As I walked into the classroom with Juana, all I heard was gibberish: a word here, a word there, but mostly lots of noise as the kids settled into their desks.
The teacher wore jeans and a t-shirt and she quickly established order: Literature was first. The students took out these mini notebooks that looked almost like my old composition books, complete even with stickers and drawings/colors.
Before the teacher began to teach, she gave the kids a talking to– from what I could gather, there had been some sort of antagonizing that had happened between the boys and girls. She spoke to them about how they’d been given a chance to succeed, and it was up to them whether they worked hard and graduated at the end of the year, or if they goofed off and ended up not passing their classes. It was much like a talk my class might have received from a teacher when I was that age– the only difference was that what waited me when I went home was not a shack. It was not hunger. It was not a dirt floor nor no running water. Again, not much changes in sixth grade, but there were still acute differences from my experience years ago. Most importantly, I didn’t have nearly as much riding on sixth grade as these boys and girls seemed to.
The classwork was fascinating to watch– but perhaps most interesting were the posters around the room. I have to dig up the photos from a friend to see if I can show you them. BUT, what the posters revealed, was that their reality as sixth graders included things my reality as a sixth grader didn’t even begin to touch upon–and, it returned to the conversations that Juana and I had earlier that day. Pregnancy at a young age was clearly the norm, and it was rarely pregnancy by choice. Many pregnancies were a result of domestic abuse or a relationship with a boyfriend.
When I had answered Juana’s question about my boyfriend with “Not right now, I don’t want a boyfriend.” she had replied, with a clarity beyond her age, “It’s because you want to be free, isn’t it?” Bam. Hit straight to the point. I told her that she was right–I have projects I want to finish and places I want to travel; lives I want to touch, and stories I want to hear. I want to have my life get messy and co-mingled with others’ so that I am not the same. I’m not sure that it all made it through translation.
In the classroom, although the teacher had placed me with a group that didn’t include Juana, she was constantly turning and watching me. The different moves I made, the action I took, the helping the group I was with… she saw it all. Even though Juana and I only spoke for a few minutes, we were linked. The next day would confirm this even more, during the closing ceremonies.