Monday, August 18, 2014

This is just a dog that I want
 I'm in my second seek of taking over the class, and it's been going well. Two weeks of orientation dragged and was mostly me watching the other teacher and feeling like I would do things differently. I cringed one day when she was teaching the students about scarcity.

...and this...
"It's eh-scaaarce." As in, I cut myself and it turned into an eh-scar. It would have been okay but she kind of shamed a little boy when he pronounced it correctly. "It's not 'scarce', you're not 'scared', it's eh-scaaaaaaarce." Extra elongating the aaaaaaaarrrrr sound. Then she made the class repeat after her three times as she pronounced it her way.

Nice lady though.    

It made me look back and think that I probably made a lot of mistakes teaching Spanish last year, too.

... also.
I really like my kids and I think they're easier to teach than American kids. My school is a pretty well-recognized international school, and from what I've heard it's a reach for a lot of middle class families. Our kids are in much better positions than many others in Guatemala, but I think the reason they're easier to teach is that they're less coddled. I don't mean toys or material things, I mean behaviors. My impression is that parents here see their kids as less needy. If their kid is being bad, I don't think the first reaction is to think "How can we make this easier for him? Should we give him Play-Doh to keep in his desk so that he can fulfill his fine motor and tactile awareness needs?" At least I can say for sure that this is definitely not the school's reaction. I'm not passing judgment here one way or the other, and if anyone has seen my cuticles they know I could use some Play-Doh to distract from the picking. I do think, though, that the result may be that kids in the U.S. end up more accustomed to adults doing the accommodating, and don't encounter the same kind of expectations that are the policy at my school. It's not about volume in the classroom or being on task either, because my students struggle with that too, but it is about showing respect to adults and accepting them as an authority from the beginning. I had several kids who struggled to do that even after I'd been teaching them the full year in Minnesota.  

It makes for a more enjoyable classroom, to be honest.

Speaking of showing respect, today I was on recess duty and Otto made a creeped out, halfway disgusted "EEeehh!" noise. "You look like a snake! Or like a dragon!"


I think he's never seen light eyes in the sun before. He told me I had no pupils and it was just all green. Not my eye color, but whatever. I've never had my appearance described as that of a snake before, but I found it unexpectedly enjoyable.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

It's raining right now and occasionally I feel drips from my open window. Rain is fickle and in some places dreary and depressing. In Cozumel it meant wading through streets flooded up to my shins and a gracious relief from the blazing sun. I went to two different pharmacies because I thought I had fungus growing on my feet from this hazardous task, but it turned out just to be itchy skin that never dried out in the humidity. Here the streets flood, too, and the water comes down like a shower, but it's cozy and cool in my apartment and the cloudy sky turns orange from the lights of the city.

Guatemala City is currently in it's rainy season, but Tuesday was the first day it had rained in a month. I was on the bus back from work when it started, and the bus monitor told us that we were being dropped off at a different stop because our street was closed. Why? This annoys me a great deal in retrospect because I asked the monitor twice and she claimed not to know, and then later I found out what actually happened. First I asked her and she looked at me - standing a foot away - then turned her back on me and began talking to a student about the altered route. I said excuse me a couple times then touched her shoulder to ask again and this time she at least paid me attention but still didn't give an answer. Is it because the streets are flooded? I imagine yes, she responded. 

I know now this wasn't true, and that in fact someone was shot a couple blocks down our street. I've heard that here in Guatemala people will not answer rather than give bad news, but don't you think that information might be relevant?

There's seems to be such a disconnect here when it comes to caring about and taking care of each other. What motivates people to lose their recognition of each other as human beings? In Mexico - not so much in Cozumel, but in general - there are dangerous areas, but there seems to be this other side of happiness in people. One of the big changes that I've noticed here is that there isn't music blaring in the streets. Mono and I never agree on volume. His music and his TV are, to me, always annoyingly loud, but it can be even louder when I go for walks. People have their doors and windows open and their music at full volume for the streets. It's as if they're playing it for the neighborhood, and really, I think that's what they're doing. There's a sense of shared experience that I don't see as much here. There are vast numbers of people living well below poverty within this city. The city dump is home to families and individual kids, who forage for what they can and try to avoid being swallowed up and buried alive by the unstable heaps. One Guatemalan said to me, "That's sad, but I'll be honest, our country has a lot of lazy and dirty people." I mean.. I don't see how a country moves forward when people who have no means are to blame, rather than the system that made it that way.

