18 May 2011, Wednesday
El Ejido

No wonder I get tired. Last week I ended up exhausted and grumpy, to the point where I could hardly function, could hardly talk to people in a civil tone. I was eating stale bread for dinner, barely bothering to brush my teeth, just managing to shower, and all my thoughts turning to dark places… such as my bedroom, with the shutters drawn, and the bed – suddenly my best friend. This week I’ve decided to scale back in the interest of sanity and, I think, good research. (Although this equation, sanity = good research, is open to question, I realize.)

Today, I paid attention, I took more careful note of the flow of my day, rather than bounding from one class or interview to the next, attempting to remain ever-alert despite the hourly changes, rushed encounters, and therefore fractured interactions dictated by doing fieldwork at a school, on a school schedule. My day went like this: I got up at 5:30 and did half of a broad transcription of a great class session I attended yesterday; I drank coffee while I typed; I showered at 7:40 then slopped together a peanut butter (yes, they sell peanut butter here!) and jelly sandwich on (yes!) stale bread, threw it in a piece of tinfoil, and ran out the door, walking at a quick clip to meet my ride; I ate in the car, there wasn’t as much conversation as usual; we arrive at school: kids, teachers, shuffling in, reluctant early-morning greetings, and the place smells damp; I left a cake I’d made to share with the teachers at the receptionist’s desk, asking her to give it to the cantinera; I join the first-year kids in the hallway, striking up conversations with them however I can (What time did you go to bed last night? What did you watch on tv? What did you eat for breakfast?), and they’ve warmed to me after weeks of this ritual; we enter the library, where their Social Change and New Gender Relations class is held; they are reading a novel about a girl whose grandmother wants to sensitize her to machismo and feminism; they conversation turns from ablation to contraceptives and safe sex practices; the teacher asks me to describe how the morning-after pill works; it’s probably the first time I’ve ever discussed this topic in Spanish, and I mistake “óvulo” for “huevo,” which makes the kids laugh; the bell rings; I find the Citizenship teacher in the hallway, and we walk, discussing a recent and sticky discipline issue with two of my key informants; she doesn’t know what to do because she’s getting pressure from a school admin to solve the issue and calm the waters (she is their homeroom teacher); like me, she doesn’t know what to believe and is bewildered at the animosity that has developed among the students; I worry that there is bullying involved, and I’m looking into it, but I have no experience in this, so I’m seeking informed advice; we enter the classroom, and I sit down next to the new Moroccan boy who arrived at the school about a month ago (I believe this garners some smirks from the boys sitting around him when I ask, “B., me puedo sentar contigo?”); the teacher does her best to address the current social dynamics without actually bringing up the conflicts the students are dealing with, and so the discussion goes for the remainder of the hour, talking around the issues that really have them upset, speaking in generalities or hypotheticals while my informant (the one who has not been expelled) sat silently in the front row; the boys sitting around me disengaged from the discussion after about 20 minutes, and they chatted to each other the rest of the time – a constant hum of low voices; I have a hard time following the conversation I want to hear, and I tell them to shush, so they do temporarily; I think to myself, my recording of this class is going to be horrible; class ends, and the teacher and I strike up where we left off as we walk to the teachers’ lounge; another teacher invites me to visit her reading and writing group, but even though I really want to go, I feel compelled to skip and try to talk to the admin who’s dealing with the case of my two informants; I need more information; I go downstairs looking for him, stopping at his office to ask for him, following his trail down the hall and to the secretary’s office as people tell me, “I saw him go thattaway”; he’s in the midst of something, leaning over the secretary as they stare at a computer screen together, and the principal and vice-principal are in there, too; I decide not to interrupt – these are busy people; I take the cake to the cantina, and it’s a hit; I love the cantinera; she provides a space and a service that allows people to relax and laugh; she is charismatic; when I entered with the cake in hand (I told her on Facebook I was bringing it) she sang, “Olé! Olé! Olé!” and the fourth-year kids standing at the bar looked at me quizzically as I did my own jig in presenting the cake; over the next half hour, people came and went, drank coffee (L. paid for mine -- she insisted, and when the principal came in, she insisted she try the cake), chatted, laughed, talked about their kids and all the grading they had to do; I kept a close watch on the door to the secretary’s office to see if the admin would come out, and he finally did, talking on