Racoons, dolphins, friends and Bocce
To be determined
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Racoons, dolphins, friends and Bocce
Racoons, dolphins, friends and Bocce
Cool Breeze, and a Girl on a Bridge
I got restless today and decided to search for the famous crocodiles in the lagoon at the town center. I was acutely aware of the Tampico smell as I wondered through several concrete neighborhoods to get to my destination. At first I thought the smell was from the oil refinery. I don't think so. The only way to describe it is to have you think of all of the worst smells you have ever experienced and combine them.
I am still puzzled why I love being here so much. It smells, it is filthy, beyond any hot I have ever encountered; it is loud and dogs bark incessantly. The food is good if I eat out (but it makes me sick when I do). But I love it. I guess I simply love my life. Even though people stare at me as I hike through the city, there is always a kind smile and a buenos tardes.
I had serious reservations when I found out there were crocodiles in Tampico. I wanted to do some serious long distance swimming. But like bike riding , that is not an option in this city. Besides the water is polluted.
After a long trek, I finally found the lagoon, and started searching for these monsters. I approached a foot bridge and encountered this sign, so I knew I was on the right track.
The breeze was delightful. I discreetly took a picture of this girl and her mother. It is not uncommon to see a girl decked out like this. I am not exactly sure why, and I have no idea where they are going or what they are doing, but here she was.
When I got over the bridge there was a deserted dirt path. Determined to find the crocs, I followed it. It was a bit creepy. I didn't know what would be more scary, seeing a croc or getting robbed. Finally I chickened out and ran back to the bridge.
Still no crocs. I never ended up finding them, but I did see an iguana, and turtles, and I tried to take a picture of the breeze.
I have been having too much fun. As I mentioned before, I closed the boredom gap with tutoring, teaching ESL on Saturdays, playing tennis every day with my cool Mexican friends, who like to teach me dirty words after they get me to say them, as well as teaching my regular class load during the week. I love it all.
Last Friday was Mexican Independence day, which meant that Friday was a total party at school.
The pictures tell it all.
The best weekend so far.
We left after Aliesha and I finished teaching at the language institute on Saturday. Trevor is a high school English teacher, Alieisha is in the Language Division, and Chip is the librarian. We stuffed into the cab of Chip's pick up truck with those little stools in the back seat. As we left Tampico, it started to rain, so any hope of riding in the back was dashed. Chip underestimated the time that it would take to get to our "hotel" by two or three hours, but we had a fun trip. Actually, it was hysterical. I have not laughed that much or that hard in a long time.
Driving in Mexico is everything and more than what people warned me about. Chip certainly embraced the challenge. Highway 180 is the road that carried us down the coast. There is no speed limit, and as long as you are going at least 80 miles an hour, it does not matter what side of the road you choose to ride on. I mentioned before that Mexicans only use their brakes for one reason - speed bumps. Otherwise, they weave and dance. Please note that half of the vehicles on the road are semis lugging double loads. It gets a bit competitive in a frolicsome way.
Speed bumps are used instead of stop signs or speed limit warnings. They range anywhere from a flattened inch to six inches high. Sometimes they are round nobs sticking out of the road, but mostly they are big globs of concrete strips painted yellow. To prevent people from driving the wrong way, off of an exit or on a one way street, they put strips down that will pop their tires. Chip told us that once he was driving from Mexico City to Tampico late one night, averaging about 80, when an oncoming driver flashed him. About two seconds later, he came upon a giant pile of dirt in the middle of the road!
Despite our speed, the traffic was deep due to the independence day holiday. We got to the hotel that Chip reserved with his credit card, but it turned out that they did not take reservations or credit cards. It was a dump, so we went somewhere else. The hotel is shown in the pictures. The beach was great! We grabbed some shitty roadside food and called it a night.
We spent the next day in the ocean body surfing. Since the water is so warm, we stayed in for hours getting buffeted around by the powerful surf. It was addicting. We ate some of the best food that I have had here, which says a lot since the food has not been the greatest. (My stomach is all better, so I can eat what I want now.) We spent the night playing Hearts, and Loaded Questions. I have finally found some people who like to play!! I was missing that.
