11 January 2007


The Horror

So for my advanced class' mid-term exam, I had them write an essay answering one of 5 questions. One of the questions was "Which gender do you think has an easier life in Ecuadorian culture? Why? Have you ever wished to be of the opposite gender? Why or why not?" Most students wrote that men have an easier life here because they have so much more freedom and earn much more respect while the women are encaged in social expectations that neither further the progression of Ecuadorian society nor the lives of women. One student, however, wrote:

"I think that female gender has an easier life in my loved Ecuador because women think and plan their future while they are spinsters until they get married. In addition, women can choose between a rich man or an unemployed one, of course if the women is a little ugly she'd has no other choise to accept a man."

Oh what enlightenment!

09 January 2007



After a delightful and relatively peaceful 2 weeks of vacation in the U.S. I came back to Ecuador and all the drama that comes with living here. I had the (unfortunate) experience of going to the transit jail; don't worry, I was just visiting! The judiciary system here is abhorently corrupt and inhumane. First of all, if a drunk driver gets caught in most provinces, s/he usually just has to pay the arresting officers about $20 to walk (or drive) away and have the whole ordeal forgotten. In one province here, the perpetrator has to be behind bars from 30-180 days, at the discretion of a judge. However, if the family of the perpetrator has the $1,000 or so to give to the judge to spring the person from jail, s/he is free to go. The more time the person spends behind bars, the less his/her family has to pay the judge. But in the end, the judge always gets money and sometimes even a small gift too. My friend had been inside for 2 weeks when I came back and his family had to pay $100 plus a nice bottle of brandy. I can't decide if it's worse that the corruption goes all the way to the judge, with every subordinate getting a cut from the family as well, or if the fact that one can just pay off the arresting officer on the street to be let free. On the one hand, you're getting the driver off the road right away. But on the other hand, the person has to stay encarcerated for an undetermine amount of time until his/her family can pay off someone who is supposed to be the beacon of justice.

Another horrific thing about the condition of the jail is that the prisoners don't get fed. Family members or friends have to go to the jail sometimes twice a day to give food to the one locked up. If s/he doesn't know anybody in the area, s/he either depends on the sympathetic families of other prisoners or dies of hunger. I thought this was just an exaggeration, but it's true! Can you believe that the state doesn't pay to keep the prisoners alive? Of course, if you murder someone and are sentenced, you are put in a more formal penitentiary institution and are taken care of by the state. Family members who visit have to bring food and provide clothing and anything else for the ones behind bars. I just couldn't believe it!

I'm happy to announce that my friend got out after 16 days behind bars, having spent Christmas and New Year's in a cell. Now he's running around, working hard to pay back his family members and friends who paid for his "legal" expenses.

19 December 2006


The Truth about Learning

I've started to get annoyed with one of my classes recently, and the worst part is that it used to be my favorite class! My advanced class has always been the high-light of my Monday, Wednesday, Fridays because they can actually communicate their ideas in English and they seem really eager to learn. I've noticed, however, that they've begun to complain like Kindergartners about every little thing we do in class and how they don't like it because they're not familiar with it. For example, I've been doing this listening exercise where I give them the lyrics to a song with some of the words left out and they have to listen to the music and fill in the missing words. It's been a real challenge to find music that is class-appropriate and understandable, but I think I've done a pretty good job. The students, however, just want to hear music that they already know and like, and don't want to hear anything else. I keep getting requests for crap like Avril Lavigne and the Backstreet Boys...and I can tell you that there's no way I'm gonna sit there and listen to songs by these "artists" 4 times while the class tries to figure out the lyrics! I've given them more recent songs, like stuff by John Mayer and Boyz II Men, and oldies, like Cat Stevens and Eric Clapton, but they still just want Avril and the Backstreet Boys. More accurately, they want music from this CD called "Ballads Forever," which is a compilation of crappy, melodic love songs in English. Of course, they know all the lyrics to every song on that CD already and have even sun some of the songs in class, but they still want this as their listening exercise! The point of the exercise, obviously, is to strengthen their listening comprehension skills; if they already know the lyrics, they're not going to be listening, just regurgitating! I've been giving them 2 songs a day, one that is slower and clearer for a warmup, and another that is faster and usually a bit harder to understand. I had one student, who is an English teacher, complain during the first song that it was too easy and that he got all the lyrics on the first listen. During the second one, however, he complained that it was too hard and that he didn't know the song and couldn't understand. First, I accused him of being Goldilocks and then I told him that if he listened instead of complaining during the song, it might be easier. Ok, I wasn't THAT mean, but I sure wanted to be!!

I've also realized that many of the students will say yes yes to what I say and as soon as I turn away they'll ask their classmates, "que dijo?" (What did she say?) It really pisses me off that they don't ask me to repeat or to explain again. Also, nobody asks questions and instead they just gets things wrong or confuse things. I have 5 out of 31 students who actually ask questions and they're the ones who can speak the best. These guys actually want to learn, while the others just want to feel good about themselves by acting like they know everything. I really feel that many of them are in the class simply to reassure themselves that their English is already good, so when I challenge this idea by giving them something they aren't familiar with, they automatically reject it. Of course, it could just be that I'm a shitty teacher, but I have to say that the progress many of them are making, despite disliking my activities, is tremendous! Some of them can really speak now and they joke around in class in English. I'm really proud of them. But I wish they'd quit complaining!!

