Introductions … new services, new people

12 09 2009

I might as well warn you now that I’m just planning to make a rather long post and get caught up.  I’ll divide it up here and there, I think, so that you can decide whether you want to keep reading or not!  Actually, you might try skipping through.  I tried to put the most interesting parts first, but now it seems somewhat reversed.

The translating has turned out not to be as big a job as I thought.  Rachel had already satisfactorily completed everything but the 29 pages she gave me.  I have about one page left of finishing up her work, and then I need to format it and it will be done.  As I was wrapping up my part of the translating on Wednesday, she came in and asked me if I like working with children. (Nah, I just came down to help with this school because I get sadistic pleasure out of keeping their noses to the grindstone.)  And do I like working with special-needs children?  I had to admit that I can’t claim prior experience at the elementary level, but I was quite ready to try.  So she told me that Juan Diego, eight years old, is on his way through kindergarten for the third time.  The public schools had him the first two times, and didn’t have the resources to help him, so they just sent him out to play when he acted up.  He has made tremendous progress this year in his class of about 10 students, with loving discipline.  However, at this point he’s still struggling with the names of the letters.

In point of fact, most of the children are.  ACE has a fairly strong phonics program (I must admit), and these children know letter sounds backwards and forwards, and can sound out words, even though they’re not really supposed to be reading till next year.  But achievement counts for nothing if you can’t pass the tests, so Juan Diego must know that when someone points to “a” it doesn’t mean “ape,” “antelope,” or “ah.”  (I didn’t finish learning the Spanish alphabet till I tried to teach it last month, after four years of college, but if kindergarteners finish the year without knowing any random letter when you point at it, it doesn’t matter that they’re already reading.)

Anyway, I readily admit that it’s something that needs work; I just can’t see the threat of not letting them “pass” kindergarten or participate in “graduation.”  That’s just the way the game is played, which is all education is about anyway, right?  (By the way, every youngster in the school has an average of 97 or above – most of them 99.x.  Just thought that might interest some people with whom I’ve had that conversation.  It’s purely objective grading, too.) 

So Juan Diego must learn his letter names, with 30% vision in one eye and 70% in the good one.  Rachel and I discussed some aspects of the matter, and some strategies, and we decided that I should pull him out 2-3 times a day and use flashcards or whatever I liked to help him.  I held my ground and said that I didn’t think it would be beneficial to work more than 15 minutes at a time, and when I finally reached into my ammunition store and pulled out a factoid from a certain methods class by a certain fabulous teacher, it found its mark, and I won.  (Said factoid being that a rule of thumb for activities at the elementary level should last for (student’s age + 2) minutes = 10 for Juan Diego, even if he were perfectly normal.)  I discovered a flaw in myself.  I’d really rather not negotiate; I prefer to just walk off if I am seriously disagreeing with someone.  But I can’t do that if I want to participate another five weeks, and so I had to buckle down and work with her.  I think it was good for me.

So … Rachel got her flashcards together, and yesterday she and James drilled the students for about half an hour on letter names versus letter sounds, and I cut stuff out and laminated.

Anyway.  There’s quite a while left, and Juan Diego is not done needing help, if I don’t miss my guess.


I don’t know if the last part was as interesting as I meant it to be or not.  Moving on, the church services have also been something to get used to.  Sunday morning, Lee was invited to preach at a baptism.  He and Sharon were concerned before they even went.  The baptism is held at a swimming pool by this church, and it results in quite a festive atmosphere for a Sunday service.  It was 100% new to me, because our church doesn’t “practice the ordinances” at all – blame it on Quaker influence somewhere way back, if you like.  I heard someone surmise that once, and so it’s what I say now.

But I didn’t see anything I felt like importing.  To say nothing else, I don’t know where the idea came from that girls should wear white tops for baptism (even if they didn’t have low necks), while men in swimming trunks are observing from the other end of the pool – they couldn’t get the whole place reserved this time.  I feel like saying quite a bit more, but I shall refrain.  Except that I think John Wesley and Adam Clarke demonstrated quite satisfactorily that baptism originally was by sprinkling or pouring rather than immersion, and why holiness folks have strayed from their Methodist roots, I’ll never understand.  Especially after attending this service.