Not everyone thinks that way. Just a probably unnecessary clarification.

But while I'm on the topic of complaining, let me mention the hospitals, which have no capacity to deal with patients. People arrive with emergencies and get turned away because there are no beds for them. Last week one of my students fell on the sidewalk on the way to gym class, had a compound fracture of the two bones in his upper arm, and dislocated his elbow. He didn't get into surgery until this week. Another woman I heard about, who works at the school, had a thyroid problem and needed surgery, couldn't get treatment for a full year, and as a result it turned cancerous. (If any of this sounds ridiculous or is in fact impossible I apologize since I'm just repeating stories I've been told). 

Speaking of death, today I was looking through some of the Social Studies tests from my students. They had to answer a question about what occupation they wanted when they grew up. Otto wrote, "I want to be a soldier. I want to protect people. And also kill them.

Just, I don't know, thought I'd stick that in there.

And I got my hair dyed on Monday and it definitely turned out in the orange family on a scale from 1 to Pebbles. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Yesterday I went to an informational meeting at the school for parents that are thinking about enrolling their students next year. I'm finally getting the teachers to speak to me in Spanish and I was so happy when three different people on separate occasions told me I have a Mexican accent. Beaming. That was not the only thing said about me. During the presentation for Primary, I was in charge of advancing the Powerpoint slides while another woman talked. At the end there was a Question and Answer session, and one parent asked if students have different teachers or stay with the same one. The presenter I was with said, as I was sitting on a chair by the projector in front of everyone, that the teachers don't change but oftentimes with the foreign teachers (gesturing towards me) they aren't accustomed to the food so they have stomach problems. In those cases a member of Administration or another available teacher might step in while the foreign teacher (gesturing) goes to the bathroom.

For those of you who missed it, she just told everyone I have diarrhea. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Remember how I said my roommate was thinking about quitting? Monday was payday and Tuesday she didn't come out of her room in the morning for the bus to school. When I got home that afternoon, her things were packed up, and a pile of ungraded papers and textbooks was stacked on the kitchen table. She must have left just shortly before I got back because she'd done her dishes and they still had water droplets on them in the drying rack.

Now it's just me in the apartment. Empty bedroom here, in case you want to visit.

A couple weeks ago I was reading in bed when I saw
s happen. Mono lifted up Manchas' while he
was on the computer. Look closely at the paw.
The past few days have been more of the same at school, with lots of meetings to learn about the curriculum, procedures, etc. I really love the Primary Principal, Carola. We end up getting off task quite a bit during our meetings, and she tells me about Guatemalan history and politics, immigration and social welfare. Hearing about those things from people in the country is one of the things I really appreciate about traveling. Today she told me I touched her soul when I asked why the kids weren't using leveled readers in class. Then she brought me to a back room of the Coordination office where one wall was covered in leveled readers. Carola had advocated for more independent and guided reading time, but the school didn't want to do it, and none of the teachers are using the leveled readers, so I now have my own private library for my kids.

My kids are cuter each day.

And today I had a meeting with the rest of the new-ish teachers to meet the Head Director. I'm the newest but about 7 teachers have arrived in the last month and a half. This was weird actually. It was rumored that the meeting was arranged for us to voice our complaints to the administration, in light of my roommate leaving unannounced. The teacher I'm replacing did the same thing.

The Head Director came out and she's old. Like 80 or something. Shaky when standing. She apologized for not coming down from her upstairs office to meet us because her toes have been hurting her. She kept staring at me for uncomfortably long periods of time. So much so that people brought it up to me after the meeting. Anyway, the teachers were planning a trip this weekend to camp on some mountain. I wasn't going to go because I'd read that it's dangerous, and then later I couldn't because Carola asked me to come to the new parent's orientation on Saturday. The Head Director said that she's heard we were going but we shouldn't because it's dangerous. Making sure to include appropriate pregnant pauses she said, "There are people there and they might rob you . . . or you might get killed." Another person from the school told someone else that some people had been robbed on the mountain but one guy didn't have money on him so they killed him and threw him in a crater. Now, I don't know about the crater thing, but I don't doubt that the rest is true. Many of the teachers are mad about it because they think the school is just trying to be controlling, but it was also a surprise to them that it was dangerous, so maybe they should listen.

