Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Program

School Christmas programs tend to be the same the world round: lots of proud parents and lots of cute kids, a few who participate loudly and with pride and the rest not having a clue as to what's going on. I love this picture of the maternal class (2-3 year olds). The tallest boy in the class is also, as you can see, the most enthusiastic singer.

As the ninth grade homeroom teacher, I was reponsible for working with them to prepare something for the program. I asked the other teachers what classes usually do and was told they sing a Christmas song. I get a chorus of painful groans when I ask the students just to take out a notebook or sit in their seats, so I couldn't imagine getting a group of 14-year-olds to sing a Christmas carol in front of the school and parents.

When I asked the principal for advice, she told me she had seen the girls practicing a Christmas dance to "Jingle Bell Rock" so why didn't I have them to that? Both their dance moves and costumes were based on the movie "Mean Girls" and while I did work with them and they kept assuring me it would be great, I still had nightmares of inappropriate dance moves, scantily clad students, and me having to claim responsibility. But like so many other things here, it turned out just fine. The girls practiced a lot (usually during science class, which was fine by me) and we were all proud of how it turned out.
The boys' role was to stand on the side and snap their fingers. Though they didn't do this with too much enthusiasm, they participated and some days you take what you can get. Lots of days in fact.

Right now I'm home for Christmas for 2 weeks. It's been really wonderful to get caught up with family and friends and just be home.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Some Things You Just Can't Get Away From

A few days ago, I was at the home helping some girls with their homework when somebody came into the library, said something in Spanish I didn't understand, and all the girls dashed out. The cause of the excitment turned out to be a box of candy they had opened and were handing out: Peeps. One of the girls offerered me some. I wasn't sure how to say, "My teeth hurt just thinking about those things" in Spanish, so just said no thank you.

And then last night I went to the Mall with some of the other volunteers to watch a student Christmas performance. The kindergarten class recited a poem and one little boy kept grabbing the microphone from the MC to repeat the poem again or just talk. A few of my junior high students played a few songs on the guitar. You could hardly hear them, but the most entertaining part was watching them pluck out the chords with concentrated expressions. The choir sang some Christmas songs, and it brought tears to my eyes. They were stunning, and it finally felt like Christmas to me here.

Aftewards we went to the movies. Nothing looked that good but someone mentioned that The Day the Earth Stood Still wasn't bad. It wasn't until after I bought the ticket that I was told it starred Keanu Reeves. Luckily, he plays an alien, a built an excuse to not have to actually portray any human emotions. And I got to eat my favorite Honduran food, the caramel corn at the movies, so it wasn't a wasted night.

Next Sunday, I head home for two weeks. I haven't been as homesick as I thought I would be here (Thank you Skype!) but I cannot wait to just be at home and with the people I love.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Few Student Pictures

Here are my 9th grade girls. Last Wednesday Honduras played Mexico in a World Cup qualifier, which meant that students were out of uniform. When the kindergarten teacher was painting the Honduran flag on her students' faces, my students saw and insisted that we all get it done too.

Here's the 8th grade class. All of it. They can be a bit mischievous but are incredibly sweet and funny and want to learn. No matter how crazy my day gets, I can count on them to be a breath of fresh air.

And here's a few snapshots of the seventh graders. They made cell models (just like I did in 7th grade with Mrs. Sunquist!) and then went to teach the 4th graders about cells. I'm not sure either group learned anything, but they had fun.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Día Típico

Last week was Día Típico at our school. This meant school was cancelled for the day so teachers could decorate in the morning. The title Typical Day referred to the traditional dances and food that would be in the evening, but the day with teachers was pretty "typical" as well. At first I was frustrated that we weren't getting much done, and I wonder how long it will take before the phrase "If I were at home...." quits springing so quickly to mind. It turned out to be a really fun day with the other teachers, and I learned another lesson in how to just be with people and not always needing to be busy doing something.

The teachers prepared decorations and also put out traditional clothing and artwork that students had brought in.

Here I am with some of my students who had come to prepare for their dance that night.

