about how hot it is here
I am wearing a dress
I have had a Coca Cola each day
To be determined
This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.
about how hot it is here
I am wearing a dress
I have had a Coca Cola each day
Departing and Arriving
Leaving was not too hard. I had been waiting for so long, in a way it was a relief to go. I knew that Alyssa and her husband Carlos would meet me in Houston, so that was something to look forward too. The three legs of my journey were easy.
I found Alyssa and Carlos right away eating ice cream cones. We talked non-stop until we boarded yet another tiny tiny plane with a lot of big people in it. I sat next to an adorable minus one boy who bounced and drooled on his mother's lap for the entire hour and a half flight. The minute I stepped foot in Tampico, I knew that my Pimsleur language tapes were not going to get me far. The most important thing that I need to learn is "how do you say?".
We got a free ride to my hotel with Carlo's taxi driver/ friend, and they took off to get their cars at the school. An hour later they returned to take me to dinner at La Palma -- a dimly lit informal affair with plastic plates and thin napkins. The first thing Carlos had me do was taste the red sauce -- I took a tiny dot, and my mouth was on fire. Marcos ordered for us. When I walked into the place there was a shank of pink meat twirling around outside -- chapas, I think -- so we ordered that on a corn tortilla. We had a plate of greasy onions, cauliflower, and cooked carrots. Carlos poured red sauce and lime on his and chowed it down. I dabbed on a dot of green sauce and lime. Delicious. Once we finished the meal, Alyssa told me that everyone gets sick here in the beginning, and to let her know when that happens. I reflected on one of the first questions that Carlos asked me: do you have a strong stomach?
So now I am sitting in my hotel room waiting for my stomach to make a choice.
My first impression? The food is great. The people are kind. What little I have seen of the city is chaotic, loud, dirty and dingy. My challenge is to find the beauty in myself and the people here so that when I describe this place to you in December it will be beautiful.
Exhausted I wrote this to David
Ate a great Mexican meal. I am sure I will get sick but better now than never. This is a far cry from Putney. I went to see our apartment. What a dump. Perhaps this trip will provide me with the opportunity to see the beauty in others and myself.
Everything looks so much better in the daylight. I live on a small and quiet street. I just unpacked and cleaned up. I moved the table into another room, which overlooks the neighbor's tropical garden, and a coconut tree in our yard. I think the neighbor has a mango tree. I ate breakfast with about 20 teenage tennis players who were in an international tournament at El Racquet club. I ate Papaya, cantaloupe and drank OJ. Typical hotel continental breakfast. Erika, Quatain, and Andrea helped me to move into #2 Azahar.
Then I went shopping with Alyssa. She also took me on a tour of parts of the city. I got to see the school, which is a paradise. I also went to El Raquet Club. It is quite nice. A big tournament was going on, but Alyssa could not stay, but what I did see was impressive. The club also has weights, a couple of ellipticals and two pools. The one I like is under cover, so I will have to figure out when to swim.
We went on a search for a big jug of water. You buy and drink muchas aqua here. Thank goodness Alyssa is here. I would be lost without her.
The driving here is like velvet. No one uses their brakes; everyone rides each other's bumper, but no one crashes. It's quite a dance. When I got home, I unpacked, organized and ate a salad. I am getting used to the heat, so I might try sleeping without the AC. There are five ceiling fans here. Dogs are barking, but not constantly. For the most part, it is quiet.
I plan to explore tomorrow. Brave the streets and maybe take a cab.
Murky , warm, salt water?
I just returned from my second swim workout at El Raquet Club. Alyssa picked me up, and we met Katie, who is also married to a Mexican. She has been here for 11 years. The pool was crowded today. It was not refreshing, but it felt good to work out for an hour out of the sun.
Last night Carol, another "foreign hire," arrived. Since her flight was two hours late, Alyssa and I cruised about looking for a place to take Carol for dinner. I am beginning to connect the dots in this busy town. Every once in a while, I pass a place that seems familiar; otherwise, it seems I arrive abruptly. We found a great spot, which was higher end than the place I went to on the night I arrived. At this point it was about nine, so we went to the airport and waited for Carol, who, like me was the last one out the door. Very few people from that flight received their luggage, so rather than waiting in line to determine that, we left, knowing that it would probably arrive the next day (today). After Carol stopped being polite about keeping us up so late and declining our offers to take her to dinner, we established that we were all starving. We went to a restaurant next to the City Express Hotel and ate delicious salad at 11 pm. After we dumped our bags (purse, pocketbook, parcel -- whatever you call those things), the waiter ran over and gave each of us a miniature rack to hang them on. Apparently, it is bad luck to put money on the floor.
