Some GOOD news to report: I’ve found a new flat. I move Monday. It’s not a lot better, so don’t get too excited. I still a share bathroom (with 2 others) and it has a shared kitchen—I’m not sure how many people live there, maybe 10, but enough people that cooking will be difficult. I’ll still be eating most of the time. I had tried to find an efficiency apartment, but there simply wasn’t one open that would take a foreigner. And the rooming house near the school has a waiting list. It could be months before they have room for me. On my salary, I can’t possibly rent a standard apartment. It’s also no closer to the school.
Why move, you ask? The first is that my landlord has been somewhat loose with the truth more than once and he’s not in a hurry to fix anything that goes wrong. I’m also feeling “spied” on. There’s a woman here that is the landlord’s “eyes and ears.” I’ve caught her going through my grocery bags and if I go into the kitchen or living room, she just stands there and watches me. I’ve made two other friends here, and they say she does the same with them. We just stay in our rooms! There’s a nice dining and living area, but under those circumstances, It’s pretty useless to me. Another advantage is that the new kitchen has actual hot water, so maybe people will wash their dishes! I know. A pipedream. Another bonus is that my new bedroom is not right beside a noisy construction site. They sometimes work on Sundays, and they always work in the afternoon. With my current schedule, I don’t get a full night’s sleep, so I need a nap in the afternoon. One of my students works for the company doing the construction and she says they still have 3 more months of work. I’ll be glad for the quiet and a lot less dust! I have to wet mop daily to deal with the dust.
The biggest reason to move is that the rent is a third less at the new place, which eases the sting of having to eat out so much. The commute is the same, but if I don’t have the 7am classes, that’s not so bad. I’ve been promised that I won’t have this schedule next session. We will see what happens in two weeks when this schedule finishes! And with the recent raise and the lower expenses, I can actually save a bit of money while I’m here and not have to dip into savings during unpaid school holidays. One drawback is that I can’t have overnight guests, not even visitors. Of course it’s not exactly a nice place to bring people.
Among the other reasons I want to move is how….messy…the situation here is. I don’t just mean the cleanliness. I’ve not said much on the blog, but this is basically a Latino Telenovela, a Peyten Place with Spanish subtitles. Arturo’s ex-lover lives downstairs. His ex-lover’s mother, lives here too, along with a girl (the lover’s sister?) and a young boy (maybe 10-11 years old). They all argue a lot, usually in the kitchen. There’s also a young girl here, but I haven’t figured out what room she’s in. The worst is the old man who has apparently lived here for a long time. He’s the one who spends most of his time in boxer shorts (not a fashion statement) and occasionally has a problem with them “gaping” in the front. I really think there should be more mystery when it comes to my flat mates! He only says “Bueno” to me. Never “good morning” or “good afternoon,” just “good.” Interesting. He doesn’t wash his dishes, just rinses them in the cold water (there is no hot water in the kitchen).
My Spanish is coming along–partially from Spanish classes and on-line study, but also from necessity. I have a beginner English class at 7am. I have to translate most of the text, especially instructions, into Spanish. It’s often needed to help them understand. While I really don’t think I’m qualified to teach a beginner class, and I’m convinced a native speaker would be more help to me, I seriously love these students. They are exceptional and intelligent adults–a master’s level physiologist and five engineers who come before work each day. So we are learning together! The textbook could be a lot better, but I try to fill in the gaps for them. It seems to be mostly working. It’s just that 7am is not my best time to be creative! They have their first quiz next week, so we’ll see how they do.
In other good news, I got acknowledgement that my visa status has been changed from “Tourist” to “Work.” I must go in next week for fingerprinting at Immigration. It will take a few more weeks after that and then I’ll get my actual work card, so it’s official.
With this split shift and 32 teaching hours a week, I’ve only had time for work. I’ve not seen any more of the city. Nothing new to report. My blog posts have slowed down. I hope to get a break soon. Next week we have Independence Day off on Friday. Not sure what celebrations there may be, but my students say that the Central Historic District should have some celebrations.
“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher
Friday Finally! It’s been a long week. Still have to work tomorrow, but a 9:30am class seems easy compared to 7am.
