i spent six months teaching english at a school for impoverished children at the municipal dump in puerto vallarta, mexico. you probably just read that sentence twice for all the abnormalities– as in, this girl taught english at a dump? and the dump had a school? the short answer is yes, yes i did. i volunteered to teach english (as in zero pay) six hours a day to 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grade students living off the waste found in the area. many of the families living at the dump built homes on the side of the pit, and they sold recycled waste to tourists in trendy downtown puerto vallarta. a group of canadians opened a nonprofit english school near the dump so that the children would have a healthy breakfast and learn enough english to work in the tourist zone.
i made a game of finding english books by scouring hostels, coffee shops, and, when necessary, simply asking tourists if they had recently finished anything. i got lucky when I found Walden Pond in a hostel while visiting the fishing/surfing village of sayulita. i knew a little about the author, Thoreau, from my philosophy minor, but i had never read about the transcendentalist’s solo sojourn into the woods. the first chapter convinced me that we were kindred spirits, and I finished the nearly 500 page novel by the end of the weekend (as in, no surfing or swimming for me – i never left the hammock).
three years have passed since I volunteered in mexico, but I still try to live by the simple wisdom imparted throughout Walden Pond. this year, i decided to celebrate thoreau’s 197th birthday with the people of minneapolis. now, you’re probably wondering who celebrates a dead author’s birthday? quite simply, i do. i baked cookies to look like Walden Pond, and i made cards out of my favorite Thoreau quotes. with treats in hand, i took to the streets to get the party started: