I met Kelly while I was doing an MA in Education at the University of Bath, UK. She was teaching “Education and International Development” and I decided to take the course. After the academic year, we met once, for lunch, and we got along really well. Suddenly, on January 3rd of this year I was landing in Rio de Janeiro airport to join her and Udi for one month (until February 5th) visiting different initiatives in Brazil.
So, after a whole year of hard work, why did I decide to spend my holidays’ time with a former lecturer and her husband?
In August 2011 after having spent a wonderful year in Bath, UK, I was back in Argentina. Looking back, I could say that there were three experiences that really impacted me while I was back in Buenos Aires, which made me reflect about how I was feeling and which propelled me to go to Brazil. I’ve shared these stories with a few people, but I’d like to share them here. I guess there are many who may have gone through similar experiences:
- One day, while I was on Facebook, somebody who was doing a Masters degree in the U.S. posted a picture of the view of the moon from her dorm window. As soon as I saw it I started remembering how, when I was in Bath, I used to take pictures like that one: pictures of flowers, of the squirrels, of the light at a certain time of day hitting the leaves of trees, of the hills, of the old buildings, of the crows on the chimneys, of the canals, of the rainbows and, also, of the moon. I felt like I was in a permanent state of awe. Why didn’t I take these kinds of pictures anymore? Unlike the squirrels, and the crows, and the flowers and the canals, the moon, from my Buenos Aires bedroom window, was the same moon I saw in Bath. However, I did not find it enchanting here. I realized that the problem was not in what surrounded me, but that there was something in me that did not let me appreciate things. I wanted to feel stimulated again. I wanted to look at the moon in awe again!
- In March 2012 I started working regularly again. As I live in the suburbs I had to take the train everyday to go to work. This meant waiting for the train for around 40 minutes, because there was no fixed schedule anymore and many trains were not working. I also had to ride on the train for around one hour, squeezed between other passengers, facing daily cancellations of the service. The train crash which had taken place in February of that year and consequently killed 52 people was on my mind all the time. So, after a few days of this, I started complaining. And, the most common answer I got was: “Oh, it is because you have just arrived from England. This is not England, you know. Don’t worry, it is only until you get adapted.” “Get adapted to what?”, I thought. I never want to get adapted to travelling like this. No one should get adapted to regular fires on the train, and trains going out of the rails, crashing and even killing people. I wondered how people could say that. I was very disappointed with the majority, who accepted this and just sighed, lowered their heads and travelled in these conditions. So I started travelling on the train with a sign that said: “This reality is created by all of us” and I joined a group, “Usuarios Autoconvocados por los Trenes”, which demanded the State the urgent repair of the trains and railways with the decision that I would never adapt. Participating in this group became for me a way to cope with and to canalize some of my feelings in Buenos Aires.
3. One evening, when I was returning home on the train, after work, I witnessed a police persecution: a man appeared suddenly running and all of a sudden a policeman jumped on top of him, throwing him abruptly to the floor. The apparent criminal started pleading and crying, asking the policeman not to hit him, and reminding him he had a family. It was a very ugly situation, everybody looked worried and uncomfortable. Then the train stopped at one of the stations, the policeman removed the “criminal” from the train, and the train continued its way. I was observing the other passengers. Some were talking with one another, some of their faces showed fear, others sadness: the event seemed to have moved them. However, after 5 minutes, their faces had gone back to normalcy, plain again, and after some time, everybody looked as if nothing had happened. There I remembered how I had been once, a long time ago, very impressed and moved the first time I had seen a person looking for food in the trash. Now I saw these people daily, and they had become part of the city. I wandered if there would come a time soon when we would get used to police persecutions on the train. I thought I wanted to refuse to let this happen to me. I thought about how I, and this society, was starting to lose touch with the important things, how we were losing the capacity to be moved by others suffering, how we try not to feel and to look the other way. How we lose contact, how we separate from one another, how the political ideas divide us, and we lose touch, and we do not seek to understand the other, and how the distance grows, and dehumanization deepens. Because I had also thought on that train, what is it to be human if it’s not the capacity to be moved in empathy for the other? I thought about all this on the train, I wanted to cry, and I told myself that I should never forget what I had thought AND FELT.
These 3 experiences were to me like alerts and paved the way for me to take the decision to join Enlivened Learning. Like in the Pink Floyd song, I had become numb, but in my case, it had not been comfortably.
When Kelly and I started talking again at the end of 2012 and she offered me to participate in the project, I did not hesitate to meet them. I saw this trip as an opportunity to be faced with new things, to meet new people, to wake up from the numbness and to re-connect.
On top of that, the proposal was so interesting; what they were doing was so admirable and intriguing for me. Since I was in high school I wandered about what learning really was, and asked myself if it could be something different from what I was experiencing. Then, in University, I enjoyed the subjects and lessons about alternative ways of education and then I tried to implement some of these things in my jobs. For my masters’ dissertation I had chosen to design a school which differed from the traditional system: from its purposes and curriculum to the maps of the building. Learning about different initiatives who had different views of education was my thing.
On top of this, they were learning about the education and ways of understanding the world from indigenous communities and social movements. I knew very little about this, so I was even more interested. Ironically, coming from a Latin American country, I had become more interested and learned more about indigenous education during Kelly’s unit in Bath, in the UK, on the other side of the world. This new knowledge had impacted me a lot and I wanted to learn more.
So, on January 3rd 2013, after having spent 6 days with a friend in another part of Brazil, I joined Kelly and Udi in Rio to start sharing their learning adventure. I was suddenly living and most of the time sharing a room, with a former lecturer and her husband, whom I had only met once before in a class.
I started learning a lot during that month, and at very different levels. I understood the importance of the project, which was not only learning about education alternatives anymore, it was experiencing another form of learning every day. Kelly and Udi were amazing, never treated me as a traditional student or research assistant and now I can say I consider them very good friends. Also, after watching some of the interviews and talking with them, I learnt how many of these communities considered the creation, construction and experiencing of their initiatives as a way of healing from past experiences, mostly related to colonization. I could really understand them, because, in my case, Enlivened Learning had become a way of healing myself from the despair I was feeling back home, and of growing in many different aspects.
I hope to be able to share these learnings and experiences in future posts. This post has a “Part 2” which will develop my most significant learnings. Now I have been part of this project for many months. The way I see the project now is very different and much deeper than how I saw it then, and although I have not been travelling with Kelly and Udi since February, I feel that Enlivened Learning has become a very important part of myself. I am writing this when I have only a couple of weeks left to join them in India and I could not be more excited.