I'm REALLY ready for winter break...

29 November 2006


A day in paradise followed by an evening in hell

Living in a city like Machala definitely has its benefits, although sometimes they're hard to recognize. While we're here during the week, we toil and sweat and work our volunteer fannies off to get our students to appreciate and enjoy learning English. The weekends, however, are our playtimes when we travel and see other parts of the country, or even other countries. Living in Machala means we don't feel guilty about leaving for the weekends because, let's face it, it's not a pretty place and there's not a lot holding us here (besides the occasional guilt-trip from the families or local friends). So last weekend, Melissa and I decided it was high-time to take a real excursion and go to Máncora, a touristy beach in northern Peru. We heard it was beautiful and well-worth the 4 hour bus trip. Our weekend started out on the wrong foot: we missed the direct bus from Machala to Tumbes, the northernmost significant city in Peru on the west coast. But we didn't let something like a bus pop our dreams! We caught the next bus to Huaquillas, the border town on the Ecuadorian side. It was a smooth ride and we sailed through immigration. As soon as we got to the actual border, which is a bridge that one can just walk across with no questions to get between countries (and people wonder why there are so many illegal immigrants?!), even before we had paid our taxi driver, we had three men halfway into our taxi, pointing fingers at us, yelling "Tumbes? Zorritos? Tumbes?" I ended up asking them if they wouldn't mind getting their stubby fingers out of our faces and letting us pay the cab driver, before we went off with them. They were a bit taken back, perhaps by the harshness with which I sternly told them to back up, but that didn't stop them from throwing themselves at us the minute we got out of the car. So Melissa and I walked across the bridge as this one man began asking me, again, "Tumbes? Zorritos?" I told him we wanted to go to Máncora, and he said $35. I got him down to $30 as we walked up to a green stationwagon. Everything seemed fine, until the guy who I made the deal with opened the driverside door and his friend got in...and they started yelling at each other! Melissa and I didn't really know what was going on; I tried to listen, but all I heard was "30 dollars?! 30 dollars?! to Máncora??" but I figured, hey, this guy made the deal and they're all working together so screw it, I'm definitely not offering more money. An hour into our drive, and 4 stops later during which the driver took care of random errands, while we're literally in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by sand dunes on the right and edging up against the ocean on the left, when Melissa and I are happily chatting away about, well, whatever we women like to chat about, the driver says, "this is Máncora. Where do you want me to drop you?" I knew for a fact that this was NOT where we wanted to be, with little straw huts intermittently lining the coast, with flotsam and jetsom strewn about. I told him the name of the hostel we were looking for and he said, "Ah! But that's in Máncora grande! That's another hour away and you need to pay me extra!" I told him to quit messing around and that the man I'd made the deal with told me $30 and that's what we were going to pay him. He said that the guy told him Máncora chico, which was where we were, and that he wasn't going to go all the way to Máncora grande without more money. Then he proceeded to yell at me about how I should have asked him, the driver, the price and not made a deal with some other guy. I told him that they other guy is his business partner and that the misunderstandings between them two were not my problem. He kept yelling at me and trying to make it my fault for not realizing that the man I'd been speaking to wasn't going to be the driver. In the end, I started yelling at him for being a horrible businessman who was just trying to milk money out of two gringas. He was a bit shocked, I think, that I'd fought back and hit it right on the nail. He came down from about $60 to $45 and although he kept trying to weasel more money out of us for the rest of the trip, he accepted the $45 we gave him. In the end, I figured out that we had been cheated out of $5, but it could have been worse!

So Melissa and I spent 1.5 wonderful days on the beach, relaxing and meeting other travelers (who'd had similarly horrifying experiences).

