Evaluations, a new teacher, another bad schedule

One of my students recommended this brand of Mexcal--made from the agave plant and much like a hand crafted tequila. The flavor was very smokey. It reminded me of blended scotch, almost the flavor of peat. While I do love the taste of alcohol, it does not love me back, so I'm careful just to have a little at a time. I'd been having a single shot from this bottle for a couple weeks. When I got to the last shot, I realized there was a worm in it. I know this is often the case with good tequilas and mescals, but it kinda put me off my feed.
One of my students recommended this brand of Mezcal–made from the agave plant and much like a hand crafted tequila. The flavor was very smokey. It reminded me of blended scotch, almost the flavor of peat.
While I do love the taste of alcohol, it does not love me back, so I’m careful just to have a little at a time. I’d been having a single shot from this bottle for a couple weeks. When I got to the last shot, I realized there was a worm in it. I know this is often the case with good tequilas and mezcals, but it kinda put me off my feed.

9/20/16

It’s teacher evaluation day at school. I’m losing 10 more minutes of class in a session when we’ve already lost a day due to the Independence Day holiday. No one likes to be evaluated, though I think it’s important. It doesn’t help that I’m short on sleep most days because I have both early morning and late night classes. If I’m not able to get a nap in the middle of the day, I don’t function well. I didn’t get a nap yesterday and today isn’t looking so prosperous.

But that isn’t all. I’ve got two beginning level classes first thing in the morning (levels 2 and 7 out of 24 levels). I’m a good teacher, but not for these two groups. I simply don’t have the Spanish skills to teach them appropriately. They are not doing well. Their quizzes and oral exams have shown that. I’ve asked NOT to teach levels this low, but the director disagrees. I feel like I’m failing them. The only students doing well in the class are the ones with substantial English going in. For them, the classes are review. But the true beginners are not doing well. It always makes me feel I’ve failed when students don’t do well.

Statue in el Centro, San Luis Potosi. Holy Week (Santa Semana) should be interesting here.
Statue in El Centro, San Luis Potosi. Holy Week (Santa Semana) should be interesting here.

9/22/2016

Another new teacher started today and he sat through my class. Why do they all have to sit through MY class? We need a head teacher/coordinator to do the introductions and orientation–NOT ME—but since there was no one else, used my free hour to give him a brief orientation. His name is Marc, from Ontario. He’s 31years old. His Spanish isn’t any better than mine—which I realized when he took over the Spanish lesson. This isn’t going to help me learn this language. BUT I should be grateful since Marc will probably take over my morning classes. Or not. Who can say at this point? We don’t get our new schedule until Saturday after we finish all our final paperwork.

I HATE that we don’t get the schedule until the last minute. Trying not to stress. Failing. Michael promised that it was only for one session, but he’s pretty loose with the truth.

Today was finals day for three classes, plus a regular lesson in my two off-set classes.

Plaza Fundadores (Founders Square), El Centro, San Luis Potosi. They are building a stage, but I'm not sure what for.
Plaza Fundadores (Founders Square), El Centro, San Luis Potosi. They are building a stage, but I’m not sure what for.

9/23/16

Didn’t see new the teacher, Marc, today. I guess since everyone was giving finals, No one thought he should come in. It’s clear that Michael isn’t giving him any helpful information or an orientation for the job. Heaven help him. We have no “head teacher” or coordinator for the teachers, so it’s going to be difficult for him. I’ll give his what info I can, I don’t have that much experience either—just two sessions.

Graded weekday exams in 3 classes and gave oral exams to 2 offset classes today (these classes are a week behind). Even though I’d spent a lot of time preparing the paperwork, it still took me all evening (including my free hour!) to get the paperwork done. Phew! More tomorrow (Saturday).

