Day 354: Endo- and Exo- Thermic Reactions

by lara vogel,

Adding to the nearly out-of-body experience of me, Lara the slow and whiny runner, being identified as a Running Coach and general Fitness Expert, I have become a Chemistry tutor. This is because about 3 weeks ago, in the first flush of arriving here, I opened my big mouth and told people that in university I studied Biology, which meant that yes, I had also taken some Chemistry classes. As someone with a university degree in such subjects, this naturally implied that yes, I could help with high school Chemistry. But high school was nearly 10 years ago now, people…and I’m not going to lie and say that it all came rushing back.

So I did what I have always done with Chemistry, and I crammed. This time, though, I did so with a Kenyan textbook that includes such phrases as “and as the temperature rises, it makes the molecules in the system to vibrate…” which sounds exactly as it would if a Kenyan read an American textbook to you.

However, despite some struggles with the English, it turned out to be a very productive little review session. Last time I was in Kenya, Kelly was here with me and we discussed/debated the definitions of entropy, endothermic reactions, and enthalpy; and despite a lot of mental energy, we pretty much ended up defeated despite eight years of college science between us. Coincidentally, this was the chapter the children asked me to review. So I was able to remember that enthalpy is the general measurement of heat exchange, and endothermic reactions take in energy, while exothermic ones give it out. Yes, it seems obvious written out (though that’s probably not still exactly right) but after years of non-Chemistry-related thinking, the words start to sound the same.

I’m not sure how much I taught the kids, and they haven’t asked me to return and teach more, so take from that what you will. I blame the language barrier. But I got myself thinking, at least. And as I returned to non-Chemistry-related thinking, I realized that this whole balance of energy thing is everywhere. Environmentalists and weight-loss nutritionists are all about it, for example, constantly espousing the ways that we can come closer to a balance between what we take in and what we give out.

And I realized that I have led a highly endothermic life. There’s the obvious resource investment—private high school, snotty university, healthcare, organic foods etc etc…But then there’s the less measurable resources. I have parents who spend energy worrying about me and convincing me that I’m actually interesting /smart /funny /worth anyone’s time when all signs point to the contrary. I have had teachers care about me, nieces and nephews who work hard to entertain me me, brothers and sisters who help me get crazy non-profits off the ground, and friends that do things like remember birthdays even when I really don’t.

Such thoughts are particularly shocking in a place where so little of those resources have been given to these children. They cannot imagine the money that has been spent to raise me, but more than that, they cannot imagine having a person who prioritizes them above everyone else. Everyone here is cared for and cared about to a degree that constantly amazes us—but that love is universally shared among 200; there is no one living with the absorbing conviction that a given child is absolutely unique and unbelievably special and loved. I can’t believe this is true when I see these kids doing some of the amazing things kids do each day, and when I feel my own sense of pride, and remember that the people expected to feel this way have either left or lost these kids. I truly can’t believe that at 25, I have not only one, but many people still wasting such energy on me.

And I suddenly realized, in my little endothermic way, that it will take a lifetime of commitment to ever spend all the energy that has been poured into creating me. I will spend a lot of it on my own kids, but that barely scratches the surface. It is a testament to my luck that there is pretty much no way I could ever become exothermic, and it is going to take a lifetime of work just to break even. Happily the kids need energy, and I need to give some off…so hopefully by the time I leave this place, everyone involved will be a bit more balanced.

1 comment:

Gabrielle said...

Oh my dearest Bork Bork....We DO love you to bits, and none of our energy has been wasted.

We are so happy and proud that you are where you are doing what you are doing - even though we miss you mightily.

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