My first week of teaching in Mexico

This is my neighborhood.
This is my neighborhood.

8/2/2016

Last night was my first night to teach classes. I’d been given only the text book, in advance. I wasn’t given the attendance sheets or information about how many would be in my class and very little on how to proceed. One of the three secretaries speaks almost no English. Naturally, she was the only one working last night. It was pretty messy with long lines of students paying for classing, finding books, getting their grades from their previous class (which ended Friday) and only one person there to help them. It isn’t how I’d run the place, but it isn’t my school and I don’t have to worry about anything but my classes.

The good news is that the textbooks are easy to follow, each class is only an hour, and there is more than enough material to be covered. It’s not the worst curriculum I’ve seen, though it could be better. Also, Mexicans have a high tolerance for disorganization and imperfection. Keep a smile on your face, make an effort for your students and don’t sweat the small stuff–that’s my motto through this. My students were great–attentive, funny and hardworking.

I also started Spanish classes yesterday. There are only two of us and I am well below Orlando, the other student. He’s been here for a while and has learned a lot. He also took Spanish in high school. While my Latin will help, it’s not the same. And…ahem…high school was a LOT longer ago for me than for him. I’ll have to work very hard to keep up. Today I have to find the textbook, memorize the Spanish alphabet and work on some new vocabulary words.

Sometimes you try things and they don't work out. I bought this thinking it was sangria, but it's sangrita, or the mix for "Coctel Vampiro." A description online says, "Viuda de Sanchez is authentic sangrita from Mexico. It is owned by Casa Cuervo and is by far the best selling sangrita in Mexico. Although it looks like a Bloody Mary Mix, it is much different in taste and ingredients. There are no tomatoes in sangrita; the red color comes from chili de arbol. It refreshes and cleanses the palate after each sip and enhances the taste of your favorite Tequila. The most popular way to consume Viuda de Sanchez is to sip alongside a good tequila and some lime; this is known as a Bandera (Mexican Flag - Green, White Red)." It tastes like a fruit and vegetable juice with too much salt.
Sometimes you try things and they don’t work out. I bought this thinking it was sangria, but it’s sangrita, or the mix for “Coctel Vampiro.” It’s also a chaser for tequila. A description online says, “Viuda de Sanchez is authentic sangrita from Mexico. It is owned by Casa Cuervo and is by far the best selling sangrita in Mexico. Although it looks like a Bloody Mary Mix, it is much different in taste and ingredients. There are no tomatoes in sangrita; the red color comes from chili de arbol. It refreshes and cleanses the palate after each sip and enhances the taste of your favorite Tequila. The most popular way to consume Viuda de Sanchez is to sip alongside a good tequila and some lime; this is known as a Bandera (Mexican Flag – Green, White Red).”
It tastes like a fruit and vegetable juice cocktail with too much salt. Won’t try it again.

Michael put me off again for getting a work visa. Maybe Wednesday.

Finding it a challenge to deal with all the people in this flat. It’s moderately clean (occasionally the kitchen isn’t) and very quiet, but there’s more than a dozen people living here and only one hot water heater and one kitchen. It’s a bad recipe. I went to the store this morning and bought lots of nuts, some fruit, whole grain crackers and a bottle of cheap wine. I also bought lunch meat, canned tuna, tortillas and ready-made stuff that is easy to assemble or microwave. I gotta find another place. I should have immediately taken the apartment I saw Thursday. It was so tiny and more expensive, but would have been better than this. It’s already rented to someone else. My mistake. And I’m paying for it in cold showers and lower nutrition.

There's always a lot of commerce on the streets, but this one is particularly packed with food vendors. This is in front of the hospital near my flat. I'm told it isn't a great hospital. Across the street is a hospital supply store right beside a store that sells religious candles, photos of saints, rosaries and crosses.
There’s always a lot of commerce on the streets, but this one is particularly packed with food vendors. This is in front of the hospital near my flat. I’m told it isn’t a great hospital. Across the street is a hospital supply store right beside a store that sells religious candles, photos of saints, rosaries and crosses.
When it's lunch time, you can't even walk by this area--lots of people standing on the sidewalk, eating and talking.
When it’s lunch time, you can’t even walk by this area–lots of people standing on the sidewalk, eating and talking.

8/3/2016

My 2nd day of teaching English classes went better than my first. Great students with good attitudes. I think Mexico is a good place for me, but I’ll need to make some adjustments. My students, particularly the ones in my last class at 8pm, arrive late. So far, I’ve counted them “on time” as long as they are there within the first 10 minutes of class. I’ve discussed it with Amanda, and she suggested to drop that to 5 minutes. I admit, I’m a time Nazi, but I am relaxing this stance. The rest of the world is just looser with time. So far, my record for late arrival? 41 minutes for a 50 minute class?

Got my book for Spanish class and went through the first 3 sections. I’m behind, but my vocabulary increases daily. I practice my Spanish on my students and they usually understand and correct me when needed. At least they don’t laugh quite so hard at my pronunciation of the local language as the children in Vietnam did.

