Tuesday, June 26, 2007

An update on life

Many of you have contacted me via email or phone, asking if I have dissappeared off of the face of the planet. Afterall, no phone calls, no emails, no letters, no messages on facebook, and certainly no blog posts for almost a whole month. So what is up?

Work is the excuse again. Three weeks ago I arrived to work at Saint George's College, the school where I have organized a debate team, revamped and now head the student exchange program, and teach a "Fun Friday" class to 11th graders once a week. As soon as I arrived, I was told that one of the teachers was ill and the school was unable to get a subsitute - would I be able to be the substitute for the day? Always willing to help, I said yes and found myself teaching and continuing English lessons with two classes of high school Seniors, two classes of Juniors, and two classes of Sophomores.

When the day ended, I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was to go straight home and go to bed. Gathering my things, the Director of the English department approached me and asked, "Do you think you come tomorrow and take the classes again? The students will be watching a movie in each one of their classes, so it should be very easy." Reluctantly I agreed.

The second day was a breeze. I was merely a baby sitter who took attendence. At the end of the day, I rejoiced knowing that I would not have to be a full-time teacher again. That feeling lasted about three minutes: we received notice that the teacher was actually admitted to a clinic for depression and was on medical leave for the rest of the week and the following week. The question was posed again: would I be the replacement teacher? All I would have to do is finish the movie with the students and be with them as they complete exercises in the computer lab each day next week.

I thought about this decision for a while. This work was not what I wanted to do and certainly not what I came to Chile to do. I had other obligations and other jobs as a volunteer Associate; choosing to take this position would mean to not fulfill these duties. But, I had become close to the students and to the other teachers in the department. I also knew what a tough position the deparment was in - it was also trying to find 5 other permanent teachers for those whose contracts were ending before the winter vacation...so I agreed.

The week was fairly easy. The students completed their computer lab exercises and I was glad to finally get back to my life again. On Monday the next day we received another medical excuse - the teacher I was replacing would not come back until after the upcoming Winter vacations (think our three weeks of Winter vacations for Christmas and New Years but in the middle of July, Winter here). Again, the department asked me to replace the teacher, until they find someone else who can. This time, I declined.

My view is that this position is a full-time position and the students need someone who is qualified for the role (I have a very limited education background - and speaking the language is not a qualification for a good teacher). As I said earlier, I feel that this is something that I cannot do while maintaining my other responsibilities as an Associate. I am missing time with both my home community (leaving early, coming home late, and spending free time grading papers) and my Chilean community. I am also not able to do the other jobs that I agreed to volunteer for while I am here. All in all, I am working 9-10 hours 5 days a week, way more than the 20-30 that is expected of me, and these hours are doing a job that I did not come down to Chile to do.

Later that day, the department asked me to reconsider my decision, stating that it was an emergency and they would not ask an Associate to take this position if it was not. They told me this was not a permanent position and I would only be helping out until they find a replacement, hopefully before vacations. In the end, I agreed to take the position, with the promise that the department would help me make the job as smooth as possible.

I did the job last week and so far, the department has kept their promise, helping me out as much as I can. I am teaching 10th graders about the use of the gerrand, 11th graders about discourse markers and question tags, and 12th graders are working on a project about the Cold War. With exception of a few pain in the ass 10th graders, I enjoy the kids and as far as I can tell, they enjoy me. I do not, however, enjoy my job. Each day makes me question what I am doing. They say that time spent teaching is never lost - but is that true?? I feel like I should be somewhere else, doing something else. It pains me to know that this school would continue on without me, so why do I continue to do this work? Why can't I just say NO, leave the school, and let it struggle on its own? I feel like it would be reaching too much to say that God wants me here, wants me to be a presence in these kids lives. Regardless, I believe these questions will continue for the next three weeks...my hunch is that the department will not find a replacement before vacations.

And so, that is where I am now in my life. I wake up each morning at 5:15am, get in the shower, eat a bit of breakfast, and I am out the door by 6:15am. I walk 10 minutes to the subway and after a 20 minute subway trip, I have an hour long trip by city bus, arriving around 7:30am. I end my day around 4:30pm and if I am lucky, catch the bus before rush hour to make it home around 7:00pm. I eat a bit of dinner, visit with Natalie and Ryan for many an hour, and am usually so exhausted that I go to bed.

If this experience has taught me anything, it has given a glimpse into the world of people who, regardless of their ethnicity or social class, have a job that they hate but get up morning after morning to do the daily grind because they have to in order to survive. I ride to work with these people each morning; I hear them complain about their job, their boss, their low wages. Many of them are men, construction workers who start at dawn and end at dusk. Any women I see are usually in maid uniforms, either child care workers, servants, or both. I feel a sense of solidarity with them, but I know that it is only superficial; I do not depend on this job inorder to survive and in two weeks time, I will leave this job for something that I feel called to do.

God has truly blessed me with such an amazing and unique opportunity, to live in a foreign country and listen to my heart and to God, going where the spirit takes me in order to serve others. While I am not sure if I am using this opportunity at the moment, I will certainly never take it for granted when my teacher position ends.

I look forward to the many phone calls, emails, letters, and blogs in my future. I thank you all so very much for caring and worrying about me; I love and miss you so very much, more than you all know. Have a wonderful 4th of July!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Please pray

Each time I have posted a prayer request, a good result always follows. While I am definitely not taking credit for such outcomes (God please forgive me if it sounds this way), extra prayers at the result of these postings have not exactly hurt.

