Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Class with Group 1A today was, well, not dull.
* Gerardo was absent today and when I passed his desk to make that note on his card, I couldn’t find his card. I asked the students nearby where it was and a couple tried to say that it was never there. Many don’t seem to understand that the cards are on each student’s desk before class because I put them there and am thus aware of any missing cards. The card reappeared on the desk before the end of the period, but it was vandalized with a permanent black marker. Gerardo’s name was scratched out and replaced with “Pig” and there was an accompanying drawing. On the side with points and comments, it was written “Good job, keep it up you pig.”

At the end of class, when most students had already left, a girl came up to me and told me who the guilty one was. That student caught wind of what she was up to and called out, “______ tu madre.” Well, that earned the student a direct pass, accompanied by me, to talk with the principal. In front of the principal I explained that besides damaging the card, the remark he made to a classmate was cruel. I told him that he had no right to make a classmate feel uncomfortable, and now she surely would be with him in the group. The principal escorted him into the office to call his mother and set up a “citatorio” – discipline meeting with administrator, teacher, student and parent or guardian.

* Miguel and Jissett couldn’t stop looking at and talking to each other during class. I’ve already worked on a seating change for Monday.

* Anllelo must have had ants in his pants, as he couldn’t stay seated.

* Richi, as always, had a bad case of diarrhea of the mouth.

* With ten minutes left in class, I was reviewing one student’s pen-pal letter (yes, we’re STILL working on them) when he let me know that two students were fighting on the other side of the room. I don’t know exactly what happened, but as soon I reached José Francisco (small for his age) he was on his feet with Carlos (quite large for his size) standing behind him. They each predictably accused the other of causing the problem. It became a bit more serious when I saw that José Francisco had a gash in the top of his hand. It was a small puncture wound and there was blood. I went to my desk and found some paper to scribble a note to the principle that read as follows:
José Francisco and Carlos were fighting in class and now José Francisco’s hand is bleeding.
I signed the note and made a line on which the principle was to sign – if the boys decided to bring it to him. I talked with them outside and gave them the note to look over, leaving them the alternative that they could work it out on their own. A couple of minutes later they slipped back in the classroom saying that they were fine.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Addicted to Vitamin T

I have become quite fond of, in fact too fond of, Mexico’s Vitamin T: Tacos, Tortas, Tamales and Tostadas. While Kelly and Kelsey were here we enjoyed the best foods that Mexico has to offer, without holding back – deep fried empanadas, cream based soup, churros, chocolate covered marshmallows, ice cream, oh my. After a couple of meals I felt sick after eating too much. Yesterday I could hardly bring myself to eat anything at all and today I enjoyed a big plate of grilled vegetables for lunch. Like Kelly said, I could probably make the next “Supersize Me” movie about what happens after spending six months in Mexico and consuming nothing but Vitamin T. At the end of four months, my pants are tighter and instead of the McGurgles, I’ve got the Turgles.

On the way home today I passed a gym and stopped in to get a schedule and price list. I don’t know why exercising costs so much in Mexico City, but this modest gym costs up to $90 a month – it costs me only a bit more for an entire year at Bally’s! But since I don’t want my heart to completely clog up before I make it home, I will publish my modest commitment right here. It’s said that if you tell someone your goal or write it down that it’s a lot more likely that you will accomplish it. So, I’ll double my odds and write it down and thus share it with who knows how many people. Tomorrow morning, before school, I will go register at the gym and attend the Spinning class from 7-8 a.m. I will then go to the gym at least three days a week until I leave Mexico on January 21.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


When I’ve administered tests here in Mexico it seems almost impossible for the students to take it without talking to someone. Today I had to administer a math test to one of my groups and I can’t even take a guess at how many times I had to tell them to stop talking. A bunch told me that they didn’t know what something meant, I think expecting me to help them, even though I let them know before they began that I had no idea how to do what was on the exam. I took away from one student a pencil with multiplication tables all over it. I took away two exams from students who couldn’t stop talking to each other; one of those students said that she was just explaining something to her classmate.

