Monthly Archives: July 2007

2 days in Chiapas, Mexico

From a LEAPYEAR student teaching at a school and studying capoeira (a Brazilian dance/martial art form) during her internship time in Chiapas, Mexico:

Saturday was full of capoiera in the main square, everyone comes in parades of white and blue with their babies and families. We sing songs in Portuguese that I don´t even understand but I sing them in my head all day long. I kind of go into a trance of song when all of a sudden I am tapped on the shoulder and told to go do capoiera. Nervous because I only know how to kick, flip, duck and roll. My hands are taken and we shimmy to the ground. All the while sing “eu voy anogola vo pasa de pruanda, vo pasa de pruanade e capital de angola.” We start to move – I cartwheel and duck avoiding a kick and go onto my hands and swing my leg around. I am so nervous, they are walking on their hands and jumping over me. I get them in the gut with my head and end with a surprising kick in the nose.

We embrace and I am handed the berimbow. I press the gourd against my stomach, smooth the stone, shake my rattle and bang on the steel strings. They shout “cantar, cantar.” I sing, my voice drowned in the strong chorus. The bahia ends and we embrace and wish each other well. Fireworks start far off in the sky and they start to play samba. I samba till my feet can´t spring off the ground anymore.

Today (Sunday) I went to the nearby shanty neighborhood to visit the families of the children I work with. I buy bags of bananas and mangos and lots of candy. They show me around their one-room cardboard and wood scrap dirt floor house with pride and excitement. “Mira Maestra esto es mi osito” they pick up a dirt caked teddy bear and climb into my arms with it while giving my kisses on my cheek. We play with the ratty six-week-old puppies and build a castle from the coconut scrap mountain building outside. We play soccer and talk about who will win the game today Chivas or Pumas, careful not to kick the ball into the huge garbage pits that are literally bubbling like a swamp.

“Chivas, ellos son chillos,” they answer. As I ride from one house to the next, small faces peek over the old fences and wave. I go to visit my little friend Gustavo, we play boracho. I twirl him till he is dizzy and he tries to stumble around and chase me while yelling boracho. A boracho is a drunk. They say their dads are borachos and they live in the United States, getting manual labor jobs off the street corner. Some find new wives and never return, like my little student Adrianna. Her mama just tells her that her dad is dead. When she gets cranky and does not want to listen she starts crying for her papa, I hold her and tell her about princesses. Las princesas.

I give then hugs and tell them I will see them tomorrow and we will practice playing our bean filled toilet paper roll instruments while dancing and singing. We will play outside in the mud kitchen and draw pictures of our houses.

As a leave I see the mounds of broken cerveza bottles on the street, and the little children using them as toys. I enter the busy market of fruit and raw meat. I glance through the stands of pirated movies and music. The Lord of the Rings trilogy on one disk. And the new photocopy arrivals of Apocalypto. I walk down the slippery cobblestone street and watch the barefoot hippies run for cover, and the indigenous vendors quickly pack up their handmade goods. The taxis swerve by sliding along the slippery wet street, plashing the brightly painted buildings.

Sunday is quiet and shut down, everyone is resting for Monday. My Monday will be filled with two capoiera classes and volunteering. Another week in Mexico….

Contemplating Suffering Costa Rica

From a student volunteering at an environmental project in very rural Costa Rica during her LEAPYEAR internship – reflecting on the nature of suffering and the difference between her internship site, and the world that she comes from:

I have recently been thinking a lot about suffering. I see these people living around me and I wonder what they are thinking, do they hope for a better life for themselves, their children? What would a better life entail? Are they content with their situation? What are their wishes, their dreams?

I am appreciating this simple life, but I have another life to return to, one with different possibilities. And are their lives that of simplicity or that of suffering? It doesn’t seem fair that some must succumb to hunger, malnutrition, unsanitary living conditions. Why was I given such an easy life? I try to ask but it gets lost in translation. I don’t know how to word the question without offending them. I’m not passing judgment on their lives, I just wonder.

Perhaps this is a bigger question than is meant for me to understand, perhaps this is God’s business, but if anyone has any thoughts please share…

I send my love….

AIDS Work in Tanzania

There is a whole generation of children in Africa that is being born as orphans with AIDS. This is from a student doing volunteer service work at an AIDS hospice in Tanzania during her alternative year of college:

Letting go…

Keep in mind I had a wonderful day in a Maasai village and jungle romping into a hidden waterfall today… rainbows, tribal meals, stunning views, rural village walks and crazy sights.. but I needed one day off…

because yesterday….

I walked in the heat through a different route for some reason, mostly because I had to thank grandfather tree for his roots and stillness…
Stopped along the way to hang with the Good Hope orphans and do some tutoring, they were pleased to sing silly songs and play with flash cards and broken second-language charades. I finally reached the tree after my neighborhood stop off and the tree was magnificent and the moments I shared this morning were peaceful and still….

Back to town and the world is rushing… glue huffing street kids with half their brains left ask me for cash… a man grabs me drunk “Muzungu… giva me my ziwadi!!!”

