Monday, May 25, 2015

Party Like it's 1999; or, The Kindness of Strangers

I really don't know why back in the late summer I thought, hey, I can be the Junior Class sponsor and plan a prom! 

I mean, REALLY. I hate throwing any sort of celebration and just planning a kid's birthday party causes me lots of anxiety. Is anyone going to show up? Am I going to have enough food, or do I have way too much? I also don't like dealing with the less-than-stellar mail service here (or lack of), and it's not like you can run down to the party center, the discount store, the grocery store, or the craft store to get supplies. So you are at the mercy of mail service that, well, sucks.

A plus is that in 3 years I have learned to be resourceful, if nothing else, and I was fortunate enough to work with kids who are also resourceful and creative + hard working to boot.

This is how everyone pitched in to make a prom happen at a school with less than 50 high school students:

  • Instead of ordering very expen$$$ive cardboard cutouts for photo props, we had the Seabees make them. They donated the materials and lots of time, plus they drew half of the props themselves. A group of high schoolers spent 4-5 hours one Saturday designing the other ones. These will then be recycled for drama and music productions. 
  • A couple of ladies from JTF volunteered their time, materials, and talents to paint the props for us. They also picked them up and dropped them back off at the school. 
  • The youth director from the chapel volunteered his time to pick up the props from the school and transport them to the Bayview restaurant, the location of the prom. 
  • A group of parents, staff members, and members of the community helped with the set up of decorations and the take down at the end of the night. 
In addition, we had help financially, as well. You don't get a blank check from any school to buy what you need for prom; it's always the job of the Junior Class to raise all the money. 

A prom for 40-50 people and a meal shouldn't be that expensive, right? 

Maybe in the States, but not here in GTMO. 

Because you are having to ship in everything via the barge (as in "it's on the barge"---yes, that barge) or via plane, catering is super expensive. And because trying to coordinate something other than using catering on base requires way more planning than I am capable of doing, you pay what you pay. It's the same with facilities---we were limited as to where you can serve 40-50 people and have space for a dance floor.

It's not just limited resources and the expense of everything here that's difficult---there is the money factor. Unlike schools in the states, we are limited in the amount of fundraising (both the amount and the number of fundraisers) that we can do by our district and by the base JAG. As a result, we worked 3 times harder to raise probably 1/10 of what we would have raised in the US. People on base are very generous (especially when they hear that it's for a prom). We had lots of half or all-day fundraisers, and every time we finished, we would count the money and I'd think, well that's another platter of sushi. Maybe this will pay for some decorations. Money doesn't go far here, but every single dollar mattered.

Despite working our butts off, we still came up short, but thankfully we had groups all over base that donated money (and one group donated the proceeds from a carwash they held with the students).

photo: Brian Teal Photography
Hardships aside, we do have something going here you don't get just anywhere else. For example: check out the view above. You don't get that back in a hotel ballroom in the US! We didn't have ice sculptures (like my former high school) or other fancy decorations, a live band or a four star meal. What we had was a great time for kids to get together and do what they do here---everyone was accepted and the kids got along wonderfully. Because the high school is so tiny, students 9-12 are invited (and 8th graders can go with a high school date). We have 49 students 9-12, and we had 41 students attend prom, including a handful of 8th graders and homeschoolers.

I can't imagine some of my former high schools allowing students to attend prom in casual clothes. Here attire ranged from a tux to jeans---I told the kids that the dress code was "something clean." We live in a place where you can't run to a clothing store to get traditional prom attire---it requires a lot of planning and hoping that the mail service works efficiently (which it doesn't) and that the clothes fit. Remember, we are behind a fence and can't just drive over into Cuba any old time to get clothes. It's also ridiculous to have a strict dress code because we are on a military base----several kids either just recently got here or are in the process of leaving and have all of their dress clothes in transit---so I told them to wear what they have, but please come. And they did. (And they looked fabulous, regardless of what they wore).

So for all of my worrying and fretting and hand wringing and sleepless nights, it went well.

Will I do it again?

