Sunday, March 27, 2011

Family Quirks

I realized I haven't told you much about my new family in Ambato. So here is a post about them along with their quirks:

  • Mom: My host mom is Teresa and she is about 65 years old. She has 4 children (2 still live with her, but I'll talk about them later). Every morning she wakes up at 5:30 and walks for an hour and a half. She is diabetic and never eats sugar or processed flour. She eats tons of fruits and veggies and the house is always stocked with that (I like this part). She eats a breakfast of fruit and yogurt when she gets back from her walk. In the afternoon she makes lunch and only eats meat and veggies. She doesn't eat dinner. Her dinner consists of 5 cups of tea from 5pm-8pm. It is a very special tea to help her stomach. She talks on the phone ALL THE TIME. She talks to each kid at least once a day, and all her grandkids at least once a day. She is super sweet but it's impossible to have a conversation with her because she always gets a phone call. But, it is a blessing because she gets them during lunch too. I eat lunch with her everyday and she is a terrible cook. She overcooks everything, even the rice (which is hard to believe an ecuadorian can do). Today she made ceviche. Now, I don't really like ceviche but usually I can choke it down. She made ceviche that was warm and tasted like a bowl full of ketchup with lemon and onions. So the blessing is that when she gets a phone call I can pretend to eat my food but actually just give it to the dog. It's a good system Inder (the dog) and I have going on.
  • Daughter: One daughter, Pilar, lives with us in the house. She works a ton and has a very serious boyfriend who lives in Quito. The boyfriend comes down every weekend and stays at the house with us. They are really cute and I like the daughter. But the boyfriend is 35 and she is 33. She desperately wants him to propose but he won't. So she is stuck living at home. It's kinda sad.
  • Son: Raul is in his 40s and has a wife and 2 kids in Quito. However, during the week, he still lives in Ambato with us. His job is traveling and he basically travels all over the central highlands. I have absolutely no idea why he chooses to live with his mother during the week when he has a family in Quito. I asked him once and he said he could live in Quito but he just likes spending the weeks here. Creepy. That and he keeps trying to pretend like we have secrets. He told me that he and his wife bought an expensive house in Quito and that I can't tell his mom. Sorry buddy, but your mom already told me about that and she is pissed at you for spending all that money. You can't keep secrets like that from mothers.
  • Son: One son lives in London. He is married and has 1 or 2 kids. I chatted with him over skype for a few minutes one day. He is cool and his English is perfect. But his mom is annoyed with him because he hasn't taught his kids Spanish. So the only people he ever speaks Spanish to are his family in Ecuador and my host mom feels like she can't communicate with her grand kids. It's actually a little sad if you think about it. He could have easily taught them Spanish when they were young. She and her daughter go and visit him once every 2 years. I have no idea how they afford it.
  • Son: Another son lives in Esmeraldes with his wife and 2 kids. However, that area of Ecuador is really unsafe. But he has to stay because he doesn't want to leave his job. So he is deciding whether or not to send his kids to school in Quito or Ambato because he wants them to feel safe. He thinks they are the only white kids in the whole province.
  • Dog: Inder is Raul's dog but lives here with us because he doesn't want her to move to Quito. She is so sad because she has to stay outside all the time. No one takes care of her and she has a ton of fleas and I'm pretty sure she is getting a cancerous tumor on her leg. I wish I didn't have to drag her out of the house every time I go in. It's very sad. I don't know why Raul can't take his dog to Quito with him. Teresa totally doesn't want him here.
So that's my family. They are all super nice but it's very interesting learning all their quirks. Let's just say I love having my own apartment behind the house so I can cook and get away from the drama.

Wish me luck! This week I'm having my meeting with Sara to talk about extending at Tecnica. I'm also seriously considering changing how I run my classes. The books are so dumb. So I'm trying to think how I can teach my way while still teaching what they "have to" learn. We'll see. And I'm not sure I'll ever let me kids democratically vote on something again. They voted to watch Saw 7 as our movie on Friday. GROSS!

I'm also incredibly sad about March Madness. What a weird tournament it is turning out to be. But I'm rooting for Butler or UCONN now.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The joys of being a teacher

That's not sarcasm either!

Seriously, teaching can be so much fun. I was really hard on the kids the first few days because I wanted to set up the procedures in my classroom. And now, it works like clockwork. They know to come in and start the warmer. They are even there 5 minutes early most of the time and when a student comes in on time they say "dance, dance!" (I make them dance if they are more than 10 minutes late). So it's cool that they want my class to start right away. It really pays off to stick with the rules until it sinks in for them and they just do them automatically.

