Sunday, December 19, 2010

Yaaayyayayayya!!! I am in an exceedingly good mood after having impulsively booked my flight to Israel on Saturday! And for getting to spend the week in front of me in Malta! Yayaayyayaa again!

Lately I've been spending an inordinate amount of time on Skyscanner and Sidestep, searching far and wide for somewhere, anywhere to go. As long as it was warm in January and it was located somewhere within the vicinity of Europe, Northern Africa or the Middle East. And I had to be able to afford it, that also was important. Also somewhere I hadn't yet been. And somewhere I could go on my own. Juliet, Carissa and I have been planning Malta for awhile, but I had nothing set for the week and a half in January before school resumes.

To Israel! I think it must be the universe correcting its temporary lapse of judgment, as I had thought prior even to arriving in Spain that I'd like to spend my winter break in the Middle East, but hadn't followed through. I'm really excited and I'm really really excited to be doing a solo trip because my last one where I was completely alone - not counting moves where I was part of a program - was Portugal almost two years ago, and I've been craving a sequel for quite some time. I need to read a book. I need to think quiet thoughts. I need to go on a tour of the holy land. Done, done and done.

Christmas is coming, weirdly enough, as I seem to have no concept of the passage of time or the approaching holiday in general since I'm away from my normal Christmas routine and WEATHER. I tried working winter vocabulary into my lessons but realized as I was trying to explain the words for frost or blizzard, for example, that it's not just the words these kids don't know but the very concepts themselves. It gets cold here sometimes, but right now it's 48 degrees. Minnesota has been in the news here lately for the roof collapse, and a lot of people have mentioned seeing it and are all quite amazed/disbelieving that people can bear the weather. Holla Minnesota badasses.

Monday was the holiday party at school. Each year the first year teachers have to do some sort of performance, so I was among about eight others standing in front of a full cafeteria of staff members, dressed as a shepherd from the nativity and singing Spanish Christmas carols. When I say singing I mean I clapped my hands a lot and occasionally made adjustments to the shepherd scarf tied around my head. Traditional Spanish dessert of chocolate con churros - which look sort of how I imagine deep-fried intestines would appear, after being dusted with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar. Magical.

Thassabout all I have to say about life right now. I'll be back in town for New Years - co-teacher Ana invited me to New Years Eve dinner with her whole family at her parent's house. Example of Spanish time: She told me if I wanted I could just come to dinner and leave when they finish eating around 1 AM, so I'll still be early for any parties. Yeah okay Ana, either that or I'll fall asleep when I'm stuffing my face with grapes at the stroke of midnight, as per Spanish tradition. Word on the street Spaniards eat x amount of grapes in the final minutes of New Years Eve because way back when there was a surplus of grapes and the King was trying to get rid of them so inducted this tradition. Maybe if the grapes didn't have seeds people would have been more willing to eat them before the numbers got so out of hand.

Another cool story Amaya told me is that people from Madrid are called gatos - cats - because at some point way back when the city was invaded and the people fought back by scratching at the faces of the enemy.

Badass, yes, but can they survive a Minnesota winter??

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sort of a nightmarish week but I've come to the happy realization that it no longer gets to me quite so much. When I first started teaching I would freak out every Sunday morning about the coming week and by Sunday evening would be popping a second dose of anxiety pills like it's hot (I'm neurotic). Now, not even the dysfunction and despair of my worst class can get me down. More or less.

My worst class this week was the same one that's always bad. This was also the first class I ever taught at Colegios Madres Concepcionistas way back when, which ended in my co-teacher bitching them out and putting her arms up in the air while saying - es un desastre -"It's a disaster". Well this week my co-teacher was not there and do you know why? Me neither, at least for the hour I was with this classroom of rabid preteens, although I did get an explanation afterwards. During the class however, the kids would not shut up. NOT SHUT UP. We were doing an activity with a song and listened to it several times in peace before I told them to get in groups and compare the answers they'ed come up with before we filled in any missing lyrics as a class. Groups grouped, chaos ensued. I confiscated two TechDecks and still no improvement. Finally - and I've used this threat a lot but had never had to make good on it - I told them if they couldn't handle listening to the song than they'ed do compositions instead. Well they couldn't handle it para nada, so I tell them all to go back to their desks, take out a piece of paper, and write me a composition. This failed: Students couldn't understand that I wanted a composition - "A competition? What teacher? You want us to write a competition?" This was bullshit, by the way. Composition is composición in Spanish. they knew what I was saying, and if they couldn't understand that, the fact that I had written their punishment on the board. In Spanish. Should have served as a clue.

