Saturday, December 6, 2008

My apartment

Oh, the pink kitchen. It was almost the reason I refused to sign the lease, until I told myself that I don't spend that much time in there anyway, so I guess I could live with it.
This is our living room. Our apartment is two levels with the kitchen, living room, two bedrooms (both Tina's right now, but soon to be mine when we swap after Christmas break) and a bathroom. Oh, and there's a maid's room and another bathroom with just a toilet and sink. These last two rooms aren't really used, we don't have a live-in maid, but most of the apartments here have these rooms in case you do have one.

This is at the top of the stairs. Our little TV room.

These pictures are not in the greatest order, but I have no clue how to change them around. So, we're back downstairs now, this is our kitchen table which is right next to the living room.

This is a view from my balcony. It's just showing the neighborhood I guess. Behind the trees on the bottom, left corner is a corner store where I can buy a beer, a coke, chips, mayo, a banana, bread, ice cream, etc. Comes in handy when you just need a little snack.

Here's a view of the other side from my balcony. You can see where my balcony and my roommate, Tara's connect. This is also a picture of the house that reminds me of Scarface. My neighborhood is famous for having mafiosos live here, so they have to spend their dirty money somehow and so they do it by building these lavish houses with marble driveways and other unnecessary things. Fun to look at for sure.

This is the view straight down from my balcony. There is a park right there beyond those trees.

A few updated pictures of my classroom

Here's the view to the outside. I do love it that it's an open classroom. The fresh air all day makes me feel like I spend a lot of time outdoors. Amazingly, I haven't gotten a sunburn since moving here. So, I guess I'm not spending all that much time outside after all.

There's not much to say about these pictures, just a normal, messy second grade classroom. I thought at the beginning of the year, I'd never learn to get my kids to listen, but they do now. I realized that they didn't really understand anything that I was saying to them the first few weeks of school, their English was that limited. That's all gotten so much better now though. I keep these little charts at their table groups in which there are 20 boxes. I put stars inside the boxes when their whole group is listening and following directions. It's a pretty good motivator that's been working for a few months now. It's pretty funny to see them try to get into their seats with the right notebook open and pencil in hand in a rush, all of them yelling to each other, "Stars! Stars!" Oh, I forgot to mention the bribery part. When they earn all 20 stars, they get to choose a reward such as having a group picnic, computer time, play a game, or bring in a stuffed animal to put on their desk for the day. It's amazing what will motivate a second grader.


Here we have some of my beautiful students. They really are some of the most gorgeous looking kids I've ever seen. This was Halloween obviously. Here we have a witch, Wonder Woman, and Hannah Montana.

And, here we have a kid who took off his costume (I can't remember what it was), the Scream guy, and a "Star Wars Guy" (his words, not mine.)

Here we have a princess (?) and Spidey. The princess didn't wear her costume to school, but her mom brought it for her at lunch and the nanny/maid helped her put it on at school. Haven't gotten used to that yet.

Here we have a monster, a genie, and another scary monster. All the classes came down to the gym and there was a big stage set up and each class got to walk across the stage while parents stood around the perimeter and snapped pictures.

My two little witches.

A pirate, an inmate, and another Star Wars guy.

Here I am with a few of the kids right before they got all sugared up. I was supposed to be a mime, but the makeup that the art teacher put on me made me look more like a dead person. Oh well. All in the spirit of Halloween. I wish I'd taken a picture of how decorated my classroom was. I had moms bringing in decoration after decoration and I had to spend almost every prep period I had decorating with streamers, fake spider webs, bats, and balloons. It was crazy. I also had to spend quite a bit of time taking it all down the next week. I guess that will be happening again soon for Christmas.
The best story I have from Halloween has to do with the culture of beauty that is so prevalent here. At the "Halloween parade on stage" which was really more of a fashion runway show, I kept seeing some of the fourth and fifth grade girls dressed up in similar costumes. They had on blonde wigs, their mom's high heeled shoes, gaudy jewelry, and big movie star sunglasses, oh yeah, and little mini skirs and tank tops. I think cell phones may have been an accessory as well. I asked a group of them sitting near me what they were, and they all said simulaneously, "we're Sexy!" idiotic of me not to know. Like my mom said, it's not really common for kids to dress up as an adjective. But, again, I guess anything goes in Colombia. As long as the girls and women are beautiful, then all is right in the world here.


This was a view from a bridge at the Coffee Park I visited. One of the great things about living here is that you see every shade of green all the time.

Another great thing is that it is not uncommon at all to see birds of many beautiful colors. This blue one is one of my favorites.

Love birds, more of my favorites.

This is a view from my hotel room of the plantation we were staying on.

This is back at the park, in this section called the Bamboo Forest.

Ah, the pool at our hotel. So relaxing.

