Yesterday was my first attempt to bring real world literature to evolving English students in this Third World country of Cambodia.
I have a text book that is 1247 pages long, and which comes with a price tag that is more money than these students live on for the entire school year. These are students who do not own computers, or cell phones, or other kinds of computerized toys enjoyed by American students.
As a result, I am trying to find creative ways to bring important literature to them by transferring great pieces to my computer and from there to some hand outs.
On Thursday we celebrated Thanksgiving in class. The students had never heard of Thanksgiving, and so it was an opportunity to talk about a new concept and compare that concept to messages in literature that I found in Africa.
We went to Africa and I lifted a story from a book called Out of Africa which gave us access to the story “The Iguana” by Isak Dinesen. The story talks about how Isak Dinesen was attracted by the spectacular colors of the Iguana. As a result she shot an Iguana in an attempt to use the beautiful skin of this animal for her personal use. She discovered that as soon as the Iguana was shot it lost its color and suddenly had no useful purpose for her.
We took that concept into the Thanksgiving classroom and compared that to human beings all over the world who are never satisfied with what they have – and always want more. The human race as a whole does find it hard to understand all that they already have to be thankful for.
My students struggled with the vocabulary, but we managed to get through the essay and grow in our human understanding as a result.
It was truly a wonderful session and I was quite surprised to discover that there is technique available to teach world literature through the use of creativity.
Out of Africa
By Isak Dinesen
Dinesen ends with the warning, “for the sake of your own eyes and heart, shoot not the Iguana.”
THE IGUANA by Isak Dinesen
In the reserve I have sometimes come upon the iguanas, the big lizards, as they were sunning themselves upon a flat stone in a river-bed. They are not pretty in shape, but nothing can be imagined more beautiful than their coloring. They shine like a heap of precious stones or like a pane cut out of an old church window. When, as you approach, they swish away, there is a flash of azure, green, and purple over the stones, the color seems to be standing behind them in the air, like a comet’s luminous tail.
Once I shot an iguana. I thought that I should be able to make some pretty things from his skin. A strange thing happened then, that I have never afterwards forgotten. As I went up to him, where he was lying dead upon his stone, and actually while I was walking the few steps, he faded and grew pale; all color died out of him as in one long sigh, and by the time that I touched him he was grey and dull like a lump of concrete. It was the live impetuous blood pulsating within the animal which had radiated out all that glow and splendor. Now that the flame was put out, and the soul had flown, the iguana was as dead as a sandbag.
Often since I have, in some sort, shot an iguana, and I have remembered the one in the Reserve. Up at Meru I saw a young Native girl with a bracelet on, a leather strap two inches wide, and embroidered all over with very small turquoise-colored beads which varied a little in color and played in green, light blue, and ultramarine. It was an extraordinarily live thing; it seemed to draw breath on her arm, so that I wanted it for myself, and made Farah buy it from her. No sooner had it come upon my own arm than it gave up the ghost. It was nothing now, a small, cheap, purchased article of finery. It had been the play of colors, the duet between the turquoise and the ‘nègre’ — that quick, sweet, brownish black, like peat and black pottery, of the Native’s skin that had created the life of the bracelet.
In a foreign country and with foreign species of life one should take measures to find out whether things will be keeping their value when dead. To the settlers of East Africa I give the advice: ‘For the sake of your own eyes and heart, shoot not the Iguana.’
Reserve – Land set aside by the government for a specific purpose, such as wildlife preservation.
Luminous – Emitting light.
Impetuous – Impulsive, acting sometimes without thinking.
Pulsate – To throb or beat rhythmically.
Suppress – To keep secret.