Things I want to ask my high school Spanish teacher

Many days I leave work as an English teacher in Japan wanting to hold a reasoning with my high school Spanish teacher. In a reasoning, you ask your partner searching questions, listen to their honest answers and opinions, and you yourself are equally frank and open.

I really want to reason with Senorita Blake on many things like the taste of words in a foreign language, when she first got interested in Spanish, her experiences in Spanish speaking countries, her favorite Spanish words, and so on.

But most of all, I really want my high school Spanish teacher to tell me how exactly she got through every class teaching a language to students who just didn’t understand that they were being taught a language.

How come you didn’t tell me to try tasting the words? I might ask her. To become so intimate with this language so much so that I could decide by taste that I didn’t like some words. Like I just don’t like the taste of the word ‘boob’ in English, so I don’t use it.

Maybe she would tell me that she did tell us those things, that I just don’t remember. And she would probably be right. In Spanish class, all kinds of tastes were on my lips– patty, or bun and cheese or rice and kidney for  dinner that evening. Many things, but not Spanish.

What was Spanish? Spanish was the subject I chose instead of geography. Spanish was something my dear friend was good at, but I wasn’t. Spanish class time was a time I felt lost. Spanish was songs or performances in Spanish by bright students at school events. Spanish was a thing. It was many things, but it wasn’t a language. It was not something used by people somewhere to organize their lives. It was not something actually used for communication. It was like a code. A code that if I could decipher I would get high marks on the CXC exam. Like Maths.

Spanish felt like Maths. Isn’t that unfortunate? Spanish felt like a cloudy block of rules and patterns that I just couldn’t penetrate.

Now, I live in a country where I’ve mastered daily conversation in the language. In Japanese, I can order my food, tell the doctor what’s wrong with me, buy sugar instead of salt. It often feels like a bothersome set of rules and patterns, but it’s not as indecipherable as I saw Spanish, and I don’t associate it with Maths. Most days. The obvious difference with this situation and my Spanish class is that here, I am immersed. The people around me speak the language I am aiming to speak.

But it’s neither my fault nor Senorita Blake’s that I never actually met and spoke with Spanish speakers all the five years I studied Spanish. Or that I was never in a setting where Spanish was the only or primary means of communication. That didn’t even occur to me as a possibility. Because, like I said, I didn’t even know I was studying a language.

How Senorita Blake must have felt like she was on a failing mission sometimes. Or perhaps it was enough for her to be able to use a language she loved every day. Of course, all students weren’t like me. For some, Spanish was Spanish, not Maths. Its sounds were musical, its rules logical, its patterns predictable, and where they were not, caramba, that was exciting, not frustrating. Maybe those students went on to meet Spanish speakers in their lives.

As I eventually did meet one Spanish speaker, who was my second Spanish teacher. He was from Cuba. One of the benefits of my teaching job at the time was that you could enroll in one course per semester. I chose a beginner Spanish course.

Well this time, fear was worse than anything. Fear of speaking up in class. I felt that what I said would sound completely wrong to this native speaker. Plus by that time, I had already lived in Japan for a bit, and all the foreign language signals sent to my brain were Japanese. So a lot of Japanese came out in the Spanish class. Now Spanish was like Japanese. Again, I’m sure not all students were like me. But I think for a good number of them, for whom it was a compulsory course, Spanish was like Maths. But I was in that class with the understanding, finally, that Spanish was a language. However, I still had no practical setting in which to try using the language.

Similarly, my students don’t use English outside of class, unless they are super motivated and have some goal they want to achieve like studying abroad. But some might go on to work in jobs that require them to use English. Some might end up with friends or even family from English speaking countries. Some will eventually find relevance for all this English.

The contexts are different, but there is also a lack of practical opportunities for people to use Spanish or French, the two main languages taught in Jamaican schools. I would ask Senorita Blake what she thinks of this. Outside of becoming a Spanish teacher, what other jobs are there where you can use Spanish in Jamaica? A smattering, maybe. In a previous job, I was asked once in the two years I was there to read an e-mail in Spanish. I have one friend who uses Spanish in his job. Spanish he learnt while studying in Cuba. Or maybe you can become a teacher of teachers, like Senorita Blake did.

Of the hundreds of thousands of students who study Spanish and French each year, how many will go on to become Spanish or French teachers? And is the sole purpose of (language) study preparing one for a job? I don’t think so. But when it comes to practicality, that’s the low hanging fruit.

