I just turned to Liz, a volunteer from Australia, and commented that sometimes when I’m at school I feel like I’m herding cats. She gave me a look and said, “You feel like what?” Apparently “herding cats” isn’t an expression in Australia, but after confirming the phrase, she agreed it was an appropriate description of the scenario at hand.
Lunch is late and there are about 45 children between the ages of 3 and 5 who are waiting to eat. The teachers and other volunteers are in the classrooms with other kids and I seem to be one of the few monitoring those waiting for lunch. I hope I’m not doing something culturally inappropriate by trying to keep them from climbing all over the desks they use for lunch. My Spanish seems to be improving as I’m able to get the point across that I’d like them to stay in their chairs. This doesn’t mean they’re staying put, but they know what I’m asking…
Each child has brought a container to school that the women in the kitchen will use to serve their lunch. I know this is called a tapel. Each child also has his or her cuchara (spoon) and taza (cup). When the food is ready, we’ll try to make out the names written on the tapels and then match those w/ the kids. It’s an imperfect system, but most days we get through it without incidence and everyone gets fed.
It strikes me that language is only half of what you use to communicate. My Spanish is limited at best and I’m convinced that half of what I say doesn’t mean anything, or at least it doesn’t mean what I hope it means. But we manage to communicate through gestures and context and tone. A question still sounds like a question, a cry like a cry, a plea like a plea. I can get a little girl to take a few more bites of her lunch by saying, “por favor” and pouting a little, like it makes me sad that she’s not eating, which it does. And a smile helps when neither of us understands the other.
-Garen May 7, 2009