Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Singing Tree

Singing Tree

I never knew a palm could coo
a morning's greetings to me and you
But as I walk to school each day
a tree I pass greets me this way

I've gazed among it's branches green
the source of the coos I've never seen
And so with confidence I say now
that it must be the tree, though I know not how

What do I do with a tree that sings
What do I make of it's joyous feelings
As it calls to the sun and it shouts to the sky
The low setting moon gets a soft lullaby

To stop, to sit, to listen a spell
to all that my singing tree's trying to tell
In this way perchance I might happen to see
the things that before have escaped from me

If a tree can sing what else have I missed
rocks that have shouted or waves that have kissed
As here I am, there I am, all over bound
I wonder what treasures keep the earth turning round

My chance is upon me I hardly dare wait
while the years stretch before me it isn't too late
Now I must learn there's no reason to rush
I'd do better to slow down, I'd do better to hush

I walk now with a smile, my spirit set free
all due to the cooing of a tall green palm tree

Justin Wallace

Living the dream

Hokay so...

A few weeks ago I wrote 25 things about me. I really enjoyed the exercise as it gave me a lot of time to reflect and try to decide what 25 things I wanted to share. I could have put out an entirely different list of 25 things about me or I could have put out a list of 25 things I hope you don't know about me, but I feel good about what I shared.


The point of my bringing this up again is that a week after my list went out a friend of mine here at school, who hadn't read the list, forwarded me an e-mail. The e-mail was from a Portuguese company who needed a reader with an American accent to come down and read some things for a book they were contracted to record. I ignored my students for the minute it took me to immedietly respond to her e-mail saying that I would LOVE to do this and it is something I have always wanted to do. A few days later I was contacted by the company and details were worked out on our meeting and what would be asked of me. I was informed that I was to go to Lisbon where I would be picked up and then taken to the sound studio. There I would read a script for a book for Portuguese students learning English. For my efforts they would compensate me 150 Euro!

So, I made it to Lisbon, met the people at the studio, all of whom were really really great people, read a two page script about MTV, listened to myself, then re-read a few hiccuped spots (luckily I didn't actually get the hiccups, that would have been tragic!) and thirty minutes later I was done. Everyone seemed really pleased with my reading, which is comforting as it's something I've had lots of practice doing. The sound editor lady talked about how hard it is to find a reader with an American accent here in Portugal and expressed that she would like to work with me again in the future! As I was being taken back to the train station the guy who drove me said that he was impressed that the sound lady had taken to me so well as she is normally a hard person to please and reitterated that he hoped to get in contact with me in March or April to come back and do some more reading!

As I got back on the train to head off to my dance class I had a hard time fitting through the train door with my ginourmous smile!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The longest week...ever!!!

So this week the other third grade teacher has been absent. He hasn't been feeling well. Along with most of the pre-schoolers and a large number of other teachers. Since we don't really have a large substitute teacher pool to pull from I told the principal on Tuesday that I could take both classes for the day. The kids were great on Tuesday so dispite the 42 children I had sitting on the floor of my classroom the day would have to be considered a success. Wednesday morning dawned and I arrived at school to find out that my fellow third grade teacher still wasn't around. The principal had found a parent substitute for the day but as the morning bell was ringing asked if I could put together work for the class to do. Rather than running around trying to do this I just said that I'd take both classes again.
Unfortunately the novelty had worn off and while I am blessed with two classes full of relatively well behaved children, they are still two classes. I found myself being slightly less patient and slightly more harried by little concerns. I was thoroughly frustrated with some things that are outside of my control and it took a late night call last night to one of my teacher friends before I could put my mind to ease that I'm doing the best that I can do.
This morning I came in to find out that my fellow teacher is still ill and that I still had fourty some odd children. Again, they are generally well behaved but the juggling of the two classes who have different schedules and are at different points in what they are studying caused me to be a bit less patient than I normally strive for.
I have just heard that tomorrow will be a return to normal as my fellow teacher intends to come back.
Sweeter words could not have been uttered.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The difference is...

