Saturday, February 21, 2009

Taxi Rides

Taxi rides here tend to follow a script, especially if it's just me up front with the driver. If he's feeling chatty, he starts by asking me where I'm from, how long I've been here, and how long I'm staying. Then he lies and says my Spanish is good. Are you married? Kids? What are you doing here? Do you like Honduras?

More times than I can count, I'm told, "You know, I lived in the United States for a few years. I really liked your country." We talk of the work they did and the money they were able to earn for their family. And then often this question: Why do people in your country not want us to come?

I never quite know how to respond. I say the economy is difficult and people worry about jobs. People worry that immigrants will be a drain on our country's resources. I say that many people, including myself, are not opposed to immigration and even welcome it. I try to explain that for the people in the States it's not personal, but of course to the person sitting next to me it is.

I'm now at the point where I hope the driver is feeling chatty. The conversations are necessarily limited by language barriers, but the removal of other barriers more than makes up for it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

That's Lava Behind Me. (Look closely.)

Despite the definitively more laid back approach to schedule here, we don't have any holidays from January until April. The rest I felt from my Christmas vacation was quickly used up, and I also had a friend visiting Guatemala for a month. My good friend Katie is a pediatrics resident in Philadelphia and is working and studying Spanish in western Guatemala, so we decided to meet up halfway in Antigua for a long weekend.

We climbed Mt. Pacaya on Saturday morning. I had actually gone up last June when I visited my friend Paul, and it was great. They bus you pretty close to the top and then you hike for an hour and a half to the lava flow. The lava flow this time wasn't quite as visible, though we were able to get much closer. I'm not sure if that's a good thing. However, it's a pretty amazing thing to get so close to flowing lava: one of the guys with us was able to roast some marshmallows on it. The lava is slow, but when it changed direction and the guide looked at us seriously and told us to head down, I didn't hesitate.

We also visited a really interesting monastery that's been restored and turned into a cultural museum with both ancient artifacts and modern art. They found a few crypts below that you could go down and see also. Now, while everybody knows that I'm an excellent photographer, my camera just wasn't taking good pictures those days, so the photos I have are pretty random. Kind of like this blog. And my life.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I’ve passed the halfway point in my teaching year here. Though they didn’t have an exam week to close first quarter, the school decided to reinstate it for second quarter. Just when I thought I was getting to used how things work here. We were told to keep a regular schedule but soon I found I was practically the only secondary teacher doing so.

I still have so many moments where I just shake my head, not knowing what’s going on. My ninth graders asked if they could watch a movie when they had some free time. When I saw it was an R-rated horror movie, I of course said no, only to later find them watching it on the large Smart Board in the computer lab, a row of preschool kids with their noses pressed to the classroom window watching a woman in a bathtub spewing blood.

When I was giving one exam to the 8th grade, I saw a group of 5th graders outside my window fighting with big sticks. I scolded them to put them down and be quiet and I thought they were gone, but as my class settled back into quiet, the whole lot of them ran by, sticks in hand, screaming, “To Fight!” The whole week felt crazy, and I’m glad it’s over and we’re back to the “normal” routine. There is an order to how things work here. It's just that usually, I have no idea what it is.

Overall, lots of things combined to make January an incredibly difficult teaching month and there were moments when I didn’t know if I’d be able to finish out my year here. But somehow a corner has turned (lots of corners this year. I’m not exactly sure what shape this life is.) I’m happy to be here. When I’m asked if students can go play soccer for an impromptu game, I readily cancel classes and go sit in the sun and cheer them on. When the ninth graders sullenly refuse to play a review game I have planned, saying they would rather write sentences, I just say ok, and try again the next day. One of my students casually mentioned to another volunteer that I’d changed since the beginning of the year, and it’s about the best compliment I could imagine.