Saturday, September 15, 2007

Part Five

In my old life, the one “before”, in addition to other things, I was a manager at Billie’s Country. For my first 10 years there, I was the buyer, marketer, advertiser, planner, coordinator, newsletter writer, organizer and scheduler … but after I went along on a few of my kids’ elementary school field trips, I realized we at Billie’s could offer field trips too. And I could teach them. I was qualified to do this because I knew crafts and I knew kids. So in 1996 I became “Mrs. O – the craft teacher” and added teaching to my resume.

A field trip at Billie’s would last 45 minutes. I would greet the students at the back door on the porch and welcome them to our store. I told them how it came to be built and named; then invite them to look around the upper two floors for a few minutes. Before I took them to the classroom in the basement I’d tell them what we typically did in the room we were standing in (receiving and pricing) then, as they walked past me to go down the stairs, I’d use my pricing gun and “price” them with a tag like they were walking cans of Campbell’s soup.

Downstairs I’d have the tables set up with all their supplies, and for the next half hour I’d be witty, helpful, creative, kind, chatty, confident and silly. The field trips were a hit and some teachers booked time with me a whole year in advance. A couple teachers would use their entire field trip budget at Billie’s booking 6 – 7 trips in one year.

One aspect of doing these field trips that I didn’t count on was the way the kids would respond to me, as their teacher. Oh my goodness … the hugs, the high fives, the expressions of joy. Help a kid with a craft, tell them it (and they) are awesome and wow…you’ve got a love fest on your hands. Despite my stoic Neumann background, and much to my surprise, I would get all warm and fuzzy inside during those field trips.

I experienced a tiny slice of that ‘lovin’ feeling’ today at day camp.

It was a day similar to yesterday, in that I spent the morning at the build site photographing everyone’s children except mine swinging their hammers or painting wood. There were slightly more jobs to do as 10 of our group joined South Langley on their visit to a migrant camp – so if you looked hard enough, there was always a wall that needed hammering or a piece of trim that could use a coat of paint.

After lunch, Carmen and crew set up day camp. And I proceeded to photograph everything that moved. And didn’t move, for that matter. Rocks make lovely subjects for photos…

“Jane, can you give us a hand,” Carmen asked. I was back from taking pictures of the guys down at the soccer field climbing the goal posts.

“Uh, sure …” I put my camera around my neck and back over my shoulder sliding it out of the way.

We are attempting to make stuff. With the kids. Who don’t speak our language. In a dusty empty lot. On two portable rubber maid tables. Under the blazing sun. On a windy afternoon.

The supplies are kept in Rubbermaid containers under the tables, and every time we open them up, a gust of wind whips strips of tissue paper, sticker sheets, coloring books pages, pre-cut pieces of curling ribbon and glittery stuff into the street. And when the gusts died down, the regular wind pushes everything off the tables and into the dirt below.

Not a single kid complains. They are thrilled to be making something. Overjoyed even. They have big, toothy smiles and sparkles in their eyes as they glue and decorate. Language is not a problem, if they need something, they just get my attention and point. I watch in amazement as some of the older boys pick up stickers covered in reddy brown dirt from the ground, brush them off and hand them to me. They want what we have, but they won’t steal it from us …they wait til we give it to them.

I find myself slipping back and becoming the Mrs O of ‘96 again. It’s probably only for a few minutes, but because I’m not looking at the kids through my camera lens, I’m able to see past their eyes and into their hearts, And the kid who bugged me the day before because he kept saying the one English word he knew in a most annoying way (“MONEY?!) didn’t annoy me at all as I helped him glue shiny silver ribbon to his 2L pop bottle.

I chat non stop in English as I cut strips of tape, observing that no one has a clue what I’m saying.
“But they can hear it in your tone, Jane. And they’re responding to that.” Carmen wisely notices.

The 2007 version of me emerges again, and the need to photograph the kids is overwhelming. Clint warned me about this exact thing. When asked if he was going to bring his video camera along to Mexico he said, “Either I participate in the trip or I record the trip. It’s really hard to do both.” And it’s so true. The humanitarian side of me (think Di or Angelina) was longing to make crafts in the wind and the dirt with happy Mexican kids. But the artistic side of me (think Picaso with his face on sideways) ached to be photographing their sticky glue covered fingers, their rich brown eyes and their just-getting-their-adult-teeth smiles.

I am lucky to be on this trip.