For Thanksgiving, we had a long weekend. That's the nice part about working for an International School in Colombia. I get a few of the North American holidays and the Colombian ones as well. So, last weekend, my friend Lisa and I decided to venture out and take a big trip to San Agustin. It's a long bus ride from here, about 12 hours, but we had Thursday through Sunday off and it's supposed to be this really neat place where you can hike and see all of these ancient ruins and statues. Well, a couple days before Thursday, we decided we should probably start planning a bit. One of the biggest differences between life here and life back home is that there really is very little planning that goes on. If you want to go on a bus trip, for example, you just go to the bus station and you catch the next bus, there is no schedule to follow. Then, when you arrive somewhere, you just find a place to stay when you get there, you don't have to call ahead and make reservations, unless you're staying somewhere a little pricier. Well, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving we started hearing from people at work that there were volcanic eruptions recently near San Agustin and that it might be impossible to take a bus there. So, we quickly had to come up with Plan B, which was to go to Armenia, a town in the coffee region, about 3 hours from here. Lisa's boyfriend knows a travel agent who found us an all- inclusive deal to stay in a hotel. (I guess for this trip there was a little bit of planning involved.) We left Thursday morning and took a bus for a few hours. The bus trips are a safe way to travel here and it's a very inexpensive means to get somewhere too. For instance, it costs the equivalent of $10 to take a 3 hour bus trip. It's only $25 to go about 10 hours away. You never know exactlly what you're getting, there could be air conditioning or not. There could be a lot of stops or not. The one thing that seems to remain consistent is that the buses fill up and the seats don't leave a tall gringa much leg room. Oh, and there seems to always be a very violent, dubbed movie playing. This last trip, they were blasting one of the Rambo movies in Spanish. I tried to just sleep, but it was a pretty bumpy ride.
One of the most interesting things happened on the bus ride to Armenia. We were about two hours away and one person had already been dropped off. So, there was one seat open. At the very next stop, a woman, well a young girl who looked about 20 years old, got on the bus with her 4 or 5 year old son and her daughter in hand, who was just a baby. The 4 year old was dragging their bag behind them and the conductor put it into the trunk for them. I kept thinking, "there aren't enough seats, where will they sit?" They got on and the mom took the one empty seat, holding her sleeping daughter. And, a woman siitting in front of her, took the 4 year old onto her lap and he proceeded to fall asleep in her lap...a complete stranger's lap! Who does that? Colombians I guess. I kept wondering if they possibly knew each other somehow, but no, it was obvious they didn't. I also kept thinking that if I were the woman sitting in front of the mom, would I be nice enough to let her kid sit on my lap and take a nap?, I wouldn't. But, I'm not Colombian. I also tried to imagine being that little boy. Could I have sat in a stranger's lap at the age of four and taken a two hour nap? No. But, I guess I grew up where strangers were scary and bad. It was an interesting cultural difference.

So, the rest of the trip was great. Lisa and I were literally the only guests at the hotel, because nobody else apparently gets off work for Thanksgiving here. We had the whole restaurant to ourselves, the pool to ourselves. It was great. The place was cute, had a bunch of different house-like buildings with wrap-around porches and benches and hammocks hanging outside to lounge in. Our all-inclusive deal also included an excursion, so we went to this place called Parque del Cafe (Coffee Park). We thought it was just a tour of a coffee plantation, which it was, but it was so much more than that. They had hikes to see Indian monuments, a coffee plantation and museum, and even a couple of roller coasters and rides. The bumper cars were fun. All was well until I got the flu, but I will spare you all the details of my bus ride home with a fever. Not so much fun, but I like to focus on the positive here.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

An insider's view

So, here are some pictures of my bedroom. I have the master bedroom and the furniture was all provided by the school. It's not so bad really, the mattress is pretty hard to get used to because it's so hard, but other than that, the stuff they provided is pretty good. As you can see, I have a picture of Chicago's skyline over my bed, I love having it. Thank you Cesar for that!

Here are the windows that lead out to my private balcony. I'll have to take some pictures of my view for the next post. I keep missing the good time when the light is just right.

Here is my insanely huge closet, this is only half of it, the other half has all my hanging clothes and there is plenty of room for all of my shoes, which is just such a nice luxury that I've never had. Notice how everything is folded up so neatly? That is thanks to Patricia, our maid.

This is inside my bathroom, it's apparently a steam room, but unfortunately, it doesn't work. I'm not sure it would be used though if it did work since it's 80+ degrees here everyday.

Here's the rest of my bathroom. My bathroom is one long hallway that starts with the closet, then the steam room, and then this. And, we're on the top floor of our building. So, when I come home from somewhere and I really need to go tinkle, I have to run up four flights of stairs, then another flight within our apartment, then down a long hallway. Always an adventure.
I'll have to post pictures of the rest of my place next time too and of the neighborhood in which I live. I live in what's called Ingenio II and it's known for having very huge, elaborate houses owned by mafiosos. It's also known for decorating at Christmastime like the Griswald's in Christmas Vacation...I can't wait! I saw one already tonight, it's still early November right?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Post Election Day Thoughts

Just kidding, I fooled you didn't I? I'm not going to write about the election because somebody has already said what I'd like to except much more eloquently. I will relay one story which I find a bit amusing.