I don't have many pictures of the actual event because, as usual, I'm terrible at taking pictures, but here's one I like of some of the preschoolers before their dance.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pueblo Nuevo

Our Little Roses is building a conference/retreat center about an hour from San Pedro Sula in the small town of Pueblo Nuevo. A few of the volunteers and I recently went out for the Feria, the town fair. It’s a sweet little town in the hills, and it was great to get out of the city for a bit.

We didn’t know what was scheduled, but as we were walking around town we heard a marimba band playing in a building. When we peeked our heads in the door, we saw a band on stage with several older men and a large town hall full of small tables decorated with white tablecloths and flowers. We were quickly welcomed in and spent a few hours watching something similar to a local talent show. The marimba band performed and others would volunteer to come up and sing songs also. Some children performed a few dance routines, both modern and folkloric. One man mimed a routine where he was eating bananas and then had diarrhea while the MC made sound effects with the microphone. The elders of the town were publicly recognized and several prayers were said, including the prayer of St. Francis.

One woman was near tears as she read the names of all their family and friends who were in the United States working to support them. The room grew quiet as she spoke of how much they missed their home and asked that they all pray for one another.

We were served Coke in small plastic glasses (I’ve drank more Coke in my three months here than the rest of my life combined) and served a great lunch. People smiled and greeted us but never questioned why we were there or hesitated even a moment to welcome us.

We had to leave in the late afternoon to catch the bus back to the city but caught a glimpse of the parade which included several classic cars and this truck with children dressed as butterflies titled “A Garden of Light and Love.”

Friday, October 31, 2008

Soccer is King

It’s no big cultural news that soccer is big in this part of the world. More surprising is how much I like watching games. Most likely it’s just because it’s a chance to be with people and feel part of the culture here, but it’s pretty fun, whether it’s watching a big game at the bar, going to a local field, or watching local professional teams at the stadium.

A few weeks ago, a woman named Katie was studying Spanish here. She’s quite connected with a local family, and she invited some of us along to watch a game with them. About ten family members were there, including this little guy and even the six week old baby. I couldn’t tell if she was watching much of the game, but she seemed pretty content.

I’m seated between Katie and her friend Joe, and right below us is Ashley, one of the volunteers I live with who's become a good friend.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rain Days

When one of the 7th graders told me that school here is sometimes cancelled due to rain, I was pretty excited. Between the number of classes that I have to prepare and teach and the differences in culture, work can be exhausting. I think it will become less so as I understand more of the school system here and continue to adapt, but it’s definitely difficult right now. So when I walked to school Tuesday morning, only to have the principal tell me that the department of education had called off school for the city because of the rain and flooding, I was ecstatic. Remember that feeling you had on the morning of a snow day when you were a kid? It doesn’t feel any less great as an adult.

Other than the inconvenience of near constant rain and occasionally flooded streets that usually quickly drain, our area wasn’t affected much. It wasn’t until I watched the local news and read the paper later that day that I realized the severity of it in other parts of the city and country. The rain has lessened now, but in the past several days, 29 people have died, 14 are missing, and 20,000 moved to shelters. 200,000 people have had damage to their homes. Though the damage has been nowhere near comparable, Hurricane Mitch is often mentioned, and it’s clear how much this country is haunted by the devastation Mitch caused almost exactly 10 years ago. For good reason. Mitch killed 6,000 with 8,000 more missing, left 20% of the population homeless and wiped out most of the country’s infrastructure, an event from which they haven’t recovered.

Don’t get me wrong. I still loved having a day off of school, but I don’t know if I’ll be quite so eager to hope for another.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Why I Didn't Go into Photography

A few people have asked for pictures, but I'm terrible at taking them. I usually take my camera with me but never remember to use it or if I do, they don't turn out. However, I do have some that people that people have sent me or random ones I’ve taken.

Here's Katherine riding her bike around the home.

This is Pulhapanzak Falls. Our school had a staff outing to a restaurant and park by Lake Yajoa and stopped here on our way. We were only there for a bit, but I hope to return as you can do a zip line over the falls, swim in the shallow areas of the river, and get guides to take you to caves behind the falls.

A few weekends ago I went to a coffee farm in the mountains. Long story short, five of us volunteers plus three friends who were visiting another volunteer from Holland stayed with the family of a friend of the boyfriend of one of last year's volunteers. It was a random weekend, but really great. We took this truck to the farm after a four hour bus ride and short walk to somebody's home, though I still don't know who. Luckily, it didn't rain much more than the few drops on the camera lens.

