Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hounduran Sawdust Carpets

The following is a draft of an article I hope to submit to Arts and Activities, an art education magazine. It also gives you an idea of what was going on last week.
October 23, 2009 Tegucigalpa Honduras

The campus of Discovery International School is quiet this afternoon. Just a few short hours ago it was a kaleidoscope of color, sound and fragrance celebrating United Nations Day. Our pre-K through grade 12 students’ toured parent hosted booths representing many of the 30 nations that are home to our student body. Maps, posters, handicrafts and a taste of nations from sushi to cheesecake were sampled with the mellow tones of a marimba band in the background.

The eighth grade visual arts students decided to contribute a traditional Honduran sawdust mosaic carpet, decorando las alfombras tipicas de Semana Santa, at the entrance of the school. I had found a post card picturing people working on one of these and shared it with my students. Several shared their memories of seeing the carpets created on streets for holy week processionals.

We discussed the significance of the carpets, why they were made of dyed loose sawdust. We compared them to the sand mandal created by Tibetan monks to mark important events. Both of these arts remind us of the impermanence of all things. They help us focus on our beliefs and philosophies and remind us to appreciate and value the present.

As a group we agreed on a simple design that would represent the spirit of the United Nations. Students made stencils of the shapes we would use. We had just finished a unit on graphic art and block lettering, skills that helped in the cutting of the stencils for the words.

In the art room we found two large cardboard boxes filled with bags of sawdust dyed in brilliant colors. Working from the postcard and the memories of mosaic carpets viewed in the past we made our first experiment. We used the sawdust dry and leveled and pressed it down with concrete smoothing tools borrowed from the maintenance department. Our experiment weathered the night winds and morning dew. An observer suggested that we dampen the sawdust before we spread it out. That worked even better.

We waited until the week of the event and began work on the “carpet” during Wednesday art class. Students were released from four other classes, came early and stayed late and worked up to the opening of the event Friday morning. The project took a total of nine hours to complete.

There were many challenges in the process; figuring out how to spread the sawdust, without disturbing the sawdust base, making adjustments to the design when we ran out of colors and finally coming to the end, ready to stencil the words around the boarder only to find we had no sawdust left. What could we use, spray paint? We didn’t have any. We tried some baking soda from the art room but it was too fine and difficult to put down. Finally our watching cafeteria managers came to the rescue with bags of table salt. It worked perfectly!

The carpet was ready to greet our visitors just minutes before the event started.

The student met their objective, a brilliant display communicating the mission of unity and support of the United Nations. But more important students from many nations, worked together, worked through difficulties, solved problems. They overcame frustrations with the materials and at times with each other. The enjoyed the pride of accomplishment and as difficult as it was at the end of the day they gingerly stepped onto the carpet and “danced” it away with their feet until it was thoroughly mixed and swept away, Reminding us of the impermanence of all things, but leaving us with the joy of the memory.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

An Early Walk and Fire Works Wake Up

Debbie's car had to go in for some work so we have been dependent on the school bus/van to get us here and back. That means that my a.m. departure time has been changed from 6:15 to 5:45am. This morning I did my walk in real world not treadmill. There are parts of the school I had not seen until this morning. I made it all the way down to the fourth terrace today - no way am I ever going down to the fifth terrace which is way, way, way ,down a steep hill. All the playing fields are there and some people hope someday a swimming pool.

I found several new (well new to me) plants and or stages of plants I had not seen before. The papyrus is in bloom, and the small variety of birds of paradise have set seed pods which are fascinating. I feel a new lesson plan coming on "The Art of Nature". Hope I can find some magnifying glasses.

So, I am back from my little 15 min walk - which worked out the kink in my hip and leg nicely - and have picked up a cup of coffee from the teachers lounge. Real coffee. So strong it coats the sides of the cup and the spoon. And it has to be triple the caffeine of regular coffee. Ah, definitely only one cup a day for the sake of all my little children. Not too much else to report.