This summer my dear friend Amy came and stayed with me the week before I was moving here. So, in the midst of trying to finish up two grad school classes, pack, get rid of furniture, sell a car, buy last minute stuff, see friends and family one last time, and all the other craziness that goes along with moving so far away...I had my own personal secretary, one who is really good at finding information on the internet. One of the things on my ridiculously long list of Things To Do Before I Move was to find out how to sign up for an absentee ballot in Chicago. What my secretary found for me was that I could either go down to City Hall one more time (I'd been there approximately 9 times the previous week) or just figure it all out after I moved. I decided on the latter, since I really didn't want to wait in any long lines again downtown.

It occured to me about a month and a half ago that I needed to figure this all out so that I could vote this year. I've been preaching to kids for years how we as citizens of the U.S. should not take our right to vote for granted...blah, blah, something about women in other countries not being able to vote, etc. So, you're darn right I was going to figure it out. Instead of grading papers one day at school during my prep time, I devoted the entire break to looking online to see how to do this. I wouldn't have been really worried at all, I've voted absentee before, but that was in another place where sending and receiving mail wasn't a problem.

According to the information I found, I could print out an absentee ballot registration form or I could've turned the same thing in before I left. Well, luckily my friend Stetson was going back to the States for a wedding that weekend, so he mailed a bunch of ballot requests in for all of us who were too lazy to do it before we came here.

About two and a half weeks later, I received the absentee ballot in the mail. I was super excited because I'd heard how unreliable the mail is here and I really didn't want to be a liar after all these years of teaching kids how important it is to vote. I voted and then gave the envelope to my other secretary (don't I sound important?) who is really the lone secretary for the entire elementary school. I asked her if she knew how to mail it to the States and she said she'd talk to the big boss about it.

About a week later, the envelope was returned to me with an apology that they couldn't mail it. This was about a week and a half ago. I quickly asked around and found out that you could mail things to the States from a place near the grocery store I go to a lot. A few of us were in the same boat with our ballots, so we all went there after school and found out that to get them there in time for yesterday, it would cost $70,000 pesos, about $40! We decided to not pay for it, it was just too much money, but then I remembered a parent meeting I'd had a few days before that. The parents told me they were taking their sons to Florida for some medical tests, but the kid in my class told me they were going to Disney World for his birthday. I don't really care which of those stories are true, I just saw a way to get our mail to the States.

I promptly went home and emailed the parents in my awfully broken Spanish and never heard back from them. The student in my class was in school the following Monday and I asked him if his parents had understood my email. He just kind of laughed (I'm assuming because of my horrible Spanish email) and said that he could. I made him repeat to me what he was taking and why it was so important that he not forget. By the way, of course this is the least responsible kid in my class with the messiest desk, cubby, and bookbag. That's why I went with him to his bookbag, made a joke about where he was putting it so he'd remember, and then watched him walk to the bus to make sure...what? was I afraid he'd get abducted or something. Well, I am in Colombia, so maybe my fears weren't SO ridiculous. He made it on the bus and got back to school yesterday. I immediately asked him if he'd remembered to mail our ballots. He again just kind of looked at me and smiled and said yes he had.

I realized yesterday and wrote on my facebook page that I entrusted my absentee ballot to a seven year old on his way to Disney World, and that is a fact. As I was watching the election results come in last night on CNN I was pretty amazed by the technology with the maps and comparing from years past, and especially by the woman they hollogrammed into the studio, Princess Leah style, from Grant Park. I wonder how we can have the ability to do all of that, but why I couldn't just vote online. Ughh, politics.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Art Festival in San Antonio

Here's a picture of a drag queen impersonating and singing karaoke to Celia Cruz.

As I was trying to buy more and more earrings, I kept turning around to find scary, painted men and women on stilts. It was pretty amazing to see them walk through the crowded streets without falling.

This art show was a few weeks ago and I went with some friends on a Saturday night. It was in Cali, just in a different part of the city where I feel like I'm in San Francisco sometimes. The roads are narrow and hilly, the houses are colorful, and the people-watching is some of the best I've seen.

I really do more than just look for pizza and watch TV here

Here are my friends Tara and Stetson, enjoying some of the local beer here called Poker and pronounced "po-khair." It tastes to me like Coors Light, which is why I always order it michelada style with lime and salt.
Here's Tina...Stetson has no idea she's behind him.
Tina, Tara, and myself. I think Stetson bought these for us out of pity for the little boys selling them.
This is Pachito, the parrot who was outside our window at the hotel Sunday night. He was Stetson's new best buddy and kept us entertained with the few phrases he knew: "Hola," "quiero cocoa," and "Pachito."
Here's the courtyard in the middle of our hotel. The owners were so nice and the place was just charming as you can see.

A view from the streets of Santa Rosa.