We'd reserved a car for 8 soles each (less than $3) to go the 1.5 hours to Tumbes at 3pm Sunday. Of course, the car never showed but a huge bus pulled up, and the lady at the bus "station" asked us to pay 4 soles more to ride the bus. I told her the deal we made was for 8 soles, and that we'd wait until the car showed. The car never showed and she just shoved us on to the bus. Upon arrival in Tumbes, more people with jabby fingers accosted us, asking if we were trying to get to the border. One guy had an official looking vest on and I decided he was probably the safer bet. We told him we were on our way back up to Machala. He said that because of the elections (the left-wing Correa won, by the way) there was a huge strike planned for the evening and that the border would close at 6, for 10 days, not allowing people in or out of Peru. Melissa and I had heard stories like this from previous volunteers and proceeded to panic, internally, as we discovered that it was 5;15 and it would take 40 minutes just to get to immigration, which was another 10 minutes from the border. And, of course, the car was a crappy engine-on-patched-tires and couldn't go faster than about 60km an hour. But we made it on time! Our guide told us that to ensure our security, we would have to pay $20 each to a guard on the border, and after remembering horrendous stories, Melissa and I handed over the money. And then we paid the cab driver. And then the security guard went away, and we were left with the guide in the official-looking vest. At this point, I had no idea what was going on and Melissa, who understands less Spanish than I do, looked at me with panic-stricken eyes. Where the hell was the security guard going?!?! Our guide took us across the border, though, with no incident, and up to a bus station. Phew, we thought, and breathed a sigh of relief. We were back in Ecuador! Except now, this guide is asking us to pay $10 each for his service. What service, we thought. I straight out asked him what the $20 bucks each for the guard was and he said that was to ensure that nobody would rob us. I told him that the guard didn't even come with us, so how could he have done anything even if something had happened? He said that the guard ensured our safety in covert ways and that the money was gone. The problem was, we had 100 soles (about $33) and the guy didn't have $13 for change. He started harrassing us for dollars, saying he had no way of changing the money. I reminded him sternly that he lived on the border and that we had met him in Peru; what did he mean he had no way of using the money?! He told us we could change the money back at the bridge, but we were totally against going back to the border, where there was supposed to be a strike. So he asked some random guy on the street, who seemed like he was high on cocaine and didn't seem to be able to control his nostrils or the twitch in his eye. The guide then told us that this coked-out guy could give him the $20 and that we should wait around until his friend showed up to exchange the money and pay the drug addict. At that point Melissa and I decided the money wasn't worth our time or lives and just told him to take the money and leave. When I got home and told my family the story, they said that there was no strike, that there were no problems in Ecuador, and the whole thing had been a scam to get money. So that $40 we gave the security guard is probably feeding somebody else's drug or alcohol addiction.

Needless to say, it was a hellish weekend and if I were to do it again, I'd make sure I knew everything about the different bus routes. The problem was, the guide books we used don't talk about any of this transportation in the detail that is necessary and for that reason, so many people have problems crossing the border! But we did come back with nice tans, so maybe it was worth it...

23 November 2006


My UnThanksgiving Thanksgiving & Male Chauvinism

I can safely say that I won't be celebrating Thanksgivng in any shape or form. It is, afterall, the day the white people came, broke bread with and began killing the native americans up north. I'm sure the indigenous blood in the people here would curdle if I began promoting this holiday!! And it's hard to get into the holiday spirit when it's 34 degrees (C) outside (90+ F) and I still have to work. Despite my griping, however, I do have an incredible amount to be grateful for. I hope you all have a wonderful, cheery Thanksgiving and know that your friend down south is thinking of you always!!


So, male chauvinism i.e. machismo. I finally decided that my advanced class needed to start conversing more, seeing as it's a conversation class, and that I really had no more material to jam down their throats. Last Friday I started them off with a writing exercise and asked them to share their ideas on the importance of gender roles in creating and maintaining a stable society. Needless to say, the responses I received ranged from "I don't believe in gender roles because all men and women are equal now" to "men drive tractor trailers and women stay at home to take care of the children and cook. Men cannot cook. Women cannot drive." Later on, I had them discuss concrete examples of what men and women in Ecuador do. For the most part, they liked to say that men and women are capable of the same things and that there is nothing holding women back from pursuing careers that are traditionally saved for men. I had a hard time convincing them to think about the real roles men and women fulfill here. Do men take care of the children and cook? Are there female cab drivers? By the end of the class, it seemed that the men were made to feel guilty for the limitations placed upon the women in their society. This paved the way for a very interesting discussion that the same class held last night: why are some women male chauvinists? One of my students had written about the glorification of masculinity (her words!) in Ecuadorian society so I challenged them to think about how women are perpetuating this behavior. Here, when a little boy hurts himself and starts to cry, most mothers immediately hit or yell at the tyke to stop crying; only girls cry. From this point, boys are conditioned to become chauvinistic men who look for any opportunity to exert their power over women. It is well known that in Latin America, many married men cheat on their wives. This isn't to say that men in other countries don't cheat, but I believe that the motives behind the cheating are quite different (this is just my opinion, remember. I'm no sociologist and I definitely have NOT spent my time analyzing married men and their motives behind cheating!!). After discussing this with a latina friend of mine, I think that men here regard their wives as sacred, in terms of sexual behavior, and look at them more as the mother of their children rather than as a partner. Whatever their sexual history may be, once the woman becomes a mother, she is deemed to have lost all passion. Many men won't divorce their wives, even if they have a seriously unpleasant relationship and sex has almost nothing to do with it, because they respect the mother of their children too much. However, because they don't respect her as a partner or equal, emotional and physical abuse can take place. Men cheat on their wives as a means of exerting their power and feeling more "manly." Extramarital relationships hardly ever have to do with emotions and love; more often than not, it's just about satisfying their carnal desires and gaining a level of respect from their colleagues for having "conquered" a woman. The "other woman" in this situation is viewed as an object, a toy through which the man can gain masculine power. Like I said, these ideas can't be applied to every male! These are just my observations and musings after having listened to my class discuss the roles of men and women, and after having discussed this topic with close friends. I'm interested in hearing what you think about this...


