Monday, March 1, 2010

The excitement of school

I did not read my book before bed last night. I wisely decided that I needed to get to sleep. When I woke up this morning I heard Cecilia’s sons out in the dining room area. I thought about how they’d already walked 2 miles uphill this morning to get here and would be on their way to school around 7am. It was a humbling reminder of how fortunate I am. I remembered how I struggled to get up the hill, and after making it to the top I was covered in sweat. It was definitely an experience to remember.

Since today Monday and I didn’t have class till 8:25 I got a warm breakfast: beans, eggs, and bread. I’m not tired of the food yet. I love beans as much as the day I got here. And I think they love me too. As I was walking to school I saw the same little girl I’d seen last Friday. I recognized her right away and gave her a big hug. It was a great start to the morning.

At the beginning of all of my classes today I gave each of the kids a little piece of paper. On it I had them write any word in Spanish that they wanted to know in English. I told them every day I would translate one word for them. They were all pretty excited about picking whatever word they wanted. I looked at the pieces of paper when I got back to the house.

It was hard to decipher a few of the words and phrases they used. They weren’t always spelled correctly or were grammatically correct. But hey, I know some of the Spanish (and English) I use isn’t grammatically correct, so I’m definitely not judging them. Confusing the letters “B” and “V” in their words like in the word “bicicleta” (bicycle) is common because the letters sound pretty similar in Spanish. Also, leaving out an “H”, such as in the word “horno” (oven) is common because the h is silent.

A couple phrases I received were “Te regalo mi corazón” (I give you my heart) written by a third grader, and “Regaleme un beso” (Give me a kiss) written by a fifth grader. The boy who wrote the latter had originally written “Te amo mucho” (I love you a lot), but had crossed it out. I definitely got a kick reading those phrases.

Some of the more interesting requests for words in English I received were esqueleto (skeleton), payaso (clown), corazón (heart), aplauso (applause), and cartel (poster). The words televisor (television), árbol (tree), amigo (friend), and flor (flower) were often written down. One boy put a sticker on his piece of paper next to his word and another drew a little heart. One kid wrote a word in caliche (Salvadoran slang) that I just happened to know because I’ve been studying words in caliche from a list I compiled. The word was “cuche”, which means pig.

I got a more accurate count of how many students are in each of my classes. In my third grade class there are 37 kids ranging from 8-10 years old. In my fourth grade class there are 36 kids ranging from 9-11 years old. In my fifth grade class A there are 38 kids from 10-15 years old. In my fifth grade class B there are 32 kids from 10-15 years old. I’m going to do a count tomorrow in my two sixth grade classes and my seventh grade class.

During my second class today I realized that there were some people who’d set up a table in the middle of the school. Then a lady came around and said it was my class’s turn for food. I wasn’t exactly for sure what was going on, but I figured it was a mid-morning snack of some sort. Several of the boys had brought bowls or cups with them. They left the room and returned with atole, which is a think, masa-based food/drink. It can be made several different ways with different ingredients. The kind they had was atol de elote, which is made from corn, water, sugar, and a little salt. It kind of reminded me of watery gruel or porridge.

The people who were helping to hand out food were the reason I had a harder time concentrating today during two of my classes. Class 4A and 5A face toward the middle of the school (the atrium part) which included the table with food. The people who were handing out the food were older teenage boys. Need I say more?! During most of my fourth grade class they were whistling and hooting at me, and saying things like “I love you” and “gringa”. None of it was done to be mean, just to get my attention. Basically cat calls. The calls and whistles are not threatening to me, just annoying. When people do things like that to me on the street here I typically ignore them. Even though I’ve often thought of smart alec or sarcastic responses, I don’t dignify their behavior with acknowledgement. That would not be a good idea.

*Note: Remember that not all kids here start school at the same age. Kids in high school may range from 15-20 years old. At 25, I’m not a whole lot older.

During my first fifth grade class several of the guys sat on the steps and watched as I taught. They weren’t making too many noises this time, just blatantly staring at me. I did my best to avoid eye contact. I think of it as a similar situation to walking by perfume counters in the mall: you don’t make eye contact with those people because then they’ll try to spray you with perfume.

Toward the end of my last fifth grade class a few high school boys in uniforms approached the classroom. Thinking they were going to come in to say something to the class (very common) I motioned for them to come in. Their eyes kind of went wide and they shook their heads no. I must have caught them off guard. I guess they were just there to stare at the gringa.

