Sunday, September 27, 2009

Can Anyone Explain This To Me?

I decided to do a little walking through the center of town today. Besides seeing the usual dirty old men, the infirm, a couple of filthy clowns and mothers with babies all looking for a few pesos, today I witnessed something I can not explain.  A man had a small blanket spread on the ground.  The blanket was adorned with skulls.  He had tarot cards laid out on the blanket along with some scary looking photos.  There was also some sort of figure with a skull head next to the blanket.  He handed everyone surrounding him something and then held up a glass of water and glass of Coke.  Please, can anyone explain the significance of this to me?  Was he telling people their future, and, if so, why the skulls and other stuff?  I am so ignorant.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Election campaign at the school... the Mexican way

How does one campaign for student council offices at a school in Mexico?  Easy!  Have a party complete with clowns, lucha libre and a mechanical bull.  My first thought as a good American was this could never happen in an American school.  I could just smell the lawsuits and American lawyers standing in line waiting for a chance to sue somebody.  The lack of liability is one of the things I find charming in Mexico... unless something bad happens to me, of course!  Anyway, it was great watching my 5th graders being thrown from the mechanical bull like rag dolls.  And that ain't no bull!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Oh, Where Art Thou Manhole Covers?

From the beginning of my Mexico experience I was not surprised that manhole covers would 'pop up' missing. I was thinking that just a few pesos in scrap metal probably can buy a Mexican family of 13 muchos tacos for dinner.

I have been wanting to write about the missing manhole covers for several weeks. I noticed a pattern. As soon as it rained, the manhole cover near my apartment would go missing and a tire would be stuffed into the hole. After a couple days the manhole cover would reappear until the next rain storm. I didn't really understand this phenomenom until I read my new friend Lindy's blog. She wrote that the manhole covers are removed to allow the water to drain during and after a rain. Even after a little rain here in Reynosa, the streets are flooded. I thought they were being sold for scrap metal, but now it all makes sense. It also makes sense that tires are stuffed into the gaping hole for safety reasons. Uh, oh, I've only been in Mexico for a little over a month and things are starting to make sense to me!

Matt and his babies

This photo is just too adorable. I snapped it today while Matt was leading the kinder class.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

La Cucaracha, La Cucaracha, la la la la la la laaaa...

Now I understand why the La Cucaracha song is the national anthem for Mexico. Those freakin' things are everywhere just after dusk and they are the size of alley cats. Probably have fangs too. I can deal with them as long as they stay outside. But the second one takes a misstep inside the apartment, it is going to be muerto. I keep a can of Raid with the fresh pine scent handy for just such an occasion. So one morning I go to take a shower and there is the biggest, nastiest cockroach waving its antennas at me like it was giving me the finger. With my industrial size can of Raid I give it a generous shot. Still flipping me off, it scurries to the back of the shower prompting me to empty half the can on my shower invader. My can of Raid is a liar! The label says "Kills on Contact". I guess this really means "Kills on Contact with the Bottom of my Shoe." But at least my bathroom smells like fresh pine.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Illegal and Paperless Dog and Cat in Mexico

I illegally transported Daisy and Sam with me to Mexico. According to the law, animals brought into Mexico not only need current vaccines, but they also need a certificate of health. I did bring papers for Daisy but her rabies vaccine expired in August. She is now in Mexico illegally until my friend Efren gives her the vaccine. I forgot Sam's papers that are stuffed inside a desk in the back of a storage facility so he entered Mexico without any documentation. His vaccines also expired in August so I went on the hunt for a veterinarian in Reynosa. A neighbor gave me directions to his veterinarian so I went on the hunt. After wandering the curvy, nameless streets of Reynosa, I found a veterinarian close to Morelos Blvd. I went inside and spoke to the receptionist. She sent me into see Dr. Rubalcabal and as I tried to explain to him in Spanish what I needed for Sam, he answered me in perfect English. He gave Sammy a quick exam, a shot in the butt and told me to watch for kidney failure since he is now going on 18 years of age. The bill at the end? About $10 US dollars.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Creepy Man and The Man Who Wanted To Marry Me

A couple weeks ago, I went to the market to buy my weekly supplies of fruits and vegetables. I noticed a man following me. I went into the market and bought my supplies. As I walked to the area of taxis, the man followed me again. This time he spoke to me. He spoke very little English and seemed happy when I spoke to him in Spanish. He told me he was a truck driver and he goes to McAllen daily and his wife and children live in Monterrey. I enjoy being able to practice Spanish so it was a pleasant conversation until he asked me, "Como haces el amor?" It means, "How do you make the love?" My reaction was to say "What?" so, of course, he repeated it. I informed him that one does not ask a woman such a question and he apologized. The first taxi comes around and it is full. Darn! Then this jerk has the nerve to say to me, all in Spanish, he would like to be alone with me for 20 or 30 minutes so he can kiss my legs. That did it. "Vete!", I told him which means GO AWAY! "Vete con los de cien pesos!" which roughly mean go to the ones that charge 100 pesos for such services. Then I got into the taxi. Creep!