Yesterday the flooding was horrible. I knew it was an issue here in SLP, but had managed to stay out of the worse of it so far, mostly by simple luck. Yesterday is started to rain very hard an hour before I needed to leave for school. It was over in time for me to leave for class, but the streets were flooded with both water and traffic. My apartment was like an island. When I tried to step from the sidewalk to cross the street, the water came just below my knee. Many sidewalks were flooded and I saw water coming into the front doors of many homes and businesses. The last time I saw a city with this much water was Venice. Unfortunately, the smell was much like Venice, too: Backed up sewers. That can’t be healthy. Note to self: buy rubber boots. Make sure they come to the knee. Are hip-waders in fashion this year?
Gave two final exams yesterday and graded them during my one hour that I’m supposed to have a private lesson. Three days this week I’ve been scheduled for a one hour lesson on Business English with a gentleman named Javier. I have yet to meet him. The good news is that I get paid. Anyway, the point is that I got the exams graded. Unfortunately, the grades were poor. I barely passed three students in my 8 going to 9 off-set class. I left them strong notes that if they didn’t study much harder, plus go back and review the last two levels, they would not pass the next. I hope they take me seriously. Two of them have attendance issues, but the third is a sweet young girl who just isn’t getting it. She’s at an age where language skills should be easy for her to learn. She isn’t learning. Often she can’t form a simple present sentence, spoken or in writing. I wonder if she even wants to learn English. She’s my Justin Bieber lover, the one who had never heard of The Beatles. If I had private time with her, I’d work through his songs. We’d translate them and discuss the idioms. That might work with her. The problem is that the rest of the class would HATE it if we did this and it wouldn’t prepare them for the exams.
The hardest part is that the first question in the level 8 final exam was the lyrics to a Beatles song. I played the song in class two days before. I gave them the lyrics. We read them out loud. I asked ALL the questions they were asked on the exam. Despite of this, almost everyone missed more than half of the questions. It’s depressing.
Finally found a realtor to work with me to find a new place. She’s the mother of one of the other teachers. Unfortunately, I’ve not successfully gotten her to understand what I’m looking for. I only need a studio apartment. She located a house. The location is great, but the house is three times the size I need. It even has a two car garage and a yard. It’s also more than twice the money I can pay. And I’d have to arrange all the utilities—which is beyond my Spanish skills. I could only swing it if I had one or two roommates and my Spanish was much better. If I were going to live here for 2-3 years, I’d seriously consider it. Clearly the teachers who come here need a place to stay and I could get Michael to send them my way when I had an opening. But It’s more than I want to arrange. I think she was pretty disappointed in me.
In the meantime, there’s been a new development in the “I seriously need to find a new place to live” front. There is an older man downstairs. He rarely speaks. I never see him leave the apartment. (What’s really scary is that this “older man” is probably my age!) Mostly he walks around in his boxer shorts, grunting. It’s not a good look. (He’s also one of the kitchen “offenders” who doesn’t wash dishes or counters and leaves uncovered food out). Occasionally, I’ll catch him using the upstairs bathroom. I’d rather he didn’t. After all, his bathroom downstairs is off limits to me. However, it’s possible that it’s an urgent need, so I ignore it. The other day, however, his boxers were “gapping” in the front. I have seen things I can’t UN-see! It’s the second time it’s happened, too. The first time I pretended not to notice to be polite. This time I made a point of turning my head while pointing at the “area.” He was completely un-phased. He barely adjusted the boxers.
My Spanish is coming along slowly. Every week I learn new words and find it a bit easier to make transactions or small talk. It’s slow. This week I needed to buy vitamins and I realized I had the skills to say (badly), “I don’t want the Vitamin C tablets you put into water and drink. I want tablets.” A small victory in language.
The crazy schedule has worn me out. It’s Sunday, I’ve slept 10 hours. I slept 9 hours yesterday. It was such a thrill to “sleep in” to 7:30a! At the moment, It’s overcast, so I might not go to the fair today, the last day. One of my students gave me directions for taking the bus. I know I should go. I’m here to explore and learn, but my energy level is low and I don’t think I want to deal with rain as well. Regardless, I’ve got to make a run to a decent sized shopping center today. I need boots to deal with future rain. I can’t afford to ruin my good shoes.
