Friday, February 25, 2011

Drama at Colegio.

This is how about half of my classes work: I take the lower-level students for a half hour while the other English Auxiliar, Carlos, takes the advanced group. At the end of the half hour the regular English teacher takes over my group and I take over with the advanced group. It was sort of nice in the beginning when I was afraid of being in a classroom for anything longer than a 30 minute period (or any length of time, to be honest). Now it's nice because it means I get to work with everyone in the class and since it's just half the class at a time, we get more done.

Lately there have been some problems with Carlos, though, who's actually not a native English speaker but has a son at the school and a wife on the PTA. Problems like criticizing one of the teachers in front of her students, resulting in her tears in the supply room later that day. She's a first year teacher and aside from the criticisms he also made some comment that made it clear he held her youth against her. There have actually been issues between him and all the other English teachers with whom he works. They tell me about it and I also get stories from students, but aside from advising them to lay down the law, I've not been directly involved. The whole assertion thing here is actually something that is really strange to me. I don't know if it's just the personality of these women or if it's cultural or if I'm just way outside the norm in any country in my inclination to speak up to d-bags, but none of them were doing anything.

Anyway, all this came to a head this past week when Carlos decided to administer exams to his students. This is actually not supposed to happen because a.) he's an Auxiliar, b.) the regular English teachers told him so. So finally they decided to tell him he was being too tough on the kids (Exhibit A: the students I've seen drying their tears following his lessons). Depending on who he spoke to, though, he would say it was the other English teacher who had asked him to make tests. Also he wouldn't have to correct them all the time if it weren't for ME. Apparently he told Rosa that the reason they make grammar mistakes must be that I've taught them something wrong. It can't be that they're Spanish and speaking a foreign language or anything. No, it's Megan, the only native English speaker in the school who is to blame for the fact that the students have trouble remembering the difference between the pronouns 'he' and 'she'.

Then on Wednesday he ran the whole hour giving his exam and I didn't get my lesson with the students. At the end of the day he apologized and said, "Maybe so that doesn't happen I should just consider myself an assistant, like you. And then even if I haven't finished I can stop and let you have the half hour." Carlos, you are an assistant. You work at the school 12 hours a week, and you're only with students for the first half of those hours. And your students have told me personally that they're going to fail exams on purpose so they won't have the advanced classes with you. His face was marked by a look of faux-generosity as he waited expectantly for me to tell him it didn't matter, he could take as long as he needed even if it meant I didn't get to teach. I didn't of course, just agreed with him: yes, good idea, act like you're a lowly assistant like me and pretend that your half hour is not the only valuable one.

At this point we'd reached the end of the hallway and were having some difficulty maneuvering through the entire class of E.S.O 3, which I later learned had stormed the headmaster's office in order to protest Carlos.

The next morning Rosa told me Carlos had told her I got mad at him. This is bizarre to me because I didn't even say anything to him besides agree that he should end the hour on time. Yes I realize it would have been more convenient for him if I'd just waved off his suggestion, but at the time I'd figured my grievances with him were minor compared to those of others and if the other English teachers didn't want to rock the boat than I should follow suit.

Anyway, I know the other teachers staged some sort of stern talking to Carlos regarding his classes, but I have yet to hear all the details or what I've been implicated for this time. Pronouns? Anger? Misuse of the Xerox machine?

In other news I just checked my email and have a job offer in Mexico! Cute little fifth grade rugrats! I'm still trying to figure all this job business out for next year because I'm pretty sure I want to go somewhere new, but still trying to work out where. Yesterday I talked to a friend I met in Israel who is from Uruguay, and he said he'd bring my resume in to the school where his sister works and that he thinks I could get a job there. Ever since I saw it on the Amazing Race I've wanted to go there and see that giant hand sculpture that's supposed to look like someone drowning and sticking his hand up above the water in a last desperate call for help.

Should I be concerned about that?

Friday, February 18, 2011

In a tragic twist of events I woke up feeling like a piece-a and am skipping my out-of-town weekend in the sierras of Madrid in an effort to arrive to school on Monday morning at full health and consciousness.

I have a sneaking suspicion my feeling sick has less to do with the germy-germersons I teach at Colegio, and more to do with the phone interview I had with Michelyn this afternoon for an elementary teaching position starting this August in Chiapas. At the end she told me they were interviewing a number of people but that I was one of the top candidates. Yay! This is one of those occasions when you foresee a brutally painful rejection in your future, think better of broadcasting it to the public, and do so anyway knowing you will come to the rue the day.

