Friday, March 26, 2010

Winding Down

English concert/exam was yesterday and it went so well! The kids were naturally adorable, and were very proud and excited. They keep telling me that they got 100 points! Which they did if they participated, and everyone did. I don’t know how pleased the director was that I ONLY did a concert, because it is a little unorthodox and definitely not an assessment of their individual skills. But they had serious tests all week, even in kindergarten they do “written” tests, and I didn’t want to contribute to the stress. I think it was also a good example that everything doesn’t have to be a traditional exam. There are other ways to evaluate learning, and it can be fun. It fit in with the nature of my class, where we did activities rather than take notes and they had to find me to talk once during the week rather than do homework. Anyway, after living in a country where I didn’t speak the language, I realized how much the Spanish class written activities were rendered useless, what really matters is conversational skills.

Yesterday was also “Splash Day” for the younger kids. We set up so blow up pools and sprinklers, had water balloon games and hula dancing and held just a generally relaxing and playful day. Today were doing the same for the older ones who are now done with exams.

On Tuesday I “babysat” for Casa Estar, a house of girls from ages 7-16ish. Both of the parents had to be out at the same time so I hung out with the girls for a couple of hours and it was so fun. I was helping them study but we were also playing around and gossiping. It made me a little sad that I didn’t have the opportunity to interact with the older ones more. I, of course, love the babies, but working there every afternoon really limited my interaction with most of the orphanage. They are a really great group of girls and I have been trying to spend as much time as possible with them in my last few days here.

My girl Claudia, who is nearly 4 finally moved up to the toddler house! I had originally made the suggestion that she play there a couple mornings a week to start to get used to it and also be a little more stimulated by older company. On Wednesday she was playing with them in the morning and I was told she would do this for a week or two and then make the move. Suddenly yesterday she just wasn’t coming back. I think the sudden transition will be really rough and shocking to her. She seemed a little dazed at Splash Day yesterday. But she really did need to move up. I just wish they stuck to the original slow transition plan.

The baby house threw me my Despidida on Thursday (aka a little thank you party). It was so sweet. They cooked steaks and refried beans (my new favorite) and this amazing chopped veggie pico and set the table all pretty with candles and we sat down to a really nice dinner and later watched a movie. They also gave me a beautiful framed photo of all the babies. I don’t want to go!

So if you are keeping track of my little math equation last time we were at 16 with a beautiful infant. Now subtract 2 more, 1 for Claudia at the toddler house and 1 because we sent David home , puts us at all time low of 14. It feels so empty in the baby house!

El Salvador for the weekend- Catch you on the flip side!

Monday, March 22, 2010

In a List

1)I made Luis take his first totally independent steps today! Nothing here has been more rewarding than watching him legs wide arms out, balance and step. He sticks out his tongue and when he reaches his “destination” lets out the best squeal I have ever heard!

2)I found out that the “science” text book we are using for my class teaches Creationism. Chapters are titled “The First Day,” “The Second Day,” etc. And history class = Bible study. Not really sure how to deal with this information.

3)If you have never experienced the total freedom of blasting music and dancing with just a 3 year old you absolutely must.

4)I have about 6 names here at Casa B. English class- Miss. Ingles. Special Ed- Miss Diana, just Miss or Miss. Asi (“This Way?” as in is this right?). Casa de Bebes- Ana! Ana! And of course there are those who actually try to say my real name. It's okay, I love it.

5)The carnival place was an awesome day. We took the babies home at 2 because it was definitely time. But they loved those bouncy things, driving in the go-carts and this mini bumper boat game. Actually they were just fascinated walking around.

6)Ludwin was sitting next to me on the couch today and was passing toys from his lap to mine. I wasn’t paying complete attention, but suddenly I realized he was saying, “siete, ocho, nueve…” HE WAS COUNTING!!! Don’t know where he picked that up, but it’s amazing. Even though there were only 4 toys, it’s a start.

7)Actually, I am so amazed every day at the language the babies are picking up. When I arrived 3 short months ago the house felt like a baby house. It was quiet, except for the crying and screaming. Now it is occupied by people they talk constantly, communicate feelings, ask questions, help out, and play with one another. The boys will literally talk for an hour at night and an hour in the morning before asking to get up. It picked up so fast and every day I am impressed.