I did enjoy the Sunday night service.  I’m afraid there’s quite a bit of what we call “wildfire” here, but it was interesting.  They had a trumpet player, and two acoustic guitars, and a keyboard.  They run their sound a little loud.  Just a little, you know. 😉 I really did enjoy the trumpet player.  I wasn’t sure whether the high point musically was when they asked him to sing, or when they asked the keyboard player to sing.  See, I liked the trumpet player’s singing, but then he couldn’t play the trumpet.  And I appreciated when the piano player stopped playing, but I didn’t enjoy his singing as much. 

The piano player turned out to be the pastor, and he got everyone to stick their hands in the air and say Amen sufficiently, and then preached.  Oh, but I missed René in Sucre.  During prayer here, my mind went back to a little second-floor room with a young man praying from the pulpit, as his voice rose and earnestly pled with God, and God’s presence settling into the room, even with most people pretty quiet.  But you take what you can get.

Wednesday, there were two funerals, if I understood.  Someone from the church had died, and the pastor’s brother had (not unexpectedly) passed away.  So Maria and I showed up, but there were just a few people who had come to pray a few minutes before going to the funeral or whatever it was.

Last night, they were to have a missionary service at 6:00.  Maria and I went with some anticipation – well, maybe I should speak for myself.  The church was decorated tastefully in blue and gold, and I loved the touch of spreading fresh pine needles all over the tile floor.  They had all the folding chairs out, and evidently expected a crowd.

About 6:45, they got the sound adjusted like they wanted it … it was done in such a manner as to prevent folks whispering to one another.  Hollering, maybe, but not whispering.  The missionary and his wife sat down on the front seat, she not at all in line with typical holiness standards, and with a V-neck revealing … more than I think I’ve ever seen in a professing holiness woman.

Oh … the piano player.  I somehow knew when I saw him shuffling across the platform towards the bench, a young man unable to straighten up, that he could play the piano.  They say that when God takes one ability, he frequently gives another.  I have heard greater virtuosos.  And no, I won’t say that it all was entirely appropriate for church.  But when I hear piano accompaniment that good, I’m going to enjoy it!  He was throwing in all sorts of chords, and grinning to himself all the time, and always in control of the rhythm – something I’d missed Sunday night.  I think he and my brother would enjoy an afternoon together.

Then they called up the poor struggling evangelist, and he went to his Mac laptop and turned on his soundtracks, and I eventually realized that we had actually come to a concert.  It wasn’t so much the music that was objectionable, although Lee and Sharon said they heard it a block away, but there was just a vein of performance and emotionalism running through it all the way.  He did preach (on Jesus turning water into wine), and he even preached specifically against sin when they called him back up after the wildly successful altar call.  (Said sin being pirated CDs.)

As to the altar call, I was and still am quite curious as to 1/4 of the audience having been converted after repeating a sinner’s prayer, and I should like to know whether they will be there on Sunday, and when they’ll be joining the church.  The pastor announced to us that their names had been inscribed in heaven and the angels were having a party now.  (On a side note, I noticed one man turning around from the altar and beckoning to his women-folk to follow him up there, which they did.  That did seem pretty non-US.)

Then the missionary’s wife went back to man the product table (or to woman it?), and they called some children on stage and had them sing and invited a round of applause, and everybody went out and bought tostadas from the booth in front, and we all went home.  (Actually, I bought some sort of delicious warm, thick drink with a piece of cinnamon stick in it.)

I am not trying to be offensive here; I recognize that I have a range of readers from different backgrounds.  I am not meaning to denounce the church people, or to condemn churches with practices different from mine.  As to anything beyond “reporting,” I am simply measuring this specific church by the standards which I understand this organization to use.  If they professed different beliefs, then I hope I would ask myself whether they were conforming to what they believed.  I am quite sure that there are numerous good people here, and it’s hard for me as essentially an outsider to distinguish what positions people hold.  I really have only attended one service representative of “normal” here.  Also, I really respect the missionaries’ recognition that this is a self-supporting, independent network of churches, and that they don’t have the right to dictate anything.  Finally, I know that if an outsider came into my church or movement, they would misinterpret a lot of things at first. 


