Oosh. The first day of school crept up quickly. I worried myself to sleep the night before and popped awake at 5am. I was concerned with making a good impression so I showered, did my hair, did my make up and agonized over the right outfit. By the time I finished with this, Nell knocked on my door to see if I wanted any coffee. As a fellow teacher (at a private school, not mine) she had to wake up about as early as me and leave at the same time to catch the bus. It was adorable, actually. Orlando woke up with her and walked her to the bus every morning. He fiddled around on what looked like a PSP while we ran around making sure we had the right supplies in our backpacks. He calmly heated the coffee on the stove while we frantically buttered some toast to chow as fast as possible so we could chug our coffee and head out on time. I lifted the mountain bike that they had offered me for my commute to school out of the laundry room and walked out the door with them. They waved goodbye and I set off.
The morning bike ride was as meditative as it was chaotic. I fell into the rhythm of pedaling on the long stretches and dodged traffic and pedestrians at the turns and crossings. Colombian drivers cared very little for the well-being of a biker. I had to be vigilant and reactive in order to stay safe on the streets. Luckily, school was only a short fifteen to twenty minutes away and there were only five turns that I had to make and only two stretches of road that did not have separate bike lanes. All in all, I think I got the best deal for my school commute. I was more than ecstatic to dodge any interaction with the crowded and hectic public transportation system. The last time I had found myself on the Transmilenio, I was a half hour late to my destination and spent the hour and a half on the bus standing and shoved into a pole that I grasped desperately to in order to not tumble into the sea of passengers that surrounded me at every turn. At certain stops, more people would try and cram themselves into the the overcrowded bus until the doors wouldn’t close behind them and other passengers would have to shove them forcefully back out onto the platform to wait for the next bus, which the passenger would fight to their best ability to avoid. This did not sound like a fun morning ritual to me. Plus, I got to save money as well as get a little exercise in by biking.
I arrived at the school about five minutes earlier than most of the teachers and was met immediately with a friendly hug from a woman who already knew my name. One of the English teachers, Emilia. She spoke to me in English and I got so excited I chattered off to her for a minute before realizing that my accent and my verbosity were a bit much for her. I quieted and smiled and told her it was wonderful to meet her. I locked my bike up and wandered inside. I looked half-heartedly for a bathroom to check my make up but gave up when it wasn’t nearby and instead ducked into the security office. The man at the front desk introduced himself in Spanish as Carlos and asked me a fast question that I didn’t understand and had no idea how to answer, so I responded with a phrase that would become common for the first few weeks in the school – “Estoy la voluntario de ingles.” After Carlos nodded knowingly I asked, “A donde es la oficina de Mauricio?” He motioned for me to sit and stay, and I, like an obedient new puppy, sat and watched after him with wide eyes. About fifteen minutes later, Mauricio, my coordinator in the English Department, walked in and greeted me with a handshake. We headed through the administrative offices and into the main school area on a tour.
The school was rather small, which was nice for my level of whelm. There was a large, open main room where all of the kids in the school congregated at the beginning and end of the day and all of the classrooms outside of kindergarten surrounded this room on two levels. There was a pool, a dance room, a theater room and several classrooms, from what I saw. Mauricio walked me out into the courtyard, past the basketball court that was still under construction and towards what might have been some fenced off tennis courts, had there been nets. He took me to each of the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th grade classrooms for short five minute introductions with the students – during which, I stumbled over my words and blanked on how introductions worked. Mauricio laughed at me outside of the thrid classroom and gave me some structure for my next few introductions: name, age, where are you from, one interesting fact, open for questions. I failed to follow them when confronted with several more rooms of blank-faced Colombian teenagers, but I tried.
The tour ended in the teachers’ room, where a couple of the other professors sat around and appeared to be deep in the midst of planning, but not too deep to look up and greet everybody who walked through the door. This appeared to be routine – you must greet every teacher every time you see them. I had heard of the consequences of not following through with this during Orientation. I greeted every teacher that I saw. Every time I saw them throughout the day.
After a session of grilling questions about my origins, – where was I from, why did I come to Colombia, did I have siblings, what did I go to school for, how does the school system in the US work, etc. – Mauricio left me the rest of the week to plan classes. Plan for what? With what boundaries and which classes? I had no idea. Such is Colombia. So I took out my laptop and started taking notes on the subjects covered under an A2 level of English, which I randomly assumed my students would be at, and spent the rest of the day searching fun activites for each subject. My day went by rather awkwardly, as I spent the bulk of it in the teachers’ lounge bobbing my head up and down to greet the teachers and study. I left briefly to interact with students on their breaks – some were at a very high level of English, some ran up to me to say “Hi!” When I asked how they were doing, they would say, “Fine, thanks, and you?” They would say it in one breath, giggle and then run away. I immediately fell in love with them. They were all so happy and excited about life. It was an amazing energy to be around.
When the day came to a close, I found Mauricio near the teachers’ lounge giving hugs to students and other teachers. I asked if there was anything left for me to do that day and he told me I was free to go. We hugged and I went out to my bike, nothing but questions on top of questions in my mind, but none that seemed to have any answers in the moment. It appeared I would just have to go with the flow. At least that was something that I knew I was good at.