I wrote this entry after my first year in Sierra Leone upon visiting the States. I was rereading it and realized that even though it's only been a few months I've started to gloss over some of the details of my two year stay in Freetown.
Many people have already read this and I hope you will excuse me from posting an old note rather than something new. But I needed a more constant reminder of my former life than the occasional happening upon it in an e-mail folder that I hardly open anymore...

The difference is...

Everyone asks when you come back, "So, What is the difference?"

Five words...21 letters...

It doesn't seem fair. I have so much that I could say.

Does the person want an answer that corresponds in brevity to their own question?

If so, "Everything. It's all different"

And that still has too many letters.

Does the person have the necessary time for what would begin to approach an acceptable answer?

Is it rude for me to ask if they actually want to know or if they are asking because it is expected?

The most honest of answers would probably be something like...

"I'm not entirely sure yet. There are still things that I am rediscovering here that I'd forgotten. There are things that I think about back "at home" in, Sierra Leone as I have found myself referring to it since my return, that I am already missing."

But even if I were to respond to the very best of my abilities how can I explain the multitude of differences between my two homes. I am sure that I don't have the knowledge of language or the ability to paint a picture that would encompass these two worlds. I could just as soon explain to a blind man what color is, when there is no real way to describe color, as explain to my friends and family here, many of whom have never stepped out of the States, what it is like to go to the market on a Saturday morning, it is the equivalent to describing color. We just don't have the same language or memories to relate to in order to understand.

The difference is...



Where to start?...

The roads are dirt and all of your clothes turn a fun shade of orange, as soon as you step outdoors.

Think about going to a farm. Out in the country. And not one of the high tech. farms. Think of the mom and pop farms. The ones with the rocking chairs on the front porch and the sweet pale lemonade in an old glass pitcher waiting to break your thirst in two. Think about that kind of a farm. Think about what happens when it rains and the yard turns into a muddy patch of nothingness. Remember what it was like to run to your car, raindrops drenching your best Sunday dress. And when you sat down in your car, wiped the cold drops of water from your brow, and looked down. That is what Sierra Leone is like. When you look down and realize that your primping and your bathing, your curling and your polish, has been taken away in the five yards between your screened in porch and the old vinyl seat of your beat up pickup truck. That feeling of wonder and frustration, not knowing if you will ever be able to get out that old Georgia clay. That is what it is like.

The difference is...

The poor and beggars inhabit the street corners, the road home, the hill behind your house, the market that you shop at, the entrance to your work, the everywhere you look, all day, everyday.

Think about that time that you were getting off the highway and you saw that old dirty worthless man. "How does a person get to this point?” you ask yourself. "That would never happen to me. I wouldn't let it. I wouldn't get to the point where I have to rely on others to provide me with clothes, food, and shelter. That person must have no initiative. That person has given up. I would never be like that." And you looked the other way and stepped a little harder on the gas when the light turned green because that makes the problem go away and God forbid that the person approach you for help because like an infectious disease, like the plague or the pox, this person may spread whatever lackluster spirit-crushing sickness that has so infected them onto your person. Now multiply that one person. Raise that person to the n exponent. Surround yourself with that person and no green lights. Take away that person’s overnight shelter. Take away their food pantries. Take away their Red crosses and their ability to write a sign pleading for help. Take that away with that many people. That is what it is like.

The difference is...

The noise. The great cacophony of noise. Surrounding you. Creating a cocoon that never breaks. Strike up the orchestra of dogs, generators, horns beeping, helicopters passing overhead, late night stereo's blaring, children screaming, people calling, cars squealing, goats bleating,...

Think about the time your six year old was having a Disney princess sleepover with ten of her closest friends, while your droll teenager was out in the garage with his band buddies practicing their latest remake of an old Kiss album, and your crying baby takes up one arm while the phone rings and the pizza man is at the door. Don't forget about Rover who desperately needs to get out to make a deposit on the back sidewalk and won't stop barking until he gets his way and the airport that has just completed it's new runway and has been running test flights at regular thirty minute intervals to ensure the safety of all those landings that will soon be zooming over your head. Insert that into your cookie cutter neighborhoods, into your carefully patrolled burroughs. That is what it is like.

The difference is...

