Schools vs. Escuelas, pt. II

Head’s up- this is a long post.  But, I’ve been thinking about its contents for months and have been writing it for weeks, so you should read it 🙂

Before coming to Ecuador, I had some experience (exposure may be a better word) to school systems outside the US.  There were the trips to Guamtemala City I first took as part of a youth group mission trip in 2004, then later on my own in 2007.  I worked with YWAM and, among other tasks, did some teaching in a day-care and after-school tutoring program.

You may see some familiar faces here 🙂 In Guatemala City, 8 years ago.

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Schools vs. Escuelas, pt. I

I give you three stories.

One Friday in mid-January, things were going as usual at the elementary school where I teach, Joaquin Chiriboga.  That is, until recess (recreo).  I did what I normally do at the beginning of each recreo: visited the snack lady, who has a permanent posting in the school courtyard where she sells things as delicious as 10 cent choco-bananas, 15 cent bags of chifles (fried plantain chips), 10 cent fruit cups (pineapple or watermelon, or, if you’re feeling crazy, mixed), and 40 cent plates of rice and meat- all of it very freshly prepared.  Once I had my fruit cup in hand, I made my way to a bench where the teachers normally sit and enjoy their free time.  Kids swarmed around me and asked me questions about my life at home and how to say random words in English (this usually happens), but the teachers were nowhere to be seen.  After about five minutes of being the only teacher in the courtyard, I decided to find out what they were doing.  I made my way to the office, where a meeting was taking place.  They invited me in, and for the next ten minutes, I listened to some boring details about changes in the way the finances would be handled.

Then, things took a turn.  Just at about the time recess was supposed to end, one of the teachers said “Well, today is a very special day.  It’s the 70th birthday of our coworker Manuelito [again with the ‘ito’ thing]!!”  We all clapped and then began singing Happy Birthday.  Then, a cake appeared, along with cups of coke.  About thirty minutes later, the dancing began.  Thirty minutes after that, one of the teachers left school with an empty box and returned with a box full of bottles of beer, and it just went downhill from there.  Basically, the students were left unsupervised for 2.5 hours, they had no more classes that day, and the teachers all got buzzed before noon- in the principal’s office (he was partaking in the festivities too!).

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Another day

I thought I’d write today about an average day in my Ecuadorian life.

It begins at 5:25, when my alarm sounds (except Thursdays and Fridays, when I have to arise at 5).  Today, of course, I pressed the snooze.  Twice.  Or, I thought twice.  The second time, I accidentally turned my alarm off.  At 5:52, I woke up, suddenly, looked at my phone, and knew I needed to get out of bed.  Normally, Reyna is up at 5:45, but she was nowhere to be seen, so I knocked firmly on her door and said “Good morning, wake up!” (in Spanish).

We were dressed, fed, and out the door by 6:20.  Yes, folks, I am capable of leaving the house a mere 20 minutes after waking up.  My getting ready process here is: put clothes on, throw my hair into a ponytail, splash water on my face, apply sunscreen, eat breakfast, brush my teeth, and- maybe- treat myself to a hint of bronzer on my cheeks, my one vain indulgence.  Mondays- Wednesdays, Reyna and I walk about a quarter of a mile to the place where our buseta meets.  Thursdays and Fridays, I walk about 2/3 of a mile to my bus stop.  This morning, on our way to our stop, we stepped into one of our favorite shops because we needed to buy ingredients for guacamole.  In one of the classes today, the students would be reading the recipe for guacamole (The lesson is entitled: Guacamole, a Mexican Dish) and making it!  Yum!  The store only had 2 ripe avacatoes.  Problem.  But we had to take what we can get.  Reyna then bought 12 tomatoes (!), 4 key limes, a few red onions, and some cilantro.  When I asked her if she had brought any chili powder or hot sauce with her from the house, she said that the kids in Pulingui don’t like spicy food, so that we weren’t going to include it in our version.

We arrived in Pulingui at 7:10 and spent about 20 minutes chillaxing (you can bet my English students are learning words like chillaxing in my classes) with the other teachers.  At 7:30, there was an assembly with all of the students because today is the 6th of December, Quito’s Foundation Day.  It only lasted about 15 minutes.  At 8:15, Reyna and I had our first class, the guacamole makers.  I taught the kids Christmas songs while Reyna and a few girls made guacamole in the back of the room.  (sidenote- a hint at the gender roles in this society- when Reyna needed a hand putting together our ingredients, she said “¿Hay unas señoritas que pueden ayudarme, por favor?” – are there any girls who can help me, please?)  For anyone who thinks that any food south of the United States equates to Mexican food, you are wrong!  I think I can hear Israel Sanchez, my Cuban friend, vehemently agreeing with me.  Food here is not spicy.  Albeit, on about any Ecuadorian table, you will surely find a bowl of aji, Ecuadorian hot sauce.  In a US grocery store, this stuff would be sold in a bottle labeled “mild.”  It’s not crazy hot, but it is crazy good (that reminds me of the crazy hot spectrum on How I Met Your Mother… hehe).  Back to what I was saying, I had a feeling this guacamole would be a little different than guacamole made in Mexico, or even the US.