Here’s all of us and the family who stayed there that weekend. The family was incredibly kind to us and planned things for us to do. We also had lots of fresh fruit from the farm and plenty of really, really good coffee.

David, my buddy for the weekend. I don’t think I ever figured out exactly whose he was because everybody helped take care of the kids. He helped me not miss my nieces and nephews so much.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Never Write It in Pen

That’s become our joke during staff meetings. Life here is definitely more unpredictable than at home. It’s kind of fun to never know what a day will bring and to learn to be more laid back about things.

Last Saturday, we had a four hour staff meeting planning events for the year, changing most of the dates on the calendar we had been given early on. The best change was that it turns out the Science Fair, which they had told me I was in charge of, is only for elementary this year, so I’m not involved at all anymore. I don’t really do cartwheels, especially in staff meetings, but the thought crossed my mind.

The first event we planned was a Family Sports Day for this past Friday, so I changed my lesson plans. On Monday afternoon, the office brought by letters to go home with the students. I didn’t get one but skimmed one of theirs and discovered school would be ending at noon on Tuesday because of a meeting that most of the teachers (though not me) had to attend. Changed lessons again. On Wednesday the electricity went out around 11:30, so classes were cancelled for the rest of the day. Moved lessons to the next day. Friday morning, the day of the Family Sports Day, it poured rain all morning, so the day was cancelled and teachers had the day to work in their classrooms. It was a great chance to talk with some teachers, study some science so I can stay two steps ahead of the students next week instead of only one, and get lesson plans for next week done. I have to use pen because they make copies of them for the office, but I think I might buy some stock in White-Out.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Future Lonely Planet writer

I recently had 15 minutes to kill in my seventh grade English class, so I asked my students to write me a letter telling me what they thought I should know about Honduras. Here is my favorite.

To: the Miss

All what you need to know about Honduras

In Honduras independence is on 9/15, childrens day Sept. 10, teachers day Sept 17, and our Flag day is on Sept. 2. Here in Honduras our culture is very socialist. Don’t walk on the street with a cell phone. Be always aware. And it’s a very hot place.

From: William

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Typical School Day

Well, first, that title is a lie. There’s no such thing. This Monday we went out for morning assembly, supposed to last ten minutes, and were told that the school needed to have a parade to celebrate Independence Day (Sept. 15) and so would begin practicing, which they did for the next hour and a half. Trying to get adolescents to march in straight lines on the road around the school building in the sun on a 95 degree day is not the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.

Usually, I get to school around 6:30 to work in my room, get the air-conditioning going, and if it is Monday or Thursday (the allowed days to make copies) I stop by to give my things to Claudia in the office. I can usually ask her a question, having prepared it in my head on the walk to the office, but can only sometimes understand her answer. I do a lot of nodding my head and smiling.

The 7:00-7:10 daily assembly starts at 7:10 and ends around 7:25. I start to get uptight about being on time, then notice the Honduran teachers not stressing out and decide to relax. I start the day with English 9 where it takes ten minutes for my eight ninth grade students to get their English notebooks from their lockers and sit down. We do a short lesson and they leave at 7:55. There is a bell system but it seems to ring haphazardly and teachers tend to let students out when they’re finished, whether that is earlier or later.

The rest of the morning I teach one more ninth grade and all three eighth grade classes. With the passing times, I usually get in about 35 minutes of teaching a class. The eighth grade boys narrowly avoid pulling muscles when they raise their hands, holding them as high as they can and starting to stand up, and when I call on one, the others all groan in disappointment. During class, one of the ninth grade boys will come in for the tennis racket he forgot. A seventh grader will stand outside my window making faces at the students I’m teaching. He ignores me when I gesture to move on, but when I go to my door to say something, he takes off running.

