Friday, August 24, 2012

Playing in Traffic

by Stevie Neale

It is always an adventure working in cross-cultural contexts. People think and work differently than I am used to and it feels like almost every day is a surprise. I hate surprises. One such surprise in Bogota was the space in which we were to be teaching our various art forms at the art camp. Until the day we began teaching, we had no idea what our space was going to be like. It ended up being one single room without any furniture and with, theoretically, 6 different art classes operating at the same time. Close your eyes, picture it, and then hear the cacophony of dance, drama, music, story telling, and visual arts all going on at once. The first day of camp, our host was able to secure a living room in one of the family’s homes for one class and the second day was able to secure another. Due to spacing issues, my classroom was this:

Yes, that is the middle of the street. Yes, that is a big pick up truck driving right through our stage space. Yes, traffic also included people, motorcycles, crazy taxi drivers, and an ice cream man that almost got a smack and a tongue lashing from one very fed-up drama teacher. I restrained myself and settled for glaring angrily at him.
It was incredibly stressful to teach in such a space and most of the time I was raging on the inside and channeling my stress and aggression into being extra fun with the kids. BuildaBridge is committed to creating safe spaces for children to learn and I did not feel like I could create that for these children in that space. Getting to the significant teaching moments and metaphors is challenging in the best of environments and was especially difficult for me when making sure that my five to ten 8-year-old students got out of the way of the cars in time was priority number one.

While I still do not think that this was anywhere close to an ideal teaching space, there is beauty and “Life is like that” lessons to be found everywhere. To make the necessity of getting out of the way a little less annoying and a little more fun, I turned it into a game with the kids. Play helped us to deal with and alleviate the tension it caused. As the week went on, it became less of a game and more of a ritual in which everyone knew the role they played. At first, just the teachers would shout “Car!” and move our boundary chairs as the children ran to the side, but as the week went on, more kids took responsibility for the group. One student would notice the car, two would grab chairs, others would go sit by the side, and the minute the coast was clear everyone would return to their places. It became our ritual of how we must get out of the way of danger. We lived the “life is like that” metaphor many times a day that when something is coming that could hurt us, we warn others, we get out of the way, and we help others get out of the way too.

The truth of the matter is, these kids live and play in that environment all the time. They are used to having to move their games to the side of the road until a car passes. I was not used to it and it made me feel unsafe and stressed out, but I had to keep perspective and I had to keep going and give my students the best I could with what I had to offer. In retrospect, I feel like I did that better than I thought I was doing at the time. What amazed me the most was how focused the children often were in spite of all of the distractions surrounding them. When the ice cream man wheeled his cart right through the scene that was going on between two of the kids, they just stayed frozen and looked at me, pretending they did not even notice him. I was shocked. Eight-year-old children pretending like the ice cream man was not directly behind them with all his goodies! When he passed, they just continued on with their scene. Children inspire awe in me and help me to have faith in a broken and hurting world. Maybe playing in traffic is not so bad after all. 

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