Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Step into my aula....

A couple anecdotes, positive and negative from my various classrooms (aulas):

I'm pretty happy that my students have gotten comfortable with me and call me over to help them with the various exercises we do in class. Unfortunately that also means that when I'm working with one student I sometimes have two or three yelling "Profe! Profe! Profe!" (Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!) at me despite the fact that I'm clearly occupied. Usually I find myself saying, wait! wait! wait! right back at them.

This week, that manifested while we were trying to play a game that my counterpart suggested on the spot so it wasn't super organized on our parts. So I had the class in two teams playing charades with different emotions- each team had five minutes for people to come to the front, draw an emotion, and act it out, one team would go and then the second. I guess that part wasn't clear because these two girls on the team that was supposed to go second kept jumping up and yelling that they wanted to participate. I tried to explain a couple times, in Spanish, to wait until it was their team's turn but they just kept doing it! Finally, I got exasperated and yelled dramatically, in English, "For the love of god, wait!!" and they laughed and actually sat tight till it was their turn. Strange how that works out sometimes.

The other week we were teaching prepositions of place (in, under, next to, etc) using various objects in the classroom and had gotten to the point of asking, for example, "Where is the notebook?" and answering with "The notebook is on the desk." So I was trying to help this girl with the practice exercises in class which were to write maybe five questions and answers about the classroom. I offered a lot of help on the first one so I wanted her to pull her weight on the second. We got the question written but the answer was hard for her to understand and I was getting frustrated myself because I was running out of ideas of how to explain it. Finally, I asked her the question in Spanish and told her to answer me in Spanish and we'd translate to English. Very much to my dismay she just looked at me blankly, and despite all my encouragement and leading questions she couldn't even tell me "The window is next to the door" in Spanish. Then I had a very unteachery moment as I stood up and told her I wasn't giving her the answer and that she would fail if she didn't put in a little effort of her own. That didn't seem to phase her at all.

I have to say, though, that I had one of my prouder moments last week when I overheard one of my first year students telling my counterpart that when I'm not in class it's boring. That was pretty gratifying to hear after I had spent the better part of a one and a half hour class block (that's two 45-minute classes) bouncing around the front of the classroom doing goofy actions for them to repeat after me in order to learn things like open your notebook, silence please, and raise your hand. It can get really tiring teaching like that sometimes, but when the kids respond to it it's totally worth it and feeds the energy right back to me.

and some more pictures from the beach a couple weekends back:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A little more each day....

It's getting hot. Like so hot that I can't even find refuge in the afternoons by chilling in my hammock in the shade. And so begins the really hot time, awesome.

I received some truly sad news last week: it was in the national paper that a student at my school had been sexually molested by her uncle for at least the past year. My counterpart was the one who told me and he kept saying it was one of our second year students, but when he told me her name my heart fell into my stomach and I got a shiver in the afternoon heat because it was one of my favorite and best students who I've taught since I came here 8 months ago and now it sounds like she won't be coming back to school.

My most poignant memory of this girl, her name is Jasmina, is from one of the worst weeks I had in the beginning of my service, I was doubting what I was doing, not motivated, and feeling like the kids weren't even trying to learn so what was the point. Jasmina was always one of the smarter students in class and so one day I called on her to read aloud the paragraph we had been working with. What I didn't know at the time is that she also had some health problems and so when she stood up to read and got nervous, she looked like she was going to faint. We got her sat down and I told her not to worry about reading the paragraph, but once she was recovered she stood right back up and read the whole thing. I was so proud I was literally speechless. That little event helped me get out of my funk and remind me that even though some of the kids could care less about learning English, there are those who do care and will work hard for it. I just hope that even if she doesn't return to my instituto that Jasmina finds another school to attend and that maybe this horrible event in her life won't keep her from finishing her education.

As to not end on a sad note, here's a picture from Playa Coco which is where I spent part of last weekend in a big house with at least a dozen people from six countries. It was a good weekend:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Nica Tidbits

Last week my counterpart, Axel, came to class with some photos from the newspaper for the kids to describe in English. Several of my students, and Axel, agreed that I look like this exactly photo of apparently Nicollete Sheriden (needless to say I laughed pretty hard):

I have come to terms with the fact that in Nicaragua, I am every blond woman ever because in their eyes we all look alike. I've gotten pretty used to being mistaken for these Canadian twins who live here as Jehovah's Witnesses because they're blond - even though to me we look nothing alike because their hair is much lighter than mine and they don't wear glasses. But I hear they're leaving at the end of the month so maybe when that happens people will figure out that I'm not a Canadian Jehovah's Witness.