(I do know some people are interested, and if you’re not, you’re under no obligation to continue.) For those whom I haven’t lost yet  …

6 hours later – I couldn’t remember what I wanted to write about, so I gave up.  It was shaping up to be a really warm day today, but it started raining around noon and kept it up for an hour or so.  That broke the heat, and I escaped for a pleasant afternoon.  The Rickenbachs (Lee and Sharon) have gone to Honduras till partway through next week, and it’s just Maria and I here.  I had determined to buy my lunch.  (The folks here and I have a bit of an ideological difference when it comes to food.  They’re proud that they’ve learned to subsist primarily on vegetables and fruit … and I don’t see that it’s anything to be proud of. 😆  However, I do get a fair amount of meat.  In Bolivia I got to craving peanut butter – I guess for protein – after 2 or 3 weeks!)  It was about 3:00 when I finally found a place I wanted to eat, and all I’d had was a fruit & yogurt breakfast.  I managed to find something that wasn’t an expensive, fine-dining restaurant, but wasn’t hamburgers either.  And I have to say, they can make good steak in Guatemala.  I can’t help looking for the Heinz 57, but it doesn’t need it.  There was a family in there, and the youngsters were all talking English – I think they know more slang than I do (not saying much). 

Question:  Why is it that an American who has travelled to other countries is “well-travelled” and, if they’ve sent a few weeks backpacking and staying in hostels, possibly even “bicultural,” but a Latin American who has earned a living in the US for a while is (to describe the US perception as best I can) someone a little humorous who just doesn’t belong?  Inquiring minds want to know.

After that, I carried out the main part of my plot for the afternoon.  Maria and I passed some old wooden doors last week, and I glanced up and saw, on a a paper which had been in the sun for a long time, that it was the Jalapa historical museum.  I’m guessing it may be about the only one in town, but who knows.  It claimed to be open weekday mornings, and Sat. & Sun. from 3 to 6.  I made it over there about 4 today.  It certainly didn’t look open.  I knocked … looked through the dilapidated wood, and it didn’t look too inviting anyway … knocked again … Finally I mosied off.  There was a door open across the street, and women were in there sewing.  This being Guatemala rather than Sucre, Bolivia, I thought they might not mind helping out a foreigner, so I asked if they knew if this museum was open.  One of the ladies assured me that it should be, came out, crossed the street, got the attendant’s attention, told me I needed to knock harder, and explained to the man that I wanted to see the museum.  It is a block and a half from the house, but I don’t think anyone from here has ever gone. 

There are moments, as an American foreigner, that one doesn’t feel very welcome in other countries.  Then there are the moments when you knock on a museum door, undoubtedly the first foreign visitor in ages, and some volunteer takes an hour and a half to give you a personal tour, explain every photograph, make the history of Guatemala come alive, answer questions, show you every room and explain how it was typical or atypical, what was original and what is duplicated – and even appear appreciative of an interested audience.  Then when it’s all done he kindly asks you to sign the guest book, and you ask if he wasn’t supposed to charge you (like it says on the door), and he agrees that your grand tour did cost you all of $2.50, just to support the work, and invites you to come again some time if you have a chance.

I have seen “gramophones” (the famous old Victrolas) in museums before, and you probably have too.  But unless you’re a little older than I am, you probably haven’t heard one play.  Just ask the next museum guide you meet to wind that thing up and let you listen to it!  It seemed he would have let me touch anything in the place, although I can’t say it seems like a wise policy to this American.  In Abraham Lincoln’s house, they warned us that if even our heels slipped off the marked path, the alarms would all go off.  And I suppose that house will last longer.  I asked in one room if I could take a picture.  He said it wasn’t usually allowed, but it was OK to take one.  He actually took one of me in the room.  ( By the way, I would check out those Flickr photos.  I commented on the one of the kitchen with some of the explanations the guide made to me – it interested me, at any rate.

So that has been my most rewarding escape.  A couple of other times I’ve slipped out on my own … went to a frozen yogurt store … bought a Coke … had a trio of school-age boys holler something after I went past which they thought I wouldn’t understand.  It was very tempting to answer them.

Someone commented to me by email that they were concerned I wasn’t enjoying Guatemala as much as Bolivia.  Well, it would be hard to enjoy anything that much.  (I kind of left my heart in Bolivia.)  And this is a very different set of circumstances, forcing me to react in different ways.  But I don’t need just a repeat of a previous experience.  I’m developing insights in different ways and directions this time.  Yeah, a lot of English conversation – but there’s more information being shared that way.  Anyway, that is a topic for another day.  Congratulations if you stuck with me this far!

I’m now remembering quite a bit more I wanted to share, but I will spare you.  BTW, Maria posted an update herself, where she borrowed a couple of my pictures.


