Saturday, May 19, 2012

Living with Bugs

I’m generally so proud of the kids we graduate from our school. About as compassionate and concerned and aware as 8th graders can be, generally accepting of difference, kind to each other and supportive (except when they’re not—they are 8th graders), often with a quality of innocence (not naiveté) intact, willing to be playful and mostly (they are 8th graders) unconcerned with striking a pose and looking cool. They’re still curious about the world, not cynical about school, ready to meet the world that awaits with impressive skills in a wide variety of media. And they’re mostly just fun to hang out with.

But this trip has taught me one thing. They have no idea as to how to co-exist with bugs! Of course, I’m no fan of the stinging, biting kind, those pesky mosquitoes, black flies, horseflies that don’t allow you a moment of peace and whine in your ear on top of it. I think the existence of the mosquito is proof that either God is not omnipotent and makes mistakes or else is simply cruel. But the other crawling, flying six and eight-legged creatures that we share the planet with is something I accept and can deal with.

But from the first day on, with five boys kept jumping up from lunch screaming from the bug flying around their head to last night in a rural dorm with more screams about the cicadas, cockroaches, spiders and the like, to their bodies coated in overdoses of lethal chemical bugspray, these kids just can’t get over the fact that bugs live on this planet! And during the work projects building fences in fields for gardens, each group did meet a tarantula, which yes, I confess, could indeed be cause for alarm. However, I did learn from our Western host here at Lake Apoyo that in his 20 plus years in Nicaragua, he’s never known of a case of a tarantula biting a person.

It also strikes me that our kids are unpracticed in the art of dealing with physical discomfort. From the moment we stepped out at the airport into the hot, humid air to the sensation of being sweaty and dirty to the mild heat rash and bugbites, the complaints came pouring out. “How dare the world interrupt my sense of constant comfort and well-being!” Well, I shouldn’t be surprised. First of all, they’re kids, secondly, they’re humans, thirdly, they live in virtually bug-free San Francisco, fourthly, they’re wealthy by the world’s standards, fifthly, they’re used to climate-controlled indoor environments with all settings set to “comfortable.” And so on.

But as I told them, apparently unconvincibly while they were in the midst of it and their group complaints were swelling to “Get us out of here!”, the stories that I hear kids tell when they reminisce are not, “I woke up, had an excellent meal, followed my perfectly arranged schedule, listened to all my favorite songs and saw all my favorite TV programs and everything worked like clockwork.” Instead, it’s about the skunk who entered their tent on the school camping trip, the pride they felt completing the 7-mile hike with their 40-pound backpack, the excitement they felt when they could communicate in Spanish to their host family in a foreign country. In short, their encounter with a world beyond their familiar routine, their conversation with the unexpected.

“Talent is forged in solitude, character in the world’s turmoil,” said Goethe and that rings true here. 35 people traveling for 10 days out of their comfort zone and finding out what they’re made of. And more to come. Having arrived at Lake Apoyo, lessons await in birds and fish and bugs and formal Spanish classes and politics (the hot issue here being the new colonialism of Americans buying up land to build their vacation homes, claiming private rights to beachfront that had always been public and generally treating local culture as an inconvenience or an exotic perk.) And then swimming in the lake!

After a torrential thunderstorm last night, a new day dawns and we set forth to see what awaits us, in company with the trees and birds and fish and of course, bugs.

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