For the first time in my life I (almost) lost an exam. It turned out that the student didn’t put his name on the exam! We use cover sheets on front of each exam. I thought that the blank front meant that it was a blank exam! I put it in the pile to be re-used. Paolo, at the front desk, saw it had writing on in and threw it in the trash. It was sheer luck that we found it. The kid had been angry at me when he turned in the exam, too. First he asked three times how to say something in English. The first two times I told him, but the third time it was a relatively easy verb, so I refused. “You are a level 17 student. You should know that.” He angrily said, “Forget.” Clearly had has trouble forming complete sentences, too. Then he was angry because I wouldn’t let him leave after the final exam because he hadn’t done his oral exam. At first he said no, he wouldn’t do it. When I said OK, but it’s a zero and the exam is 30% of the final grade, he reluctantly agreed. So I took him out into the hall and asked, “What did you do for Independence Day?” His response was, “Home. Sleep. Bed.”  <sigh> “You are a Level 17 student. Use complete sentences, please.” So, in fair English he explained that this wasn’t his country, so he didn’t celebrate Independence Day. When I asked where he was from, he said his father was Lebanese. Interesting, since he didn’t say he was Lebanese. A few more questions made it clear that he’s not been in Lebanon since he was a baby and he doesn’t speak Lebanese or Arabic. (Perhaps he feels homeless? I have some idea what that’s like. I’d be interested to know if he’s a practicing Muslim, but that really isn’t any of my business.) When I said that I loved Lebanese food, he smiled for the first time ever and gave me directions to a Lebanese restaurant, which Ana and I went to the next night. Pretty good food, too. In the end, I did find the exam and graded it, but this kid may never be one of my favorites. (He didn’t take the next level, BTW) The kid in question is surly and mostly nonverbal child in his late teens. He’ probably be sarcastic if he had the verbal skills. He doesn’t. He’s missed 6 out of 19 classes and has been late (more than 10 minutes) for 5 classes, including the final exam. Basically, he’s hard to love. At the bottom of his writing (the last section on the final exam) he wrote “You are bad teacher. go find The Happiness. [sic]” J Rude, right? The smiley face did help, but I still had three other teachers read it to be sure I wasn’t misinterpreting. I consider myself a moderately evolved person because I didn’t take off any points for that statement. I merely wrote a note saying that I “assumed” this was a joke, but it was inappropriate on an exam. I also wrote a note–in HUGE, RED CAPITAL LETTERS–on the front of the exam saying that he needed to put his name on exams.

Ana and I went to a Lebanese restaurant not far from the school. Tasty and I ate way too much. Ana is a fellow teacher at the school and she is also my Spanish teacher.
Ana and I went to a Lebanese restaurant not far from the school. Tasty and I ate way too much. Ana is a fellow teacher at the school and she is also my Spanish teacher.

Sessions at this school are just four weeks, so if you get a good schedule, it doesn’t last long. If you get a bad schedule, it still feels long, but will eventually end, though you may get an equally bad schedule following it. I’m a person who deals better with things known, rather than things unknown—even bad things. I’m trying not to stress, but I have building anxiety over the new schedule since it’s always last minute. It feels inconsiderate (at best) and rude (at worst) to have to wait until the last possible minute to deliver the schedule. It’s 2pm Saturday (or later) before you know what you’re teaching on Monday. Certainly, taking a lower cost apartment has helped with the stress, but it’s just not a good situation for me. I prefer to work with people who can plan ahead and communicate in a timely fashion. Now that I have a work visa, I’ll investigate other schools. I’m not saying I’ll leave. I’m saying that I want to see what else is available. In truth, I doubt other schools are better, but I’d really like to be wrong.

9/24/16

Finshed my second 4-week session and now have a new schedule for Monday. In short, I hate it and feel lied to. Trying to sort out how much of my anger is because the schedule is so last minute and how much is because I’m being forced to finish two off-set classes, one of which is at 7am. I was promised this was just 4 weeks. Now it’s 5. No one finished offset classes for me! When I asked at that time of I was told that it didn’t happen. Now I’m told they always try to have the same teacher finish the class. At least one of those statements was a lie. So I’m expected to get up at 5:30a for another week after working until 9pm the night before. AND I’ll spend more time commuting to/from the 7am class than teaching it. On top of that, I’ve still got a 3pm Spanish lesson, but no class from 4 to 5pm and no class for the 6pm hour—more wasted time where I can’t really leave the school, but I don’t get paid, either.