I reread a few sentences of my last few blogs and realized that it may sound like I never do anything here except look for good pizza and TV shows. That's not a very accurate picture of my life here. So, I'm going to include some pictures of what I've been doing. These were all taken last weekend in Santa Rosa, about four hours away, in the coffee region. It was this adorable little town in which they were celebrating their anniversary, so there was a festival in the town square right next to this church. I went with my two roommates, Tina and Tara, and our friend Stetson. All people I teach with at Bolivar. The next day we went up the mountains a little further and swam in the hot springs with two big waterfalls in the background, it was extremely beautiful. I also treated myself to a massage there, which only set me back about 15 dollars...not bad. The whole weekend was very affordable with less than $20 bus rides and hotel stays. The most economical part was buying the multitude of adorable, handmade earrings, which were about a dollar a piece...I have a weakness apparently.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dia de No Carros

Last Thursday, the mayor of our city pulled off an amazing feat, he enforced a day of no cars. The only vehicles allowed from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. were school buses, taxis, doctor's cars, and bullet proof vehicles. This day of no cars was instituted for environmental reasons, to remind people that they don't have to drive their cars everyday, that they can rely on public transportation. I take a school bus everyday, so I wasn't effected.

I found it very interesting though that some of the students here were freaking out at first because they didn't realize they could take their bullet proof windowed cars. There are kids here that are taken to and from school in heavily guarded modes of transportation. It's all very interesting to me. It doesn't scare me, it doesn't make me nervous. We've been told over and over again that the FARC and other guerrilla groups are not out to kidnap American teachers, they may be out to get family members who have a lot of money though.

After all my complaining about not having the internet at home, we finally got it that same day last week. My own computer seems to be giving me some problems now, but my roommate lets me use hers, so I'm feeling better about that. Still updating my blog from work for some reason, maybe I'm avoiding all the work I have to do today.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Johnny, you were right!

As much as I hate to admit that my little brother was right, I'm going to have to go ahead and just admit it. Johnny asked me before I left, "aren't you going to miss Iowa football, Cubs baseball, the Bears, and Chicago style pizza?" I remember Natalie, his girlfriend, said in the background, "It's not you going to Colombia, it's her!" I also believe that I replied very smugly, "Oh, Johnny, you just don't get up those things is easy when you're in a new country, learning a new language, and a new culture." And I also believe that I said I wouldn't miss those things because I'd be having so much fun trying all the new foods and watching all the new sports and TV shows here.

He was right though. I am freaking out because I'm unsure if the channels I have will be broadcasting the right baseball playoff games and I'm wondering every week what is going on with Iowa football. I was able to watch the Bears game this week, but I'm sure that might be the only one since it was a night game. But, what's really getting me, is the lack of good pizza. I can't even explain how much I'm craving something that resembles pizza from the States. I'd even be happy for a little frozen pizza at this point. Which leads to my next story of mistranslated information...

Last Friday night I went home, fought off a nap, and then decided that I didn't want to go out. All I really wanted was a pizza and to watch the presidential debate at home. So, I decided to take a little Spanish test and see if I could order a pizza over the phone. There's a Dominos here, so I thought it'd be the closest thing to normal pizza I could find. By the way, there are little pizza stands everywhere here and I've been trying them all out, but it's just not good pizza. For example, my choices last week were to get Hawaiian or meat, so I chose the meat. I ended up with all kinds of ham, sausage, and what looked like chopped up hot dogs on my pizza! I've found it very difficult to find anything without meat and I prefer veggies. Anyway, it took two and a half hours, but I did finally get my pizza. Basically, they had the wrong address and I wasn't sure how to call back and tell them that they never showed. Plus, I had to figure out if I was even hungry at that point, but I pressed on because I didn't want to fail the test. I'm pretty sure that when I did call back, my broken Spanish sounded something like this: "I called you and the pizza no came." To which the lady handed the phone over and yelled out, "Es la gringa" which means, "it's the gringa." I did get my pizza, and no, it was not very good, and there were many miscommunications with the delivery guy, but I did get pizza, so that is something to be proud of I guess. And, I did watch the debates.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Another fun translation

Well, supposedly we're supposed to get the internet today, I'm not counting on it though, because if there's one thing that six weeks of waiting for internet in Colombia has taught me, it's to not get my hopes up. I remember learning this lesson in Puerto Rico too, but I'd since forgotten it...I spent too many years in Chicago I guess.

My roommate Tina just called the Telmex guy who we've been dealing with, the one who doesn't seem to know anything and doesn't do his job very well. He's been saying for a week that someone is coming today (by the way we had a choice of either today or November 17th...I thought that was a joke, it wasn't) but Tina just called him and he seemed to not know anything about someone coming to install it today. Ridiculous.

Anyway, other than that ongoing annoyance, things are good here. The weather is still 85 and sunny everyday, which is just fantastic. The mountain views are gorgeous, did I mention that I can see them from my balcony at home? And the Spanish is coming along. I have my good days and my bad days with it, sometimes I'm right on and can understand everything and even think of words I'd like to say in response...and other days I don't understand a word and I can't seem to think of one word I've ever learned in Spanish.

This is the first weekend since I moved here that I don't have any obligatory meetings, workshops, or outings. So, I'm really excited about that. I've purposely been noncommital to any planmakers because that's just the way I am and also I am going to relish the time to do whatever it is I want to do this weekend.

