July 3, 2014 @ 10:47 p.m.
For the past month, people who knew about my El Salvador-Dominican Republic-Haiti-Georgia-Vermont travel plans have asked me, “Are you excited?”
Not exactly. Expectant felt more right and, in a way, I still am.
I expect nothing to happen other than conversations, laughter, good food, stories and poems, but I want something more from this experience.
Many of my students live between worlds, between the culture and language of school and the expectations of home. There is the language I want for them to master as speakers and writers and the tongue and culture they must also be fluent in.
I am sure that we all feel as if we live between parts of ourselves at some point, different ways of being for different people: our families, our friends, our partners, our coworkers, whomever we allow into our life. But this is a different kind of knowing.
Kevin, my coworker who helps guide students through the college application process and beyond high school, has helped coordinate the El Salvador leg of this trip. As we experience the generosity of his abuela Aminta, who is allowing us to stay in her house, lay in her hammocks, clog her toilets — not going to tell that story — and, sit with her under her trees and chat. Or, in my case, attempt to chat since my Spanish is not always ready for a conversation. I say no entiende and despacio, por favor a lot with her and others.
I really have to listen and, more importantly, listen in ways I am not accustomed to doing.
I listen to the literal words that are said, but because they are speaking so quickly, I really cannot do that; I have to catch the breath of what they are saying. If there is a word I do not understand, then I have to ask about what it means. If I still don’t understand, then I have to just roll with it because most of the people I speak with here do not understand what I’m talking about in English.
Perhaps this is a larger metaphor for what it means to be in another place and experience another culture. I must listen in order to understand, observe in order to experience.
When we arrived at the airport, Kevin, my coworker said, “Now you can know how our students feel.”
I felt some kind of way at the comment, at his own frustration at teachers who perhaps fall short in meeting the needs of our students who may not be fluent in our school’s version of American culture. I’m sure I have been that person at some point.
My grandma says only a hit dog hollers, meaning if someone makes a comment and it ain’t about you, then don’t defend yourself. So, if you do defend yourself, then more likely than not, yep, the person is talking about you.
In the moment, I did not have an answer for him and I am unsure if he was expecting one.
But now, listening to the night wind compete with abuela’s telenovela, thinking about the taste of fresh mango picked from the tree of Tia Nina, I can be reflective.
I do not think I can ever know how my students feel collectively or individually, but I can share an experience with them.
That’s what I aim to do.