Everyday I pass by another high school as I walk to work. There are a couple different security guards outside and I always speak to them for a few seconds. On my way home, I spoke to one of the guards one afternoon. He asked me if he could ask me for a favor. I gave him my usual response to this question, "Depends on the favor." He asked me if I could help him get his papers for a visa to the United States. I asked him how I could possibly help him. He wanted to know if I would marry him. Oh, my God! Never mind the fact that he is already married with a 6 year old and and 3 month old baby! I politely told him that it would never work because the US government would do a background check and find out he is already married and his visa would be denied and the application money would be lost.

Donde Quedó La Bolita

Last Saturday I went downtown to buy fruits and veggies at the market. I witnessed a man who was taking bets on the "shell game". Here is the definition from wikipedia:

The game requires three shells (thimbles, walnut shells, bottle caps, and even match boxes have been used), and a small, soft round ball, about the size of a pea, and often referred to as such. It can be played on almost any flat surface, but on the streets it is often seen played on a mat lying on the ground, or on a cardboard box. The person perpetrating the swindle (called the thimblerigger, operator, or shell man) begins the game by placing the pea under one of the shells, then quickly shuffles the shells around.

Once done shuffling, the operator takes bets from his audience on the location of the pea. The audience is told that if a player bets and guesses correctly, the player will win back double his bet (that is, he will double his money); otherwise he loses his money. However, in the hands of a skilled operator, it is not possible for the game to be won, unless the operator wants the player to win.

When an individual not familiar with the shell game encounters a game on the streets, it appears that bets are being placed by numerous players, when in reality, these persons around the game are shills who are all part of the confidence trick.

I was fascinated to watch this game and it seemed like I could always pick out exactly where the small ball was located. There were a lot of bets with a lot of money. The next thing I know I was pushed to the center and "another player" was trying to encourage me to play and even gave me 500 pesos. I handed the money back to him and told him I only wanted to watch and that I did not bring any money with me so I could not play. I think I saved myself a lot of money.

The Classroom

I've been teaching my darling 5th grades for 3 weeks now. I have one class of 17 and another class of 16. One class receives instruction in Spanish while I teach English and then the classes switch at noon. Most are basically functional in English, some better than others. I did my student teaching in 5th grade years ago and just like American 5th graders, they love to talk. On the first day, I asked the students to give me the rules and here is the list they gave me.

1. Respect yourself and others. This is a big one because it incorporates so many things like don't call others bad names, don't speak when others are speaking, be a good listener, don't touch the teacher's whiteboard, desk, cabinet, etc.
2. Be prepared. Do the homework on time and bring supplies to class. I gave up on trying to make them wait for breaks to use the restroom and I got tired of being interrupted for every request to go to the bathroom. So now we have 2 bathroom passes. One for the boys and one for the girls. They just take it and go without asking. I had to make new rules about bathroom passes like no passes during quizes and no passes during our story reading time. The system is working well although yesterday we needed a practice session about how to open and close the classroom door quietly. Slamming the door goes back to Rule #1 about respect.
3. Practice safety. Most do fairly well although I caught one of my boys walking over the desk instead of going around it. He must be good in math because he knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
4. No Spanish. There is no Spanish allowed in the English classroom even when talking with friends. This is the hardest rule for me to enforce. I can just imagine if I were thrown into a situation where I am not allowed to speak English amongst my friends who do speak English. It is so hard for them to express themselves in English. Their parents pay the big bucks for the students to go to this school so they can learn English so I must keep reminding them about the No Spanish rule.
5. No eating or drinking in the classroom except water in a closable container. This is an obvious rule. Children like to eat and drink sticky stuff and they are constantly spilling things. I caught a few students in the classroom today with popsicles. I wish the cafeteria would not sell those horrible things. They have no nutritional value and they are too messy for school. I didn't make them throw them out. They were dismissed from their previous class late and barely had time for the noon break. I did make them go outside because there is No Eating and Drinking in the classroom!

There Should Be A Road Sign That Says "Watch For Horses"

Back in Iowa we have to watch for deer that cross the road even within the city limits. Apparently in Reynosa we have to watch out for horses on the road even in the city next to busy roads.