I had thought that this “cheating phenomenon” was due to my students’ lack of understanding of what cheating is and the lack of academic integrity the school exerts. I don’t know if the “cheating phenomenon” is more pervasive than I would have hoped or thought, but Andi has told me that the students at the university where she teaches here also talk while taking tests.

I am not so naïve to think that cheating doesn’t occur in the States – I know that it is just as prevalent there; it’s just different. In the States, I have the students face forward when taking tests, so that I can see that their eyes only look at their own exam. I walk around and make sure there aren’t any inappropriate papers on their desks or on the floor or writing on hands, arms, shoes or wherever else they can think of to conceal answers. In the States, I often have to give different versions of tests since the students tell each other what’s on the exam. Academic integrity is a grey line for students on both sides of the border, and beyond. While the offense is the same, the motives differ: The pressure to succeed drives students to cheat in Wilmette, while in Iztapalapa, it’s more likely that a lack of understanding what is on an exam pushes students to ask one another for help while taking a test. The difference of motives goes far beyond cheating, this is a great cultural difference. In the U.S. people are fixated on the future, while in Mexico, people are more stuck on the immediate.

The Long Goodbye

It was actually a short goodbye this morning to Kelly and Kelsey, since I felt like I was still asleep until about an hour after I left them at the airport. I couldn’t remain in my fatigued state for long; I had a full day ahead of me. Upon leaving the airport I first boarded the yellow line of the metro, took it one stop and transferred to the green line, took that for three stops and changed over to the pink line that I took to the final exit, Observatorio. I then took a “pesero” for about 5 minutes to the ABC Hospital that is right next to The American School, my final destination.

At the Fulbright anniversary party I was invited to play softball on Sunday mornings at The American School. I entered the campus and walked across the well-groomed bright green baseball field, dropped my things in the dugout, ran to the outfield and promptly began fielding batting practice. I soon had a great catch to let the guys know that I can play – I was one of two girls there today. It was a completely enjoyable morning, the sun was shining and the players were very friendly, especially since the game was just played for fun during this bye-week. All morning though I felt like my jaw hung, in awe of the school grounds that remind me of privileged, exclusive ones in Chicago like Walter Payton College Prep, Northside, New Trier and Lake Forrest. One team, The Yankees are made up of workers from the U.S. Embassy and its various departments like the DEA (Drug Enforcement), ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) and ICE (Immigration and Customs). A couple players from other teams also took part, they work for the Canadian Embassy, two are Fulbrighters, one guy from Madison is in Mexico City teaching third grade and there were more. I was satisfied with my performance, going 2-5 with an RBI and pretty solid defense – minus the one inning I played catcher and the mask slid all the way down and hung around my neck, with my head poking through the straps that are supposed to sit on top of and behind the head. After the game we enjoyed 10 peso beers and cheap tacos at a small, local market.

In the afternoon I went to see a movie, “Camina Sin Mi” (Go Without Me – the original French title is “Va, vis et deviens”), that is part of the Mexico-France Film Festival. The film is based on the Israel and U.S. initiative in 1985, to transport thousands of Ethiopian Jews (Falashas) to Israel. The movie tells the story of a mother who has her son declare that he is Jewish to save him from dying of hunger. A Sephardic French family that lives in Tel-Aviv adopts the boy. He fears that his double secret will be found out: that he is neither Jewish nor an orphan. The movie spans about 10 years, during which the boy truly “becomes” Jewish and finds love, but also faces racism and war in the occupied territories – but he never forgets his mother. The subtitles were in Spanish and the audio shifted between French, Hebrew and an African language. The movie, one of the best I have ever seen, is a fascinating true story and the fictional one is well developed and also captivating.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Another Full Day

PHOTOS of our day can be seen by clicking on the title of today’s entry or by pasting the following site into you’re your browser:

We began the day with a breakfast buffet in San Angel. The restaurant is called Bazar Sábado, it’s in a plaza in the center of a square building that houses the Bazar Sábado, tons of tiny “locales” that each sell a type of art – jewelry and ceramics are most common. The buffet had all Mexican specialties like chilaquiles, sopes, quesadillas, pan dulce, tamales, hot cakes. I enjoyed the fruit and cottage cheese and to drink there was atole, café de olla and fresh waters – we all had the Jamaica (hibiscus). Kelsey and I enjoyed the breakfast so much that we suffered for a while afterwards.