Still trying to find a better apartment, but I got a hot shower this morning–the 1st in 4 days! 15 people + 1 hot water heater. You do the math.

….and at 10am I got a text from the Director, canceling our appointment to go apply for a work visa. Again. Re-set, for tomorrow.

In front of one of my favorite restaurants, vendors were selling rambutan--a tropical fruit native to SE Asia. I am surprised to see it here.
In front of one of my favorite restaurants, vendors were selling rambutan–a tropical fruit native to SE Asia. I am surprised to see it here.

8/5/2016

After rescheduling three times, Michael and I finally went to Immigration and applied for my work visa. He was late meeting me at the school (he didn’t offer to pick me up at home) and then made me wait while he did some work in his office. By the time we got to Immigration, the line was pretty long. Michael let me know that this is the one and only time he will go to Immigration with me. After this I’m on my own.  There will be at least 2 more visits, so I better practice my Spanish. He said that he was “doing me a favor” by finding me an apartment and going with me the first time to Immigration. Nice to know where I stand.

I paid over $200US for the work visa and the process will take about 2 months. According to my contract, the school will reimburse me after one year, IF I am still working full-time with them. I already paid money in Madrid at the Spanish Embassy to get the initial work permit that would allow me into the country. That won’t be reimbursed. It doesn’t seem likely that at my current pay, I’ll ever get my initial moving expenses paid back. If you want to make money, this is not the place to come.

I found the second hand store on the edge of el centro.
I found the second hand store on the edge of el centro.

Sweaty tacos?

Here's the tacos de canasta dealer nearest my house. Her's is a relatively post set up. Some folks just stand on the corner with a basket. The tacos look a tad oily and are nearly translucent in the middle. They are served with the salsa of your choice, I chose verde (green).
Here’s the tacos de canasta seller nearest my house. Her’s is a relatively “posh” set up. Some folks just stand on the corner with a basket. The tacos look a tad oily and are nearly translucent in the middle. They are served with the salsa of your choice. I chose verde (green) and took them para llevar (to go).

Tacos sudados 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.

Here are the varieties she sold: Cochinita--suckling pig (which I will try next) Deshebrada--"shredded" meat, usually beef. Tinga--this is what I tried, chicken seasoned with onion, tomato, peppers & potatoes. Pleasantly spicy. Chicarron--pork rind Papa--potato Huevo--egg Bisteck adobado--beef marinaded in adobo sauce. All are flautas (white, wheat tortillas) with contents slowly cooking into a thick stew--like a taco baby food, and even more comforting.
Here are the varieties she sold:
Cochinita–suckling pig (which I will try next)
Deshebrada–“shredded” meat, usually beef.
Tinga–This is what I tried, chicken seasoned with onion, tomato, peppers & potatoes. Pleasantly spicy.
Chicarron–pork rind
Papa–potato
Huevo–egg
Bisteck adobado–beef marinaded in adobo sauce.
All are flautas (white, wheat tortillas) with contents that are slowly cooking into a thick stew–like a taco stuffed baby food, and even more comforting. YUM.
These are Tacos de canasta--tacos in a basket. They’re the soft, steamed tacos sold on the street, and they’re usually stacked in cloth-covered basket. The good thing about the steaming is that they are "fairly" sanitary for street food. Also they come in many varieties since they can be stuffed with anything.
These are the Tingo Tacos de Canasta–cpicy chicken tacos in a basket. They’re the soft, steamed tacos sold on the street, and they’re usually stacked in cloth-covered basket. The good thing about the steaming is that they are “fairly” sanitary for street food. Also they come in many varieties since they can be stuffed with anything. I managed to get the verde sauce (not shown) all over me.
A perfect drink with them, if it's too early for cervaza. This water is bottled in a nearby town and the locals swear it cures a hangover!
A perfect drink with them, if it’s too early for cerveza (beer). This water is bottled in a nearby town and the locals swear it cures a hangover!

Yes, I’ll probably eat anything….once

This is proof positive that I will try anything. Can you guess what's in this meal? It was a first for me.
This is proof positive that I will try anything. Can you guess what’s in this meal? It was a first for me.

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!

Parque Juan H. Sánchez. Many walking paths. In fact, it seemed as if everyone with a dog was walking it here.
Parque Juan H. Sánchez. Many walking paths. In fact, it seemed as if everyone with a dog was walking it here.

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.