“Toka… hapana muzungu, nani Zia” I say as I walk forward. He yells something else as I walk by. The weather is chaotic today dark clouds and forceful winds stir the ghettos and slum streets… “shanty town reggae. mama, not so expensive… kwa brembo… you married?” “Yes… and I’m happy and I have three kids and I don’t want a divorce…”

I walk through Kijenge the slum bordering my hospice. The roads are an exotic blend of fluid mud and jutting boulders and I am still attempting to walk fast through the sloppy burning rubbish scented streets as to avoid hassle and falling simultaneously. I make it just as the storm hits to St. Lucia’s. I pound on the huge black Iron gate that keeps the slum out and the terminally ill in… Finally after the rain had really started to pour a mama comes to the gate.

The kids jump up from their Ugali and show me their little hands coated in slop from chakula with a feisty self-righteous glint in their eyes. They are proud of their theatrics and nonsense. I sit down to give them kisses and hugs. I ask them each how they are and how they feel. Stella asks me why I wasn’t there on Saturdays too, and wonders if I can just stay from now on… “Tafadali… is Julianna she very njah,” Bibi says handing me a goopy bowl of shit food.

“Ni sawa,” I go to feed her.. The room is dark and the storm is shaking the curtains and chickens about the room as I try to spoon feed Juliana through her fits of wailing. I put my hand on her chest and stare into her eyes.. “apa Juliana, ni sawa… wewe apa na mimi pia (here Juliana, your here, it’s okay, your here and so am I)” I take a huge breath and hold her eye contact. “I know you hurt, I know it’s painful, but stay with me.” I speak softly to her with focused love and intent on her… she knows and calms herself… Juliana has wicked scoliosis and she is completely crippled from it on top of being a 28 year old rape victim and severely mentally and physically disabled. She has been my greatest teacher.

The back room where she lives is where all of the inpatients stay as well…this includes our most recent additions of an older mama with elephantiasis and a VERY sick late twenties mama who was a prostitute. The only requirements for St. Lucia is that you are extremely poor and AIDS/HIV+.

One mama has been here for maybe a week now… never said a word she is extremely sick. She lies naked on the ‘hospital bed’ which is more like a bench and lives off of IVs. Her breathing on this particular day was raspy and erratic, sounding almost like air leaving an 30 year old raft with huge pauses in between. Her skin is lax and pasty and her eyes contain no white.. just beige and blood red. Even her breasts have shriveled from illness and emaciated flesh that is now her entire body. This mama, she stares at me as I speak to Juliana from the mirror I sit in front of. She can see my every movement…

I spend a lot of time in here with these women, because no one will chat with them.. I spend time rubbing their ears and backs and chasing chickens from their deathbeds… But this mama she is watching me so closely. The shadows spill into the room darker now. For a moment the room becomes eerily quiet. Mama is staring at me straight into my eyes as I she heaves and wheezes.

Her eyes focus onto mine and for a moment her pain the heat of her forehead and her fear all rip straight into me. I sat there staring directly into her eyes. The world melted and the storm halted and her breath leaked out… and I saw it. The moment her soul left her body in the most excruciatingly beautiful retreat. Her tormented body and forgotten life trapped and strapped to the bloody needle and the rigid bed.. but her soul danced out of her. Her eyes so fuzzy, dropped, becoming heavy glass marbles in her sockets and skull.

Literally the next moment the light stretched through the clouds and life re-entered the slums. The image is burned into me now though. Her darkened heavy irises weighing straight onto me as she gazed at her last image of life… my reflection as I held a crappy plastic bowl full of ugali soup and bean porridge for Juliana. The locking of our eyes the send off of her world… I have never seen anything die before. I have never seen the moment the most feared transition occurs.

But perhaps what is scariest.. is how absolutely beautiful I remember it being. And how I breathed in so deeply when the pain of her life had finally left her body. I walked toward her and checked her pulse.. sure enough she was gone.

I told Bibi. Then I sat down beside Connie our youngest HIV orphan.. “Mama Zia,” she is just learning to speak so I am flattered. Connie sensing I am feeling intensely walks forward on the bed to my lap and kisses my cheek and gives me the sweetest baby hug imaginable. She curls up in my lap as I sing her ‘Redemption Song’ till she falls asleep. God I love her so much. I love her and Juliana and Stella and Moody and Hilda, and Nashma and David and Mama Joshua and Bibi and Jackie, and James, and Bariki, and etc… sooooooo much. My heart swells in my chest because I have never felt such intensity, love and responsibility before. I love these kids. I love these people. St. Lucia’s feels like home now and I can’t keep away, even on weekends. I am absolutely in love with them, even though it tears me to pieces sometimes. I am so in love with them all I can’t stay away.