The next day, we left the hotel and went to a spa that was far more elegant. We rented a paddle board to use in the ocean (it was impossible but fun). We spent another day frolicking in the waves for hours, walking on the beach, eating, drinking orange soda (they use real sugar in Mexico), and laughing a lot. That night we drove to Paplona, a small city town northwest of Costa Esmeralda (inland), to catch the independence day festivities. Another great meal, another cool hotel, and tons of laughter.
On our last day we went to see the ancient ruins in Tojin. As far as I could make it out, these ruin sported ball games where you men would play the game on a big field. The winner had the honor of being decapitated and sent to the other world. The place was majestic, and expansive. It was so lush and the details of the buildings boggled my mind.
Finally, I hopped into the back of the pick up truck to begin the five hour trip home. We took one rain break, and had smooth sailing for the rest of the trip.
Now I understand the girl on the bridge
One of the perks of being an English teacher is that I get to read the about the lives of my strudents. I just finished reading a delightful story by one of my eighth graders that reminded me of the girl on the bridge. The reason why I keep seeing these HUGE, puffy, and frilly dresses in random places, at random times, is that when girls turn 15 they have their quinceañera. This is not knew knowledge to me. Both Kate and Claire had a quinceañera, minus the dresses. So if any of you still have girls under 15, and you are not religious enough to practice this tradition, do not forget to celebrate this important moment with them, with or without the frills!!
an old poem
If I were a fisherman I would pull on my waders and snap my suspenders. Then I would wade over the sandbar to a tidal river and wait. Tidal time would pull me. Polar opposites would bury my feet with rock pebbles until I couldn’t move, and the girl on the beach would see me, but she wouldn’t wave. I would feed my line with rhythmically , my hands never touching the reel. I would stand still like a hunter who becomes a part of the woods – where an owl could swoop over me without noticing that I did not belong. And then I would look to the sky absorbing the dark blue-black of the ocean.
If I were a fisherman I would wait, and only when I caught a fish and landed it on the riverbank would I move out of the rhythm of my craft. The fish would flop to its death, suffocating into stillness. Then I would pull in my line hand over hand, gather my gear and wade to another place. And I would be alone. And I wouldn’t be afraid to be still, idle, thoughtful, watching, listening to the terns finished with their young, listening to airplanes that remind me when I am, and to the ceaseless sound of the ocean that will lull me to sleep tonight.
Rowers start a race at a high stroke rate, then settle for the middle, and pick it up in the end. Although I am nowhere near the end, I feel like I am settling into Tampico. Geographically it was a good move: I am learning a new language, meeting new people.... But I am still teaching, and I am tired of teaching. 24 years is more than anyone should spend in the classroom.
The more I get to know Tampico and its people, the more I learn of its hardship. Last week one of our students was kidnapped, and returned the next day after the parents paid the ransom. Students write stories about saying good bye to friends who have left the city. Some students explained to me that most of their parents sold their expensive cars, so they would not be targets for the cartel. Today, one student, who wrote his story of being caught in his garage during a gunfight, asked me if I had ever been in one.
Although I have not braved the journey from the US border to Tampico by car, I hear that it is harrowing. The two foreign hires who did bring cars talk about joining an escort with the Federales at the border, whom they lost because one: they could not keep up with them, two: they needed to stop for gas, and three: the federales had other business to contend with. It is a six hour trip (if you drive 80mph). The road is usually two lanes, and there are many speed bumps.
The city itself does not seem dangerous. I am not rich, so I am not a target. Also, this is a busy place, so I feel safe. But when my 13 year old students tell me to be careful when I unlock the door to my house, or when I carry a computer, or find myself alone. . . It makes me wonder.
Riding the Bus to work
11.10.2014 -27 °F
Buses cost 8 pesos, cabs anywhere from 40 to 80, and I could drive with Valarie, but if she drives too many people her car bottoms out on the speed bumps. So I take the bus. It is actually the best part of my day. I try to leave the house to get the "6:30" bus (Mexican time). Most of the time I catch it unless there are two buses passing at the same time, then the bus on the outside cannot see me flagging it down. I love it when the oldest driver drives. He is a velvet driver, so it is easy to read, study Spanish or converse with Maria, the 16 year-old who sometimes rides the bus.