8)I switched Prepa’s song from “Happy and You Know It” to the ABC’s, for some reason it’s still impossibly hard for them, but Pre-Kinder and Kinder are nailing “Head, Shoulders…”

9)On the other hand, 2nd is rocking “No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.” The only problem is “jumping” is really difficult for the kids to say. Moreover the Spanish J sound is the English H sound. Basically, the monkeys are humping on the bed…. I’m working on it…

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Little Moment to Share

I am struggling to capture how meaningful this moment was in words but I will try.

I took Ludwin for a sunny Saturday walk around the campus and was questioning how I am going to leave him. Everything he does makes me melt. I want to cry and laugh at the same time. We took a seat at the basketball court to watch the older kids play awhile. One of my more emotionally challenged special education students comes over, and tries to give me a hug (you may remember Enrique- with 2 “E’s”). Ludwin pushes him away. Then he tries to give Ludwin a hug and he is having none of that. For a cuddly one, he can be picky. Enrique sits down at first angry, then after contemplating it a while he puts one arm around my back and the other around Ludwin’s, and rests his head on my shoulder. With Ludwin facing us, he begins rubbing his back and singing a lullaby. With the sun in my face I just closed my eyes and started to silently cry, but in a really good way. He sang two more songs like the first, then gave us a hug, got up and ran to his house for snack just like an 8 year old would do.

And that was it. Probably the single best moment I’ve had here. And it had absolutely nothing to do with me. I was just lucky enough to be a witness.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I am not too far behind...

...But I am a little. I’ve been working on the posters with the song lyric-pictures for the English concert and they are taking a little longer than I anticipated. Plus, I found out my “exam” time slot (aka the concert) is NEXT THRUSDAY from 10-11 am (not Friday, like originally planned). Plus, we are losing tomorrow because we are taking all the kids to a carnival-like thing. From what I understand there will be go-carts, games, slides, etc. Even the babies who can walk are going! Very very happy to get them out. So what explains why I am writing this right now and not working on the posters? 1) no school = time to procrastinate 2) I need to wake up and 5am and need to go to bed soon and 3) this sort of activity is both productive, quick and relaxing, unlike my posters.

Needless to say, I started teaching the songs today for real. They have heard them all before in various lessons and it went really well in Pre-Kinder/Kinder. I think with 20 minutes every day they will really have it. Prepa, however, was a different story. Were doing “If Your Happy and You Know It,” which is definitely the right song for their level, but the class is a challenging combination. There are only 10 of them but they can make it feel like 30 and I can’t exactly place why they are not getting it. On Thursday I’m going to have them sing with the recorded version, it might be more effective than just me. Oh and there poster is now done.

Last week, because I was sick, English was a big review activity. I made a word search! They first have to translate a list of 25 words (plus a bonus) into English, than they have to find the English words in the scramble. All the words should have been written in their notebooks too. It is a little challenging, but Claudia was telling me that when she was young she would do them in English to force herself to see the words. I, of course, did not give it to kinder and prepa. Just 1st, 2nd and 3rd. And they had the whole week to work on it. I’ve seen some of them floating around completed and some of them were working together or found me to ask questions, all good things.

School store has evolved. In a way this is good. I am happy that the other teachers are offering changes and making it their own so they will continue it when I am gone. But here is the new plan and the reason why: We’re changing the money distribution process to be a little more fair. Basically, there will be 5 things during the day that can earn you money and a bonus for doing something especially helpful or working really hard. That brings the whole week to a possible Q30, so I need to first of all raise the prices of everything. We will still pull money out as a disciplinary action. What was happening is some of them would have nearly Q15 and others would only have Q2 at the end of a week. I personally say, “that’s life,” but I get it too, school is a sheltered version of life, at least it was for me. I like the 5 categories idea, but I don’t like how high that raises the prices because they will no longer be realistic or number the younger kids actually recognize. I will see how it goes on Friday and like I said, I am about to lose my say anyway, and if this is how it is kept going, so be it. After all that is way more important. I also got my first donation to the school store. Two ladies from Texas are here and they gave me bagfuls of old McDonalds toys that they brought down!

