Walls and Paint

by Breanna Durham, ETA ’15-’16

Have you ever had the urge to throw paint on the wall? No paint brush, just hands plunged in color and then scrapping against blank barriers. I have no paint in my room, except for an old primary-colored set of face paint. That’s for the students I teach. So, they can express themselves in colors when words fail them, add some excitement to their usual routine during lessons.

One student used the paint to make herself look like a mime. She sat up confidently in her chair, arching her back and lifting her head high. The careful brushes of black paint neatly fold around her eyes and mouth over a chalky white foundation. She checks herself in the mirror. I snapped a picture. I was told that the school needed pictures, confirmation that the students had done something, had progressed, and enjoyed the process. The combinations of them looked that way. I’d like to think that it’s true. However, the truth of it might not be as clean-cut.

I still have the pictures, tucked in between books on my desk, waiting for a scrapbook to be made at the end of my grant year. There are plenty of other pictures, of when I traveled, of when I stood in front of my school, of when I joined an activity, of when I spent time with my friends. I took a lot. Others took a lot for me. You can see my gums in many of them because I’m smiling that wide. I don’t have all of the pictures. I deleted many of them. Many were lost by accident too. I comfort myself that I’ll have the memories. My next thought is that those fade.

For the scrapbook, I’ve collected tickets, posters, bits of art made by my host brother, and the handful of diary entries that I managed to write. I think about burning the diary entries. They just sound angsty and overdramatic to me. I rarely write diary entries when things are going well. Diaries, to me, are more for purging emotions than remembering them.

When I usually write, I write stories about other people and things. There’s so much out there to discover and so much that people should know. I want to know. I want to share.  I want to connect. I haven’t written much lately. I can’t think of things and I have trouble focusing on the page. I’ve had spurts here and there, but nothing consistent. Usually, I come home really tired and my day starts much the same. And in the middle of my day, I’m busy teaching or planning.

When I teach, I feel like the sun pouring out for the plants. My students often get excited. They easily burst out in laughter. Their voices shout and bounce off the walls until I tell them to bring it back in. If a lesson is good and the mood is right, I can get them excited about writing and speaking English. I laugh at some of the things they come up with for assignments. I love it when they write stories and perform skits. They’re a creative bunch. When I get to my office, I realize that I now feel more like a lightbulb with a switch.

It’s likely that I won’t make the scrapbook. The only one I’ve ever made was a college photo album that I gave to my dad as a present. My parents worry. They want to know that I am happy and doing well. The album, filled with my smiling face would give some relief to them, even though I was states away. Now, I am a country away. On a national grant! It’s amazing that I can be here. It’s an opportunity to do something, to do anything that I can think of. And have support. And have a community. And help the community. And do something. Do something different. Move!

I look at the white wall paper from my bed. It has silver-ish lines running down it, like a tree if I am feeling imaginative and happy, like crooked bars if I’m imaginative and not happy. If I am numb, it looks like nothing. I have a red marker, part of a birthday gift from my host family.  The whole body of it is red. It feels smooth in my hand except for the cap. When I lift it, it makes a small pop. A tiny red triangular tip greets my eyes.  You can see the red bleed into the white tubing like a sponge. When I place the cap back on, it makes a snap. I can’t paint the walls. They aren’t mine. Even if they were, what would people think?

I turn and look out the window next to my bed. There are giant crane like machines working at the port nearby my apartment. I hear the soft rumble of their movement. They never seem to sleep. At night, the yard of them looks like a sparkling city, full of wonder. In the day time, it loses much of its magic. I see their colors clearly, faded yellows, blues, and reds.  But still, it’s comforting to hear their rumble when I’m lying in my bed.