Friday, May 30, 2008

My Mexican Students

When I retired from teaching in the United States, I was concerned that I would miss the interaction with younger people. I was very happy to find that here that the Lake Chapala Society sponsors a free English language program for Mexican students. The school is located in an old house off of the LCS grounds, in the village of Ajijic, which was donated to the LCS by Mr. Wilkes when he died. The house has been turned into a Spanish language biblioteca (library). It also serves as the space where four levels of English classes are taught by volunteers. The only cost for the students is to buy a book and workbook, for a total cost of about 250 pesos, or about 25 US dollars. There is a fund available to provide free books for students who cannot afford the books.

Classes meet at various times during the week to accommodate different work schedules. My class met every Tuesday and Thursday from 5:30-7:00PM. Students range in age from 12 through adulthood. Learning English is popular here, obviously, because it improves one's job opportunities, since we have such a mixed community.

Believe it or not, I was nervous when I began teaching last September. My 31 years in the community college did not prepare me to walk into a room of Mexicans who spoke little or no English, and do a good job. Pixie had taught ESL, but I had not. I quickly learned, as anyone who works with these students does, that they are hardworking, courteous, and friendly. I think it helped that I was simultaneously struggling to learn Spanish; it gave us something in common.

Well, the year of working with these students has just ended, and I am very pleased with their progress. About 22 students started the program, but a majority dropped out because of work, family issues, or realizing that learning a new language can be daunting. Ten students officially completed the course and are ready to move on to level two. I am very proud of them and wanted to share a bit about them on this blog. Working with these students gave me a chance few other gringos here really have the opportunity to do: get to know young Mexicans in a more intimate way and learn a bit about their lives. The six students I introduce here are the six who showed up for pizza on the last class. The others were probably working or otherwise engaged, or they would certainly have shown up for free pizza.

Augustina was one of the older students and might be considered the "mother" of the group. She spoke more English than the others because she is married to an American. Her skills came in quite useful in class when we had to clarify something which my Spanish was insufficient for; she often explained what I was trying to say in Spanish for those who spoke no English at all. She would explain when another student was having a problem of some type. She was probably a bit advanced for level one, but wanted to improve her confidence.

Carmen is working at a local seafood restaurant which is especially popular with Guadalajarans. Since most of the clients are Mexican, she does not need much English. She is very shy about speaking English in class, but her written work is excellent which indicates to me that she is taking her work seriously and studying hard. She is very pleasant to have in class and seems to enjoy the interaction.

Ana Paula could probably win the award as my most enthusiastic student. She breezes into class each day with a broad smile and a "Hello Teacher!" (They all call me "teacher" even though I told them my name. It's a cultural sign of respect.) Ana Paula works as a teacher and administrator at a women's college for culinary arts and hospitality in Jaltepec, several towns west of Ajijic. She is extremely motivated and knows that a career in the hospitality field will require English. Her dad is Maggie's vet, a very nice man who has raised his children as a single parent. She plays cello and sings in a church chorus.

Abigail is a hardworking mother of several children who travels to class every day with her daughter who is also enrolled in a level one class. Abigail works for aprivately-funded organization called Ninos de Chapala y Ajijic (Children of Chapala and Ajijic) which provides services to children with special needs. She is a teacher who works every day with many of these children. she is often exhausted by the time she arrives at class, but she is always the first one to arrive, often with a bag of groceries to take home to her family on the bus after class. She has made excellent progress this year.

David (pronounced Da BEED, since the Mexicans pronounce v's as b's) is one of two twelve year olds who started the class. He is now thirteen. He is attending Secondario, which is equivalent to middle school. He is a very reticent young man, who is painfully shy and struggles to speak in class. Of course all the women in class love him and mother him. He does very well on all written work, so I know he's getting the idea quite well. He plays violin. I sometimes see him around the village carrying his violin case.

Maria Elena is a lovely young woman who joined the class around Christmas. She is the fiance of Augustina's son, and I think it was Augustina who recruited her to join the class. She worked very hard, showed up for almost every class prepared, and made fine progress. She is also shy about speaking, but worked hard to overcome this. She was pregnant during most of the class and had her baby, Gustavo, during the last few weeks of the course. She brought him to class last week. He's even younger than Isabelle.

There were four other students who finished the class but were not there for the final class, so I did not include their photos: Jose Antonio is a young construction worker who often wears a Yankees cap to class. We had a lot of joking about that. His brother Julio also works construction and is more quiet and serious. They both did very well in the class. Myra, a teacher from San Juan Cosala, had to miss a number of classes because of her job and during the mudslides in San Juan, but stayed with he class nevertheless. Finally, Karla is a young woman who consistently showed up for class even though she was also very shy about speaking. She was working at a local restaurant frequented by Americans and Canadians.

I will miss my students, but I am looking forward to getting a new group in the fall. I think it would be much more difficult to stay in touch with younger people unless I did something like this, and I am energized by the process.

We are settling back into our new house after our trip north and working on making it a home. The weather is very hot and dry, especially in the afternoons. Everyone is wiaiting for the rains which should arrive within the next few weeks.

I'll end with a poem I wrote recently about my experience with my class. One thing you need to know: Bimbo is a brand of bread (pan) in Mexico.

Learning English with the Gringo

They are patient with me

The gringo who no longer works

While they struggle to learn new sounds

Which hurt their mouths

So they can understand more clearly

What these old gringos really want.

They arrive in our tiny classroom

On Mexico time, straggling in,

Always pausing at the door, smiling

Until I invite them in

To join our loose group.

I butcher Spanish words, they politely correct

Sometimes in unison, articulating with wide mouths

Showing their teeth, but all together

So the sound is muddled to me.