All going well

8 09 2009

I noticed just now that my hose-squirting friend has been converted into an ally.  I just came in from watching the children at recess, and he was standing in the yard, holding the hose, waiting for the word to add a little more water to the current batch of mortar.  He was as passive to the swarms of first-graders screaming around him as his older companion.  I think maybe even more so, because the “mason” would stop and stand with his hands on his hips and smile as he watched them, but the little boy stayed solemnly focused on his work.

The school boys were engaged in activity that should perhaps wait another ten years or so … Each one was trying to catch himself a girl.  It took a little while for me to realize it wasn’t just tag.  There are more girls than boys, so the boys pretty much had their pick.  They try to corner them or just chase them down, and at any minute you can see two or three of them leading their trophies away, until they lose them.

If anyone wonders where stereotypes of “females” came from, they should visit here.  Talk to a typical uneducated teenage girl … their conversation is as inane, full of innocent wonderment, giggly, …. etc.  as the most chauvinistic person could expect.  I’m not referring to character; just that a lot of them aren’t getting a quality education.  Of course, I’m sure there are lots of exceptions as well.  It is just a different world for women here.

I have looked at myself, and thought about the reactions I tend to meet.  Just look at it: I’m blond in a world of dark hair, light complected in a world of dark complexions, tall in a world of short people, educated in a world of little education, relatively thin in a world of “plump” women.  I think that it should be abundantly clear that any attraction based on these novelties is not worth ten cents!  Even take into account another couple of large factors – I appear to be wealthy in a world of poverty, and (as long as I’m single) I carry with me a free pass to the US in a world where mansions are built by remittances from formerly poor family members there.  The fact is, that in America, a country of 300 million, I am guessing there are a good 25 to 5o million people who share every one of these characteristics.  I just happen to be one of the very few in Jalapa at the moment!  (Probably not half a dozen.)  So I can’t help be conscious of people looking sometimes.

Right now, at school, I’m engaged in translating the standards of the ACE curriculum so that the administration can submit it for approval to the government.  It’s a joke.  To start with, we’re breaking the first rule of translation: Always translate to your native language.  I’m working on math right now, and I’ve never done more than addition, subtraction, and multiplication in Spanish!  So I have to try to research how to say “greatest common factor,” “reduce fractions,” “count by 100s,” ïmproper and proper fractions,” solve word problems by dividing 3-digit numbers by 1-digit divisors,” and so on.  If nothing else, it is extremely inefficient.  If this were a real job at a for-profit agency, I would probably refuse to do it and tell them to have it done right, or else issue a gigantic disclaimer in ALL CAPS.  As in, “I have no idea at all how to do this, and it is going to turn out pretty bad.”  But I figure that I won’t do worse than anyone else here would, and they can’t afford to have it done right.  On top of that, they tell me that no one will ever actually read more than the first page or two.  Finally, the government shouldn’t get too uptight about it, because the English churned out by these Latin American governments frequently makes me cringe!

I was finding it frustrating at first, because I don’t like to do work that I can’t do well.  But Sharon came in yesterday and repeated to me what James had said, about it taking a tremendous load off of him to know someone was seated here at this desk working on the things which had been so neglected previously.  So I am going to give them the best I can.

9-5-09 (I’m just no good at titles.)

5 09 2009

Something clicked yesterday and today, and I think I can take the “maybe” out of my settling in.  At least, comparatively speaking.  This is just a pretty different experience from last time.  I’m staying with an American family – it’s kind of like trying to figure out how to fit in at an aunt and uncle’s house for two months, when I’ve never met them before.  I’m not company, but I don’t know the ropes either. 

At first it felt too isolated – or rather insulated – from the world of Jalapa outside.  But last night the lady who comes in once or twice a week to help them clean ended up staying to supper, with five youngsters.  I assume they were all hers, but she hardly looked old enough!  I am uploading pictures to Flickr right now of them.  They picked some ripe mandarin oranges out of a tree in the back yard, and everyone minus Lee sat down to eat them.  Then they started playing a game which for all I know was unique to them, though I doubt it.  It had to do with stretching an elastic strip between two people at ever-increasing heights, and jumping up to step on it, and jumping off again … just the sort of game that children play.  Then they insisted that Maria and I take our turns at it, and of course the atmosphere entirely loosened up as we started having fun with one another.  After supper everyone was telling riddles.  I confess I shamelessly borrowed about the only Spanish riddle I know, which I learned from a certain Mexican named Juan, adapted it to Guatemala, and was rewarded in like coin with a pun just a little bit better, which I have now stored away.

