Thursday, July 16, 2009

It’s a Jungle out there…including the politics!

I have returned to La Ceiba, Honduras to volunteer as a teacher in the Jungle School in the rural Cangrejal River valley. There is all the same beauty, and all the same dirt, as when I left three and a half months ago. It is amazing how fast things change until you realize that they really don’t change at all.

I am once again teaching 2nd and 3rd grades, although I have fewer students than before. Apparently many students haven’t come to school for the last few weeks due to a variety of concerns, which are really just easy smokescreens for not feeling that school is particularly important, if you ask me. For starters, there has been the political crisis since the end of June and there was also a robbery at the school and the robber was associated with a couple of families, so those children are not coming to school to avoid the gossip and social reactions. Most of my students, however, have trickled back, and I have eleven of the original sixteen on a fairly regular basis. I have no reason to really fear for my safety as a result of either of the above situations, so I see no reason to deny these kids a decent education while they can get it.

I’m sure people want to hear about the situation here because from the news it looks like people are sporting strong feelings and are very polarized. I’ve seen neither hide nor hair of a demonstration. The loudest voices (besides the kids at school) is the cat in heat outside my house right now (…I’ve been joking that I am going to start going to bars and yowling to see if it helps me get a boyfriend.) The Ceiba area public school teachers have finally agreed to stop striking in support of Zelaya and are returning to their classrooms this Monday. I don’t know if that agreement extends to the rest of the country or not.

Otherwise things are quiet here. People would have to actually rely on their government for consistency and support to make them terribly concerned about the situation. In San Pedro Sula (3 ½ hours away) and Tegucigalpa (7 hours away) there are demonstrations still going on by Zelaya supporters which aren’t violent but do close down the highways. According to the polls, half the people don’t like Zelaya and half the people don’t like Michelletti, but what the polls leave out is that only a tiny fraction of people believe that at the end of this anything will change. Here the situation is not called a “military coup.” It is called a “political crisis.” As I understand it from the Honduran press and people I have spoken with, it is widely understood here is that Zelaya’s arrest order was issued by the Supreme Court prior to his ouster, that the military chose to exile him to keep the country from erupting in violence, and that Michelletti does not intend to hold on to the presidency but pass it to whoever wins the previously scheduled elections in November. Politicians do awful corrupt things here all the time and you just have to keep going about your day, it seems. People’s main concern seems to be that things at least not get any worse.

So everything is the same, if not actually quieter than before. There has been a curfew on and off. You never know what time it starts, so the bar scene is lots of people asking everybody else “a que hora es la toque de queda?” And a lot of shrugs in response. On the bad side, it isn’t feasible nor just to keep such policy in effect. On the good side, there has been far less crime here as a result of people not being out on the streets at all hours of the night. The curfew has been lifted for the last few days but is going back into effect again as the rhetoric heats up in the approach to the next set of political negotiations mediated by Costa Rica’s president. It effects me less than not at all because I fall asleep by 9:30 each night, absolutely exhausted after a day at school and an evening of planning the next day.

But now the important things…my kids! They are doing quite well most of them. Their classroom discipline has gotten a bit slack since I left, but without adequate volunteers the Honduran teachers often leave them fairly unsupervised to copy pages from their books. The thinking here is that reading and writing the material will help them learn it. But for a second grader, only semi-able to read aloud at all, copying the material is a slow . word . for . word . process . and . they . can’t . keep . track . of . what . they . are . reading . you . get . the . idea? I can’t entirely blame the teachers. If there aren’t volunteers, they are faced with teaching up to 4 grades by themselves. It is impossible to lead even two classes at the same time when they have completely different materials provided by the government and the kids are incapable of following directions on their own. (Don’t get me started on the fact that the government textbooks are way too complicated for their intended grade levels…WAY too complicated.)

So, I have come to a very seemingly simple concept for my time here…to get the kids following directions and reading for content. Crazy ain’t it? Actually finding the solution in the paragraph above the question? But this is almost entirely beyond many of my kids. This weekend I’ll be researching the process for reading comprehension in American schools and start culling or creating materials and strategies to use with my kids. I’ll keep you posted on my successes (if there are any.) If nothing else, my following directions curriculum can involve a fair deal of games like “Mother may I?” and “Simon Says…” (except they’ll have to be more like “¿Papá puedo?” and “Diego Dice...”)

Worry not, those who know my penchant of activism, I am not involving myself politically in any way. It is not my country and none of my business ultimately. I don’t even entertain the thought of asking questions about the situation even with those I already know quite well. That said, I was struck by the hilarity of third world politics today while teaching Social Studies to my second graders. We were reading about public services: drinking water, electricity, phone and postal service, streets and bridges, trash pickup, waste removal, basic education, and health services. My kids do not have access, at least not on any regular basis, to a single one of these things. They live without running water, without electricity, without postal service…they burn their trash…they go to a private charity school because they can’t afford the “public” education…they walk miles on difficult mountain paths to get to school because there are no roads to their houses…they only go to a doctor for an emergency…the family might have a cell phone but they rarely have minutes to make calls and the kids must bring it to school where there is electricity to charge it…and here is the government telling them what they should be providing…I MEAN REALLY GOVERNMENT TEXTBOOK PEOPLE!!!! I can’t help wondering who wrote the book (blind conservatives or ironic liberals perhaps?) The poor kids just looked at me like I was crazy…didn’t I know what life was really like? I assured them that I do know. We talked about how many of these things aren’t true in the valley where the school is and the kids live…and that some of the things aren’t true in the cities, either. And I presented the question for them to think about, should the government provide these things? I assured them they didn’t have to answer in front of anyone but encouraged them to think about it. I’ll see if we ever get around to the discussion again.

So, maybe I should retract my statement about not getting politically involved, but I will hold to the fact that it was not my fault. It was on page 42 of the government issued 2nd Grade Social Studies textbook!

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