to know a special group here. What a lovely, special gift.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

El Pollo Loco

Last night Maryann and I were sitting across the table from each other having such a laughy conversation. I had just gotten back from a meeting, and we started filling each other in on our evenings. We each had some light complaints over our teaching to-do lists, but that quickly led to swapping funny stories about our kids. Things might get a little stressful here and there, but we get to enjoy some speical moments with these students. Sometimes they say the silliest things, and their personalities are really starting to shine. They're clearly getting to know us better and have started to copy some of our sayings; some of my kids are even finishing my sentences saying, "yes Miss Harris I know what you're going to say...I need to stop talking, sit down and do my work." Yes Guillermo, Eric, Eduardo, Lissie, [insert any number of my 2nd graders here] that's exactly what I'd like for you to do! Apparently I say "Seriously?!" with relative frequency. It comes with an undertone of, "surely this is a mirage and you're actually focused on your work and engaged in learning right now" and sometimes a little cock of the head paired with an eyebrow raise and a little sideways hand gesture. I didn't realize how much I said it until the kids started saying it to each other. It is too cute! The other day I guess Eric felt like I was asking too much of them and he cocked his adorable little head when he asked, "Seriously Miss Harris?" Hahah, I love it.

We started laughing so hard my cheeks were a little sore. All the laughter had me smiling about an afternoon we had--it's been a while ago now, but we went for a long walk across the bridge the other end of town and back around again. Along the walk we met the crazy chicken--El Pollo Loco--pecking around town. He lives across the bridge at the top of the main street, and I don't walk up that far very often...I guess it's unfair to say "he" because I'm thinking it must be a La Gallina Loca might make more sense. Anyway, there is absolutely no way a typed story can do this thing justice, but I couldn't help but try. This is a seriously crazy chicken! And every time Maryann and I bring it up we can't stop laughing. It pecks around almost like it's drug, or high on something with its beak all kinds of crazy. And you know how most chickens have feathers that lay flat, or here and there they'll stand up in some uniform formation? Not this one. Its black feathers jet out all sorts of loco like it stuck its beak in a socket. I tried getting pictures, but none capture the pura loca.

When we saw her I couldn't help but compare her to one of my students, and while I guess I "should" feel a little guilty about that, the shoe happens to fit so I'm going to let her wear it. This girl is a sweetie for sure, but such a crazy little thing. Her long brown hair always seems to need a brush, even though she keeps a one in her backpack! My babylion's mane of frizz and I can relate, so I'm of course not poking fun. I remember a rainy morning when she was trucking up the sidewalk and her hair was blown so crazy she looked like a wall of knotted brunette. I hadn't realized Maryann was beside me until I heard her say, "That--needs a brush." But of course that isn't the half of it with this girly. She can be quite the distraction in the classroom, and sometimes I feel like she's a tiny butterfly, and I'm running around trying to catch her (attention) with my net (riveting lessons). So it's not just her crazy hair and attention span, but her uniform is generally a little askew and the way she wheels her carry-on of a backpack has me sorry for the hallways. So I see Loca pecking around, compare her to "my student who needs a brush" and we were done. We both doubled over laughing, and had fun finding silly comparisons throughout the rest of our walk. I would like to make sure it's known that I really love this student, but the wall of crazy black feathers sent memories of that rainy morning and it took off from there. And it always feel so good to share such a good, hearty laugh.
We took this on the bridge--this is one of the  most "mas hizo" views in town. I had to cock my head to get it in the picture :) And Maryann had fun dressing me that day!