My last class today absolutely cracked me up. We were talking about money and they kept asking for examples. Ejemplo! Ejemplo! I used some real money as examples about what I was teaching. After each example I gave they applauded me. A few times after they applauded I did a bow or a curtsy which made them laugh hysterically. Then toward the end of the class the teacher tried to get them to sing the ABC song but it didn’t work out too well. So instead they all sang a song about mi corazón (my heart). It was a great way to end the school day.

Something I have noticed is that during class I’ll occasionally say or write something in Spanish that I meant to say or write in English. It’s like my brain is starting to think more in Spanish. I’ve had to stop and think about how to spell a few words in English after writing them numerous times in Spanish. “Pronunciation” was one of those words. I write and say “pronunciación” so often during class that went I go to write it in English in my notes or lesson plan that I temporarily can’t remember how it’s spelled. I had the same problem today with education (en español: educación). One of the kids wrote the word “educación” on their paper I’d given them to write any word they wanted to know in English. I went to write the word in English in my notes and wrote couldn’t remember if it was spelled –tion or –cion. I’ve also found myself saying certain words in English using Spanish pronunciation. It’s certainly been interesting.

On the subject of school, my mom asked me a question last night about the cost of going to school here. I was pretty sure school was free but wanted to double check with Kathy and get information from her. There is tuition for Catholic school here because is private. Other than that, school itself is free. Now, that isn’t saying much considering the cost of uniforms, shoes, books, notebooks, calculators, pens, and pencils. Fabric for the uniforms is about $15 and the shirt to go along with it is $8. Shoes are around $20 and socks $2. Five notebooks are around $5 with pencils and pen adding a couple more dollars. Also something to take into consideration is how quickly you have to replace school materials. Shoes will need to be replaced about every 6 months and notebooks around every 3 months.

It may not seem like a lot of money, but when you’re making $150 a month (if you’re lucky) it can really add up. Example: A person working here in Berlín as a waiter may make $140 a month. A person in Berlín selling candy on the street makes around $60 a month. Farmers in the cantons may only make $25-125 a year (see Kathy’s blog about farming: The answer to the question about how much people here make on average is complicated. Factors such as whether people live in the city or canton, their profession, what food they have to buy, and what they grow themselves can make a big difference.

High school students have to wear uniforms while Kindergarten through 9th grade does not require uniforms. New this year throughout the country was the promise of uniforms, one pair of shoes, notebooks, and a few other supplies for grades K-9 from the government. After making the promise of these school materials many more kids enrolled in school (the ones who couldn’t afford it before). However, the government didn’t anticipate the influx of students and many schools have yet to receive uniforms and shoes. Some kids hadn’t received their other school supplies when classes started so the parents had to front the cost themselves.

In the late afternoon I started feeling a little weird. I felt like my vision was off. Kind of like I was slightly intoxicated which of course I wasn’t. I was pretty hungry too so I thought maybe I just needed some food. Sometimes my body does weird things when I’m hungry, including feeling a little light headed. To remedy this I went for ice cream. After returning to the house I still felt like my vision was hazy. As I was checking my email I realized why. It was the malaria medication I was taking. To double check I got the information sheet given to me by the pharmacist and sure enough the most common side effect was blurry vision.

I didn’t think about the medication right away because this is the sixth time I’d taken it and never had problems before. You take it every week beginning two weeks before your trip, during your trip, and 4 weeks afterward. I admit that I got the medication more out of curiosity than fear of malaria (an odd reason, I know). Not sure if I’ll be taking it on the next trip. I’m more worried about dengue than malaria (see Kathy’s blog for a good explanation).

Around 5:30pm I made my way up to my niche to do some reading. As dusk was approaching I saw some bats flying around the house. One swooped pretty close which was exciting for me. I love bats. It was relaxing to sit up high watching the sun go down. Kind of like watching a free movie, only more exciting.

"Only as high as I reach can I grow, only as far as I seek can I go, only as deep as I look can I see, only as much as I dream can I be" ~Karen Ravn


Matt said...

You saw batties! I love your idea of having the kids write down words and phrases they want translated. That makes it a lot of fun for them.

Anonymous said...

I'm so amazed at your command of Spanish!! What fun with the kids. kevin