Sunday, January 30, 2011

Well, it's time sweet time again to post an entry. I haven't been writing much this month partly because of being busy but mostly because I haven't got much news to share. You already know about my students asking me for male-parts vocabulary, so it's not much greater news to mention that this week during a discussion on internet usage one boy admitted to using it for porn. At first he denied his classmates claim: "I do not! No I don't! Don't tell my mom!" And then he explained that he only watches it a couple times a week: "It's not like an obsession." They begged me not to tell Pilar before I quickly changed the subject to more tame forms of computer usage. Solitaire or something.

Really though I think I'm hitting my ADD funk and want to move. It doesn't help that the weather here has been crappy - yes, yes, nowhere near as crappy as Boston or Minnesota, but still. I'm waiting (im)patiently for a return to those nights when I had to take multiple cold showers before being able to fall asleep in my sweltering room, but for now my only comfort is the space heater and warm cups of tea.

On the other end of the spectrum is the job interview I have for a school in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico. Obscenely hot year-round temperatures hovering around the 90s, humid, sunshine. Of course now that I've committed it to writing I won't get an offer, but I'm at least fairly confident/not freaking out yet that some opportunity will fall into place sometime between now and graduation in June. My obsessive perusal of the backlogs of ESL forums has shown that even job-hunting in April is quite early in the season, so hopefully that means good fortune is to come by May?

Fingers crossed.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Vacation was a billion years ago.

My students since I've been back have been squirrels. Uncontrollable nutcases not only with me but with the other teachers as well. Yesterday a normally calm Pilar stamped her foot while she was shouting at a 4th of E.S.O. class to stop talking. Not a planned stamp, but one born of desperation.

In another class I had a student ask me: "Cómo se dice los partes sexuales del hombre?" In case I didn't understand what they were referring to, the speaker proceeded to demonstrate his question with a pen and various other strategically-placed school supplies. I told them they needed to ask Pilar that question when they went back to her class, but one helpful student piped in. "Dick!"

Second quarter Masters classes just ended on Thursday, meaning lots of last-minute scrambling to finish projects and papers and presentations. I finally chose my Thesis topic, inspired by one of my newly completed courses, and will be researching Spanish Linguistics in Latin America. It's a terrible idea because I spend most of my time staring at maps and checking Skyscanner for flights and picturing myself on the beach in Colombia or in Mexico or in Uruguay, sunblock, book and umbrella drink in hand. I've been spending an inordinate amount of time on the ESL Job Boards which keep telling me that the best way to get a job is to book a flight, show up, and look for one when you get there. Which, I mean.. maybe I could think of it as an adventure? Today I applied for a teaching position in Colombia at the little gem of a city featured in the photo at the top, and who knows, maybe they'll take pity.

Aside from that, nothing new except BRITTANEY'S COMING TO VISIT IN APRIL!!! We have some excellent things planned.

You know what I'm talking about Brittaney.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Israel and I started off on the wrong foot. I wasn't particularly fond of it at first glance and it seemed not to like me too much either, but it ended up being a hugely interesting trip by the time I flew home yesterday evening.

Day 1: And so it begins. My overnight flight to Tel Aviv arrived around 530 am local time and with directions in tow I began my quest for the hostel. This in theory should have been a very reasonable endeavor and my arrival time made it such that I was in no particular hurry - at least if I could ignore the backpack of crap I was lugging around for the trip - but I became immediately aware that this was not going to be as easy as I thought when I found that all the street signs around the train station were written in Hebrew. I don't read Hebrew. Also I'm becoming aware that this is possibly not the best area in Tel Aviv and my repeated consultation of the map is possibly not the best signal to be sending out to the world. I asked many people for directions, some of which were of some help, some of which were met with blank stares of incomprehension, and the last of which resulted in my scrapping the original hostel plan after the woman warned me quite strongly that I do not want to stay in that area of town.

Plan B. I will simply find another hostel. Easy. Maybe I'll even find an internet cafe so I can look one up and figure out where the hell I am. Or maybe I'll just head towards the beach because that's got to be where all the travelers stay. And maybe it won't start raining. And maybe I won't have to walk for five hours until I find anything. And maybe my backpack won't feel progressively heavier and heavier along the way. And maybe the giant neon sign claiming "INTERNET: OPEN 24 HOURS" won't be a lie. But it turns out this is not the case.