Because once they are actually focused and listening, we can have fun. And I try to make my classes really fun. Yesterday in advanced we compared and contrasted being a loser vs. being popular using the "popular" song from Wicked and "loser like me" from Glee. They really like when I expose them to different kinds of American music. And today in my intermediate we worked on texting slang. I made up some random text messages and then interpreted them. They thought it was hilarious learning words like "wacko," "rocked," and "Def!"

But it is still super hard to teach out of the book. Today they wanted me to teach comparisons. That I can do. But they added in comparisons with past participles and the students had no idea what a past participle is. But I didn't know they didn't know that so I hadn't prepared a lesson on it. It's just a dumb book. And it's unfortunate that so many teachers only use the book.

This weekend was fun. I found out I can kind of watch the games online if my internet is running fast enough. There were so many upsets!! Now my bracket is terrible, but at least OSU is still in it!

One of the gringas from Ambato left today. She got a job with Teach for America and has to be back early to start training and stuff. But another gringa came. She is really nice and I like her a lot.

I'm starting to seriously consider staying in Ecuador another year. I can't think of any reasons not to. I have to make up my mind soon though.

Tomorrow some vols are coming up to Ambato to celebrate another vol's birthday. Should be fun! Except a bunch of them teach at 7am (thank goodness I don't!) so we won't be able to really celebrate. I guess that will come this weekend.

Other than that all is well in Ambato. Happy travels.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

First week of teaching in Ambato

So on Wednesday of last week we had a meeting to say goodbye to the old director at Tecnica and find out our schedules. We all went to the meeting and heard about how they had problems assigning students and how we would probably have more issues. I expect problems, I didn't expect what happened the next week. They told me my schedule was going to be 2 level 3 classes at 2:30 and 5.

  • Thursday: I get to the campus about 1 hour early to find my classroom and see if I needed to do anything. Except at 1:30 it's the lunch hour and there is no one to ask. Slowly people started to trickle in around 2pm. I start to ask around where my classrooms are. One lady tells me to just look at all the classrooms until I find my name. So then I scour the entire school (it's big) in search of my name. It's nowhere. Then I ask someone else and she told me the handyman would go find me a classroom. Turns out they never really assigned classrooms and then forgot about teachers when they were putting names on the doors. He then takes me to a classroom and tells all the students in there to get out and their class has been moved. He tells me he will send all my students here. But, since they never told me where my classroom was, they never told my students. So most of them ended up going to the other building. I had 7 who actually showed. Then for my next class they changed my classroom and only 5 showed.
  • Friday: We had another meeting at noon to meet the new director. She is really cool and I feel bad for her that she came into such a mess (the old director was asked to leave and so he left everything a mess). So she told us that she was working on the problems. In typical Ecua-fashion the meeting ran long (because of all the insanely long greetings and unimportant information). It went until 1:30 and the new director didn't want to take away our lunch so she canceled the 2:30 classes. I went home, pretty cool. I came back at 4:30 for my 5pm class and she told me I had no classroom again and I could just go home. I was glad she was honest with me but getting a little annoyed.
  • Monday: I showed up and went to the director's office and she asked me if I could change schedules. Since I hadn't really met my students yet I said yes. Now I'm teaching a level 8 class (almost fluent) and a level 3 class (pre-intermediate). She also said I still didn't have a classroom but she was going to call the students and tell them to come to the library. I ended up waiting for 1.25 hours for the first class to show because they all went to the wrong building. Then the second class showed up 30 minutes late. But I decided the library was a horrible place to have class. People kept coming in, music was playing, it was tiny. It was so bad for establishing classroom management procedures that I sent them home early.
  • Tuesday I had an actual classroom but they told me it wasn't going to stay my classroom. So my students were all late again because they didn't know where to go. But for the most part, it was a pretty solid first day.
  • Wednesday: I finally had my own classroom with my own students. The advanced kids are really cool because I feel like I can teach and talk to them about more than just grammar and basic stuff. Like we did a discussion comparing the earthquakes and tsunamis in the past few years. Why they are worse for some countries and such. My level 3 students wanted to be stupid and act up. I shut that down really fast. They probably thought I was mean for making them all stand up, go outside, and re-enter the classroom the right way several times, but I'm not one for kids acting out. Everything runs more smoothly once classroom management is established. And once they know they shouldn't talk when I talk, we can all have some fun. (I promise, I really am a fun teacher. I just don't mess around with classroom management).
  • Thursday: Another real day. Today we did more discussing about natural disasters and humanitarian work. They are really shy about talking so hopefully I can get them to get over it. The pre-intermediates were cute. I'm excited about my students and think I'll really like them!
I've decided I hate teaching from a book. For my pre-intermediates I have a book I have to teach them from. It's terrible. It wants me to teach "adverbial clauses" and "relative pronouns as subjects and objects." My students don't even know the difference between a subject and an object! So everything the book tells me to teach them, I have to teach them so many other things as well. Because the test comes straight from the book I have to model everything after the book. So even if they don't understand it because the book is dumb, they still have to regurgitate it. And the activities the book has are super dumb! So I think I'll be creating a lot of my own stuff again. I hate boring classes just as much as the students do. We'll see how it goes but I'm definitely not having fun using a book.

