Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Mexico - 8 things I'll miss and 5 things I won't

On Leaving:

It's time for me to leave Mexico and head towards pastures new. For the next few months Tall Travels will once again become as travel blog as I journey overland to Colombia and Ecuador through Central America.

I want to live in a European city again to have the opportunity to take in some new culture and meet more people. Spain is close to home, somewhere new, and somewhere warm and I can continue improving my language skills. I'll look for a job there.

I feel more drawn to Spain than 'pushed out of' or 'fed up with' Oaxaca and feel like it's the right time to go. Here are my notes on a country that I'll definitely have fond memories of. Mexico.

The things I'll miss:

1. The people - 

I'll miss the hospitality. Families here are very welcoming and never let you leave without several big meals.

I'll miss kids running out into the road shouting "Oh my god. Oh my GOD!" when I go running.

I'll miss the crazy culture. Lucha Libre, narco ballads, worshipping a saint of death yet all with strong Christian values. Go figure.

2. The food -
I'll miss corn on the cob in the zocalo for 12 pesos.

I'll miss those big breakfasts.

I'll miss late night tacos and I'll definitely miss the smell of tortillas!

I'll miss cheap cold Corona with lime.

3. The travelling -
I'll miss being bumped around in the back of a pickup.

I'll miss instantly available taxis for 5 pesos.

I'll miss feeling like cars are a luxury.

4. The news -
I'll miss the stream of crazy news stories.

I'll miss the fact that a goat can be elected mayor and that a man can marry an alligator.

I'll miss the fact that the #1 felon in the world can escape prison on a motorbike through an air conditioned tunnel . . . and then the country just makes jokes about it.

5. The job -
I'll miss the students. What the hell am I going to write about if my next students are really smart?

I'll miss the view from my office window.

I'll miss having a drink with my colleagues in tiny crappy bars.

I'll miss how the students made me improve as a teacher every day.

I'll miss the office larks.

6. The sights - 
I'll miss the amazing mountain landscapes.

I'll miss the bus trip to Oaxaca. Two hours of great views.

I'll miss the colonial cities and all the cool stuff  you can do there.

I'll miss Oaxaca's beaches, the best in Mexico.

I'll even miss Miahuatlán, the weird little place where you have to make own fun to avoid insanity.

7. The sounds - 
I'll miss bustle of the market on Mondays

I'll miss the awesome tune with a cow's "moo!" that the gas truck plays.

I'll miss the familiar oom-pah-pah of the brass instruments in the ever present band music.

8. The way of life-
I'll miss the slow pace of life.

I'll miss the fact that things are always open, because all businesses are run out of people's houses.

I'll miss that people don't care about money, or the judgement of others.

I'll miss seeing people taking their pig for a walk, or going to the corner shop on a horse.

The things I won't miss:

1. The constant questions - 
I won't miss drunk barrys lying in the street asking me for ten pesos for more mezcal.

I won't ask fielding questions about a) my height or b) how far England is by aeroplane.

I won't miss clowns and other street performers hassling me in the street.

I won't miss the Spanglish shouts of "oye bro, whatchu doing man?" and being labelled a gringo.

2. The transport -
I won't miss of speed bumbs. Topes are my number 1 pet peeve here because anyone can build them, so there are millions. Can you imagine speed bumps on a motorway? . . . well you've just imagined Mexico.

I won't miss seat belts being a luxury.

I won't miss the travel delays. Ryanair isn't that bad people.

3. The social problems -
I won't miss the teachers' strikes, the marches and the constant road blockades.

I won't miss watching people putting up with rampant police and government corruption.

I won't miss the way some wealthy Mexicans look down on the indigenous and the poorly educated.

4. The noise - 
I won't miss the omnipresent terrifying explosions of fireworks.

I won't miss the 6 a.m. construction noise wake ups.

I won't miss the whistling, car beeping and other stupid noises people make to attract attention (rather than using words).

I won't miss that noise isn't considered a pollution, or even an inconvenience to others.

5. The 'second world' mentality -

I won't miss seeing Mexico tearing up its national parks and selling off its natural resources for a quick buck.

I won't miss companies taking advantage of people with 'buy now pay later' offers.

I won't miss the total absence of 'health & safety' and political correctness.

and of course, I won't miss Mexican Logic!!!

On travelling:

I have a few goals for travel my upcoming travels, and think them more likely to achieve if I write them here:

  • Not to rush - I want to be able to relax and take my time if I find a place I like. I've got 3 months, so I shouldn't have to travel too fast.
  • To give something back - Whether I volunteer somewhere, stay with someone a while, help someone out of a jam or simply donate money, I want to be less selfish and hopefully make some friends.
  • To write something - I've got a million story, book, blog, and song ideas floating around, so why can't I sit down and write any? Three months in Central America will provide enough free time and hopefully inspiration too.
. . . oh, and find a new job I guess.

