Sunday, March 20, 2011

To the many people who contact me about working at ASFC

I often receive emails from teachers who find my blog and want to know about the American School Foundation of Chiapas. I kept school politics out of my blog because the families of some of my students read the blog. If you wish to know more about the school anyway, email me at

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Last Post

This will be my last post since I don't live in Chiapas any more. Stay tuned though, I intend to have another blog or two going soon (links posted here soon).

After a year in Chiapas, I have grown to love many things (and dread a few). I thought I would include a list of things that I will miss.

Things I Will Miss About Chiapas
The students and their families. My students worked hard and learned a lot of English. We shared a lot of laughs and some tears. And we did a lot of workbook pages (AMCO). I was welcomed into many families' homes and given many beautiful gifts. I will never forget the generosity of my students and their parents.

My friends Juan, Yeysi, Antonio, Francisco, Sixto, Abram, to name a few. In each case, I will miss them, but I will also miss joking around with them. Juan and Yeysi - giving them a bad time as a customer in their restaurant. Antonio and Francisco - hanging around their produce shop teaching them English slang and names of produce in English (The latter always sent them into hysterics, but I never knew why.) Sixto - Trying to get him to repaint the school in pink or electrocute my students with the electric fence. Abram - locking him out or getting locked out or trying to get him to supply the school with draft beer rather than purified water.

My neighbourhood, Colonia Teran (pictured above).

Dr. Simi, a well meaning, impossibly energetic pharmacy mascot who straddles the fine line of creepy and friendly. He is often posted outside local pharmacies and is usually engaged in subtly brainwashing young children into becoming consumers of the Similares health food products and medicines by giving them lollipops (laced with who knows what mind-altering chemicals).

The food, although I won't really be missing it that much as I will be recreating it at home. Some of my favourite dishes and drinks include:
Pollo con Mole, Enchiladas en Salsa Verde, Quesadillas con Carne Asada, Gringas (not American women), Empanadas con Pollo, Chile Rellenos, Tostadas, Ceviche de Camarones (even though it gave me salmonella once), Sincronizadas, Tacos de Pastor (made with real pastors?), Tescalate, Horchata de Coco, Carne Asado con Nopal and much, much more.

Marimba Park - the heart and soul of Tuxtla. For a couple of days I was so inspired by Marimba Park that I was contemplating taking Marimba lessons. This was short lived as I realized four of my handicaps would be in effect simultaneously:
1 - NO rhythm (a big one)
2 - Difficulty following verbal directions
3 - A hearing impairment when there is background noise (dance instructions stated over music)
4 - Trying to understand Spanish (very early in my stay there)

Colectivos - These are sort of like a poor man's roller coaster that transports you to your destination. See my post in August for more detail (It is called, La Vida en Tuxtla - scroll down).

Haircuts for 25 pesos or $2.50 CAN. Movies in a theatre for 31 pesos or $3.10 CAN. Enough said.

Things I Have Learned in Chiapas.
Today, while I was looking for a recipe, I found an old post with the above title. I thought I would repost it and add a few other things I have learned since then.

Things I Have Learned in Chiapas
1. All definite plans are tentative (unless it's a deadline I am facing).
2. Start times are similarly indefinite.
3. Read the label of food you are buying.*
4. If it can be put into a blender it can be turned into a refreshing drink.**
5. If edible, it comes with tortillas (even soup).
6. Similarly, if edible, it can be served with chiles (even popsicles).
7. If a vehicle can go faster, it will.***

* I thought I was buying marinated vegetables at Exporganicos. It turned out that I bought pickled quail eggs with vegetables (they looked like mushrooms). All's well that ends well. They were quite delicious even if it was weird to think that I was eating eggs from the strangest birds in the Blenkinsop Valley.
** See previous post about strange beverages: Strange Things I Have Eaten III
*** You would rather not know the details of this revelation (or series thereof).

Other Things I Have Learned in Chiapas
8. Volume is controlled by a button, not a dial (meaning the sound is always full volume).
9. The term "simple task" is an oxymoron* in Chiapas.
10. Nearly every problem is viewed as unsolvable**.
But the most important one probably is . . .
11. Look BOTH ways before crossing a one-way street. OR Rules are a little more flexible in Chiapas.

* Case in point: Ordering supplies at the American school. You simply fill out a form and turn it in by Thursday with the list of supplies. It will take between four and five weeks to get basic materials such as white board pens. (You will be told they ran out even though Office Depot and other large chains have enough to supply the school for several years.) If you try to order something unusual, meticulous detail in Spanish will will not be enough to get you the correct materials. You will need to remind the people in charge of your order between six and ten times. Eventually your students will offer to buy the materials for you (true story).
** You will probably be told, "Nimodo" which is an expression that means something like, "Well, what can be done?" (implying nothing).