I spent a wonderful birthday weekend with my friends in Ambato (2.5 hours south of Quito) and got to relax, hike a little, and breathe fresh air! It was more than I could ask for. Monday and Tuesday nights were spent dancing with my students in lieu of class and I had a great time! I really enjoyed connecting with my students on a more equal playing field and got to know a few of them quite well. Alas, parties and jubilation don't last forever and I had to go back to teaching last night.

30 October 2006


Simple Pleasures and Disappointments

It's 8:42 on Sunday night and there's nothing I want to do more than pour out my ridiculous stories from this weekend! First of all, let me start with the creepy high school English teacher...

A couple of weeks ago, I was introduced to Juan Carlos, an English teacher at the military academy, by a colleague. Supposedly, his grammar is perfect, but his speaking isn't very good. This is the norm here, where listening to and speaking English with a native speaker is almost impossible (just not many of us foreigners around). He told me it would be a conversation class of about 10 of his colleagues. I agreed to it (and the extra $240 I would be making each month) and told him I looked forward to meeting everybody on Thursday. Well, Juan Carlos was the only one who showed up and he said it was because he was still discussing the details with his colleagues. Fine. So we spent 90 minutes walking around the central plaza, talking about work and the difficulty of learning a language. During the session, he kept saying "wow! You are exactly what I've needed all these years! I have you all to myself for 90 minutes, twice a week. wow." For a second I was creeped out, but then I thought he's just happy that he can speak English with a native speaker. No worries there. Well, I got a horribly written text message the next Monday night, saying that "I" wouldn't be coming to class the next day. I figured it was a student from the University, and that s/he had gotten my number from the school. I asked who it was so I wouldn't mark him/her as absent, and he texted "Juan Carlos." The thing is, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I teach an intermediate level class that has a Juan Carlos in it, who I talk to quite a bit outside of class as well. I figured this Juan Carlos, who I call JC, wasn't going to make it to class. The next day, I went to the meeting place for the conversation class, and waited for about 20 minutes before I realized my mistake. The thing is, tho, I don't understand why none of the other high school English teachers showed up. And that's what makes this all so creepy! So I texted the English-teacher Juan Carlos, apologizing for talking about absences, etc. He replied with an apology for the confusion and added an unacceptable "I love you so much." I about gagged and died. See, Juan Carlos is this dweeby, egotistical complainer who just bitches about working for the government, etc. He apparently gets paid an awful lot, but he still had the audacity to ask me to help out with planning the curriculum of the whole English program at the academy...for free, of course, because, well, I'm a volunteer! I told him there was no way I could do it, and that he would have to contact my program directors to request a volunteer to come and help next year, as a full time job. I don't think he liked the idea that the academy would have to pay. Anyways, I ignored his text message and set about doing other work that needed to get done before my intermediate class that evening. A short while later he wrote, "I feel bad. I really want to see you..." After consulting a friend, I wrote "No problem. I had work to do anyways. However, please remember the professional nature of our interactions and cease with the amorous comments" (I didn't want to use the word "relationship" for fear of misunderstanding). I immediately received 2 blank text messages, and upon telling my host-mother the story, she said that Juan Carlos had probably sent me picture-messages. I don’t want to know what kinds of pictures he sent! So I haven’t heard from him since, which is fine, except I’m a bit bummed about the lack of pocket change.

Friday night I went out for the first time with a couple of students, and Melissa and John. It was really fun and I had a great time chatting with my students. I was quite surprised to learn that Tyrone, one of the more outspoken students, is married and has kid. A few hours (and beers) later, this husband and father was literally rolling on the floor of a club after having broken a plastic chair, laughing about how fat he was to have broken the chair. Luckily, the owner of the club is the husband of Tyrone’s classmate (and my student) so there was no real problem there. It was great to be shown some of the less obvious places to hang out! Saturday morning came and went, despite plans to wake up early and take a day trip to Guayaquil, but instead of being discouraged, Melissa and I got our stuff together and took the 4-hour bus ride to the coastal city. Even though we were just on a bus, it felt absolutely wonderful to be out of Machala! And we definitely got whacked over the head with cultural idiosyncrasies. There’s nothing like sitting next to an obese 55-yr old woman wearing a neon pink halter top, overflowing the top of her elastic jeans (we call this “muffin topping” because, well, next time you look at a muffin you’ll see), with 40 years worth of arm hair blowing in the wind. I experienced a rather odd cultural exchange: Melissa and I bought a bowl of rice, beans, and chicken for $1 on the bus and were happily munching away, until an older woman across the aisle with one yellow tooth on the top row said to me, “Niña, no seas maldita. Dame un poco de pollo por favor” (Girl, be a good girl and give me a little of your chicken please). I was shocked, to say the least, but I had more than enough so I doled a little bit out onto the lid of the bowl and handed it to her. Don’t worry, I was nice and made sure to give her small pieces of chicken so she could chew them!