Tomorrow is the Maleta Roja party. In honor of Valentine's Day and the Vagina Monologues and ending domestic violence, Kristin and Laura are hosting a sex juguetes version of a Tupperware party. Wine, chocolate, women, and a catalogue of vibrators spells nouveau-feminism in a cliche and delightful way. I confess to reading the Vagina Monologues in book club and criticizing it shaking-fistedly in the SMG Starbuck's with all two fellow book club members, but we'll let bygones be bygones in the spirit of sisterhood.

Back in my previous life when I was young and naive, I was working at a domestic violence agency in London and thus began the my evolution into a man-hater. Sorry guys, but I've heard some horribly frightening stories about things you've done, and it appears you are major a-holes. In the interest of fairness I know this can't be true for the entire male population, but it does simplify the process when you're in a bind and feel inclined to make a snap sweeping generalization about the other half.

Mom will be happy to see she's made a second appearance in my ramblings after her debut role as a Coke fiend, but this time it refers to a comment she made regarding my relationship tendencies. "Megan," she told me. "I feel really bad for anything I might have done to make you the way you are." It was something to that effect at least. I think she thinks I should be more romantically inclined, but that's not true. I had a very romantic Valentine's Day where I bought chocolate-covered palmera cookies for my private lessons and received a purple felt octopus pin from María. It was something of a coup d'etat when I let Miguel eat his DURING class time. He then crumpled the plastic wrapper up into a tiny ball and stuck it in his pencil case as apparently he is not allowed to have a) treats before dinner, or b) food in his bedroom. I heard his dad yelling at him afterwards while I was in a lesson with María and I fear it may have been in reaction to the smears of chocolate on his face. I can only hope that Miguel blamed it on me as I'd instructed, and didn't take it on himself in a misguided attempt at Valentine's Day chivalry.

Valentine's isn't so big in Spain, though, and I only saw one sickeningly sweet couple the whole day when I was heading back on the Metro after leaving Miguel and María. By then the purple octopus had already fallen off my bag where I'd pinned it, lost forever among the myriad cigarette butts of a Madrileño sidewalk. A fitting metaphor for my soul, right Mom? :)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Must move on from that pig leg picture. I had a terrifying dream about animal body parts placed in various areas of my apartment last night. A full-on pig corpse blocked the hallway leading to my bedroom and I'd rather not mention what I found in the refrigerator. Not only did I have to sidestep the former population of Old McDonald's farm while navigating the place, but I also had to avoid the cans of paint scattered throughout, as apparently my roommate was painting a mural of a dead pig on the wall.

Ham in Spain is like Diet Coke to my mother; the two have an inseparable relationship and any challenge to the union results in headaches and general delirium. Having my own kitchen at home makes my being a vegetarian manageable, but there are definitely fewer options at the grocery store and tapas are typically a no-go. I haven't been there in awhile, but back when I was frequenting the nearby pub multiple days per week, the bartenders had taken to making me my own plate of tapas that consisted of a.) mushrooms, or b.) Chino mix. Chino mix being nuts and various salty somethings having nothing to do with China. My students think it's a travesty that I don't eat ham, and last weekend I got a lecture from Jess's dude Victor about the evils of not eating meat. We agree to disagree and off he went to get a hotdog at 730 in the morning.

Awhile ago my roommates and I had planned a roommate dinner featuring of course meat as the star attraction and pobre Henrique had concocted a special side-dish made especially with me in mind. Gone from the recipe were the typical chunks of sausage but when he carried it out from the kitchen with a flourish, I had to gently say thanks but that's an omelet, dude. Eggs. I stuck with the salad and wine and we remain friends.

I've thought about this a lot - about how long I'll want to move around teaching English. A lot of people I've spoken to say they think eventually they'll meet someone and not want to leave that place, and that will decide where they'll end up. I think more likely for me is I'll adopt a dog and won't be able to take him on an airplane with me. Which country has the cutest dogs? Not Peru, as evidenced by the stray I photographed below in Cuzco.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Springtime and Parasites

Sunshine and spring is in the air. It's 55F/13C degrees out right now, which feels even warmer when I assume my cat-like behavior and follow the patch of sunlight as it crosses the floor of my bedroom throughout the day.