Once I had a driver who was determined not to stop at all. At one point he veered off of the road, up a driveway to a hotel, past the entrance and back into traffic again. I thought that was the craziest drive I would ever have, but this morning took the prize.
I was on time. I was able to cross I Hidalgo (the six lane highway that runs through town) without a hitch. The bus was packed, which it never is. The only seat I could find was in the way back-- never a good thing because there is not much to hang on to. My plan was to study my Spanish, but it was pitch black, so I kicked back to enjoy the ride. People were flying every which way, and the bus got more and more crowded until the only available seat was in the corner next to me.
Remember that it is HOT down here. Yesterday, I asked a Mexican friend if they had seasons here. She looked at me like I was crazy. Yes, it is fall, she replied. Aghast, I said, how do you know it is fall? She tried to convince me that it was cooler. And she is right. Now when I get on the bus I am not longer drenched with sweat. There is just a little trickle of sweat running down my spine.
It is so hot here that no one wants to add a few more degrees with body heat by sitting next to someone on the bus. However, today the bus was jammed with people, and the driver was driving like a bat out of hell. As I moved over to make room for another passenger, we hit ANOTHER speed bump, and my back pack turned upside down. It was so dark that I could not see if anything fell out, and it was time to get off the bus.
To make a long story shorter, I lost all of my keys on that bus. But I had new ones made by the end of the day.
There is so much that goes on around it, but school clearly takes up the biggest part of my life here. I teach four classes: Eighth grade, and one seventh grade. I also tutor Andrea twice a week--she is eight years old. On Saturdays, I teach eight, nine and ten year-olds how to speak English.
The first bi-mester is over (thank GOD) and things have settled. I have immersed myself in a huge project with the seventh graders. We have joined a program called Out of Eden (https://outofeden.s3.amazonaws.com/ooe_curriculum_overview.pdf). It is a program out of Harvard that traces the footsteps of a man named Paul, a journalist who is walking the path of the early migration across continents 200,000 years ago, from Ethiopia to the tip of South America.
This is the ultimate critical skills activity. Since I have never taught seventh graders before, I have come to a conclusion that problem solving is not their forte. Help me MIS, MIS, MIS..... they chant. I try so hard to make kids that they need to learn how to find the answers. And that finding answers takes time, patience, confidence in oneself. Critical skills works the most when the teacher does not know exactly how to do the project that is set forth. For all of you traditionalists out there, I can hear you gasping at this thought.
I have spent the last three weeks trying to get the class code for the website to work, and every time I think I have it, something goes wrong. One day I was so frustrated I walked out of the classroom and told my technology partner that I was giving up. I was going to get the textbooks out and have the students start on page one and do what they wanted to do for the rest of the year.
After my hissy fit, I decided to breathe. Things are much better when I breathe. I am not sure why I forget that so frequently. The textbooks are still safely tucked away in the cabinet collecting dust. Last Friday, I took the four smartest, most organized students in the class and got them to figure out with me how to maneuver their way through the Out of Eden website. Fortunately, that was a day that the site was working. They created avatars, described themselves and posted their profiles. Then they talked to student partners in California and Illinois on the website. Success with four out of 20 seventh graders!!!!
Fast forward to this week. The plan was to have those four get into groups to help the others on Monday. Chaos. The site did not work... MIS.. MIS...(that's what they call me). Tuesday, I decided that they would put their devices away, and I would walk them through the site using the projector. WOW!!! I showed them one milestone on the site. The theme is feet and footsteps, so when they asked about the emphasis on feet, we talked about what we could learn about people when we looked at their feet.
Most of these students do not believe that Paul will make it to the end of his journey mainly because he is way too old (40 or 50). He will get sick... The students are also a little worried about putting information on the site because they feel vulnerable. A student from our school community was kidnapped a few weeks ago (returned after the ransom was paid). This is not uncommon in Tampico. I told them about how safe Peterborough was. They were shocked!!!