We got to Guayaquil and immediately hit up the stores with cute (and very inexpensive) shoes and clothing. For some reason, and despite the incredible heat, people here love nylon and polyester clothing. After a short 3 hours there, we turned around and came back to Machala. Even though our stay was really short (though our total trip was relatively long) it felt wonderful to be out of the city. Upon arriving in Machala, we quickly changed and went out to meet another group of my students for a Halloween party at a popular club. Even though it wasn’t exactly my idea of fun, I sure learned a helluva lot about partying in Ecuador!! First of all, nobody ever has his/her own beer. They order a pitcher and a couple of glasses, pour about a shot’s worth of beer, and pass the cup around while everybody takes a sip. This goes on all night long. Next, the music: they’re either playing salsa and reggaeton or “romantic rock” as they like to call it. If it’s salsa or reggaeton, everybody is up and dancing, making the club extremely hot place and making it practically impossible to move on the dance floor. If it’s romantic rock we’re hearing, everybody’s sitting at the tables, singing along. There really was no conversation except for “You wanna dance? Let’s dance!” and “Oh! We’re out of beer. Order another pitcher!” We were about 10 people with 4 glasses and I don’t know how, but a few of the people were drunk. Since neither Melissa nor I knew any of the balladic songs, we just sat there, listening to them sing. It seems that to be truly Ecuadorian, you have to sing off-key and extremely loudly (men included…in fact, the men were louder than the women at the bar!).

Sunday morning at 8:30 I received a phone call from one of my students (not anyone that was out the night before with us!). It was Veronica, a student who had asked me last Wednesday if I could look over her 80-pg thesis during the weekend. I had said fine, but when she didn’t bring it to class on Friday, I figured I was in the clear. So it’s way too early on a Sunday morning to be talking about a thesis, but there I was, trying to figure out why I’d ever agreed to give her my number, mumbling something in Spanish about how I had too much work to do. The worst part was that she wanted me to look her thesis over right then, because it’s due tomorrow (great planning, I know)! In the end, I agree to meet her at 12 and fall fast asleep until 11:45, when I receive yet another phone call (the fourth one this morning from Veronica…I’m hating her at this point) from her making sure I’m on my way. I assure her that I'm in the cab, roll out of bed and fumble around with clothes until I rush out the door and catch a cab. I’m not too worried, because Ecuadorians don’t really have a concept of time…unless, of course, they’re applying rules of punctuality to foreigners…lucky me! An hour and a half later, I’m done with the 20-pg proposal and intro (I avoid asking about the other 60pgs, but have made a mental note to turn my phone off tonight) and have an invitation to go to Vilcabamba (a BEAUTIFUL city where the people live well into their 100s) with her and her friends in 2 weeks! I decide that it was totally worth the morning of aggravation.

I spent this afternoon correcting quizzes I gave my advanced class last Friday. We’d spent 2 weeks reviewing gerunds (they learned them 2 levels ago) so I figured it was time to move on. And besides, this is supposed to be a conversation class and here I am still pounding grammar into their heads (of course, they need it…). I spent close to an hour correcting and I’m thoroughly discouraged. We volunteers learned that quizzes and tests aren’t only assessments of the students, but evaluations of how we are doing as teachers. Well, the average is a 70% so I feel pretty shitty. I spend the day sulking until I get a call from Mom, the veteran teacher who puts everything into perspective and tells me to quit applying the standards I grew up with to other people. It’s not that they have lower standards, it’s that their standards here are different. How we are taught and how we learn is largely dependent on culture. I’d forgotten that I’ve grown up in a culture where getting (and giving) +90% marks is not impossible and almost the norm. In other cultures, students hardly ever get more than 70% correct because it is thought that you shouldn’t allow the student to do well or s/he will think they know everything. And in other cultures still, people want to get about 70% correct because that means they are at about the same level as everybody else in their class. I haven’t figured out what the Ecuadorian culture and view is on education, but I’m sure ready to find out! So now I feel a whole lot better. That, and the fact that languages are incredibly difficult to learn, especially when you’re neither using it nor have exposure to it for more than 6 hours a week.