So here’s a peduncle. I found books! For the babies I mean. There are A LOT too, just locked in a closet. And so when a baby asked for a book, I gave it to him. And then passed out another and another. They love just looking at the pictures and talking to themselves. Really important stuff here! But then I got in trouble. I was told not to give the books to the babies because then they get ripped. Yeah they fight over them like they do all toys, but the LOVE them too and books are so important. And SO WHAT if they get ripped up, at least they were used. What’s the point of having books if you’re never going to read them? That to me, is like looking at water in the desert. I’m going to work on this point. Stay tuned.

And to continue my classic movie stint I’ve watched: Cabaret, The Way We Were, and Manhattan. I think I mentioned how I am catching up on my classics here. It’s fun to do while poster or word search- making.

Last a little math challenge. If we started with 16 babies. Got a new one. Lost the new one. Lost another one. (That’s minus 2) And picked up one more yesterday. Where do we stand? Answer: Back where we started, at 16 again. But this time with a 20 day old infant! She is beautiful!

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Great Weekend Is Worth the Exhaustion!

Tired and have a lot to do.

Therefore, long story short, went to Lake Atitlan por el fin de semana. Stayed over in San Pedro, a cute little hippy town. Spent time lounging in a hammock and reading. Spent time lounging on the hotel roof and talking. Spent time dangling my feet in the water and writing. Had HUMMUS (again)!!! Went to a trance bar (accidentally, we were only looking for good dessert) and sat by a bon-fire. But the accident turned out to be key, because we learned from our waiter that we would probably die trying to bike to San Marcos the next day and instead found out about a sick hike to try. Sunday: Took a tuk-tuk to San Juan. Hiked “la nariz de indeo” (Indian nose). It was a lot harder and higher than anticipated and clouds blocked the view. Had an amazing time! Bought a dress for $4. Hopped a boat to San Marcos. Had lunch of red curry and a goat-cheese, avocado, and sweet chili sauce (yes the stuff I yearn for from my days in South Africa) sandwich. Missed the boat to Panajachel, so paid some guy Q200 (24ish dollars) to take us MUY RAPIDO, back so we would make out shuttle. Went back to Antigua. Caught the tail-end of the lent-processions (and subsequently all the food venders still in the square!). Bought cookies and banana bread. Took a taxi to a gas station in San Lucas. Waited for our ride to find us. Eventually made it back to Casa B.

Right now I must go write out the songs on poster board for my English classes. We are learning them this week. I have permission to visit each class for 10-15 minutes a day to do some practicing, and next Friday is concert time! This is the last day before Easter break and the end of the quarter. Which means it is also the culmination of exam week for the older classes.

I had a conversation with the teachers in Special Ed about transitioning out and we all decided that my last day will be before the break to establish an ending point for the ninos. They really worry about transitions here (especially for the kids my age) because they’ve had so many of them and so many bad ones. Of course they are resilient , but since a convenient time has presented itself for me to disperse, I am going to take that opportunity. It’s easier and feels less abandoning to explain that I was only the teacher for a special quarter, than if I left mid-week to go back to a place they have barley heard of and don’t understand.

More things to come. I know there are lots of gaps. And I have pictures!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Just Another Sick Day

GAAAAAAAA I hate being sick and I’m so bored. It all started Sunday night around dinner when I got uncontrollably freezing. I basically was running fevers all night then felt awful yesterday. Today I am MUCH better. I went into school late, but I really wanted to stop in. But I am banished from the babies for another 24 hours because they are understandably paranoid about passing something around.

It’s really okay though because I have taken this opportunity to work on things I have been avoiding like drafting a letter to Dell about computer grants and registering to take my ATAS (Assessment of Teaching Skills) exam. It qualifies you to be an assistant teacher in the state of NY, which is becoming a definite possibility for me when I return. Especially because I need to get major experience if I want to go to school to become a special education teacher. Plus assistant teaching will give those one on one opportunities with the children who are struggling, which interests me much more that creating lesson plans and presenting information to a whole class. I would say nearly all of my Math education in elementary school is the direct result of working in a small group with one of the teaching assistants.

