I had been in this tiny indigenous community for less than a week when I arrived at the elementary school, eager to begin the first day of my apprenticeship. I was a little anxious about the fact that I hadn’t the slightest clue as to what I was going to be doing, but faithfully optimistic nonetheless.
This was only the second time I had met with my advisor, the director of the school here in Zuleta, Señor Moya. Our first encounter over our welcome lunch, while filled with several entertaining exchanges about food and the weather, didn’t yield much clarification about my apprenticeship. I’m still not incredibly clear what his expectations are of me, but I know I’m going to be teaching English and physical education. Señor Moya is an enchanting fellow with a good sense of humor and a warm personality, but he’s not very direct. Even today, when I probe him about petty logistics and such, he responds with a deer-in-the-headlights look followed by hasty assurance that I really shouldn’t worry about it. This sounds great right? Who wouldn’t want such a laid-back boss? But with my evident control issues, I simply cannot function without a complete and accurate outline of all the facts. When I need to know certain critical details- like the school’s schedule or whether or not I need to have six lesson plans ready by tomorrow- this lack of clarity can be a bit exasperating. However, I’ve come to accept this obscurity as just another aspect of my work here, as sure as the shriek of the roosters waking me up every morning at the crack of dawn. And I’m hopeful that working in the school with Señor Moya will help me to let go of my overbearing desire to be in control.
I paraded through the entrance of the school with a gracious smile plastered on my face as I exchanged glances and hellos with all the new faces. After a brief, yet unnerving, introduction in front of the entire school, I followed Señor Moya into his classroom, where he teaches the superego of the student body- the seventh grade. I had yet to hear any proposition of my work for the day, so I tagged along with him, hoping to stumble upon some hint of my assignment. As he walked around the room, he chattered away using a whole glossary of verbs and nouns I didn’t know, lulling me into my typical befuddled stupor. My Spanish- while it has improved vastly over the past month- is not quite at that level of relaxed communication that everyone else here seems to boast. I try my best to get by with every other phrase I pick up on, but I’m often left trailing behind every word like a lost puppy. When I absolutely can’t understand something, I force myself to utter those demeaning words of bewilderment- “No entiendo.” But, I’ve decided this is my absolute last resort. If I said this as often as I really wanted, conversation would come to a screeching halt and I’m fairly certain no one would want to talk with me. I figure it’s better to listen and try to go along with the theme of the discussion, filling in blanks as best as I can. (When in doubt, I usually talk about being cold. Everyone here seems to bring up the chilly climate in every conversation, so it’s a justifiable transition.)
As Señor Moya addressed me in front of the class, I put forth every effort into understanding what he was saying. But I figured I must have missed something important when he handed me three whiteboard markers, gave me an encouraging nod with a grin, and strolled out the door nonchalantly. I just stood there for a few minutes in silence absorbing the reality of this daunting situation, trying to throw together some desperate plan of action as the students swarmed me with questions and rummaged through my bag. I had been left in charge of thirty rambunctious students without any direction, without the day’s schedule, without an adequate Spanish vocabulary, and without a clue as to what I was supposed to do. But, I knew I couldn’t stall forever. Sometimes you just have to grab the reigns and steer that horse somewhere, even if you don’t know where you’re headed. So I scrounged through my flustered thoughts to find something I knew: a silly introductory game from gymnastics class. With the first spurt of laughter in the room, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. And from there- although it was far from painless- I managed to make it through the rest of the day on a little spontaneity, a positive attitude, and a prayer. I have a feeling I’m going to need a lot more where that came from.