As I mentioned near the conclusion of my previous blog entry, the world has its own way of making things work out, returning a sense of balance. The same energies would come into my life during the next few months of being a High School freshman. I was feeling further alienated seeing my bridges burned after attempting to join the Peruvian population. It was no longer an option for me to continue to that end and I was not willing to take any more chances. If my environment would be subject to further bombardment, I would not make it through the posting. Two years could turn into an eternity when being on the wrong end of a conflict. I was now moving away from “adaptation” to more of a “coping” mode in regards to my situation. At this point I was able to find several similarities between my life and prison movies. If I was going to survive high school, I needed a plan: someone to watch my back. My brother had kindly volunteered to be my backup – perhaps noticing things were off to shaky start, to say the least, but I could not have my brother fight my battles. I needed my own posse.
|Ivan Drago during a press conference|
I figured the smaller groups of students were more closely knit, therefore harder to break into. Other groups were made up of Americans and other English-speaking kids and more quiet and distanced groups such as the Japanese and Koreans. I felt a sense of equal opportunity in evaluating my chances for proper integration as I shared the same ingredient with all of these other kids: a bunch of nothing. We were foreigners but, in my mind, this was not enough to click together. For a while, I navigated alone through the world of Roosevelt observing my peers during my classes and lunchtime. I saw from a distance how they interacted and I did not feel outgoing enough as I gauged my appetite for risk. I did not have any particular preferences, although I began to form a bond with Mario Lambert, a French-Canadian the son of the RCMP attaché in the Embassy and David Williford, whom I believe was the son of an American missionary or something of that nature. They were both in my Spanish and Debate classes and had a great sense of humour. Our Spanish teacher was a former Miss Peru – must have been a very long time ago – named Ms. Saco who had difficulty commanding respect and controlling her classroom. If you have ever seen an episode of Oz, well this was somewhat similar during the riot scenes. The only difference is that class would eventually come to an end while in Oz everyone’s sentences were different. The environment was so relaxed there, I was able to chat up a storm with both of them and build a closer connection.
During the course where I was regularly used for target practice (Physical Education) I began to befriend a Slavic-looking kid. He looked to me as a shorter and chubbier version of Ivan Drago, the Russian Red Army boxer who took on Rocky in one of Stallone’s movies. No one seemed to include him in their team when organized sports would take place. I did not want to pick a side, as I knew I would be picked on regardless of my decision. Students also seemed to periodically insult him using all sorts of words that I had never heard of before or care to repeat. It was evident to me he was another outsider. We seemed like a perfect match. If I was not liked, and I was an “alright” kind of kid, he must have been better at that time in my own mind than the average student. The first time I approached him, I attempted to communicate in English with him, as my Russian was nonexistent. I hoped this would be a common language. We were supposed to play volleyball and I did not have a partner and he did not appear to have one either. He responded verbally to my initial contact yet, although his lips were moving and his speech level struggled against the incessant sound of bouncing balls on the hardwood gym floor, I had no idea what he responded. We somehow managed to understand each other communicating through various gestures and facial expressions, such as waving towards each other so one would get closer and the almost universal thumbs up. We continued for a long time exchanging further gestures and actually laughing as we kept each other company during our sentence in the gym. It was funny but we seemed to find a connection without having to speak.
I later realized this Soviet buddy of mine was also in my World History class. Kevin “El Chivo” Jameson, who I swear to this date, was a clone of Woody Harrelson, taught this course. He was a young American, perhaps teaching high school kids for the first time in his career. He was a shy individual as well, something that was not a key to succeeding as a teacher there. The reason he was nicknamed el chivo (the goat) is because on several occasions, while he lectured on the topic of the day, a random person in the classroom would belt out “Kevin chivo” at the top of their lungs, and the rest of the class followed in unison with an “ey yeay yeay yeay”. Every yeays would get louder and given the day and circumstances, there could be several of them added on. He never seemed to have an answer to this behaviour and although I found this hilarious, I was also astonished at how little control teachers in this school had over their students and the overall lack of discipline. I had never seen this kind of behaviour in my life and in my other schools, there would be no place for this nonsense. This did not impede my newfound Eastern European buddy and my contributions to the chorus. We may have on occasion belted out our own chivos, creating the tsunami of ey yeay yeays. As a matter of fact, this was a very good stress relief technique. I remember leaving Mr. Jameson’s class usually feeling quite refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of my hostile surroundings. Kevin was a nice guy and did not exhibit any resentment or hostility from uproarism in his classroom. Perhaps he was just happy that the class would eventually come to an end. I often had chats with him about basketball as supposedly, he had played for Duke in the NCAA. I was young but that did not mean I was gullible. He did not seem to have the makings of a Varsity athlete.
|Alejandro, Kensuke and I|
The Russian and I finally began to speak once I realized his name was Alejandro. I now managed to discern the language as he tried to converse with me through a thick accent known internationally as Andaluz. It is close to Castilian (Spanish), but many letters are not pronounced, and the pace is somewhat quicker. It did not help that it was the first time I heard this regional accent. He did not have much English in his repertoire as this too was his first ever experience studying in the language. I possessed the advantage of having a prior oral record. Thanks to this new connection, I was reunited with my passion for basketball, playing at lunchtime with him and his Korean and Japanese ESL buddies. This was also where he introduced me to Kensuke Kobayashi, a good Japanese friend who became our gateway into a whole new language and culture. Kensuke taught me something I will never forget: Onara no nioigasuru (it smells like fart). This tied in to that lingering guano smell in the city air. He was a very nice kid and with a great sense of humour. Both of them also allowed me to learn a lot from cultures I had never been exposed to in the past, and share some knowledge of my own home. I had become a much prouder Canadian in response to the feeling of rejection that I felt originating from my hosts. It was now looking as I had finally found my place in the school where I could be at peace and let the good times roll. We were all kids in no man’s land.