Short on sleep, again. My nap today was made impossible by first the construction next door, then a man replacing the wireless router outside my door. Since the latter completely changes both the network and the password, it seems inconsiderate that Arturo wouldn’t mention it. But then, communication isn’t his strong suit. Also odd that the man seemed un-escorted.
Began week two of my horrid split shift. I get exhausted just thinking about it. I love the students, but 5-6 classes a day is a lot to deal with, in addition to a 7th class on Saturdays. Can’t get anything printed in the morning, either.
Gave final exams last night to 3 of my 4 weekday classes. As expected, the office staff assured me I had a full day, until 9pm Friday (today), to turn in all my final paperwork. There was really heavy rain last night and SLP is prone to some serious flooding. Three of my students in the last class didn’t show for the exam. Frankly, the rain was over long before the last class started and the three that didn’t come have horrible attendance records anyway. The director did text, asking teachers to agree to hold classes today (Friday) for any student that missed class because of the rain. No one came. I got all my paperwork done.
And I’ll have 17 new exams to deal with tomorrow (Saturday). Still no new schedule for Monday. This does not bode well.
Beginning to think that at least some of the “workers” in the apartment next door are living there. I see clothes hanging on hooks and a light was on last night. This morning, there was a guy cooking on a hot plate balanced on the window sill. He was spooning filling into a tortilla. Interesting. For all the banging, pounding and general movement, I still don’t see any progress.
My skin stays dry here and I use much more face/body/hand lotion than anywhere I’ve ever lived. It’s the low humidity at this altitude. What is surprising is that the wax in my ears seems to be super-charged by the climate. I have to clean them every day. Usually it’s a once a week chore.
I’ve had some low days since I’ve moved to Mexico, but today was the lowest. I slept badly last night because I was pretty sure this was going to be a bad day. It was. I taught for four hours, graded 18 exams and did the close out paperwork for each (that last part is unpaid work). All of this to finish out my first 4 week session. AGAIN, the school waited until the last possible minute to give out the schedules and my suspicions were correct: my schedule is complete crap.
I’ll have to go to the school twice a day—that’s over two hours of commuting time. Since I’m not on the bus line that also means about 4 miles of walking, not to mention standing for 5 or 6 classes a day (Monday-Friday, depending on the day) My morning class starts at 7 am and they are Level 1 students. I’ll be lucky if they know 20 words of English. But the kicker is that my last class of the day isn’t over until 9PM. It won’t be possible to get 7 hours of sleep a night. With my Saturday classes, that’s 32 teaching hours a week, plus (unpaid) prep. That’s five hours a week more than I listed as the top number of hours I wanted a week.
The good news is that I got a substantial raise–50%. It doesn’t make up for the horrible split shift, but it was enough to keep me from cleaning out my locker and walking out. I was very clear with the director that this is not an acceptable schedule and that he’d assured me during the interview process that he didn’t do this sort of thing. He’s lost several teachers recently (at least 5 since I came) and is shorthanded, so I agreed just this once to do this. He promised to get another teacher to take both my early morning classes before the end of the session. I seriously doubt that will happen, however.
I had to pay rent today, but managed to get the landlord to come to the house so I could show him the low water pressure and the filthy kitchen. I doubt anything will change, but I’ve done the adult thing and asked, respectfully, for these issues to be addressed. I’ll redouble my efforts to find a new place. I asked for the director’s help, too.
After I cooled off from my day, I had dinner and a drink with Orlando. Did my best not to talk about the school or the flat—I’ve done what I can in these areas and hashing them over again won’t help. I tried a michelada—a beer cocktail. Not my thing. Couldn’t even finish it. Then ordered a mojito. Not sure there was any alcohol in it. So much for drowning my sorrows.
Sunday. Still unhappy with the schedule but trying to focus on other things. I’ve done what I can for now. Besides, I really can’t easily find another job until I have a work visa—a process likely to take a few more weeks. Now that I’ve gotten a raise, learned the routine, and settled into my Spanish classes, I’d prefer not to make that change, but we will see. I’m only here for a year and if I can get a better schedule, it’s probably the best I can hope for. I’m resigned to the fact that all English schools lie to you about something, usually the schedule. At least this school pays on time. Now I need to focus on the living situation.