I love teaching, but the international schools range from bad to horrible. I try to remind myself that this one is only “bad.”

You gotta eat and you gotta study.
You gotta eat and you gotta study.

New flat, old teaching struggles

The Independence Day parade was mostly military, police, bands and Red Cross (Cruz Roja).
The Independence Day parade was mostly military, police, bands and Red Cross (Cruz Roja).

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

9/13/18

I moved into the new flat yesterday and am getting settled. Also taught my regular five classes. Tired. But this evening, I took a HOT shower with water pressure I would have bragged about in the USA. Totally worth it.

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 schedule, I’ve mostly only worked and not had much time to see 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, Friday. Not sure what celebrations there may be.

9/15/2016

I’m so tired from not getting a good night’s sleep for three weeks. My schedule makes 8 solid hours of sleep impossible. My body says it’s mandatory. At best I can get 7, but 6 is more common. I talked with Michael yesterday about the schedule. He seemed to think I was asking for a favor. I’m not. I’ll work mornings/evenings/weekends. I just can’t be expected to work the 7am class AND finish classes at 9pm 5 days and still function well. I’m not convinced he understood that. Or cares. He says he has another teacher coming next week, but he won’t start until the next session. He chided me for not trusting him. It’s true. I didn’t trust him. He promised the new teacher would be there to take over the morning classes before the end of this 4-week session. No teacher.

Today I’m giving quizzes to my off-set classes and oral exams to my others. The paperwork is exhausting and all has to be filled out by hand. So grateful for a day off tomorrow, Friday, Mexican Independence Day. Unfortunately, it gives my students less time and no one did well on the Level 2 quiz. If I’d had another day to review them I think they would have done much better.

I continue to be surprised by how little cash a seemingly thriving business will have on hand. Getting change is almost impossible. Today, I ate at a busy restaurant. My bill came to 53 pesos. I handed the waitress a 100 peso note. She asked for change. I gave her 3 more pesos thinking she could give me a 50 peso note back. She still couldn’t make change. When I saw the cash drawer, I realized she literally had only a few coins inside! So I took back all the money and scrounged around in my backpack and purse until I could give her exact change. Unfortunately, I then needed to pick up my laundry. Now I didn’t have any change! I gave the laundress the 100 peso note for a 40 peso laundry bill, but she couldn’t break it. She went to two places before she found someone who could give her two 50’s for it. She had to dip into her own purse for the remaining 10 peso coin. Since I am paid in 500 peso notes, it’s a struggle to buy things sometimes. I have to keep coins since I take the bus four times a day. It’s only 7.8 pesos each way, but it adds up. They have coins to make change on the buses, but can’t take a bill much larger than a 20 peso note. It’s surprising how much this adds to the stress of an average day.

Bad photo, great breakfast.
Bad photo, great breakfast.

9/19/16

Today is international “Talk Like a Pirate” Day. I used to love this holiday, but no one here understands it. I tried to explain this it to my students. They just didn’t get it. “So….talk bad, close eye, sound like bad man of sea? Teacher, I no understand.”  Some things just don’t translate.

So far, the new flat is working out OK. It really is a pretty shabby place, but everything is operational. Function over form. I do wish that it was closer to the school. Walking distance would be ideal. While I’m grateful for public transportation, an overcrowded bus isn’t the best way to begin the morning. And the drivers are so aggressive—accelerating quickly then jamming on the breaks. And you can hear the breaks squealing, so you worry that, maybe today, they won’t stop the bus. It’s going to ruin roller-coaster rides for me.