Minutes pass, they're still not following my directions. One boy in the back of the classroom waves me over and hands me a piece of paper. But what? This boy never does his work and he hasn't been writing. How can he possibly have finished the composition already? Oh no, this is no composition. This is a list of Spanish/English translations, such as "Quiet," and "Pay Attention," and "Please listen class". It seems these kids were shits in the past as well and some native Spanish teacher thought to give them some key phrases they would be hearing throughout the course of their academic careers. Some of the students evidently haven't quite caught on that I speak Spanish and since some of them are rather not in the least bit bilingual, showing me the Spanish commands was his way of giving me a hand and/or rubbing it in my face that this class was an ABOMINATION.

Meanwhile, some of the students have started writing their compositions. Three of them. The problem here is that they were happy about the composition assignment. Happy, wha?? I can't be having happy students?! Normally of course happy is good, but in this case they clearly did not understand that boring individual written work = punishment, meaning my efforts at discipline via said boring individual written work were fruitless. At the end of the class they told me they hadn't finished but wanted to know if they could work on it at home and turn it in for me to read next week. Sheesh.

Class ends. I go to the teacher's lounge and see my co-teacher Ana. Tell her it was una pesadilla - a nightmare. "But where were you?" she wants to know, "Which class?" Third of ESO, I tell her. "Yes, they're the worst class," she says. Then she gets a stricken look on her face. Ana thought it was Thursday. She was a day ahead in her schedule and so she forgot to show up to teach with me. Oops.

Classes weren't all horrible. I had two 12-year-old boys tell me I was very beautiful after they asked me to choose which one was more handsome. "You are equally handsome." What? "Equally handsome." What? "Igualmente handsome." Ohhhh. I also really enjoy my Bachillerato classes because their English is high enough that we can get into more of the nuances, which their other English teachers, who are native Spanish, don't necessarily know. It's like, I'm filling a necessary role! Ahh, good ol' English.

I find this to be a really fascinating aspect of learning a second language, particularly when you speak it at a high level. To me it seems as if there's almost more danger for miscommunication when you speak a foreign language quite well because for all intents and purposes you can communicate, but tiny nuances can throw off the exact meaning of what you're trying to say. There's so many weird little tricky bits to language that don't always translate exactly, but if you do them wrong, can really change how you sound to a native speaker. It's not just vocabulary that makes people who speak different languages express themselves in different ways, and if you just try to substitute words or word orders or even cultural forms of expression, you can get something that's almost right and sounds almost right, but the tiny little bitty bits of the language just take so long to internalize that it might not be there.

Example: It's Christmas time. You've just finished eating your Christmas meal and now you go into your host's kitchen and offer to help clean up. You're host might say, "Could you clear the table?", or "Would you mind clearing the table?", or "Why don't you clear the table?", but even though you're offering to help and it would mean essentially the same thing, the host probably wouldn't throw out a straight command to "Clear the table."

Just some thoughts..

Monday, December 13, 2010

Should be going to sleep right now.

This week is music week. Two of the teachers at the school asked me to pick a song and give the students lyrics with missing words that they'ed try to fill in while listening. "Pick a song," they said, "Any song you like." Well I did and it was rejected. Song number two as well. "It should be catchy, popular, commercial." We ended up with Britney Spears.

One of the words in this song is "guy". Not to be pronounced "goo-ey", nor to be confused with "gay". Nevertheless one of my students took it upon herself to seize the opportunity to slander some who's-a-who just as soon as the other teacher walked out of the room. Said who's-a-who is definitely gay, according to this girl, because someone saw him hanging out with some other guy. This girl is malicious, I swear to you. First of all this is broadcasted loudly to the whole class, which up until moments before had been quietly listening to me like angels and were now instead scandalized by her obviously doubtless accusation. Second of all she had timed it so perfectly that I didn't even realize the Spanish teacher had stepped out of the room; my first reaction was holy crap I can't believe she said that in front of the professor. And my second reaction was holy crap this girl's good, Ana has stepped out. My third reaction was how the hell do I give a lecture on accepting homosexuality to a class of thirty 15-year-olds? Also nuns live in the building so I think officially they might have some kind of policy on that. Also they're speaking Spanish so in theory I'm not supposed to understand or let them know that I understand them, since I'm the English teacher. I think this girl is evil, she's just like a mean mean girl and she tries so hard to be a shit with me every class I have with her.

