In my previous life as a paralegal, I arrived at work by 730am, but rarely took my lunch before 2pm. This way, once lunch was done, I had less than two hours left in my workday. That half hour lunch was my oasis of relief, and the promise of less than two hours more of work served as my proverbial carrot (cake). Not very healthy.
Today, during our unending teachers’ meeting, a volunteer commented that she’d rather our communal breakfast were skipped or eaten while the meeting carried on, in favor of it ending earlier. This struck me as very U.S. American, with our business lunches and working breakfasts and networking happy hours. Let’s dilute a pleasurable activity by combining it with an unpleasurable one. Let’s squeeze more work in.
During his visit, my partner in crime, a.k.a. Jason, marveled at the Honduran love for snacks. Over the course of a three hour ride from Santa Rosa to Las Ruinas, our rapidito stopped to be boarded by snack vendors about five times. The vendors swarmed aboard or approached the windows and shook baggies of candied popcorn, mango slices, coconut water, sodas, and other unidentifiable-to-gringos juices and fruits, Despite the previous snack stop having been only an hour, half hour, or, in one case, five minutes, earlier, the vendors always found buyers. Meanwhile, Jason and I desired only that the rapidito reach the endpoint as quickly as possible.
Bus rides are boring and often uncomfortable if they’re at the full-to-bursting stage. Perhaps that’s why the vendors are so popular—a spot of pleasure. Teachers’ meetings are boring. But breakfast? A break in the monotony. In both cases, the totality of the event is extended, but there is a little good mixed in. Without the snacks or breakfast? It’s all just a slog.
A few years ago I read an anecdote about a road trip taken from one state to another. The original plan had been to drive straight through but somehow—a more spirited companion?—they’d gone the long way, through landmarks and sights, and the trip was longer but much more enjoyable than planned. The point was that the pleasure of the journey counts just as much, if not more, than how fast you get from here to whatever there you’re seeking. The how matters as much as the why and what. I think about this story often, in a literal sense, when I’m impatient to get to a location and a less than expedient route is taken, and in a figurative sense, as I take my winding route to what ever professional end I decide on. Here, asking a neighbor to borrow a chair begins with discussion of the day and weather and family, and eventually the favor is requested. Pleasure in the process.
My appreciation for the journey doesn’t extend so far as 8am teachers’ meetings, however. Today, the Honduran staff chattered and joked and teased each other for half an hour about the activities they would assemble for Dia del Idioma. A day that only they, and not the volunteers, are involved in. Meanwhile, the rest of us doodled. Nearly all discussions devolve like this, into bromas and chistes and unrelated segues, and the meeting is twice as long as it needs to be. Sure, there are volunteer-only lead events, but we discuss those at our own weekly meeting, which is much more focused but probably a lot less fun. Which is better? If we all enjoyed the diversions, if we were all friends, I’d wholeheartedly support the Honduran approach, but in this reality, my crank-o-meter rises the longer the laughter goes on. After all, the volunteers didn’t take up the meeting discussing what they would each make for International Day, as the Honduran staff did.
As I looked on from my side of the room, and, I swear, from a completely uncomfortable plastic chair and not from some perch of superiority and disgust, which seems to be the tone here, I caught a whiff of my classroom environment. The students understand lecture and note taking (not fun) and playtime (whoa! extreme chaotic fun), but not the grayer points between the poles, like discussion and structured hands-on learning, which often explode into chaotic play. It would be too strong to say that our teachers’ meetings are this way, but the reflection does pass through gently rocking waters. It’s obvious that so many of my challenges are cultural. The division between work and play is blurry. Part of the meeting was spent reminding the (Honduran) teachers not to play on their cell phones during classes. For the past several meetings, a reminder has been issued to the (Honduran) teachers that detention is not a time to chat and gossip with the students, which is why the volunteer teachers give out only lunch detention, which we supervise. Also, BTW, for the third time, detention has been moved out of the library and into a classroom, because the library is too small. And please make sure your kids clean up whatever mess they make during your art class, before the bell rings. And please stop letting the big kids out early for lunch because they trample the little kids. And Miss X, no wonder your son talks through my class because you have just talked through this entire meeting. The administration admits that they don’t separate personal and professional, so constructive criticism is a tripwire.
I can’t deny that during meetings like this, the thoughts cross my mind, No wonder the students act as they do. No wonder the country is so chaotic and behind. Act like grownups and get shit done! Ugh, knee-jerk moments of cultural snobbery. Or is it? Yes, it is, mostly. The Honduran culture seems very warm and social, where as the U.S. American is colder, more robotic. In the U.S., the project is more likely to be done by the deadline, but, in the meantime, I have no idea who I’m working with and didn’t have much fun. Here, the project will, inevitably, be late, but I’ll have made new friends who insist on bringing me treats when I’m sick (Vee recently had chikungunya). Both approaches have their advantages. Being socially awkward, I prefer the former, while feeling its hollowness. I’ve always struggled to balance pleasure with work, my scales tending to lean toward the latter, despite the river of silliness running through me. No doubt this is why I’ve chosen a partner whose scales favor the opposite.
This post is finished on Sunday, 12 April (posted two days later due to internet problems). I have exactly two more months of work here. While we don’t know (still!) the last day of school, the administration has told the extranjeros that 12 June is the latest date we’re expected to stay. My cool science fair idea is not possible due to a lack of rubbing alcohol, but my idea for Parents’ Day—have the seventh graders swarm the parents with handmade flowers—was received excitedly. I still don’t know what to make for International Day, but am leaning toward peanut butter refrigerator cookies. Also, horses are fans of snacks.
Moving along, slowly, steadily, sweatily, but never, ever suavely or smoothly,