I realize that technically, it is walking distance. I walked from Georgia to New York State, so everything is walking distance if there’s no large body of water or civil war in the way. But I just don’t want to walk 2 miles before a 7am class. Even with the bus, if I go to school twice each day, I still walk 3+ miles since neither my apartment nor the school is on the bus line and I have to walk to/from a bus stop.

I had Friday and Sunday off from school and I barely got anything productive done. I’m tired. I mostly stayed in bed, binge watching Netflix (Criminal Minds, seasons 9-11) and playing solitaire. It’s how I unwind. Seems harmless, but unproductive. But it means that I made almost no attempt to attend any Independence Day celebrations. I’m here to see this beautiful country and experience it’s traditions. Unreasonable work schedules and job stress get in the way of that. Sometimes you just need to rest.

But I did make it to the parade:

slp-mexico-septem-2016-19 slp-mexico-septem-2016-20 slp-mexico-septem-2016-21 slp-mexico-septem-2016-22 slp-mexico-septem-2016-23 slp-mexico-septem-2016-24 slp-mexico-septem-2016-25

Good News!

This is everything I own in my new bedroom. Not much to write home about, but it's safe, clean and the hot water and water pressure are divine! This photo was taken just as I moved in, two days after the post below.
This is everything I own in my new bedroom. Not much to write home about, but it’s safe, clean and the hot water and water pressure are divine!
This photo was taken just as I moved in, two days after the post below.
The view outside my window--a tiny garden, but great breezes. I can still hear the school nearby, but the construction site is on the other side of the building. I don't hear the pounding anymore when I try to nap in the afternoon.
The view outside my window–a tiny garden, but great breezes. I can still hear the school nearby, but the construction site is on the other side of the building. I don’t hear the pounding anymore when I try to nap in the afternoon.

9/10/2016

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).

This roughly translates as "fill your Tim Marin cup any way you'd like." At least I hope that's what it says. This is the gaspachoes place where I get my cup of mixed fruit and vegetables once or twice a week.
This roughly translates as “fill your Tim Marin cup any way you’d like.” At least I hope that’s what it says. This is the gaspachoes place where I get my cup of mixed fruit and vegetables once or twice a week.
And here is the woman at Tin Marin's filling my cup. I do let her put gummy bears on top, but other than that it's pretty healthy. They use seasonal fruits and veggies. This one had apple, watermelon, cucumber, mango, papaya, pineapple and carrot. She's puts a spicy-sweet sauce on top.
And here is the woman at Tin Marin’s filling my cup. I do let her put gummy bears on top, but other than that it’s pretty healthy. They use seasonal fruits and veggies. This one had apple, watermelon, cucumber, mango, papaya, pineapple and carrot. She’s puts a spicy-sweet sauce on top.

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.

This is kinda of the Mexican Walmart. Thought there is an acutual Walmart here, too.
This is kinda of the Mexican Walmart. Though there is an actual Walmart here, too.
So I've given up on ordering mixed drinks in the bars. They have no alcohol in them and are terribly expensive. I'm not a beer drinker and many places don't even have wine. I've tried a few canned drinks, but this is the only one I can recommend so far.
So I’ve given up on ordering mixed drinks in the bars. They have no alcohol in them and are terribly expensive. I’m not a beer drinker and many places don’t even have wine. I’ve tried a few canned drinks, but this is the only one I can recommend so far.
I've found these in the grocery and occasionally on the street. There are a variety of them and they are simply called gelatin cups (gelatina vaso). This one has colorful cubes of jello suspended in an opaque vanilla jello. Not too sweet, but a nice snack.  This one was at Sobrannos
I’ve found these in the grocery and occasionally on the street. There are a variety of them and they are simply called gelatin cups (gelatina vaso). This one has colorful cubes of jello suspended in an opaque vanilla jello. Not too sweet, but a nice snack.
This one was at Soriano.