Pues, nada. With my private lessons today we listened to Christmas and lots of Michael Jackson since Miguel was trying to decide which one he wanted to memorize and sing in class. He settled on the lyrics to Billie Jean which feature many many repetitions of:

Billie Jean Is Not My Lover
She's Just A Girl Who Claims That I Am The One
But The Kid Is Not My Son
She Says I Am The One, But The Kid Is Not My Son

Ten-year-old Miguel is pretty good at English but I hope not that good. María on the other hand is getting quite talented at avoiding my prompts at English conversation. She told me she'd started writing a new story and would tell me about it when it was finished, but for now "it's a secret." Ah, that's nice I thought, it's like a surprise. Well then today she pulled that line on me several more times. What's the play that you're performing at school about? It's a secret. Why does that boy at school annoy you so much? It's a secret. Are you avoiding my questions? It's a secret.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Back to School

I'm soon to be kicking off the Christmas season with my students in style: Mariah Carey will be providing background music while my students frantically try to decipher the words to her holiday song and I think back fondly to me and Brittaney singing along to Whitney Houston in our London flat. Roughly comparable.

The long break is ovvver. Forevvver. How did that happen? Tomorrow it's back to the old grind and then another three day weekend. My friend Wilfred is flying into town for a few days from Holland. Wilfred was one of the coordinators when I volunteered at the orphanage in Peru. We shall be looking for Pisco Sours and Cuba Libres in an effort to reminisce about our sweet days listening to Tattoo Face, whom you may remember from an earlier post.

Let's see, what else is new. . I started my dissertation. It's four sentences long so far, so I've got a little work to do but I'm feeling strong. Also today is opposite day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Good long weekend full of drinking games and race discussions.

The latter began with my private lesson on Saturday morning. I find it fascinating to hear what people from other countries have to say about North Americans. U.S. entertainment is the entertainment of the western world, as I've experienced it, so even if you don't know that Mexico is not part of the United States (as was the case of my 17-year-old private lesson on Friday), you can still know that high schools in the U.S. are composed of separate posses of freaks, jocks, goths and variations on the vagina dentata theme: mean girls, beautiful girls, it girls, the "Ashleys", or what have you. Also prom, must not forget prom.

Lately I've been making a very conscious effort to be positive about the States when I'm talking to foreigners. I realize that I prefer being abroad but that's not entirely typical of the U.S. population, so perhaps I'm not the best representative of ye olde Land of the Free. Also irrelevant side note I was telling my student about how in high school my friend tried to teach me how to drive a stick-shift in some parking lot at night, and when I used that word - parking lot - he said he knew of the concept but had never seen one. Isn't that cool?

Anyway, we got to talking about race and he was saying how Spain doesn't have many problems with that. However within this same argument he included points on how: 1.) Chinos (Chinese people) never leave the convenience stores where they work (also called Chinos). And also none of them attend school. Or interact ever with European Spaniards. 2.) South Americans take jobs from Spaniards, and are short. 3.) Gypsies.

To be fair I was the one who brought up gypsies, or as they're actually called, Roma. Currently France is making efforts to expel them from the country (hi Inquisition/Trail of Tears/Simba), and there's just generally a lot of disdain surrounding them, which no one seems to think out of the ordinary or wrong. Fernando's argument was that you can't trust them and they're always stealing and they won't try to interact with Spaniards, although he couldn't tell me when was the last time he'd tried interacting with them. Who do you interact with outside of your race then? Chinos, when I go to the convenience store.

I'm being really mean, he wasn't that bad. This is the fascinating part to me though; people are endlessly capable of rationalizing their thoughts and compartmentalizing them into their "xyz" concept of themselves. Fernando doesn't think he has negative opinions based on race; gypsies are just bad and you can't trust them. What worries me though is that he didn't see any contradiction with these two beliefs until I said something: "Student, you are being racist." Makes me wonder what I'm rationalizing.