Just to change the topic a smidge, here's a bit about names in Nicaragua. Everyone here has the equivalent of a first name and a middle name followed by their father's first last name and then their mother's first last name- I get really confused sometimes when I ask kids their name and they rattle off four names at high speed. They also get confused because I only have one last name and no one can say it (of course I tell them that lots of people in the U.S. can't say it right either so don't worry). Luckily for me both my first and middle names are vaguely common here, just pronounced a little differently so even I find myself introducing myself as "Yenneefur."

Here are some of the more interesting first names (and spellings) I have come across in Nicaragua:

Ugeykar (even my Nicaraguan co-teacher thought that one was a little odd)
Hazel spelled as Heyzel and Hassel
Michael spelled as Maycol

But my personal favorite I came across very recently, and that is "John Kenedis" (slightly recognizable as John Kennedy) as a first and middle name. Maybe some day there'll be a little Barrack Obama Baltodano Gutierrez running around.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

International Women's Day

As you may or may not be aware, Sunday was International Women's Day. I have no idea if this is celebrated in the U.S. but here in Nicaragua it was recognized in the schools and gave me yet another opportunity to see machismo rear its ugly head.

Machismo refers to the macho attitude of many men in Latin America which obviously can lead to gender inequality in these countries. Machismo can be anything from the large amount of catcalls I get whenever I walk down the street to women doing all the cooking, cleaning, and housework to just the general way that a lot of men walk around like they own the place and many women are simply trying to find and keep a man who may or may not actually do anything at all. Initially I was impressed to see how many women worked outside the home and/or were attending university, but more and more I realize that that's not necessarily the majority and for many women here their lives revolve around traditional female roles, whether or not that's what they want to be doing.

Friday we had a little lunch at school to welcome the new principal and also to celebrate International Women's Day a little early in the small town where I started teaching this year. In general I consider the counterpart at this school (his name's Axel- I need to do a post on the names I encounter here) to be somewhat more intelligent than the average Nicaraguan male. However, on this particular day we got into a discussion about what women can and can't do. When asked what men can do that women can't, Axel's two examples were driving a car and managing a company.

I told him that in the States everyone drives and tried to explain that it's not that women can't manage companies, it's that here in Nicaragua they haven't been given the opportunities men have to attend university and learn the skills they need and that in other countries plenty of women manage companies. He didn't say much to that but I'm hoping that maybe he thought a little bit about what I said, especially because he's a teacher and I would hope he encourages the female students as much as the males. When Axel asked me when International Men's Day is I told him "everyday is Men's Day in Nicaragua."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Si Dios Quiere Parte II

As much as I hate hearing people use the phrase "si dios quiere" (if god wants it) because it tends to imply a sort of hands-off, the lord will provide so I'm not gonna do anything kind of attitude, sometimes I think it can be right on. I have always felt that I had to work sooooo hard for stuff that for some people just seemed to fall into place. Now I can count two times that things have just fallen into place for me, or rather, stopped me on the street and changed the course of my life here.

The first time happened waaaaaay back in October when I had just started me search for housing. I had very few prospects despite having asked everyone I knew if they knew of a house for rent. Then one day a German volunteer I knew was stopped on the street by a woman asking if she was looking for a place to rent. Luckily my friend wasn't but knew I was so she brought me the woman's number. I have a tendency to put things off but for some reason I called up this lady right away that night and went to see the house the next day and it was perfect. That is how I found my house that even Peace Corps said was perfect. That is also how I became friends with my landlord and her cousin who I visit at least every other day for a chat or a meal. I was chatting with Linda, the cousin, one day about how lucky I was to find the house and she told me that god wanted it. I said yeah, I think you're right.

My second story happened only a couple weeks ago. I had been wanting to send an email to Peace Corps staff about a problem I'd had in my site but first the wireless on my computer went out and then the internet in the school wasn't working. I was starting to think I wasn't meant to ever send this email but I made one last attempt and walked up to the neighborhood cyber. On my way a young woman came running up to me and asked if I was the one who gives English classes at the high school (this is how a lot of people know me, not by name or organization but just that I give English classes at the instituto). She explained to me that she'd be going to Canada in June to work and wanted to learn English. I had recently decided that I needed more girlfriends so I said I'd do what I could.

I knew some other folks who had been asking for classes since January so I invited the people I knew and told this girl, Anielka, to bring a couple friends if she wanted. On Sunday night I scheduled an introductory meeting to talk to everyone about the class- Anielka showed up with seven friends and no one else I had invited came. We had our first official class last night and it went really well, it's a good group of people and I feel so lucky that it all just kinda fell into my lap.

And the counterpart I've continued to have problems with actually showed up at my house to plan for class! Granted she showed up about 4 hours late and in the middle of my class last night, but I still call that progress.