Saturday, October 18, 2008

My students

This morning we had a friendly soccer game with the colegio (high school) girls. I have some of them in a study hour every night and they're a blast. They're so sassy and fun and I love being with them, although sometimes it's hard to get them to do their homework...

These are some of my second grade boys. Also a blast. You may remember Pablo, who was stealing and eating dental floss during class. Sadly, he missed too many classes and now can't be in the English program anymore. Attendance for the boys was such a problem in the past that they made the English classes optional to them. At first I worried how he would take it (this is the kid who stays behind to help me clean up and holds my hand while he walks me to my next class). But I think he doesn't really even know what happened. He still walks into the classroom after class has ended and helps me clean up before he takes me to where I'm supposed to be. I heard that he wandered into another classroom and stayed for that class one day, appearing to be a little confused about where he was supposed to be. Since he's not supposed to come to my class anymore, he's not in any of these pictures (below are Billy, Pastor, Elvis and Erik, followed by the whole class--minus a few). They're holding up drawings of family members--you'll notice Billy's rectangular uncle and Elvis's stick figures. And yes, Elvis is his name. We also have a number of Lenins, Stalins, Jeffersons, and I even heard about a kid named Hitler.

Until next time,


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A trip to Baños and the first choir performance

Look closely and you can see the town of Baños (more on that below)

Hello everyone! Today the choir had its first performance and the kids did very well. The center is hosting a conference on working children and wanted the choir to open the day’s activities. We started with “Mi Chacra,” a little song about the animals on a farm. During our rehearsals the kids were having a hard time smiling while they were singing, so the other day I danced around in front them to boost the energy a little. I made up some gestures and they enjoyed it so much we decided to include the choreography in the performance. They did a great job—luckily we had prepared a second song, “La Cucaracha,” because the audience wanted to hear another one. I was so proud of the kids because the songs are in two voices (soprano, alto) and they had been struggling with maintaining their own parts. But they performed beautifully today and I’m so happy for them. I have some photos here and a video as well—don’t watch it if you have vertigo because for some reason I kept turning around in circles. I took the video after the performance and some of them were a little too excited/distracted to pay attention to my camera. The clip ends on Joel, one of my favorites (I know you’re not supposed to have favorites but I think it’s inevitable). He’s a great kid and has a very sweet smile…

This weekend we had Friday off for Guayaquil Day (to celebrate the founding of the city of Guayaquil). It sounds like we have three day weekends all the time, doesn’t it? All fourteen of us new volunteers went to Baños, a tourist hot spot named for its natural springs. We took a 40km bike ride (about 25 miles—whew!) through these beautiful green mountains. Sometimes we were on the highway and sometimes the trail led us around cliffs and through small towns—we saw a few waterfalls and ended the trip at a secluded watering hole (photo below).

Our oasis

The sun had been out all day and it was such a relief to jump into the cool water and stand under the waterfall. The bike ride was not easy and I was definitely ready to relax. It was a small paradise and I’m so grateful that we got to spend the day together like that. We kept telling each other how glad we were that all of us had decided to go to Baños together and ride through those mountains.

We flagged down a pickup truck to take us 40km back to Baños. Six people and six mountain bikes in the bed of an old Toyota. The man who took us back (older, approaching elderly) sped over speed bumps and passed anyone who was going under 60mph, but he was kind and refused payment once we arrived.

Still in love with my students, still taking things one hour at a time. I have to remind myself that even though I want them all to like me, I’m not here because I need people to like me. I’m here because they need to know that I love them and I care to listen to them and take them seriously. Sometimes taking them seriously means holding them up to standards no one has ever put them up to. For example, I expect my students not to hit each other. A slap in the face is met with a slap right back, and usually things are so overwhelming that a slap here and there goes unnoticed or seems small in comparison to everything else that needs to be attended to in that moment. Discipline is difficult and it’s my least favorite part about teaching. Yet it takes up the majority of my time—I want to figure out a way to get around it, but I don’t know if I can. Any suggestions?

Let me know how your lives are going. I haven’t forgotten about the whale video, I just haven’t gotten it from my friend yet! Wish this California girl luck as the rainy season starts to kick in…much love, Marian

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I have to tell you about the whales!

We had a day off on Monday so we took advantage of the three-day weekend and went to Atacames, a beach town on the Northern coast. The place is apparently known for its crazy parties, but on this particular weekend the “dry law” was the rule—no selling or consuming alcoholic beverages. The dry law was in place so everyone could be clear minded for the vote (the vote would decided whether or not the newly proposed constitution would pass. It did.) The vote was the reason for the holiday on Monday. Full circle!

Anyway, Atacames was pretty quiet because of this law, so we had all the time and space we wanted to play on the beach, body surf, take naps outside and…go whale watching! I had never been before and apparently September is a great time to go see the whales. The water was very temperate and I don’t blame the whales for sticking around. The whales! We went out on this dinky little boat; I really didn’t think we’d see any whales so I was content with the blue-footed boobies we saw as we started the boat ride. Look closely, their feet really are blue.

All of a sudden the little boy on the boat with us (son of the navigator/driver/captain?) started yelling “aquí, aquí, aquí!” (which means here!). And there was the back end of a very large whale (were they humpback whales? maybe, unfortunately I'm not sure). That alone was magnificent but it kept getting better. We’d see a little bit here and there until we finally got to see the tail surface. We were totally satisfied, but all of a sudden a whole whale surfaced—the whole thing! It just glided up through the water, not jumping, but gliding smoothly until it went back down and sent water flying. We were so close! And then another time we were close enough to hear the whale speak as it went back into the water. It spoke, and it sounded just as you would imagine. We were all silent, looking at each other in disbelief. The whale talked!

That’s when the magnitude of what was happening hit me. I lost the ability to support myself physically (read: I fell down into the hull boat) and started laughing hysterically. Of course, my laughter turned to happy, overwhelmed tears. I cried so hard, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. From then on (we were on the boat for a good hour and a half after that) I lost it every time we saw another whale. We even saw a baby whale flying out of the water! It was just playing around with its mom, and at one point we were so close that the boat driver turned off the motor and we sat there in silence staring at the mom and baby, who were resting at the surface. The baby was so playful, I couldn’t believe that such a huge creature could want to jump around and enjoy itself like that.

Our Boat

Definitely not our boat.

It was a spectacular and strange weekend: stinky hostel, local surfers who put on an impromptu variety show (they even set up a stage in the sand with stray pieces of wood—they wanted us to perform but I think they were more interested in performing for us). Oh! And I was stung by a jellyfish for the first time! It didn’t feel good, but my friend knew the remedies: first you rub sand all over the wound, and then…yes, someone has to pee on you. Everyone was willing to “pitch in” (a little too eager maybe?) but in the end there could only be one winner (or wee-ner, haha). I think it worked because the swelling went down, but it might have been a mere distraction to the pain. Who knows? I’m fine now so no worries.

I really wanted to post a video of the whales (there’s even a video of the baby jumping through the surface) but I’ll have to wait until I can get it from my friend’s computer. Check back! Life is great! –M