Sunday, September 17, 2006

Multisensory Fireworks!

Judging by the fact that the decorations started going up for Independence Day two or three weeks early, I knew it would be quite a party. I was not disappointed. If I had four hours today (I don't), I couldn't describe all the stands, vendors, musical acts, games and types of food there were in Tuxtla's Central Park for the "Grito de Dolores" (the name for cry of the people of Dolores who rose up to take up the fight with Spain for independence). I will describe only the fireworks display as it was a most unique experience.

There was an area cordoned off and well guarded by police. When I finally decided to ask, the policeman informed me that the fireworks would start in three minutes. Rarely is anyone that precise about start times here, but he was dead on. He also warned me to move back as the fireworks are "muy fuerte" (very strong). This turned out to be the understatement of the century. I was about 12 or 15 metres away, but should have been about 30 metres away. I have always had a certain appreciation for a little danger and thus chose not to move very far away. Each time the fireworks exploded, I was pounded by every shock wave and my eardrums experienced them as well. The air was rich with the smell of the burning chemicals. I loved the fireworks much more than usual as they were not just exploding above me, but all around me. I was hit by various wads of plastic and lots of sparks. Everyone around was enjoying themselves as much as I was and many were shouting, "¡Viva Mexico!" I guess it was like a combination of a huge party and the bombing of Dresden.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Mis estudiantes

Here are some photos of my students. I have two classes of twenty students. A morning class and an afternoon class, both grade three. The kids are very sweet. Initially I had some behavior challenges until they learned that I have eyes in the back of my head and that after a warning, any misbehaviour will result in extra homework or missing a game. Now their behavior is (usually) excellent.

Social Studies - 3B is working diligently on land forms.

3A is not on task quite as much, but it is the afternoon and it's hotter.

The back row is working away, but Miguel has been waiting for the camera.

We have several inside jokes. As the windows on both sides of the classroom are glass slats that are always open, wasps often fly in. Whenever one flies in I tell the kids that it is my friend Pedro. Now the students tell me when Pedro has come to visit. Surprisingly, this somehow keeps them from their usual reaction (freaking out) when they see a wasp.

I often draw pictures on the whiteboard and I always I brag unabashedly about my incredible talent as an artist. By 'incredible talent', I actually mean basic ability to draw stick people (a new phrase may need to be coined - false vanity). The students do not hesitate to point out that I am actually quite bad at drawing.

I do not speak Spanish in the class. In fact in the beginning I told them I didn't really speak Spanish (mostly true). Now and then one of them hears me speaking in Spanish on the playground with another teacher and questions me about this. I always insist that I don't speak a word of Spanish. Only a few gullible students still believe that I don't speak a word of Spanish after being told this in Spanish.

* By the way, today, Friday, September 15 is Mexican Independence Day. You can safely assume it will be a fairly huge fiesta in Parque Central today. I will be there, of course.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Ants are a regular part of life here. They are just about everywhere. They really caught my attention when my roomate, Kris, pointed out that there are a long line of them carrying pieces of leaves a long way down our street (most likely leafcutter ants). I often check them and they are always carrying leaves. I wonder do they always work? Does an ant ever say, "Hey guys, I'm gonna take five, my thorax is killing me!" Do they take long weekends off? Celebrate birthdays? Somehow I doubt it. Their life is endless toil from morning until night. So next time you complain, think of the ants.

Two days ago, I saw a beautiful, but massive beetle with irridescent green armour plating turned upside down and being attacked by a platoon of ants. The beetle seemed to be without a friend and so I held my shoe over him. The beetle immediately grabbed on and was rescued from the vicious attack. In fact, I was hard pressed to get him to let go when I was trying to deposit him on the ground a good distance away.

Ants constantly search our apartment for food. They check all the rooms without seeming to notice that the kitchen has the highest chance of having food scraps. Fortunately Kris and I are very tidy, so the ants have very little luck finding food. We even keep our cereal, sugar and other non-perishables in the fridge to keep our persistent friends from sharing our food.

There are also very tiny little ants that are so small I am not sure they are ants. But they move like ants, so I am assuming that's what they are. These ants are so small they can get in jars and ziploc bags that are closed.

The proliferation of ants is one of the perks of living in a foreign country. Sometime I will discuss millipedes which I like even more.

Strange Things I Have Eaten III

Although not as strange as eating caterpillars, it still seems weird to me that some of the drinks I have tried here are random veggies and grains blenderized with sugar. Even stranger is that they are always very refreshing.

Some of the drinks I have had:

Horchata - a drink made from pulverized rice
Avena - a drink made from oatmeal
Agua Pepina - a drink made from cucumbers
Jamaica - a drink made from hibiscus flower petals

Who first thought to themselves that it might be really tasty to grind up rice, add sugar, ice and water? I can't help but wonder if some Mexicans made a bet to see who could think of the strangest drinks and then they made them. And then they caught on. I'll keep you posted on new and exciting foods.

* In this picture, jamaica (pronounced 'ha MIKE a') is on the left and horchata is on the right.

