Monday May 18, 2009

Thought for the day: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read” – Groucho Marx

I’m a fan of old Marx Brothers movies from the 1930’s. This past week at LaLa Shou, I’ve often felt like a straight man in one of those films, swept up by the schools frenetic energy. Like silent Harpo, I communicate by pantomime. And because of the language barrier, I feel as though I’m experiencing the school in black and white, much as these children must live their lives.

But the teachers at LaLaShou, through humor and patience and unflagging energy, are determined to give the kids lives that are rich in color. I work with three teachers in a class of 10 students. One teacher is 22, the other two are 25. They are caregivers, wrestlers, therapists. The room is filled with twitches and shouts, with hopping and stomping and moans. They never lose their temper. The teachers will correct kids – they will be firm. This morning, a boy I’ve taken to calling “Sleeves”, because he likes to lift your sleeves up to your shoulders, punched the boy sitting next to him in the back. And then he did it again – despite being corrected. After a third shot, a teacher smacked his hand, not hard, but enough to get his attention. And then she said something that sounded to me like “Not so much fun when it happens to you, huh.” And then she kissed him.

LaLaShou is not a sad place – The students are usually smiling, the teachers seem always to laugh. The affection they have for the kids is obvious: the way they cup a hand around a child’s cheek, the way they giggle when a child says something cute. In fact, my biggest regret is that I’m missing out on so much of the comedy, though I find myself laughing too.

I don’t think I’m helping much here. The language barriers are too great. I often feel like the 11th student. But I think the teachers like having me around. I’m an English-speaking novelty; a break from their exhausting routine. So I smile, more than I ever have before, and I do whatever I can to ease their load rather than add to it. I consider it a privilege to know these strong, spirited women, who help these children to experience life outside of the dog, away from the dark.

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