(The other day I compared Tampico to the town in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang where there are no children. You never see kids out and about on their own. My friend Antoinette who has two children is happy that they have the club, so that they can run around freely in a gated area that is safe. )
So today we got onto the site!!!!!! We have learned that you can do very little on an iphone and an ipad. I have always known that kids do not know SHIT about technology because they do not read instructions. However, they are learning fast. Today, I separated them into groups, told the experts to help the students who were not on the site yet, and then I watched the magic. They kept coming up to me saying MIS, I can't, Mis, I don't know how. Finally, I stopped the class and said, "You need to understand something. I am not the expert. The experts are those four students who have already done this!!! After that they started problem solving. Look MIS... I am writing to this person in New York... Someone wrote back to me.. look at the map that I made of my neighborhood, read my profile... I changed my avatar.
Finally, we can start. Are they going to be able to pass the same multiple choice test at the end of the bimester as the other seventh graders? I don't know. Is that important? I don't know. Are they meeting the common core standards? YES. Are these seventh graders becoming better citizens, yes. This is a baseline all students should start early in their educational careers. The common core is a good initiative, but I fear that those who do not understand it, will destroy this generation with standardized testing. We are failing this generation as teachers if we do not teach them to work together, problem solve and feel good about it in the process.
I did not have a plan when I wrote this blog. I just looked at the title I started with--nice metaphor
29.10.2014 85 °F
My new favorite place is Starbucks. I love the chatter, I love the coffee. I started my Starbucks session today pissed as hell because I had to make a presentation on differentiated instruction. I was fine making the presentation; I just did not want to read the long pdf. After swearing and convincing myself that I hated my profession, I actually read the article. Well -- sort of. I ended up having a great time creating the presentation.
I find myself not hating this profession, but hating the attitude that comes with it. My brother once told me that he once hired a consultant who just wouldn't leave. One day my brother called him into his office and said, "You know, consultants are like Samurai. They come in, do their job and leave." I love that story. I wish that was true of teachers. Come in, teach and leave. No meetings, no complaining, no attitude, just teach and leave.
I wish it was that simple. I want to do things besides work -- like body surfing, hiking across America, learning Spanish, drinking good coffee, or laughing so hard that I need to take a nap afterwords. But teaching never ends. It is not like stacking wood or mowing the lawn. There is never a final product.
I have come to the conclusion that I have to work. I cannot live my life without making money to support it. That seems obvious, but I have been trying to figure out how to live without teaching for a long time. If I pursue the end of my career by teaching ESL I can teach, and leave. This way I could focus on my writing, and on figuring out what my dreams are.
I just spoke to a friend about her daughter who seems to be staying away from "home." She has been living in Europe for a while, without a direction. It is all about finding home. Some people know where their homes are; I do not think I ever have. When I was raising my children, they were my center, my home, my world. Now they have gone to find home in their own world. I wonder if I will ever find mine. I know that the northeast is where I belong. But as Sandra Cisneros writes in A House on Mango Street, you have to leave in order to come back.
So I will drift for a while, letting the waves carry me on their crest, dashing and pounding me into the earth and rolling me around until I get tired of getting up and doing that over and over again. It's exciting. I still do not know exactly when is the right time to catch the wave; sometimes I am a little late, a little early, but when I swim forward at the right time, and the wave pushes me out, for a moment I can feel myself halfway in the wave and halfway out, before I finish the ride.
10.11.2014 - 10.11.2014
Every Sunday Valerie and I take each other somewhere special to write. This week I took Valerie on a bus ride to El Centro. El Centro is the part of town that in the 1920's was a hot spot. Now those terrific buildings have become giant planters for local flora and fauna. Including the man without any pants on sitting in the middle of the square.