I can’t believe that my time here is winding down. From today I have exactly a month left in Guatemala, less at Casa B if you consider that I have Easter week off, and then will be departing after that. I feel like I am just getting used to it, just getting the process down to the point where I can get things accomplished. I feel like I finally have the trust and support I need from the other staff members to make my ideas happen. Last week, Sandra, the mother of the baby house actually asked me what I thought needed improvement. I told her some things couldn’t be helped really, like truly individualized attention for each baby. Nearly impossible for the situation. But also suggested (again) that we settle for a middle ground and re-instate the night-time routine. Which we did on Saturday AND Sunday! I don’t know what happened last night…I was quarantined.

But the point is that we are finally reaching an understanding that there are different things I can offer. I’ve noticed that many of the people here hold a slight distrust until they see how the kids are responding to you. A turning point in my relationship with the parents is when the kids would run up and hug me or talk about what I did with them in school. But isn’t that true everywhere? Parents are reserved until they know that you hold their child in high regard, that you will take care of them to every extent of your possibility.

So now that all this is available to me, it’s becoming harder to grasp that I will soon be leaving. But of course you can never move on unless you actually go. And I know there is more for me to experience. Reminds me of a Jack Kerouac quote, “What is the feeling when you're driving away from people, and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? -it's the too huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

I don’t want this to be marked as the beginning of the end. A month (or really 3 weeks) is a long time. With my incredible ability to successfully do things at the absolute, no doubt about it, last minute, I am pretty sure I have ample time to procrastinate and get more done. I feel pretty good so far, so thank you for supporting me thorough it all. I really wouldn’t be here without all of you that love me and fostered this confidence in me. Has the fever made me delirious and gushy….possibly? But in all seriousness, this has been a blessing. It’s where I need to be, but I wouldn’t have gotten this far if you all weren’t a part of my life.

And it wouldn't be complete without an adorable picture! HOLA JULIET!

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Look! Everyone was pre-warned that my week was going crazy so leave me alone about blog delays! And it’s not entirely my fault. I had every intention of writing last night when I was awake with the babies but the internet was down. It made for a long night.

While Thursday was relatively uneventful, I made up for it on Friday. I had 3 classes of English to teach. This is only because I missed Tuesday due to teacher absences. For the older kids 1st -3rd I did clothes. They have had pretty good exposure to English before from other volunteer teachers and already flew thorough all the basics (introductions, numbers, colors, feelings, etc.) so I asked them what they wanted to learn. Clothes I choose, next week 3rd grade asked for sports. We had fun though. I brought a bunch of clothes and we dressed people up for different events (sleeping, church, school -where they wear uniforms- and everyday life), practicing the names of the articles as we put them on and took them off.

Here are the 2nd graders all dressed up:

And the whole class- I swear I have control at all times...

For Kinder/Pre-Kinder and Prepa we did parts of the body and practiced saying if something hurts. I thought this would be good for them to know, it might be especially helpful for me! Of course I made it fun. I drew and outline on the board and had the kids fill in the features, they think drawing on the board is the greatest thing since chocolate. (How misinformed are they, chocolate trumps all!) Then we sang head, shoulders..., and played Simon says.

On top of 3 classes, we had a fiesta in our classroom to celebrate the past February and future March birthdays, 4 total. It was fun and I am up for any situation involving carrot cake. In my opinion carrot cakes is probably the most underappreciated dessert. It’s totally forgotten if not ignored completely, yet it is absolutely delicious.

After Fiesta we ended the day with the school store. I’m really really pleased with how it’s going. The kids are understanding the concepts and they love it, they always feel proud, which is the most important. The teachers are very involved as well, they even made sure it happened last week when I was with my parents, which gives me confidence that it will continue. Also, we all agree there is a positive change in behavior or at least a conscious effort, especially at the morning meetings.

The store takes a long time too. Mainly, because we do it individually. Helping to count their money and explain what they can buy, but also that they can choose to save. Secondly, because the kids love to negotiate, in true Guatemalan fashion. I seriously should have taken them to the Lake Atitlan markets, we probably would have made out much better! I don't mind, even though it was an unexpected byproduct of this project, negotion is a great skill to learn.

