Saturday, March 26, 2011

Two Month Reflection

Each time I hike, it is as though I’m looking for something, although I don’t know what for when I step out the door.

This morning I awoke early to the usual sounds of dogs, car exhaust, and an assortment of farm animals roaming the streets.  I put my hiking boots on and loaded my bag with things I might need.  I took two flashlights, a pair of socks, a bottle of water, some crackers, two pockets knives, and a compass with a whistle attached.  Yesterday, March 25, marked two months in Honduras.  This morning, I was in the mood for a long walk and some time to reflect in order to take inventory on the time I’ve spent here. 

The path seemed steeper than ever in the morning heat and we were only just beginning our hike.  In passing, I smelled a tree that must have been the same kind of tree I used to pass on my way to class each morning at the University of Arizona.  I would go out of my way each morning to pass this certain set of trees for just a couple seconds of nasal bliss.   
I thought about that version of me a lot on the walk today and how different I am now than I was then.  My agenda has changed significantly and I’d like to think I have grown up some.  With maturity I think you lose a part of your dreams as you begin to realize where and who you are in a practical sense.  I wondered what I would have thought then if I could see myself now.  If I could go back and do it over would I still find myself here in Honduras?  Reflecting on my time in Arizona was bittersweet as it was filled with the best of memories in what seemed like a short period of time.  Four years seemed more like two, whereas two months here seems like two months, no more and no less.

When I was battling the dirt path searching for whatever it was I was searching for, work popped into my head.  Just as the path I took was uphill and strained my muscles, the work I begun two months earlier is an uphill battle of monumental proportions.  I began to ask the same question to my earlier self—when you started this project two months back did you think this would be the kind of progress you’d see?  I held onto an idea before I came that I knew to be false.  It was the idea that the kids would want to learn English just as much as I wanted to teach them.  This is not the case, but only because kids are only kids.  I am generally proud of their progress so far and I think their comprehension is a direct reflection of the work I put in—and this is a good thing. 

Of course, it was only a matter of time before I plunged my feet into the river accidentally, rendering them completely soggy.  At the beginning of every hike I tell myself I’d like to keep myself dry and I try to take the appropriate cautions to do so.  I know well that this is a futile effort.  Sometimes you can’t protect yourself and you just have to get your feet wet.

The sixth grade students are all capable students with differing levels of apathy toward learning English.  I suppose this is to be expected.  The fourth grade is a smaller class with a mix of personalities, including a handicapped girl in a wheelchair.  She has what seems to be cerebral palsy, although I am not quite sure what exactly the diagnosis is.  Whatever the case, she is highly functional.  She has the ability to learn and listen in class, but her motor skills suffer a bit.  She has slight function in her legs and a visiting therapist from the University of New Hampshire said that it is very possible that with the appropriate therapy, she would be able to walk and improve her motor skills significantly.  There is another student who is always messing with the others and disrupting class.  He has one of the shortest attention spans I have ever seen and obviously lacks motor skills.  Just the same as the visibly handicapped girl, this student also has a serious learning disability.  The visiting therapist showed me some exercises to work both sides of the brain and help with attention spans as well as diagnose which students have trouble with their motor skills.  Just as I thought, this student has trouble doing simple functions involving both sides of his brain, like there lacks a strong connection between the two.  The other day, he got hit in the head with a soccer ball on accident and retaliated by throwing a large brick as hard as he could trying to hit the other student in the head.  When he missed, he picked up a large piece of concrete and was going to try and hit the kid with it had I not stopped him.  This is probably the 4th serious incident he has had in my classroom and I took him to the principal’s office demanding some sort of punishment.

The principal thinks we gringos are too hard on the students and that we need to lighten up a bit.  Though, isn’t our better work ethic in the classroom exactly why we came to Honduras?  She sent him away with nothing more than a few reprimanding words even though policy states that a student with three strikes is expelled from the school.  I decided to call a meeting with the principal in order to figure out a game plan on the students I have had trouble with.  She explained to me what I already knew—both students have learning disabilities that limit their aptitude in the classroom.  She was talking about them like they were incapable of living a normal life and that they basically were able to use their condition as a crutch to do whatever they wanted.  With more time, I know these students are capable of really great things, but at what cost to me and the other students.  You start to think you don’t hold enough love in your heart to make a change, and then you realize that all the love in the world won’t change most of the problems you perceive.  Sometimes you need to plunge right in and get your feet wet.  Maybe it isn’t the prospect of finding the progress you want, but looking for it and working toward it that counts the most.  So often I want to ignore problems I see in others and pretend they don’t exist only because I am protecting myself from the fact that the problem is me. 

What I look for during hikes is something grandiose, something memorable that I can take with me.  The river curves and bends like a snake and you just can’t stop wondering what is around the next bend.  More often than not, we found, it was just another bend waiting for us.  We reached a point in the river that I thought might be what I was looking for.  A tree fell in the river and the running water hollowed out the middle of the tree to make a natural pipe that drained into a cool pool of fresh water.  Turns out it was nothing more than a good picture. 

We had heard about a set of caves that had been elusive to our efforts the previous times we tried to walk the river.  We decided we hadn’t walked enough before and I guess we were right.  The rocks looked more like swish cheese as they started getting larger and more corroded by the water. The river turned into more of a waterfall with significant drop offs that emitted a large splash washing away most of our words.  We were so tired but we knew we were close so we pressed on.  Eventually we found what we thought we were looking for—a large opening in the earth that would lead to a cave filled with all the adventure we could handle.  Turns out, the cave was only 50 feet long leading to a room filled with what seemed like a million bats shitting on the floor—definitely not what we had in mind. 

It seems the only real thing I found was the gratification of a four hour walk and the ability to reflect on my last two months here.  I should never underestimate a river’s ability to renew my spirit.  As always, it is the quest that gives us hope and it is the quest that keeps us alive.  If I found everything I was looking for my time here would be pretty boring.  The journey is the destination.

1 comment:

  1. "Sometimes you need to plunge right in and get your feet wet. Maybe it isn’t the prospect of finding the progress you want, but looking for it and working toward it that counts the most."

    Enjoy the Journey (Destination)!!