Looking back on the year, there were many highlights. Ultimately though, I chose to return to Canada after only one year. From a teaching point of view, I was required to teach a curriculum that required only two skills: rote memorization and copying. I could no longer pretend that I was teaching. The wonderful children I taught, the friendships I have, the richness of the culture, the incredible beaches, nature reserves and ruins all worked to convince me to stay. Unfortunately, the frustration of not being able to teach, the noise, the pollution and garbage, the difficulties of living in a foreign country and other things overwhelmed me and I decided that one year was enough. I feel that my time in Chiapas has enlightened me and I hope that my blog may have done the same for you on some level.

Thanks for reading.

Glenn Kachmar

PS: I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the following email:

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

More Happy Chickens!

And now back to our regular programming.

A couple of posts back I mentioned the phenomena of happy chickens in the fast food restaurants of Tuxtla. The first restaurant I feature obviously doesn't believe in subtleties. It is literally called Happy Chicken. Although I never ate there, the sign reassures me that their chickens die in a blissful state, knowing that by sacrificing themselves for my nutritional needs, these chickens attain the highest level of Pollo Heaven.

The chickens of Pollo Campero have open arms suggesting a welcoming sentiment. Little do they know, although these chickens may be the welcoming committee today, unfortunately, tomorrow they'll be the nuggets.

These two photos were taken from the window at Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC also has the name "Chickylandia" on their signs. I suppose it is because their usual promotions don't compare to the competition on the Happy Chicken Scale. So, KFC has taken it a step further by painting some of the chicken's preferred activities on their windows. A chicken driving a car goes a long way to explain the quality of the driving here in Tuxtla.

La Boutique del Pollo is a nice combination of French and Spanish. The concerned staff of La Boutique are clearly also fighting for chicken's rights to drive motorized vehicles as you can see from their signs. Obviously, Chiapas is a very progressive place.

My neighbourhood, Colonia Teran, has a slightly different take on their perspective of chickens. This restaurant has chosen a political theme. I suppose one way to strike back at Bush, Cheney and the rest of the neocons is to PRETEND THEY ARE CHICKENS AND EAT THEM!

Actually, due to the placement of the apostrophe, it must be a chicken belonging to an American (since they are meticulous about the finer points of English grammar on signs here in Teran). I have no fear that anyone will steal and serve my chickens. When the subject of 'gringos' comes up, people are quick to point out that as a Canadian, I am not a gringo.

* I should note that the idea for this post came from Heather. As far as I know she never posted anything about Happy Chickens on her blog, but I feel she deserves some credit.

In Other News

About a month ago, I was sleeping in after a particularly late night (4:30 AM) and I heard an extremely loud crash. This is nothing unusual. My coconut palm rains death down upon me every time there is a little wind and the height of the tree results in a crash comparable to two or three bunkerbusters. After a few minutes, I noticed a lot of shouting and people banging on my door. My fuzzy state of mind was eventually brought to the realization that coconuts wouldn't bang on my door or call my name. I answered the door to see two workers trying to help a bloodied and dazed Gilberto (he had fallen from a ladder while cleaning the roof). My brain switched to high gear and I immediately began to help get him to a car. Weeks later, he is still recovering from dislocations and fractures, but he is in much better spirits. As I was enjoying some pineapple homebrew with them (seriously), his wife asked me if I knew what his job is at Coca-Cola. I replied that I didn't. "Seguridad de Trabajadores" - In other words, he is responsible for the safety of all the workers at the Coca-Cola plant. I laughed uproariously and blurted out, "¡QUÉ IRONÍA!". Besides being an expression (How ironic!), it is also a major promotional campaign for the beer company that makes Sol, a very popular brand. The look on Gilberto's face was a combination of trying to look annoyed and trying not to laugh, especially as his wife and kids burst out in laughter as well.

Today, I held a garage sale. It went quite well and I met lots of really nice people while getting rid of the vast majority of my things. One group consisting of a young man and three young women came three times and I got to know them a little. When they had finished bartering with me the second time, Lenin (really, that is his name) offered to trade me his younger sister or friend for my computer. He might have been in more hot water with her had I not taken the pressure off by suggesting it would be a deal if he threw in an extra hundred pesos. Hell hath no fury . . . . Later they came back to buy more stuff and he made a second attempt this time offering his pregnant wife with the words, "dos por uno" or "two for the price of one." Eventually he had offered me all three of them. I am thinking of coming back with some laptops and starting a business.

But the last bit of news as my five, faithful readers may know, is that I am leaving Chiapas. On Tuesday, I fly out of Tuxtla for Mexico City. On Wednesday, I will be on a flight home to Victoria. Thus my blog will soon come to an end. If I am not too busy, I will post once or twice more, perhaps reflecting upon my time here.

