Sunday, June 18, 2017

(Maybe) the Last Dispatch; or, l'll Be Loving You For Always

It's been a long time since I first wrote these words:

Sunday, October 21, 2012
First Dispatch; or, You Don't Get This in Texas 
Hola from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, our new home!

And it kept rolling from there. 

I really didn't think after the first few months I would stick with it, but I'm glad because it made me get out of my comfort zone and write something publicly and on a semi-consistent basis.

It hopefully answered some questions people have about GTMO, gave some of you a glimpse into life at The World's Most Bizarre Military Base (or something like that), and helped you understand why someone would choose a crazy life overseas instead of a more comfy one in the U.S. For our many, many friends who have come and gone, I hope it gave you good memories. 

This is blog post #186, and you can scroll through the other 185 to catch up, if you are just getting here. I think a few posts are the best writing I've ever done; others are really rather wretched. However, I'm leaving it as-is, at least for now, to keep as a record of our time for almost 5 years. Overall, I'm happy we were able to share a little of our lives here. 

Four days and a wake up, and then we are en route to new adventures starting in late July in Spain. We are trying to take care of many last-minute things, so I'm staying offline much more until we are back in the U.S. 

Hasta la vista, and hopefully in a couple of months, I'll be back to posting pictures and stories about Spain.

In the meanwhile. . . I made this to commemorate our time here. There have been many celebrations here (sadly, many, many without a camera---maybe that's a good thing), and there have been MANY goodbyes. It's been tough on my kids to lose so many good friends. It's been tough for us adults, too. As they say in the military, "It's never goodbye, only see you later," and I really hope to see our GTMO friends who have become our GTMO family in the future. 

Crank up your sound, feel free to clap and sing, and behold the beauty of the people and places that have made this our home. As the song goes, "I'll be loving you for always." That goes for GTMO, as well as our many precious friends we've met on this adventure. 

(If you can't get the video to open on this page, go to: GTMO Memories

Friday, June 16, 2017

Connections; or, Finding Bliss

The end of any school year is difficult. 

Class of 2016, my son's class. I got to teach
every single one of them (including my son),
and I absolutely loved his class. 

I worked in eight schools (six as a teacher, two as a librarian) before moving to Cuba to do a little of both jobs. I have a bad habit of doing a "cut and run" when it's time to leave. I don't mean I leave my employers hanging at the last minute; I just usually don't tell students I'm not going to be back. 


Before you think, "you horrible, heartless wench," there is a reason. I found out early in my career that students sometimes take it personally when you leave. They get attached to you and vice versa. They guilt trip you (why are you leaving us??) or give you the cold shoulder, sometimes even flat-out refusing to talk to you the last weeks of school after you've announced you are leaving.  You can tell a teenager that you are doing what's best for you and your family, but many of them are still at the stage where it's all about them. 

I've taught at schools that primarily consisted of military students (even one on a military installation), so you would think at least those students would understand. But many times, they don't. They don't want you to leave, and sometimes, you don't want to leave them, either.

I have some very mixed feelings about leaving a handful of students here. I hope some specific students find teachers who get their quirky senses of humor, or see through their tough exteriors, or refuse to look at their school records and instead focus on the present, not their pasts.  I hope a few will make better choices and not follow the footsteps to some family members. I hope the kids who think they are just average will push themselves into taking Honors classes and will aim to be the first in their families to go to college---because they definitely have the brains to do it, even if nobody at home has ever told them that. 

Unlike most other places I've left, I told my students a while back that I was leaving. Actually, a co-worker burst in with a very enthusiastic, very audible, "I'm so happy you are moving!!!" as soon as the transfer gossip had made it her way, and all I had to do was look at my students' faces and say, uh-oh. Not cool, lady. She had no idea that many of my students have been here for years and have dealt with several teachers leaving in the middle of the year (and more often than not, never being replaced with a certified teacher). So I quickly explained that I'm leaving after school's out, and their demeanor quickly changed. Whew. Honestly, kids here also get the "I have to get out of here" feeling more than most kids in other places. It's understood. This place is tough. Leaving doesn't mean you're giving up; it just means it may not be for you. Or for your family. 

Knowing you live in a tough place connects me to my students. A collective eye roll at what we have to do without this week (food items, flights, working restaurants, THE MAIL) or the way small things seem to be larger than life, not helped at all at how gossip spreads like wildfire, makes it hard to live here for many people. That connects me in ways I've never connected to students before. 

