08 June 2011

Can't See The Plank In His Own Eye

Why don't I take a minute (or ten) to introduce you to the D. Connor Band?  It's the DWC School's own premiere student-led Iron Band, which I help "manage" twice a week.  It is composed of ten students, from grades 3 through 6, split between 5 boys and 5 girls.  In the interest of security, I will give them all coded names for this post.

The oldest boy is in 6th grade; Mido we'll call him.  Mido enjoys being in the Iron Band perhaps more than any other student.  He has great natural talent, preferring to drum in his spare time as well.  He has a light, jovial sense of humor, and a big friendly smile.  He tends to be very loyal to those who are kind to him, notably his teachers.  Mido is not in the lowest stream of 6th graders because he is slow – unfortunately he is there primarily for behavioral issues and their tendency to get in the way of his ability to concentrate and learn.  Taking correction rather poorly, he tends to slip into pouting when identified out of a group for either reprehensible behavior or even for positive reinforcement.  Showing a few classic Emotional-Behavioral Disorder tendencies, they are still far less pronounced than those of certain other students I've had occasion to work with at the school.

The oldest girl is also in 6th grade, and we'll title her Chica.  Chica is of Guyanese ethnicity, and thus has been raised in a home where it is more accepted to be positive, blunt, and forward in her speech.  Chica is, incidentally, all of these things.  Most of her peers would describe her as bossy, since she hardly ever considers the thoughts and needs of others in her decisions, being comfortably self-assured in her ability to read every situation honestly and thoroughly.  This can sometimes get her in trouble, of course, when she turns out to be wrong.  Nonetheless, her frankness garners a certain charisma which attracts other girls with a more easy-going disposition.  As for Iron Band members, the number of other girls with a more "easy-going disposition"? One.

That girl is Euro.  Euro is in 5th grade, and (gratefully) is far and away the most laid-back member of the band.  She is extroverted: comfortable with both being the only one speaking in a group, and the only one speaking truth to power, activities she regularly engages in.  Although she's more in tune with taking Iron Band practice seriously, she more naturally takes social leads from the other girls around her, which can sometimes lead to distraction.  She is quick-witted, inquisitive, and sharp, though prefers to maintain a façade of sheer normalcy with her peers.  Even so, not a day has gone by when she hasn't taken advantage of a lull in practice to ask me a question about the States, the Peace Corps, my family, my school, etc.

The other 5th grade boy is Ebb.  Ebb is growing up in an all-too-common Kittitian home: a younger, single, doting mother responsible for him and his little sister.  He generally has a pleasant, eager-to-please attitude, albeit high energy with little regard for short-term hearing loss.  With no father-figure in his immediate family, however, his natural bent when confronted with even the most basic of perceived slights is violence, striking other boys and girls alike, occasionally in disproportionate scale or unprovoked.  In a flash he can be seething with rage, and audibly complains to me, teachers, or anyone who will give him ear about the unfairness of the cosmos.  He has, no doubt, learned from his mother that this kind of behavior is rewarded with special treatment.  Sadly this, and his tendency to speak up at the damnation of others' behaviors (quite often overlooking his own complicity), have become widely accepted anti-social behaviors in Kittitian culture.

Moving on to 4th grade, the only boy is code-named Jester.  Jester always has a sunny outlook; you can't bring him down for more than a few minutes at a time.  He absolutely adores running in the schoolyard, spinning tops on the pavement, and throwing balls up against the wall.  His penchant for pastimes, however, could be a compensation for his hampered ability to easily chat with his peers – he has several mild speech flaws, making communication with someone like me, hard-of-hearing and new to the accent, difficult.  In fact, the only time I have witnessed visible frustration on his persistently-grinning face is when he has to repeat what he is saying to me more than twice.  He enjoys playing the instruments and marching, though practice time often comes at the expense of playing in the yard with his friends.