Of the hundreds of students I have taught and will teach, how many will ever meet another English speaker? How many will actually use English to communicate outside of a classroom? Of course English is different from Spanish in global use and Jamaica is not Japan.

But maybe Senorita Blake can give me some advice on how to teach students for whom English is not a language.

Shock, Laughter, Pain

A few different thoughts

1.

Today a student told me she slept for 22 hours straight over the weekend.

I thought she had made a mistake when she said she went to bed 9:00 Friday night and woke up 7:00 Saturday night. You mean Saturday morning, right? No, Saturday night, 22 hours sleeping.

I only want ten hours. How tired do you have to be to sleep for 22 hours? Now, I’m pretty tired after teaching four 90 minute classes today. And night feedings are a standard part of my life. So I generally exist in a half awake sphere. But I think I’d have to be dead, as some other students suggested, to sleep for almost an entire day.

2.

What kind of people say ‘one stop’ on the bus? My husband asked me that over the weekend.

Cover of a Jamaica Observer magazine from a few years back.

Board a bus or taxi in Jamaica, and you might hear people say ‘one stop driva’ when they’re ready to get off. But as my husband noted, not everybody says it. Also, he said sometimes people laughed when he said it. Sometimes, he said, they asked him to repeat himself a few times.

I laughed throughout this entire story, but I am really left wondering what kind of people say ‘one stop driva’.

3.

Saw a story about brutally raped women who were turned away from one hospital, and made to wait for an extended period at another. I almost cried. The story highlighted a number of challenges in a system that is simply under resourced.

I sometimes hesitate to read these kinds of stories but I feel reading is one small way we can honour the humanity of the victims.

Driving across Jamaica, virtually

The most recent drive across Jamaica video I’ve watched.

Whenever I really miss home, I type ‘Jamaica drive’ into YouTube and I’m taken across the country via a camera on somebody’s dashboard.

In these videos, the sky always looks bluer, the clouds, always look fluffier, the sun always brighter than I remember. And the mountains always look greener, but undeniably at home in this shining landscape.

Oh! My words are saturated with nostalgia!

I pay close attention to the streets and the buildings in the videos. If it’s an area I know well, I check to see if anything has changed. Sometimes, without warning, a memory linked to a place comes rushing back.

But usually, there are no specific memories. I often just watch and watch until I’ve had my fill. Other times, I leave the TV while I do chores– the images of Jamaica becoming a natural part of the decor in my foreign home.

Jamaica/ hahahaha

Sometimes when I use the swipe keyboard on my phone to type ‘Jamaica’, it gives me ‘hahahaha’. A lot of times.

At first, I used to have a little chuckle at this technology taking ‘intuitive’ to a whole new level, then I started to get annoyed.

Mi nuh want nobody, least of all an algorithm or whatever, a mek fun a mi country.

Then I let it go. I mean, I typed this on my phone, using the swipe keyboard.

When I was 15

LinkedIn recently turned 15 and prompted users to recall [what they wanted to be] when they were 15. I couldn’t remember 15 exactly. But a few things stand out from that blurred together block between 15 and 18.

15

For example, I know in fourth form we got two new teachers who made me imagine myself as an adult woman for the first time.

When I was about 17, I wanted to be somebody’s girlfriend. Not just anybody. There was a particular boy in school. I didn’t even know what being somebody’s girlfriend entailed. I just knew that I wanted to talk to him all the time.

Here are the  things I remember effortlessly  from that time:

  1. I wanted that boy’s attention.
  2. I was always late for school.
  3. I felt very comfortable at school.
  4. I wanted to stop being so nervous in debating matches.

My whole life was centred on school. I hardly thought of what the next big thing would be after school. Perhaps I am not unique in that respect. You knew you had to be at school. That was that. At school, I could do just the things I wanted to do, which was pretty much everything except Maths. The friends, the ‘studying for exams’ gatherings over long weekends at my house, the clubs, Literature class. I was really into it.

Better yet, I could sum up those teen years by saying I was so into myself. Nothing else mattered. In the good way. I was lost in myself, my pursuits. It was great. Then I went to university.

