My three-week volunteer assignment?
Teaching as much English as I can to a group of sixth-graders at the Salvation Army’s Hogar de Niños in Guadalajara.
How much English is that? Not much, I’m afraid. There’s only so much you can accomplish in an hour a day.
But we do what we can, and because each day’s lesson is punctuated with singing, we have fun doing it.
Monday was the first day of class. I came prepared with name tags, even though I already knew some of the students from last summer.
They grabbed the multi-colored Sharpies® and got right to work. What a relief to be able to call everyone by name!
For three days, I began the class by handing out name tags for the students to decorate and wear. Then Thursday, I didn’t.
Mournful faces! You would have thought I had snatched candy out of their hands just as they were ready to eat it!
“Tomorrow,” I promised. “I’ll bring the name tags tomorrow.”
I did, and they were happy.
And why shouldn’t they be?
A name is the most wonderful sound in the world to the one who bears it. It sounds pretty wonderful to those who love them too.
“Whisper her name at the stars/ and they will shout back, mercy,” Mexican poet Luis Cotto-Vasallo writes in his poem “She.”
A name tag is not a star, and it won’t make you a star, but it is a way to hear your name on the lips of someone else.
Your name. The most beautiful sound in the world.
Little brown sparrow,
my phone is now on silent—
will you come to me?
Almost daily as I ride the bus between the Hogar de Niños, where I’m teaching English, and my apartment, I encounter at least one interesting character.
One day it might be a disheveled old man who climbs aboard, recites poetry for a few blocks, and then puts out his hand for donations before getting off the bus.
Another day, it might be a busker with a slightly-out-of-tune guitar, who warbles one or two familiar songs, then heads for the rear exit, collecting donations along the way.
Or it might simply be someone down on his luck, who wagers that the bus passengers will probably open their hearts—and their coin purses—to him.
Invariably, these characters are polite, they pay the fare without complaint, and they don’t wear out their welcome by staying too long on the bus.
“The secret of joy,” writes the Mexican poet Luis Cotto-Vasallo, “is not to try and predict events but to act on the moment, making every unique second count.”
Bus rides are unpredictable. You never know if you’re going to be early or late to your destination. But if you keep your eyes—and your heart—open, something or someone on that ride will give you joy.
On a crowded street
an old man smoking a pipe
turns my thoughts toward home.
It doesn’t look like much—some banged-up chairs and desks, a few old computers, a tired whiteboard, a map of Mexico—but for the next four weeks, starting Monday morning, this room at the Hogar de Niños in Guadalajara will be the gathering place for ten young children eager to learn English.
We’ll be together for an hour a day, five days a week. Twenty days. Twenty hours. It doesn’t seem like a lot of time. How much of a foreign language can you learn in a mere twenty hours? Not much, perhaps.
But you can get a feel for the way it sounds, and you can become at least passingly familiar with the way it works, and, if the teacher really cares about you, you might walk away from those twenty hours with a burning desire to learn more.
narrow city street—
children skipping to one side
to let the moon pass