At dinner, I learned that Carol is on her third tour. She has taught in Turkey and Kazakhstan respectively. She is a New Jerseyite who moved to San Francisco 30 years ago, had two girls, and is now divorced. Lovely woman with a lot of energy. She is now living across the hall from me. Wow, I certainly got the luxury sweet!
Here are some pics of my apartment:
Learned not to go for carne adicional when I order dinner
Spent some time recovering in the AC at Starbucks
Got to know Alyssa more
Met a woman from Colorado, who lives across the hall
Went to Walmart, which was dumb, but I felt like tagging along.
Resolved some stuff around Will
I start work on Friday. No expectations!!!
I woke up yesterday looking for adventure, so I hopped into the cab feeling proud that I had determined the fare to the beach. Ciento and cincuenta sound the same? I said Playa Miramar, which meant NOTHING to the driver. Finally, I dug out the tourist map, which I found at the hotel on the first night, and showed him where I wanted to go.
The traffic is like velvet. No one uses their brakes, and there is no aggression. Everyone drives as fast as they can without stopping except for lights and for people getting into taxis. The passado continuoso is a great system. If you are on Hildago (the busy strip mall thoroughfare closest to my house), the cabs beep at people all day long to see if they need a ride. For 10 pesos you can go anywhere you want on Hildago in one of these tiny cabs, picking up people as you fly along.
I was in my own cab this time. So far I have felt no stress about being in Tampico. The people are friendly and open, it is easy to get around, and a big smile goes a long way. It was early enough that the breeze from the car provided some relief from this intense heat. Gliding through the city on the way to the beach, I saw everything from horse drawn buggies picking up scrap metal, to the the federalis police – black from their boots, to their bullet proof vests, to the masks covering their faces and their helmets—carrying long semi-automatics. They perch in white, pristine pick-up trucks, about four or five per truck. Some people are comforted by their presence, but most Mexicans wished that the drug cartel had been left alone -- why muddy the waters?
I think I saw lemurs in the mango trees – monkey-like with long tales. As we approached the beach, I got to see what really drives the city, Pemex, the petroleum company. Pemex takes up the section of the city that boarders the beach. It is enclosed in walls covered with broken glass, so all I could see were bursts of fire from the refinery towers.
Tampico is far from a beautiful city. I would describe it as one giant strip mall with a series of neighborhoods branching off of it. The signs in strip malls compete for height, and they tower over the low concrete and stucco buildings. Most buildings are white, with an occasional burst of peach, turquoise, yellow or purple.
The people are beautiful and gracious. But there is a lot of poverty. All over the streets there are women, children and elderly selling water or flowers, trinkets, or simply begging for money. Many live off tips, so there is always someone waiting for a peso. When I go to the supermarket, the baggers, who are not hired by the market, get tipped; then someone will offer to carry your groceries, for a tip; then someone will offer to put your groceries in the car, or take your cart away for you, and finally assist you in backing out your car!!! They are polite, and a simple no, gracias is fine.
The driver took me to the far end of Miramar. This drive emphasizes the state of Tampico, which used to be a hot spot to vacation or for the wealthy to live. All over the city there are abandoned buildings because have left the city in the past four years because it was so dangerous. All over the beach there is empty real estate lining the beach. All of the rich people left Tampico a few years ago when it became too dangerous to live here, or too expensive. Most business owners had to pay off the Cartel if they wanted to carry on. Things have changed and slowly people are moving back.
The beach was just like any other beach near a city. I did end up paying 100 pesos instead of fifty because I am a dumb American – live and learn. The ocean was the first time since I have been here that I have felt refreshed, but the minute I got out I was sweating again. I walked to the end of a long break water and watched the huge tankers move in and out of the port. I ate the most delicious fresh mango I have ever had, and I smiled a lot. Una Americana, una Americana.
This is just what it is like!
I had my orientation on Friday. This week I school starts for professional development.
This school is gorgeous. I have three classes, one seventh and two eighth. My biggest class is 17. I have my own classroom all day long (even when I am not teaching). I will have some duties mixed in there.