There was one cute story from school this week, one that I can recall at the moment. This student came in and we were sitting in a circle in the classroom getting ready to do a community circle activity. Anyway, this kid has trouble remembering to raise his hand and he blurted out (as he was motioning that his stomach was very bloated) that he felt like he was "embarassed." There had been a bake sale that morning and the kids were all sugared up, so he was trying to say that he felt pregnant (embarazado). I had to explain that I've made the opposite mistake of saying I felt "embarazado" when really I meant embarassed. I wonder if there's any way to find the origin of those two words to see if they come from a common one? That would be interesting. Amy, why don't you get right on that, since you're my researcher for statues in Colombia.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Meet the Parents

A couple weeks ago I had Open House...on a Saturday, but I'll get over that eventually. It was a totally different experience from the Open Houses of Berwyn and Waukegan, Illinois. It was different from Puerto Rico too. First of all, the other teachers had prepared us newbies for ALL the parents to come, which I'm not used to at all. They said it's very unusual for parents to miss Open House, especially the Second Grade Open House, since they are the "new kids" to the Primary wing. I had also been told to get my nails done and dress up a little. I was used to the getting dressed up part, but not the nails. I've never worried about them before, so I was thinking that I really should prepare a more formal presentation and be ready to be scrutinized I guess. What I found that day was a pleasant surprise. I gave my presentation, met everyone, then had a few minutes to stand around and socialize a bit. The energy in the room was great, most of the parents already know each other so they were all chatting. Then, one of the moms asked me so genuinely, "So, Carrie, how are you adjusting so far?" I thought that was the nicest thing to say, in fact it caught me off guard a bit. I told them that I loved everything about Cali so far and that the only hard part was all the bug bites. Then, they just kept asking me questions and it was just so unusual for me. I'm used to parents coming to Open House, not feeling comfortable talking to me, then skipping out as soon as they can. These parents though seemed to want to take me out for a beer and show me around Cali, it was pretty wild. One of my friends Jeremy, who teaches third grade, did get asked to go to lunch with one of the families from Open House afterwards. He and his girlfriend got a tour of Cali, went out to lunch, then were offered manicures and pedicures. They were also offered a free stay at a beach house on an island nearby whenever they'd like! So friendly.

I had my own experience with some parents about a week or two ago. I was invited to one of the girls' houses. She's new this year and the mom wanted to make sure she is making friends, so she invited all the girls to her house for a little after school party on a Friday. I also was invited. I wasn't sure if it was appropriate or not for me to go, but I decided that I came here to experience Colombia and that maybe this is a part of it. I took a taxi to her house because I played basketball that day after school. The house was a bit hard to find but absolutely beautiful. Very big, very open, and a huge back yard with a pool. The girls were swimming when I got there, so I talked with Paula's mom for awhile. She asked if I wanted some juice and one of her maids (yes, I said one of...she had three total) brought me a glass of juice on a tray. Not used to that! Then, after making perfume and cupcakes with the girls, a couple other moms stopped by and stayed to chat. One of them decided that she would call her driver/maid/nanny (?) to come drop off appetizers and a bottle of wine. So, I found myself drinking wine and talking American politics with three moms of my students. It was fun, but I felt a little out of place, especially when they started talking about how it was so important to do background checks on the people hired to work in the house such as the maids and nannies. We kept being catered to, which was the other strange part for me. Everytime I thought it might be a good time to go home, another glass of wine was poured and more snacks brought to the table. I ended up getting a ride home from one of the moms, which was so nice of her, but still so weird because my student was sitting in the back seat asking me what I was going to do for the rest of the weekend. The whole experience felt a bit bizarre, but also lovely at the same time. It feels nice to know the parents a bit, I'm not used to that as I mentioned.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Goodbye to Larry

Well, the good news is that I was being an idiot before with my TV and I hadn't changed the setting from antenna to cable. Once I did that, I not only discovered that I had 80 channels, but that I don't really have CNN from the States anymore. We get CNN, the British version, as well as CNN the Spanish version. It's been really great, we even have a bunch of channels like Cinemax, FX, Fox, etc. to waste my time watching. We also have ESPN, but it's in Spanish, so it's all soccer, all the time. They did however broadcast the Steelers game the other night, much to the delight of my roommate Tara from Pennsylvania. It was dubbed over in Spanish and pretty entertaining to hear them mispronounce the players' names. Still no internet connection, which is very frustrating when you were planning on using that as a means to communicate with everyone you know. Perhaps by Christmas we'll have that set up. At least I have those 80 channels and my DVD/karaoke machine to keep me busy. In fact, I looked around yesterday for karaoke CDs and I came across mostly salsa and merengue ones, until finally I found a real gem entitled, Rock en Ingles. It has a song by Cinderella on it as well as "Send Me An Angel" from the 80s. I believe my roommates and I are hosting a party for Halloween, so we may just have to break that one out for everyone's listening pleasure.

Other than that, I feel like I've just been working a lot. My days here are kind of longer than I'm used to. Part of the problem is that for some reason my internal alarm clock keeps going off at 4:30 a.m. and I don't have to get up until 5:30 a.m. So, by the time I get home around 4ish, I'm fighting those afternoon naps like you wouldn't believe. So far, I'm winning.