This weekend I went to a town called Salinas. It is a very small town in the mountains that was struggling financially about 100 years ago. So they decided to start businesses and ended up becoming really successful. The town is now a little hub for cheese and chocolate production. You can take tours of the businesses and then sample the products. Yummy day!

I found out I can kinda watch March Madness on my computer. The internet cuts out a lot but it's better than nothing. Go OSU!!!

I've also started thinking about staying in Ecuador another year. What do you guys think?

Happy St. Patrick's day everyone!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"You has how to dance" - Carnaval

So this past week was carnaval in Ecuador and it was so much fun!!

I decided since I had the time off I would go visit one of my friends who lives in the province that celebrates carnaval the most. She lives in a tiny little town called San Miguel (about 3,000 people). I got there on Thursday afternoon and we dar veuelta-ed (hung out and circled the town). There was a huge dance going on in the center of the town so we stayed and danced for a while and also got some foam (espuma or carioca) to spray at little kids. Carioca is one of the biggest parts of carnaval in that province. Everyone has a can and everyone is spraying it. There is no escape! We stayed at the dance for quite a while but left around 8:30 because it ended early. The town decided a few years ago to end the concerts the first few nights of carnaval early because people were getting so, so, so drunk at them. So instead of encouraging the drinking every night for a week they try and take it slowly the first few nights.

The next day we watched a parade in the center of town. Now, I have seen ecua-parades before but the ones I saw during carnaval were awesome! The only down side was that they were super long. The first parade was 3 hours long and consisted of school groups making fun dances and people in crazy costumes walking on the street. Then after the parade Cheryl, I, and some little kids got in a giant foam fight (see picture). I realized that once you have foam on you, people just want to keep spraying you. The foam is colored and does get clothes dirty but it washes out really well. Then we went to lunch with her family and rode in the back of a truck. I love riding in the back of a truck but during carnaval it is a baaaaad idea. Tons of people have buckets of water on the side of the road and throw them at you as you drive by. We were soaked!! They also throw flour too. That night we went back to another dance in the center of town. It was fun because she knows a lot of people and a lot of her students were there. One of her students that was in love with her danced with her for most of the night. I got passed around between all his friends because they all wanted to dance with the gringa. It was a lot of fun!

The next morning we went to another small town really close to San Miguel called Chimbo. Since the whole province celebrates carnaval they just move the parades from town to town. The Chimbo parade was not as good because it wasn't well organized. The timing was terrible and you'd have to wait 5 minutes between each act. It ended up taking 4 hours! However, the town is crazy. Everywhere you went people were dumping water off of balconies and shooting you with foam. If you didn't have a good attitude about it then it would have been horrible. But I loved it! After that I went back to Ambato because some of my friends were coming in.

Ambato isn't known for carnaval but it is known for a festival that happens during carnaval called fruits and flowers. Around 1940 there was a giant earthquake that destroyed Ambato and the people wanted to re-build their lives and celebrate what they had. They decided to celebrate the two things Ambato was famous for, fruits and flowers. So now every year during carnaval Ambato has a huge parade. The parade is televised and really pretty!

I woke up at 6am on Sunday so that I could go and get seats for the parade. Apparently like half of Ecuador comes to this thing and my host mom said I would never find a seat if I got there after 7. So luckily I was able to find seats for me and my friends. The parade was awesome. Each float had a theme (like pear or lily) and was decorated to represent that. The dancing was awesome too. After the parade I hung out with my friends for a while and then we went out dancing that night. There was a band playing in the middle of the center. Carioca in Ambato is becoming more popular ever year so it wasn't too bad in Ambato but I can tell people want it to become more popular. I also had this neat experience with a taxi driver. Ambato was having fireworks but I was supposed to meet my friends. As we were driving we found this perfect spot to watch the fireworks. They were being set off from three different places in the mountains. The taxi driver asked me if we could stop for a few minutes and watch the fireworks. Of course I said yes. It was really cool that he felt comfortable enough to ask me that. I guess he was sad he had to work during them. And I'm definitely glad I stopped to watch them for a few minutes.

