Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Descent, or How I Learned to Climb in Wet Pants

It wasn’t until the last five minutes of walking that Alli fell down the hill, confirming the feeling I had been trying to suppress all day: climbing can be a little scary. Bouncing up and finding her glasses unbroken, banged up in the knees and elbows, she was lucky, we inhaled, and continued down the hill.

I’m not a terribly experienced rock climber, or rock hopper, or rock balancer, or rock jumper. It’s a quick lesson to learn that forward is forward, whether it involves finding footholds, using branches as makeshift monkey bars, or playing hopscotch over the river: if you turn back, you will be alone, so don’t even think about it.

And so in this manner, sweating but determined, that we found our way from the top to the bottom of the waterfall, a big ‘ol waterfall, the pool filled with icy water and pouring down like a thumbtack exfoliant on your back. I loved it. What a reward after navigating nearly two hours of Swiss Family Robinson meets Indiana Jones meets Last of the Mohicans! Finding power and strength in places I didn’t even know existed, like my legs, like my arms, like my stubbornness and inability to feel less capable than anyone else: I couldn’t stop thinking Where am I, and how do I stay?

After only a week it felt strange to leave school campus, even though we only camped an hour away: I missed it. It’s a ridiculously special place when the students are here, women that are just as easily singing buddies, laundry washing companions, even teammates. (I “played” soccer twice. I’m batting about 50% on the ball/foot connection.) Friday we took the new students to learn to swim. Teaching adults to swim, an intuitive skill for everyone else I know in urban reality, is magical. Kick kick kick kick kick, trying to cheerleader them through what must be terrifying. Trying to convince Claudia that she will not sink when she tries to float, trying to hold Nidia’s legs together as she flops furiously. And after a week of establishing classroom routine, setting a tone of trust and humor, I am home.


Sleeping outside, under the stars, under a sleeping bag, next to a fire (that I make Zippo fast now), with occasional sprinkles on the face, giggling in the half dark, illuminated by the moon, full of a few s’mores and a bit more ron, I think I can make an exception for getting away, just for a little while.

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