The children surprised – rather, were surprised by – a mother cat carrying a kitten along the wall of the yard, and she dropped it when the girl screamed.  (Hey, I was trying to figure out what that noise was … it’s raining, for the first time since I got here.  Out of a halfway-sunny sky.)  So after Much Ado about Nothing, they finally consented to leave it in a safe place on the other side of the wall.  To my unspeakable relief, the mother cat retrieved it during the night.  I love kittens, and I may be known as an orphan kitten near-“expert,” but taking on a 2-3 week old orphan with an eye dropper and home-made cat milk substitute was not on my list of things I wanted to spend the next month doing! 


Day before yesterday, I enjoyed watching a little drama at the school.  It is inside this “compound-like” area with a few other families, presumibly connected with the church, opening onto it.  They are building a little bathroom addition to one of the buildings, for when guests come, and I’ve enjoyed watching the two Guatemalan men working at it. 

Mixing mortar by hand

Mixing mortar by hand

My first day there, they had dug out a footing and were mixing mortar to lay several rows of concrete blocks.  My second day, they put forms on top of that and mixed concrete to pour maybe an 18-inch footing, and yesterday they were doing mortar and putting up concrete-block walls.  All of it is without power tools, and the younger man mixes up the concrete or mortar with a hoe and shovel, in a pile on top of the ground, until it looks right to him (I guess).  I think it looks a little wet, but it’s none of my business! 

I looked out of the window once, and I would guess that this little boy had been tormenting him, because he had taken the hose – it’s pretty long range – and was squirting him with it several times as he ran across the yard.  It was all quite good-natured.  I’d guess the little boy for about 12, and the young man around maybe 20.  So that was all fine and good, until the man shouldered his bucket of concrete and carried it over to the form.  As he stood up from pouring it in, his older friend just nodded over at the cement pile. 

Working on the room addition

Working on the room addition

He looked around, and the little boy, being no dummy, had got the hose.  He wasn’t sure whether he dared or not.  But as the worker got closer, it was now or never, and he let him have it!  Everyone out there was laughing, and I was just trying to stay quiet at my window.  The little guy stuck it out as long as he could, surrendered the hose, and took off on the run.  But he was caught before he got to the gate, and got a good drenching. 

As he was leaning against the wall laughing (punish an American 12-year-old like that and see how much he laughs), Hermano Jaime (James) was sent out onto the second-story balcony by his wife, to see what was going on.  He couldn’t deny the justice in “he did it to me because I did it to him, but I only did it to him because he was doing it to me” or however the explanation must have gone.  But he did admonish the boy to have “compasión” on the mortar worker.  So the little drama, mostly in wordless pantomime with laughter for sound effects, ended.

Settling In, Maybe

3 09 2009

I don’t know whether I want to do this right now or not, but I did say I was going to post some more tonight.

I got out yesterday and wandered around for a couple of hours.  However, I didn’t feel free to get off of the streets that I knew led by the house.  I can’t get a map here.  I didn’t see another foreigner at all, and they tell me that is usual.  I found the farmer’s market, and wandered through there a little while.  That is something I have found fascinating since the first minute that Roberto in Bolivia led us past the front entrance and we peeked inside.  That’s where you see people in traditional dress … it’s where you see all the unique, authentic (not tourist-oriented) places where the native people buy the necessaries of life … it’s where you kinda want to hold your breath as you walk past the fresh-butchered meat (here they’re sitting shooing flies off of it) … it just leaves me feeling that I have reached the heart of the city, that and the plaza.  I think that this place really is much smaller than any Latin American place I have seen so far.  And I did not encounter one single … anything oriented towards outsiders.  At least there shouldn’t be too many shopping temptations!  Sharon does tell me that this is a great place to buy fabric, though.  And I’m kind of thinking about just doing my Christmas shopping in Guatemala!

(For future reference … the two “senior missionaries”(?) are Lee and Sharon.  Their son and daughter-in-law, James and Rachel, are pretty much in charge of the school, and Maria is the other single girl out here.)

Someone asked me by email if I’m teaching English or Spanish.  The school here accepts children between 6 and 8 years old, teaches them English, and also teaches all the other subjects primarily in English.  I am not “in charge” of anything, but I’m supposed to end up helping with this and that.  So far (two days) they’ve just pretty much had me observing.