It seems that my body has decided that alcohol is poison. Despite the tiny amount of alcohol I consumed yesterday –on a full stomach and with water—I’m ill this morning. It’s been getting steadily worse, but now here in Mexico, I get diarrhea each morning if I drink at all the night before. Yeeze! All I want is a couple glasses of wine at night.
Monday. Survived the first day of my crappy schedule. Only 19 more days like this to go! Looks like I’m the ONLY teachers expected to come in at 7am. Even the receptionist, who has the key to the front door, didn’t bother to show until 7:02am. But it’s not like there were students waiting to get in. I’m quite shocked at how late students wander into class.
Having a tough time adjusting to my new schedule. Two difficulties—aside from having to get up at 5:30a. The first is that the bus is incredibly crowded at that hour, partly because there are few buses and partly because it seems a LOT of people must be at work at 7am. There were so many people that I couldn’t get through the aisle to get off the bus this morning and missed my stop. I was almost late for class. The bus was so full, he had to refuse some riders. I’ve found it’s better to take an earlier bus and be too early to school. The second issue is that since my last class doesn’t end until 9:00pm, I’m not getting enough sleep. I don’t get home before 9:30, then there’s the time it takes to settle down enough to sleep. I’m lucky to nod off at 11pm, but it’s usually later. So I end up needed a nap in the middle of the day. It breaks into my “off” time and I lose track of what day it is. Feeling disoriented.
Yesterday, I introduced a Beatles song into class. I wouldn’t have done it, but the song lyrics are on the exam and I didn’t want to surprise them. One girl in the class is only about 13. She’d never heard of The Beatles! She gushed over Justin Bieber as her all-time favorite artist, though.
We got paid again yesterday, and the new rate looked good. The pay schedule is pretty unusual—1st and 15th of the month, but also at the end of every 4 week session. In the month of August, I was paid three times, which looks like the standard. I’ve put aside the money for rent next month and hope I’ll be paying it at another place.
Gave an exam first this thing morning. I have five students in my Level 1-going-to-Level 2 class (we call it an off-set class). This morning was the Level 1 final. Only four showed up. Two didn’t have pencils. One of those two didn’t even have a pen! How do they expect to take an exam?? If students realized how poorly teachers are paid, I wonder if they’d depend on them to supply this sort of thing?
It’s usually a good idea to be prepared to translate a few vocabulary words, so I’m grateful for Google Translate. But showing the word is a LOT better. You never risk a mis-translation if you can show a noun or verb. Today in my Level 7 class we had a reading about breast cancer. A handsome young man named Vicente innocently asked, “Teacher, what is ‘breast?’” I simply grabbed “the girls” and said, “breasts.” The entire class broke out in laughter. “Teacher, I never forget ‘breast!’”
Sunday morning. The house was quiet so it seemed like no one was awake. I stepped into the shower and just put my head under the water when the hot water gave out. Wet hair, but too cold to wash it. Great. I gingerly washed the rest of my body in cold water and got dressed. I keep looking for another flat, but no luck so far.
In positive news, Thursday the place was sprayed for bugs. I don’t like the chemicals, but am at least grateful that it was done while I was at school. The next morning, the floor of the downstairs common areas were covered with dead crickets. Most are still there this morning. The even better news is that I specifically asked that the upstairs terrace (which is right outside my room) be sprayed too. Dead giant roaches everywhere. Pretty sure it barely makes a dent in the population, though.
This is oral exams week. Friday I gave about 25, plus 6 written exams for my off-set Level 8 class. Saturday I gave 17 more oral exams and graded two late written quizzes from Level 9. I’ve already started my paperwork for finals week, which is this week. Final exams in 3 classes are on Thursday. That’s the easy part. There are also final exams on Saturday and I have to teach, review and give the exam PLUS have all of them graded and my paperwork turned in by 1:30p. Since the class is officially over at that time, it’s pretty much impossible. And you don’t get paid until the paperwork is in. Ah, the exciting life of an English teacher!