Speaking of 4:30 a.m., I woke up last Saturday morning at that exact time and then was cursing my body, as usual, when all of a sudden I realized that my bed was shaking. It took me a minuted to realize that I had woken up in the midst of an earthquake. Not having experienced the earthquake that supposedly happened in Chicago a few months ago, I had no reference to what one would feel like, other than just reading about them. It only lasted about a minute, then all was calm again. I did confirm the next day with my colleagues (yes, I had to work on Saturday again) that it was in fact an earthquake. I guess I'll need to read up on what to do when there is one, because I'll be honest, my first thought was that it was just a little one and I was hoping it wouldn't last long since I needed my precious sleep. I guess I wasn't thinking very clearly. Good thing it really was only a little one. I guess they're not all that uncommon here.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Oh, Larry, how I've missed you.

I feel as though I'm caught up with the news, just a little bit though. I found out last night that if I moved the TV upstairs, that we're still getting cable from the last tenant! This is both a good thing and bad thing. The good thing is that we now have 7 channels instead of 2 1/2. The other good thing is that we now get one channel in English, CNN. So, I got to watch Larry King Live last night, and boy was I excited. I've never once watched Larry in the States, but it was nice just to hear about the campaign, even if the whole show was just about Obama's lipstick on a pig comment. The bad thing is the fact that we still have cable means that our cable/internet is still not hooked up!

This was actually a pretty good story this week. So, there's this guy Tom that helped us move in and has lived here for 18 years. He's in charge of helping the new teachers when they move here for the first year, among other things. So, he's been calling this guy from Telmex (the internet/cable provider) every day for the past month, asking him when the other contract from the previous tenant can be cancelled and ours can begin. He's been told every time that it should be another 2-3 days. So, he asked the guy this week if there was any way to make this go a little faster. The guy told him to go talk to the people at the Telmex office across the street. So, after school on Tuesday, Tom, my roommate Tara, and I went to these offices. We walked in and the security guy and lady at the front desk told Tom that we couldn't speak to anyone about our situation, that it was only corporate offices there. The lady was pretty rude, so Tom told her that she should work on her dealings with the public and then turned around and was swearing in English all the way out. That's the way Tom is. He's loud. That's also why Tara and I decided to ask for his help. So, they sent us to this other tiny office in some neighborhood about 10 minutes away. This "office" was off a main street, had bars in front, and a few ladies working inside. No doors, by the way, you have to talk to people through the prison-like bars. So, Tom relayed our story to this lady, who said that nothing like this had ever happened before and that the original guy who signed us up wasn't doing his job. We put the two of them on the phone together to see if they could figure it out because didn't our teachers always tell us that "two heads are better than one?" Well, not in this case. The woman basically put the ball back in the original incompetent guy's hands...and he told us, yes, you guessed it, to wait 2-3 more days. When we asked for her number so that we could call her for the status of our account, she told us that she didn't have a work phone number, even thought there was a phone in plain sight right next to her on her desk. Strange. So, we went back to the original idiot and tried to see if he would tell us something different if perhaps it was in person. Tom, who towers over this man, still only got our standard reply. The best part of the whole debacle was that when Tom asked the guy if he could change one thing on his own Telmex account, the guy was more than willing to help him out. So, he directed Tom over to this phone hooked up to the kiosk and when Tom picked up the receiver, it was unplugged and the guy was scrambling to plug it in. So, the TELmex company seems to have a bit of an issue getting phones hooked up for it's employees, which is probably part of the reason why we still don't have the internet or cable.

I'm not sure what I learned from this, but I just keep hearing what Tom is always saying to the new teachers, "I'm amazed anything in Colombia works."

Although I still don't have the internet or real cable at home, I do have CNN, so that's at least something. Something I never thought I'd be excited about, but still something.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A link to civilization

