7th graders

Schoolday in the life

My days start at 5:05 a.m. I’m the first awake in our four person household. I grab my smart phone, slip on my house flip flops, tug my REI quick dry towel from the nail in the side of the desk, and sneak my toiletries bag from my cubby. Outside the room I share with Vee, I fill my water bottle with cold potable water from the pitcher in the fridge. We buy the potable water in 5 gallon jugs or tambos. The jug is kept on a broken chair outside the fridge. I like thinking that lifting it to fill the pitcher will make my arms more muscular.

Water, bag, and towel in hand, I head to the girls bathroom. (There is a boys bathroom for our male housemate, thank goodness, because he is 20 and attends to his hygiene in an age predictive manner. But it’s not perfect—the wall between the rooms does not go to the ceiling.) While peeing, I turn on the sink faucet to see if the water is working this morning. If it rained the night before, the water is probably off. Supposedly the rain overwhelms the sewer system and officials turn off the water supply because they can’t guarantee the water is safe. I put my used TP into the pink and white trashcan and flush the toilet normally or with a bucket of water from the pila. I stopper the sink with a bottle cap and wash my hard contacts. If the water is on, I rinse with the non-potable faucet water, then water from my bottle. If it’s not on, I just use the potable water. The shower faucet is a thin white PVC pipe jutting through the exterior wall. It’s operated by a small lever on the top, labeled ‘cold’ by way of a thin blue rubber covering. Sometimes the water is a trickle, other times it’s a sputtering spray. Its temperature ranges from cool to goose bumps cold. I take a breath and dive under. I don’t complain or notice it much; it’s a fact of my life.

After shower, after my feet are slightly cleaner, I clear the teensy ants from a plate and breakfast on a quarter of papaya and a hard-boiled egg. I open the glass slats at the front of the house to welcome the slight morning breeze. The sunlight grows quickly. The street is relatively quiet. I check my phone in hopes of electronic missives from my other life, then browse reddit; aww pics are too slow to load.

Then comes all the other routine morning activities like dressing, pig tailing, applying essential mosquito repellant to my legs, and skimming that day’s lesson plans to see if candy prizes are required. I pack a snack for recreo and about two bathroom trips worth of toilet paper so I don’t have to rely on the office roll, which might be nonexistent that day, for my tiny bladder. Then it’s 6:30 and off to the Big House where the busito, a type of van that serves as hired transport, picks us up. I would much rather walk the mile or so to school but the school funds this ride. Also, the distance includes a not so safe stretch of road.

Sitting near the front of the busito has advantages; I’m one of the first in the office to print documents or make copies, not that the two printers or the copier are reliable, and they certainly are not fast. Some days only one of the two printers works, some days neither. Only one recognizes my flashdrive so I also save my documents on Vee’s. I handwrite my worksheets and tests if I can. The copier jams at least once per copy group and more if I’m trying to copy double-sided to “conserve” paper (quotes because a lot of those copies get trashed). So I always have a back up plan in case a worksheet or picture doesn’t happen that morning. I bring my own paper since we are restricted to the amount of copies we can make each day (one page per student per grade, so if Vee makes copies for 8th grade, I can’t use the school paper that day).

Copies made or not, I grab some TP from the office roll and venture to the girls bathroom, where only one stall is adult sized; the rest require me to grab onto the wall for balance as I squat awkwardly over the seatless toilets in such a way that my head or knees don’t hit the door. A trash barrel full of water and empty jumbo condiment containers is stationed outside the bathroom. I fill a container with water and then bucket flush the toilet. Some kids don’t do this; it’s obvious. The floors in the bathroom are wet from the water splashing into the toilets. (Now, there is a “teacher” bathroom with toilet seats and privacy, but it’s often locked and the loos are shared with the little kids, who can make a mess. I’ll take the discomfort but reliability of the girls loo.)