The greetings. The smiles. The children running to grab your hands. The wrinkled old vegetable women asking how your day was. The bare chested guard asking when your friends will be visiting next. The taxi man who tells you about his wife and children and driving a taxi for thirty-two years. The lorry driver who slows down enough that you can jump on and save some money on a bright and sunny day. The gimp old man in his white plastic chair who calls out a respectful greeting or the sun shaded young block maker who yells white man.

Think about going to visit your relatives when you were a child for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Think about the feeling of anticipation that you have when you woke up the morning of the trip. You could hardly sleep because you knew that you got to go see the grandma who makes frosted cookies and lets you eat the dough. The grandfather who lets you sit on his lap for a football game and teaches you which are the good guys and which are the bad guys. The uncles who take you out after a belly busting meal and teach you how to hit a baseball or work a half-nelson. The aunts who just can't believe how big you've gotten and want to know about the little cute red-headed girl at school. Remember what it was like to get in the car and never get there. To have that feeling of knowing you are going to a place where you will be greeted and fawned upon. Loved by all who inhabit your space. It is a feeling of being special. It is a feeling of acceptance. It is a feeling that each person that you interact with is glad to see you. It is a feeling that happens each time you open your door and walk onto the street. That is what it is like.

The difference is...

That people go from strangers to acquaintances to friends in lightning fast time because you never know how long this person you are meeting is going to be in the country. A week. A month. Six months. A year. The evolution of friendship gets put on warp drive because it has to or else who are you going to share your life with.

Think about someone who has been told they don’t have long to live. They realize that there is so much to do in life and there may not be time enough to get the things done that they wish to accomplish. Think about the desire they have to see new places, correspond with old friends, have adventures, cherish love, live every moment of everyday to it's fullest because their moments are numbered. In my home we are living something that mimics this proclamation. We don't know how long we have with a person. And we may not have time to stretch out an acquaintancship over weeks or months as we might here in the states. There you ask a person's name, what they do in Freetown, and how they managed to make it to such a place and the person is then well on their way to becoming a friend. If you hang out a second time then the relationship is established. After three times you are old pals and forever after that each meeting only adds to the bond that is now something you will remember for the rest of your life. Squeezing in so much into a short amount of time. That is what it is like.

The difference is...

That everyone and everything you have known and cherished is out of reach. Few e-mails and fewer phone calls don't mean that people have forgotten you but an incredible thing happens. While your adventure takes place...other people are still living their own lives. While it would be interesting to see what happens if everyone else's life gets put on hold when you are not around, this doesn't happen.

Think about when you went to summer camp for the first time. Can you remember how dark it was at night. Odd sounds and weird shadows. Your brain screaming at your prone body to jump right off your squeaky rusty bunk bed and sprint, not walk, not run, but sprint to the phone and dial in a blaze of fingers your home phone number which marches through your head, just to hear your mom or dad say, "Hello? Who is calling at 1 in the morning?" You are more than willing to risk the admonition from the counselors and the heckling from your fellow campers if you can just talk to your family for a moment, for that briefest of times that would allow you to know they haven't forgotten you and that, while they are still living their life, they do miss you and look forward to your return. That is what it is like.

The difference is...

Too vast to explain. And yet... both places are now home. I look forward to being in one place while I'm in the other. Last night I dreamt I was shopping at the market in Freetown. I spoke and heard Krio as I bartered with the local store owners. Months before I came back to the states I started having dreams about places I used to work here, people I used to hang out with, my church, my friends, my family. Everyday since I have been back I have converted most of the prices that I've seen into Leones. For ten months my brain acted like my own little bank and worked out how much I was paying in dollars with most purchases. Everyday since I've been back I've thought about the friends that are in Sierra Leone. Everyday that I was there I thought about the people that I had left and counted the months until I got to see them again.

The difference is...

My way of thinking. Because when I first stepped off the plane ten months ago I was speechless and couldn't have imagined that any place on earth could be more different from the home I had just left than the place I was going to inhabit for the next ten months of my life. And it is different. And while I have tried to relate some of those differences to things that would have made sense to me when I left, I have not done a sufficient job at painting my picture. I cannot relate how I felt that Freetown quickly became my new home because I was able to relate my experiences there with my life here. I cannot relate how each day I learned new things from new experience because it took those new experiences to learn those new things.

The difference is...