Anyway, I have had a hankering for a bike. Now that I think of it, I do not think I have ever been bikeless. In these three months I have been carless, and phoneless, but not having a bike has been what I have missed the most. Every day I have been plotting a route to work that would avoid Hidalgo (the six, seven, eight, and sometimes nine lane avenue in the city). I finally found a route, that seems relatively safe. Today, as Valerie and I were walking to our destination, I saw a rack of bikes hanging above the sidewalk. The only bikes that I had found previously were at Walmart. But this was a classic hole in the wall shop. After our writing session, I went to the shop to check it out, and I fell in love with a one speed. It was cheap, but it was too big for me, and when I took a ride about the square, it was too much to handle. I am not sure that the bike owner knew that I had every intention of bringing the bike back after a test ride, because suddenly he was in the square with me. The bike was not for me, so I convinced him to get another one for me. It is yellow, and the name on it is Heaven. In order for me to take it on another test ride, he had to fix it up. Remember that I know bikes pretty well after riding 4,000 miles around Europe, and working in the Bicycle Exchange in Cambridge. He fiddled and fixed, fiddled and fixed, and suddenly there was a rush of customers. I was getting a little antsy, so I decided to check out the barber shop hair salon next door. I love watching people get there hair cut. There was something different about the place, but it was bustling with a lot of people, so I watched while I waited for the bike guy to get things organized.
In one of my earlier blogs, I sent pictures of a market place that I had visited. That was where I was, at a bike shop, in an open-ish market, next to a barbershop/ hair salon. I am becoming familiar enough with Spanish at this point to carry on a present tense conversation, if the speech does not get too fast, but one thing that I have realized about living in a country where you do not speak the language is that my observation skills are developing. It only took me a few more moments to realize that everyone who worked in the hair place was transsexual. They were beautiful, and dressed in a casually stunning way. High heels, tight jeans, and gorgeous hair, with a slight five o'clock shadow. Finally, I asked for a haircut and they laughed as they decided who would cut the gringa's hair. So I sat in the chair and watched my dancing hair dresser chop away at my hair. My hair was pretty long. Now it is short and long all over the place. I do not think one hair is the same length as the other.
Finally, my bike was ready, and geared with a bright pink helmet and Heaven, I took off. I felt free. My life had taken a turn. My glee was contagious as swiveled around Tampico. I planned my new life with my bike. I would ride to school. In fact I would ride to school today to see how long it would take. I would learn how to drive over speed bumps. I rode through quiet neighborhoods, I passed tons of dogs, people smiled at me, my joy was infectious. I took a right to get to Faja de Oro... and my pedal fell off. All of me dreams dashed in that one moment. But not really. I just need a new wrench and a nut that isn't stripped, which I can get from Tavo's hardware where I got a key made when I lost the last set on the bus.
I needed to get back to my new house anyway. I moved on Friday, and I need to unpack, unwind, and eat food that
The Centro, a broken bike, and a cold shower on a rainy day
06.12.2014 - 06.12.2014 66 °F
I have had a crazy time since I bought my bike, and made it five minutes from my house when the pedal fell off. I have been in a car accident, taken three days off work, been to Oaxaca, taught a class in a public school there, returned to Tampico to a house with no oil, with the water shut off because the previous oil bill had not been paid, and I have a dysfunctional pilot light, so there is no hot water.
All of this led me to an epiphany about Heaven (my new dysfunctional bike that did not have a pedal). I managed to ask my cab diver (I overslept this morning) if he could take me and my bicycle in his cab to the Centro. We agreed to meet at Hildago and Tamesi at two pm. Well, the Tancol-Tampico bus did not come until for one half hour. When it did, I rode plastered onto the front windshield and got home at 1:50. Heaven and I made it to the set point at two on the dot. However, no taxi. So I flagged down a cab, and we stuffed Heaven in the back and rode to the Centro. I have never met a taxi driver who was not gracious. My Spanish is good enough, so we could have a broken conversation.
He dropped me at the bike shop, and I told the guys that I wanted my money back. He smiled when I told him in my broken Spanish that the bike was SHIT. We used Google translate to determine that there was no way that I could return Heaven, but he would fix it. So I left him to put on a new pedal and to fix the gears. I went out for coffee, and watched some men try to direct traffic by blowing whistles. No one paid any attention to them.