Before I sign off, however, let me tell you about my experience administering this quiz…remember Drunky, the student who came to class (you guessed it) drunk last Friday? Well, he thought it was a good idea to come to class an hour late and take the quiz drunk. When I saw him come into the classroom at the break, I asked him straight out if he was drunk. He said “yes.” I asked him if he remembered that he was taking a quiz today, and he said “yes, but I have sense” (it’s a direct translation from Spanish, meaning he’s ok). So I thought, well, let’s see what he can do. I wrote a number of rules (eyes on your own paper, raise your hand if you have a question, etc) on the board and began to hand out the quizzes. Of course, Drunky had all of his papers on his desk still and had begun to copy down the rules in his notebook. After telling him to put everything away, I circled the room once more and returned to his desk. Drunky was now concentrating on writing in his notebook, so I decided to just let him be until he realized he didn’t have a quiz and come ask me for one. Forty minutes later, with 5 minutes left to finish the quiz, Drunky comes up to my desk, hands in a scribbled-on piece of paper with the rules and some weird sentences about how he has a few questions about gerunds, but how he wants to study about paper in Chile because it’s important to him (your guess is as good as mine), he asks me for a quiz. He’s seen two students (one of which I kicked out for wandering eyes, though she says she saw nothing) hand in their quizzes and realized that he’s not doing what everyone else is doing. I tell him he doesn’t have time, and that we’ll talk on Monday. He keeps insisting that he’s fine, as one eye droops and almost closes. It’s obvious he can’t focus as he leans my desk, so I invite him out with us after class and tell him we’ll talk on Monday (he disappears after falling into a fit of giggles for about 3 minutes). While I’m going to give the student with the wandering-eyes problem a chance to retake the test tomorrow, I’m definitely giving Drunky a 0. This is the second time he’s shown up drunk and he even wrote me last Monday about how ashamed he was to come to class like that and how he’d never do it again! Aside from kicking him out of class the next time he comes drunk, I’ve got no idea what to do. He’s there on his own accord so there’s no point in talking to my boss. I’ve learned one thing, tho: I’m never giving a test on a Friday!!

24 October 2006


Being a Teacher

I've gained a new found respect for all the teachers I've ever had...well, most of them anyways. It's hard work planning for classes, trying to keep everything interesting while addressing all the "multiple intelligences" and keeping it educational. Especially when most of the students are university students who just want to drink beer and hang out. Whatever it is they want to do, they definitely do NOT want to be in a hot classroom at 9 on a Friday night! Last Friday, I had a student show up to class drunkity drunk. He's usually a quiet, serious student so it shocked me when he dribbled into class, smiling and chatting away. I had half the mind to kick him out, but when I realized he was chatting in English, even tho his friends were talking to him in Spanish, I decided to let him stay. Of course, I couldn't read his handwriting on the journal assignment I gave the class so I've asked him to redo it.

The other volunteers and I have started to feel almost offended when students don't show up to class. It's not that we take it personally, as if we think "oh, Pablo didn't come to class because he doesn't like me," but more like "damn! I spent so much time planning to make this activity so it would work in a 37-person class, and I even spent money on the copies, and only 24 showed up!" Obviously, this is a side of teaching we're not so familiar with. But it continues to be fun (and funny), especially when they're having fun! (aww...hugs!) It's also an incredibly challenging subject to teach when you haven't learned it formally yourself. I was teaching my intermediate class "'it' clauses and adverbial clauses with 'when'" which are like "it bothers me when people talk during movies." I pulled an example from the book that went "It makes me happy when my friends remember to call me on my birthday" and proceeded to explain the "formula" (they LOVE formulas and equations here): it + verb + object + when + subject + verb blah blah blah and one student asked me "so what is the 'happy'?" I mumbled some crap like "passive mumbojumbo verb" cuz I had absolutely NO idea! I cringed and the sweat began dripping faster when she wrote down what I said. I later found out from an Ecuadorian English teacher that the 'me' is an indirect object and the 'happy' is a direct object. wHaTeVeRr. This is the stuff I have to read up on, but to be totally honest, reading grammar books(gerund!! ==> I've been teaching gerunds all week) is not my idea of fun. *sigh* guess it's part of the job tho!

So this Friday, I'll be giving my first quiz! It's actually really exciting...yea, yea, I'm a dork. I'm a bit nervous because we've been told time and time again that Ecuadorians don't look at cheating the way we do in the States; they're not really cheating, they're "helping" each other. John gave a quiz last week and caught a number of eyes wandering and had to set the example by taking the quizzes away. I'm nervous about doing that because I want to give my students the benefit of the doubt, but if I don't show in the beginning that I'm serious about the no cheating thing, then they'll end up cheating all semester and it'll just be hell for me. Wish me luck!!

I've realized that one of the more popular ways to write in English is by doing a direct translation from the original language. Obviously, every single language student in the world does this because it just seems to be the most practical! Unfortunately, it rarely makes any sense in the target language. I leave you with an anecdote: I asked my advanced students to write about a time when they got a good (or bad) impression from someone they'd just met. One student started off her paragraph with: "The last year, I went to work on the body of a firemen." If you just spat out something or guffawed, than we had the same reaction! For a second I thought "damn! I bet she got a good impression!" I just couldn't figure out what she was trying to say so I asked my host mom, Eliza, what this could possibly mean. She immediately translated it directly into Spanish and explained that "cuerpo (body) de (of) bomberos (firemen)" is a fire station. Yes, my student went to volunteer at a fire station. *sigh* working on the bodies of firemen sounds so much more exciting...