Anyway, it was weird nonetheless to hear a "Welcome to our school," and a "You might get killed" all in the same breath, especially from what felt like my Grandma. I did want to hug her, I did. But as you can see, it did not make for the ideal introduction to dialogue time. Then we were whisked out of the room and unfortunately I overheard Ana Luisa talking to two other teachers, who were asking about when they could talk about the issues they're finding. Ana Luisa said, "That was your chance to express your concerns; she asked if you had any questions." Really not what you'd say if you were interested in making things better.

After school today I walked to the mall by myself. That was a big deal because I was afraid of getting robbed, but instead it just looked like I had a boob job because my money was stuffed in my bra. Guatemala City does not feel like a welcoming place to walk around as a foreigner. Maybe I'm being paranoid, but it's a sausage fest out there on the streets. A lot of places also have armed guards at their entrances, which is not a comforting thing. They freak me out even on the base in Cozumel. But I went. I bought two sweaters because mornings are cold here, for serious, and I walked home with one boob bigger than the other.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hello, hello, welcome to Guatemala City. I live here now.

I don't even feel like getting into the process of how this happened, but on Saturday I woke up early and traveled with Mono via ferry and then bus to Cancún. Flight to Mexico City. Connecting flight cancelled so seven hours in the airport in which I realized I need to up my heels game if I'm going to make it with Mexicana fashion, and then finally after taking the hour long flight at 10:30pm I arrived bleary eyed and slightly bewildered to Guatemala City.

Thankfully I was picked up by Ana Luisa, who works as a secretary at the school I'll be teaching at for the next year. She and her husband drove me to my new home, which Ana Luisa had kindly supplied with some groceries, toiletries, a new towel, and a cell phone. Hi. My bedroom has a pretty nice view of KFC, Pizza Hut, and some mountains in the distance. I also share the apartment with one other person, but after talking to her for several hours last night she confessed that she's quitting early on her contract. Right now she's just waiting for payday at the end of the month and then she'll be on her way.

View from my room.
Today I went to the school and it seems like a good place to work. There was a lot of somewhat pointless time scheduled in for me to read the Parent Manual and the Employee Manual and watch DVDs about rather basic teaching strategies, but I also met my new class and observed their math and science lessons. The kids were cuuuute, seriously. Their initial teacher got married and left with no extra notice in April - the school's on a January to October calendar - and the kids have had a bunch of teachers in the interim. Currently they're with Claudia, a local. Claudia would ask the kids questions and some of them would turn away from her to face me on the other side of the classroom when they gave their answers. Cute, I mean but cute! And two girls gave me notes decorated with hearts and the message "I love Mega."

There are twenty kids in the class, which is great, and I think they seem like a really sweet little bunch but in need of a little classroom management. Claudia seems really patient and able to deal with the rest of the class talking while one student speaks. I'm not so fluffy I suppose. They've probably had a new set of routines taught with each new temporary teacher (about six), but they're going to need to relearn it. I have two weeks of orientation and then I take over the class on the 11th.

There are about 20 foreign teachers at the school, and all of the teachers and administration speak English - at least manageably. I've been fighting to speak Spanish. It makes me feel a little bit less far away from Mono and it's feels unnatural to me to speak English here. Mostly I've been met with, "Oh! You speak Spanish very well!" But they say it in English and so I have to respond in English and quietly be sad inside until I can force myself on another unsuspecting Guatemalteca. 

That's it for now. Bedtime.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Manchas protecting the house even
though the ghosts are inside.
There's a ghost in our apartment. For the first several days that we were here I'd keep feeling like someone was standing behind me and looking over my shoulder, and I'd think I'd see things in the many mirrors this apartment has, then look closer and there'd be nothing. One night when I was home alone one of the giant mirrors fell off the wall and then last night the guardian angel painting that I mentioned in the last post also fell off the wall. Ghost?