Here’s the lesson I recall effortlessly  from that first year:

  1. Attractiveness is a thing.

There was a boy. We got on. He met my friend later. They got on much better. My friend was more attractive than I was. That was the first time I had thought about my attractiveness, and the first time I had thought about it in relation to somebody else’s.

I now realise that this was just a continuation of the spirit of those latter high school years.

Not quite fit for LinkedIn, but when I was ‘15’, my eyes started to see.

 

 

 

She used to call me Dada

Sometimes in the middle or at the end of an all-day YouTube roots reggae session at home, I come up on that one song. Maybe it’s one I already know but never paid attention to. Maybe it’s one I love. Maybe it’s one I’ve never heard before. But it’s the song that makes me stop whatever I’m doing. Today that was Bob Marley’s She Used to Call Me Dada. Had never heard it before, but had to pull it up a few times. Bway, cyaan fight Bob. All when yuh hear di ‘new’ song dem, yuh haffi recognise di greatness.

Happy Belated 72nd, Dada.

Scenes, thoughts from farewell party number one

Just had the best weekend ever. Lots of fun and amid it all time

for some serious meds. The occasion was farewell party number

one. The friends many. The liquor many, too. The head swole a

little from what people said, but I’m still down here. Occasions

like farewells really give us opportunities to be honest with

ourselves and others. Really just get it out there. Once in a

lifetime situations do that, too. ––Me in my diary.


Those were the thoughts, here are the scenes:


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Here Comes the Sun. Right.

I have a dream or a thing in my mind that when this war is over, we will all be smiling and this Peter Tosh version of Here Comes the Sun will be playing in the background.

And while the “smiles return to the faces” of the adults, the children will all be playing and we will start to live.

Because I’ve felt even before this war, that in Jamaica, we know how to have fun so well because we have essentially been unable to simply, live. It’s almost as if we make up for the fact that we can’t just do something like mindlessly take out the garbage, by imbibing ourselves with rum and partying until daylight. Because we can’t relax in something like taking our children to the park, we must show that we can let loose to music, for example.

So, at what cost must the sun, which will bring with it this final opportunity to simply live, come? Why couldn’t it have been free? Will it come? If it comes, what will be beneath the feet of those jubilant children? And their mothers, will they be wondering where their fathers are? Will they have more to smile about than just the daytime light?

If that sun comes, how can we really bask in it? Knowing that some, who barricaded by their limited lives, never even dreamt that this sun existed,  but paid for its unveiling, can we greet it smiling?

For many reasons, I don’t think it will come. At least not in my lifetime. So that conditional guilt can stay where it is. We have too many bad feelings carrying as it is.

But then, if it doesn’t come, then what? A life of what? Always having a lump in your chest? Taking on short memories as regards wrong doings, lies, political stupidity?  *sigh*

Back again. again.

Once again a renewed commitment. Rereading some of these older posts, I see that renewal theme emerging a lot in my thinking. I am who I am.

Maybe this renewal has something to do with the fact that I’m leaving Japan in two months for Jamaica, where everybody knows who run tings. But that is another post.

For sure though, the direct push for this renewal came from my friend, Monique, as we discussed my absence from the book of faces. Thank you, Monique.

Signing into wordpress just now, I forgot my password and pulled up that first e-mail to retrieve it. I was shocked out of my mind. Ex-boyfriend’s name. Of course, he was not my ex when I started this blog. How long did it take to build Rome?  Time.

I wrote about benefiting from an overwhelming clarity back when I’d been here for a few months… don’t know how clear I am on anything these days.

I decided I want to go home. So I’m clear about that. ish. I know I don’t want to be in my current position, etc in this country for longer. I also know I want to go home. I know I want to help change Jamaica. I know how I want to do that. But sometimes I have to remind myself of my resolve, given that when I read about my country… it’s like a strange fiction.

I decided, too, that I’m going to make the most of my last few months in this country. Well, I’d been making the most of it from the beginning, so it’s not like I’m on some kind of amazing race now. Just trying to spend time doing things I like doing. The only ‘must’ I will do is climb Mount Fuji. And that doesn’t appear like it will take place until a few days before I go home.

In the meantime, it’s the rainy season. So I look forward to, over the next couple of weeks, having complete conversations about rain and hearing at least one new word for one particular kind of rain per day.

And as a teacher I used to work with put it in an email the other day, “breathe in this green-dripping air.”

Spring
From teachers' room balcony

one spring day

out the window of another teachers' room