Guacamole, the Ecuadorian way

Yes, you are looking at a photo of a 6:1 tomato:avocato ratio.  No, no avocadoes were mashed in the making of this dish.  Yes, it is being served on bread, not with chips.  Yes, Reyna called in Guacamole. And yes, it was pretty delicious.

We had that class for an hour and a half.  Each class is only 45 minutes long, but there are some that are back to back.  The first 45 minutes of the next class, I taught the kids Jingle Bells, which they already (kind of) knew.  They knew this much (I guess from movies and TV):

Jeengle bells, jeengle bells, jeengle aw dee waaah

We worked on that for awhile.  Songs the students in Pulingui will also have the pleasure of learning (goodness, I love Christmas!): Deck the Halls, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Holy Jolly Christmas, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Rocking Around the Christmas Tree, and Silent Night.  I’m also teaching a couple of songs to my kids in Guamote; not nearly as many as I’m attempting with the older kids in Pulingui.  We had a recess (recreo), then after 30 minutes of that, Reyna was like “Bye, I’m going to go to Guano [this other small town that is known for selling shoes] with the director to look for shoes the teachers can wear in our parade!”  (We’re going to be in this parade in Guano on December 20th.  If any of you can make it to see me dressed in the same clothes as my compañeros, I’d love to see you!  No really, this parade- the uniform, more than anything else- has been such a big deal here.  Now the principal of the school and one of its teachers were leaving midday to buy shoes for this parade, which meant I was about to get to teach the last few classes SOLO!)

Normally, there is always another teacher in the room with me.  In fact, it’s kind of mandatory with my organization.  However, things here just work differently and you can’t always shoot for perfection.  Here, at least in my small rural schools, when a teacher is absent, the students just don’t have that class and get to hang out in the school courtyard area and wait for their next class, totally unsupervised.  Or in elementary schools, they get to sit in their classroom all day unsupervised… yes, so different.  I was pretty scared to hold class in a language other than my own, but it went pretty okay.  Funny, however, I managed to accidentally say both penis and vagina in Spanish throughout the course of the morning.  In one class, I was trying to say page “pagina” and, being American, I didn’t pronounce my consonants well enough and it sounded like “vagina” (remember that the v sound has a b sound here, more or less)… later, in another class, I was trying to say pain, “pena” and apparently it sounded like “pene.”  I’m just that great at life.  I really didn’t know the word for penis until today.  But when you have 10 kids laughing at you and you’re turning red, it’s easy to put two and two together.  I won’t be making those mistakes again!

At 12:45, I was done teaching.  I was able to relax for a while before dining with my coworkers.  I love lunch here so much.  I need to reserve a future post for that.  Moving along.  We had a meeting in the afternoon, then drove home a little past three.

And that is a pretty normal day of work for me.  I would go into the fun I had this evening celebrating fellow voluntaria Alice’s birthday, but so far, this post consists of 1,185 words… sheesh.  As always, thanks for reading!

First Day on the New Job

In order of occurrence:

  1. Woke up at 5:45
  2. Put on tights, a skirt, a long sleeved shirt with a wool cardigan and jacket, knowing that Reyna, my host mother, would tell me I needed to change.  She often does this.
  3. Reyna told me I would be too cold, but I told her my tights were thick and that I’d be fine.  She said, “Okay, but no complay a me when you are frio.”
  4. Around 6:30, I entered a van with Reyna that was headed toward the school that I was going to teach at, a high school in Pulingue.  15 people crammed into an 11 person van… ridiculously typical.
  5. At 7:30, I was introduced by Reyna (host mother and host English teacher… really hoping that having to live under her roof and teach with her will not be a problem) to our first class, about fifteen thirteen year-olds.  Then I sat through and helped with the class, with Reyna doing most of the teaching.  She mostly read (had me read) passages from the book in phrases, then had the students repeat the phrases, sometimes up to three times.  They had no idea what they were reading.  Their level of English is very low, and I kind of want to just forget the textbook and start at square one, but I don’t think that I can do that… much work ahead, though, if I’m wanting to actually teach these children (and, yes I do!)  Really hoping that Reyna is open to some changes in the structure of the class and methodology, but I’m not going to try to change everything.
  6. At around 9:30, there was an assembly.  I guess there’s one every Monday.  I was told to sit in front of the student body, on the stage.  When the assembly began, the students and teachers sang two songs: the school song and Ecuador’s national anthem.  Of course I knew neither, and of course all eyes were on me.  I nervously mouthed “watermelon, watermelon…”
  7. At around 9:40, the headmaster gave a nice speech in broken English thanking me for being there.  After his speech, I was asked to speak as well.  It’s the stuff of nightmares: unplanned public speaking in another language in front of a body of students and teachers on whom you are hoping to make a good impression.  I will translate the way my speech probably came out: “Wow, I am nervous because it is not normal for me to speak in front of a large group in Spanish.  I am sorry if I am bad at Spanish.  I am very excited to be here with you.  I hope that I can teach much English and learn much Spanish during the next six months.  Thank you for accepting me on your school.  I think your country is beautiful.  I am here for six days and everyone is…were?… been very nice.  Thank you!”  Goodness.
  8. After the assembly, there was a coffee break in my honor.  It was very nice.  All the teachers gathered in a conference room while the students got extra playing time and we drank jugo de tamate (not normal tomato juice- it’s a little bit sweet) and hot chocolate and ate sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs.  The teachers are great, very welcoming.
  9. During the coffee break, the headmaster started talking to me about when I arrive at the school and when I leave.  I’m nodding my head and understanding, but then he says something about 6:00 pm and I say “No te endiendo.”  (I’m not understanding you)  Then, with some of his English and some probing, I figured out that he was confirming that I was going to be able to teach taxi drivers for five weeks.  Each group of taxi drivers (taxistas) needing a week of classes (2 hours per class, 2 classes a week), beginning next week.  This was the first I had heard of this and I still need to discuss it with Reyna… he mentioned “economico,” so I’m not sure if maybe the taxistas are going to pay him and perhaps those wages will go toward feeding me and transporting me to his school (he paid for my lunch out of his pocket) or if I’d be getting money.  On this adventure, so much is just go with the flow.  I nodded and said, “Okay, yo puedo!”
  10. It dawned on me that Reyna was right.  It was freezing in Pulingue.  It’s higher in altitude than Riobamba and there is no heat in the buildings.  Tomorrow, I will definitely wear “pantalones,” not a skirt.  Teachers were giving me their jackets and gloves for the day… hahaha.
  11. After having a total of five classes, the students left and I went with seven teachers to a house nearby for lunch.  The teachers were very kind to speak slowly and try and make the conversation interesting for me, asking me about Kansas, telling me about things to do in Ecuador, and even asking me about my religion.  Haha!  I think I’m going to get along very well with them.  They were very fun and friendly.  Lunch was great, too 🙂  So far, I really haven’t had anything that I don’t like, food wise.  Except… the coffee here is all instant.  Very sad.
  12. After lunch, I asked the headmaster if I was supposed to teach the teachers English too, and when.  He said yes and that we could start now.  We walked back to the school and all the teachers entered a classroom and then it was all me.  I had been told that today would just be me observing the classes and meeting the students, but whatever.  I taught greetings, common introductory conversational questions, and words of departure.  Communicating with a room full of Spanish-speaking teachers in my less than perfect Spanish… you can imagine all of the corrections I received.  After almost an hour of class (I wasn’t sure how long I was supposed to teach), the teachers were signaling for me to stop.  They were experiencing the brain pain that I know so well.  I will be teaching them every day, which means I have (including the taxistas and a young girl I teach from the house) 9 preps, not including my two days in Guamote… holy cow.  Why am I blogging right now?  I should be lesson planning.  Ay.
  13. After the English lesson, Reyna brought me back to our room where we practiced the school song (she found some lyrics for me- hallelujah!)
  14. At about 3:15, seven people crammed into the headmaster’s five person truck (I scored the non-seat that’s in between the driver’s and passenger’s seats, practically on top of the gear stick.  The way I was sitting, trying to lean more on Reyna than the headmaster, led to the most intense sleep my leg has ever experienced.  After about 45 minutes in this position, I got out of the car and my left leg was like jelly.  I kind of collapsed… the teachers looked at me in a worried way.  I laughed and pointed to my gummy leg.  Reyna gave me a pen and told me to put it behind my left ear, that that would help… again, going with the flow, I did.

What a first day!  Glad I now have an idea of what I’ve gotten myself into 🙂