His counterpart is Twain, a 4th grade girl.  One of the few participants with actual percussive skill and experience prior to joining, Twain has many natural talents and splits her time between IB, dance, and tennis.  The off-shoot of being told how talented she is for so long, I'm afraid, is that she feels quite comfortable pointing this out to her peers as well, who naturally resent her elitism.  And in a natural and expected twist, she in turn does not seem to notice their resentment at all, but keeps on reminding them all the while.  During practice, this habit manifests itself in her unfortunate tendency to drop the instrument she's playing, step over to a peer, and steal their instrument in an effort to "show them the right way to play it."  This is not good behavior for making friends.  Incidentally, she doesn't have many, and as pointed out, she compensates by playing a game that doesn't require many friends.

The Gem of the group, the diamond in the rough so to speak, is another 4th grade girl.  Gem is an oddball, and has an oddball's sense of humor.  On more than one occasion, she has confessed to me that her roiling tears were borne of the fact that her mother "had passed on to be with the Lord, she had."  And when it was clear I wasn't buying it, she switched wholesale into an innocent expression of "well, not yet, anyway."  Short and stout for a girl her age, she is far less girly than her other gendermates in the band, and sometimes this plays into an unfortunate dynamic.  Of the five girls, three like to sing rather than just play percussive instruments.  Of those three, Euro and Chica are natural friends, making a "two's company, three's a crowd" scenario for Gem, who often resents the others for not including her in their singing camaraderie.  She will gleefully resort to borderline-negative behavior for the sake of attention, though she is an enjoyable addition when she does not have to.

The Enigma of the group, contrarily, doesn't go out of her way to draw attention at all.  Only in third grade, Enigma doesn't share the sense of gravity around the Iron Band the way her peers do, and often will come by to say 'hi' to me when class lets out before skipping practice to go home.  Cutesy and shy around others, she never lets on what she is thinking, or even that she comprehends the nature of what is going on around her.  However, she is a rapid learner, and is one of the few participants that I have discovered has the ability to mimic drumming skills merely by observing once or twice.  This has come in handy, and as a result is my preference for playing bass, since she can do a loud, steady beat with minimal guidance.  All of the other boys want to add something to it, or play a complicated beat that is more advanced and difficult to follow.  But she is content to play loud and fast, which is more in the style of what we are looking for in the low registers.

The youngest member of the group, Beta, is less a certainty.  Being in third grade himself, Beta is still picking up on some standard social cues from his peers, but does so from the back, careful not to draw attention to himself, trying to remain anonymous and unremarkable – to the point that a few weeks in, some of the older participants did not know who I was talking about when I inquired into his whereabouts.  He tends to be more anxious than the others, with a seemingly perpetual expression of shock on his face.  If I or one of the older students have the indecency to suddenly change the activity, venue, or situation in any way, he is the last to know and the first to come running with a look of fear in his eyes, breathlessly asking me what is happening.  I've learned to avoid this momentary distraction by trying to maintain his attention whenever giving out new instructions, but this is often difficult, especially when he has taken off without my notice to spin tops with his buddies.

And finally, DJ rounds the list.  A sixth grade boy in Chica's class, DJ has the unique distinction of being the only participant in the Iron Band who was not originally invited to join.  Instead, he (like so many others have tried to do) wiggled his way in by the interesting coincidence of having a similar name to Beta, and by telling me on our first day that I had, in fact, asked him to join the Iron Band the day before.  This was a bald-faced lie, but after participating for the first practice, and what with the withdrawal of one of our other participants, it didn't seem to be too much of an imposition to allow him to stay.  He has some basic self-esteem issues, and has the most trouble getting home regularly from school (both implying his home situation may be at worst weak, and gratefully not destructive), but his performance IQ is among the highest among band members, as he is able to play, sing, and dance on demand.  His natural bent is to follow the lead of others, however, and often these gifts are masked in the interest of fitting in.

And that's about it.  They had their first public showing for the Peace Corps' 50th Anniversary celebration last Friday, and have been begging to play at the beach, at Port Zante, and at our Challengers engagement ever since.  Thanks for reading, and wish us luck!

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