Saturday, November 17, 2012

It Only Takes One

Okay, here's your one token anecdote for the week.  I made it a separate blog post because you should really read it.  This really hit me hard this morning and I really wanna share this story with you.  It's a little toot-my-own-horn-esque, but someday, if someone stumbles upon this blog that's worried about traveling to a new place, I want them to see it.  

I'm not sure if I made this clear, but before I came to Reunion, I was really scared.  The most scared I've ever been in my life, actually.  I had no idea what the island would be like, what my daily life would be, what the deal was with culture and change and waaah just everything.  In France, the night before I flew here, I called my parents up on Skype.
I told them that I was too scared, and that I was thinking about not going.  The unknown was just too much for me to handle.  And my mother proceeded to tell me a story about when she used to teach in a school in Florida that had a lot of kids from housing projects.
In particular, my mom remembered one little girl.  She didn't have a lot, and her home life wasn't great, but she came to school every day.  She worked hard and my mom could see her learning over the course of the year.  She could see how diligent and wonderful she was, despite everything.  And even though my mom had some hard times dealing with discipline and teaching and what not, this one little girl, and others like her, made all of it worth it.

"If you don't go to Reunion," she said, "There might be one little girl that needs you.  One little girl whose life you might change.  And if you don't go, how can you help her?"

That's what convinced me.  I would do it for this girl, or boy, that I hadn't met, whose life I had the potential to make better.  No matter what happened, or how scary it was, the idea of abandoning someone - a kid, especially - that I could be helping... it strengthened my resolve like nothing else.

A couple of weeks ago, I started tutoring a 6th grader named Chloe.  She is so precious; all smiles and so smart, but she absolutely hated English.  She had gotten a bad start in English in school (they start English in 6th grade here, so she's just learning the basics), and one of my teachers mentioned to her mother that I might be able to tutor her.

We started off just playing games and going over words, making jokes and just having a wonderful time.  We speak French a lot, but I tell her a lot how French is similar to English, and try to show her that silly old English really isn't all that bad.

Yesterday, I was talking to a teacher and she said, "I just want you to know I talked to Chloe's mom.   She said she can really see how much Chloe is starting to like English.  You're making it exciting for her, and she's starting to see how English can actually be fun.  You've really changed her mind."

No, Chloe doesn't live in a terrible situation.  She actually lives in a really nice apartment.  It's not exactly like what happened to my mom.  But who knows, maybe one day Chloe will use English to do something really amazing.  If I'd never come here, maybe she'd still hate English.  It's small, and maybe it's insignificant, but not to me.  I've found my one little girl that needed me.

That makes everything that's happening here, for better or for worse, worth it.

Two weeks of cars, clubs, and mangoes

Whoops, I need to update!  It's been awhile.  As such, this blog is long.  I'll try to give ya the Reader's Digest version, but no promises!

Since I last wrote, I've done the following things:

 - Celebrated Halloween with a bunch of assistants, which included my first foray into Reunion nightlife!  Clubs in St. Pierre are pretty nice.  In St. Denis, my town, not so much. More on that in a second. But between the bobbing for apples and other fun Halloween festivities, I spent an evening amongst NASA employees, cardboard sharks and an 18th-century reincarnated zombie male prostitute.

... We assistants are nothing if not creative.

-  Helped out with a mock election at school!  Lycee Bellepierre Barack'd the vote on election day; Obama ended up getting 370ish votes and Romney got 20.   All of the kids (and the teachers!) threw on their American ensembles and spent the morning playing various country songs and square dancing around the room.  I also discovered that my kids love the song Black Betty, which got stuck in my head nonstop for the three days that followed.

My 'seconde' class, reppin' the USA

Me and Patricia, one of my teachers, overseeing the voting adventure

I wonder sometimes if Americans realize how much the rest of the world follows what we do.  Even on this tiny island, the American election was an absolutely huge deal.  We have the potential to do a lot of good in the world.  Anyway, other stuff:

- Returned to Boucan Canot (that scary shark beach) and had a wonderful evening of cocktails and sunsets with a few other assistants.  It was the first sunset I've ever seen over the ocean. :) (Yay for living on the east coast for your entire life...)

