RECENTLY ON TOL:
- A tumblr site dedicated to the people and places that make up Oregon and Southwest Washington.
In 1990-92, I was a high school English teacher to students at an isolated, outer-island boarding school on Beru, a coral atoll in the central Pacific’s Republic of Kiribati. ‘My’ pristine white sand beach was 500 steps from my two room concrete house with its thatch-roofed, wall-less sleeping platform in the back yard. I had thick callouses on my bare feet, persistent skin infections, and my childhood slimness due to a diet of fish, rice and coconut, and not much else. I wouldn’t trade my experiences there for anything or anyone.
Best day: My singing/dancing-filled going-away party at the end of my service. The teachers told me the most valuable gift I had given them was not my conscientious, dedicated teaching, nor my library enrichment efforts, nor my curriculum-updating project. It was that I had sat a wailing, musically mournful vigil with them, on a thin pandanus leaf mat on the concrete floor of the community meeting hall, for 36 hours, when a colleague’s toddler died of dysentery. I knew then why I had come.
Worst day: I had an as-yet-undiagnosed case of giardia, but whatever it was, the symptoms were inconvenient, stinky and messy. The school principal was siphoning off tuition fees, which left 500 teenagers very hungry again. None of my students thought homework was a useful exercise, especially when the generator’s evening lighting was so weak. It rained hard and fast, as it always did, on the tin classroom roofs, drowning out my spelling quizzes and dictation paragraphs. All I had left to eat was Spam, canned peas and rock-hard ‘cabin biscuits’. No one would sell me any fresh fish, even though I’d settle for the head. The weekly 12-seater plane arrival bringing the mail hadn’t been seen for a month. Why had I come?
Best moment: Sobbing on the phone with Laurie, my grown daughter, from the San Francisco hotel, as our group was preparing to board the bus for our airport departure to begin in-country training. Suddenly I was filled with doubts, worries and uncertainty. Laurie gave me a verbal dose of fierce courage, which I knew she didn’t feel either. Off I went, never to regret any of it again.
Worst moment: Learning that one of my brightest, most motivated students had died of hepatitis while I was away for holiday. He was unconscious when they put him on the plane to the hospital on the capital island. He was alone when he died, and no one could tell me where he was buried. Acceptance was a longtime coming, and tear-filled.
In the 15 years after completing my service, I managed preservice trainings for over 400 new Volunteers in nine Peace Corps countries. What expansive, enriching opportunities.
Ms. Havard Bauer
Mount Angel, OR.
posted 2 years, 2 months ago
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