Tacossudados or “sweaty tacos” doesn’t really sound all that appetizing, does it? Fortunately, they are called tacos de canasta “basket tacos” here in San Luis Potoasi. Either way, they are a steamed taco. They’re easy to find, sold on street corners. They can be messy to eat by hand, but try them anyway, even if you need a bib.
It was Sunday. I slept in. No one else was awake in the house, so I had a leisurely breakfast of Enchiladas Potosinas–which I can buy cheap and ready made at my local grocery. Potosinos (as residents of San Luis Potosi are referred to) are proud of their bright orange tortilla shells stuffed with cheese and spices. They are often served fried with refried beans and fresh slices of avocado, as I had them. I played on the computer. I answered emails. I worked on my Spanish and I didn’t work on lesson plans–we all need a break from work!
The weather was fair–warm, but with high clouds and a slight breeze. Perfect for a stroll. Before lunch, I started walking. Last night I’d gone east to the old town. Today I turned my feet west. I wanted to check out a large park that was recommended to me as a place to people watch and catch a very late lunch. Here’s my day, in pictures.
Yesterday I completed my first week of teaching here in SLP. I have a great group of students and feel lucky to be their teacher. Saturday classes are 4 hours–a long time to be on your feet, but I feel the class of 14 students really moved forward. I’m teaching mainly adults, most are 17-22, with a few older students thrown in. It’s my favorite age. They are still young enough to learn quickly and old enough that I don’t waste class time with discipline.
After class, I took a short nap, then headed to El Centro, the historic center of the San Luis Potosi to explore and practice my Spanish. The city is larger than you might think, but it is the capital of the state of the same name. This is my evening in pictures.
I’ve been here in SLP, Mexico less than two weeks and taught classes for a week. Here are some random thoughts on my new hometown.
So far, I find the Mexican students are far more willing to speak and use the English language than any place I’ve been. This makes my job easier. And their pronunciations are pretty good, too. I have to correct individual words, of course, but that has more to do with English than them. The sounds I’m working on “y” and “th,” Once again, my name is unpronounceable!
With 50 minute classes and exams every other week, I have almost no time for activities or games. I think it would be more fun if we had them and give the students a chance to use their language skills more.
I’m always surprised at how little cash businesses have on hand. If I buy an item for 60 Pesos and hand the cashier a 100 Peso note, they will likely have trouble breaking it. When I changed money on arrival to Mexico, I was given 500 Peso notes, so this is an issue for me.
I can’t get over how friendly everyone is. People wish you a good morning on the street and there are lots of smiles. I think this is going to be a more comfortable country for me, as long as I can learn to relax about time.
Mexicans seem to be quite calm about waiting in line, much calmer than Americans. They are quite “flexible” about start times for appointments and classes (students often arrive late). But when Mexicans get behind the wheel of a car, they drive just like in the U.S.! Horns honk when the light turns green if the first car hesitates for a fraction of a second.
There are fruit juices and smoothies everywhere, and it’s fresh fruit, too. Orange, mango, pineapple, banana, strawberry, avocado…..YUM!
Unfortunately, they don’t seem to understand the concept of iced coffee. You can get a frappe—with lots of sugar and whipped cream, though. I’m trying to consume less white sugar, so all I want is coffee, a little milk and ice. I’ve learned how to explain it in Spanish, so it’s not a language problem. It’s just not done here (unless I go to Starbucks). Coffee is served hot. Iced tea is no problem, but again it will have lots of sugar. In fact, EVERYTHING has sugar. Some restaurants even serve their black coffee with sugar already in it. There’s a place on the main street that seems to put Red-Hots candies in their coffee. Sweet and spicy. I didn’t like it.
This is the only place I’ve lived that bus drivers will let you off whenever you request it. They don’t wait for a bus stop. The drivers all seem to accelerate as fast as they can, then slam on the brakes to stop. It’s a rough ride.
They close the main street of Carranza on Sundays from 8am to 1pm so that people can stroll, bike or jog. It’s adorable.
My big discovery: Cheap Mexican wine is pretty good. Not as good as cheap Spanish wine, but much better than cheap Russian or American wine.
Today I complete my first week in San Luis Potosi (SLP), Mexico. It’s been rough, but to be fair, the first week in any country is difficult. There’s good and there’s bad. I hope the bad things are just temporary or things I can improve in a short period of time.
SLP seems a lovely city. Lots of parks, plazas and interesting churches. There are a few museums, including an art museum. I’ve found some local crafts for sale in the downtown area.
Mexicans seem very warm, friendly people. Lots of smiling and people talk to you easily, even though my Spanish is very poor. Twice, young men have given me their seat on the bus and once a young man offered me his hand to help me off a particularly long drop when exiting the bus. His smile was electric. He made me feel like a queen being helped off her throne. That never happened in Turkey or Russia.
