catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 19 :: 2003.10.10 — 2003.10.23


Under my skin

On beginning work in Haiti

Dear Parents,

Hello! My name is Bridget De Yager, and I am excited to get to know you and your student(s) this year. I was born and grew up in the state of Iowa, and came to Haiti this fall to teach at Quisqueya. I attended Christian school all of my life, and graduated from Dordt College in Iowa, with a major in English and Language Arts. I also earned my certification in secondary education, and spent some time substitute teaching after graduation. I will be teaching language arts to your middle school students, and I am very eager to meet each one of them and also to meet you.

I hope you will feel free to contact me if you have any questions about our classroom or your child's education. I would also like to invite you to be involved in my classroom if you would like. If you are interested, please contact me and we will see how you can help. The best way to contact me would be to stop by my classroom (room #23) before or after school, or leave me a note. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.

I have high expectations of your children, as I am sure you do. I expect them to do their best in my class, and I will commit to you that I will do my best as a teacher. During the first week of school your middle school students and I will together be deciding on some classroom rules. When these are finished, I will send home a copy, as well as a copy of my classroom procedures and expectations.

Homework will be assigned to your student throughout the year. The type of assignment will vary night to night, but will be related to what we are doing in class. I also expect that students will spend some time at home doing class-related reading. I will also enthusiastically encourage your student to read at home, and your participation in this request would be greatly appreciated.

I will make every effort to get to know your student quickly and genuinely, and I hope also to get to know you personally. Please feel free to contact me, especially if you have any questions about your student and his or her classwork/homework. Middle school will be an exciting place this year!


Bridget De Yager

On leaving Haiti

This place, it's under my skin. Sometimes it itches and burns and sometimes I can't scratch hard enough. And now that I'm leaving, I find that I've become a nostalgic sap, wanting to scratch open those places, even when it never felt good.

There are things here I've never known, extreme poverty, torrential downpours, and missionaries. The mosquitoes, buzzing, humming, screeching around me and in my ears drown out the sounds of the man across the street professing in broken English his proficiencies with women. I have to stop typing to bat at barely visible carriers of fatal diseases.

At the beginning of this, a near-fatal disease sounded good. It meant the homeland and an escape from the judgment and oppression of a school board overrun with fear and fundies. A tropical disease meant at the least a few days away from the awkwardness of middle schoolers, and at most a vacation in the states, albeit with a rash and possible death. It sounded good then.

I had no idea why I was here, a vague notion of adventure still lodged somewhere in my brain—in a closer, more visible place the idea that I hated it here and I was insane, not to mention the people around me. I felt I had to explain myself to everyone, and the best I could do with that was to point them to popular culture—the Simpsons and Reality Bites, and then I realized how utterly pathetic it was that I didn't know who I was without referencing fictional characters with only four fingers.

And so I wrote home, and tried not to cry. At least not cry a lot. And remember, as the fucking experts always said, this too will pass. It's culture shock. Oh, yeah, and the lack of knowing anyone or having any kind of meaningful purpose in living in this God-forsaken country. And somehow here I am, writing this, needing closure and space to grieve the loss. What happened?

For one thing, my roommates and I found this special place, a bed of all places. A bed with room enough for three people. Crying, laughing, talking, even sleeping at times, all together. The community I'd lost was replaced by another—a very different community, a community of three. It was us against the world, against the tyranny that was school and the school board. It turned out that this united front of three was mostly in my mind; they had no battles to fight. I needed them. This sacred space, a bed of all places, drew us together and gave me more strength than I had on my own.

And then there was God. And God became space to me. Some people find God in a closet, or a bathroom. I found him on our balcony. He lived in the silence, in the incessant barking of the dogs and the beat of the neighbors' turntable.

And I found love in my students, and grace and most of all sin and total depravity. I relived almost all of my most painful memories from middle school, but found joy in understanding where these kids might be going, and that I may have a hand in them getting there. I got to know them. I understood that they needed me, as little as I might be giving them, they needed it.

And I found that I can live, and be, without perfection. My ideals were shattered. There would be no teacher of the year awards, but there would be thankless days and tears and countless conversations with patient roommates listening to why I was a horrible teacher and had to do better. And there would be me resigning myself to my best and in some cases less.

And somehow I found joy. I found joy in the space on the balcony where God lived (third tile from the left) and joy in the awkward flirting of grade eight boys, and joy in making new friends, branching out from the sacred space of the bed. The friends were fleeting, but fun. I learned to appreciate friendship not only for the depth, but also for the companionship, and the sheer breaking of boredom. I learned to find joy in Haiti, in this country of staring people who insist on calling me by my color. I found joy in the beach and the pool and a little drink called a pina colada.

And as I leave, weepy and teary and still restless and craving a hamburger, I find that I will leave part of myself here, and still leave not with less, but leave with a greater self, and a deeper understanding of another inch of creation: me.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus