Thursday, June 18, 2015

Where We're From: A poem takes a trip to the Philippines

Sure, it's easy to send a poem to anyone in the world via email, blog, SMS, or any of the other millions of high-tech apps out there in cyber space.  

This poem, however, is traveling a suitcase.

I'm headed to the Philippines in three days with the State Department's Teachers for Global Classrooms program.  This is the exciting "fieldwork" part of the year-long professional development program designed to engage teachers in global education leadership.  During this phase, small cohorts travel all over the world to learn about the education systems, histories, and cultures of their host countries, and we even have the opportunity to teach in host classrooms.  The Philippines is in the middle of an education overhaul involving a controversial transition to a K-12 system, so it is a very interesting time to be visiting and engaging with teachers. 

All of the teachers in my cohort are taking gifts with them to the Philippines to give to students and host teachers, and part of me loves this idea, but another part has been struggling with this idea.  I'll blame my hesitation on a healthy dose (or overdose?) of post-colonial critique,  but what it comes down to is that I want to do something more than hand out pencils and erasers (although I'm super-excited about the Halloween- and cosmos-themed pencils and skateboard erasers that I'm bringing along).  

Poetry has become a part of our school culture, so I decided that I would bring along a poem collaboratively written by my students, as well as some art and pictures of our school community.  I love teaching "Where I'm From" poems (modeled after George Ella Lyon's poem of the same name). So I decided to adapt the "Where I'm From" poem and turn it into a "Where We're From" poem and pull it together from the contributions of all three of my Global Studies English classes.  I also asked students to contribute pictures and art, and I pieced it all together into a collage. 

Here's my big dream for this project.  I'm hoping that I can teach or team-teach the "Where We're From" poem to an English class at my host-school in Bacolod, and bring back a poem to California. Perhaps it may continue and grow, perhaps it will not, but I'm okay with that.  I do think that art, poetry, and photography are wonderful ways to share culture.  What might make this experience different is that these projects are not going to be on a screen.  We can get close to them, feel them, and know that they were touched and crafted by human hands on the other side of the world.  I'll let you all know how this emerging poetry exchange develops.  In the meantime, follow my adventures via Instagram:  @KajtaniakInThePhilippines or through my Teachers for Global Classrooms Blog:

Where We’re From

We’re from the tallest trees in the world,
ancient redwoods, swaying high in the wind,
towering upwards to the sky,
rays of sunshine still finding their way
through the thick canopy.

We’re from the cold Pacific Ocean
and its misty beaches,
seals popping their heads over waves
before they crash into rocky cliffs,
the sporadic spray of families of gray whales
migrating north.

We’re from fog as thick as tar
rolling into the damp forests in the morning.

We’re from green soccer fields
filled with the laughter of children,
rope snapping in the dusty rodeo arena,
the stitching of the softball gripped tightly
before being thrown.

We’re from deer hunting and cattle ranching,
the racing stampede of horses
at the Humboldt County Fair.

We’re from dancing, and singing,
and playing in the marching band.
We’re from reggae, country music, and rock and roll,
the rumble of earthquakes beneath our feet.

We’re from hamburgers and chicken
sizzling on the grill,
salmon pulled fresh from the ocean or river,
tamales, posole, and horchata.

We’re from the Eel River Valley,
the Van Duzen River,
California’s North Coast,
the salty air of Humboldt County.

We’re from Wiyot, Mexico, Norway,
Ukraine, Ireland, and Laos,
but the thread that ties our multicultural mix together,
we’re all American.

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