Saturday, September 26, 2009

Reflections of an Insomniac

As I am currently unable to sleep due to a largish nap at mid-morning, I shall begin my reflections on my first week working at Escuela Maureen Courtney and Colegio del Nino Jesus. The schoolgrounds are lovely, located right where the land starts to descend towards the seashore, with a view of the ocean and a nice breeze. Like all the facilities, the grass is maintained by the students, and mowing is a BYOM (Bring Your Own Machete) affair. It was really adorable to see all these 7-12 year old boys with their big machetes from home swinging away at the grass, frequently cutting down to the root and leaving nothing but a patch of dirt.

We spent most of the week sitting in on classes and talking with the teachers. Because the religion teacher was out, I also got to teach religion classes to 3rd and 5th graders at the last minute on Monday. Fortunately, I had brought my Spanish-language Bible with me that day and was able to pull together passable lessons. Though I felt a little bit useless and aimless, sitting in on classes was very important, because the teachers talked very directly to me at times about what they were doing and the issues their students have. I was at times taken aback by how freely they discussed their students' needs in front of them. After this week, I feel like I have begun to develop relationships with a fair number of teachers and understand their methodologies and the functioning of the school a lot better.

As my integration into the school begins, so does my learning Miskito and Nicaraguan Sign Language. I plan to do a fair amount of work with the "Nivelacion" class for students who function are not developmentally delayed but are very behind their grade level, mostly in reading and writing. There are several students in this class who are deaf-mute, and so I have begun to learn how to sign with them. I actually had my first missed communication in sign language just today, when I asked the teacher of the audition classes, who is deaf mute herself, if she was leaving with the woman who teaches the special needs kids. She signed back, "No, we're just friends." Like English, spoken and signed Nicaraguan Spanish use the verb "to leave/to go out" to mean dating.

Though most of the people here speak Spanish and teachers give class in Spanish, they frequently speak to each other and individual students in Miskito. Still, even those with the most dramatic developmental issues have to be bilingual enough to speak Miskito at home and Spanish in school. Because I miss a substantial part of the dialogue and the culture, I am looking forward to further cultivating my Miskito skills. The teachers at Maureen Courtney have decided that they want us to teach them English every week, and have offered to give us Miskito lessons in exchange.

English is not a recent arrival to the Atlantic Coast. It's been here longer than Spanish, and is the linguistic seat of the Creole culture here. As the pastor of the Creole Moravian Church informed me, it is also fast dying out. Young people go to school in Spanish, make their friendships in that language, and speak English less and less. The Moravian Church is the only remaining English-speaking church in the city. All this is to say that I used to see teaching English as a venture with imperialistic overtones, but I think it's different here. In this region, increasing knowledge of English is actually a mechanism of cultural preservation for the descendants of escaped African slaves. It's a small measure, to be sure, but nonetheless important.


  1. This language stuff is super interesting! I look forward to hearing more about your time at the school, and I am keeping you in my prayers as you begin your work.

    Yeah improvised religion classes! (often the best kind.)

  2. Wow! First day observing and you end up teaching! Talk about a gutsy move.

  3. What was your religion lesson about, by the way? I also look forward to learning more! (from Mom on
    dad's computer)

  4. Hi-Well, I know you don't know me, so this is seeminly very random. My name is Marah and I was in Puerto Cabezas this past summer for two months working at the Maureen Courtney school. I've been missing the city like crazy so I googles it and I found this blog. I see that you are currently in PC right now, and I couldn't help but commenting. If you have any time, I would love to email you about how things are going at the school and in the city-it really is a wonderful place. my email is If you could, please say hi to the teachers at the school for me! If it's not too much to ask(from a complete stranger), I was just wondering what you are there for? Thank you so much and I hope your experience is amazing:)