Despite our stomach pains, we pushed on, exploring the outdoor market full of jewelry and all types of art. Finally we explored the art on display throughout the Plaza San Jacinto. It’s top quality art that would cost much more outside the country.

We found a 20 year-old self-trained artist with amazing works on display. His art is decoupage and he uses both acrylic and oil paints and varnish for a glossy finish. Kelsey fell in love with one and after negotiating for a while, leaving and then returning we had the price lowered by $100 U.S. dollars. The work is beautiful and unique - you can see it in the attached photo.

Later, we crept along in the metro to the southernmost part of Mexico City, Xochimilco. Without a doubt, our efforts were worth it. The last time I had been to Xochimilco, with the Fulbright group, we went during the day and took off from a very busy pier. From the time that Kelly, Kelsey and I exited the metro there were people on the sidewalks directing us to the boating dock, little man on a bicycle appeared every couple of minutes to tell us where we should turn and there were signs posted too. The man on the bike even showed up after we stopped at a little store to buy some cokes and after we stopped to use the bathroom. The bathrooms were very close to the pier, in a neighboring home – more correctly, outside of the home. There was an older woman in the entrance, collecting two pesos and distributing toilet paper, while her husband watched television on the patio. The five toilets, three for women and two for men, had shower curtains for doors.

The dock from which we set off was very quiet, but there are nine different ones that are spread throughout the area. It was a great time and going at night gave a distinct feeling of tranquility. As Karina had warned would be present going later in the day, there were many of boats full of drunken teenagers; one was even puking over the side. But those boats weren’t bothersome, too frequent or too loud. Many boats passed by with vendors aboard. For 10 pesos we bought a candle, a long white one in a plastic bottle – it helped a lot when we later ate, so that we could see our food that would otherwise be hidden in the pitch black. We had a boat with a mariachi band aboard play three songs for us for 200 pesos. First, I requested “Mariachi Loco” – I love how they turn around and shake their butts. Then they played “La Bamba” and finally, “Guadalajara.”

As soon as the mariachis drifted away, I flagged down a boat with a couple and their eleven-year old daughter who would cook dinner for us for 100 pesos each. Kelly and Kelsey had enchiladas and I had skirt steak, all accompanied by rice, beans and tortillas. We washed our meal down with cervezas, also bought from a vendor floating by. Kelsey liked the Christmas edition beer, Noche Buena (Christmas Eve). The hour and a half ride (450 pesos, plus 50 more for our oarsman’s tip) was so much fun and full of music and food.

We inched back to Coyoacán in a “pesero,” but made it back to the central area in time to see the weekend market. Most of the stands stay open until 10 PM and sell t-shirts, jewelry, purses, journals, toys, incense and much more.

In just three days, Kelly and Kelsey saw so much of what Mexico City has to offer – plenty remains, however, for their next visit.

Friday, November 25, 2005

To the Moon!

PHOTOS of our day can be seen by clicking on the title of today’s entry or by pasting the following site into you’re your browser:

PHOTOS of our day can be seen by clicking on the title of today’s entry or by pasting the following site into you’re your browser:
Since we were headed to the moon (Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacán) this afternoon, we first enjoyed a hearty breakfast at El Cardenal, in the Historical Center. I started with grapefruit juice, Kelsey had orange and Kelly had celery/pineapple that she thought tasted like a Waldorf salad, in a good way. Kelly and I had their infamous hot chocolate and Kelsey had some coffee. After pouring the hot beverages, the waiter served sweet bread that was soft, hot and fresh from the oven. I enjoyed sunny-side up eggs and tortilla chips with amazing refried beans. Kelly was adventurous ordering an omelet with “flor de calabaza” (pumpkin flower). Kelsey had a traditional Mexican breakfast dish, Chilaquiles that is tortilla chips in a chile gravy with cheese on top and this one had chicken. The service was fantastic as always - Andi’s roommate David is a manager there and the restaurant is his family’s; his grandma’s face is on the menu and chocolates.

