Thursday, June 21, 2012

I was subbing for a class the other day and the students had been assigned a presentation on privacy laws. One student talked about bumblebees(?). Another spoke about privacy laws regarding medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. One of the students brought up the point of how husbands are not in the room when their wife (or wives, as many of the students have multiple) are giving birth. I pointed out that this was one of the differences in Saudi and North American custom. The guys conceded that yes, it is good, for the man to be with his wife when she is in the hospital, but then he should leave the room when the baby is coming out. "No real man would stay in the room during that moment. It is (lots of grossed out facial gestures here) not good and would cause problems in the marriage later on."

To each his own, okay. If you think your wife is disgusting when she's giving birth to the football-sized demon that you implanted within her, well I suppose you are entitled to your opinion. And of course it's very cultural. They think dogs are disgusting, too. 

This is probably one of the more difficult aspects of my job, though. If things like this come up, I have to bite my tongue and change the subject to something less controversial. I actually don't mind these kinds of conversations and am inclined to use them as a teaching opportunity, but particularly in my position I can't toe any lines, since I'm the one who's supposed to be setting the standard. One of my tasks is to go through and check Facebook pages to make sure no one's posted a photo of themselves in shorts, or has written anything even mildly open to debate. I'm the one with the final say on curriculum and have to go through and approve any material that might be shown in class. And the guidelines are extremely strict, as in if you're showing a photo of a husband and wife, they better not be holding hands or even touching for that matter. An aversion to hand-holding isn't something I can identify with but I have no particular aversion to Saudi squeamishness as far as it goes. Then I have other moments where a student explains to me the birth of a girl:

"No one says anything and a baby is good, but when a girl is born we all are disappointed. Everyone wishes for a boy and knows that a girl is a disappointment."

Change of subject. That's really all I can do.

I hope hope hope that when these men say these things, they are referring to "we" as men. I mean come on, that's kind of a butthole thing to consider only men as being worthy of having an opinion, but can you imagine if women feel that way too? If the cultural norm is so engrained that even they believe that their value and the value of a daughter is so much less than that of a man? 

I genuinely like the students I've taught, which is why it's so squirmy when you hear things like this. They're usually quite friendly and kind and I don't expect these sorts of things. A few students do demonstrate their disrespect, but it's not as blatant as "I won't be able to love my wife if I see her in a natural state of messiness while giving birth," and more along the lines of inappropriate compliments directed towards the teacher. The other day the students had to write job interviews and one of the questions posed was "What is your greatest achievement?" Muhammed answered that it was seeing me in class, "Your face is like the moon." This guys is probably in his fifties and we're lucky if we make it five consecutive minutes in class without him saying something like that. He just doesn't have any respect for me in my profession and thinks that because a woman is in front of him he can say these sorts of inappropriate things. The man has four wives and earlier in the class he mentioned his greatest career aspiration was to work in the lingerie department. 

Normally I'm fully on board with the idea that it's not for me to judge a culture's norms. I am certain that if I were raised in Saudi Arabia, I would have a very different understanding of the world, and likewise if they were raised over here. I'm not certain where it becomes overly permissive, though, when students speak so disrespectfully of their wives and women in general. When I sub and mention that I don't have scheduled class because I have a supervisory role, they don't understand it; that's not a job for a woman. 

I guess maybe that has to be my stand-off to their comments since I can't say anything else. So far, at least, these comments have been in the minority, but the way the other students in the class sort of clam up when someone mentions his disdain for women makes me think many of them feel this way at least to a certain extent. It's saddening because mostly they're very good to me and the other teachers - all women, all foreign - and I hope that this doesn't change when they walk away from English class. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

This blog started out  as a way to recount my adventures abroad, but I've been finding over the last months that I'm beginning to hit the abroad limit in Cozumel - where it stops being living abroad and turns into living, and where my inner ramblings and potential blog material shifts from the weird shit I see on the street to the crazy stuff of life.  For those of you who've been listening to my chaos recently I think you will agree they can both be equally challenging and outside my comfort-level, but different nonetheless, and alas, this one lacks motion sickness.