The half-hour recess is really a lunch period, (that’s the lunch break!) and I get a meal to-go from the girls’ home which is right next door. The kids run around and eat while the teachers sit together outside. If I don’t have work I need to do, I go sit with them, hoping some Spanish will sink in just having it spoken near me. (I’ll let you know how that works out.) I listen to see if I can understand what they’re saying, and they think I’m following along and will try to include me, which is when I have to admit, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

After recess I teach one more ninth grade class and the three seventh grade classes. The boys, dripping sweat from playing soccer, think it’s funny to try to hug me and get me sweaty. The seventh graders love that I’m reading aloud one chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory each day and I can get them to do just about anything if I say I will read them two. They laugh a lot and talk incessantly, though usually about what we’re doing. In literature, I’ll ask them to write down directions for an assignment in their notebook. One will make a mistake in pen and it takes four people to get him the white-out he needs. The ninth graders, if I give them a clear assignment that they can do, will work quietly and intently all class. Other days they never settle down the whole class and will just speak in Spanish then look at me and laugh. In science, somebody will ask me a question, and I’ll tell her, “That’s an excellent question. We’re going to get to that later in the year,” hoping that we never will.

When the day ends, Juan will hang out for a while, telling me about his favorite raggeaton musicians. I go get my copies from Claudia, which have fold marks in strange places and are usually all stapled together. I grade their work in their notebooks since for a reason I don’t quite understand, they really hate tearing pages out of them. But it has the bonus that I can correct what looks like a big stack of work in a relatively short time and feel a large sense of accomplishment.

On my way out, I stop to talk briefly with Anibar, my favorite security guard. He reminds me of my dad and calls me Karlita, though our conversations are usually limited to him saying something like, “It’s hot today” and me saying, “Yes.” On the five minute walk home, I pass the house with the parrot that sits freely on the gate and the old man who is always there sits up and waves vigorously “Buenas Dias!” The little girl of the house is often outside too, yells “Bye” whether we are coming or going and sometimes adds an extra display of her English, excitedly yelling “onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten.” I'm home by 3:30 and have the evening to study Spanish or tutor a little at the home, and recoup.

I laugh and am learning a lot. Despite, or maybe because of, the differences and difficulties, it makes for a pretty interesting life, and interesting is always good.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Not Like the Ones Mom Used to Make

Fridays are especially busy because by the end of the day, I need to have completed a form with the topic and homework assignment for each class for each day for the following week. If you ask my old boss, you’ll find that doing lesson plans on time is not exactly my strong point.

I tried to get to school a little earlier than my usual 6:30 arrival, and in my rush out the door forgot to bring anything to eat during my morning break. Another volunteer was kind enough to bring me a take-out lunch from the girls’ home, where we get our meals. I finally had a chance to eat towards the end of the day when my 8th grade English class didn’t think it a big deal if I ate while they worked on some grammar exercises. I opened my lunch to find rice and beans and a whole fried fish, head included. A little different from the peanut butter sandwich I had left at home, but actually a lot more delicious.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

All work and no play...

Today a few of the volunteers and myself went about an hour and a half north to the beach at Tela. Between the cab driver dropping us off at the wrong place, the inaccuracy of the Lonely Planet address for the bus stop, and my Spanish being the best of the three of us, it was a small adventure just to get a bus ticket. But we eventually got one, and it was a great chance to get out of the city and get some sun. There's nothing like sitting on the beach watching the waves come in to gear up for another week of junior high craziness.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Recurring Characters

I suspect that Paco is going to be one of them. Tuesday he was looking up the word “variable” in his science textbook glossary but was soon reciting the definition to the word next to it: vagina. He asks me, “How do you say in English?” so I tell him. My thought has always been that if I don’t make a big deal out of it, neither will they. I’m usually wrong.

He became fascinated with the word, repeating it over and over like a toddler who learns to make a new sound. The problem is that for some crazy reason, between his accent and the expression on his face, it makes me laugh. Yesterday, if there was a quiet moment in class, he’d just say “vagina,” and everybody would start laughing. He was absent today, and I kind of missed the little guy.

By the way, those appliances they put on showerheads in places like these so you can shower with warm water, the kind I just yesterday got installed in my shower to replace the broken one that was here when I came, may just be the greatest invention in the history of great inventions. Just saying.