Yesterday Rachel suggested I start going through the “Procedures Manual” of ACE teaching.  ACE is Accelerated Christian Education, and it is one of the most despicable educational programs invented in the last several decades.  But I didn’t mean to say so.  So, yeah, it’s a great program and everything.  In fact, the manual promises that if you will learn and apply the principles therein, you will inevitablysucceed in educating the youngsters!!! Wow!!!!  They’ve apparently even trademarked the name “Escuela del futuro” – “School of the future”!!!!!  So why isn’t everybody using it?? 

I have no intention of criticizing the teachers.  They’re very committed.  I believe they have a gift for education.  They’ve made it clear that they would like for me to consider filling a permanent need.  But they’ve also made it clear that they value their double accreditation – not just with the Association of Christian Schools Something-or-other, but with ACE.  And I just cannot consent to handcuff myself to something like this. 

I mean, they don’t have flexibility in their decisions if they want this inevitable success.  It appears that they have to cut their wrists and sign with their own blood that they will have personal desks for each student in the prescribed manner, and that students (instead of raising their hands) will raise the national flag for academic questions and the Christian flag for all other questions, or whichever way around it goes.  (I suppose I should just be glad that it says “national” rather than “American” flag.  And yes, I did add this parenthesis primarily for Manuel’s enjoyment.)  And it might be confusing to students if they learned “A is for apple” one year and “A is for antelope” the next.  So STICK TO THE BOOK!  (So why don’t we just go back to “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all”?)  Fine.  But without me, please.

Don’t get me wrong.  Two months of being a helper is fine.  I believe that they have at least considered  letting me work with students for whom success is not proving so inevitable.  I love tutoring, and if I don’t see that starting to happen, I might drop a comment that way to tilt the scale.  I know that some students are needing individualized help outside the classroom.  But just don’t dream of asking me to subscribe to the idea that someone back in 1977 came up with a math course that would suit every student with an IQ between 60 and 120 or so for the next … well, forever, I guess.  I did notice that copyright date on one of the PACEs, although some are more recent.  I would be disloyal, I know, within the first week.  So they’ll just have to keep it to themselves.  Besides, I haven’t even been to church here yet, and I still like Bolivia way better.

I guess I have got my little rant out, and I need to think about bed.  It’s only a quarter to nine, but I need to catch up a little.  I do want to reaffirm that I appreciate what the missionaries are doing.  They’re quite willing to do what it takes to teach.  James gets out in the middle of the floor every morning and leads the kindergarteners in a series of alphabet songs with the most ridiculous actions .. they play like apes, and ducks, and emus, and antelopes … but not apples.

P.S. x 2.  1. I will just apologize once and for all for any atrocious spelling/grammatical/homonymmistakes.  (Oh, brother … I just ran spell-check and found I spelled that “honomym.”)  I have to type this stuff in a small window, and I don’t always have or take the time to proofread much.  2. I exaggerated about the signing in blood part … the flags aren’t on the list of absolutely-necessary-for-accreditation part; it just sounded better.  (Like George Younce and Gerald Wolfe … That didn’t really happen; I made that up.)  😀  And they’re strongly recommended.

First impressions

1 09 2009

I am here!

The flight down was totally uneventful.  For which I am grateful!  It may not make as good reading as the trip home from Bolivia, but I hope you can do without that.

I arrived in Guatemala City around … I don’t know when.  It was after dark.  I navigated migración without even needing to use Spanish; it is quite streamlined.  They must be more used to Americans than in Bolivia.  Lee and Sharon recognized me from the waiting area before I even passed the door, I think.  They loaded me up, and then we went to eat at … drum roll … Burger King. 

Anyway.  After that they informed me that the church with which my missionary friends from Bolivia are affiliated has a place in Guatemala City where we were spending the night.  It was really large; I don’t know how they have a place that large inside of the city.  The missionary couple has a house attached to a church; there is a little (3-room) house where Lee and Sharon stayed, and they put me in another small house where an older couple used to live.  “My” house was furnished with the exact sort of things that my great-aunt inherited from her mother.  It seemed to me to bespeak a sort of permanent home-sickness.

