December 22, 2003

Christmas Traditions and Random Woes

Ahhh . . . sitting here, massaging my temples . . . still. I got back from Disaster Math three hours ago and my head still hurts. I swear, I cannot get across the concept of negative numbers. Which is funny, because three of the five kids I'm teaching are currently in debt, for whatever reason. I use number lines. I use checking accounts. I explain over and over and over and I'm not getting through. I did about 30 slight variations on the following exchange today:

"What's negative four minus four?"

"Ummm . . . Zero."


"Ummm . . . Eight."

"Negative eight. NEGATIVE NEGATIVE NEGATIVE." *pulls out stupid little number line again and shows them again*

It's not that hard to grasp . . . I'm not following why they aren't following. And no, children, three divided by one will never be five, and eight times five will never be thirty-two anyway. That's 90 minutes of fun per day, three days a week. And I'm actually making progress, after a matter of hours. They're learning things from a friggin' English major in a few hours that their math teacher has been trying to get across for months. My dad tells me that he's started getting requests from random children for me to come back and teach math once I graduate. *shudders*

Don't get me wrong, I want to come back. Really, I do. But I don't know when, and I don't know what I'll be doing. I don't want to just be teaching math . . . it would be a depressing waste. I'd like to kind of steer clear of the whole teaching racket, really, the more I think about it . . . That was one of the reasons I didn't start off majoring in English. I didn't know you could do anything with it besides teach. (Oh, and btw, when I say "teach" I'm referring to anything below the college level.)

I nearly got beaten and trampled to death when I went over to get the math books earlier. All of the little boys were playing together and they decided that they wanted to charge me screaming and attempt to take me out. Fortunately I had my back against a wall, I was close to the office door . . . and they're all really ticklish. When I went into the dining hall to get started on math crap, they were trying to figure out how to plug the DVD player into the TV so they could watch a movie. They had been at it for about 20 minutes . . . it took me 30 seconds. How does this place even function without me around? It's a good thing for everyone here that there's more to life than basic arithmetic and hooking up electronics.

It's weird, because obviously everyone gets along without me okay for the long periods of time when I'm not here. But suddenly when I am, there are all of these indespensable services . . . (I'm not just referring to math homework and VCR hook-ups) . . . that just have to be taken care of. It's kind of nice to have a niche that's always waiting, but . . .

Two more days after tonight, and then it will be the big day. Everyone should know by now that I'm not talking about Christmas, either. Fortunately there will be plenty to distract me between now and then . . . I think. I have tons to read with five books going at the moment. I must finish watching Trigun with my little brother at some point. There are boatloads of fireworks to buy. And there's Christmas eve itself with all the good times that brings. My family is, I have found, somewhat unusual in that we open our presents on Christmas eve instead of Christmas morning. I dunno, what do the rest of you do?

Christmas eve changes a bit from year to year because of the craziness of running the orphanage, but it goes something like this: Most of the kids go to the candlelight service at the church (the one in our front yard) which lasts from 6 to 8 I think. Meanwhile, we have our traditional supper of my mother's wonderful chalupas and enchiladas. The clean-up is accomplished as swiftly as possible and then we do the usual things. Back when I dabbled in piano I'd play a few carols, now my youngest brother does that. We read the Christmas story. Then the presents get passed out. It's rarely just my family present, and this year will be no exception. I think there are going to be 4 other Americans present this time around. As soon as all of the presents are opened, all of the adults disappear to get things ready for the kids' Christmas at 10:00.

There are usually about five or six presents per kid between the things people send and the gift exchange we do and so on. The traditional Guatemalan thing is to eat apples and grapes and drink this really nasty hot fruit punch, all of which we serve while the kids rip into their gifts. There are usually a few American things we've introduced as well, like my mom's brownies. This whole process will easily take up the two hours until the firework fun begins at midnight. I'll be sure and describe this year's goings-on when the time has come.

Fireworks last beyond 1:00 and after that we herd the children quickly off to bed. It's time to play Santa . . . The stockings are usually stuffed and ready to go in another building, we just have to cart them all over to the dining hall and lay them out by the tree. There are loads of extra presents to lay out in an attractive display on the tables as well. These vary from year to year, but they usually consist of board games, puzzles, and so on. There's usually something big. One year we got several bikes, one year it was a ping-pong table, another year it was fuzbol. This year I hear we've got a trampoline.

At this point I find my way to bed while my mother does our stockings. This is usually at about 2:30. My mom claims that Christmas eve always keeps her up until at least 4. My dad is up by 6:00 and over at the dining hall making pancakes for everyone. Breakfast is at 9:00 . . . watching the kids when they spot their presents is fun. The Guatemalan tradition is tamales for lunch, so we do that. I hate Guatemalan tamales. They're about six times larger than the Mexican variety, and incredibly soggy. They usually have various vegetables, of which I am not fond, mixed liberally into the cornmeal wrap, with chicken at the center. The chicken is always mostly bone. They come wrapped in soaking wet banana leaves, which is why they're so soggy . . . A favorite story is about the gringo who ordered a tamale at a Guatemalan restaurant and complimented them on "the lettuce" after he was done.

I expect to be rather busy after lunch this year . . . but not much goes on anyway at that point. Oh, yes. Another interesting thing this year. We're getting four new kids (bringing the total up to 42) tomorrow. Three of them are siblings. Their parents disappeared one day over a year ago . . . just walked out of the house and never came back. Their grandparents have been taking care of them, but they just can't handle it. I think they are 4, 5, and 7 years old, two boys and a girl. The other boy is 3 (he'll be 4 in January). His dad is my age. His mother is long gone. My dad said the kid had a black eye when he went to visit him. He said his grandmother gave it to him.

The whole thing was kind of sudden, so my mom is scrambling to find them some Christmas presents and to cobble together four more stockings. From what I hear, they all have severe cases of "the urchin look" . . . malnourished, rotting teeth, lice, etc. But give them a month or two around here, and you'll never know it. That's one of the things I love the most about this whole thing. You can hardly recognize a new kid after they've been here for a few months. They weigh more than three pounds, they have hair, they aren't wearing rags . . . and they smile and laugh. When they first showed up, you couldn't get three words out of them, now they won't shut up. Happy, healthy kids . . . the way they're supposed to be.

Okay, I talked a bunch, and if you're as tired of reading it all as I am of writing it, then it's definitely time to post.

Posted by Jared at December 22, 2003 07:52 PM | TrackBack