10 April 2011

Work work work work work wo...

I am slightly worried that the frustration I've felt over the last week might come out in this blog entry, but the hell with it. Reality is relative, and mine at the moment is one in which frustration is beginning to approach critical mass. 

I came to Chile to work. Let's get that clear. I had no illusions that I would be coasting during my time even if I was only teaching 25 hours  of class with another ten of planning outside it. I knew I would be learning a new language through immersion, which was one of the hardest things I had ever done in my life when I lived in Italy. I knew that teaching with no previous experience in pedagogy would be a challenge. 

I had no idea how hard I would be expected to work here, nor how hard I would have to push myself. 

At times it feels like there simply are not enough hours in the day to get everything done (or hours in the night to get some rest). I typically get up at about 7AM, quickly dress, and run downstairs to eat breakfast with minutes to spare. Coffee is a no longer an option. If I run out of time, I add some cold tap water to the mug and stand over the kitchen sink to chug it. 

Then I teach from 8AM to 2:15 or later, with only the fifteen-minute breaks between classes. I am expected to keep up with 27 contact hours and 5 planning/extra-cirricular hours, not counting the hour or more of planning required every night. More than that, the teachers I work with expect me to plan and execute my lessons independently. I am less of a volunteer and more of an unpaid actual teacher...with more hours in class than they typically have. 

I am also expected to be able to handle children with special needs on my own, despite my utter lack of experience in this and with lttle to no support from the school. I have a few students who have FAS, a couple with other developmental problems, some with some form of autism, and others who cannot yet read or write due to an unaddressed learning disorder. 

That would already be a lot to manage, but then comes my other work. Because our house is actually a pension, the work is never-ending. I joke that I am doing an apprenticeship in hospitality during my time here, but it's not really a joke. 

I wash dishes and help dry and put them away for about an hour after dinner at least five times a week...not to mention the dishes from the other three meals of the day. I often end up setting and clearing the tables for every meal but breakfast. I put out laundry to dry and iron as much as I can on weekends. I help serve dinner and lunch to our guests. 

I am not alone in all of this, since there are always several of us helping...but I am not being paid to work in the hostel. I wouldn't mind earning my keep, but I actually paid the program to house me here. We have two nanas here (cross between cook, cleaning lady, and laundress), plus my host mom and sister, plus the other volunteer who is my roommate...yet we still end up working. 

Today I hit my boundary of how much I am willing to work in the house. Some friends from the program came up to Natales to go to Torres del Paine and hang out for the weekend. I asked on Monday if it would be ok for them to stay here, and the answer was yes. By Friday, that answer had changed to "we'll see" and I was fully expecting to sleep on the floor of my bedroom under blankets nicked from the storeroom. 

Long story short, we had space. I served tea and dinner to the guests and we all tried our hardest to help with dishes and cleaning after all meals. We had an amazing time in the park on Saturday. 

Today my friends went home. At once, I thanked my host mother for allowing them to stay here. "I know it's not easy to have extra people in the house, so thank you thank you thank you." She made a scoffing sound. "Now we have to make up their room and change the sheets, and I have no nana today." She looked at me expectantly. Damnit, I thought. "I could do that..." I began. 

"Don't forget to run the vacum cleaner," she interupted. And back to her tea in silence. No mention of how to clean or where to get products or sheets or the damn vacum. 

So I cleaned the room, changed the sheets, ran the vacum, took out the trash, and washed the bathroom. I rolled up new towels and arranged them on the beds. When I came downstairs with the sheets from the beds, she didn't thank me. "Just leave them over there, nothing more," she said, gesturing to the laundry basket. And back to cooking in silence. 

I don't want to seem ungrateful, but really? Nowhere in the contract that I signed does it say that I am required to work as a nana. I help with the dishes and cleaning out of the goodness of my heart, and also selfishly because I want to keep tension to a minimum. I wouldn't have done the room at all if I hadn't been trying to clear the air after this weekend. 

I certainly don't think that I am somehow above cleaning or washing or working with my hands (because I actually enjoy manual labor sometimes...it's very calming), but I can't help but feeling like I am again being cajoled into taking some of the work from those who are actually paid to do these things. Like they are passing it off on me and expecting me to work unpaid just because I am here, whether I'm in school or at home. 

I think a lot about my ancestors these days, who worked so hard teaching or cleaning or farming. I don't want to stop working as hard as I am because I want to work hard, and I want to do all I can to squeeze every last drop of experience out of these months...but I also will not work as an unpaid nana. 

Next weekend I'm leaving town and it will just have to work somehow. You aren't paying me. Not my problem (until I get back and you are pissed at me).


  1. Great writing, I'll be reading every post you make.
    I can hardly believe you're doing all these other tasks on top of teaching...there's some division of labour missing here.

  2. The palm tree bends and adapts in the hurricane of other culture, and flourishes in the environment of change that uproots the less flexible oak. You're doing great, Coleen! It was sooo good to talk to you last night!