Yesterday, I decided I'd had enough of not being connected to the outside world from home, and my roommate Tara and I went to the superstore here, La 14, and bought a TV, a TV stand, and a DVD player. This story gets a little more interesting I promise. The idea was to buy these items, go upstairs to meet some friends for dinner, then get a mani/pedi, which only costs $15 by the way. The way electronics work here is you tell the salesperson what you would like, they take it out of the box, plug it in to make sure that it works, and then they repackage it all. As they were testing the TV, I decided we probably needed a DVD player as well, so the saleslady told me all about this one that was on sale. I decided to go for it, not really looking at the box, even though I hadn't entirely understood all the bells and whistles that were explained to me. As they were testing the DVD player, they also took out of the box two microphones. So, I guess I just bought a DVD/karaoke machine! Bonus. I haven't hooked it up yet, but it was another language barrier moment that was awesome. So, we left our purchases downstairs and went to meet up for dinner. Tara and I decided to split what we thought was a salad/appetizer/fried plantain thing that we saw the chef making. What we didn't realized when we got the food, was that it was a plate with a piece of lettuce on the bottom, deceiving tomatoes around the sides, and plantains on the top. The inside was a monstrous pile of different kinds of meat. So, it was essentially a meat salad of some sort. It was good, but way too much for even 2 of us. The best part is that, we had also ordered 2 pinchos de pollo, which I thought was just chicken on a skewer. The waitress then brought out the pincho de pollo, another side salad, and a potato...for each of us. It was the most food I've ever ordered, ever. The waitress brought it out, struggled to find room on the table for all of it, then must have looked at our horrified faces, then said to us, "para llevar?" which means "to go?" Of course we said "si." So, now we had a huge bag of more meat with us, but we decided to get our nails done anyway. This all seemed like a great idea at the time. I basically felt like I had to do it last night, because we have the second grade Open House with the parents tomorrow morning (yes, a Saturday) and I'd heard that the parents are kind of into making sure you're well-groomed, that it's a bit more important here than what I'm used to. So, after getting my nails done, I took the bag of leftover meat, went back downstairs, paid for our TV, TV stand, and DVD/karaoke machine and left to hop in a cab home. The next part is just ridiculous. The TV of course did not fit in the trunk or the back of the cab, so we decided to take it out of the box. The only problem was, we had just gotten our nails done and they didn't have those little dryers, so they were still wet, mine were at least. Luckily, everyone around us came to help out, the cab driver, another cab driver, the workers at La 14, and even someone just passing by. I told my roommate that I felt like such a princess, having everyone do all of this for us...untape the box, take out the TV, unpack it, take off the plastic, break down the box, load it all into the cab, etc. It was pretty ridiculous. I'd love to know what these helpful people were all thinking about Tara and I. So, tonight I'll be setting up all my new stuff, although it's not that exciting because we STILL don't have the internet or cable or any real link to civilization at home. That's why I'm writing you all from work right now. Way to use my time wisely, I know.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Plastic Surgery

In Cali, plastic surgery is a part of life apparently. There are many, many women walking around with huge knockers and even butt implants, ala J. Lo, although supposedly hers is real. There is also this nose I keep seeing everywhere, it's a cute nose, but it goes up a little on the end, kind of like Nicole Kidman's I think. There is also a very strange attitude about it all, well, strange to me. It's completely normal and even a status symbol of some sort. It's very common to see taped up boobs, even with the high school kids here I've heard. It's also very normal to see a taped nose. Yesterday, one of my second grade girls took a sticker from her notebook, and put it on her nose, like it was taped up after a nose job. It was a bit shocking, but I guess it's just part of life here. I don't think I'll be getting any plastic surgery while I'm here, but I may get my teeth whitened. I've heard that getting lasik on the eyes is cheaper here too than in the States, so maybe I'll look into that.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My first weekend out

As I finally felt better and was able to socialize this weekend, I realized that I love Colombia so far! Friday after school was the annual "we're finished with the first week of school" staff party, which was supposed to be at our boss' house (on campus), but since it rained a lot, it was moved to the cafeteria. There was free beer, appetizers, and very loud music. It was fun, but also kind of strange to be drinking where your students were eating lunch a couple hours beforehand. After that, some of us went to this teacher's apartment, Mac is his name. We continued to drink and hang out. The girls ended up dancing in the living room to Madonna songs while the guys sat outside and drank together. It was all very middle school of us. Then, since we had skipped dinner, Mac who has lived here for 6 years I think, took us to this place to eat called Segundo's. It's basically a big huge grill and you can order whatever kind of meat you want, I had baby beef, it was delicious. I'm glad I'm not a vegetarian, it would be next to impossible to eat here. (Bethie, if you're reading this, you would hate it.)

Saturday, during the day, the parent association here, invited all the new teachers to a place called Nirvana. It's about an hour drive, north of Cali, and it's a huge environmental haven, where we went on a 2 1/2 hour hike up a mountain, in awe of all the cool looking trees, flowers, and plants. We saw some animals too, some horses, a caterpillar as big as my foot, and some really cool rainforest looking birds. It was really beautiful, I took a bunch of pictures, that I'll have to add later.

Saturday night I went salsa dancing for the first time here. I remember learning the basic steps in Puerto Rico, but it seems that it's just like my Spanish ability...if you don't use it, you lose it. Luckily, I didn't dance, there was a band, so it was more of just watching the band perform and watching other people dance. It was a really fun atmosphere though, oh yeah, and the place was called Blues Brothers, which was odd. There were murals of John Belushi on the walls and other pictures up of B.B. King and I can't remember who else. It made me feel like I was in the States again, but just listening to salsa music.

Yesterday, I didn't do much of anything, slept in and then went grocery shopping. Part of our pay is given to us with these food coupons that we can use at the grocery store for anything, food, TVs, or you can even use them at certain restaurants. They make me feel like I have food stamps, I don't really understand the whole concept of them, they're just like cash, so why do they use them? I haven't figured it out yet. The only problem is that if you use the big amount coupons, the cashier can't give you cash back, so I had about $4 in change owed to me, and had to buy about 2 packs of gum and 4 packs of Halls to try to reach the exact amount.

