No Fighting:Brazilian-style.

11 08 2006

My body aches. For the second morning in a row, I could not get out of bed. Literally. On Wednesday, Kendra and I went with another teacher, César to play capoeira–the Brazilian fight that is really looks more like violent gymnastics and dance put together. I thought I would go just to see what it´s like, but I ended up having no choice but to participate. And in the end, I´m glad I did.

Capoeira was what African slaves in Brazil did to train for fighting without the owners knowing what they were doing. It is put to music and there is clapping, jumping, and kicking–so it looks artful and recreational, but intended to teach slaves how to fight.

We arrived at the studio, an open, street-level white-walled room, with bright lights and a grey-paintéd cement floor, on which was painted “cordaõ de ouro`´ (the gold cord).  A class had already been going, so we joined in their final circle and stood clapping and watching people fight each other. Music was loud, fighters jumped and kicked and tangled with each other within the circle, wearing white, sweating and laughing, always eyes wide open. People who wanted to fight would jump in and shake hands with the people their opponents, then cartwheel into the circle and begin twisting and turning and jumping.

All the while, I stood in my blue sweatpants and white t-shirt looking on and clapping. Since it was the end of one class, I thought I would step out and sit through to watch the next class, not join in. But before I knew it, I was up and stretching, doing jumping jacks and kicks. Sommersaults and counting, ´´Um, dois, tres, quatro…´´ in time to music playing on the CD player in the back. We ran around in a circle, backwards, forwards, skipping to the side, always fast, always changing. The room, already warm from the city air, heated up quickly and I found myself sweating and breathing hard. We tumbled on cushiony red mats and after my first sommersault, I felt dizzy, hungover. I tumbled two more times and gave up with that exercise. Hot and dizzy is not a good combination.

We began dancing with sticks, a practice which is not capoeira, but a different Afro-Brazilian tradition. This is when I felt most at home, not that I´m African or Brazilian, but dancing and counting are things I can do. I felt more in my skin then. And then the real capoeira began–standing in a circle, meeting my opponent, and cartwheeling and kicking. I had no idea what I was doing. At one point, my first time going into the circle, I backed away, motioning that I had no idea what I was doing.

And I felt mad with myself for doing that. Why couldn´t I just bite the bullet and go in the circle? Kendra went in and I watched what she was doing. She didn´t know what she was doing either, and that made me feel better, so then I went in. At one point, I kicked, and one of the women watching said ´´Oh! Bom!´´ and so I knew maybe I had done something right. Today, I am still sore–my calves have knots in them.

When César drove us to capoeira that night, we talked about where we lived. I had shown his son a picture of my home–the one I carry around with me that has snow all over the roof and ground. César said he had only seen snow once, and his son never has. It´s hard for me to realize that snow is a new thing for many people in the world. This morning, I went down to Kendra´s 3rd grade classroom and showed her students that same picture. Their eyes were wide as they stared and one boy asked, ´´Is that paint on the roof, or is that snow?´´When I replied it was snow, the boy shivered and said it looked really cold at home.

I really think I like it here. I think I will miss the snow, especially around November or December when my body starts needing to feel a change of season. I was looking at my friend´s pictures online last night. She lives in Oregon with her husband, and I saw a picture of her cooking something on the stove. She was wearing a scarf and a sweater, and it made me wonder when I will wear those clothes at the same time again–and for longer than a day.

My students are really sweet–and actually, many of the younger kids here are sweet. I say the younger kids because I don´t know many of the older kids. My world now is a 7th grade world, and it´s fun, and it´s giggly, and it´s squirmy. It is full of questions and poking and whispering with mischievous eyes. It´s a world of mouthing words across a classroom when you´re not supposed to. It´s a world of wanting to please people and of wanting to do things right. It´s a world of double-checking to make sure you understand. It is such a nice world here and I am thinking I really like it.

As I rubbed my eye yesterday, sitting on a bench and waiting for the sixth grade math class to empty out of my room, a little girl–skinny, wearing pink, approached me, concern furrowing her brow. “Are you okay?´´ She asked. I looked at her with surprise and confusion and assured her I was alright.

“Why?´´ I ask.

“It looked like you were crying,´´ she responded. “Another teacher did that today, too.´´ I thanked her for her concern and told her she was very kind to ask me if I was okay. And that reminded me of my very first day of school here, when one eighth grade boy approached me and welcomed me to our school. “I hope you will be happy here,´´ he said. And I am sure he meant it.

I have been impressed with these kids´sense of politeness. Very few students I had in The States would have taken the time out to be so polite to me. Very few. There were definitely some who were genuinely full of care, but for the most part, kids there couldn´t care less about teachers.

Today I stood in the computer lab watching my kids type their final drafts. I gave one warning: “Anyone using the Internet without my permission will lose computer privileges for the quarter.´´ That´s all I had to say. I didn´t hear any complaints, I didn´t even see kids attempt to click on the Internet Explorer icon. Kids did what they had to do; they responded to my directions and instructions. My god, I thought. I don´t have to fight to be heard or respected. There´s no fighting.

In The States, in city schools (or rather, in the two city schools I have worked in) it is a constant fight. Nothing is easy. Some teachers may have better relationships with students than other teachers do; some teachers may have better classroom management skills than other teachers do. But nothing–nothing–is easy. The kids´lives: not easy. Keeping on top of behavior: not easy. Attempting to gain respect from students: not easy. Trying to teach: definitely not easy, especially when you have to manage everything else.

But here–here, I was able to teach two grammar lessons yesterday without a moment of a fight or displeasure. I am sure the kids weren´t thrilled about capitalization and verb tense lessons, but they did it. And no one mouthed off to me, no one said a thing. It was an alien experience. But I taught yesterday. I was a teacher yesterday. I had a lesson with an objective and I finished it. There was no fighting. For me, that´s huge.

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