Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"Bom Geeea Professora!"

"Oi, bon dia classe. Eu sou Julie e eu sou seu professora de umm....Sustainable Jewelry." shoot. what's the word for sustainable. and jewelry. ugh should've looked it up...

"Bon dia [sounds like: bom geea] Professora!" yells back the class.

First day of sustainable jewelry class in the favelas. Breath in breath out. Here we go. Before I have a chance to prepare my next sentence in portenol [portuguese/spanish], the first student breaks the ice, 

professora + a few students modeling latest sustainable jewelry designs
[classroom de tia bete, complexo do alemao]
"She has a funny accent." one says loudly
"I think she's not Carioca [from Rio]" another whispers back.
"How many kids do you have?" directly asks another. "No kids??? How old are you??!?!" I start thinking that all the MBA stress has finally caught up with me and has taken away my few signs of physical youth remaining, when I start to learn a little more about the class demographic.

The class I teach varies in size from about 8 - 35 students on any given day, depending on the weather. The large windows in the classroom are wide open, not filled with glass, and make for a difficult learning environment when it's cold (here they'd say 65 degrees and lower) or god forbid rainy, when everyone stays home. Now on a sunny day I get excited because I know the students will attend.  It is mostly young adult females, but ages range from 6 - 29 and there are also a few men. The 15 year old asks me my age, and I tell her 28. Oh, the same age as her mom I find out. The same age as various moms of the teenagers' in the class I quickly learn. Then the 23 year old starts disciplining the 9 year old (who looks 15). The speech tones sound a lot like a typical mother-daughter disagreement in any language. Oh, that's because it is. Got it.

The firing of questions continues..."Do you know Beyonce?"..."Are you the girl from the magazine"... "What's your favorite Brazilian 'Novela'?"..."Professora, repeat after me 'Carrraaalllhhoooooo'!". Now I'm no teacher, but have come to understad that if a student/child speaking another language that you don't speak very well asks you to repeat after him or her, you are usually being a taught a very very bad swear word. useful though! 

water bottle flowers are the new studs. haven't you heard?
[classroom de tia bete, complexo do alemao]
Each student here is in the classroom on his or her own merit. A major problem in the Complexo (and many other favelas) is that both public and private favela schools only offer half days classes to students, leaving kids of all ages on their own, unaccounted for and asking to be absorbed by compromising situations. The kids in this classroom chose to educate and inspire themselves. The truth is that not each is sure why he or she is there. It's about a 50-50 mix of those with nothing better to do with their time but have the motivation to get involved with something productive, and then there are those with a true passion for fashion and want to potentially pursue it in the future. Students from both groups flaunt their own sense of fashion. Each quite unqiue, but on a warm Rio day the classroom uniform is pretty consistent: rhinestone studded shorts, halters, intricately manicured nails, havaianas.)

lil fashionistas/disenadoras [classroom de tia bete, complexo do alemao]

But despite being from such seemingly vastly different demographics we start putting some jewelry designs together and these differences disappearAfter now spending 3 full days in the classroom as "Professora de Sustainable Jewelry" (some days I also assist) I couldn't see more clearly that despite our different languages, socio-economic backgrounds, ages, experiences, tastes, etc our interests in arts truly unites us. I know this sounds UNBELIEVABLY CLICHE, but it's true. I have grown to love my class already. At the end of every teaching day I feel so overwhelmed with new knowledge, so fueled with design inspiration from student's ideas, so filled with sustainable ideas to help out the community in the long run.... **apologies to those of you who actually skype/chat with me directly following a day of sustainable jewelry class, when I resemble a hyper kid who OD'd on pixy sticks. and then tried a doppo espresso for the first time. Full of ideas, full of curiosity and inspired to the max with potential projects for the future.

Am I just day dreaming? Maybe. But I have to say there is something freeing about relentless optimism. Maybe/probably this excitement and optimistic energy is based on unrealistic expectations. Believe you me, my MBA brain has mad a HUGE list of constraints and reasons why no business or sustainable system would ever efficiently work in the favelas. But I've got to thinking that sometimes it's not such a bad thing to throw the critical MBA brain out the window and dream every now and then. As adults (or whatever we are), it is so easy to lose that childlike curiosity - curiosity as if we haven't lived and as if we didn't know any better - and maybe for good reason too. But at any rate I'm happy to have found it, even if it only lasts for this month in Rio.

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