Ways to live frugally as you travel

Being an English teacher is a reasonable way to live and work in many different countries around the world. With some rare exceptions, however, you aren’t going to make a lot of money doing it. The places you can make really great money are not going to work for me. I’m not interested in working in the Middle East. Turkey was close enough for me, but I understand that Saudi Arabia pays very well–if you don’t mind living in a compound and wearing a burka. I’m too old to get a work visa in South Korea (they won’t issue one for people over age 45). China also has visa age limits, though if you are willing to work outside of the major cities, you can probably get one. Unfortunately, China has a horrible reputation for living up to contracts, so you may or may not get the big money promised. And the pollution and restrictions on personal freedom (no Google, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter…..) will probably keep me away from there, except as an occasional tourist.

Not being independently wealthy IS getting in the way of the life I want to lead. It’s not going to stop me, however. Maybe you’re in the same boat. Unless you have a rich family, a regular source of income (like a retirement pension), or have stashed away a bundle before you left home, you are going to have to find ways to live frugally. Currently, I’m in Mexico, but most of these tips will work anywhere in the world. I know that, because this is my fifth country outside of the USA. Here are some things I do to keep my expenses low.

Hair: I keep a very simple hairstyle that I can trim myself—shoulder length, which I wear in a ponytail or with a headband. I don’t color or perm my hair—which means I have completely grey hair now. Am I stylish? Of course not. But this saves money on trips to the beauty shop, plus it saves in frustration. It’s almost impossible to explain what you want to a stylist when the two of you don’t share a language. It also means I need fewer hair products in general.

Clothes: I have a job where I don’t have to dress up, which makes my life much easier and it keeps down the expenses. I have mostly solid color pants/shorts/ tops that can be mixed and matched. My color scheme is pretty boring: black, grey and red. Nothing needs to be ironed or has any special washing instructions. For color and to keep from looking like I’m homeless, I use scarves or simple necklaces. I have scarves from all over the world, in fact.

Makeup: I don’t wear much. I use a simple foundation with sunscreen, powder and lipstick. I rarely wear eye makeup. Makeup products are always pricey and, let’s face it, you don’t always know what you are buying. I know how to wear eye makeup, but 15 minutes after I put it on, I’ve smeared it halfway down my cheeks. Best to do without. Do you get the idea that I’m simply not fashionable?

Eat on the Street: Street food is cheap and there are lots of healthy options. Lots of UN-healthy ones, too! Of course there are risks when you eat off food carts, but that’s true even in NYC. Most countries sell fresh fruit or vegetables on the street. If you’re concerned about cleanliness, stick with fruits that you can peel yourself. For example, I eat an avocado every day here in Mexico because they are inexpensive and filling, not to mention healthy. Bananas and oranges are cheap in most countries. When there’s meat involved, I stick with carts that cook the food right as I stand there and watch. The exception is tacos de canasta, which are wrapped and then steamed. Steam kills most any germs. In Vietnam, there was piping hot soup. Usually bread items are fairly safe on the street. Deep fried foods, though not the healthiest option, are fairly safe from a germ standpoint, though not great for your heart. Not many bacteria or viruses can live through a deep fat fryer.

The one item I stay away from is drinks that are sold on the street, but aren’t bottled, especially in countries where I wouldn’t drink the water from the tap. I also get most drinks without ice. The exception is iced coffee or iced tea. Coffee and tea are usually boiled, but also they do a fair job on their own of killing most beasties in the water.

Eat the local food, in season: Eat what the locals eat. Fast food may be cheap in the USA, but it isn’t in China, SE Asia, Turkey and Latin America. Besides, the local cuisine is probably much more interesting and healthier. As I type this, cactus fruits are in season, tunas, and they are reported to lower blood sugar.

Learn to love plain water: Water is the best liquid for you. Even if you can’t drink the water from the tap, bottled water will probably be less expensive than any other liquid you can buy. The exception seems to be Spain, where the cheapest wine—which was still pretty good!—was less expensive than a bottle of water. Here in Mexico, fresh fruit juices are only slightly more than bottled water and often less expensive than coffee or tea drinks.

