Sunday, October 11, 2009

Silence Is Golden

Some very good days this week, especially Friday and yesterday. But we'll get to them in due time.

The news that I killed chickens still is in my mind. I'm mostly over it, though the one chicken that squawked in protest as I began cutting its neck is kind of haunting.

Aaaaanyway, Monday, day after the feast of St. Francis (we celebrated it on Sunday and it was a big deal), we went up to the Capuchin Postulant House in Ñaña to partake in their celebratory luncheon. It was a bountiful and delicious lunch, but it was even more cool to see the Capuchins all there, because they were genuinely glad to hang out together and celebrate that fraternal bond. I got to see Hermano Polo smile a bit more, which is nice, because he usually has to wear his stern or his very stern face at the Ciudad. Of course, when the subject turned to how to kill various animals painlessly, I kind of wished that lunch had happened beforehand. Definitely not a conversation I expected to have.

After that, I returned and worked in the Panadería, "helping" with the Pannetone-making. I mostly just followed the guy who knew the most around and he would occasionally tell me to do things, watch me do them, say, "No, no, Michael," show me a different way, then have me do something else. I was pretty effective at slamming cubes of lard and margarine into the table and proceeding to mix them together, which, along with my height, slowness at speaking, and hairy features, simply further contributes to a widespread (no factual basis for this) rumor among the folks here that I am a Neanderthal. I got to help add the fruit and raisins to the dough a couple of time part of the plastic bag got stuck in the mixer and went into the dough. The next day I was helping bag pannetone (see a connection? There actually isn't one, I said I wanted to see what the next steps in the process were, so they assigned me there). It's a tough thing, feeling like I have to constantly thank people for their patience. They're very good-natured, even in the midst of having to get stuff done, though, so that's very cool.

So that was Monday afternoon and Tuesday the whole day. Wednesday, I painted goal posts in the AM and helped dig a hole for depositing rocks and debris in the PM. Thursday was a no-school-day, so I basically just acted as supervisor for the various things the kids had to do. I still struggle with what I'm doing here, because there are just so many moments that I forget that it's not about me and I'm here for the kids. Sharing what I have as a basic human being and receiving from them the same, stripping away academic smarts (though it sometimes helps), technological knowledge (because it's kind of different here), and simply giving and receiving who we's a lot to take in. I'm not sure if that made any sense, but hopefully by now you're used to what I write not making a lot of sense.

But yeah, the current struggle is having myself follow suit with the idea of being here for them, being myself for them, and improving myself for them, because the idea of getting to the core (well, more or less, that's a lifelong journey) of who I am is a beautiful notion, but it's rather uncomfortable. Thus, my mind and my body protest very vocally. In the midst of this struggle came Friday, a day I really just wanted to not be there so that the kids would go out for the weekend and I could just veg. In the morning, I worked in the granja with the hens, feeding them and collecting eggs, but then I was called over to help clear debris, i.e., very large portions of tree. I had a little forklift (not one that you drive, but one whose lever you manually pump. They call it a "pato" here, which means "duck" literally, which I find hilarious), but it was a difficult slog. I was by myself doing this, and kinda just being an emotional turd, especially when I was told that I had to move the stuff farther away than I had, which meant going back and lifting everything by hand and carrying it to the new destination. When lunch rolled around, I felt a lot better (food can do that), and was honest enough to realize I was just bitter that I couldn't go on break early and had to plod along right up till the lunch hour. What? Do work? Who'd have thunk? That afternoon, I was assigned to finish the job, but I had the help of three kids. Here's where Friday became amazing. They were good workers, but also freaking hilarious. They would pile as many branches as they could onto the lift, then one would sit on the pile while the other two would lie down on it, and the two would push the lift forward with their legs while the one would steer. It was amusing to watch and I wish I'd had my camera. It was just so nice to have people there, and light-hearted ones, at that.

Saturday, which I've come to dread because the last two weeks it's meant cleaning the Comedor, which isn't a small task and usually leaves me frustrated with the kids who don't work too hard, was an interesting surprise, because Hno Polo asked me to accompany the kids to a session that some folks specializing in education were holding on punctuality. I tell ya, playing ice-breakers in another language is an interesting experience. Also, I found myself repeatedly thinking that punctuality is a nice quality, but so is knowing how to pay attention without opening your mouth, i.e., I was angry with some of my kids. They tried telling me afterward that that is just how people act according to custom, but I responded that the people who led the 5-year-olds have been chewing the little ones out for acting in a similar fashion. So maybe it's the custom for 3-year-olds, but for everybody else, it's just a sign that you don't have respect. They weren't impressed, because what does the gringo know? but they had to listen to me, because nobody wants to make the Neanderthal raise his voice, because he will either be intimidating or tell Hno Polo what's going on (or both), and those aren't pleasant options. The boys were also shameless, because the majority of the people in this presentation and workshop were girls, and so they would misbehave just so that the girls would grab their hands and tell them to be quiet. They were also very excited when one of the girls was the same age as me. They told me several times that she was within 5 months of my age, and they told her the same thing. The both of us being exasperated and entertained at the same time was the result. She asked me, "So, they're hard to handle, huh?" And I said, "Yeah, they're a bunch of miscreants," (in Spanish, clearly), and the kids were so overjoyed that I knew Spanish. I had been issuing threats to them all day, yet my ability to joke around was far more worthy of realizing I can sometimes speak the language. Hmmm.

So a couple of weeks ago we went to this restaurant Rustica which is on the beach, and I just have to think about it more...The night is dark enough and the sky uniformly cloudy that at a certain point, you can't distinguish the water from the sky. It's amazing what the clouds will do. I'll get pictures up someday to show you guys what Ciudad's view of San Juan de Miraflores looks like on a regular day, maybe in the morning, and what it looks like on a sunny day. When the daylight is able to pierce through the clouds, you see the city for what it really is. It's not just a bunch of hills completely covered with houses and radio towers and the like: when the sun pierces through, a veil is lifted and you can see the graceful green mountains sloping into the hills, the green intact and unsullied by humans, though still covered in a bit of a haze that's unavoidable in a city of about 8 million people. On the days of gray, the days of haze, when it's chilly and unpleasant and I feel totally isolated, I know that summer's around the corner and brings a a heck of heat and illumination. The same thing with the beach and really with the whole city: when the sun is out, it's ten billion times more amazing. I pray that the days I have like Friday morning can have the same hope in joy and meaning as I have knowledge and assurance of sunny days and gorgeous vistas, that the days when there's light are a closer approximation to what the place is than the days without it.

Sappy enough for you? I'm choking over here. But really, I do hope for that.

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