Friday, December 22, 2006

It's a boy!

The family rushed my host sister, Liana, to the hospital yesterday to deliver her fourth child. We've been anxious to see when she would deliver and more importantly, what the baby's gender would be. We hadn't heard anything when I went to bed last night, but my host mother was praying for a boy.

Every morning I get up extra early, not only to get things done, but just to have some quiet time to myself. Living in a house of eight is a big transition and I enjoy the mornings when I can go downstairs and feel a bit independent. The family doesn't start their day until after 8 a.m., but today when I opened the door I was astonished to see 10 people sitting in the living room! They were all drinking coffee and talking loudly and when I came in (in my long underware) they invited me to sit down and eat chocolates and pomagranates. The baby boy was born this morning around 5:30 and everyone (even some relatives who live down the street) was there to celebrate. I took the fruits and chocolates and began to chat with the father.

Every conversation these days starts with the weather. It's very cold. He made a comment to me that the whole night they were freezing while they waited for the baby and I stopped him mid conversation. "What do you mean you were freezing? Were you not waiting in the hospital room with your wife?" "No, of course not! No one is allowed in her room!" "Don't worry," he said, "I paid the nurse and she let me go in when the doctor was away."

Not a single member of the family slept last night. They spent the evening tending the wood burner, making coffee and talking with each other. The excitement of the new baby's arrival was overwhelming. When I came downstairs this morning they had heard the good news and were discussing the party preparations. This afternoon they killed one of our pigs for the feast.

As we anxiously await Christmas, I would like to wish you all the same joy and excitement. Joy to the whole world! The Lord has come!

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2007

Thursday, December 14, 2006

On hold for the holidays

It didn't take more than one 'meeting' to realize that the students I was trying to work with had no idea what group work outside of the classroom is.

Group work: I assign a project to you, you have a week to meet at one another's homes or in school during your free periods, you compile notes and present what you have prepared. Done. Unfortunately, the concept of group work was as foreign to my eighth graders as the concept of farming apricots is to me.

The English teacher and I sat down with one stand out student, Arshak. Arshak wants to be a doctor and is eager to participate in any extracurricular activities he can. He was the only one who attended our first meeting. He walked in at 5 o'clock on the dot and asked where everyone else was. I told him I had no idea and he replied that he hates it when people aren't punctual (that put him in very good standing with me right from the start). After waiting awhile, I decided it was ok that we only meet with one representative of the BRO camp as long as he was able to rally the others for the project. I actually believed that he could be the group leader and that ideas coming from him instead of the American volunteer might be a more effective way to organize.

After the first meeting he asked me why the boys needed to sit down and speak with one another. I tried to explain that brainstorming presentation ideas would be a great way to decide how we could recruit other members. They needed to decide who would say what, how long they would speak and what would be the best way to convey their ideas. If they would be able to present an organized overview of volunteerism and it's benefits maybe their classmates would be more interested in joining the mentorship program. Then he asked the same questions I faced for 15 years when I was in school: What if the group members don't listen to one another? What if we can't agree?

I immediately had flashbacks to group discussion. The first-year communications course seemed like a ridiculous waste of time when I was in school, but now I realize the content of that class is absolutely necessary in every aspect of my work. I should have taken better notes!

The unfortunate truth is that the whole project, and everything I'm trying to do for that matter, is on hold until the beginning of February. With only a week left in school everyone is going crazy over the upcoming New Years celebration. I've been hearing stories about New Years and the fun we'll have since I arrived in September. Just in case I was about to forget that it's only two weeks away, they started selling firecrackers in the local stores about a week ago. Kids have been setting them off in the schoolyard during breaks and two went off in the hallway yesterday. Due to the cold (both indoors and outside) the school will remain closed for the whole month and in the village, or at least mine, the tradition is to go from house to house eating, drinking and visiting.

Since my place of employment is closed for more than a month, I'll have to focus on my other health endevours. I'm planning a heart disease seminar with Arshak and working for a few PC initiatives over the break. We're applying to host an eco camp this summer and my school director has requested I plan an exercise camp. At home I'll stay busy with my reading and weaving (I'm making some small carpets). Life in the house is hectic since everyone is indoors all evening now but I just curl up next to the wood burner while every member of the family from young to old enjoys a new (very popular) Spanish soap opera. Tonight we will celebrate my host brother one-month smoke free. I have to go buy 8 Snickers bars.

Monday, December 04, 2006


It seems like a natural concept to me, but I've learned that in the villages today the idea of helping someone for the sake of helping isn't easily accepted. That said, my school director insists that we start a service learning program.

I wasn't sure what to do, at first I considered having the ninth or tenth form students work with older villagers. Things like cleaning, repairing, running errands and generally visiting, but then I realized that the elderly people don't need this type of assistance because they all live inside the care of their own family's household. There may be one or two people who live alone and that wouldn't have made much of a class learning experience.

I later decided that the students could work with the opposite population--the younger kids. I did some research about monitoring and the development of Big Brothers/Big Sisters and decided it would be a great opportunity for the older students to feel responsible and empowered and the younger kids could have someone to model and respect.

Fortunately, the PC organizes an annual summer camp for young boys. BRO camp teaches life skills to students over the course of a week. There were a few students who attended from my school and so I rallied them together to give a presentation to their peers about volunteering. I'm hoping that after learning about the benefits and hearing about the new project after school we will get interested students to sign up. After that, and if the project goes well, maybe we can integrate it into a service learning project in health or English class.

Now if only I could come up with a catchy name...