I also try to save in this area, since buying water can add up. The larger the container, the less expensive, so go big. Unfortunately, the largest sizes are very heavy. I now carry an electric kettle and a water purifying pitcher from country to country. Here in Mexico, the water quality isn’t totally horrible (better than I expected), but I still don’t drink the water from the tap. I will, however, boil the water and then filter it after it cools. I expect this is as safe as most bottled water. In some cases it might be safer since there are few quality standards for bottled water, even in the USA. I also believe that this is a better environmental option, since the plastic bottles just end up in the trash. There’s little recycling here or in most undeveloped countries.

When I don’t drink water, I usually  have tea or coffee, made in my room with my electric kettle.

Walk: Even the cost of cheap transportation adds up over time. I take the bus or an Uber occasionally. I took a taxi a couple times during my first few days here, but usually I use my feet. It keeps me in shape and reduces my need for a gym membership. (Which I still need. The food here is too good!)

Living accommodations: Learn to lower your standards. When I travel, I stay in hostels, which are cheap, but have zero privacy. I’ve lived in shared apartments most of the last two years while I’ve been teaching. I won’t accept a teaching contract unless the company assists with housing. I’m simply not in a position to find a place on my own, so they are going to have to do the legwork for at least the initial months. In Russia and Spain, the accommodations were part of the compensation. In Turkey, I got 3 free months in an apartment with the understanding that I could extend my stay or even move to another apartment with the same English speaking landlords. In Vietnam, the school had an apartment which I rented (though I hadn’t been told I’d have a roommate. Surprise!). Here in Mexico, they found an apartment for me, (though clearly no one bothered to look at the place or ask the price ahead of time).

Remember, though, that if you lose your job with your employer, you can also lose your housing if they are providing the apartment. Something to think about.

But sometimes, like here in Mexico, you have to look for something better. I look for accommodation (in my price range) based on these things: 1). Safety Can I walk around outside at night? I usually teach in the evenings, so may come home late. 2). Cleanliness I don’t have to be able to eat off the floor, but I don’t want bugs, either. You may have to lower your standards here. 3). Proximity to my work I want to keep my commute time/costs to a minimum. 4) Facilities Does the place have everything I need? Bed with linen & pillow? Bathroom that isn’t shared by too many people? Kitchen with cooking/eating utensils? Is there a washer/ironing board/drying rack? How is trash handled? 5) Location Is it close to the things I need? Grocery? Restaurants? Laundry facilities? Public transportation?

My current flat isn’t ideal, but it (mostly) meets the first two criteria and I’ve found ways to mitigate the others. Though I’ve always had a separate bedroom, living alone is seldom going to be an option. There are some super-small studio apartments here in San Luis Potosi and if I can find one in my budget, I’ll consider it, but I think I’m at the lowest price place I can find but still live in comfortably.

Stay in one place longer: The big expense with this kind of life is the plane flight to a new location and the initial costs of moving.

Flights are expensive and you may have to pay extra for baggage. For example, I carry only one suitcase and a large backpack of belongings. It isn’t much. However, on some flights, only one is allowed without paying an overage charge. The second bag can cost an additional $100. You have to decide if it’s cheaper to buy new stuff or pay the fee.

And there are other expenses, as well. You usually end up paying for a hotel for a couple days when you move to a new city. Since you don’t know how to get around you take more expensive taxis rather than walk or use public transportation. There may be the first month’s rent plus deposit to pay.  And you may or may not have gotten your damage deposit back from the last place. Every new place seems to need a few things. My first flat in Mexico needed a fan and hangars just to get unpacked and be able to sleep comfortably. These are bulkly items that I’m not likely to take with me when I move.