Guess I'm still stuck with my original quandary. I will continue to try to decipher what people really want to know. Quick and painless or listen to my voice drone on while I wonder if my audience has grown bored with my endless stories.

The difference is...

Something I am still figuring out.

God bless and my love,
Justin Wallace

Thursday, February 5, 2009

25 Things about me

25 Things about Me

I am a five foot ten, blue eyed, short haired, athletic, single white male who likes sports, reading and quiet conversations in hidden away cafĂ©’s, looking for a … oh wait that’s for a different “Things about Me” list… sorry about that.

1. I love to write. I keep a blog and update it occasionally. I am a huge fan of haiku. I have had entire conversations with people in the form of haikus. One of my poems was published when I was in grad school. It was for a project we were supposed to spend the week working on. I forgot about it and wrote my story of myself during class. The professor liked it enough that she admitted it to a journal she worked with. (

2. I love photographs. I have a buried desire to become a better photographer someday. I would like to think that I occasionally have an eye for what would make a good picture. Mostly though I just like that with a small piece of inexplicable machinery I can soon have a piece of paper that has clearly captured a moment in time that I can then look back on for the rest of my life. That’s pretty amazing.

3. I shaved, like all the way with a razor, for the first time in years last night. Not that I’ve been growing a gigantor beard. I kept it generally neat and trim. But last night I decided I’d like to see what I look like without the accumulated hair. I must admit I cut a dashing figure.

4. I am absolutely horrible at carrying through with ideas that I have. I’m a pretty creative person and have been told that I have good ideas. But I’ve also discovered that I’m a good brainstormer, not such a good carrier outer.

5. I have an interesting relationship with God. I think we understand each other most of the time. My faith is definitely something that is important to me. It is also something that I have seen change more dramatically than any other aspect of my life in the past 28 years.

6. I am a quintessential renaissance man. I will try just about any new thing that I encounter (except food) and generally find that I can do a passable job at most things. I would not say that I am really amazing at any one thing and sometimes wonder what it would be like to dedicate myself to the pursuit of excellence in one area. Instead I continue living the life I have been given and do pretty well for myself jumping from one activity to another.

7. I once did a back flip off of a 30 foot high cliff into a river. My friend yelled up to me that I shouldn’t over-rotate. As I jumped back off the cliff and did my flip I realized that I was pretty much where I started only three feet from the ground I had just left. 30 feet gives you a lot of time to look around, flail about and think about the lack of wisdom involved in doing a back flip off a 30 foot tall cliff. The sound of my back hitting the water still causes me to cringe.

8. I have the unfortunate ability to remember the ending to books I’ve read even if it’s been years since I’ve read them. I still reread books more often than I read new ones. It’s more about the process than the conclusion, I’ve found.

9. I had a major life realization in December. I was writing to a friend about my faith and I realized that I firmly believe that there is a bit of God in all of us. And once I actually realized that I believed that then it TOTALLY changed the way I look at people. As I made that discovery, in a centuries old monastery, I looked at the people around me and my eyes welled up with tears at the sudden and overpowering realization that I could look at the people around me and see God. I was literally surrounded by Him. I’ve professed for years that God is everywhere but this was, to my recollection, the first time that I ever actually saw that God was all around me. It was an amazing moment and has caused me to look at people very differently.
10. My BIG BIG goal in life is to teach on every continent. I am currently up to three. I taught fourth grade for a year in Georgia (the state not the country) and learned an incredible amount about myself and about my chosen profession. I taught first kindergarten and then a combined k-1 class in Freetown, Sierra Leone and was reminded everyday, despite the countless frustrations, why I love being a teacher. I am teaching third grade in Linho, Portugal where I am learning how to put into practice the ideas I come up with and the importance of good classroom management schemes. While it’s a bit early to know I am starting to think that my next post will be in New Zealand as I’ve developed a strong contact with a school there.

11. I love romantic comedies. I have no problem with walking into the “chick-flick” section of the store and picking up a few good movies. I look forward to new Hugh Grant movies. I don’t know what it is but I like them.

12. I have been known to randomly burst into song without preamble. I really enjoy singing. I sing in my classroom all the time. I sing in the shower… loudly. I sing in cars. I sing walking to the bus stop in the morning. I sing in church. I am singing in between entries. I really love to sing.

