Esperanza para todos. — Hope for all.
My new job, back at the state health department, has afforded me a lovely schedule for the next six months. Since Ebola monitoring involves daily contact with travelers from affected countries as well as ongoing data management, staff need to be available 7 days a week. For this reason, I share the position at 80% time with another person so that we can cover weekends. My current schedule has me on Sunday through Wednesday, then off Thursday through Saturday. Not only do I get time off during the week to take care of errands without the terror of losing my parking spot, I get a three day “weekend” every week. I can’t complain.
I do some admin work for a local bar owner a few hours a week which brings in some extra cash, but aside from that, I have a ton of free time to do whatever I fancy. I hate to be idle, and often overload my schedule just to ensure that I’m kept busy, always with disastrous results. I wanted to add something to my plate that was productive (learning a new skill or refining an old one) and also benefited others. I had found out about the Esperanza Center in Fells Point before I went to Spain, mainly due to their work with unaccompanied minors. So I checked out their website again. They provide a wide range of services to Spanish-speaking immigrants from everything to healthcare in-house, to legal aid, to English language tuition and tutoring. They assist thousands of people a year with every nuance of navigating life in Baltimore and the larger U.S. society. I liked their message, values, and outcomes so last week I sent in a volunteer application and signed up for the December 3rd orientation.
I spent my morning sleeping in and after being awake briefly around 8:30, I awoke later to see that I had slept until 11:30. It felt absurd, mostly because I haven’t slept that late in a long time. Plus, I was late for a Skype call with my friend and old co-worker from the school in Madrid. We decided to push it back to 12:30 my time, which gave me some time to make a bagel and some tea. Sara and I chatted for an hour and a half about a wide range of subjects; mostly shenanigans, questionable life decisions, and future plans.
By this time, it was 2 and I thought it wise to get out of my pajamas and shower if I wanted to hope to make it to the orientation on time. It wasn’t until 5 but I can draw anything out into a several hour affair. It seems like the more time I give myself, the higher the probability is that I’ll be late. I’m not sure how that happens, but I’ve stopped trying to figure it out.
I’ve made mention of this two posts ago, but leaving the neighborhood is quite the ordeal. Leaving your parking spot after 5 pm is just asking for trouble… and anxiety. Taking the Circulator involves switching to another line at the Inner Harbor. It’s free but stretches out an otherwise short trip. I have a bike that I hadn’t ridden since leaving for Spain and it just seemed like the most obvious option. I refilled the tires with air, threw some things in a backpack, and headed out. It had been wildly windy earlier in the day so I tried to brush off the image of getting blown into the harbor mid-ride. Luckily, the wind had died down, but something else died down less than halfway into my trip: my stamina.
I didn’t realize how out of shape and asthmatic I had become until that ride. I was painfully aware of how slow I was going as other cyclists whizzed past me on the bike path that runs along the harbor downtown. I felt people’s eyes on me but pedaling faster was not an option. My lungs burned like hot fire and my legs were screaming like the little bitches they were. By the time I got to the center on Broadway, I was about to drop dead. It was bad.
When I got up to the conference room where the orientation was held, I was a sweaty, wheezing mess. Once the volunteer coordinator started and had us going around the table to introduce ourselves, my throat and chest were so tight I thought I wasn’t going to be able to speak. When I did, my voice was disturbingly raspy which caused a few people to slip me the side eye.
Eventually, I regained my composure and was able to focus on his presentation. We got a tour of the building which housed a comprehensive medical and dental center, a floor dedicated to legal services, and a large area for tutors to work one-on-one with students. As an ESL tutor, I will commit to 2 hours a week during which time I will meet with one student each session to work on their language learning goals. The next training will be held in early January, then I get to jump right in.
Whatever your view on immigrants, undocumented or otherwise, at the root of the matter they are all human beings. Without fail, when I read the news everyday I’m disgusted by how badly people treat each other, the blatant disregard for life. Immigration is currently, and has really always been, a hotly contested issue all over the world. We are not the only country struggling with this. The migrant crisis in Europe has once again made us question humanity; a news camerawoman tripping a father, child in arms, fleeing a police officer, a young boy‘s lifeless body washed up on the shore that had once represented a safe haven. When you see these people as individuals rather than a statistic or lifeless mass, you can begin to empathize with their personal struggles and maybe even cut them a little slack. Or maybe you’re just a jerk. I don’t know.
In the grand scheme, this volunteer opportunity may not seem like a lot. But for me, if I can give at least one person hope for a better life through improved language skills, I can feel like my time was well spent.
Lo más importante en la vida es la esperanza. — The most important thing in life is hope.