It's all coming at an excellent time because last week was freezing and my school's heating system leaves much to be desired. In most of my classes I had to teach with my sleeping-bag-like winter coat on to keep warm, and did my best to avoid drinking liquids that might warrant a visit to the unheated bathrooms with its unheated water. Perhaps this is due in part to the fact that there is a serious cultural difference when it comes to the Spanish approach to washing hands. I hesitated to mention this when I first saw it back in September, assuming I must just be seeing an abnormally unhygienic, non-representative sample, but after weekly seeing coworkers come out of the stall and exit with nary a drop of soap dripped onto their tainted hands, I'm chalking it up to a real and widespread phenomenon.

They might be on to something though because despite my hand-washing diligence I ended up missing half my classes last week when I lost my voice, while they remained healthy and audible. I listened to a story on This American Life a while ago that said that people are actually in better health if they are exposed to germs and shit, and going along with this theory a man from the U.K. traveled to Africa and spent several weeks going to various rural tribes, asking where they do their bathroom business, and then taking a barefoot wander around the designated area. He contracted a parasite and his allergies miraculously went away, and now yours can too if you buy the parasites he. . harvests. . and sells online for what I'm sure is a very reasonable price.

Anyway, weekend was good although not entirely productive. When Juliet and Carissa came over to commence with online job-hunting on Friday we ended several hours later having submitted zero applications but with nearly three empty bottles of wine. On Saturday Jessica and I went and engaged in cultural interaction by learning Spanish drinking games from our Spanish hosts. It made me realize, ironically, how much I miss speaking Spanish. Way too many of the people that I spend time with speak English, and of course in classes that's how I communicate. When I came here one of my biggest reasons for doing so was to keep working on the language but while the hour-long Metro commute to grad classes has meant an enormous improvement in my reading ability, speaking hasn't been so much. It seems especially absurd to me considering how much effort I put into improving other's language skills, but maybe next year I won't have so many yanqui friendships? A whole 'nother sad cup of tea but a hazard of a life ruled by antsiness.

Also: the photo shows the horrifying image of pig leg I found in the kitchen cupboard when I opened it the other day. Yes of course I took a picture.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Egypt and Stuff

Because I'm extremely ignorant and don't have time to read the newspaper, I've only recently been catching up on all this Egypt business and still I remain sickeningly uninformed. In any case I wanted to mention a conversation I had with my tour leader when I was visiting Egypt back in 2009. First of all, to set the stage: we are in Dahab, a beautiful little hippie town along the Red Sea. It is dusk. We are sitting on the terrace of a fellow tour-member's hotel room as we wait for the next bus-trip into town. The tour leader has offered us hashish because he is just that kind of professional, takes-his-job-seriously-always kind of dude.
Dahab. My feet.
Anyway I started asking him a bunch of questions. In between puffs he told me that people were unhappy with the president but nothing could be done. If people spoke up or protested, he told me, they would not be heard from again. I also heard while I was there that if a tourist was stolen from and the police figured out who was the perpetrator, he could be killed. I don't know if this is true but it freaked me out nonetheless. I never felt unsafe while I was there and actually think that the people I met in Egypt were some of the most welcoming people I've come across in my travels, but you can betcher ass that if they'ed robbed me I'd be keeping that incident to myself rather than telling the cops. My tour leader also told me that the situation in Egypt would always be that way; after the current president left office, his son would take his position, and so on and so on so that things would never change.

Guess he was wrong about that one.

Egypt was really amazing, though. In Dahab Brittaney amassed a collection of hotel staff groupies who loved that her name was Britney Spears, and I daily played volleyball with them even though they referred to me as Britney Spears' friend. It was beautiful and hot and I got attacked by a stray dog when I tried taking a photo with him. I spent a couple days in Lisbon after the trip, and there I met an Egyptian guy who gave me his address and email and told me the next time I was in the country I could stay at his family's house. See what I mean about welcoming? I want to go back but maybe I'll have to wait until it cools down a little bit.

I've also been reading up on all the crap that's going on in Mexico but remain steadfastly undeterred in my ambitions to teach there. Tonight Juliet and Carissa are coming over for a pre-game session of job hunting and wine before we make our way out for a wander. We had pretty much narrowed our search to Latin America but then the other day the word "Thailand" was spoken. Followed by the names of some other tropical-ish locales in that portion of the world, so we shall see. I'd really love to keep living in a Spanish-speaking country, but the fact is, as in the grand tradition of the U.S. education system, I have graduated with crap amounts of student loan debt. The Egypt trip was also where I learned that Australians pay their student loans as a percent-deduction from their paychecks. Meaning.. if they're unemployed or working outside the country, they are not paying. Lucky bastards.