13. Unfortunately, in consideration of number 12, I am horrible at remembering lyrics. It drove a certain friend of mine in college crazy. She was a wiz at lyrics. I never understood how she did it. I can sing along with music pretty well, but get me on my own and the most random phrases imaginable will come belting out of my mouth.

14. I have always said that if I won the lottery my dream would be to throw a gigantic masquerade ball. I would invite everyone I knew and each invitation would contain a ticket for dance classes, that way when the ball actually happened everyone could really dance. I would hire out cirque du soleil to come and do their craziness in and amongst the guests. It would be freakin amazing. And now that I live in Portugal and am literally surrounded by ancient castles I have plenty of venues for my dream to happen.

15. I find kids to be absolutely amazing. I couldn’t imagine working in a job that wasn’t surrounded by children. Their outlook on life, their zany humor, they just make life more fun.

16. Amongst the many things that I am, I would have to say that, apart from things dealing with children, the thing that makes me happiest in life is dancing. I started actually dancing in high school, before that I danced but it was probably more a flailing, white man overbite, impression of the guy from Hitched, than actual dancing. I began with swing and ballroom and these are still probably my favorites, but since then I’ve done modern, latin, jazz, blacklight and even a bit of ballet. My ballet career fell flat before it started though because of my inability to point my toes despite hours and hours of attempts.

17. I am a frustration to my parents. Well that’s half true. I am a frustration to my amazing mother. I am a reflection of my father so he can’t get too frustrated with me. Despite my life long pursuit to do everything, my parents have continued to support me whatever the newest craze is. For that I am eternally grateful.

18. The first thing I did in my new classroom was to put up a sign that reminds me that “Patience is a virtue!” This is a lesson that God has been trying to drill into my head for the past forever and I continually seem to need reminding. Having a visual reminder helps a lot though.

19. I work hard to live a life that will never allow me to look back on things and regret any decision I’ve made. That is not to say that I haven’t made my share of stupid choices. I’ve probably actually filled my life quota for stupid choices and I’m only 28. However, I make a concerted effort to use those stupid choices to make myself into a better me. It doesn’t always work like I mean for it to, but I try.

20. Someday, when I either don’t want to be a teacher anymore, which seems inconceivable at this point, or more likely when I just want a break, I want to become a librarian. For a school. That seems like an amazing job. Recommending and reading books to kids all day long. I could deal with that.

21. In relation to reading books. My other someday dream job is to be the guy that reads books onto tape, or cd as the case is these days. I think I could do a good job of that. If anybody has a hookup with someone who needs a reader for their book, give me a call!

22. If Facebook ever needs an advocate or spokesman I will gladly take up the role. I am so grateful for this “socializing device”. Especially since living overseas makes it difficult to stay in touch with people, Facebook has been the most amazing tool possible for staying in touch with friends and family. I get on everyday and get excited every time I’m told I have a new post, a new message, a new friend.

23. I cannot snorkel. I don’t know why. I’ve tried. And I always lower the water level of whatever body of water I’m in by drinking my body weight in water.

24. I always want to wake up first on Christmas. I want to be the first one to check out what’s in my stocking. This year I called my dad at seven in the morning England time, which is two in the morning Georgia time, just to make sure he could be privy to my early morning Christmas joy spreading. I can’t say that he was overjoyed by my call, but I think he got the point. Having said that, I don’t like to open my presents first. I like to sit back and watch everyone else open theirs first and then quietly open mine on the side.

25. I’m bad at keeping in touch with people but think about them far more than I let them know. Memories of friends and family keep me going when I go to new places and am surrounded by new people. In Timbuktu I spent the afternoon and evening thinking about what different people would say about the rather non-attractive camels we rode into the Sahara. In London I walked around for days on my own imagining what different people would want to see or what they would say about the rather interesting fancy dress New Years Eve party at a small village bar I went to. During the time I spent in Freetown I constantly thought about how different friends would react to the craziness that I encountered everyday. And now here in Portugal I wonder what different people are doing where, how their lives are changing and when I will get to see them again. Though I may be bad at writing to people I hope that they know that they are constantly in my thoughts and prayers.