Autistic kids in Vietnam

From a 2007 LEAPYEAR student whose internship involved service to autistic children in Vietnam. He was exploring the possibility of a career working with people with disabilities:

I have been working with children with Autism for two full days a week. There are now 11 students all under the age of 6 or 7. It has been really challenging and there were times I felt like I wasn’t making an impact. It is so difficult to feel or sense impact when the children are in a world of their own. They don’t turn their head when I walk in the classroom, they don’t look at me in the eye when I am gazing into theirs, they don’t smile back when I smile, they don’t even pause to let me hug them. It was all very challenging, but exactly what I needed. For someone who thrives on validation and such, it was a good time to be more focused on simplicity and details. Everyday, I didn’t give up with trying to develop some kind of communication with the children. I kept going not because I believed anything would happen, but because I knew I had an obligation with my curriculum. Just the other day, everything came together…

There was a big conference at the Morning Star Center the other day. Two Danish doctors, and the Danish students who also volunteer with me, gave a speech on the Marte Meo Method. The whole theory is based on the idea that children are competent (right from birth) and that they are communicating with us. Because of this, we need to communicate with them, acknowledge their way of communicating, create a two-way conversation that they are engaged with. I was completely inspired. It was very detailed, but the basic principles really reminded me of Moving Truth and the exploration of it all. I had been using those basic principles during my time at the Morning Star Center, but now, with those extra details (thanks to Marte Meo) I felt like things were really coming together.

Right after the conference, I went into my classroom. I more courageously explored with the children. The teachers laughed at me but I didn’t care because I was completely engaged with the children (one at a time of course). By the end of the class I realized I had developed some kind of communication with nearly all of the children. Ming Quan would shout gibberish and I would shout back. We yelled like this for nearly five minutes and guess what? He even looked into my eyes! Ngoc Quan played hand games with my left hand as he sat on my lap. Ngoc Ming clung to me and I squeezed him back letting him know that yes, I felt him communicating with me. Ming Quan ( a different boy) reached his hands up to me for me to hold him. He has never even acknowledged me before. Ging Gong sat in my lap and then I would hold out my hand. He would slap it and then giggle. Then I would laugh. Then we would do it over and over. When I stopped, he wanted to do it even more. It was all very simple, but it was all a level of communication that I had never reached with these children. It’s amazing how just walking into the classroom, carrying inspiration and a new intention, greatly changed how the children reacted to me.

I also read a really good book on Autism, called Send in the Idiots. Great insight and I’m trying to really bring it all together. I never expected to learn so much. I feel truly blessed to be learning the things I am learning (and LOVING it too!).

Teaching English in Uganda

From a 2007 student teaching children English in Uganda as her three-month internship – part of her second semester during LEAPYEAR – her alternative experiential first year of college:

Well, I’ve started working at the nursery school for kids 4-7 years old.

I have the older kids and I teach them numbers and English.
Before I started teaching I sat in on two days of class to see how things are done. The whole day was in English. So I thought, Great! They know English!
SO…. then I’m given my class: 4 boys, 6 girls.
I ask them what day it is. They say “Yes.”
I ask them, is it Thursday? They say “Yes.”
I ask, Okay, so what day is it? They say “Yes” again.
SO I change my question.
What’s the date today? Some say “Yes” some say “No.”
I say, Is today the 8th of February? They say “The 8th of February.”
At this point, I get it… they don’t know English!
Not a thing! Nothing! They are very good at repeating and singing made up songs in English but they don’t know anything.

And so my day continues. I point make a lot of hand gestures try to explain how to add and subtract without using vocal communication. They usually just laugh and say “Yes.”

They call me “Auntie Eva.” They point at my tattoos of the world. They touch my nose ring, my necklace, my ring, my bracelets, they hold my hand. Some tap me and run, they’re the shy ones.

One girl is new, I have no idea what her name is. But it’s her first time at school ever. She was in her best dress (it looked like a 2nd generation hand-me-down Easter dress) and her hair was done. She was crying, wanting to go home. I tried to make her feel better. Tell her she was fine. Then she peed on my lap.

There’s a girl in my class that I’m contemplating stealing and taking home. She’s the smartest in class, no doubt. She’ll probably never get to go to university though. Her name is Angle. Pronounced like the heavenly figure (Angel), but she spells it like the geometry term. She has the biggest gap teeth I’ve ever seen. And when she smiles she scowls instead. She mimics me and I let her because she’s so damn cute!

Some kids don’t have shoes, some wear the same dress every day. Some can’t afford to bring lunch, but everyone shares.

I went to a home visit. An elderly woman lives alone with 5 kids. 3 are orphans that she took in. She has NO income but she takes care of all them.

I’m still waiting to receive my bike. It’s waiting to be repaired. It looks twice as old as I am. Very reliable… I’m sure!

I wake up in the morning to roosters. I spend my morning and afternoons fighting bugs, slugs, spiders, and other unidentifiable creepy-crawlies. I spend my mornings teaching non-English-speaking kids. And evenings visiting homes, counseling a youth group, or handing out supplies at the hospital. I might go into a nearby village to teach once a week as well. Who knows! I’m trying to stay busy so I don’t get too lonely!