Then I went to the baby house and stayed up all night…

Oh and I re-rigged one of the bouncers that were being used as swings to actually be a jumper. I am putting Antonia on a rigorous 15-20 minute a day jumper workout to strengthen her spaghetti-like legs. She is 2 and cannot walk, but can stand. I really want to see her take her first steps before I leave.

P.S. When mom was here she put together my cereal box toy in under 5 minutes. I hate when that happens...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


But just barely. Sorry for the huge delay in blogs, it’s been crazy!

My parents arrived last Tuesday and I met them in Antigua way early Wednesday morning in a totally Guatemalan fashion. I spent $30 American to NOT have to take a shuttle or cab and just have a quick, easy, safe, private ride waiting to take me to Antigua when I arrived at the airport at the crack of dawn. Of course this ride doesn’t show, so I am on the phone with the shuttle company and they are going to “remedy” the situation. Instead, a rusty- toxic emitting cab shows up that can barely make it up the mountain roads, even the chicken busses were passing us (brightly painted school busses, you need to see one to believe them)! Needless to say I get there, but hey its Guatemala.

We spent 3 nights in Antigua and went to Lake Atitlan for a day. Antigua is beautiful, very catered to tourists and completely hidden behind walls. In Guatemala, the façade of every building is hidden behind a protective wall, in order to experience Antigua specifically, but Guatemala in general, you need to look behind the wall and through every doorway.

Highlight at Lake Atitlan- I found HUMMUS. Actually I found an Israeli restaurant (shocking!) and they had hummus and it was amazing and blissful and pretty much completed my life.

Actually, Lake Atitlan is gorgeous and the towns are charming in a very untraditional way. They are a true blend of tourist and authentic culture. Lots of textile markets and if you walk far enough you can find the food too, selling fruit, bread, tortilla, vegetables, rice and beans.

We ended our trip by flying up to Tikal and walking though the Mayan ruins, which are truly incredible, especially if you consider that they built structures up to 70 meters without the use of metals, the wheel, or animal power. I loved climbing on the ruins, being able to touch them and interact with the structures. It makes the experience so personal, and I crossed one more thing of my bucket list!

Ok so that’s the cliff notes and gets us back to Monday, when my parents came to the orphanage. There is a room here full of computers and so I tasked my Dad with taking a look and organizing a little. We basically discovered that nothing works and if it turns on (which was only 4 of about 20) the hard-drive has been wiped so clean there isn’t even an operating system. But we wouldn’t know much anyway because all the computer accessories (ie. mouse and keyboard) are so dated they don’t fit into the USB port computers. Basically, it’s a total mess and personally, I think they should get rid of it all and start fresh with 5 or 6 compatible computers.

It would be amazing if we could get the kids access to a program of computer literacy. For the future, and even now, computer skills matter more than anything else when it comes to careers. Even just using a computer can compensate for weaknesses in other areas. Even I am able to conceal the fact that I can’t sepll, (well mostly).

Really good week! But it’s amazing how when you go away, your work doesn’t. Which is why life was CRAZY yesterday. We were down a teacher in the classroom unexpectedly, and of course today was Wednesday, which is my alone day anyway. So, I decided to make today numbers day! I made individualized packets for each of the kids depending on their level and they had number games in them, like find the numbers and color, connect the dots and price the objects. Of course these packets were drawn by hand, because the copier is a rarity. Then in the afternoon we did a scavenger hunt. I put numbers all around the outside and they had to run from 1-10 in order. At 10 were lollypops. I also made BINGO cards but we ran out of time- maybe tomorrow?

Then last night I also attended a Guatemalan bridal shower. It was a surprise for one of the teachers/parents who is getting married and leaving Casa B next month. The women were so sweet, they made cards with important messages about marriage, someone did testimonial and we did the traditional game of taping money to the bride. Usually I loathe those kinds of events, but this was simple, nice and truly from the heart and there were no corny games and the food was delicious. I can’t even describe this pastry, but it was made in caramelized fig juice with fresh figs on top and inside a crape like wrap with the thickness of a pancake. Hey, that’s actually not a bad description!

Ok that’s enough, and I’m at present day. Where I have my first second to write and procrastinate translating my English lesson plan into Spanish for tomorrow. So there it is, I’m alive and back and I can’t believe I only have one more month. Time has flown- pardon my cliché.

Laundry awaits…