Final thoughts:

I want to say thank you to everyone who has made my time in Mexico enjoyable. There are too many people to mention. I can honestly say, I have had higher highs in Mexico than anywhere else, and that giving classes at UNSIS was the best job I have ever had. It's time for me to move on to new experiences and to meet new people.

Feel free to check out some of my favourite pictures from Mexico in the album below, and remember to keep following Tall Travels for updates on my current journey.

Good bye Mexico.

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Golden Girls 3

I thought I'd share what has been going on in my private classes with the Golden Girls. We'll be handing over the class to another teacher, who - much to the disappointment of the ladies is not a dashing 30 year old British man.

"Not English?" they all asked.
"No she is American, but she's very nice"

Action stations:

To keep interest levels up in the class we have tried to make activities energetic. The two boys that come get fed up with reading exercises quite quickly and start doing all the disgusting things that teenage boys do.

When they are not laughing together like a couple of hyenas, Gamma busies himself by stuffing his hand down his shorts and fidgeting endlessly. I have to keep asking him to write things on the board or point at things in the room to put a stop to his self abuse. Edrei is not much better. He spent 30 minutes inspecting his pudgy stomach in class the other week. Prodding and rubbing his fleshy belly was not part of my lesson plan, but I guess he preferred contemplating his navel to reading about historical figure Porfirio Diaz.

One time I managed to get the whole class excited in the action was with a cinema role play.  I served them imaginary hot dogs, coffees and sold tickets to imaginary terrible movies such as 'Shark!' and 'The Return of Tinkerbell'. Students love it when someone (especially the teacher) has to play a service roll and pander to their every whim. 

"Where my change money?"
"Want cappuccino no espresso"
"More ketchup now please!"

Another time, Guy used the dartboard to select questions in a game and unsurprisingly 77 year old Josefina managed no score, while the boys looked on pretending to stab each other in the neck with the pointed arrows.

Even with a live demonstration to jazz the story up, their understanding of narratives still isn't great. I told the Aesop's Fable of "The Crow and the Pitcher" and demonstrated by filling a jug with liquid and adding stones (to show how the inventive crow could take a drink). Even with the meticulously slow and simple demonstration, most of the class were left thinking it was tale about a baseball playing chicken and the moral was to not drink dirty water.

One activity I did last week during the Independence Day celebrations was to go through the Mexican National Anthem in English. We looked at the words to the chorus and practiced before standing up and performing a rousing rendition of the 18 verse long song. I then reeled off a quick version of God Save The Queen which seemed comically short compared to the self indulgent Mexican hymn.

Every Example ever:

Peña NietoShakira

Consistency is a good thing, but it sure is boring for the teacher. We start every class as follows:

"How are you Edith?"
"I fine, thank you"
"What did you do today?"
*sigh (performs sweeping motion) "y . . . err walk, y . . . err cooking"

"What did you cook?"
"Chicken saucy"

"How are you Yolanda?"
"I fine, thank you"
"What did you do today?"
*sigh (performs sweeping motion) "y . . . err walk, y . . . err cooking"

. . . rinse and repeat . . .

One time, after Josefina had been absent for a few weeks she had something different to say!

(pointing) "a Oaxaca"
"OK, why were you in Oaxaca?"
"Working or walking?"
"Work de trabajo"

It turns out Josefina has been moonlighting as a second hand clothes saleswoman in the capital.She's quite the businesswoman. It's also very handy for offloading all of my excess garments before my travels.

Another routine for us is to use the same three celebrities as examples for reading exercises. They don't know many famous people, so we like to keep it simple.
  • Leonel Messi (Barcelona footballer)
  • Sharia (Colombian singer)
  • Enrique Peña Nieto (President of Mexico)

They are familiar with their nationalities, professions and lives so they have some base knowledge about what they'll be reading. However it regularly ends up being a distraction because Edith hates Peña Nieto with a passion. She bangs her hands down on the table and tuts loudly until his picture is turned over. The boys get all excited about football and coo over Cristiano Ronaldo latest hair cut and Messi's latest hat-trick, and the ladies go off gossipping about the time they saw Shakira's baby pictures. I guess however distracted they get, enthusiasm is better than a sea of blank faces.