It's My Birthday Bash

A few brews and something to eat was a great way to celebrate my birthday on August 19. We went to a microbrewery called Sierra Madre. There are 6 native English teachers at the school for 4th grade, 5th grade (me), 6th grade, middle school literature, conversation and physical education. The 4th grade teacher is from Canada. The 6th grade teacher is from the Solomon Islands and he is not in this photo. I'm not 100% sure if he qualifies as a native English teacher technically, but his English is very good and to me his accent sounds American with a few words that sound British. The conversation teacher is from Australia. The literature teacher is from the United States. One of the physical education teachers is from London, England. I'd say we are quite an international group. Can you pick out the native English speakers in the photo? I'll give you a hint. There are more than 6 because the physical education teacher had 2 buddies visiting him from London.

More apartment photos

More apartment photos.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tim and the apartment

The apartment is decent and, remember, This Is Mexico! (Tim, for short)

The Good:
1. It is has 3 bedrooms.
2. All the rooms are big.
3. It has a lot of closet space and shelves inside the closets.
4. There is a beautiful, huge terrace outside my door with a covered area.
5. It is on the second floor so I feel secure.
6. It has bars on every window so I feel secure.
7. It has a metal screen door that would take a blow torch to open so I feel secure.
8. It is in a nice and quiet neighborhood of Reynosa so I feel a little bit secure.
9. It has a new air conditioning unit that is awesome and cools down the entire apartment. I have more later on how I got the air conditioning unit.
10. Lemon tree right outside the office bedroom.

The Bad:
1. I never have water after midnight until sometime before 6 AM. My neighbor downstairs has water, but not me.
2. I often don't have water at other times. I hate this when I need to get ready for school.
3. When I do have water, the pressure is often low. It can take 10 minutes to spit enough water from the showerhead just to wash my hair and another 10 for the rest of the body.
4. The light goes out often on the water heater. 6 AM cold showers are no fun.
5. The toilet is in serious need of help and it is slated to be replaced. I don't know what's growing around the base of the toilet but it might be the source of the H1N1 virus. The maintenance people were here yesterday to change it but they ordered a toilet too small. So I am still waiting.
6. It's too dangerous to take Daisy Dog out for a walk. The danger isn't because of the violence of being in a border town, but there are a lot of big, stray dogs wandering around that would love to make a taco out of Daisy. So I walk her up and down our street only. My neighbors must think I'm crazy pacing up and down the street with the taco meat on a leash.

I moved in just before August 10. For the first several days, I had no air conditioning. I have no idea how the natives live without air, but after 4 days of non-stop sweating I walked into my school and demanded that something be done. It worked! That very day I got air conditioning. Now if I could get Tim to work on the toilet and make sure I always had hot water for showering in the morning, I'd be a very happy camper. Tim, being Tim, we can't expect miracles.

How Not To Move To Mexico

Hello from Reynosa, Mexico. I finally moved in just before August 10 and I started my new job on August 10. However, it took me until September 5 to get internet and a couple more days to get the wireless working. I am back online!!!!

It took me 7 trips with my mini-van to move all the "stuff" I wanted to bring with me to live a comfortable existence here in Reynosa. In short, the necessities include my queen size bed, love chair and seat, coffee table, TV and entertainment center, clothers, dishes and other kitchen utensils, computer (duh, of course), printer and a folding table for the computer stuff. Oh, yeah, my dog and cat and all their related paraphernalia. I didn't need dressers because my apartment is not short on closets and shelving. In fact, the apartment is large and has 3 bedrooms. I do not share the apartment with anyone.

The proper process for moving to Mexico is to get a "Menaje de Casa". Basically, it is a paper on which you list every single possession you are taking to Mexico and the boxes you bring to Mexico also must list every single item. To get a Menaje de Casa, you must have an appropriate visa. Well, I don't have my FM3 visa yet so I am still here on a tourist visa. And with a tourist visa, you are not allowed to bring in a desktop computer, TV and most anything else. In fact, with a tourist visa you are only allowed to bring your clothes, laptop computer and some personal items. I decided to take a chance of not getting caught 7 times since I was not going past the next checkpoint which is about 25 miles beyond Reynosa. When crossing the bridge into Mexico, the first that happens is the Red Light/Green Light game. If you get a Green Light, it's a go. If you get a Red Light, you have to pull over and be inspected by customs. On my 3rd trip, I got a Red Light and I was carrying the computer, laserjet printer and flat screen TV with a mattress covering the stuff. Uh, oh! Electronics are a no-no! The reason is electronic stuff is typically cheaper in the United States and can be sold for a profit in Mexico. I pulled over and the Mexican customs agent looked in the back of my car, pulled up the mattress and then asked me if I spoke Spanish. I looked him in the eye and said, "Sorry, I don't not speak Spanish." Yes, my pants are burning because they are on fire. The agent then asked me, "Where you go?" I answered truthfully this time and said I am starting a new job as a teacher in Reynosa. "Adelante", he replied. I couldn't believe it. He let me go. So now I am living fairly comfortable in my own apartment and sleeping in my OWN bed. Life is great.

Next post: The apartment