his cell phone; he stepped outside to continue the conversation; I kept a watch on the main entryway now, turning periodically from the cake conversation to see if he’d come in; when he did, I ran to meet him and ask if I could talk to him; he didn’t have time, had to get back to a new task the principal had just assigned him, maybe later; he is a very, very busy man; I took a chance and mentioned the names of my informants anyway, to see if I could squeeze in a conversation anyhow, but also saying that if he preferred not to discuss them, I would understand; his response was definitive: he’s washed his hands of them both and said they are trouble-makers, what’s important is to maintain order at the school; as he walked away, I stood for a moment in the vestibule feeling slightly pummeled (figuratively, of course) and confused; I went back to the cantina, for coffee and toast this time; during the break, I tracked down two other teachers to ask what they knew about the girls’ situation; these problems have been building for some time, one of them said; people say she’s a sweet girl, so I don’t get it, the other one said; I talked briefly about ostracism and aggression with a teacher sitting nearby; I checked the time and noticed I needed to go upstairs for an English tutoring session; I met my tutee on the stairs and we went to her office department to prepare conversation themes for her oral exam coming up; these sessions are delightful because she is very well-organized and knows what she needs to study, so I am there to fill in the gaps, offer suggestions, new vocabulary and corrections if needed; I think we get along well; after a half hour of concocting ways to ask and answer questions about driving and neighborhoods, we rushed downstairs, and she graciously drove me to El Ejido; I asked her to drop me off just at the edge of town, and from there she could return for her next class, and I could walk up the hill to the other high school; I walked the 15 minutes there, found I was early, and stopped into a café to pee and order a Fanta Limón – 2 euros! pricey; I went next door to the school and climbed the two flights of spiral stairs to the floor where the classroom was; I waited in the hallway with the students, talking with a sweet and shy girl who nonetheless seemed to really want to talk to me; the teacher arrived a few minutes late, and a handful of students did not follow him into the classroom; we set about administering the second part of my questionnaire; the questions began immediately – What do I put for place of origin? What do you mean by “the values of my grandparents’ generation”?; the teacher and I circulated among the students, answering questions, prompting them to try to answer on their own without feeding them too many ideas; the “values” questions were very challenging for them, and they said they didn’t know what I was talking about; the classroom was noisy, and it stayed that way the entire hour, with a few breaks when the teacher started giving negative marks and announced that anyone who earned negative marks would have to take an exam at the end of the year; “And I didn’t want to give exams this year,” he told me; he said he’d taken some time off from work and had come back with a new perspective on teaching and education, that he was dipping into an anarchist sort of m.o., giving no exams; “But you have to be really patient to be an anarchist,” he grinned, waiting for the kids to quiet down so he could discuss the communications industry with them; they never did quiet down, really; after the bell rang, I left the class and went downstairs to introduce myself to the principal of the school; while she’d approved my project, I had yet to actually meet her face-to-face since I’d always been running from one center to the other; I ran into two girls I know who are doing 2o de bachillerato, and one of them announced that she’s decided to study anthropology; she seemed very happy with the decision; the other will study English; we promised each other that after their exams were over, we will get together; it was a happy meeting; they directed me down the hallway to the principal’s office, and I waited in the hall for two teachers to finish talking with her; she came to the door, and I told her who I was, she asked how things were going, I said great, and she said, well anything you need, we’re here; I decided to forego trying to do interviews with bachillerato kids at the other school – cramming things in this way seems counterproductive, and I remember Diane Austin’s advice to never do more than two interviews in a day (with a day full of observations and class visits, I think that qualifies as at least two interviews); so I headed out, off school grounds and up the hill towards home; I ran into A. on the way, and she gave me a ride home; upon getting out of the car, I saw T., the mom of the kid I was going to tutor in English and decided not to; she was walking her dog; we chatted, she asked me how I liked things here, I wished her luck, and then we moved on; I went to the bakery for bread, but they had just closed, so I went down the hill to a corner grocery, bought a baguette, and finally went home. ate, and then sacked out for an hour. God bless the siesta.