 Wonderful cocktail time with Cara, Bruce, Rachael and Susannah - all of whom are from England except Cara, who's Irish :)

- Been offered marijuana a grand total of 14 times.  I exaggerate not.  The kids love to try to get me to smoke weed with them, for some reason, particularly the group of boys that ran away from me a couple of weeks ago.  One of them even taught me his secret weed handshake.  In involves a rather violent head buttIf he weren't so good at English, I would be worried about what this combination of cranium bashing and mary jane is doing to his brain cells.  This problem, of course, became about 400 times worse after they discovered that Washington and Colorado just legalized it.  "Just pretend you're at home, Bridget!"  they say.  I won't break, children!  I won't give in!!!

- Went clubbing in St. Denis.  Never again.  Never, ever ever again.  As fun as it was to run through my first official Reunion downpour (the streets turn into rivers, wish I'd had a raft to float home on), rescue my friends that were attempting to climb onto the roof of the club, and numerous other things that arose throughout the evening, I can pretty successfully say that nightlife in St. Denis is not my favorite pastime.  On the bright side, I did enjoy a very delicious drink that glowed in the dark.  Not sure that my radioactive alcohol made up for the rest of the stuff, though.

 Quick, to the boats!!! (St. Denis under SO MUCH RAIN)

- Started planning our winter trip.  I'll just be, you know, 4X4ING THROUGH MADAGASCAR OR SOMETHING (!!!!!!!!!) no big deal.  I might also be canoeing through sugar cane fields, playing with lemurs, and going to beautiful waterfalls and stuff.  Not really all that excited about it (OMGOMGOMGOMGlemurs) but it should be okay. :P We will not, however, be going to this restaurant that I found on The Lonely Planet, because I have minimal desire to eat pidgeon or stare at fornicating pandas while I eat.  Hopefully this is not indicative of usual Madagascar cuisine :P

- Helped my landlady pick mangoes off the tree in our front yard.  Apparently people have been stealing said mangoes during the night, which is putting everyone on edge :P  Even more awesome is the way that they do this: after night falls, using a makeshift contraption that is composed of three broom handles taped together with a hanger on top, the mango thieves ninja their way down the hill and proceed to pick the mangoes off of the tree.  Sorta like fishing.  Except upside down and with a lot more espionage.

- Test drove a car.  Car ran perfectly.  Bought said car.  Bought insurance.  Drove said car to Saint Marie to celebrate having a new car.  Car locks stop working.  Car starts to lurch after five minutes of driving.  Barely make it to Saint Marie alive.  Car clutch stops working.  Car brakes stop working.  Bruce comes from Saint Andre to pick us up.  Car gets left in Saint Marie mall parking lot because we hope it dies a sad and lonely death.  Or if we're really lucky, someone will steal it.  Ask for advice; professor says she'll call for us.  Talks to sellers.  Sellers won't give us money back.  Tow truck comes.  Car's now sitting dead on my street, quietly mocking me.  Still hoping fervently that someone will steal it.

Yes, yes, it's been an interesting week with the car situation.  We've been (very) stressed, but at the same time, we've been blown away at how kind and wonderful people have been.  After we broke down, a lady that worked at the restaurant we'd eaten at offered us a ride home in the parking lot; Isabelle, one of my professors, called the sellers for us and got us a free tow truck to boot; her daughter Marine used McDonald's wifi to look up any and all French laws regarding car sales for 30 minutes and then they both had us over for pizza, wine and loads of laughs last night.

People here absolutely blow me away.  Their kindness and openness is a crutch a very much lean on when I start to freak out about things.  I'm so grateful for the people I've met here.  And it hasn't even been two months yet!