 ********* 
This guilt of leaving students is one reason why the end of this year has been especially exhausting for me. Then there are other factors. 

There's what another colleague calls "survivor's guilt." I got the golden ticket out of GTMO. And by "golden ticket," I mean any way out. I feel guilty that some of my other colleagues who have wanted badly to get out of here will be here yet another year. 

Is it that horrible to teach here? 

No. Not at all. 

Is it an easy place to teach? 

NO. To work at the secondary campus here, be prepared to teach 5 completely different classes (and sometimes, multiple subjects). There are limited resources at the school or on base, so wait 2-3 weeks to get supplies or professional books you've been wanting to use. Yes, I may have 35 students---but I prepare for them a helluva lot more than I did for 160 kids for only 2 classes. It's HARD teaching here. Give me 160 students and 2 preps over 35 and 5 preps ANY DAY. I think most secondary teachers will agree. 

Plus teachers don't have an end-date here. We can be here 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, or more before we get a chance to transfer. The budget for transfers is shrinking (as well as the number of DoDDS schools world-wide), so knowing you got one of 120 transfers out of 800 or more applicants feels like you've won the lottery. 

Is it an easy place to live? Um, no. I'll just leave you with this: my husband was left behind while a Cat 4 hurricane was coming this way. Am I bitter? Damn right I'm bitter. I wish I could say I am a better person, but I'm not. I blame a lot of people for incompetence, lack of communication, horrendous planning, and downright stupidity. (I have 5 days and a wake- up, as they say in the military---I really don't care who I offend at this point). Roll your eyes, but I am still dealing emotionally with thinking for 48 hours that my husband was going to die. I don't think I will ever get over it. 

During the "evacuation," they lined children up by height because they ran out of room on the last plane, and that's how they determined who got on it. They didn't get as far as the teenagers. This included several of "my kids," some students whom I've known for 3 or more years. I sobbed until the ferry turned around in the middle of the Bay and went back and got them. 

That event was the nail in the coffin. I HAD to get my family out of here. And seeing those kids today and knowing what we've been through---some have seen me sob inconsolably for hours---connects me to them in a way I have never connected to other students. Sadness, disappointment, a real, palpable fear, and yes, bitterness connects us, both colleagues and students. 

 **** 
Packing up the few things left in my room is also mentally exhausting. I've found notes from students, graduation announcements, and other things that make me wonder, again, what will happen to them. You never stop worrying about your students. Never.  I will miss them. And dare I say it? I will: I will miss them more than I will miss many adults here.  They are why I've stuck it out after being reassigned to a position I didn't want to do (teach English), which ended up working out sort of beautifully because I have relationships with students on a level you just don't get as a school librarian. I love my students and they know it. Even when they drive me crazy, they are my heart. I hope the knowledge that I want them to succeed in this crazy world is another thing that connects me to my students. 

*****
So onwards. My previous post was all about the wonderful relationships we've forged here, all the wonderful things that have connected us forever to GTMO. And those are the things that will stay with me more than others. But I do feel in fairness I have to explain why I am so ready to move on. I have friends who will probably leave here in a wooden box (crass, yes, but true). There are things to love. However, I don't want to paint this as the Most Perfect Place on Earth. Quality of life and basic safety issues aside, I've also written before---I am not a small town girl. And even in my small town of Monticello, Mississippi (1500 people---Sa-lute!), as a teen I spent many a breezy evening riding through the countryside, windows down, music turned up, smelling pine trees and dreaming of moving to bigger places, but always knowing I could come back any time to people and places I love there. 

You don't get that here---either the ability to ride around more than 10 minutes or so on this tiny, fenced off base, or the ability to come back any time you want. That part is what makes this move bittersweet. 

People have told me, "Oh, you are moving to an isolated area!" Rota, Spain has apx 29,000 people, and Puerto de Santa María, where we may possibly live, has apx 88,000 people. I've managed to keep busy on this small, VERY isolated base; I have a feeling we will be just fine, even if we don't venture far from home the first year.  One of my favorite novels, Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays, has a main character named Maria who aimlessly drives in the desert and on freeways to clear her head. I relate to that feeling of aimless travel (maybe it's even a metaphor for my life in general). To have to ability to get in a car, to get lost: that's bliss.  Even if it means I have to ride around, windows down, music up, and thinking back to people I've left behind, I will be HAPPY.