Thursday, May 5, 2011

Guest Post

One of the assignments for Madison's homeschool was to write an essay about a time in her life that had a positive and or negative impact. She chose Jr. High - ah what a good choice :-) Anyway - over the next week or so I am going to post her essays here. It's an interesting thing to see Mission Life from the perspective of a kid (okay...okay...young woman - AAARRRGGGHHH!!!!). One thing about Madison's writing - I think she has an uncanny way of writing visual pictures. I can see it happening in my head. I know I'm biased, but I think she writes very well. Anyway - here it is:

Hell – Also known as Junior High
By: Madison Pettengill

Two years ago my parents and I stepped off a plane and onto the tarmac of the La Ceiba airport. Greeting us was the unrelenting heat wave, ratty dogs, and short people who were blabbering in a language I hardly understood. Grabbing our carry-on’s we lugged them inside and over to the front desk to collect the rest of our luggage. Then - using what little Spanish had been pounded into our brains over nine months in Costa Rica - we eventually deciphered that only two or three of our fourteen bags had made it on this flight because our scrawny ten person puddle-jumper would have literally been too weighted down if all our bags had been stuffed into it’s little cargo area. We looked at each other then hauled our three little duffle bags and carry-on’s outside as my dad hailed a taxi. It was hot. I had stood there dripping as my twelve-year-old California body suffered in the ninety-five percent Honduras humidity. Dad and the cabby argued a little bit over the cab fare. The driver was trying to bump up the price because, clearly, all gringos – including poor missionary gringos – are filthy rich. After the price was settled upon, we drove thirty minutes to our temporary back room of some nice person’s house. Where we lived for a week with exactly three changes of clothes, no Spanish, no money, and little food. Welcome to Honduras.
A month later and we lived in a new house, had a new car, and I was going to a new bilingual school. I would wake up every day and dress in the school uniform I hated. My stifling, white polo matched perfectly with my stifling, blue-with-vertical-white-striped pants that were too long. Even though we had gone to the fitter four times to get them done, my pants were still uncomfortable. All Honduran girls of my age will paint their pants onto their legs so they look as loose as a python, while I will bypass the girl’s section in Target and head directly over to the 9-12 section of the boy’s clothing to buy my pants. So therefore, when I asked the seamstress to make them ‘loose’ she first gave me a look of utter confusion and then made the pants two sizes too small so that I couldn’t even put them on, let alone be comfortable in them. Three visits and three iterations of ‘loose’ later, when my mom asked how they felt, my exasperated answer was: “Cotton stretches in the wash, right?”
The first five days at any school will always be nerve-wracking no matter what country it’s in. However, the oh-she’s-the-new-kid treatment I got the first week of 7th grade never really seemed to go away. As the newness faded and became familiarity and my novelty of a new school faded and became part of daily life, so the nice relationships with my 37 classmates faded over time.
The first week had gone by and I had had a couple of forced conversations with my class. Two weeks ended and I still had no one to really talk to in lunch. A full first month had just passed but I was still optimistic. Two months and I was now fully familiar with the entire campus layout and had almost memorized my school schedule but I only knew the names of four people in my class. Three months came and went. There was still no one in my class who would really talk with me in lunch. In group projects, I had to really struggle and plead for someone to temporarily accept me into their little unit to complete a simple assignment.
Five months ended and I was the most depressed I had ever been. I still only knew a handful of names, I was still alone at lunch, and I still had to pull the my-teacher-told-me-too card to get into group projects. The only difference was that instead of my best-case scenario being a half-hearted conversation with someone, my best-case scenario was that my class ignored me. When my parents asked me how my day was, the pre-recorded little ‘It was good’ became the popular answer.
Six months and I was fed up. I hated waking up at 5:30 every day, pulling on the horrific uniform, heaving on my far too heavy backpack, eating an un-motivating breakfast, and dreading every second of the 25 minute drive to school.
Thank goodness for the school library. The books I buried myself in were the only things that kept me sane for the last three months of the circle of Hell known as Junior High. I am normally a very bubbly, out going person who will walk up to a perfect stranger and be able to make friends with them. As my time progressed, however, and all my normal modes of life and self-defense utterly exhausted, the one thing I had left to me, was to escape reality and submerge myself in a paper-filled, inter-dimensional portal of myth and fantasy. Nonetheless, my parents still wanted the best for me, though I fought the notion. So, for the last two months of that year, I was absolutely not allowed to ever –even under the most dire situations- read during the teacher’s lecture.
School ended and summer break started. I had the greatest two weeks of summer a nearly thirteen year old had ever had. Then, it seems, the school had lied to me. At the beginning of the year, the director had told my parents that, because it was my first year there, they would give me a pardon in all my Spanish classes because my Spanish sucks. Apparently I had failed my music class and apparently that, although my music class was in Spanish, and fell under the even-if-you-suck-we’ll-still-pass-you umbrella I still had to spend a full month of my summer break doing- makeup work? No, I did absolutely nothing. I sat there for two hours each day in my school uniform waiting for my music teacher to get there and then did about an hour not doing homework and instead learning the Honduran national anthem. By the end of the month I could play that anthem perfectly on my stupid plastic recorder.
I pity everyone who ever has to go through a public school environment for Junior High. Although the one I endured was a private school, it’s confining and – in many cases – conflicting rules produced an environment comparable to public school. That environment caused me to transfer schools next year. After I left, my old school stopped accepting gringos. I harbor the suspicion that I was the cause of this quite dramatic change.

1 comment:

Cindy in California said...

Oh, don't know me but I can SO relate. Jr. High was also h*ll for me. I cannot think of a time in my life that I hated more. I did not move to a new country and have to attend a school where many (most?? all??) of the classes were in another language either. I changed schools to an ubber conservative Christian school and my sister's and I did not fit in because we were not so ubber conservative, despite the fact that we all loved and served the same God. And to add insult to injury we had to ride on the bus one hour in the morning and 1 1/2 hours in the afternoon with these blockheads.

I know Honduran school uniforms are not fashionable. We begged for uniforms at this school. Oh, no, they wanted everyone's entire wardrobe to be so ugly, I mean conservative. It would have been nice to only have to have a couple of ugly things instead of an entire school wardrobe, plus it's hard to keep teenage girls in skirts that go to the middle of their knees when they are growing like weeds.

The entire four years were ABSOLUTELY miserable. I applaud your ability to be able to look back at such a recent time in your life and be able to process it in such a positive way. You ROCK girl! You have terrific parents who helped you get through it and come out alive on the other end. It has and will make you a better person but these positives do not diminish the h*ll it was.

If I were you, I would accept it as a proud accomplishment if you are the reason the school no longer accepts gringos. Unfortunately, in the long run they are the loosers for this choice on so many levels.

I look forward to the remainder of the guest posts.