Difficult day yesterday. Nothing was really wrong, I just slept badly and it was tough to get everything together and really going. Orlando invited me out for breakfast and that was nice, but I might have gone back to sleep if he hadn’t. Then Spanish class and 5 straight hours of teaching—including tutoring for a set of young teen-aged triplets. The boys were pretty spirited and would have been a lot more fun if I had more energy. I did have to tell them a few times to watch their language—you shouldn’t speak like that to an English teacher, after all, I know all those words …..and a lot more appropriate ones. As it was, it took all my strength to pretend it was amusing (or at least not overly insulting) and continue. I’d HATE to have them in class—they’d ruin it for the other students and I’d get annoyed with them quickly. Bright, but seriously affected with testosterone poisoning.
This morning, I woke up before 7a, got on the computer, but didn’t last 20 minutes. Fell back asleep for 2 hours. Groggy now, but better rested. I think for my energy level (and my waistline) I need to join a gym. I need to find an hour for more intensive exercise and some weightlifting at least 5 days a week.
There are workers at a half-constructed apartment building just outside my window. They pound away every day, but I can’t see that they are making any progress. It seems in a month I would be able to see some difference. But they do produce dust. I have to damp mop the floor daily.
This is a tough week. Finals week for four of my five classes and oral exams for my fifth class. Tonight I give a review for three of my four classes. Tomorrow I give the exams. I’ve got all the paperwork done ahead, but I can’t finish it before they take their last test.
According to an email from Michael, the final grades for each class are due at the end of class, on Thursday, the day you give the final exam. In previous sessions the weekday classes have been due on Friday, day after the exam. I questioned him in an email to be sure that’s what he meant. It was. Of course, it’s physically impossible to do. Through the week, the students have until the end of class, only one hour, to finish their final exams. THEN you have to grade the exam, add the grade to your (hopefully already prepared) top sheet on each student, staple the exam to it, and total the final grade. You also have to update your form that contains all the students (Well, most of them. Six were missing from my form). Physically impossible. I didn’t argue with him. I find that a waste of time. He’d just get more entrenched into his position and I’d get more frustrated. Plus, it’s a great way to get fired.
Saturdays are the worse for final exams. You really do have to turn everything in right away. I will have to start the final early—it’s the only way. I can’t leave or be paid until I turn in all my grades for that class—and there are 17 students taking the final. Every teacher I’ve talked to says that’s a record number in a single class. Just grading the exams will take over an hour. Yea, me.
For today’s walk, I went to El Centro to buy more underwear. Since I have to have it done at a laundria, I find I need my meager clothing stash to stretch for more days. Since it’s not terribly hot, I can wear shirts and pants an additional day, but I needed more undies. Bought more socks when I arrived and that’s helped, too.
During the walk, I went a different way and discovered several small eating places nearby that I hadn’t known about. There’s a cart that sells gringas for just 12 pesos (doce pesos). It’s a grilled tortilla with cheese and meat. I had bistec (beef steak, but probably really just hamburger). It’s about 2 ounces of meat and an ounce of cheese—perfect for a snack. Served with lime and salsa. I also stopped at one of the fruit and vegetable vendors. They sell ready-to-eat cups of diced fruit. I bought tunas, prickly pear cactus fruit. This was my first time to try it as it’s a season fruit. Tasty—sweet, rosy flesh, full of edible seeds, and at least three servings for 15 pesos (quince pesos). While I was in the mood for trying new things, I stopped in the downtown area at a stand I’d seen several times that serves a griddled bread. I bought a bag of 5 for 12 pesos. It’s just sweet dough, cooked on a tiny amount of oil. Nothing to write home about.
I noticed that the fruit and vegetable sellers are selling pumpkin blossoms, too. If I could cook in the communal kitchen, I’d buy a bag and fry them up!
Yes, I’m a bit shocked at how many of my photos are about food. That’s just me.
There’s a classic language joke that I share with my upper level English students.
What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Answer: Tri-lingual.
What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Answer: Bi-lingual.
What do you call someone who speaks just one language?