This time I am asking that you please pray for Caitlin Early, her mother Patricia, and the rest of Caitlin's family. Caitlin, a fellow Chile Associate, has been in the United States for the last 2 weeks to be with her mother as she goes through operations and treatment for her breast cancer. The experience has been very difficult for everyone as the status of the cancer becomes clearer each day. It is asked that your pray not only for the health of Patricia but the spiritual health of the entire family, that they know God is with them through this difficult time.

Thank you.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Harry Potter Mania

My feelings toward Harry Potter in the beginning could best be described as utter confusion. Why were adults, including my high school history teacher, going crazy over these books when they are for kids? I was convinced that it was another craze that would slowly die out like the Tamagotchi or Pogs. The summer after graduating from high school, I read the fourth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (like most Americans, I thought that watching the first three movies was a sufficient replacement for the task of reading the books themselves). I enjoyed the book and continued to the fifth that had already been released, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. My love for the Harry Potter story was sealed as the book was finished in two days.

Looking for the next book to continue the series, I was told that I had to wait two years; the sixth would not be released until 2005. Right then I decided that I would not read the sixth Harry Potter book when it was released, but wait until all seven of the Harry Potter books are in print then start the series reading book one. The advantage to this decision is eliminating the usual one or two year period waiting for the next book to be released. After finishing one book, I would be able to continue reading the series at my leisure. Additionally, small details and characters would be remembered easily as they usually are forgotten within that one or two year gap. The disadvantage to this decision is waiting four years for the entire series to be finished before another Harry Potter book is read.

To no one’s surprise, my life continued without Harry Potter. Four years later, I am a completely different person (some would say a grown adult) with a college degree and on a strange journey living in a foreign country for two years. Despite this, my feelings toward this series have returned as I anxiously await the release of the seventh and last book due on July 21st. Believing the publicity leading up to the seventh book would reveal some secrets of the sixth that I had not yet read, I decided a month ago that now was the perfect time to start the series and re-insert Harry Potter into my life. Thank goodness for the generosity of family and friends of former Associates; between both houses, HCA Chile owns a complete set of the Harry Potter books.

The following schedule, giving more time for the larger books, was developed for fear of a large gap between the sixth and seventh book if all 6 were read too quickly:
Book 1: May 5-12 (1 Week)
Book 2: May 13-20 (1 Week)

Book 3: May 21-June 4 (2 Weeks)

Book 4: June 5-19 (2 Weeks)

Book 5: June 20-July 4 (2 Weeks)

Book 6: July 4-21 (2 Weeks)

I knew that this schedule would have to be a bit flexible, particularly as I was giving the third book (320 pages) the same amount of reading time as the 6th book (652 pages). Nevertheless, I started the schedule with a determination to see it done as close to the timeline as possible.

I was right about forgetting small details and characters. It seemed with each book that I was experiencing the story for the first time, not knowing what would happen next. I was wrong about the movies being a good replacement for the books. In fact, there are many fundamental changes between the books and the movies, many of which I have major issues with and am quite frustrated with (this can be reserved for a future blog, haha). What I was most wrong about, however, was the amount of time I would read each book and when I would finish all six books. The schedule actually resulted in the following:
Book 1: May 7-9 (3 Days)

Book 2: May 10-12 (3 Days)

Book 3: May 13-17 (5 Days)

Book 4: May 17-20 (4 Days)

Book 5: May 21-27 (6 Days)

Book 6: May 31-June 3 (4 Days)

In short, my 10 week plan was finished in a little more than 3 weeks (26 days to be exact.) As you can see, I finished both the first and the second book combined in less time than I allotted to reading each book one. In fact, each book was finished in less than a week, less than the amount I allotted to finishing each book one and book two. Even more shocking, all six books were finished before I was scheduled to start the fourth book.

I decided to trash the schedule very early on. The mere presence of a schedule took all the fun out of reading the books. I read them at a regular pace (i.e. during any spare moment I had, on the subway, on the bus, during breaks at work, and reading a few chapters before bed each night that occasionally caused me to dream I was a student at Hogwarts, haha.) The downside to my pace is that I now have to wait to finish the series despite my best efforts to prevent such dilemma.

I do not expect to start my finish of the series on July 21st. First, the book will not be bought here in Chile because it will cost twice as much as it would in the U.S. Second, the book will take a week or so to arrive even if the book is shipped from the U.S. on the release date (Amazon does not do international orders, we looked). Lastly and problematically, five of the six HCA Chile Associates are waiting to read the book. This has been briefly discussed among the community. A separate bookmark system and an allotted time system have both been suggested to allow all of us to read the book at the same time. Nothing has been settled at this point, but it will be a real test for the community pillar.

Regardless, Harry Potter mania is back in full force in my life and as the mania will increase each day for the world as it gets itself ready for the last book to be released. Barnes and Noble will have their parties on July 21st and if I were not in South America, I am not ashamed to say I would be there. Harry Potter has been around for the last 10 years (can you believe it??) and I am fully convinced that Harry Potter mania will not end with the last book. Children will read these books for generations to come and a new theme park that is being developed will ensure Harry Potter’s legacy. In fact, I plan to visit the park someday, maybe with my own children after they have finished reading the books themselves.