Last week, a man of intrepid convictions, ingenuous words, and an indissoluble understanding of one of the most diverse parts of the world passed away and now I want to take a moment to remember him. I listened to a short interview by Galeano the other day and I was deeply moved (anyone out there that knows Portuguese or Spanish should definitely watch this). I had never really listened to him speak. In fact, I must admit that one time I tried to read Las venas abiertas de América Latina in the not so distant past and I got about half-way through because I became depressed, helpless, and frankly, a little bored because of the dense nature and textbook-like narration of the book.
Nevertheless, I think that I will give the book another try, especially since I can download Galeano’s books on this website so I have access—the first step in knowledge formation.
As my time in Guadeloupe is nearing a close, I can’t help starting to think about my experience as a whole, even though it’s not quite over yet. In Galeano’s interview, he related that in order to really understand something you have to look at things from below because from above or as an outsider you won’t understand anything: “Si uno mira las cosas desde hace arriba o desde afuera no entiende nada.” I would agree, in fact, I think we all have to start from below to then eventually, if we are lucky, get at things from within, the best place to understand things as they truly are.
In Guadeloupe I have had the privilege of living with a Guadeloupian woman who has been nothing but welcoming and patient as she has opened up her home, her family, her culture, her language, and her heart to me. I feel like she is the reason that I know Guadeloupe as more of an insider than I ever could have otherwise.
Even though I have my foot inside the insider’s camp, it doesn’t mean that everything goes smoothly. There are still many differences of culture; language is most obviously still a barrier since I am still learning French; and in general, things are just plain different because it’s hard to be something or even just getting used to something that is foreign to you.
Today I became slightly frustrated with myself and with my students. It is interesting because one of the things that makes me feel alive, makes me feel happy, makes me feel like I have purpose, is when people really understand me (for more on this you can see my last post on soul mates). This may come from the way that I like to approach the world. I like to be able to be part of cultures, languages, and people, that I can truly understand, at least on some level. Part of my challenge to myself in most of what I do is to be able to really understand people so that I can offer myself to them in the best way possible. That may sound a little weird to some people, but I bet social workers, teachers, and people interested in service to others out there will understand where I am coming from.
Getting to learn new things is not always reciprocal, however. Just because you have the desire to know someone else, learn about another culture, speak a new language, etc., doesn’t mean that the other people around you have the same idea or intention. I think one of my greatest challenges to myself and others is to make this a reciprocal relationship, in this way we can learn more about each other and get out of ourselves in order to grow.
In the meantime, I realize that it really irritates me when I try to teach other people aspects of my language, my culture, where I come from, and they could care less. They would rather listen to the most recent rap trap song, even though they don’t know what the lyrics say. Their ticket to knowledge is right at their fingertips, but the motivation isn’t there. Same goes for some teachers that I have been working with. They are not open to learning new things, they are stuck in how things have always been and they don’t trust in change.
Trying to motivate others to learn from me and alongside me was a great struggle (both good and bad) of mine while working with homeless youth in SF for four years right after college. My first year I was just trying to take everything in. It was more of a learning experience for me than it was a service to others or a way to work for social justice. During years following, however, I learned about motivation and how it needed to be invoked, introduced, and mined in the youth themselves in order for them to be able to find the inner motivation to do something for themselves. Called Motivational Interviewing, or MI, I have used these techniques in great length as I teach as well. The only problem is that currently, my teaching isn’t based on forming relationships, it is based on some fake illusion that students need to learn something in order to gain a score, in order to get a passing grade, in order to pass their BAC, in order to do the next thing in life. Again, we brush up against the problem with traditional education and the fact that you can only get so far in such an environment. Additionally, with the program that I am presently working with there simply is not enough time to form relationships with teachers or students. I work with well over 200 students (I haven’t really counted but it’s 14 different classes with between 10 and 25 students per class) and ten teachers and the time I have with each simply does not allow me to form many connections.
Recalling my own experiences as a middle-schooler and high-schooler I was able to learn things that have stayed with me until now, only when I was able to use all my five senses and when I was given the opportunity to establish, foster, and maintain relationships with others.
And so, I hope that in my next job and wherever life takes me next I am able to have these meaningful relationships in order to make meaning out of daily exchanges. In this way things are not rote, based on false assumptions, fake, and whatever else might impede us in the path of creating meaningful connections with others.
On an upside, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the interview:
El mundo no está hecho de átomos, el mundo está hecho de historias. Yo creo que sí, que el mundo debe estar hecho de historias porque son las historias, las historias que uno cuenta, que uno escucha, que uno recrea, que uno multiplica, son las que permiten convertir el pasado en el presente y las que permiten convertir lo distante en cercano. Lo que está lejano en algo próximo y posible, visible.
Let’s keep on telling our stories so that we can become closer as a result.