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Festina Lente

Feb 05 2014

Festina Lente


I brace up and push the door open.

The room is empty. Sun invades the space through wide windows. I can see the small dust particles suddenly waking up and frantically bumping into each other with the surprise of the unexpected movement of my feet on the ground.
I take my time and watch them through half open eyelashes. This has always been my favourite innocent game: tilt my head to the sides, close my eyes slowly until the tips of the eyelashes meet and then follow the colourful sunrays’ carousel reveal a magic world.

I throw a look at the ugly clock on the wall. 3 minutes to go. I search for my favourite music and set it as background. My heart is pounding, my cheeks flush.

I stand up, straighten my back and fix the door in expectation.
Within seconds the room is no longer void: half a dozen people take place at their usual tables. They unload books, pens, pencils and jokes of merry spirits.
They don’t know me, I don’t know them. But we have a story to share. The rumour stops all of a sudden and I understand from the silence that I get the floor. The music in the background sets the rhythm of my phrasing.

I am stiff. Only my eyes brush the expressions on the faces of my public. I stop by each of them and try to build an image, to pick up hints over their personalities. I discover their joy and friendliness with grateful humility.

My back relaxes, my feet feel lighter. I come out from the safe shelter of the trainer’s corner and step out, among them. My voice sounds strong, reassured. I speak their language, they cannot speak mine. Strangely enough, this infuses me with a strong dose of self-confidence.

Only men, scrutinizing me, waiting patiently for me to finish my introduction. I am scrutinizing the dynamics of the group. I sense I am missing something. I continue on the same rhythm, I colour my discourse with short reflexion breaks. I constantly measure the temperature of the group: 2 resilient, 2 cooperative, 1 indifferent, 1 completely silent, withheld. Scenarios race through my mind while I continue unfolding the agenda of the day. It started with an informal conversation. We are now transitioning to the harsh reality of being an immigrant and the limitations of the beginners’ condition.

We need a pause. 10 minutes recess. My students rush outside and start charming the female presence in the hall. I observe them, I am constantly translating their subconscious signals. “I miss something”, I am more and more convinced about that.

We resume. I ask them to take the following exercise lightly, as a preview to what they might encounter somewhere later in their lives.
Experience taught me not to interfere unless demanded when my students need to concentrate on a mission. I am playing the fly on the wall. Time’s up. Feedback. The group launches itself in discussing the solutions and reasons behind them.

“Madam, and if you cannot write, nor can you read?”
I hold my breath, firstly with deliverance as I understood in a fraction of a phrase what I was missing. Then the immensity of the question hits me in the stomach, violently, numbingly. Time ceases to exist.
I desperately search for answers in my experience. I do not have any. I look at him and my eyes confess: meek, respect, admiration, sorrow, pain, shame, guiltiness…

A giggle puts an end to my painful introspection. I pin the class to the silence wall with one stare.

“I do not know”, I utter respectfully. “We will discover it together, will you help me?”.
I slow down.
I take the time to explain the concepts with nothing else but visual support. I am new at this.
The other students share their life experience encouragingly.

“Why rush? Time is endless, madam. We have all the time in the world!”

“We don’t!”, prompts my mind.
Yet, I rush slowly.

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