Then it’s to the teachers room to review, organize, or, depending on my mood, just plain hide until 7:15 a.m. and the first bell. And we’re off! Mondays start with Acto Civico, a school wide assembly that includes a prayer, the national anthem and pledge, presentation of Star of the Week for the top English and Spanish students in each grade, and a Honduran teacher rambling on a topic like respect or community. At 45 minutes, the kids standing the entire time, occasionally in the sun, this assembly is much too long. Often the speakers can’t be heard. Two kids are on stage the whole time, holding the national flag. My 7th graders squirm, talk, and whine. But, on the plus side, the assembly fills first period.

I start and end my days with 7th grade. Between these times I hop among the 7th, 8th, and 9th grade classrooms. I shout over the sound of four classes of kids and strain to hear my students. I sweat and gulp water. On off periods (I teach an average of five classes) I grade and plan in the teachers room or an outside table. Recreo includes the snack I brought and, inevitably, because I’m frikkin’ hungry, fried plantains with beans and disgusting cheese shreds, which don’t energize so much as leave me yawning, but food options are limited and always fried. The food at lunch, where half of the volunteers choose beans over meat since the latter tends toward toughness, usually consists of rice, beans, tortillas, and some sort of salad or fried vegetables or tajadas, and salt, always salt. The volunteer coordinator, who assembles our lunches, considerately leaves off wheat-containing foods from my plate. Occasionally there is a fresh squeezed juice—melon or pineapple—and always a sugary drink in plastic bags that you open by biting off a corner (true of many drinks here, including water. Empty bags litter the streets.). I avoid these. All the volunteers wish for more vegetables, but at least our food is free. During these breaks we are responsible for making sure the big kids don’t trample the little. Kids stop by to chat with their favorite teachers. A few of my 7th grade girls visit me, more often Vee, of whom they are huge fans.

School ends at 2:10. I sit on the low wall outside my classroom, sapped of verbal energy and longing for a small dark room to collapse in, and prevent my kids from rushing the gate. Kids are picked up by busitos, moto-taxis, and family members. Two fruit vendors and an ice cream vendor linger outside the double-doored gate, awaiting the mob of kids and adults, including me (green mango slices with barbecue sauce and salt, 5 lemps). The volunteer teachers—most of the Honduran staff is long gone to the public schools, where the second shift starts at 12—wait until the last kid is picked up. Inevitably, a ride is late and two volunteers wait at the school with the kid, and the rest of us, except those who accompany kids to their houses for tutoring, high-five Don Chepe, the daytime guard, and return home on the busito, driven by the father of a smooth talking and self-proclaimed womanizing 8th grader.

I invariably get off the busito at the town square to pick up produce, fresh tortillas, or school supplies. On Fridays I purchase a celebratory licuado (chocolate and banana or cornflake and papaya) from a small stand surrounded by a multicolored fence.

Once home, sweat drenched clothes are peeled off and replaced with boxers and a stretched out tank top held together with a safety pin. I make decaf coffee in my itty-bitty press (Thank you, care packages!) and allow myself a little time for texting and email and blog stat checking, maybe some feet washing—sandals + dirt + anti-mosquito spray = stinky—then it’s to the internet for research and lesson planning, unless the internet or power isn’t working, in which case I just hope that I have enough information for my next science lesson and look through old plans and notes for interesting English activities. The kids next door return home from school and start yelling and playing football, the ball regularly banging against their metal gate. The neighbor across the street blasts music or the next door neighbor parks his moto-taxi in front of the house to do the same. A little girl stops by our house multiple times per day to see my housemate Ky for her English lesson, to give her a gift for the lesson, and then to check on the time for the next day’s lesson, despite it always being at five. Ky’s room is in the back of the house; I answer the door. Vee is chatty. The house is disruptive, my focus tenuous. I wear earplugs almost constantly.

Dinner is simple, often ayote or broccoli and red beans and tomato and rice sautéed together in a battered pan on a match lit gas stove where the burners operate on high only, with avocado chunks stirred in.

I try to end lesson planning by 8 so I can have a little bit of reading time before bed at 9. It doesn’t always work that way, but that’s my goal. I clear my backpack and computer from the bed, shake dust and bugs from the sheet, turn the ceiling fan on high, and collapse onto the pillow.

And so another day is done.

Still here,



One thought on “Schoolday in the life

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