On Monday I decided to go back to San Miguel because it was so much fun! I stopped in Guaranda first to watch the parade. This parade was great. The costumes were amazing. The parade was about different dance groups around the country and whichever group had the best act won a prize. It was super long but awesome. Everyone was into it and dancing in the street. That night we went to another dance in the city and stayed out pretty late. This was where one Ecua told me that "I has how to dance." I thought it was funny.

The next morning we went to a place called Lourdes. It is a monastery way up in the mountains with an incredible view. The monastery is also known for making honey from the bees on site. It was a fun excursion! Then I went back to Ambato.

Today I had my meeting about teaching. I'm going to be teaching two pre-intermediate classes from 2-6:30 Monday-Friday. The hours are pretty good so I'm happy about that. Tomorrow I officially start teaching and I'm nervous but excited. Then this weekend I'm going to a town called Salinas that specializes in making chocolate and cheese. Ecuador is so exciting!

(And, yay! I figured out how to add pictures to my blogs!)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ambato and Quito training

On Sunday I arrived in Ambato. I picked the house I wanted to live in because it had a full apartment that I would use. But when I got there I found everything except the bed was taken out because she wanted me to "use the house" and "feel like I was part of the family." I think when I looked a little shocked she changed her mind. So she brought everything back out of the bodega and into my apartment. It's really nice now! I have a full kitchen, bedroom with a dresser, and soon I'll have chairs for the living room. I still go down to the house to eat most of my meals (they don't eat dinner) and to watch TV with my host mom. She is really sweet and I like talking to her.

My first few days in Ambato were pretty boring because everyone I knew was working or out of town. So I just explored the city. Then starting Wednesday I went to Quito to help train the new volunteers. That was a lot of fun! It's crazy how in just 6 months I've become an "authority figure" on subjects like student-run activities and classroom management. They all had some great questions and hopefully I helped them learn a little. Best of luck to them as they head to their sites!

Then I came back to Ambato and it was the weekend so my friends were free. We went on essentially a pub crawl over two nights so I could see the different places. I'm just happy there are more places than in Ibarra to go out! There are really cool bars and then dance bars. One that I really liked was called Crazy Horse and plays classic rock videos and has super cheap drinks. The crowd is interesting though.

On Saturday a few of us wanted to see the "Reina de Ambato" pageant. We arrived 2 hours early to get tickets and seats but found out that the tickets were on sale yesterday and had sold out. So the only available tickets were being scalped for 5x the price. We heard from some locals that if we waited it out that the prices would go down but unfortunately they didn't and we decided not to go. $20 for a pageant is nuts! And, alas, it was rigged, the mayor's daughter won. Everyone expected that.

Yesterday I went to Tecnica (where I'll be teaching) to meet with my director. I don't know why I had the expectation that I'd find out anything. He basically waved to me, had me wait for 45 minutes, gave me cake at a "welcome" party, and then told me to come back tomorrow. The cake was awesome and a surprise. But it would have been cool to find out about my classes. So today I went back and again learned nothing. They are doing "registration" right now and so they don't know any more than I do. They are hoping by tomorrow they can at least tell me my classes and I can stop by and get my books. Seeing as Friday-Tuesday are holidays and class starts Wednesday. We'll see. I've learned to be flexible.

I did meet a nice french chick at Tecnica. She is going to be a french teacher. She speaks french and spanish and a tiny bit of english. I speak english, spanish, and a tiny bit of french. Therefore our common language is spanish. It's cool to have to speak spanish with someone who is not a native speaker and knows how hard it is to want to say something and not be able to express it. I think talking with her will be really good for my spanish.

Tomorrow I'm going down to banos to see if I can offer my services in their tourism office. That will give me something cool to do on the weekends. And then Thursday I'm going to San Miguel and Guaranda for Carnaval. Apparently it is crazy down there! But I'll be back in Ambato for the big parade on Sunday.

I'm feeling very homesick for my bed and my cats right now. Lily had a harrowing adventure yesterday. Luckily she springs back quickly. Only 5 more months in Ecuador. Crazy...