Here is the link to the site, which will give you an idea of where I will be teaching.
How can I go wrong with a school that has a butterfly garden?
Critical Skills in MEXICO!!!
11.08.2014 -31 °F
This is for all of you critical skills teachers!!!! I was reinforced about taking this job when I found out that it included a membership at a gym with 14 tennis courts and two giant pools!!
Now this on my first day. ATS is a critical skills school in its third training (Habits of Mind, Cognitive Coaching, Adaptive Schools).
Today, we focused on how collaboration among teachers promotes better learning among students!! Am I in heaven or Oz?
For those of you who are not critical skills teachers: ==this place is a goldmine!!!==
11.08.2014 -31 °F
Another day reinforcing the fact that this is where I should be. All you need to do is read about the workshop that I took. Johnny commented, that it looks like I am not in Kansas anymore, and I am not. This is WAY over the rainbow. Sure, you are all saying that this is the honeymoon period. Maybe it is, but I cannot remember the last time I felt so good about being.
One of my personal goals is to make an effort to be on time. I want to be waiting for people rather than have them wait for me. What a great goal to set in Mexico. There is no way to fail. But still, I am proud of my commitment to be ready when I say I am going to be. This morning there was a terrific thunderstorm with torrential rain (minor league compared to the storms they get in the rainy season). We were supposed to be at school by 7:45 and we got there at 8:30. To be fair, the roads were so flooded that they were impossible to pass through, so that is not the best example.
We arrived at ATS (American School of Tampico) just as people were shifting to the workshop. Everyone greeted us and steered us in the right direction. There are three, maybe four buildings – one for each school – five if you include the Language Institute. It was a cool morning, in other words, I was not dripping with sweat. We made our way to the Middle School, where I will teach starting Monday, and into a refreshing air conditioned room. I made my way around the room giving the traditional cheek hug to everyone that I had met so far, and the sat down with Sylvia and Emma. Emma is the director of the school and Sylvia teaches Spanish in the middle school. Her Ingles is a better than my Espanol, but she still had to ask me what a snowflake was. I gather that most of the Mexican teachers were students at ATS, just as two or three generations of their families were. (The school is 100 years old).
I felt like I had walked into Antioch when I saw the agenda and listened to the speaker. Because of the nature of the workshop, I met tons of people, who are used to getting a new crop of teachers every year because the contract for foreign hires is for two years. We managed to collaborate well despite the language differences.
I ended the day with a 45 minute swim and a two for the price of one taco dinner.
What can I say?
13.08.2014 -31 °F
16.08.2014 -31 °F
Just to put this blog in perspective, when we ran out of propane (two days ago), I had to ask Claire if you could microwave hamburger.
Most of you know that eating is not one of my strong points, but it is not my finickiness that is getting in the way. I love the food here when I eat out or go to the school cafeteria. However, this makes me sick for most of the day, and then whatever I ate runs right through me. On my first night when Marcos and Alyssa took me out, Marcos ordered a huge spread: all of it was delicious. In the cafeteria each person picks what he or she wants to eat and it is cooked right there on the spot. It will be interesting to see what happens on Monday. Alyssa said that there is no grab and go. Picking what you want in the cafe if you do not have a translator is also interesting, but I have always gotten something good. The three other women whom I live with (to be described later) and I found a great place around the corner. Of course, we get hungry at five or six, so no one is there. Most people here eat late. One night I ordered fajitas and I got a delicious bean soup (yes, I ate beans), seasoned chicken, with tortillas on the side, and LOADS of guacamole. It was so good that I could not eat it all. I waddled home with a doggie bag and ate it the next day (double sick). When I do not eat out, I eat a lot of mangoes, gross salad, Wonder bread, and warm bananas.
Food shopping has always overwhelmed me. I spend most of the time looking at things, learning the words, watching people, and trying to identify mystery food. The produce section is iffy. SO I leave with mangoes, Wonder Bread, and warm bananas. The last time I went, I found some awesome biscuits (skip this part if I already wrote about it). It is important to remember that other than in the American School, it is rare to find someone who speaks ingles at all. When you buy bread here, you have to get some tongs and a big platter, select what you want, take it to the baker, and he or she will price it for you. This time the baker asked me something in Spanish, and, as usual, I had NO idea what she was saying. She asked me again and I responded in my Pimsleur language tape espanol: No Entiendo. She went to the oven, pulled out five freshly baked biscuits, gave me the bag, and told me to wrap my hands around it. Warmth is everywhere in Mexico.
