Jardin de Nino Diaries, Part Two
I have come to realize that at this point my only real chance to have a true cross cultural experience here in Baja (which is so full of gringos and so influenced by American culture) is through my involvement with the Elias Calles preschool. Even though I feel shy and intimidated, and struggle with communication, I push through it all knowing that this a great opportunity.
I want to share a little background on how I came to be involved with the school. The idea came from a combination of synchronistic events.
In the spring of 2013, Lucas hired Martín, a local worker and the nephew-in-law to our closest neighbor, to help us finish up some house projects. At one point, he and his wife, Idanya came over and helped finish the painting of our house. We soon learned from Martín that there was a “kinder” in Elias Calles, and that his 3 year old daughter (who is one month younger than Emilio) attended it. The 17 year old teacher, Vanessa, lived in their house with them. We had known there was a primary school (which was known as the best public school in Baja) where various teachers had come to do clay and filmmaking projects with the kids. There was even a film screened at the Todos Santos Film Festival called “Little Muddy Hands” that the kids made about their experience of learning to make clay. But, we didn’t know there was also a preschool. We had intended to send Emilio (when he turned 4 that August) to the preschool in Pescadero, the next town over. That preschool had 30 kids and I was already feeling nervous about sending him there, because he didn’t know any spanish. Or if he did, (after all he has lived in Mexico his whole life) he didn’t know that he knew.
We were very excited that we could send Emilio to a local school, which was a walkable distance from our home. I walked to the school with Emilio, who rode his bike, the next day to meet the Vanessa, the teacher and find out the registration process.
A few days later I attended a friend’s "give away" party. She was giving away many items from her overcrowded van (her turtle home). One of the giveaways, was a children’s book called the Sign Painters Dream, about a grumpy old sign painter who transformed into a small town hero by painting a “glorious and magnificent” sign for a lady who wanted to give away apples from her orchard. At first he had laughed at the idea of making a sign for free, but after a haunting dream, he decided to make the sign for free for the lady who had asked him, which led him to re-discover his passion for sign painting. This story inspired me on many levels. (And have now added sign painting to my wish list of skill learning. In the meantime I have been teaching my self hand lettering. Which is also incredibly fun. More on this in the future.)
The next day, after reading this story, my husband told me about a group of women who were doing community murals in La Paz (our nearest city)—they called themselves the Painting Pirates. I contacted them right away asking if I could be involved, thinking I could really learn something from them. I learned that painting pirates had already moved onto to another country. But then the next morning, it hit me. I could do my own project in Elias Calles onto of that sad looking wall of the preschool I had just seen. I went to talk to Vanessa, the teacher, the next day. In awkward Spanish, I communicated my plan. She liked the idea, and so I decided I would start when the school started again in August. August came and went, and I did not start with the kids. I was scared. I am the only gringa mother in the group. None of the others speak a word of English. My Spanish is pretty good in most cases, but not when speaking with someone who speaks only the strong local dialect. I really struggle speaking with Vanessa and the other parents. A lot of shame comes up in not being able to communicate. And in being different.
A few months went by and I still did not start the mural. I even asked the friend who had given me the sign painter’s dream for advice—she was an ex-artist and art teacher and had a lot of experience with murals and kids. Though I appreciated it, her advice caused me to be even more scared. Then I realized that I was jumping the gun, and that it would make more sense to start doing art projects with the kids, and get to know them first before I jumped into the mural. I could let the mural be a long drawn out process that we work towards. From experience teaching long projects to children (filmmaking especially comes to mind), kids gain so many rich lesson from long, additive & continuous projects. That gave me some relief. But still, I did not start my class, which I also decided would include some English lessons. I decided to call the class Art & English. (I adore giving names to things.) But perhaps a more apt name would be: Arte y Ingles. Or Arte y un pocitio de Ingles.
Then, one day a woman that Lucas and I secretly termed the bossy lady, showed up at one of our endless parent teacher meetings. She had us do all sorts of exercises designed to encourage the parents to be more involved with their kids’ education. The problem here is that many kids do not go on to finish their education, so the government wants to make sure that the preschool kids get a good foundation in case they do not go onto primary school or high school. Some of the exercise she did felt similar to some of the expressive arts exericess I do with my adult students. Yet her manner is quite different than mine--she is very commanding and empowered. Even though part of me resented her demanding presence (she scolded me once for the fact that 4 year old Emilio did not finish his home work one day), part of me envied her, and believed I had something to learn from her. In a private moment, I told her of my desire to teach the kids art. She then announced this at the meeting, and the next day when I dropped Emilio at school, there was a big sign indicating that art class with Zoë, would be held on Fridays. I could not get out of it now thanks to the bossy lady.
To be continued...