Mono has a haunting story about his aunt that I just had him retell me so I'd get it right. It's a true story and it goes like this.

Once upon a time Mono's aunt thought that her husband was cheating on her so she went to a shaman. If you watch "The Real Housewives of Atlanta," which you should, you may have seen these magic-medicine-people cast fertility spells on Kenya. So Mono's aunt went to the medicine woman and asked her if she could help her figure out if it was true and with whom he was cheating. Plot twist: he was cheating with the shaman. 

Again, this really happened.

The shaman mixed up a drink and told Mono's aunt that it would help her husband fall in love with her again. She drank it up and immediately felt dizzy. The shaman asked her if she'd had any visions and told her that the dizzy feelings might last for awhile.

Aunt went home and things started to happen. It started out with odd behaviors when the family would pray before meals and at night when the aunt would bless the kids before they went to sleep. During both of those times she'd get very agitated and go into a bit of a frenzy as Mono's grandma said the prayer. Then it started to get worse to the point where she jumped atop and crouched on the table, shoveling food into her mouth during the prayer.

Things ended with the cheating husband and the aunt moved back in to the family home, where Mono's dad and uncles still lived. They put her in a room and hung pictures of saints on the walls, which she destroyed. One time Mono's dad brought in a picture of the Virgin Mary, framed and with a glass front. Mono's aunt crushed it, her hands all bloody with the splinters. On Palm Sunday the family brought the palms and laid them under her bed. They didn't tell her they were there, but instead of getting into the bed she started rocking back and forth on the floor. Later they got her in the bed and she wouldn't lay flat, instead arching her back because she said the mattress was burning her. The other thing the family said is that when you looked at her she had tiny crosses in her eyes.

The family tried to do a couple of exorcisms with a priest from the area and then later from the state and finally they had to have one come in from Mexico City. I guess that did the job but Mono says even now around thirty years later something is off with her. She's very submissive and will zone out of her surroundings pretty frequently.

Well. Sweet dreams!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Just a quick little update. 

After arriving almost two weeks ago I've quickly reinstalled myself into life down here. On my first full day back we boarded the ferry and went to Playa del Carmen because Mono needed something for his bike. It was my first time over there and made Cozumel seem small and home-towney. I ended up buying my own bike, which I haven't fallen off of yet. There she is, the little baby. 

Then after another day or two I'd had about ENOUGH of Mono's apartment, so we spent Sunday biking around town and looking for a new place. We found it, and we've been here for a little over a week now. Below is the angel that looks down on me every night as I sleep. That green thing isome fruit that Mono stole from the his old landlord's tree when the guy told him he wasn't giving him back hisecurity deposit because the lightbulbs had burnt out. The green spikey thing is a plant of some sort that came with the apartment and hasn't died yet. Beneath all of those is Manchas hiding under a little hammock chair because right now the cable guy is drilling holes in our wall and it's hella loud.

That's about it. I'm sweating my balls off here because it's hovering around 100% humidity. Mono and I sometimes go into the duty free shops and try on perfume and cologne to get some air conditioning. The cable guy just set up his ladder and placed his foot on the top part of our open front door to leverage himself onto the roof; I really hope he knowwhat the hell he's doing. Mono and I have been watching lots of World Cup games and going on some bike rides and walks, but not too much else since I just spent way too much on that bike and we're trying to save our dollahz.

Oh my, the cable guy's coming back down, hold your breath he makes it.

The wild animals that I've seen so far include 1. daily lizard sightings in the apartment, 2. two cockroaches in the apartment, one already dead and one I killed with a toilet brush, 3. lots of dead crabs on the sidewalk on my morning walks to the north, 4. a dead tarantula on same walk, 5. an endangered species iguana that Mono tried to catch and accidentally killed and then felt bad about himself.

Also I've had two job interviews, both for teaching online English to students in Russia. They're not full time hours it looks like and they both said it's loseason for students, so we'll see what I get for classewith them. 

The cable guy istill alive in case you were wondering.