Thursday, October 9, 2008

Can you juggle?

Can you juggle? Then, catch this. I may seem like a perpetual improv to some, but I like to plan ahead, knowing what’s coming up. Our workshop at Escola Cultural Mario Gusmão began with a bang. Luckily, due to Sunday’s election all public schools were closed on Friday and Monday. All voting booths are located in neighborhood schools. Many of the students at Gusmão didn’t show up Monday, thinking that these sessions were suspended too.

Hannah had a story telling and illustration workshop to give on Itaparica this morning. So, it was the boys club; Nathan, Rahul and me. Luis found a Norwegian exchange student, Nora to volunteer which helped. I learned quickly that we had misunderstood the class schedule. As we had planned we made the small kites, decorated them, with potato prints and wishes before flying them on the beach.

Everyone adults included shared the contact high of flying. Kids running, screaming and laughing in the sand, sprayed by slapping surf some struggled to keep the kites aloft. Now and then they were forced to stop abruptly to untangle string and tails with their classmates before moving on. It was all too much good fun.

Snack break was a very sweet version of Mingau, the warm corn and coconut drink that is served at Candomble ceremonies as well as the Catholic festa de São Roque. The lunch lady told me that when she has money to make food that they have to chew, they all stop and eat. Otherwise, it is quickly forgotten in favor of rough-housing. While they ate, we cleaned up and got ready for the next group.

At ten o’clock, they re-entered the cramped classroom, and I realized that we had a big misunderstanding to work through. I, we thought that each group had a ninety minute session, twice a week. Actually, they had two back to back ninety minute sessions twice per week. Now we had to create a new plan on the fly.

I asked if Raquel if there were children with musical aptitude? She told me that there was no music instruction on Monday’s so she did not know. ..Rahul created a quick call and response percussion workshop, which I translated for. Children chose different instruments and he created simple rhythms which the kids repeated or riffed on. We made a brief performance and then the dance teacher had them demonstrate their long term modern dance piece. Nathan developed a crush on the teacher, or a fantasy on her physique.

Lunchtime was a bit dicey for us since most restaurants were closed. We finally found a Churrasceria and shared a decent meal of grilled chicken and requisite starches. After lunch we prepared to divide our group and our curriculum to better allow for the time frame.

First we began the music workshop, until we were interrupted by Jose Carlos, the sweet and flighty theatre teacher. He explained that he works Monday afternoon through Wednesday morning. He also had a long term project, which included puppet making, scene writing and a dramatization of the scenes. He wanted to pick up where he had left off last week. We agreed to collaborate. He took half a dozen students and worked on scene memorization and puppeteering while Rahul and I created the musical improve workshop. We worked separately, then came together to create a collaborative piece.

Raquel appeared in the doorway, and briefly apologized for not telling us, or confirming with him. The beat goes on. I was beginning to see that a blustery wind enveloped Raquel. Everything was in flux and not fixed other than her push up bra, and revealing dresses, more suited to a dinner dance than an inner city art program.

This time everything came together well and easily. Hannah showed up just at the tail end of the kite flying episode. Mel, her heartthrob had come in moments before her, anxious to see her. After class they helped us prep for the next day’s session.

All day Raquel had floated in and out with issues, ideas and hot button neuroses. The back and forth in English and Portuguese was thoroughly exhausting. I had deduced that she was jealous of my language skills. “I studied your English for one and a half year and I am not speaking like you, only here two month.” I explained that I had also studied in America and that I had an aptitude for language. She couldn’t hear me. The train wreck had already happened. Now she wanted to take us back to the mall for more string. Nathan wanted to swim and not prep. I was beginning to be too through.

Mel suggested that we get dinner, let’s call him Mr. Détente. Raquel finally went home. We walked to Rio Vermelho and had actually wonderful thin crust with good fresh toppings at Companhia de Pizza, the top place in town. We hung out for a bit on the roof deck watching the moon and the waves before we went into our dorm digs. Our room bed to bed to bed was a little too close for pleasure.

Later that evening, Nathan decided to pick up his friend Chad at the airport and sleep with her in the Pelourinho. He cajoled us to try and help him find a taxi, though we both fell asleep before he packed and left. Chad a sweet Cambodian friend from Australia is also an art writer who helps to pump his work. I wasn’t sure what she got in the bargain.