Incoming Invitations:

party invitation

Every week we have to skillfully evade invitations to a host of Golden Girl events and parties:

"It's Teresa birthday tomorrow and her daughter is cooking grasshoppers"
"Ah, we have a staff meeting tomorrow evening, what a shame"

"We're all going on a walk this Saturday down the river"
"Oh, OK, what time?"
"7 am, then we're going to a trout restaurant for breakfast"
"Ahhh, I already have plans for 7am Saturday, what a shame"

"There is an event at the pool on Sunday, it's a barbecue"
"Ahh, I just turned vegetarian, what a shame"

They certainly are very insistent with their generosity and are forever trying to gauge what food-based present it would be best to give us. Edith's husband even interrupted my students' exam last week to give me some home made tamales.

One invitation we did accept was to go for a meal after the last class, but first there was the small matter of the Golden Girls awards. Here is a run down of the certificates and awards I gave out:

Edith - Highest attendance, and Nacho's No. 1 fan (she doesn't like cats).

Josefina - Businesswoman of the year and most accurate English (she take 5 minutes to copy a sentence accurately).

Maria Teresa - Best dancer and most improved at English (she now says "I'm fine thank you")

Edrei - Best student and best dressed (sometimes he even wears trousers).

Gamaliel - Best pronunciation and Cristiano Ronaldo's No. 1 fan - (he can pronounce CR7 pretty well).

It was a good way to end the class and they all loved the tacky sweets and streamers I put into the awards envelopes. It also gave us the opportunity to make bad jokes about Edrei's clothes, watching Real Madrid and how rich Josefina is.

We went to the fanciest restaurant in town which even has English speaking waiters. The class was very impressed one very attentive server swooped in to remove empty plates.

"May I take this for your sir? It would be my pleasure."

At the insistence of the ladies, I got through most of the snack selection you can see in the pictures, and ordered an insanely heavy dish of tongue stew with rice. My students will not want to stand downwind of me today!

I've really enjoyed teaching the class, it's always a challenge to teach people of different ages and with different interests. I don't think I'll ever teach so much sewing and knitting vocabulary, or share so many chicken recipes in English class again.

¡Adios a las damas doradas!

Next time, I say goodbye to Mexico!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Adventures from the classroom 24

I've had my feet up since returning from vacation as my summer course students are at their nursing practices until September. A few private classes and personal projects that have been keeping me sane if not busy, but my students are still managing to drive me up the wall in their absence!

The weekly Google Translated scruffy work they send in to fulfil their English course commitments is not amusing to this Mexican maestro but hey, at least they're learning something. Some of their hastily completed exercises have provided a bit of comedy gold:

According to some of these 'top level nurses':

A Consultant is . . . . a patient
A 'Ward Sister' is . . . . waiting to her brother
Measles are . . . a tratament
and an IV drip is . . . a disease

I can't wait to knock some sense into them in class!

Preaching to the converted:

Clockwise from bottom left: Edith, Skye, Kate, Dan,
Guy, Jose Alberto, Evan, Gaspar, Cuautémoc, Paula
Just before vacations we put on a workshop to a group of Mexican English teachers. They mostly worked at high schools around Oaxaca and came to learn what teaching techniques we use.

We got off to a great start on Monday as after a couple of introductions, a portly latecomer strolled into class and greeted everyone by simply saying:

"Good night!"

I couldn't help laughing, as I half expected him to wave, turn on his heels and walk out!

"Good Night Gaspar" turned out to be a real comedian. He was always cracking jokes and trying to give answers in a different or funny way.

"My weekend was . . . dangerous!" he would exclaim with a chuckle.

He certainly did like his food and drink and was forever talking about 'traditional beer' and his wife's tlayudas. He told us that he has lost a lot of weigh recently on his doctor's orders, but that didn't stop him ordering a second dinner of tacos and soda with us after seeing off a baguette, chips, two beers and a coffee.

"Hold the salad" he reminded the waiter in the taqueria, "I don't want any nasty vegetables".

The other teachers were good on the whole and keen to learn. We had a nice girl from the Istmo who taught at a university, a goody-goody high school teacher who copied everything down in her notebook (just like the students), and a rather confident ex-tourism operator from the coast who looked like Mr. Bean's cool nephew.

A couple of the teachers struggled to take the techniques on board because of their low level of English. We knew we were fighting a losing battle with Obdulia, who obstinately responded in Spanish and had to look the word 'word' up in the dictionary.

Témoc was a nice guy who worked in education administration, but had somehow wangled himself a spot on a teacher's course. His English wasn't top notch either.

"How are you Témoc?"
" . . . err . . . I am concentration!"

One highlights for me came when I tried to make them think in more of an abstract manner. After introducing the topic of food I said

"I want to be a tlayuda because I'm traditional. What food do you want to be and why?"

Jose replied that he wanted to be enfrijoladas because "I want to be in everyone's mouth"
. . . err . . . OK bro.