If you stay in one place longer, those costs don’t crop up so often and you have a chance to save up for the next move. Also, some schools have an end-of-contract bonus or will reimburse some travel fees if you complete your contract, typically a year. End of contract bonuses are pretty precarious, however. In Russia, they paid for flights in and out of the country, but they set a cap so low that it only paid about half my travel costs. In Turkey, the end of contract bonus was very substantial. I lived on it for almost 3 months while in Spain and hiking the Camino. Of course, I had to sit in the office for four days straight, waiting for them to pay me. They clearly hoped I’d have a flight out and have to leave before they got around to paying me. It was humiliating and demeaning, but in the end they paid me just to get rid of me. Not everyone was so lucky. Personally, I will shy away from contracts like that from now on.

Frankly, I make enough money teaching to live from day to day and save a tiny bit. It’s like volunteering with room, board and a small stipend. When I transfer to another country, I may have to dip into my savings for the travel and at least some of the initial set up fees. For most “adventures,” like a few extra days in Moscow or Mexico City, I definitely dip into savings. I prepared for this financial situation ahead of time, so it’s not a problem for me, but if I had to live just on what I make, I wouldn’t be able to do much additional travel.

There are some places I’d like to teach that pay even worse than where I’ve lived so far. Some don’t pay at all. India and Nepal are on my list, but I can’t even make enough money to afford to live and eat in these emerging countries. I can’t go to them right now. There are some “volunteer vacations” that, while not pricey by vacation standards, are out of my reach without putting a huge strain on my savings. I’d like to work on an archaeological dig and monitor sea turtles, for example, but it’s too pricey on my teacher’s salary. I’ve had offers for long term house-sitting in Europe, but would need money to get to the home and then be able to eat while I’m there. There’s no guarantee I’d be able to work (and in an EU country with a US passport the odds of working legally are slim).

Having money changes things. I’ll get my first pension in about 2.5 years and while I won’t be wealthy, I’ll suddenly have an independent source of income. In most of Latin American, it’s enough to live better than I live now. Who knows what I may do then?

Street flooding and English exams

After a hard rain, drainage is a problem. This street actually had a wake from the passing cars!
After a hard rain, drainage is a problem. This street actually had a wake from the passing cars!

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher

9/2/2016
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?

A fellow teacher had gotten some very serious boots, sent from his mother, the week I got here. They were the kind we used to wear in the barnyard and I remember thinking that they were "overkill." I was wrong. They were perfect. Right after this rain, I bought a pair of my own.
A fellow teacher had gotten some very serious boots, sent from his mother, the week I got here. They were the kind we used to wear in the barnyard and I remember thinking that they were “overkill.” I was wrong. They were perfect. Right after this rain, I bought a pair of my own.
After a brief but heavy rain the streets were flooded. Judging by the smell, the sewers were also backing up. I stepped into water almost up to my knee!
After a brief but heavy rain the streets were flooded. Judging by the smell, the sewers were also backing up. I stepped into water almost up to my knee!

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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.

Suados means "sweaty" tacos--actually steamed. You see places like this spring up different places.
Suados means “sweaty” tacos–actually steamed. You see places like this spring up different places.

9/4/16
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.

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These are sopes--a thick corn tortilla with various toppings. This one had refried beans, roasted pork, white cheese, onions and cilantro, topped with a little cream and served with salsa verde.
These are sopes–a thick corn tortilla with various toppings. This one had refried beans, roasted pork, white cheese, onions and cilantro, topped with a little cream and served with salsa verde.

9/5/2016
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.

The land of tequila! So many different kinds, and here alcohol is sold in larger grocery stories and department stores like Walmart. There are no "blue laws" so it's sold on Sundays, too. BTW, this was taken at store I call the Mexican Walmart. I had a cart full of different items, but when I got to the check out, they weren't taking credit cards that day.  A waste of time and energy. I ended up going to the actual Walmart to get the things I needed.
The land of tequila! So many different kinds, and here alcohol is sold in larger grocery stories and department stores like Walmart. There are no “blue laws” so it’s sold on Sundays, too. BTW, this was taken at store I call the Mexican Walmart. I had a cart full of different items, but when I got to the check out, they weren’t taking credit cards that day. A waste of time and energy. I ended up going to the actual Walmart to get the things I needed.