We were in a dirt parking lot outside of a run-down public school in a suburb of quién-sabe, Chile. Before starting our teaching assignments, we worked as summer camp counselors teaching English to 9th and 10th graders, which really just meant we played summer camp games in English and gave the kids permission to draw dots on each other’s faces in washable marker every time they spoke Spanish, which was a surprisingly effective way to keep them laughing in a foreign language.
In the dirt parking lot that day, a well-groomed woman in heels, a pencil skirt, and a blazer identified herself as a government official and posed for several pictures with us and the students before climbing back into her black sedan, where she surely sent the photos to a young staffer and instructed him to write a puff piece on the English Opens Doors initiative in Chile and her involvement in the effort.
As I watched her drive away, a rock formed in my stomach, and I thought to myself, “Never again.” The Oregon-bred counselor sitting next to me, who I hadn’t yet discovered was one of my lifelong friends, looked at me, apparently concerned about my sudden stern gaze. “What’s up?” she asked, in that comforting way that made you want to discuss your entire life with her.
“I’ve had that job,” I said, motioning to the cloud of dust following the sedan out of the parking lot.
And I had. I’d just spent two years writing puff pieces on Capitol Hill to please the press and donors of a politician I didn’t believe in. I’d been the well-dressed woman in confidence-boosting heels, arranging photographs and 15-minute conversations before accompanying the Congressman to the next cause we weren’t actually going to do anything to help.
“Never again,” I said. “I belong in this dirt parking lot, you know?”
My friend looked at me pensively and then said, “Actually, you belong inside now, since that’s where the kids are. Let’s go.”
Emily has taken classes with Valley.