17 October 2006


Teaching Blips

I have to admit that I did something really terrible in my beginner class and learned an invaluable lesson. I'd taught my students how to ask questions (who, what, when, where, why, how) and as homework assigned them to write 3 questions of each type. After doing a warmer in class and getting used to hearing/speaking English again, I asked them to write 1 of each type of question on the board. My horrible, terrible thing: I laughed when I saw some of these questions! For example: "Why is your dog?" Now, was this student using the "is" of identity, the "is" of predication, or the existential "is"? I'm going with the existential "is". In truth, this student didn't make a mistake, oh no no, he was asking a very serious and philosophical question about the reason this dog existed. Why does your dog exist? A very noble question, indeed. Another student asked "Why is your mother special?" I giggled at this one, but was able to explain my laughter by explaining that "special" can mean retarded. Yea, I'm a horrible horrible person. So the lesson I learned is NEVER EVER look at the homework for the first time in class! From now on, I'll wait until I'm in the sanctuary of my own room and laugh until tears roll down my face without shame. To tell the truth, we teachers have gotten into the bad habit of sharing homework over soup after class and giggling together. Yes, really bad form, but there's really not much else to do except stare at the traffic lights.

So now I leave you with a story that a student from last year wrote (last year's volunteer left this for our enjoyment, I'm sure):

Paty knew a boy but he had had a girlfriend. My friend was working in company he all days he give gift her. But one day he went a buy flowers for her and he met with a friend, and he say that was going with girl very nice. Paty had known a sister of boy and they had be friends. Paty had met an earing in the t-shirt of boy. And this earing had be of your best friend and she didn't say nothing he. Two best friends had go with same boy. End.

Hopefully I'll meet an earring on the way home...

16 October 2006


Guayaquil and Craziness in Machala

Before I jump back into my weekend story, let me just say that when John and I went to grab a bite to eat Saturday afternoon (I had some DELICIOUS mango juice - Aleja, I was thinking of you the whole time!), we went to a local fast food joint called Sal y Pimienta (Salt and Pepper). John ordered a taco mixto, which comes with beans, meat and other stuff. After a few bites, John spat out his mouthfull because he hit something really hard and it turned out to be a pebble. He told the waitress/chef and she apologized profusely and brought him another. I told him I would laugh if the next taco had a pebble as well, thinking that they would never make such a mistake twice in a row. Well they did. And instead of laughing, we paid for our juices and got the hell out of there! Gotta love this place.

Oh, and one more thing I forgot to add about the manicure-pedicure. Well, when Cecibel and Dayuma are short of cash during their holidays, they play the roles of transvestite hookers. So it was probably a mistake when Melissa and I left it up to them to decide the color and design of our nails...I asked for something simple in light pink and got frosting-colored pink nails with white tips and flowers. Melissa, however, totally left it up to Cecibel and got peach/orange nails (Cecibel: "it´s very natural") with white and gold tips, and white/purple/red flowers. Yes, we were a couple of classy broads!! I'd say that's the epitome of an Ecua-manicure.

Anyways, we left Cuenca the next day for Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador and the major one on the coast, to partake in the independence day(s) fesitivities. It was about a 4 hour bus ride, which ended up taking 5.5 hours because not 20min out of the city, we got a flat tire. With the heat and general air of crankiness that filled the bus, John, Melissa and I had no choice but to fall into fits of giggles and get stared at by all the irritated people. When we finally got to Guayaquil, we were greeted with a clean and beautiful city. Guayaquil used to be considered one of the most dangerous cities in Latin America and definitely the most dangerous in Ecuador. Since 2000, however, the local and national governments have been making a serious effort to clean up the place to make it suitable to live in and to attract tourists. They've done a really good job (the police on every corner with sub-uzzis and tommy-guns kinda make people not want to commit crimes...) and now it's no longer on the "dangerous cities" list. Anyways, that evening most of us had the opportunity to meet Jorge´s mom (again, Jorge is the university student who lives with the same family as I did in Quito, and now a good friend)who is the most spunky, full of life mom I've ever met. She took 12 of us gringos out 80s dancing and salsa dancing until 4am! It was a blast, although the next day, when Emma (remember? The British girl who also lived with the same family in Quito) and I were supposed to meet her for lunch, she didn't show up until an hour later. Actually, we should've known not to show up on time because Ecua-time runs on a totally different clock. This woman, Shirlenne, is great, but she has absolutely no concept of time!! We had lunch at 4pm (it was supposed to be at 1) and despite the fact that both Emma and I had buses to catch that evening, she wanted to take us on hours-long tours around the city and beyond. We had to say no, though with all the beating-around-the-bush that is customary, it took us about 3 hours to convince her we actually had to go. Nevertheless, we both got back to our respective places on time to start teaching.

Elections: happened yesterday and of course there were problems. Interestingly enough, from Friday night to Sunday night the whole country is dry. Anybody who gets caught drinking is automatically sent to jail. Apparently, the electoral council doesn't want anybody to vote under the influence or be hungover while voting, so they make drinking illegal. Of course, some voting stations didn't even have the right materials but who cares about that, as long as everybody's sober. So nobody won with a majority so there are going to be run-off elections on November 26th (I believe) and it's between Noboa (the drugged out guy) and Correa! Nobody thought Noboa would make it to the final round. It's kind of like the time these people up north had elections an decided to elect the not-so-bright monkey guy instead of the really well-educated guy, partly because the people were intimidated by his intelligence and wanted someone more like them...but moving on...