Day 2, we had decided would repeat the format we had arrived at yesterday afternoon. First we would do the music and theatre collab-confab and then finish with the kite making project. Well by 8:35 Jose Carlos had not arrived. When I asked Raquel about him, “He has too many emotional issues. You cannot depend on him. He often doesn’t show up.”

I lost it. Every other minute I had had to hear or bear some part of her scattered histrionics. It was not my fault that he cannot get it together. In fact, she never told me to expect him in the first place. I wanted to know what she was going to do about his absence? Would she or someone else fill the gap? Did she have his puppet script? “Go, work it out!--will you?” I bellowed. She cringed. Turning to walk away, she bumped into him as he rushed to cover his tardiness and get to work. Ten minutes later an attractive young black woman appeared with a pad and a camera. “Raquel sent me to see you. I am the journalist here to interview you for Tarde newspaper.” I rolled my eyes, wanting to foam at the mouth.

Raquel entered the room. Immediately she suggested that I sit down and complete the interview. I pointed to the children and said, “We’re teaching.” “-But, she is here now. We need this. The Assistant Superintendent of Education is coming this afternoon. You need to make an impression.” I had not recalled the contract negotiations. What was my pay rate? Were there benefits? No. Not unless you factor in the guilt over not doing the best thing possible for the children.

The sticky filaments of freshly spun webbing were tightening around my mid section. She was good at roping me into her hell. I had taken the bait. I was pissed, when Nathan and Chad arrived at school, just before lunch.

We took lunch at the officer’s club. Hannah and I shared a crunchy platter of baby camarão com alho e azeite. Nathan and Chad ate starches and Caipirinhas. I walked to the bar to pay our tab, and realized that the large table of older adult men were serenading each other with old Brasilian love songs. One man played the Cavaquinho and the other a twelve string classical guitar. I stood listening quietly, until one mad berated me for listening to his out of tune friend. I disagreed, and was then ordered to sit down. All old enough to have been repressive turds in the60-70’s junta, they were all quite nostalgic now.

Hannah came to snag me, just as the one brown man, sashayed over in his Speedo and nothing else, “Não dançou você, se não dançaba com um Africano. Você gostaria dançar comigo?” She replied, “—Uh, no. I mean yes, I would like to, but we can’t. We have to teach.” Stumbling over her words, she repeated herself.”

My new retiree pal asked how far we had to go as he offered us beer to entice us. We left, walked into class just before the Board of Education Administrator. She decided to observe Rahul’s process. In less than an hour we had this group, 15 kids, working as an ensemble with solos. It was hot.

Augusto arrived with a new fellow, Michael, just as we finished. The music teacher stepped up, saying that he wanted to direct his kids to sing too. He proceeded to lead three renditions of classic Brazil pop songs, while accompanying the chorus of kids with an electric piano. The children performed this large work, while standing at attention, stiff as marionettes. He sucked the life out of the material and the children. Someone later said that they saw him as a quite repressed person, hmm.

They all left as we initiated today’s kite project. I had learned that this class had some rough kids in it. I always find these types zap your energy and require more one on one than the other kids. I want to nurture them since I see how compromised they are. Instead they just challenge every moment, charging the air with their volatility. Everyone pays for their inadequacies or poor upbringing.

We had segregated the kite project into component steps. Hannah and I learned that we could work together as a great team. Nathan prefers to get swallowed up in the aura of the children, one on his lap, two pulling gently on his hair while he helps them fold and paint. Stressor quotient was high. Now Raquel came to say that we could not have all of the kids out at once. Her director was anxious. I suggested staggered shifts. “No, that won’t do. There are too many to contend with.” I couldn’t understand her logic. At any time there were at least four teachers in their study-lounge area; often six. Sitting, talking and solving the crises of education and the failed system.

At the appropriate time, I sent the first group at with Rahul, while we stayed behind to finish and cleanup. Ultimately I said screw it, and sent the kids out in shifts as I had suggested. I made sure that they were safely across the street;-what else did we need to do? The kids experienced the same visceral thrill, which softened and brightened my day. I told Raquel as I was leaving that I would send a disc of photos I took next week.

“Não. Vou precisar amanha. Temos uma reunião pronto na manha.”- Again, I felt caught. I understood how and why she could need the images for the director, but she had no sense of planning or grace to grease a wheel. “I will do what I can.” Rahul and I left without paying our mini-bar bill. I hoped that she would be stuck for the $8 reals.

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