** Note that I reposted the blog from Saturday with a picture.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Student bloopers

I literally spent the whole day marking. So this won't be very inspired. Actually I am just going to post some of my students' funny comments or mistakes.

From interview questions:

Q - What is your favourite subject?
A - "the recess" (Marie Eugenia)

Q - What is your favorite food?
A - "the cat" (Robert)

Q - What is your favorite animal?
A - "rabid horse" (Mercedes)

From questions involving a story they read:

Q - What was wrong with his socks?
A - "sneezing" (Alejandro)

That is all I have for you today. A day of marking has given me fairly serious writer's block. Not to mention that I am still at school and it is 8:10 pm.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Hilarious new activity!

Although nearly dead after the football match on Friday, I joined a group of about a dozen English and Spanish teachers and we went to La Pachanga to celebrate my friend Rafa's birthday. La Pachanga is a huge palapa bar with a stage for entertainment (music, comedy or both), delicious antojitos (appetizers) and, of course, lots of cerveza. As always, we were joking and laughing constantly. Hernando inspired a lot of laughs as he was able to open beer bottles with his flip flops. We found out later that his flip flops have bottle openers built into the bottom. He informed us that they sell these flip flops only to "borrachos" (drunkards).

At one point in the evening, I told my friends that that the beer they drink (Sol) is meant for girls. I drink dark beer which I informed them is for men. Later, when someone ordered something, I said , "y una paleta por mi amigo (and a popsicle for my friend). The insults went back and forth like a verbal ping pong game. Someone pointed out that I learned Spanish so I could harass my friends. I think he might be onto something.

The highlight of the evening came later when a man showed up with some black machine with knobs, dials and two wires with handles. The next thing I knew I was holding one handle and everyone was joining hands. [DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, THESE PEOPLE ARE TRAINED EXPERTS!] Yes, the whole point was to electrocute us. We were laughing hysterically. At least once he turned the current off. Then some of us tried it individually and he tested us to see how much current we could handle. Juan told us that it is good for the heart. I added, "unless it stops'. Needless to say this crazy activity was the highlight of the evening. I believe they have a proverb in India that applies: "That which does not kill you makes you stronger." I hope this is true.

* Note that Juan is trying the electricity all by himself and I am pretending to pour beer on his hands which would increase his conductivity (I think). Yes, I tried this. Lots of fun.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Jardin Botánico Dr. Faustino Miranda

While exploring recently, I found my way to Tuxtla’s botanical garden. Of course it is a remarkably peaceful and beautiful place to spend time. I am not sure whether I should be sad or happy that it seems almost not in use compared to the crowds that fill the shopping malls here. A lot of the former and a little of the latter, I suppose.

Another benefit of the garden is that the trees are labeled which allows me to learn the Spanish names of the trees. I have yet to find a Chiapanecan who can tell me the name of a kind of tree with any degree of certainty. Perhaps my interest in nature is seen as an eccentricity (as are probably a lot of other things).

I salute Dr. Faustino Miranda who had the wisdom and foresight to help found this space for future generations. Or, at the very least, lend his name to the cause.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Cultural Difference

Coming from the left-coast of Canada, I am acutely aware of one vast difference between Mexican and Canadian culture. Political correctness is almost non-existant here. Take the picture for example. ‘GORDITAS’ are a kind of food, but it also means fat women. Many people here think nothing of referring to women walking right in front of them as gorditas. When I mentioned that I like Mexican food, some of my coworkers immediately asked me if I like gorditas. What followed was five or ten minutes of discussion about gorditas always described as if it were a food, but clearly implying the slang meaning. It takes a little getting used to. In a recent staff meeting, the foreign teachers were informed that one particular teacher does not come to get our students because “she is fat’.

As you may have guessed, Chiapanecans seem to love making jokes. That’s one reason (of many) why Tuxtla is such a good fit for me. Some of the jokes I make (and that I can repeat) are at the expense of my good-natured roommate, Kris, who is vegetarian (in a very non-vegetarian culture). At a recent fiesta, (I am beginning to mark time by fiestas) I informed Kris that the hot dog appetizers were “Salchichas de Plantas” - Glenn Spanish for hot dogs made from plants and mentioned that they have “savor de arboles” - tree flavoring. Since then my friends have referred to ALL vegetation as food for Kris and all meat as if it is veggy-based. “Pollo de plantas” - chicken from plants, for example. I am sure that none of this seems remotely funny at home, but we laugh uproariously at all of these jokes. Kris gets me back in a myriad of ways, often involving his far superior understanding of Spanish. I have ceased to ask him to tell me the Spanish for words I don’t know as he has started to mess with me by telling me the wrong words. In just one month, my friends and I have so many inside jokes that a discussion without some reference to a previous joke would be very unusual.

I should add that I have avoided mentioning the vast majority of the jokes my friends and I make as even having read about the differences between the two cultures, you would still be horrified at these jokes. Plus I am aware that my blog is family programming for some of you.