Today was a public holiday in honor of the late King Sibuzo II’s birthday. I went up to visit the girl’s in the hostel and visited for a little while. They were watching another Nigerian Soap, something I think we all need to experience at least once in our lives… and I encourage you to youtube some Nigerian movies right now. After a while I decided I wanted to return to my house and work on a few things. I excused myself, and Holly said she wanted to join me, which was fine, but I figured it would be pretty boring, but whatever. *sidenote* [Holly is an incredible student. She has an ability to light up the room, and despite trying, is a role model to many of the students, and someone everyone wants to pay attention to and finds interesting. I feel very lucky to have her as a friend and mentee.] Once back at my house she went over to my armchair and moved it away from the window. It then dawned on me, that when I said “I am going to go do work in my house”, to her that meant “house work” a.k.a. the great cleaning extravaganza of 2014. Without bothering to state my misscommunication I grabbed a broom and started sweeping. This is the second time that a miscommunication has led to something wonderful and surprising. Holly cleaned with an intensity and fervor I never knew existed, and as I cleaned places I never felt motivated to clean before, she managed to clean three rooms in the time I cleaned just one. Oops. That’s okay, I never really wanted to claim “Has mastered the art of domesticity” anyways. I think it helped though, that Holly actually enjoyed what she was doing. I was sort of speechless though, and kept telling her how wonderful she was for just taking force. Not that my house was a hazardous wasteland or anything… far from it, but all the same, she helped on her own accord.
So I made her cupcakes. But I hadn’t finished baking them during the lunch hour before I went to the hall to set up the projector to show Planet Earth. *side note #2* [This is a public service announcement that I am horrible at telling stories in the traditional beginning-middle-end sequence].
Later, Holly came back with me to collect her cupcakes. Since I hadn’t finished making all of them, I had her help me with the rest. The batter made an additional 11, which meant that only 1 of the 6 cupcake molds were empty. So, using that old trick (trusting that it is actually effective), I went to put water in the empty spot to help balance the cooking. Too bad Holly had bent down to mop up some batter that had fell on the just-cleaned floor right as I went to pour the water in. She stood up, bumping my arm, sending the cup of water flying. Luckily, the cup and most of the water landed in the empty spot… Unluckily the rest of the water landed in one of the cupcake batters. We both found this absolutely hilarious and couldn’t stop laughing for the next ten minutes. I later used this story to explain the meaning of “despair”, and how we have a choice in life on how we react to things… either with laughter, or with tears and frustration.
I think one of the hardest parts of any situation you might find yourself in… be it your job, at home, etc. it is often hard to know or even understand the impact you have on other people and how they perceive you. I’ve been struggling with this since I got here. Sometimes, it’s easy to get consumed with all of the things that aren’t functioning at the level they could be, and so is therefore difficult to prioritize certain things, and know where to focus. Should I be spending my time teaching life skills? Literacy? Boosting creativity? Teacher training? It’s easy then to lose track on the fact that how you see things and how others see things may not be the same or even close in comparison. It’s a beautiful moment, however, when what you’re striving to do, and trying to represent aligns exactly with what others see your true actions to be.
The new librarian has been incredibly motivating. It’s like meeting the Bongiwe that first arrived at the school. Full of questions, begging for action, ready to make a difference. She has a lot of interesting insights and motivation to really make a difference in the school and I feel so fortunate to have her to work with. She is really passionate about literacy and sparked the idea to seriously work with the students on improving their reading and writing skills. Something which, I’ve long since wanted to tackle but felt super unequipped. But having another person to lean on and draw support from really makes a difference. I gave the grade 5, 6 and 7 students exercise books to act as writing composition journals. I instructed them to spend maybe five minutes a day working on a composition that they will then turn in at the end of the week for me and Julia to look over and offer comments. Not long after I gave out the exercise books, I returned to class five to ask a student something unrelated. One of the student’s faces lights up and immediately tells me that their hearts are all happy to be writing. Sure enough, every student had their book open and pencils busy scribbling words on it’s empty pages. Fastforward to today, when I walk into the girl’s hostel. A grade 7 student waved me over with much excitement. She had written a letter as her first composition. I read through it and was very impressed, not only with the spelling, grammar and creativity, but with her enthusiasm. Every day I tell myself how amazing it is to have so many students who genuinely want to improve their skills and learn.
That morning Melissa had also come to me wanting help on her composition. It’s honestly incredible to be almost a year into working at the school, and see how far I have come, and be where I was hoping to be, but also knowing that while my students feel comfortable coming to me, I am also building bridges for them to feel comfortable approaching other adults.
This roundabout segue brings me back to Holly. As we’re standing in my kitchen, post water-juggling incident she drops a bomb. Not the damaging kind of bomb, but life-altering non-the-less. She said that she really appreciates how I don’t just stand and let things happen, but how I go up to the source and work to find a solution. That she values my strength and confidence and willingness to fight for her and the other students, and the deaf community. She then went on to tell me that Melissa admires these qualities too, and wants to have them herself, and that is why she enjoys spending so much time with me.
Somedays you really need to hear that what you’re putting energy in is worth it and has value to someone else. Moreover, to have someone as strong and caring as Holly see the same qualities in me, ones that I also recognize and truly admire in her, is something special. I can also slowly see the walls coming down on many of my students, who understandable and rightfully have built them very high and very thick.
Holly’s dad said his dream one day is to hear his daughter speak. Completely ignoring the fact that she speaks so vibrantly everyday.
Sophia’s new favorite activity is interpreting whatever I say in her own words, which has proven to be hilarious. Especially when I can get her to tell other people that she’s crazy.
Evan gives me spinach and lettuce from his garden, and is never shy to be himself.
Charlie is a fountain of creativity and ever-flowing ideas.
I feel honored to be seen as worthy of being privvy to these bits and pieces of their lives. It also makes me wonder how much is missed depending on how you perceive what’s standing right in front of you. A broken glass is still a glass. It may not even be broken. It’s your fault if you don’t know how to recognize and accept it for what it is, and still see it as valuable even if it wasn’t what you expected it to be.
How many stories do we leave untold because we aren’t prepared to listen? This is what perpetuates my eagerness to dive head-first into this language because all stories deserve to be told.
Confession: I start to tear up when I think about leaving this place and these people. And that’s a year from now.