Possibly I’ve picked this picture because we’ve had 55 days of triple digit heat here in Texas and I needed to be reminded how much I hate to be cold.
Classes started at 7am. Well, when we had the morning shift. The building was used by another high school, and so for one month we had the building from 7 until 1. The other shift was from 1 until 7pm.
Due to the water regimes I had running water in my apartment from 6am to 10am. And again from 6pm to 10pm. There was one space heater for the entire apartment. The walls and floor were concrete, which held in cold really well. My refrigerator, the kind that college kids rent for dorm rooms here in America, was on the balcony, but I discovered that my kitchen was cold enough in winter that I didn’t need the fridge at all.
There was no washing machine or laundromat. Everything was hand washed in a bucket and hung on the balcony to dry. I discovered that clothing can freeze and that you should never hang your laundry out when the baba upstairs plans on beating her carpets.
There was no money to de-ice roads or sidewalks. There was no money to heat all of the rooms in the school (or light all the hallways in the hospitals). They told me the school was up a hill. Hill, I discovered, is really a matter of perspective.
At the bottom of this hill were about twenty steps. The iced filled the steps and turned them into a slide. Someone would come by and hack grooves in the ice–enough room for one foot. Then the steps ended. I discovered I didn’t fall as much if I reached for hanging branches to walk up to the first turn in the path. Students passing me laughed.
Sometimes a fellow teacher took my arm and helped me up the next part of the path. I discovered at that height the thick brownish yellow factory-made cloud was at eye level. Sometimes the wind blew the cloud into the side of the hill. The picture shows the school from the last turn on the path.
I’d get to class and the students ignored me. The chalkboard had holes it. The bucket of water and a rag were the eraser. No fresh water for the bucket was available. I discovered that no running water isn’t that big a deal if the toilets are holes in the floor.
I had no textbook and no access to a copy machine. Some students played cards, read the newspaper, or didn’t bother to come at all. Some students, four or five out of 27 or 28, listened and took notes. Some students who had never spoken to me, suddenly had something to say when Kurt Cobain shot himself. I was not allowed to fail certain students.
Some fellow teachers became friends. Some were sure that something was so wrong with me that my government had sent me to them to get rid of me.
I discovered that few students cared how hard I thought things were. They didn’t care how raw my hands got hand washing sheets, how the first stage of frost bite felt on my feet, how long it took me to hand copy worksheets for them, or how many hours I spent trying to come up with lesson plans to educate and entertain 230 teenagers. It’s not like they invited me. It’s not like it was going to be my life forever.
I’ve discovered that agents don’t care what I go through to send them a letter. The writing and rewriting. The making of art. The giving up of most television and socializing. The nice things others say. The forgetting of birthdays and phone calls. The sacrifice of career advancement in order to write. The agonizing over every word on a query letter–and the formatting and the address labels and the everything. It’s not like they invited me to this writing life.
But it isn’t like the Peace Corps where I knew in a couple years I was going to pack my bags and go home.
What have you discovered through all your hard work?