Then Gaspar piped up - "I want to be a magic mushroom because I want to get high"

Sometimes it was a little difficult to know if we were teaching English, or teaching language-learning techniques to the local teachers. Because our staff outnumbered those on the course it felt like we were giving workshops to our own department sometimes! Not a bad idea actually.

We went for a night out with all of them at the café and got something to eat afterwards. I think they appreciated socialising a little as most of them were from out of town and were stuck in Miahuatlán for the whole week.  

Luckily Good Night Gaspar is from here, and is now attending the TOEFL course and my conversation class, so hopefully we'll get some more classic quotes from the guy.

Spelling bee:

I'm no grammar Nazi, and not a great sticker for spelling. The students have far greater deficiencies than their continual usage of the word 'whit' (with).

Some of their errors are so sweet though. Here are a few examples:

  • biutifor - adjective, visually attractive.
    Mi mom is a biutifor person.
  • boifer - noun, a male romantic companion.
    I knowed my boifer since the high school.
  • tuwlk - verb, to communicate verbally through language
    We tuwlked about much thing in di night.
  • chicken - noun, the area of the house where food is cooked.
    My house have a big chicken very clean.
  • bery nait - adjective, exceedingly good.
    My dog is bery nait to playing with.
  • ticher - professional educator
  • Inglant - proper noun, the largest constituent part of the island nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
    Inglant is in London and London is in the American Europe.
  • homwook - noun, school task to be completed outside of class
    by email - 

Cat calls 2:

In a previous edition, I wrote about the shouts and 'cat calls' directed at me
Now it's my turn.

Here's some of my favourite responses and slogans from class:

(responding to Spanglish)
Is this English class or espanish class?

(Greeting late students by pretending to not know them.)

"Come in, welcome to English, level 2. I'm your teacher, Phil Charter. Your path to English greatness starts here."

(When a student goes to the bathroom) - 

  • "Remember to flush!"
  • "Have fun!"
  • "Don't do anything I wouldn't!"
  • "Say hi to student B" (also in the bathroom)
  • "You can't learn English in the bathroom"

(when I spot one of those blasted communication contraptions)
"Cellphones are not your amigos."

(responding to "teeeeeeaaaaaccccchhhheeeeerrrrrrrrrr!")
"Ayyyy ticherrrrrrrrrr"
"Ayyyyyyy eeeeessstttttuuuuudddeeeennnntttt!"

(translating Spanish demands into English)
"¿y las calificiones?"
"and the grades?"

(translating one word demands in English to Spanish)
"Movie teacher!"
"¡Pelicula alumna!"

I give as good as I get.

Kids course:

Last year I did some lessons on music for the children's summer course. This time I remembered to take some pictures.

Left-to-right: Angel, Luis, Rafael, Sara, Lupita, Emiliano, Aaron

I walked into my first class with them and one kid excitedly shouted 
"Hello, . . . hello . . . heeelllllloooooo!!!!!
What is your name? What is your NAME? what is YOUR NAME!?!?

I hadn't had a chance to greet them, or even put my bag down. Just, give me a minute!
I'll ask the questions thank you! - I thought. 

It goes to show that children react differently than older students and don't always play by the rules.

By the end of the class we were playing various running games and team quizzes to tire them out, and they certainly weren't playing by the rules. Pushing, shoving, jumping, screaming. I'm just glad there were no tears!

We focused on food as a topic, and I got them to name restaurants in the town.
GRINGO BURGER! - They all shouted almost in unison before erupting into laughter.

In the next class I had some help from Kate and Max, and we played more food games. They were whacking the vocab on the board (and each other) with fly swatters, playing a fruit based aggressive type of musical chairs, and looking in Max's box as a memory game.

We gave them some food at the end of the class with which they were not wholly impressed. "A pear?" one little chap said, looking like he'd never seen anything green before, "what about the cookies?"

I told them about Marmite, then offered some crackers around laden with the black gold. They didn't understand much of my talk and looked at me quizzically when the indescribable taste hit their little mouths. I got the thumbs down from all but one of them. I think adults can appreciate the fun of a food that people either love or hate. The kids just hated it!

One of the older boys tried really hard to ask questions in English and asked Kate if she liked living in Mexico. "Yes" she replied. "I love Mexico"

"Se pronuncia Me-he-co" (It's pronounced Me-hee-co) said the little smart-ass 'Luipita'.
"Debes aprender la idioma" (You should learn the language)
It's funny that Kate - the most proficient Spanish speaker among us teachers - got burned by an 8 year old.

As ever, we received needless certificates at a ceremony for just doing our jobs. I'm not sure what was funniest, seeing the nervous kids going up the wrong stairs and being scared of taking their document, or when the panel gives each other certificates!

Anyway, once a year for the children's course is enough for me.

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