They say the Peace Corps is a series of high highs and low lows; an extreme experience. It’s true–there are moments when I’m “walking on sunshine” and I literally feel like part of a Disney musical number–the kind where everyone waves as you dance along–and others when I just want to go far, far away to a colder climate with pedestrian crosswalks and toilet seats.
But the character-building, relationship-forming lump sum of ordinary good days are what completes the Peace Corps experience.
It was just a day of ordinary, sweet moments.
I didn’t work until the afternoon today, so I spent the morning getting to-do list items checked off: buy flights home for Christmas, send emails, plan for 10th grade economy lesson.
I stayed in my pajamas and listened to Jorge Drexler and made arepas by hand like my host mom taught me.
This afternoon, I taught two phonics classes to 10th grade. We’ve been wanting to focus on pronunciation, so I did a couple of activities to get the kids to practice reading aloud, spelling, listening and reciting the alphabet.
The highlight of this was realizing that both classes had retained what I taught them about vowels over a month ago!
(The other highlight was making a roomful of Spanish-speakers say the word “bubbles.” It’s adorably hilarious.)
One of these classes is the section that we had a lot of trouble the last time we had class, and I was a little nervous to face them again.
I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, when they maintained a semblance of order and mostly stayed on task!
It was one of those rare teaching moments where you can see in the students’ faces that they are right with you, understanding and learning. One of them even came up after to tell me how useful the lesson had been! If that’s not a high point, I don’t know what is.
The best part is that this was a truly Peace Corps-style class: the only resources I needed were a whiteboard, a marker and an eraser (and those could be switched to paper and pen).
(It was also PC-style because it involved 40 students and two teachers sweating their asses off while trying to tackle one of the most absurd subjects in academia.)
Of course, by the time the last class was over, they had already closed up the office–and my bike with it, so I had to walk home, but all the way home, I kept stopping to talk to people: my old neighbors from my first barrio, my students walking their dogs, the neighborhood kids who used to beat me in soccer, a proud new grandma on the corner.
“estas perdida, Shanna!” they all told me they’ve missed me and I promised to come back as soon as I can. I love that they know my name–I sadly don’t remember the many names I’ve learned, but their smiling faces stick with me!
All the way home, feeling loved and connected. But wait! The story isn’t over!
I walked into the house and my little host mom cheerfully asked if I’d like a fresh coconut. Is there any other answer besides a huge YES!?!
She poked a hole in the top with a kitchen knife, stuck in a straw and handed it to me.
When I finished the sweet, mild juice, she said, now let’s crack it open for the meat! We headed to our cramped patio area, right next to the dining room, and found a patch of concrete between the car and the steps up into the living area.
I was not about to try to crack a coconut on the ground, so I let the expert handle it. “This looks dangerous!” I told her.
“Nah!” She said with sparkling eyes. “We just throw it down and it cracks, like this…” She put all of her 5-foot-nothing strength into the motion, sending the coconut into the ground in front of her platform sandals.
The coconut hit the concrete with a hollow sound, bounced high into the air and sailed into the dining room, hitting the table with a SMACK that scared even the dog!
I looked and her and she looked at me. We looked at the table, at the coconut, then back at each other, wide eyed.
Then we busted up laughing.
“That’s a tough coconut,” she said airily, and picked up the thing to try again.
“Better you than me!” I said as I went to check on her antique table.
Dulce the boxer just stated at her two uncontrollable humans.