Solutions: Prey that the propane truck rolls around sometime this week. Continue eating lunch at school, so that I get a solid and satisfying meal. AND today Carol and I are going to the real market. Perhaps my stomach will adjust to this adventure. Perhaps, I will adjust to getting sick. Either way it is an adventure.
confirmation that shopping isone of my least favorite things to do
20.08.2014 -31 °F
Saturday seems like it was ten years ago, and it is only Wednesday. I started teaching this week, but I will save that for another post. When I signed on for Tampico, I thought about all of the fresh fruit to which I would have access. I am sure that I will appreciate this in the winter. Fresh fruit is not exactly abundant in this industrial city. I hear that there are small street markets in the neighborhoods, but I have not found them yet.
On Saturday, Valerie, Carol (two people out of three people who live in my building) took a cab to the central market. As I wrote before, the center of Tampico is a tourist trap. It is dirty, crowded and unbearably hot. So off we went. The market was a maze. On my first round of walking through it, I did not see the maze. I just saw the outer circle where all of the fruits and vegetables are -- if you can find them among all of the very used watches, clothes and desperation. The three of us split up at my suggestion because we all had very different agendas: Carol wanted to shop, Valerie was thirsty, and I was overwhelmed. I was actually ready to go home. Foolishly, I agreed to meet them in an hour and a half. So I circled the market again and noticed that there was a tangle of hallways in its center. The inside made the outside look clean; the smells of dead meat, fish, flies, and spices started to make me gag. As I wandered out, I almost bumped into a giant leg of cow and a set of chickens hanging opposite it. Later, Carol told me that there were hookers sporting their wares as well, but the raw chickens and cows were enough for me. I shot a few pics., and got out of there as soon as I could. I sought refuge in a hotel, where a lovely man chatted with me and offered me water. That was the highlight of my excursion. I did not even bother to buy mangoes or bananas.
24.08.2014 -31 °F
I always start my classes with the blindfold game. Every time I do it, I ask myself why, and by the end of the week I know why. I split the students into two groups: teachers and students. The students put on blindfolds. They may talk to each other and to the teachers. They also may touch each other. I pull the teachers aside and tell them that they need to get the students to get in a circle and put their hands on their heads. However, the teachers are not allowed to speak. Then I step back and watch. You can imagine the results. Mis! Mis! I just shrug my shoulders and send them back into the fray. The teachers clap and stomp; all of the students talk at once. NO ONE communicates, everyone is frustrated. Some kids give up. Perfect chaos. Sometimes, I ask them to freeze, and give them hints: is this working? If it is not working maybe you should try something else. Then they go back to their antics. This is universal behavior. I have never had a group succeed on the first task. Then I have the students switch roles. Sometimes the new “students” figure out that they are the ones who need to ask questions in order to understand the teachers. Sometimes they don’t. Then we debrief: what happened? so what? what next?
I answered the what happened question in the previous paragraph. So what did I learn? I learned that the first method of communication is to make as much noise as possible. I learned that people are more concerned with themselves than with the group. I learned that students feel that it is the teacher’s job to teach, so that when they are confused they shut down and cannot communicate, so they talk to their friends. I learned that teachers lose their patience when their students do not do what they tell them to do. I learned that students think that teachers are solely responsible for making them understand. I learned that most students think that asking questions makes them stupid. I learned that the sense of touch is powerful. I learned that connection to the teacher is essential.
What Next? This is a prediction of how we will use what we learned during the activity. Standing in front of the classroom, with students who struggle with language, I found myself feeling the way my students felt when they were trying to get their blindfolded peers to complete a task. A teacher who does not listen and change her behavior to meet the needs of her students is never going to make it. How can I adjust my behavior? Less is more. Already I am adjusting to a 50 minute block instead of 90 minutes, so that will help. Pairing and sharing so that students can help each other understand is essential. Most importantly, as I become a student of this culture and this language, appreciate what learning feels like, sounds like, and looks like.
It may not always sound like twelve little girls in two straight lines. Sometimes it sounds like 12 little Madelines. I will follow Miss Clavel’s lead – try to give them structure, guide them through the tough stuff, and recognize when something is just not right.