Things eventually do come together. Six hours later I find Momo's, my hostel home for the next five days. It's friendly. I pay for the girls dormitory and end up in a room with four bunk beds the narrowness of which I have never seen. There is a steak knife on the table in the middle of the room. I don't do much for the rest of that day. A nap after my overnight flight. A visit to the beach until it starts raining and I'm forced inside. I email the hostel I had initially booked after another traveler at Momo's tells me it's actually the best one in Tel Aviv, and Rafi writes me back "If you had spent a few minutes reading the directions or having a map you have easly find it [instead of] easly decide to cancel without caring how much effort we invest in each person and every reservation. I will have to charge you for tonight for no show! safe travel."

Thanks Rafi, you're a gem.

Day 2: I'm going to Jerusalem for the day and I get up early early early to catch my 7 am tour bus from another hotel. I arrive at the hotel at 645. It's 710. Now it's 720. The hotel concierge
calls them to see what's going on and they tell him they'll be there at 730. It's 745. It's 8 am. They arrive and we drive to a parking lot to wait a half hour before leaving.

Jerusalem was a surreal experience. My tour guide speaks in English but fellow tour member Fatima is from
Rio de Janeiro so I have to translate everything to Spanish for her and she responds in Portuguese. Somehow this works and forces me to pay extra attention to the tour guide's explanation. During one of these talks a woman holds out her camera to me and I reach for it to take her photo but instead she hands it off to her friend and grabs me to join in the picture with her. "I like you! I like you!" she tells me.

In Jerusalem we see the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall and the Via Dolorosa, which is just bizarre. "This is where they put the crown of thorns on Jesus. This is where Jesus fell for the first time while carrying the cross. This is where Pontius Pilate pointed Jesus out to the crowd." Each section of the city is strictly divided - the Jewish quarter, Christian, quarter, Greek, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, etc. It seems very unreal to me that in this incredibly important holy site there exists such conflict and hate, but this is the reality of Israel as I'm coming to find throughout my stay. I can't actually say that I took Jerusalem in all that well. As a historical site it's difficult to wrap your head around given its current state, and it all feels a bit too nonchalant as we tour each area. "These represent the instruments of torture used on Jesus prior to the Crucifixion. Who's ready for lunch?"

Day 3: My day begins at the beach and I'm walking down the shoreline when a loud voice comes from the speakers at the life guard station. I look up and they're talking to me, but it's in Hebrew so I have no idea what's going on. Israel's a tricky country and I'm not terribly fond of the idea of getting in trouble here, so when they motion for me to come up the stairs and into the building I do so with some trepidation. But all is well. They saw me taking photos of the surfers and want to know if I'd like to learn. Hell yes I'd like to learn! But it's January so instead I leave the beach and make my way to Old Jaffa. It's a cool little wander and on the way home I catch an amazing view of the sunset, but it's pretty
quiet and not too much is going on except for the giant tour of Americans
I run into. I talk to a couple of the guys who turn out to be from New York City and are here on birthright. Every traveler that I've met here is Jewish and it seems quite atypical to come if you're not. Several people I met, both Israeli and foreign would ask me if I was Jewish and when I responded no, would ask "Then why did you come?" No one said it hostilely, they just seemed almost confused. It was weird to experience the country that way because everyone I met had a completely different and more personal connection to Israel than I did. Many of the foreigners I met told me they had thought about moving there and felt like it was a place they belonged, even if it was their first time to the country.

That night I go back to the hostel and one of the employees, Golan, begins to tell me his life-story. Golan was adopted when he was six years old by an American family living in Israel because his mom could not take care of him. Prior to the adoption he had been living in an orphanage but had been separated from his two sisters because of "behavioral issues," so now he doesn't know where they live, if they were adopted, nothing. When he was 13 he ran away from home and spent the next year living in bomb shelters - which every building in Israel apparently has - until he was put in a youth detention center. Two years until he ran away again, got into drugs and crime and bad things all around, and another several years until he met his "Mom" - a social worker - and turned his life around. Now he's 24, clean, working, and saving his money to leave Israel. And also to have an operation on his nose, he hates how big it is.

Day 4: Again I'm at the beach with my book. I'm finding that people in Tel Aviv are not shy when it comes to approaching strangers and I'm not getting much reading done. One tells me he's a photographer and wants to take my picture with his camera phone and make me famous. Another one sees me looking at my own camera and asks if I will take his picture. He's from Darfur and was previously living in Cairo before HE WALKED to Tel Aviv. His whole family, to his knowledge, is still in Darfur except his dad who was killed, and now he's trying to find work in Tel Aviv. We talk for awhile and when I leave I wish him luck and give him a partially-eaten box of biscuits to share with his friends. The world is crazy.