You MUST come to Machala, if only to watch the traffic lights!! I finally understand why there are so many car accidents. The traffic lights here are totally schizophrenic. It's green. Then it's supposed to turn yellow, but instead of just being yellow, the green light refuses to turn off so it's both yellow and green at the same time. Then the green light gives up and turns off. So it's just yellow for a sec, before it's supposed to turn red, but the green light feels left so it turns back on again (with the yellow light) and the red light turns on so it's a party! And finally, both the yellow and green turn off to let the red light do its job. IT'S CRAZY. Each traffic light has its own pattern and combination, so it's no wonder people get confused...it makes for some great entertainment while you're waiting for a cab to show up tho. Gotta love this place!

Anyways, that's all for now. I had a story to share, but I forgot it at home so it'll just have to wait until next time.

14 October 2006


Cuenca Cuenta (story)

So I forgot to share my adventures from 6 days of traveling before work...

Well, the other two Machaleño volunteers (John and Melissa) and I took a 4-hr bus inland to a beautiful colonial city called Cuenca one bright Tuesday afternoon. There are 4 volunteers working in Cuenca, one of which John likes (he's going to kill me if he reads this...but he won't so I expect to live long!). Basically, Melissa and I were on a double date with John and this other volunteer for 4 days. She's a really sweet and funny girl so it was fun but a bit awkward at times. The three of us stayed in a artistic, beautiful hostel for $6 a night; what a steal, for a tourist city like Cuenca! One night, a group of us decided to grab a relatively fancy meal at a gringo-restaurant. On our way there, we got a bit lost and came across a political rally for the socialist anti-gringo party, fireworks and all. Now I know fireworks can be really cool, but when you've got paper cows spewing sparks in all random directions, it's never a good thing. Sure enough, bystanders got burned. I'm not so sure how that helps the socialist party's reputation...we got odd stares and after the pyrotecnics we decided it was chow time. After our meal, a bottle of wine appeared floating by the table. As the waiter began unscrewing the cork, we all exploded into fits of "no! no! no!" because we definitely had not ordered the bottle. It turns out that same older man with a silver ponytail, Arturo, had decided that what a table of 4 girls and one guy REALLY needed was a bottle of wine. We accepted it graciously, thanked him a billion times afterwards, and assured him that we would be back the next night at 8pm sharp to chit chat some more. Of course, we never went back. We headed to a well-known salsa club in the hopes of getting some serious dancing in. The bouncer at the door told me the club was full and that we would have to wait. That was no problem, until a group larger than ours were quickly ushered in. I whipped around and asked the bouncer what that was about and he just shrugged, saying NOW the club is full. I was PISSED OFF, but the bouncer assured us that it would just be a matter of minutes before we could enter. Right then, another group of 6 friends walked in and up the stairs. At this point, I couldn't control my bubbling anger and started sternly asking the bouncer what his problem was with us. He looked to the other bouncer and said, "Oh gringos. They think they can do anything." That pushed me over the edge into furious and I started yelling at the guy for being racist. I knew there was no way we were going to get into the club after my tantrum, but I really wanted to let the guy know that it was NOT ok to reject admission to us simply because we're gringos. He started yelling at me and it turned into a game of chicken (who's gonna back down first?) Behind me came a huge group of young Ecuadorians who were itching to get into the club, but the bouncer denied them admission because of the way they were dressed. I told them not to bother with the racist bouncer and they offered to show us another salsa club. We were just too angry...or rather, I was too angry and my friends were too scared/embarrassed to want to go dancing any more so we left. Melissa and I found a quiet place where we could sit and chat over coffee...or so we thought. A group of 4 older men came into the coffee house and while 2 of them cuddled in the corner, the other 2 harrassed us to dance. We told them to leave us alone, but they kept bothering us and at one point pulled us by the wrists to dance. They were shorter than us and we could have definitely taken them, but we just didn't want to deal with it so we dance one song with them. Then we decided to leave. I didn't realize it until we were walking out, but we were the only 2 females in that underground gay club fronting as a coffee house.

The next day, our last, John decided to spend the whole afternoon with his crush so Melissa and I went window shopping...which soon turned into actual shopping! As we were on our way back to the hostel at 4:30pm, we walked by a beauty salon and decided to get manicure-pedicures at Pete's Unisex Salon. Well, why not? They were $8! When we walked in, 2 incredible feminine transvestites greeted us with enthusiasm and led us to our "stations." I asked them how long it would take and they assured us that it would be just 20 min. 2.5 hours later, we were still chatting about...well, everything! It turns out that Dayuma and Cecibel are actually jungle tour guides in the Amazon region (El Oriente, near Puyo) and 2 months out of the year they get to be beauty estheticians. Except when they're jungle guides, they're actually Oscar and Edgar, of course. They were absolutely hilarious, telling us all sorts of inappropriate things that I won't repeat here. All I can say is that it was a cultural experience like no other.

Well, John's hungry and I have to accompany him to the restaurant...so I'll continue with the weekend the next time I get online. Ciao!

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