The kids at school have calmed down quite a bit. I think I forgot to mention that the first couple hours I had 2 boys who every time we lined up, were punching each other in the balls. I talked to them very sternly and basically told them that they could really get hurt doing that (not to mention give up the chance of having kids someday...I didn't mention that part), but every time I turned around, they were at it again. Well, so far so good today, no ball punchers, and they're even getting the hang of listening to their teacher! I guess I'm making progress. Hope you're all doing well.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The First Week of School

I'm finally feeling a little bit better. I still have a nasty cough, but the antibiotics the doctor prescribed seemed to have taken care of the flu-like symptoms. It was not a very fun weekend (the last one). I tried to just sleep it off, it didn't work. I had no energy to do anything, which is really a challenge when you don't have a television, or the internet to keep your mind occupied. I have nothing against reading of course, but even that started to get a bit old, because that was my only option. So, it's good to be feeling normal again.

The second graders started school this Wednesday, and boy was it different than I expected. First of all, let me say that they are quite possibly the most beautiful children I've ever seen. But, they also have the least amount of listening skills and just school training in general that I've ever had the pleasure of dealing with. I've never taught this age before, and what really made me nervous about it all was not if I could teach them, because I knew I could, but if I could train them. I didn't realize that I would have to literally train them how to sit down at a desk! I had to do that yesterday. I didn't realize that they wouldn't know when it was appropriate or not to speak in class. I feel like I'm teaching giant preschoolers sometimes.

It seems that anything goes as far as talking. I'm still getting used to this cultural difference of speaking (really loudly) whenever they want to, no matter who else is already speaking. It sounds silly, and I didn't believe it myself, but I was definitely warned about this by, well, everyone. I kept thinking, "how bad can it be? They're just kids, like anywhere else?" But, where do you start when it's a cultural difference to talk over people and it's a class difference to talk over teachers, who may be seen as equivalent to the nanny at home? I'm figuring it out at this point (day three with the kids), but I think that this year is going to take every inch of patience that I have left after ten years of teaching.

I don't mean to sound complainy though, I'm actually enjoying the challenge, it's just very different.

Now, let me tell you all about the parents because this was really different for me as well. The parents all dropped off their children the first day and then were invited to stay for a quick assembly for all of the primary grades. The parents of my students greeted me with kisses on the cheek, hugs, offers to help with bulletin boards, and their cell phone numbers. I had a grandmother give me her cell phone number just in case I want her to come in and help with any photography, since that's a hobby of hers. It was amazing really, the amount of parent involvement right from day one. The only down side was that they didn't leave! I think some parents were lurking around the school all day, just waiting to catch a glimpse of their kid somehow. I think I was interrupted in my classroom about 20 times, all before lunch, all for unnecessary, unimportant reasons. It's hard to keep control of a bunch of noisy second graders, when parents just wander into the room throughout the day to say hi. But, that seems to have subsided since the first day.

What else is going on, so I had a really bad bug day yesterday. We had a cockroach in our kitchen in the morning, so I had to Raid it to death, sorry little buddy. I didn't really feel bad, though, I must be honest. It was upside down, stuck on its back, which made me wonder, how does a cockroach get stuck like that? Was it running across the floor too fast and all of a sudden it did a running flip, but never made it all the way around? Then, I got to school, removed a pocket chart hanging on a bulletin board, which revealed the biggest spider I've ever big as my hand. That's right, take a look at your hand and imagine a big black, hairy spider, with cool little yellow stripes. Not ugly to look at, but not fun when it's right next to the calendar which you have to use in 20 minutes with a bunch of kids. So, I went to get Marco, the only male on the second grade team, and he was about to get it into a cup and put it outside, when it crawled behind the bulletin board! For all I know, it's still there. Calendar time yesterday and today was the fastest I've ever done it, about 2 minutes long. I'm sure it's more afraid of me than I am of it, but still, that thing was huge! Then, I had lunch duty which I specifically wore long pants for, but my poor, uncovered feet got eaten so badly by all the tiny grass bugs here. My legs and feet are so bad right now that I'm embarrassed to wear skirts or shorts. I took pictures last night, so as soon as I get the internet at home and can upload those, I'll show you how much the bugs here are in love with me.

Again, I feel like I sound like I'm complaining. It's all just very different and I like to keep track of the funny and the annoying parts, so that I can remember it all. I will end on a much more positive note though and tell you that I successfully deposited a check into my new bank account yesterday, which is no small feat here. I'll be more specific next time, I have to get back to my job.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pictures of School

One of the main fareways to get around campus. These symbols were donated awhile back to represent all the entities who work together to make the school run like the parents, teachers, administrators, community, etc.
Here's the front of my classroom. It looks more like a classroom now that I've been putting up beautiful bulletin boards.
This is the side view of my classroom. As you can see, the fresh air will be abundant.
This is the back of my classroom.

These flowers outline the administrators offices.
Yes, I'm teaching second should be very interesting.

Here's one of the many walkways leading to the various parts of the campus at school.
This is the huge mango tree steps away from where I teach and also where I will wait for the bus to take me home each day.