“Que?” I ask; they obediently repeat

Until they are satisfied with my approximation.

They talk about their families

As they try to fathom

Our language, where objects are sexless,

And pronunciation follows no rules.

“Not bideo,” I implore, “viiiideo!”

“Veeeedeo!” they repeat, eyes twinkling

Another “V” word for them to forget.

When learning geography words

We come across “Paris.”

“Heh heh,” chuckles Juan Jose, “Paris Heeeelton!”

“Oh,” I declare, “She’s a bimbo, you know.”

“Pan” they look bewildered?

“No,” I laugh, and swagger.

“This is a bimbo!”

They roar, and I love this moment.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Isabelle: Who Wouldn't Love This Baby?

Well, we're back from our US adventure, and although I know this blog is about Mexico, I will devote this posting to photos of our trip. This is probably the posting that has the most photos, but since our trip was about the people we love and care about, what better way to document our trip than showing their faces! Since I know the entire world must be waiting, with baited breath, for more photos of Isabelle, our one and only grandaughter, I'll start with her:

I have included a photo of Eric, Pixie and I with Isabelle, but you will note, no photo of Crystal. I only had one photo available of Crystal lying down with Isabelle, but Crystal hated it so I did not include it. I promise to include photos of Crystal and Isabelle when we visit for Christmas.

Here is a photo of the mural Eric painted for Isabelle's nursery:

The other big news from Muncie was that Eric landed a professional position as a Student Support Counselor at Ivy Tech Community College. He is grateful to be using his Master's Degree and enjoy is working with this population, as Pixie and I did for many years in Maine. Here he poses in his new office.

Once we left Muncie, after three weeks for Pixie and one week for me, we stopped in Philadelphia. We spent most of the time with my Dad, and my stepmom Joy. We had a wonderful chance to visit with Joy's daughters as well when their neighbor Mary hosted a wonderful dinner for us all. Unfortunately, I took no photos of this event, but here are one year-old photos of Dad and Joy. We had a great visit. I had the chance to see Dad deliver a lecture on the history of Ophthalmology at Penn to the residents, and Pixie particularly enjoyed some Philadelphia sticky buns!

We had a chance for a visit with my brother Fred, his wife, Heidi, and their children, Alex and Nora. We all went to a Phillies game at the new ballpark in Philadelphia. Here are Fred, Pixie, and Heidi at the game, and Alex posing in his new Phillies hat.

Next stop was my old stomping ground, Providence, where Cassie and Alana are living. I enjoyed visiting Brown again, and we took a train into Boston to visit Cassie's studio at the Art Institute of Boston:

Here are Cassie and Alana preparing dinner for us, and Cassie with her new friend, Gertie. Cassie is considering whether to continue her pursuit of a certificate in professional illustration or to change her path to go for an MFA. More decisions!

While we were in Providence, we were able to stay in Jim Edwards' apartment. Jim is a very special person for us, because he was the one to introduce us to the concept of retiring in Mexico. When we were at the gym one day, I was talking about retiring in a warmer climate, and Jim asked if we'd considered Mexico. We hadn't, but, at his suggestion, we considered Ajijic, where he'd spent a winter. And, of course, the rest is history! Jim has moved to Providence to be near his grand daughter, Lucy. He just bought a small house near the bay in Pawtuxet, where he posed here on his new front porch.

Wendy and Cassie both were in Maine with us for Mother's Day weekend, and we had the opportunity to spend some great time together. We also got to see Wendy's new apartment. She is glad to have a place of her own for her and Boo! Wendy is planning to return to USM in the fall, full time, to finish her degree in Recreational Therapy.

We were also glad to see all our friends from Maine as well. We crashed the after graduation party at CMCC and saw many of our long-time colleagues. We had a reunion of our wonderful dinner group: Kathy and Doug and Gene and Betty; alas no Marlene and Elliott this time!)We were welcomed back warmly at the Auburn UU church. Mary Kay and Claire, below, hosted a wonderful open house for us.
Kevin and Judy Simpson, having just returned from India, invited us for lunch with Pearl Sawyer, the poet laureate of the Auburn UU Church!

Here are some of the wonderful friends who joined us at the open house:

Karen, PJ and Lil

Pixie, Mary-Lou and Bonnie

Claire and Charlotte; Erland and Esther

Ellie; Pat and Andie

Bonnie and Robin; Beth, Ron, Tom, and Al
Mark, Toby, and Al

While we were in Maine we were graciously hosted for ten days by Pixie's sister, Liana, her husband, Marc, their children, Jen and Nathaniel, and Pixie's mom, Corinne. (We also enjoyed a dinner in Bath with Pixie's brother, Vance, his wife, Sherry, her son Philip, Pixie's brother Tex and his daughter Jan. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring a camera.) Here Pixie, Liana, and Corinne get special facial masks from Jen, and Nathaniel and I pose in our Hawaiian shirts before our final night dinner, where we were graciously joined by Wendy, exhausted after a long shift at Pat's.

So, our first trip back to the United States since moving to Mexico a year ago was bittersweet. We loved seeing our family and friends, and it reminded us how important they all are to us. Fortunately, with modern transportation, living in Mexico is not any further away in terms of travel time from living, say, on the west coast. We plan to return for another extended trip next spring, and are looking forward to having the family gather in Muncie for Christmas. Curt and Judy Webber are planning a return visit this fall, and we are hoping Wendy and Cassie will make it down over the winter, on their breaks from school.

So, now we have returned to our still in-progress home in Mexico. We are looking forward to getting back into our activities here and working on the house, but we have been warmed by the love of many people we reconnected with in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Maine! The next posting will be back on the subject of Mexico.