Monday, August 25, 2008

First Day of School

The 7th graders are enthusiastic, funny, and talkative. When I asked where two boys were, I was told they were in the bathroom “going #3.” When I made a questioning face, Juan explained as if it were obvious, “You know… There’s #1 and #2 and then #3: diarrhea.” I then explained the phrase, “Too much information.”

At the beginning of class many kept talking while I was explaining something, so I got stern and reminded them how important it is to listen and follow directions. Tamara raised her hand to ask, genuinely it seemed, “Why are you so strict? Are we ever going to have fun?” I explained that yes, we would have fun, but that the most important thing is to learn and I take school and education very seriously. Paco then raised his hand. When I called on him, he just said, “You scare me.”

My 8th grade class is only four boys. Three were there today, and they are adorable and very smart. They interrupt each other a lot because they’re so excited to participate and make me laugh. I was doing an introductory writing activity which ending with them writing anything else about themselves that they wanted. My favorite response was, “I like the sports, and the girls.”

And the ninth graders? Well, I have my work cut out for me, but I’m not terribly worried. I wanted to tell them, “Listen niños. I’ve seen much worse.” They’ll come around eventually. Overall, it just felt good to be back in the classroom and start figuring things out in the school system here.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Things I Don't Understand

I’ve been here almost a week now, but it feels much longer than that, in a good way. Almost everything is different than home and I hardly know anyone. The heat means I am sweaty and smelly much of the time. My hot shower doesn’t work yet, and there are tiny ants everywhere in the kitchen and sometimes my room. Most of the time when I try to speak Spanish, I’m faced with raised eyebrows and a generally confused look. The other day I had a conversation with Carlos, the phy. ed. teacher, that I thought was about peanut butter but later I realized he was talking about wearing shorts. I have almost none of the teaching resources I had in the States and right now I am actually scheduled to be teaching two classes at the same time for one hour on Friday afternoons. I admit I’ve been in some unusual teaching situations, but I’m not quite sure how that one’s going to happen.

And yet, for a reason I can’t quite explain, none of this bothers me one bit. It probably will eventually, but right now I am just completely, totally happy to finally be doing what I’ve wanted to do for so long, and there is a deep sense of peace that comes with that. To quote something my friend Michael wrote, “I am so blessed. This is where I belong.”

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The job

Today we had a 9:00 am meeting with the school's principal, Evelyn, so she could tell us more about our jobs. Pretty early on, she turned to me and said, "You are Karla, yes?" I nodded. Then she just grinned and said, "You will be very, very busy."

Turns out "very, very busy" means 9 classes a day: English literature, English writing, and science (!) for grades 7-9. The day runs from 7:00-2:30, I have no prep periods, and while there is a 30 minute recess, there is no time built in for lunch. I was assured it gets worked in somehow, and I'm sure it all will work out fine, but it'll be a trip to see how it all happens.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Today's the Day

My church prayed a blessing over me last Sunday in preparation for my move, and I wanted to share part of it today as I leave. Though it especially fits my life right now, I think it could apply to anyone. It is only one example of the many, many ways I’ve been supported by the people I love in my life. I am deeply grateful.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Game On!

Tomorrow, after months of preparation, I finally move to Honduras. To my surprise, I’m not nervous or scared at all, but only full of hope and excitement for what lies ahead. With visiting people, saying good-bye to San Miguel, and getting rid of most of my things, it has been a full but wonderful summer.

To give you an idea, here’s a short list of just some of the things I gave away, threw away, or recycled: a bag full of dead batteries, the Complete Works of Shakespeare (unopened since college), my 8th grade yearbook, 3 half-used sample sized tubes of toothpaste, the remains of years of unused Christmas cards, a dress made of material with the faces of the bishops of northern Ghana, four nearly empty jars of salsa, a strawberry-scented Care Bear, copies of old resumes, an empty roll of packing tape, photo negatives from a trip to Italy, the collection of CDs from my Harry Connick Jr. phase, a fanny pack, shoes one size too small, a windup Gorilla toy, a bottle of ibuprofen that expired in 2004, a Jesus action figure, a shelf full of empty shoeboxes, several medals from high school Speech tournaments, cards received for my second grade First Communion service, lots of Tupperware with no matching pieces, and a pile of coupons for discount tattoos.

It is good to simplify.