I will probably begin a new blog. When that happens, I will post a link on this one in case you are interested in see what kind of trouble I can get into in tranquil Victoria.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Last Day

Today, July 6th, was my last day at The American School Foundation of Chiapas. Trying to sum up the whole experience would almost certainly bore you. For me, the highlight of my time at the school was definitely the kids. So I put together a slideshow of some pics of the kids. Enjoy!

Created with Paul's flickrSLiDR.

I also posted a picture of the new building as an update since I previously blogged the "progress" of the construction (Construction by Snails? - January 20th). I have been told that the teachers will be working in this building in August. I find that very hard to believe. These are the same people who predicted it would be finished last October. I told my students that it should be finished in time for their grandchildren to use it. They thought I was kidding.

In other news, we had an earthquake yesterday. My friends say it was 6.2 on the richter scale, but I think we were not at the epicenter, because it wasn't that bad. The doctor says that I will soon become accustomed to the artificial limbs, but I remain skeptical.

I am returning to Victoria on August 15th. If you know of a nice apartment in or near Saanich, drop me an email.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Happy Chickens

Generally I try to stick to my own photos and experiences as I write this blog. However, when Kris told several of us about this, I begged him to send me the photos and let me blog it. We all decided that it was "so Mexico."

In case it is not clear, this is a photo of a man in a chicken costume tied to the front of a car.

I spent some time reflecting about why we all felt that this method of promotion is Mexican in nature. My ideas are in no particular order.

1. Anthropomorphism as Promotion - There are chicken restaurants everywhere and the chickens are always smiling and happy. I always think to myself, "Don't you know what is going to happen to you? Run for your life!" (Yes, I know that I need to get out more.)

2. Pervasive Advertising - Advertising is everywhere here. Cars drive around all day with loudspeakers blaring their various wares and promotions. To be noticed, advertising needs to be out of the ordinary.

3. Risk Aversion, or Lack Thereof - Let's just say that Chiapas (and possibly the rest of Mexico) is not a very risk-conscious society. Driving down Belisario Dominguez, the busiest street in Tuxtla with only a couple of cords holding you to a car seems a little optimistic to me. Colectivos, taxis and other vehicles routinely drive at speeds exceeding the measuring capacity of the speedometer.

4. The Element of Surprise - Just when you think that you have seen everything here in Chiapas, that nothing more could astound or bewilder you, a gigantic, smiling chicken drives by strapped to a car.

There may be more reasons buried in my subconscious, but I will stop here for now.

PS: Thanks, Kris for sharing your photos. If any of the teachers can think of another reason why seeing this brave chicken is a uniquely Mexican experience, email me and I will add your reason to my list.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Beach House in Puerto Arista

This past weekend I went with two friends to Puerto Arista. This time the accommodations were a step or two up (actually about twenty). A family of one of my students offered me the use of their beach house. Another family had a standing offer of a vehicle which I finally got the nerve up to request.

The second picture doesn't show the ocean very well due to the back lighting, but it is there. The gentle roar of the breaking waves never stops and I can't think of a more relaxing sound. We were also blessed with some spectacular weather including a lot of rain and lightning. Having lots of room outdoors to play under the covered part of the house, I didn't mind the rain at all. In fact I spent very little time inside despite the allure of the air conditioning.


This shot is of the crab that somehow ended up in the pool. He did not seem to be able to scale the steps and might have been there a long time. People always tell me animals don't think, but I figure he must have seriously wondered what was wrong with the water. We rescued him. I suspect the crab had quite a story to tell.

Everything about the beach house is gorgeous, but my favourite thing about the house is the way the house is built around this tree.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Humor, once again

As we approach the end of the school year, my students know me very well. Of course, I know them better than they realize. Everything just seems funnier now.

This story took place in a recent math lesson. My students are not allowed to speak Spanish in my class at all, but they frequently have to ask what words are. I was asking my students how to subtract some numbers and Nicolas raised his hand. He asked me, "How do I say prestar?" (This is the word for borrow and my students are always asking me this when they need pencils and erasers - a frequent situation.) I was in a goofy mood from too much caffeine or not enough sleep or both, so I threw him an eraser without knowing if that's what he needed. He said no, so I threw him a pencil, a pencil sharpener, a stapler, my water bottle and eventually everything else I had in reach. The students were howling at the spectacle of it, but Nicolas really brought the house down when I finally asked what he wanted to borrow. He was answering my question and wanted to borrow from the tens column. Everyone understood what he'd said and we all lost it.

Their written work often contains nuggets of humor to get me through the boring hours of marking. Here are two recent examples:

In an attempt to write a sentence using the word genius, Carlos wrote, "I is a genius." It brings a smile to my face every time I think about it. Carlos is pictured on the right.

Another recent gem came up three times by three different students. In response to a question about which church the Queen is the head of, three students wrote, "The crutch of England." Although it wasn't always spelled correctly, it was still a striking coincidence especially given that the described the church has sometimes been described as a crutch.