Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Class of the Class

Students always have interesting reasons for not doing homework. I've heard many excuses and explanations over the past few years and I thought that I had "heard them all," but this week I was actually surprised by an explanation. One of my students told me he could not do Monday's homework because he was at the Chargers' game on Monday night. Since when is Monday night American football a distraction for Mexican students? Since now. Some of my students here in Baja California seem to be more enthusiastic about American football than about Mexican fútbol. How strange is that?

The fact is that San Diego is much, much closer than any big city in central Mexico. So, people here are very connected to the US and completely tuned in to US culture. Well, I should clarify -- the upper and upper-middle class students who attend my school are very familiar with all things "San Diegoan" and they are eager to show it. It is very common for my students to hop over the border for the weekend (or for Monday night football game) and come back with lots of cool stuff. Most of my students have skateboards (or surf boards or boogie boards) that were purchased in San Diego. Many have relatives in the San Diego area. Sometimes Ensenada feels like a suburb of San Diego -- at least for those privileged enough to cross the border with ease. The other funny thing is that almost everything my students' families buy in San Diego is cheaper than they could find it in Ensenada (even everyday goods, like toilet tissue). These Mexicans go north of the border to find bargains!

So, one among the several things I am getting adjusted to in my new job is "the class" of the class. In Denver I teach many new immigrants whose families are struggling to improve their lives in the US. I spent much of my time at Merrill Middle School working with newly resettled refugees whose families were working very hard to completely rebuild lives shattered by civil war or other violence. In Denver I was often considered a rich teacher by my students. Here, it is just the opposite! I am the "poor" teacher struggling working with very privileged students.

I guess if I want to change my image here, I'll have to make sure that Nathan and Theo wear Patriots or Broncos shirts around town, rather than the Chivas shirts that they like so much!

Here are some of my 6th grade students playing during recess. (Hey Ben-you would love recess at our school!)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Soccer Practice

Here are some photos of Theo at soccer practice today.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Week

Well this week has been my best week in Mexico. School has gone well and we didn't get loaded with homework, in fact I didn't have homework Wednesday or Thursday. On Tuesday we finished our group project in Spanish, which was to create a book of myths and write some stuff about myths and legends. We then had to study all our myths. In class our teacher picked a random story and you had to summarize it in front of the class, not rehearsed. This was hard for me because first I had to read them all, and then summarizing one on the spot was hard. Luckily, she let me pick which myth to summarize so I picked one I already knew in English. Then I summarized it on the spot. It took about 15-20 minutes to get it all out, but I did it. Everyone was patient with me and they all clapped at the end (probably out of relief that I was done). Of course on Wednesday we had a fist fight in the middle of math class which makes the second one this year, so that wasn't amazing.

I now swim because I want to start surfing and my mom says I need to be a stronger swimmer before I start. I was just transferred into a different swim class with older kids. Of course my new class meets only three days a week and I was doing four in my other class. So I went today and they had me swim for an hour with the team. I swam 1950 meters without rest and 400 were butterfly. I suck at butterfly, I've been getting better but I can only do it when I'm rested, I almost died in the swimming pool. This is a little bit ironic because I've always said I never wanted to be on a team but now I am. Guitar has been going great and now I'm working on some classical pieces by Fernando Carulli, and some instrumental metal by Joe Satriani. I'm having lots of fun. Anyway my week has been very good.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Check Is Not In The Mail

I tried in vain to make pancakes for the boys this morning. The stove wouldn't light. Hmm . . . could it be that the gas bill I had been ignoring finally caught up with me? Yes, indeed. I had to face the challenge of paying bills in Mexico. Today was the day. I managed to call the gas company and get an address for their nearest office (and yes, I spoke Spanish, without any help whatsoever -- a definite sign of progress!). So, I paid in cash and we now have a functioning stove, dryer, and hot water heater. Ta Da! A small success today.

After a bit more hunting, I also found the offices where I needed to pay for electricity and water. Also cash transactions (although I paid cash to an automated bill collection machine at the electric company). There may be an easier way for me to pay bills, but I haven't figured it out yet. To pay the rent for my apartment I put cash in an envelope and deliver it to my landlady's house. The only bill I know I can pay online is the cable bill -- it's good to know that the cable folks trust their own connections.

Perhaps I could pay some bills with checks, but I wouldn't trust the mail delivery system. I'm posting a photo of the mailbox where I receive my bills. One single, overstuffed, open mailbox for eight apartments. Yup, 8 families receive their mail in this box. Some bills stay in the box for weeks, I've noticed. Many people have bank statements gathering dust in this mailbox. I wonder if identity theft is a big problem here? In any case, since this little mailbox has lowered my confidence in the Mexican postal system, I will continue to pay bills in person and in cash. Now that I've figured out where to go, I may even pay on time!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Beach Activities in San Quintín

Boogie boarding on the beach was a success, even in the morning hours before the sun came out. Wet suits would come in handy, however, as the Pacific is pretty cold. BUT not as cold as the North Atlantic for all you Cape Cod lovers!

We watched a clammer dig for clams. He got 3 dozen pismo clams the size of a large fist. He can sell them for $5 a dozen. If you buy them in a restaurant, you pay at least $6 a piece. The fisherman tossed the small ones that he couldn't keep to the boys to see. They amused themselves by watching them dig into the sand in the holes that Theo dug for them.