Yesterday, then, I got a message on Skype from someone who turned out to be from Morocco. I don't know how this person got my Skype name but whatever. He's Berber aka Amazigh, which is the group of indigenous people who lived there before the country was invaded by Romans and Arabs and the French. Berbers was the term given them from the invaders, and it comes from the word "Barbarian". He said that one time he was out for dinner and he was speaking English, and an Arab woman walked up to him and said "You're just a Berber." What the hell people?

And then I went and played drinking games.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Happy December

Welcome to Puente. Day of the Dead.

I'm in a bad mood right now and I think it may have to do with the fact that my bed has a sagging black hole of negative energy into which I am vacuumed up on a nightly basis, and which results in stooped-in-soreness Grandma posture every morning when I wake. I can't ask my landlord to fix it because he will either think a.) use your imagination, or b.) that girl needs to lay off the patatas fritas. I am not okay with either one of these options.

This Puente aka five-day weekend is actually coming at a perfect time. Most of the crew is in Barcelona or other bits and places, but I'm staying home sweet home and reading my book. Starting some work for school. Bitching about my bed. Hanging out with Jessica. Cosas así. I've lately become aware of the fact that it's my third month in Madrid and it feels simultaneously like I just got here and like I've been here forever - seriously, I was looking at pictures the other day of Derek and José from this summer and it seemed like that place didn't exist. This is a good thing because it means that I'm happy here. Bad because oh crap I have that dissertation to write.

I had the discussion with Pilar yesterday. I told her maybe I want to stay in Spain next year. She said they would want me to work with them again. I'm supposed to tell them in JANUARY, though, which hello that's like almost tomorrow. I'm getting slightly stressed out about my options and maybe having more choices than I know what to do with. I haven't even narrowed it down to a continent and it's really difficult to know what my next move is supposed to be. The spoiled brat plight of the native English speaker. Hello? Everyone out there? Do you realize how lucky you are? Do you realize you've been handed this golden privilege just for babbling this ridiculously difficult language that happens to rule the world? There's this weird subculture among English as a Second Language teachers that makes the world seem very small and very manageable and very take-your-pick. Unfortunately if I pick Spain it means giving up Colombia and if I pick Colombia it means giving up Brazil and if I pick Brazil it means . . well let's be honest, Brazil's pretty perfect. Watch me a year from now; I will be living in my parent's basement and spending my lack of tuppence on feeding the birds.

I went to a concert-ish on Wednesday. It was a group called Bloodly Mayor - badass - and was put on by Jack Daniel's meaning free promotional drinks. It was actually really kind of cool because it was sort of a question-answer-lesson session so amateur musicians could ask for insight from the band and a couple volunteered to go on stage and play with them at the end. Super intimate setting - probably less than 30 people there and we sat on beanbags. The bartender did lots of fancy tricks aka made me wait an extra five minutes for my drink while she showed off. Another bartender offered me a cocktail featuring tiny jello cubes and floating white chunks of what appears to have been petrified whiskey. It was covered by a napkin and when I removed it fumes starting floating out so you can imagine my reluctance, but I downed that puppy and I'm here to tell the tale.

Tonight I'm supposed to be reuniending con Jessica y César and a crew of recently arrived North Americans so probably it's time for me to go now. Interesting (to me) sidenote: you are not supposed to say you're American if you're from the United States. Because how selfish is that? Americans are all the way from Canada to Patagonia and every North/Central/South American country in between. When I was in Hungary I told someone I was U.S. American and one of my U.S. American friends joked that we'd lost our ability to speak English since moving to Spain, due to my phrasing of our nationality. U.S. American versus American, get it? Awhile back I was having a conversation with César about learning French and he said he learned the phrase "I am not American," to which I replied butchoo arrre (he's Colombiano). This is the same night I got my head stuck in a strange man's zipper, by the way. In any case he agreed and was surprised that I would see it that way since most gringos do not. In Spanish there's a word for United States-er - Estadounidense - but we gringos don't have any way to say that. American. Unspecific and mildly egotistic and offensive at the same time.

Just thought you should know.