However, all the sneezing from the night before has morphed into a full on head cold complete with all-over body ache and the inability to breathe through my nose. My bones are tired and I want to sit down in the worst way … I keep thinking of my green lawn chair back home, wishing I had packed it along. We head back to Eden at 4 and most everyone takes advantage of the permission we’ve been given to use the pool. I take advantage of the fact that everyone is in the pool and scoop a shower.

Dinner is tacos at an authentic Mexican road-side diner. They are probably delicious but my head cold is preventing my taste buds from being effective. That, and the fact that I am balancing my plate, camera, and beverage on my lap while sitting on a low rock, makes the experience not as awesome as it could have been. Again, I long for my lawn chair. It’s the little things that make such a huge difference.

While we’re perched on the rocks that line the property, a local family drops by to have dinner. Instead of joining the line up, they sit on the hood of their car, watching and laughing at us as if we are a dinner theatre group entertaining them.

I am pretty much toast by 7 pm, and more than chocolate I’m craving a seat. I just want to sit on a surface wide enough to accomodate my entire rear end. So rather than join everyone walk to a local ice cream parlour, I set my sorry butt down on the front seat of the bus. Sheldon locks me on board, saying he doesn’t want the kids getting on and off the bus. Which is fine by me until I realize the toilet at the back is full, none of the windows open, and I, with my impaired nose, am actually tasting the waste odor in my mouth. It was just that potent. But I’m sitting down, so that’s something.

Eventually we make it back to camp, I drug myself up with cold medicine then skip devos to be with Sophie. As I download photos we talk for awhile about nothing and everything. After she goes to bed, and while I’m typing up my thoughts on my laptop in one corner of the gazebo, Dave and his daughter have a passionate, emotional, tear-filled conversation that yanks on my heartstrings over on the other side of the power pole. Just as they're saying good night to each other I say, “I have no idea what you were talking about. I couldn’t hear your words. But holy cow it sounded like a great talk. I love conversations with tears, you just don’t get that with sons…”

We’ve made a deal. When I need to talk like that, I’m supposed to drop Drew off with Dave. They’ll grunt and weld in his garage. I can take his daughter(s) out for coffee and cry. Win. Win. Win.

“Uh, guys?” I say to the girls in my tent. “Not sure if I snored last bight or not…”
Michelle nods. “Oh, you did. I heard you.”
“OK, that’s embarrassing. But I have a feeling tonight might be worse. I can’t breave out of by nose.”

“God? Please, can you get rid of this cold for me? Just heal me. Now. Quickly. I CANNOT be sick here. And thanks. Thanks for today, Thanks that I felt a small measure of confidence and am able to contribute something to this trip. For awhile this afternoon, I felt like the old me. Just a little bit secure and OK about myself. What is my problem down here? I feel so out of sorts. So inept. So old. So alone. So unsure of who I am and what I should do. Do I need a buddy? Someone to hang out with? Process things with? Laugh with? Cry with? Someone who will pull me out of this blechh? Could I connect with someone? I know my kids sure don’t want me sitting with them, or talking to them. I’m guessing most of the teens feel that way. If someone does need to talk, or needs a mom-touch, God let me be sensitive to that.

God I hate being so needy. Please give me Your strength to get through the rest of this trip. Physical strength and mental strength. God, I’m here to take photos. Please help me do a good job. Help me capture the essence of this country and the people we’ve met. God, when I write about it later, please give me the words. Thank you for this evening. Thank you for the taco guy. Thank you for Eden. God help me to see the beauty here and not get all wrapped up in my need to find places to sit. Please empty my nose. Please help me to not snore. Thank you God for the kind words that have been said about the pictures I’ve taken so far. God, help me to be a blessing to those around me, not a hindrance. Remember, I’m not worried about spiders. So your don’t need to have me face that fear…”


Anonymous said...

Hi Jane,
I love reading through this. I think I would have felt exactly how you felt through a lot of this! It's easy to become accustomed to the creature comforts we have here...

I read your comment about agressive mexican children and it made me sad. My parents were missionaries until I was 10 and I remember those children, only they were Colombian. Having a child of my own fills me with compassion even to see Canadian children who have hard lives, let alone the poverty and future faced by third world. Sad.

We are blessed to give our children what we can. I wonder what words would have come from the mouths of the Mexicans, watching privileged Canadian teens get their hands dirty. Curious.

Anyways, keep the entries coming. I'm sure I speak for many of your readers when I say that we are fascinated by each one. You are a lovely woman, sentence by sentence.


Anonymous said...

I would go out for coffee and talk and cry with you anytime Mrs. O. Probably one of my favourite things to do!