Notice the nicely dug holes with clams in the center.

Clams...small ones.

San Quintín is an important clamming area--what with this huge beach. We also watched fishermen fish in the surf. One guy had a surf net that he caught perch in. Another couple of kids about Nathan's age had lines with 5 or 6 hooks on them that they just dragged into the waves, walked around for a while, and then came ashore with 6-inch fish attached. Don't know what they were. They took them off the lines and then whistled for their little brother to collect them and toss them into a bucket.

No, Theo did not try to eat the clams on the beach. He just got a bit messy.

More about San Quintín in another post. Too many photos to upload!

San Quintín--Beach Weekend

Last weekend I went down to join the family for a few days. They had Monday and Tuesday off for Mexican Independence Day, so we all had a long weekend. After some hemming and hawing, we reserved a room at a beach side hotel in the town of San Quintín, which is about 120 miles south of Ensenada on the Pacific coast.

I'll share the pictures here, mostly, with a bit of commentary thrown in for good measure. It was a very relaxing weekend--not a lot to do in San Quintín, as it turns out, but that was fine. Everyone needed a bit of down time.

La Playa Santa Maria de San Quintín at sunset.

The beach of Santa Maria is gorgeous...wide, gently sloping, natural beach that seems to go on forever...the ends of it fade off into the haze. The sand is a marbled black and white, and the wind and waves form beautiful patterns, probably because the grains are different densities. Then there are the shiny, golden flecks of what look like pyrite.

Shorebirds at sunset (Robert: $50 if you can name the species from this photo).

The beach from our hotel balcony, with dunes in foreground.

Another view from the balcony.

The boys on the dunes--they're bigger up close than they seem in the distance. Jackets in the evening are a good idea--it's the desert, and it gets cool when the sun goes down.

Another view of the beach.

Oh, and did I mention that you can drive your car onto the beach? Seems to be the thing to do around here. Why walk a few hundred yards, when you can unload your cooler at the high tide line?

A view of the hotel from the high tide line. Notice the tire tracks in the sand.

Laura and I took long walks on the endless beach--when the beach was its most deserted. We saw pelicans diving, many varieties of shore birds poking their bills into the sand, sea gulls dropping clams onto the hard sand and eating the broken remains, and porpoises feeding offshore. No boats. Maybe a fisherman or clammer or two. Then a pickup truck with a bad muffler roaring by.

One final view of the beach, with the white hotel in the distance, one of the six volcanoes of San Quintín in the far distance, and scads of sand dollars on the sand in the foreground.

More about San Quintín in a subsequent post or two.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Pay off of Combing your Hair

A weird thing happened to me today. You see in Mexico how you look is very important, so in my school they started giving out cards that say Sin-Uni-Pass, in other words It gives you one day without a uniform. That is pretty cool. They give these out to people who always look nice at school. Today four people got them, including me. My mom said the teachers gave it to me because supposedly my hair looked nice. You must know all I did was brush my hair for five seconds this morning. But it's pretty cool because I don't have to wear my uniform. Here's a picture of me in my uniform.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


So far success in Mexico for me is entirely dependent on my ability to be flexible. Most of the time I’m able to “go with the flow” without too much anxiety. Due to my own Spanish-language deficiencies, minor cultural misunderstandings, or just plain old mistakes, I am often the last person around to know what is going on. My first blunder was showing up exactly one week early for my faculty meetings. Although the Mexican teachers started formal meetings on August 11 at 9:00 am, the American faculty had the week to get set up in new apartments and get oriented to Ensenada. I needed much more set-up time than I anticipated, so that free week was a blessing. When my meetings did start I showed up on time and ready to roll at the designated time each day and waited anywhere from 30-40 minutes for others to appear. I expected start times to be flexible (before classes began), but I thought that I shouldn’t be the one to be late. I still haven’t figured out how late is appropriate and how late is late. So, I was happy to sit and read. Then, when we had a really important orientation day with students, I arrived an hour later than I was supposed to be there. My American supervisor had sent me a text message late in the evening to communicate my report time. Oh dear. Yet another language to learn! I’m not fluent in texting. I had never even received a text message before (and this one I received too late!). Despite the language gaps, generation gaps, and general goof-ups, I am feeling successful. My goal is to survive September. Almost done. I plan to thrive in October . . .

Friday, September 12, 2008


I started soccer a few weeks ago and I love it. I've had a few practices but today was the best one yet. Before today I didn't have any real friends but today I made friends with some people and I even scored two out of the five goals scored in the scrimmage. Today I played really well and I juked out the best ball handler and even the coach, the other kids were impressed. Right now I'm loving soccer and I think I will really improve my skills. Plus I'm on the Chivas which is my favorite team!
Viva Chivas!

Saturday, September 6, 2008


It is the weekend again and I am happy it is. The the week was the same, hard but a little fun. Life is good now even without my dad we are still making it through. On Friday there was a mass/official opening of the new school. It was kind of a crazy day. The mass was huge even the bishop came, it looked like there was going to be a wedding. First, for lunch a resturant came and set up a tent. We could just walk in an ask for food. The food was awesome. Next is that we got a fifty minute recess because of the mass. Even though the day was crazy it was worth it. Here are some pictures of it.

The three priests

The Bishop

The fancy dining area