Answer: a US American.
As a rule, Americans speak English, only, and are often very poor at grammar.
Full disclosure: I did take a language in school: Latin. It’s helped me with grammar and root words, but not with speaking. I wish I’d learned languages when I was younger, when it was easier for my brain to wrap around new vocabulary and my tongue to easily twist to new sounds. But I’m not going to learn any younger.
Mexico is my 5th consecutive foreign country to take up residence in (for those who are counting, there’s Vietnam, Turkey, Spain and Russia). In each, I’ve made an attempt (relative to my length of stay) to learn the language. In most countries I’ve taught English as a way to support myself. Spanish, however, is the first language I’ve set a real goal to become functional in. Notice I didn’t say fluent. That’s too much for me to imagine right now. I can envision learning the language well enough to function on a day-to-day basis.
So here’s what I’ve learned: It’s pretty amazing what you can do with just 55 words in a language. Honest. I start with 30 nouns (choose things you use every day. I start with food words & objects I use at work), 5 adjectives (pretty, happy, good, bad, sad), 5 verbs in simple present tense (want, need, say, walk, do), 4 adverbs (more, slowly, fast, not) and, MOST IMPORTANT, a handful of polite words (please, thanks, hello, goodbye, I’m sorry, excuse me.). You can get by in simple transactions like buying groceries or just walking around. Obviously, you will do a lot of pantomime and pointing. You’ll certainly look pretty silly most of the time. Get over yourself. You’ll still have to order food off a picture menu or point at street food, but you won’t starve. You’ll almost certainly be clueless as to what people are saying around you. Yes, they could be saying that you’re a stupid foreigner. You are. Get over that, too.
The next words to know are some simple phrases like, “I don’t speak very well.” “Please speak slowly.” “I don’t understand.” “I don’t know.” “What is that?” “How much does this cost?” and “Where is the bathroom/store/bank/pharmacy/hospital/post office?” PRACTICE THESE UNTIL THEY FALL OFF YOUR TONGUE EASILY. You will use them a lot.
But it gets better quickly. If you can learn the sentences above and double your vocabulary to just 100 words, you can now probably order in a restaurant without pictures, buy easy access items in a store, and ask very simple directions. And whether you realize it or not, you’ve been introduced to the structure of the grammar. Look at the sentences you memorized. Is the verb in the middle (like Spanish) or at the end (like Turkish). Does the structure of a sentence change when you ask a question (like English) or can you just add a question mark (like Spanish). At the end of a sentence, does your voice go up (like Turkish, English or Spanish) or would that change the word (as in tonal languages like Vietnamese)? Do the adjectives come before the noun (like Spanish) or after (like English). Are the words pronounced as they are spelled (which is true in most languages) or not (English). You’re learning, even though you may not know it.
I believe that if you can stick with it and up your total vocabulary to 1000 of the right words, you can be functional. Those words need to include simple present and simple past verbs, time words (today, tomorrow, next week, yesterday, year..), plus you’ll need to know numbers, days of the week, months of the year and direction words (left, right and straight). You’ll need the question words (who, what, when, where, why, how) and pronouns (he, she, it, we, they, you, this, that). With these words, you can function. You probably can’t negotiate a better home loan, discuss the finer points of poetry or defend yourself in court, but you can do most everyday things. With just 1000 words you can go about your business with little difficulty.
So that’s my current goal in Spanish: to be functional. It would be nice to be fluent, but I just can’t see that far yet. I hope, if I work hard enough, that I can be functional at the end of a year here. I take two classes a week and sit in on two classes that are a level above me. I’m a third of the way through a beginner’s book. There are three books and I expect to complete them in that time. I am also working through DuoLingo’s website, though at a very slow pace. I practice on my students and in the street daily.
And it’s working, though slowly. Every week, I can understand more of what my Spanish speaking students and co-workers say. Every day, I learn new words. With each conversation, I can remember one or two new words that I need to use to better communicate. It’s slow. It’s tough, but I’m learning.
I’m sure my life looks messy and disorganized from the outside. It is certainly less stable and predictable than when I had a condo and a cubical job. But I do have goals and a bit of a plan. Just a bit.