Wednesday, November 17, 2010

on again, off again

Ahh, the blog. It certainly has been a while.

Don't know why I'm so inconsistent. But I am. And at that it'll have to stay.

I guess I'm finally back here tonight because there are certain things I can't let go of, and I'm not sure where to put them. It's the sort of life stuff that has no answer. In fact, I'm not even sure there's a clear question.

Last week I went to tutoring, as I've done for two years. It's a volunteer gig once a week, in which a handful of people (myself included) head over to a low-income housing complex in our area to do homework and read with the kids there. Most are Somali and Sudanese refugees, though there are a few families that've been relocated from the Chicago projects. (So when I say "in our area," I mean a fairly wealthy, generally conservative suburb in the Midwest. Think clean-scrubbed Christian goodness and booster club moms in high school sweatshirts mixed with a touch of John Hughes. Yep. That's this place.)

Anyway, lately I've been working a lot with a certain fifth grade girl, a complete sweetheart of a person. She pretty industrious, too, though it's dang near impossible to kill her curiosity on questions regarding my boyfriend, any school dances I may've attended as a teenager, and whether or not I ever straighten my hair. Last week she didn't have much homework, so she read aloud to some of the younger kids while I helped them with various art projects.

"Are you sure you don't have any homework?" I asked her at some point. "Not even spelling words or anything?"

"I'm sure! I just have my presentation for Culture Day tomorrow, but I already finished it."

"Culture Day? What's that?"

"Oh, just this thing where we get up and talk for a few minutes about our background. Like our families and where we're from and stuff."

"Well that sounds cool! Don't you want to practice your presentation?"

She didn't, not formally at least, but we did start talking about her culture: the Tutsis of Rwanda. (That'd be the group massacred by the Hutus over the course of 100 days during the genocide in 1994).

She asked me if I knew there'd been a war in Rwanda. I said I did.

"My mom was kicked during it. That's why she has back problems now. And her brother and sister were killed."

"Really? Are you talking about that in your presentation?"

"No! Are you kidding?! It's for the whole school. There will be, like, first and second graders there. It would totally scare them!"

I told her she was right, it most likely would. Save it for another time, a different listener.

And yet who would be the best audience for such a story? It's nothing grizzly or gruesome, not in the direct sense; yet it's strange to be confronted by such an atrocious truth on a more personal level. Yes, I got the eleven-year-old's version, a generation removed and passed down through filters intended to preserve some semblance of innocence. But I wonder, what will this girl's story look like in ten years? What will she look like once the filters have faded? All that history walking into a building in the Hughes-ian suburbs of Chicago, day after day, to a crowd of classmates none the wiser....How does that work? It makes me feel a little heavy, and yet hollow at the same time. Like my heart is made of wood, and it's rattling around the dark empty space of my inside.

I'm not good at explaining all this. I'm not sure I've done a very good job of even just beginning to convey what's been on my mind, though I've been holding it for almost a week. Even now, now that it's written down and about to be birthed into cyberspace, I still don't think I can drop it.

I'll carry your story. I'll take some of that pain and history: Go on now - be free.

Something like that, as ego-free as I can muster.