I returned, got my bike, and rode off to the park to see the crocodiles. When I got to the park the handlebars started to fall off, so back I went. We laughed when I told the bike guy in my broken Spanish that he was trying to kill me . So he fixed the handle bars, and once again fixed the gears and put on a new shifter.
While I waited a truckload of soldiers got dumped in the Centro and they paced in front of the bike shop with their machine guns. Not because of me, they just seem to be much more present these days. No one batted an eyelash. One cute little girl even aimed her toy machine gun at them and made it go off with all its lights and jingle sounds..
Well, the bike was fixed, and I took off to see the crocodiles. The bike's bottom bracket sounds crunchy and the gears slip, but I just wanted to see the crocs and go home to a nice cold shower. Did I mention that it was raining during this entire adventure?
Well fuck the crocs, because they don't exist in my opinion, and if they do, I am sick of looking for them!
I will go back to my friends at the bike shop next week. At least I can ride there because I have handlebars and both pedals. In the meantime I will enjoy the fact that I have water and oil. I can be happy that my ESL kids are making so much progress, and that I only have six more teaching days until Christmas. Then I will go to New England to see my kids, some friends and return by car to Tampico for more adventures.
My car made it, but the duct tape didn't
The drive back to Tampico was uneventful. We drove endlessly along the pavement stretching from Putney to Brownsville, Texas, flinching every time we passed a reminder of the 60’s – “On Birmingham Sunday a noise hit the ground and the choirs kept singing of freedom.”
Every night that we stopped the hotel got seedier, until the last night when we had to change rooms due to some mysterious bugs I found in my bed. The border crossing was uneventful, and I was pleased with my ability to communicate in Spanish. We met the escort caravan on the other side of the Brownsville, Texas border, and chased it for a few hours. Then we were on our own for the last half of the trip without a hitch.
I miss my aloneness in a way. I was not lonely before, a little achy but busy and driven enough to work, study Spanish and walk, walk, walk. Now I have a car, David and my dear friend Valerie is here for a visit. She has decided to leave Tampico. When she leaves, our friend Peter from Putney will visit.
The brief bit of beautiful weather that we had here before the Christmas vacation is gone now – replaced by a cold damp rain, day after day (as if Tampico did not have enough water). It is dreary, but I did get a chance to sneak to the beach with Valerie and David last weekend.
So the piles of cement are still here, the broken water pipes block the streets and all of the vehicles are a mud brown and the people are beautiful, kind, and warm.
Xilitla among other places
02.02.2015 72 °F
I wonder how many hours I have spent in workshops having people talk at me for hours. When I grow up, I will never go to another meeting again. I think the reason that teachers are required to go to so many meetings is to remind us what NOT to do to our students.
I returned to a brief winter in Tampico. It rained for two weeks, but I have been to Xilitla and I found a beautiful lake/pond and beach 30 minutes from my apartment in Tampico. The safety of driving in this state is still mixed. Most of the locals I know do not travel, or if they do, they do it in a big caravan, which we did part way to Xilitla.
This is the the beach in Tampico Alto, where I had my first spit in the napkin meal. This was an easy day trip. We drove south to Tampico, Alto and banked east to La Ribera. There we took an unintentional boat trip around the lagoon and saw ibis, heron, pelicans and many more. We returned to the doc for lunch. Since we were so close to the sea they sported a lot of fishy options for which neither David nor I had the stomach. Scouring the menu, I found hueva. Thinking this was the feminine for huevo we ordered it, dodging the fish factor. When it arrived, it looked questionable, but I convinced my American mind that it was huevos rancheros and took a bite. That bite I swallowed, and my stomach churns as I write this. I tried another bite, just to make sure that it was not huevos and sure enough the flavor was a combination of fish and rotten milk. That was when the napkin came in handy. David did not bother to try. When I returned to school to questions the students and staff about my mistake some responded with delight and others laughed depending on their palettes. There is no feminine form of HUEVOs, which I think I knew. Hueva means two things. Hueva alone is an insult, and should never be used when describing someone. Essentially, it means lazy. Hueva de pescados is fish eggs and it looks like this.