“There is a flower. . .I think she has tamed me. . .”-Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
As a teacher, I often feel schizophrenic. It’s like I have two people living inside of me–Mr. Corrigan; he’s a wannabe intellectual dude all wrapped up in his education trip–all pedagogy and content and abstract reasoning and analysis. He also can be a hard-ass, tow the line kind of guy who reminds me of my father sometimes. They do share the same name after all. Then there’s Chris; he just likes hanging out and finding funny stuff in everything around him. His favorite thing to do is play and mess around, explore ideas and go on adventures, sometimes even with kids–hiking, making music, cracking up, and just being silly. Mr. Corrigan is not nearly as fun as Chris, but every so often to everyone’s benefit, the two of them get to hang out with each other and inform each other’s outlook on things. The best part of this summer is that they both got to spend more time together than usual. And at no time did they have a better time together than a few days ago on the island of Pisiwi in the Chuuk lagoon.
As the summer program wound down at Xavier High School, the teachers, assistants, and students all piled onto a small ship and headed out to a tiny island with white sand beaches, coconut trees and all the accouterments that are rolled into standard island paradise package. As for Mr. Corrigan, he got to observe his students and take note of their strengths not typically shown in the classroom. Hmmm, that McCaulvin makes one heck of a sand castle. I wonder how I can figure out a way to help him translate that skill and those sensibilities into a well-formed essay. As for Chris, he got to hang out with McCaulvin and build sand castles…and Joshua and have chicken fights in the water…and Yendor (He’s named after his Uncle Rodney; spell it backwards.) and have splash wars…and Jewel and jump out of trees into the ocean.
For many of the kids, it was their first time on a ship–I know that’s hard to believe, but there you have it. For others it was their first trip to Pisiwi, a fairly popular picnic spot in the lagoon. For everyone it was a chance to laugh, play, and let their hair down after six weeks of school. It was like taking the six weeks of summer vacation we had all forfeited and cramming it into nine hours.
As with everything else on this journey, so much seemed familiar, and so much seemed different. Perhaps the most familiar aspect of the whole day was watching kids being kids, and witnessing the sheer joy of a day at the beach. At one point one of my fellow teachers and I just closed our eyes and listened. The only audible sound was laughter–children’s laughter. It pervaded the whole scene like a soundtrack and overpowered everything. They were splashing, jumping. swimming and laughing, giddy with unabashed delight. It was like listening to poetry and music in a new and pure and true language.
There were some stumbling blocks for Mr. Corrigan along the way (not so much for Chris). He is you know, well-educated, responsible, and of course, middle aged. He was dismayed at the children on the boat. Not nearly enough seats…no life jackets (anywhere)…kids hanging over the railings. What would your insurance underwriter say? Oh, nobody has insurance. Well at least the parents signed a permission slip?…?…? Oh there not one of those either….Chris just chuckled out loud and ran down the makeshift gangplank and hopped aboard the boat.
In an earlier posting, I mentioned how the girls dressed modestly so as to not offend the boys. (See Chuuk 101.5) Well, that would make one wonder about the whole swimming thing–swimsuits being what they are nowadays. Not an issue in Chuuk where everyone swims in their clothes. Sure, some of the boys took off their shirts, but not many. And the girls? They just wore their clothes–skirts or pants, blouses or shirts. “It’s what we do in Chuuk, Mr. Corrigan.” Chris, he ran out into the lagoon fully clothed, picked up Russell, and tossed him back into water only to be dunked under when Russel climbed up on his back upon resurfacing.
Then there was the sand. I am told the Inuit people have a hundred different words for snow. Well, if the native language here wasn’t so limited in its vocabulary, and if the kids had a better grasp on English, they would have a thousand different words for sand. McCaulvin (That’s his first name.) tried to explain. If you pick up the sand from over there, and mix it with the sand from here, then grab just a bit of the sand from the water–but not too deep, you could make a perfect sand ball. The sand back by the rocks under the tree is best for making sand recliners. And if you want to have a sand fight…yeah, they had a sand fight…the sand between the trees and and waterline works best if you don’t have any sand balls. Mr. Corrigan tried to put a stop to this but failed miserably. Don’t worry a local colleague told him. “These kids grow up with sand. You know how you probably used to throw snow at your friends when you were a kid? These kids don’t have snow; they have sand.” Chris? He hates the idea of getting sand in his eyes. He ran in and dunked Russell again.
Everything combined to make all parties happy. The kids had a blast. Chris had a blast. Even Mr. Corrigan had a blast. Although, he wasn’t convinced until the nest day–graduation day. As he watched the kids receive their certificates and awards, he didn’t necessarily see the kids who bombed his reading test, or who were still struggling to put together a coherent paragraph. He saw the child who could make beautiful (if not inappropriate) sculptures out of sand. He saw the child who sat down next to him with a plate a food saying, “Sa moga. (Let’s share food and eat.)” He saw the child who showed him where the deep water was beneath the tree in case he wanted to jump off one of the branches. He saw the kids who he was sad to be leaving behind in a few days. Chris handed him a tissue.