I needed shampoo & conditioner, since I hadn’t wanted to pack it.  I know I packed toothpaste – that I bought in Bolivia, no less – but it turned invisible or something.   The missionaries needed stuff as well, so they took me by a supermarket, basically a translated Walmart.  I bought my toothpaste, the good old Cólgate (hang yourself) brand.  Anyway, that’s what I think of when I see it … I always wonder what native Spanish speakers think.  I think I would have changed that brand name if I were the publicist.

Afterwards, they headed over to the fast-food section of the store to eat.  They suggested the local version of KFC.  I commented that there weren’t any “typical foods” there.  They thought that Taco Bell was pretty typical, wasn’t it? OK ………………

Suddenly they had a change of heart and suggested we try out a restaurant Maria had recommended.  I was quite all right with that idea.  It was right nearby, and they gave us their lunch special, which Lee said cost about the same as the fast food.  We were all three enthralled with it.  I had sopa de tortilla, filete de res, and legumbres de vapor (I think Lee called them that).  That is tortilla soup (much better than it sounds – tomato base with melted cheese and squares of fried tortillas), and a very thin, perfectly fried steak, with steamed vegetables, also perfect.  Between the first and second course, the waiter brought out a small table with all sorts of salsa ingredients on it, and a mortar and pestle.  He wanted to know what we would like in the salsa, but even Lee and Sharon were too dumbstruck to have many suggestions.  So he smiled a little to himself and made one up which was delicious.  I think we were the only non-native folks in the restaurant.

We had about a two-hour drive to Jalapa after that.  I saw a lot of beautiful, mountainous country.  This is more the wet season here, and I was in Bolivia in the dry season, so this may be comparing apples to oranges.  But these hills were green, and in Bolivia they are either quite brown with a few pine trees, or simply volcanic rock.  Other differences … Here the men are mostly shorter than me, seems like, which is weird, and they are (I mean people in general are) extremely friendly.  I’ll do like Marcelo and attribute it to the climate, because it’s pretty warm here.  Not too bothersome; I would guess in the 80s.

So I’m settled in here – well, I guess so – and already have had my first hug from a second-grader that Maria and I met while walking a couple of blocks.  We drove by the plaza … but I confess I’m not exactly sure where it is from here.  If I have time, I’d like to find it tomorrow.  I’m supposed to mostly observe tomorrow.  It is a testing day.  Of course, even for kindergarteners, that means they’ll sit quietly at their desks and write the answers to questions, apparently.

And I have had maybe three short opportunities to actually speak Spanish.  Oh, something amused me this evening.  Lee was going to introduce me to a little boy who stopped by.  He wanted to know what my Spanish name was.  I said, “Amy,” and that a lot of people pronounced it “Aimi.”  That did not satisfy him at all.  He ransacked his brain for a minute and said, “Amelia!”  That did not satisfy me at all, and I said that even my Spanish teacher hadn’t been able to do anything with my name; I simply go by Amy and most people say “Aimi.”  That didn’t satisfy him at all, and he wanted to know what my middle name was; I said “Lea,” and I think he was for having that go as “Le-a” (like Leah).  He said that it was important to start out right; he had started out as Lee, and people still call him that ….  I know perfectly well that “Le-a” is never going to catch my attention in a stream of Spanish, and I said that I just go by Amy and most people say “Aimi”…… so I am going by Amy now. 

Talk to you later!

I did add a couple of photos to Flickr, which you may find by scrolling down till you find a link somewhere.

Some photos

27 08 2009

OK, I finally went and did it.  Here are a few pictures of highlights from the last trip.

Name Change Coming Up – Not

27 08 2009

As mentioned, I don’t know how many folks are out there listening.  But if you follow this blog, and I don’t have your email address or some other way of notifying you, this is for your information.  As mentioned in the post below, my next adventure is scheduled for Guatemala.  I don’t think that “Notes from Bolivia” is a very reasonable name for the chronicles of such an adventure.  So I intend to change the name, and domain name, to  That currently does not exist.  (Please don’t take it or something before I make the change this weekend!)

I have no idea how I’m going to do this, and it does not appear immediately obvious to me.  All the same, after giving any anonymous readers fair warning, I’m planning to change the domain Saturday night.  I think I’m gonna have to ask for help, but anyway!  Just a heads up, if it matters to you.

Edited To Add: There are better bloggers than I am.  I messed this up … so we’re gonna stick with the same website address; I just changed the title at the top of the page.  Also, if you didn’t notice, the pictures are real pictures taken by yours truly while in Bolivia, instead of the random ones from before I went.