Definitely not next year. I am not the sort of person who has the confidence or foresight that what we are doing now will pay off many months from now. Flaky mail service, the added expenses of anything you do here, the inconvenience of having to plan something months and months in advance because you can't do anything last minute at an isolated, small base, created so much anxiety that I honestly wasn't able to enjoy everything until an hour or so into the prom, when I realized yes, this is going to work. I need a break and I'm looking forward to spending some of those 100+ hours I spent on the prom with my senior next year (I am still in denial), his cute little brother, and my baby-daddy, who was a good sport and was my prom date.

Clockwise, starting top left: 1920s jazz cutouts for photo props; our Speakeasy door (tickets had
the secret password on them); view of the dining room and our feather centerpieces; part of
the games which included card games and a foosball table (seriously); some of the
giveaways at the door; the beautiful and delicious cake at the center of the
dessert table. Not pictured: the bar with mocktails and lots of kids
on the dancefloor and in the dining area
All photos: Brian Teal Photography
I get so frustrated with this place sometimes and how it just seems like you have 1001 factors going against you when you try to plan anything. I've dealt with my share of disappointments this year. Some are big, like the transfer round that wasn't a transfer round. Some are small, like items that arrive broken in the mail, or that things are so stupidly expensive here. But then something comes around to put my life in perspective and I have to be humble and thankful for what I have.

To depend on what Tennessee Williams called "the kindness of strangers" in Streetcar ----having people you've never met volunteer time, talents, and money to help, many of whom have no connection to the school other than they want the school to have a successful prom---was both an eye-opening and an humbling experience for me. Seeing my son and his classmates work together so well to make this work---did I mention that there are only TWELVE students in the entire junior class?!?---made me so very proud of them.

After prom, I went home quite exhausted, with aching feet, but with a full heart.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Woman on the Verge; or, Bob Marley Earthquake Survival Tips

The luxurious island life has been wearing me down, MAN.

Sporadic/non-existent internet at work makes getting the yearbook uploaded to the company site in time for a tight deadline a nightmare.

I decided to finally settle in since we are here indefinitely and ordered a rug. It's on the barge. . . along with the last of the decorations we ordered a month ago for the prom (which is in less than 2 weeks). Yikes again.

And for at least the 4th time since we moved here, the entire island is out of Diet Coke. The struggle is REAL.

If my life were a movie right now, I have a great title in mind. Unfortunately, the great Spanish director Almodóvar already used it:
Young Antonio Banderas---Rahr
So I'm putting this out to the universe (or at least the few people who read this): if I take on two huge tasks that are due at the same time, which happens to be at the end of the year (really a big deal when you teach h. school, especially seniors), please shoot me. Hit me. Remind me that I'm a moron. Remind me that I am physically and mentally exhausted, that I can't formulate a complete sentence most days, that I have been plagued with headaches (and twice, the hives) because of the stress. Please remind me.

I was actually volun-told to do one of these tasks (yearbook), but I chose to be a class sponsor to organize prom. I am so type A and such a worry-wart, I have lost tons of sleep over "what can go wrong?" scenarios. I am not cut out for this sort of thing. Lesson learned. 

I've spent a lot of time lately figuring out why I am basically living at school right now---these 2 things are a big part of it. So is teaching 5 preps. I'm trying to find ways to balance it all for next year and putting family first. It won't matter in 10 years if the yearbook was perfect or if I had beautifully written lesson plans; I will have 2 boys grown and out of the house, so I have to find ways to spend extra time with them, instead of 15-20 hours a weekend at school. 

Just yesterday, H reminded me of what I miss out when I'm working 60 hour weeks instead of hanging out with him. 

Here are some quotes:

"Fun fact, mom!  Did you know that 50 Cent was shot in the tongue?" 
That's not really "fun," but the total randomness of this declaration made me laugh. 

"I know what to do in case of an earthquake, mom! I get under a strong table. And then I sing Bob Marley's 'Three Little Birds.' Loudly."

Thanks, kid, for reminding me that every little thing's gonna be alright. . .