Oh how could I forget! l went to bed early last night about 7:00. At about 8:30 loud thumping popping sounds out my bedroom window - too close. Different from other popping (firearm sounds I have heard) I finally woke myself up enough to go see what was going on. Just as I opened the blinds a huge burst of twinkling light right over my back view of the mountain. Fire works were popping all over the city! Ah, Honduras has won the soccer game, one more step to the World Cup. I could hear the cheering sounds floating up from the valley.

The soccer team and the playoffs to the World Cup has been the one bright spot in this politically tense country. I find it a testimony to the spirit of these people that they can come together to cheer and celebrate in spite of the terrible political divide. So great to see the thumbs up and broad smiles. At nine o'clock last night a national holiday was declared for today. Debbie and the board decided to keep the school open. So it is anybody's guess who will show up.

It is 7:05 now and my cleaner has just arrived. The coffee was perking at 6:05 so somebody else was here. I have seen no staff and no students yet. But then staff is not required to be here until 7:30. I only have three classes today grades six, two and three. So it is a light day anyway. I have class "narratives" (descriptions of everything students have done for the first quarter that accompany the report cards) to complete and grades to do for all classes (all 8), the usual lesson plans etc. so I have plenty to do and hope that students stay home today. But I bet the little ones come...just to get them out from under parents feet. We shall see. I am so glad they had a win. They needed it!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Meet Jose

At Best Life is Boring
October 12 – Columbus Day

Like many of you, I will have a three day weekend to celebrate Christopher Columbus. Thursday we stopped for some groceries and vegetables so the fridge was well stocked for the weekend. Friday we drove straight home from school and crashed.

I am the early riser and Debbie is a night owl. This assures that we each have plenty of alone time which is why we make good housemates. We also are comfortable with quiet. So, Saturday I was up, did my laundry, cleaned the kitchen (my one “house” chore other than cleaning my bedroom and bathroom) and “walked” (on the treadmill). I spent the rest of the day, reading, doing some internet research on sciatic nerve etc. and napping in between meals. We have very different diet needs so we pretty much fix separate meals. Debbie stayed in pajamas and read all day.

Saturday evening we watched an episode and a half of West Wing (Debbie has all seasons on DVD) before the power went out on our side of the valley. Fortunately the power stayed on across the valley and at the stadium where a major soccer game was in progress. We could hear the periodic roar of the crowd and city noises, cars honking, closer cheering etc. We lit some candles to wait it out but finally Debbie went on to bed. I stayed up and played solitaire by candle light until the power came on after an hour or so later and I could sleep with my “breathing machine”.

Sunday morning was about the same as Saturday. I walked, washed sheets and towels did some ironing and more reading. Debbie went to school to catch up on some work and was gone all day so I had the place to myself. I watched a couple of movies on HBO while I ironed. One was Chicago but I can’t remember the other, hmm. Not a good sign. I dust mopped (lots of dust here) my bedroom, rearranged my closet and painted a little picture to send to Freya. Later Debbie and I watched two more episodes of West Wing and I went to bed to read.

So now it is Monday. I have “walked”, made my bed, and had my coffee. Debbie has set off for the office and I am left to my own devices. My big project for the day will be to get Jose to come and change the large water bottle for me. Jose is our very helpful building “man of all trades”. He waters the outdoor plants, washes cars, helps carry in parcels, keeps the building secure. He takes care of us. But he speaks no English. I will get out my phrase book and write down the minimum words necessary to communicate my needs. Then I will choose my moment when I see he is unoccupied to get up my nerve to go out and mangle Spanish. The rest of the day I plan to fill much the same way I have filled the previous two. I am thinking I might try a water color sketch of the vista from the balcony…we shall see.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Recess Rain

Just thinking about you as I watch the rain sweep down the mountainside and onto our campus. The lunch recess spirits were quickly dampened and the playing field next to the cafeteria was quickly emptied by the shower. These kids get almost as excited about rain (which they have all the time) as the kids in Qatar who got excited over a misty drizzle two or three times a year. Oh well, rain is rain when you are a kid and in school. Things have settled now that the bell has rung.

I am having a good day with students, kind of low key. We are at the end or in the middle of projects so it is just doing the work. So I put my "concentration" music on and things get quiet pretty quickly. I love the "sound" in the room when they are all deep into their right brain. It can last up to 20 minutes sometimes.