Sunday, February 28, 2010

Friend vs. Friendly

Since September life in St.Paul's has been running slowly, but smoothly. I have become more comfortable with the community and at the school, and with the Kittitian lifestyle in general, or so I have thought. These past two weeks have been a bit of a reality check, and has definitely shaken my confidence. This leads me to struggle with my commitment, and even though I have no intention of permanently leaving St.Kitts until my COS in Oct 2011, I could use a break. I really want to be home with friends, and family, near familiar places and foods, and in a familiar culture that I am accustom to navigating. But instead I am here, trying to to stay focused, hoping to learn from my mistakes, and looking for a way to grow and improve myself as a result.
The challenge I am facing is with the youth in St.Pauls, but more specifically the dynamic that has been created between us. Which I myself am largely responsible for. In my earnest to have the children like me and be willing to work with me, I extended myself to them in a very friendly, jovial, and accessible manner. I am often found joking and playing with all of the kids in my neighborhood and the local primary school. I mess with their hair when they mess with mine; I show them games like duck-duck-goose and red light, green light; I lift them up for hugs & kisses; I tickle them; and make them laugh when I practice my 'dialect' with them. This is a lot different from how local teachers would approach the children. With the staff at my school, there is a definitive boundary between adults and children. Not to say that the teacher are always stern or callous, but generally more serious and reserved; a definite authority figure. I have realized for sometime now, that many of the teachers seemed skeptical of my approach with the kids, but I took it in stride. I just figured this was all apart of Peace Corps Goal 2 "Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served." I was glad, even proud to show them, that there is different way to do things, that I didn't need the children to fear me, that I could be an instructor and fun and friendly. The problem is, that a lot of the children are now taking advantage of my "soft" demeanor.
I thank God, that it is not all of them. Some of the children respond very well to me still. They are polite, friendly, affectionate, and respectful. They are eager to spend time with me and are cooperative when I need their attention or their help, and allow me my space when I need it. Unfortunately, this is only a fraction of the children I deal with in St.Paul's. Many of the other children now see me as a friend or a peer. They talk to me the same way that they would their classmates, which is in a way they would NEVER speak to teachers or other adults. They ignore my directions, and are often amused at my frustrations. Many time they are blatantly disrespectful, irreverent, and demanding. They will ask me to give them money or food or to visit my house to play, and when I refuse them,they strueps me (a colloquial onomatopoeia that expresses distaste). All of this makes it very hard for me to carry out projects with the student body.
During Girl's Club for example, the majority of my members are very pleasant. However each week, there is a small group of students who stand in the doorway or windows watching and commenting on the activities my girls and I are doing. Caribbean culture is notably inquisitive/intrusive(I'll have to blog about that another time), but having these children, literally staring at us makes it twice as difficult to focus my girls and implement effective programming. I ask, tell, and then yell at the bystanders to GO HOME, but they just stare back at me like I am speaking another language or duck behind a corner until I turn my back and then resume their post. Occasionally another teacher will still be on campus after school, and when I enlist them to help, the children disperse immediately, accentuating the fact that it is just me that they do not listen too. My reading projects do not fare much better. Many times when I go into the classes to facilitate the library hour, the teacher for that class will see it as an opportunity to take a break. It is common for them to leave me alone with their students. Recognizing the shift in power, many students become loud, unruly, and unresponsive to what I am doing at the front of the classroom. If I try to isolate the "difficult" child the offending student often starts to cry, which creates another uproar amongst the others. Then, when the teacher finally returns, the students quiet down and do as they are told. Again proving to me that it is my classroom management that is failing. The whole process leaves me frustrated, agitated, discouraged, and drained.
Not all of the students behave in this way. There are St.Paul's students that are enjoyable to work with, and the Girl's Club at Newton Ground Primary (a much smaller school) rebounds from similar obstacles much more easily and effectively. But my difficulties at St.Paul's are facing me like a brick wall. I know that many of my co-workers saw it coming, and may even be enjoying some feelings of schadenfreude. I guess I was distracted by other aspects of the acculturation process and this issue caught me off-guard. Regardless, this is the challenge that I am facing now. What can I do to amend the situation, how can I get these children to treat me and therefore respect me as an adult? Can I stay friendly without having them treat me as they treat their friends?