The weather is warm, but not nearly as bad as Atlanta in the summer. Temps reach a high of the mid 80’s, and lows drop to the 60’s or even the 50’s. Humidity is about 70% and there’s usually a breeze. The sunshine is quite intense. I’ve had to buy a huge bottle of sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses. Almost no air conditioning here, but most places have fans.
I’ve been able to sit in on a few classes at my new school this week and now have textbooks for the classes I will teach. The curriculum is in-house and while not perfect, it is at least straightforward. I won’t have to supplement heavily, but I do believe some activities and dialogues could liven things up.
Spanish classes are set to begin tomorrow. Learning Spanish is one of the reasons I’m here so this is very good news.
While I didn’t get a schedule until after noon Saturday for classes beginning Monday (and it still may change), at least I now have a schedule. It includes 4 evening classes (one hour each, 5 night a week) and 1 Saturday class (4 hours, starting at 9:30a). Twenty four teaching hours is a full load, and enough hours to pay the bills (barely). At least it’s not a split shift and I’m only working at one location.
I’m making a few friends here—particularly two female teacher who I really like.
I can’t find a bus schedule, but have figured out how to take a bus on the main drag. Cost is about 8 pesos (less than 50 cents).
Not So Good
There were a few “misunderstandings” my first week. Things aren’t exactly as promised. Mostly I feel thrown into the deep end with very little support. If this were my first time out of country, I’d be in bad shape. I’ll survive, but had hoped for better initial treatment.
I have jet lag (14 hour time difference from Moscow, which was 7 hours different from Nakhodka), altitude sickness (I’m over 6,000ft and have been at sea level for most of the last year and a half), and Montezuma’s revenge (thank GOD for Imodium).
My flat is less than ideal. While it is clean and safe, I am looking for better. The bedroom (which I don’t share) is large,—two rooms—but it isn’t well outfitted. No fan. No cross-ventilation. I didn’t expect A/C, but a fan is a necessity here. My first night was miserable, but I’ve bought a fan now. Also no hangers, wastebasket, broom, vacuum (there’s carpeting in one of the rooms), night table or desk. I share a bathroom with two other men and since it’s upstairs, it has VERY low water pressure (imagine a shower in a very heavy mist) and unreliable hot water. Of my last five showers, only two had hot water for more than 1 minute. There is nowhere to hang towels or put bath items so you drag your shampoo back and forth from your room. The living room and kitchen are shared by everyone in the house—all 12 of us. There is no hot water in the kitchen at all. I honestly don’t mind heating water to wash my dishes, but based on observation, not everyone bothers. At least one roommate (who walks around in his boxers each evening) doesn’t even bother to use soap. I wash my dishes both before and after I use them. I have EXTREMELY limited fridge space—2.5 shelves on the door. I don’t even have room to store a whole roast chicken. The Wi-Fi is usually OK, unless several people are using it at once, which can easily happen in the evening or all day Sunday. There is no washer. Additionally, it’s 2 miles from the school and over a mile from a decent grocery. The school director arranged for me to meet the landlord of this apartment, but it was take -it-or-leave-it. I was given an address and told me to take a taxi with my luggage. The director had never seen the apartment, didn’t know the price, nor how far it was from the school. This is the only housing assistance I can expect from the school. I’ve already looked at another place and hope to see more this week.
If you need support or assistance getting oriented in a new country/job, this is not the place to come. You are on your own, except for paperwork assistance with your work visa (which I hope will be this week). They do not pay the cost of the visa (over $200, though they are supposed to reimburse this cost if I last a year). No one met me at the airport, or my hotel, or took me to the school. I got phone service by myself—which is an added degree of difficulty in Spanish. I was sent to get visa photos on my own (though I’d been promised someone would go with me), and given the wrong directions and address to get there. Try working through THAT in Spanish, in a city you don’t know. I did.
I won’t be making any money. The exchange rate between US dollars and Mexican pesos is good. Unfortunately, I’m paid in pesos. Some of my expenses are in dollars, especially the big, initial ones. This school doesn’t reimburse for travel, cover insurance or pay a housing supplement. The hourly pay is minimal. My current flat takes 60 working hours to pay for—more than two weeks at my current schedule. My next schedule could have fewer hours. The flat I looked at yesterday was more expensive. That doesn’t leave much for food, laundry, transportation and incidentals. It won’t pay for the cost to travel here, insurance or travel to see other parts of Mexico. This week I’ve been to the school every day, at least once, and sat in on classes. There’s no pay for that. When the school closes for holiday breaks, I’m not paid (with a few rare exception).
I’d been told I’d probably have a Level 17 class and given a book. When we didn’t have a schedule by Thursday of this week, I went ahead and planned out lessons for the first week for this level. Naturally, I’m not teaching Level 17. Waste of time.
Turnover is high. Few teachers last a year. I sat in on a class Saturday and it was the teacher’s last day. The temporary head teacher, Amanda, has given her notice. That’s a shame because I like her. The head teacher before her quit two months ago. I need a head teacher and I hope someone else is ready to step into the position, but don’t know if that will happen.