teenagers in gigante

It’s been sunny for a whole four days now. It did pour noisily this morning and actually, a lot of the night, but I was sleeping so it no count. 

On Sunday, I took advantage of the cloud-less sky to take a hike to Colorado, the beach one over from Gigante, and go for a swim. Rather than walk along the beach and clamber over rocks, I opted for the over-land route, which took me up and over the hill separating the two coves. There’s a road that traverses the hill, one I walked before, so I didn’t think it would be all that difficult. The road was like a Chia pet, suddenly hairy and full of life when a month ago it was bald. So much so that I lost the road for a bit and bushwhacked through the brush with a giant stick. (I actually only realized I had lost the road when I found it again, muddy and clear as opposed to my path). At one point, I came to a valley and looked up to find myself in a cactus grove, eerie and quite as cacti loomed overhead by twenty feet. They grow naturally all around the area, something I still find so jarring in this tropical landscape. It was so quiet that the rainbow crabs scuttling in the underbrush were loud, so loud I stopped, believing that some other animal was stalking me. I stumbled out of the dense forest onto the brightness of the beach, startled by the contrast, loving it. After a lovely swim, I read my book and soaked up some happy sun.

Adam se fue on Monday, so I am officially the sole volunteer in a room that seems too big for me now. There are four guests here and, oddly enough, I’ve become the person who knows things around here. They ask me questions about Gigante, about restaurants in town, about where to find water or tea, and—I know the answers. It’s bizarre. I also am the only bilingual one here, so I’ve been translating, which I actually quite enjoy as it flexes my brain muscles. 

Due to all the sunny sun sun, I’ve had lots of students this week. Maybe it’s the change in weather, but literally from Friday to Monday, something shifted in the teenager psyche of Gigante. Whatever the cause, I am witnessing for the first time as an outsider how weird teenagers really are. I am thrilled that I am no longer a teenager myself. Teenage angst is perhaps the same across cultural/linguistic barriers, but there’s also something funny about witnessing it in Spanish in a small town.

It seems as though the night class is now the ‘cool’ class. Two students from my afternoon class showed up last night, acting very old but in the very act of acting old, seeming young and super awkward (funny how I see that now. Oh, poor 16-year-old Megan, if only you knew. This paragraph is making me feel old. Bleh.) Over the course of a weekend, it seems they became too old and wise for the afternoon class. My best afternoon student has a new boyfriend, who hasn’t actually ever been to the night class, but came last night, and so now she wants to come at night.

Rosemary, an afternoon individual (one who I view as a girl) came to class last night and sat next to another individual (one who I view as a man) and held hands. I realize this is not an appropriate reaction as a teacher, but ICK! Stop it. Stop it now. You’re fourteen, missy. I don’t know how old he is, but he’s older. This is symptomatic of Latin culture, I think, especially small town Latin culture—large age differences between couples are really not taboo. (I say couples as if it could work the other way, but really I mean a younger girl and older male.) Now, I know Latinos are a touchy, affectionate people, a quality I normally quite enjoy coming from the personal-space-mania of the U.S.; but please remove your hand from his leg, look me in the eye, and tell me how to say ‘I am hungry’! I gave her a big eyebrow raise and she toned it down a notch, although she did not pay attention to class at all. She also didn’t know what “How old are you” means at 6:00 p.m., sitting next to lover-boy, but oddly enough, knew this phrase three weeks ago at 3:00 p.m., without such distractions. Girl, don’t play dumb.

Over the course of this very same weekend, little Selena decided she is too old for the morning class and whispered to me while the others were packing up that she’d like to come in the afternoon. Seriously, is there a too-cool-for-school aging potion in the Gigante water or something?

I’m bemused by the perception that the later a class is, the more advanced it must be. Actually, the class that has improved the most is my morning class—and the English-acquisition goes downhill as the sun descends. I must be honest. I had never particularly enjoyed teaching little kids. I mean they’re fine for short periods, and always cute, but they’re loud and just. don’t. listen. But, in terms of language acquisition, eleven-year-olds are just fantastic. Their little minds are like sponges; they’re thrilled to sing a song called ‘little green frog’ and read a story about a little red fish; and get super excited when they remember even a word. I tell ya, I appreciate excitement more than ever now. The difference between the older teens/adults and the little kids is the difference between MVP and Most Improved Player. Certainly the older ones know more, but their English just doesn’t budge, unlike that of the wee ones. I knew this on an academic level, but like so many academic things, I didn’t really know it until I saw an 11-year-old sing “Mm AH went the little green frog one day!” and a twenty year old ask how to say three. 

Throughout all these changes, I went along with the shifting tide without protest or public observation, but I am a bit confused by it all. I believe much of it has to do with small-town life. Changing, growing lives are illuminated clearly here, in the Gigante bubble. In a big city, one person changes, makes a decision, and it is lost in the tide of lots of lives sweeping by in noisy succession. In a little town in the rainforest, these trivial, probably unconscious decisions are made distinct, influence others, and suddenly things are different. Not very different, but there you have it.  

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