It’s been a long day. A really long day. On our way to the office this morning as we turned the corner about a football field from our office building, the van slowed to a stop, and Lauren started pulled her bags together and opened the door to teach her lesson at the Center for Training and Employment for Disabled Persons.
“Goodbye, Lauren. Good luck today,” I said.
“What do you mean, Bryan. You’re coming with me, remember?” she responded.
I thought she was joking before remembering that the day before I’d promised to teach a lesson. Horrified—because I hadn’t even begun to think about how I might adapt my lessons to a collection of individuals with a huge age range and a tremendously wide variety of disabilities, from deafness to Down Syndrome—I jumped from my seat and followed Lauren down the cool, shaded country road down to the center.
Blindfolds. I had some of those in my bag, so I knew I could do something with them.
“I have some tennis balls,” Lauren said, “Could you do something with that?”
I sifted through all the activities in my mind to try to eliminate those focused on speech—so as not to leave out the deaf students—or too much movement—so as not to exclude those in wheelchairs and to avoid giving one of the elderly women a heart attack. Little remained on my mental list.
At the center, though, our hour class flew by. The favorite game by far was one in which someone would be called from a circle and forced to dance, sing, or make an animal noise. Our star for the day was a man with Down Syndrome who rocked his hips and contorted his hands and arms in what looked like something between Bhangra and belly dancing. My elephant noises didn’t stand a chance. He had all of us screaming and laughing the whole class.
After class Lauren and I went to see the jewelry they were making. The very pieces I’d seen in touristy shops at Trou Aux Biches, Grande Baie, and the Crocodile Park were being crafted by hand here in this center. While some of the students seemed perfectly content carving and beading away, others looked bored, even sad. The two girls who were deaf had constructed delicate and elaborate beaded works of art, pieces that a French man on holiday would soon buy proudly for his girlfriend just outside of a thatch-roof-resort in some beach town on the island. But it frustrated me to see two clearly intelligent, creative young girls confined to trade work. If jewelry were something they found fulfilling, interesting, and worthwhile, I would be happy for them. Their work, after all, was extraordinary. But they, most of all, seemed under-stimulated threading beads all day.
As we prepared to walk back to the office, the woman running the center asked that we stay a bit longer as they’d soon have guests from France coming to visit from a group focused on education of the deaf. On principle I don’t like to be used as advertisement because of the color of my skin, my education, or my country of origin, and I very much felt we were being kept to show the French visitors that white Americans from Yale cared about this center, so they should too. But I kept thinking to what opportunities this group from France might open the two deaf girls. Also, the woman asking was incredibly kind to us and seemed wholly dedicated to her students. So, we waited. The French arrived. We said, “Bonjour, Bonjour, Comment allez vous.” We shook hands. And then the French folks left.
As we said our goodbyes for the day, one of the deaf girls approached beaming, and spoke in carefully constructed syllables, “Merci beaucoup.”
I look forward to starting work at this center next week.
After work at the office I caught a 3:00 bus to Grand Gaube from Calebasses. The bus snaked through the countryside, wrapped around the Pamplemousses Botanical Garden, and headed north through the sugarcane fields. I arrived on the coast just before four and had an hour to relax before class. I walked across the street from the center to a public beach and sat out at a gazebo on the water to kick off my shoes, bite into an apple, and watch the anchored boats bob beneath the sinking sun.
I woke up as a chilly breeze whipped my face and realized I had just ten minutes until class.
Class was perfect. Two older guys, whom I thought might be trouble, helped keep the younger kids in line. They both seem eager to learn something about theater, and their interest and attention spread throughout the class. A girl in my class taught me applicable French words I didn’t know, so that was a tremendous help as well. The favorite activity of the day was one in which a blindfolded wolf had to tag sighted sheep, but the sheep had to choose a single chair and could never lose complete contact with it. It was hilarious to watch the wolf work his was down the leg of each chair while the sheep scrambled on the ground to stay out of reach of the wolf without letting go of the chair. Eventually our wolf ate up all the sheep, but harassment by the dead sheep made his job difficult, to say the least.
After class I was in high spirits. I think I understood for the first time how rewarding teaching can be. I stood on the side of the road for over an hour to catch the bus, which was about fifty minutes late, but it didn’t bother me at all. I was far too excited about my class to care. On the bus I met a man named Jason who lives near us in Triolet. He’s promised to invite me over for a meal sometime, so I look forward to that. I walked home with Jason after an hour bus ride and rolled up into the house with a dinner of beans and sautéed vegetables waiting. Maybe this is sappy, but I was pretty moved by the fact that my fellow Fellows had waited for me to eat until after eight. I know they were starving, so it meant a lot.
Anyway, it was an entirely exhausting but also unbelievably rewarding day. I hope my days stay that way. I’ll be working more permanently at the Disabled Persons center next week, so I’ll be sure to keep updating.
(pictures of my day will follow-internet permitting)