Right now I'm three weeks out from flying back to Minnesota and four weeks out from flying to Cape Town for my African Extravaganza, so I'm not entirely motionless, but in the meantime I've decided I will write to my global audience of four about da sitch down here. I hesitated awhile hence the lack of posts these past weeks because, like I said, my material is changing and it's about to get realz. But it's my blog, damnit, and I miss writing, and since you're here you may as well listen to all my personal bullshit.

The basics are Mono, Manchas, work, and I've been feeling a bit unhappy with it lately. Not those things, but I'm not altogether inspired by Cozumel and there's not too much for me to do here in terms of classes or general involvement with the outside world. I work in home so while I do appreciate the community that offers - everyone's in touch via skype and our work Facebook accounts, and I spend a lot of time talking to the other managers - they are, of course, living in different parts of the world and not people I could hang out with in the off-hours like I might if I had a job here.

I've cut ties with the other teachers at SEA just because there were on-going issues throughout my six months at the school and I never really felt that they were altogether very trustworthy people. Well, feelings combined with evidence which is over and I won't get into now. 

So that's left me feeling a bit isolated and unfortunately at this point there's not much that can be done considering that I'm leaving soon and then will be moving to Pachuca for three months after the Africa trip. Pachuca is good news, I am excited to get off the island and see another part of Mexico for awhile. But about a week ago Mono told me it would be difficult to bring Manchas with since I won't be here to watch her when he has to move, and he'll be living on base for stretches of three to four days at a time leaving poor baby Manchis home alone. So we needed to find another plan and this is when I burst into tears and sobbed, "B-b-bu-but she's my only frieeeend!" Like that.

I've just been feeling extremely isolated because normally I have a big community of expats that I'm friends with and I don't have that at all here. The island has a number of older, retired expats who I don't interact with because.. I don't ever see them anyway but I know they exist because when I take Manchas on walks through the nice neighborhoods I see lots of gringos and overhear English being spoken from their canopied balconies above. I'm not a part of that community at all because of age and life stage and money. Then on the other hand unlike them I'm more in-line with the local community because of income and language (most people who retire here, from what I've heard and the few I've met, don't speak Spanish), and then of course with Mono and the network he brings along with him. I'm still foreign though, and even though Mono is a link it's not like I'm making friends with his General. Mono and I are also similar I think in that we normally are content to socialize in small numbers, and this was especially true when we were both working outside the home and I had an extremely social job - always in front of big groups of people teaching class after class. Now though, I'm craving doing things with bigger groups whereas he's still pretty good as is.

So there's been this issue going on and my general malaise with the island and missing family and friends in other countries, and it's been a struggle trying to make this all fit into a functional package. Realistically at this point it doesn't make sense for Mono to leave Mexico because he's got a good job and is ascending and needs to have more experience before being competitive for a job in the U.S., for example. I pitched the idea of moving to Chicago to him but he said the Mexican Air Force uses older plane models and he couldn't work yet for a commercial airline in the States. I also pitched to him the idea that I still want to go back and get my Masters - this time in the subject that I'm more interested in versus for the opportunity to live and teach in Madrid like I did last year. I think that's kind of the conclusion that we've arrived at for the fall of 2013, but it wasn't without lots of tears and frustrations because it will mean going abroad again for two years.

I think we have some difficulties ahead mostly because I still have a lot of things on my list that I want to do and that don't mesh very well with living permanently from now on in Mexico. I had no intention of staying in Mexico long-term when I moved here in July and of course you can't predict what will happen but you can steer things in a certain direction to the extent that you wish, and one of those things that at this point I do want to steer towards is grad school. I think of grad school as a respectable end to a (formal) academic career and after all the goddamn time I spent studying my ass off in grade school to get into a good university, and then doing the same there, I feel like it's a shame not to complete it with a Masters. Personally, for me, because it's something I would miss not doing.

So that's I guess a version of some dirty laundry I should be keeping to myself. Also it's mildly related to feelings so I'm kind of disgusted with myself right now.