This is the entrance to Parque Juan H. Sánchez, also called Parque Morales.
This is the entrance to Parque Juan H. Sánchez, also called Parque Morales.
A statue of Francisco Gonzales
A statue of Francisco Gonzales
There was a small festival going on--food, music, face painting and even a large boa constructor that you could pose with.
There was a small festival going on–food, music, face painting and even a large boa constructor that you could pose with.
Parque Juan H. Sánchez
Parque Juan H. Sánchez
Playground, Parque Juan H. Sánchez. The park is lovely with many mature trees, but it needs some attention, as you can see.
Playground, Parque Juan H. Sánchez. The park is lovely with many mature trees and comfortable benches, but it needs some attention, as you can see.
Parque Juan H. Sánchez has many fountains. Unfortunately, none seemed to be working.
Parque Juan H. Sánchez has many fountains. Unfortunately, none seemed to be working.
I decided to try a new restaurant, El México de Frida. I'd talked to one of the owners on the phone, Lola, because she had an apartment for rent. Unfortunately, someone else got the apartment, but she seemed so interesting that I decided to check out the place.
I decided to try a new restaurant, El México de Frida. I’d talked to one of the owners on the phone, Lola, because she had an apartment for rent. Unfortunately, someone else got the apartment, but she seemed so interesting that I decided to check out the place.
Close up of mosaic at El México de Frida. The restaurant is a tribute to all things Frida Kalho, one of Mexico's most famous artists. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frida_Kahlo
Close up of mosaic at El México de Frida. The restaurant is a tribute to all things Frida Kahlo, one of Mexico’s most famous artists.
Close up of mosaic at El México de Frida.
Close up of mosaic at El México de Frida.
Inside El México de Frida. It's really beautiful. And the restaurant was swamped in the middle of the day on Sunday.
Inside El México de Frida. It’s really beautiful. And the restaurant was swamped in the middle of the day on Sunday.
Art everywhere! This place is too expensive for me to come to often. If you're spending US dollars, it's a great price, but I'm paid in pesos....and not that many of them.
Art everywhere! This place is too expensive for me to come often. If you’re spending US dollars, it’s a great price, but I’m paid in pesos….and not that many of them.
Even the menu was attractive.
Even the menu was attractive.
This was my drink. I had it with mescal (similar to tequila and also made form the agave plant). Not sure the chia seeds improved the drink. They made it a tad crunchy. Also topped with a sprinkle of dried oregano, which added to the bouquet.
This was my drink. Of course, I had it with mescal (similar to tequila and also made from the agave plant). Not sure the chia seeds improved the drink. They made it a tad crunchy. Also topped with a sprinkle of dried oregano, which added to the bouquet.
I ordered Escamoles--a "pre-Columbian delicacy, ant eggs sauteed in butter with a touch of garlic, serrano chili and epazole." That last one is an herb, unique to Mexican cooking. Epazole. Pronunciation: eh-puh-ZOE-tay Also Known As: Mexican Tea, Wormseed, Pigweed, West Indian Goosefoot, Hedge Mustard, Jerusalem Parsley and Pazote. http://mexicanfood.about.com/od/spanishterms/g/Epazote.htm Wait, pigweed? I think I know what it is. I've always known it was edible, but I've never done more than tasted it once just to give it a try. I know. You're shocked that I'm more interested in the herb that flavored the dish than the ant eggs, right?
I ordered Escamoles–a “pre-Columbian delicacy, ant eggs sauteed in butter with a touch of garlic, serrano chili and epazote.” That last one is an herb, unique to Mexican cooking, but according to the internet, it grows wild in Mexico and the USA. Pronunciation: eh-puh-ZOE-tay Also Known As: Mexican Tea, Wormseed, Pigweed, West Indian Goosefoot, Hedge Mustard, Jerusalem Parsley and Pazote.
Wait, pigweed? I think I know what it is. I’ve always known it was edible, but I’ve never done more than tasted it once just to give it a try.
I know. You’re shocked that I’m more interested in the herb that flavored the dish than the ant eggs, right? And the prices are in Pesos, not US dollars. We share same symbol for money: $.
And here they are: Ant Eggs! There wasn't much taste really, but they were somehow very rich. Difficult to describe. I ate them on fresh, hot corn tortillas with the extra tasty salsa and guacamole.
And here they are: Ant Eggs! There wasn’t much taste really, but they were somehow very rich. Difficult to describe. I ate them on fresh, hot corn tortillas with the extra tasty salsa and guacamole.
This is the side dish--pickled vegetables with a heavy sprinkle of cheese on crisp tortilla chips. Yum!
This is the side dish–pickled vegetables with a heavy sprinkle of cheese on crisp tortilla chips. Yum!
This dragon hung above my table. Though there was a line to get in, I was seated immediately since I was alone and they had a small table for one in the back.
This dragon hung above my table. Though there was a line to get into the restaurant, I was seated immediately since I was alone and they had a small table for one in the back. Sometimes it pays to travel solo!
Lola had mentioned that she was working on a new mural. Restaurant guests can drop by and help. Lola wasn't there and no one was working on the mural on such a busy day, but it looks like it will be an interesting addition.
Lola had mentioned that she was working on a new mural. Restaurant guests can drop by and help. Lola wasn’t there this day and no one was working on the mural on such a busy day, but it looks like it will be an interesting addition.