I stop back at the hostel and meet some guys traveling from Uruguay. We hang out for the next several hours: hookah, cards, wine, and then the three of us and a guy from Scotland all head to a club in Newport for my last evening in Tel Aviv. The club. Not really my style, but it was a fun night and fun to hear the Uruguayo Spanish accent.

Day 5: It's time to go home. Since it's Shabat the trains are shut down so I take a cab with a woman from Italy and grill the cab driver with questions. He thinks I might be a journalist at first so he's hesitant to answer but eventually I get out of him his thoughts on the Service, the country, the Arabs, etc. By the Service I mean the three years for men and two years for women that every citizen is obligated to spend in the army after graduating high school.

I've asked people about this a lot in the last couple days and I hear even more about it from my seatmate on the way to Madrid. He just finished his term recently, and like many others, is spending the months following release traveling the world, beginning with Argentina and Chile and stopping for a few days in Madrid on his way home so I can give him a tour of the city. He told me he worked on the Lebanon border and was lucky because no one in his troop died. His dad and his grandfather - who immigrated from Russia - all served and he thinks that it's something all Israelis need to do in order to protect their home and continue living there. It's only a matter of time, though, before something happens and complete warfare breaks out in the region. Right now they're living with so much built up tension and with such high defenses, that any kind of attack would mean the degeneration of the current state of sort-of-stability.

Israel: interesting, nuts. I think we'll probably see each other again but next time I'm going inland and staying away from Tel Aviv. Maybe I'll hike a mountain or something. Cool.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Maltese Christmas

Home from Malta, and paying for it with the last several days sick and in self-imposed house arrest resulting in a job offer in Cozumel i.e. Paradise. But we'll get to that later.

On Thursday night I got to the airport at 1 AM, all set to meet up with Carissa and Juliet for a a night of sleeping on the floor in front of the check-in counter (them), and reading a rather cheesy Paulo Coelho book about a Brazilian prostitute (me). The Madrid metro doesn't start until something like 6 AM - not exactly sure since I'm never awake for this to be an issue - but whatever the exact hour was it wouldn't have been early enough for us to make our 630 AM flight. Thus slumber party in Barajas International.

Nap time came later at our hostel/apartment in St. Julians. Despite the removable doorknob on our main door, the place was awesome, especially considering we were paying 4.50 euro a night. Kitchen/sitting area attached to two separate bedrooms, which was good as Carissa would spend something like four days sick and bedridden in one of them, with Juliet passing one day in the same form.

Aside from these challenges we had a great time exploring the island, walking and walking for hours, and going out at night for una copa/bottle or three. We met Couch Surfer Alberto, but aside from that not many people living there unless you count the ones we overheard on the bus. I did get into a sort-of conversation with one guy in a pizza place at 3 in the morning. He got very aggressive and had the pizza guys in the kitchen giving me looks of caution in case he tried to fight, but fortunately it was diffused when his friend ran out to the sidewalk in a drug-induced something-or-other, and vomited on the street. Bad sign: when your stoned friend, who can barely open his eyes and converses in grunts, and who then splashes the streets of Malta with the contents of his innards, seems like a much cooler person than you. Butt-munch.

Anyway, we went to Medina, we went to Birgu a couple times. Juliet and I wandered into what appeared to be the Maltese projects on the way - also home to the island's septic reservoir. Visited the hypogeum, which is this really cool underground burial site that used to hold about 7000 skeletons and now pays homage to the dead by charging 20 euros entrance from the living. Books in English, Kinnie, beautiful sunsets, botellóning by the water, sky, the Mediterranean, and music constantly being piped in over the loud speakers on all the busy streets. Malta.

And then I woke up on our last morning there, sick and with three hours of non-reclining Ryanair seats ahead of me. The last few days have been much the same minus the flight, but tomorrow evening I'm bound for Tel Aviv so I'm really hoping these oranges and soup start working their healing magic soon.

Anyway since I'm psychotic I've been madly searching ESL job sights in anticipation of graduation at the end of June. Seduced by the beach, I emailed my resume to a school in Cozumel, and five hours later it seems I've been offered a job to begin in early July.

Better graduate then.