With our bellies bloated, we wobbled back to the metro. Along the way we checked out the Christmas decorations on the buildings in the main plaza (it’s hard to tell exactly what their made of, maybe sequins). The expedition through the metro took awhile, transferring from the blue line to the yellow line to the olive green line where we disembarked at the North Central Bus Station. From there we bought tickets, 25 pesos each, to Teotihuacán and slept for the next hour.

I awoke instantly and jumped to my feet when Kelsey smacked my shoulder and exclaimed, “We’re here!” The rest of the passengers were still seated, so I kept asking, to no one in particular, “¿Las pirámides?” We exited the bus onto a dirt road in the middle of nowhere just as a mass of sheep was herded by. Then the bus driver told us to get into a cab, I’m not even sure if it was marked, and there was already a young French couple in the back seat, but it took only a couple of minutes to reach the pyramids. Once we passed through the main gate and walked across the parking lot, we were lured to the tiny stores that stretch to the visitors’ center, where the ruins then lie on the other side. The stores are full of jewelry, books, t-shirts and trinkets - each of us found something to buy. Kelly came across a cool ring, as did I, along with a set of earrings and a bracelet; I bought the same set for Faye for Hanukkah. Kelsey bought a cool silver bracelet that looks like little skulls – it’s much more beautiful than I can describe.

As we passed through the visitors’ center, we stepped centuries back in time - the structures were built between 100 B.C. and A.D. 250, housed more than 200,000 people and made up the biggest and most advanced city in the Western Hemisphere. I think it’s eerie that no one knows exactly who built the city of Teotihuacán or who lived there during those hundreds of years. The area was deserted and set afire around A.D. 750. No one moved back into the neighborhood until A.D. 1200 when the Aztecs used Teotihuacán as a pilgrimage center; they believed that the sun, moon and universe were created here. The Aztecs gave the place its name, Teotihuacán, “place were gods are born.”

This is the most visited archaeological site in Mexico and is among the world’s most researched and excavated archaeological sites. It is a national icon and major center of tourism, but government backing has been wavering and commercial exploitation of Teotihuacán has been ongoing. The ruins are a World Heritage Site and are on the list of the world’s 100 most endangered monuments.

Our journey began on the Calzada de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead) that stretches from the visitors’ center to the Pyramid of the Moon – about two miles long, and it’s actually about half the length of when the city was in its prime. The Aztecs gave the walkway its name, evidently thinking that the structures lining the walkway held the graves of giants who had died and become gods. Along the way we passed the Pyramid of the Sun, one of the biggest, most impressive pyramids in the world. It now measures 740 feet on each side and almost 230 feet in height.

At the end of the Avenue of the Dead lays the Pyramid of the Moon, which was one of the main ritual parts of the city. This pyramid was built later than the other important monuments in the city, it’s 151 feet high and not as steep a climb as the Pyramid of the Sun. When you’re trying to descend the Pyramid of the Moon, it’s hard to imagine one even steeper.

After our major hiking, we returned to Coyoacán starving and headed straight for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Mesón Santa Catarina; I took mom and dad there too. We shared fantastic sopes and I had the Sopa Azteca (tortilla soup), with a bunch of limes. I was skeptical when Kelsey ordered a shrimp dish, but it was amazing! Kelly enjoyed the carne asada and I had steak tacos. After dinner, we walked to the main plaza and took advantage of the restrooms in Sanborns. While there, I picked out some chocolates to have Kelly and Kelsey bring back to the teachers at WJHS – I hope they made it to the teachers’ lounge as Kelly and Kelsey were eyeing the chocolate covered marzipan. Then, I bought some chocolate covered marshmallows there and Kelly and Kelsey had freshly made churros from a cart on the sidewalk.

We ended the night at El Jarocho's, a café that's been around for over 50 years! They have the world's best hot chocolate, it has a perfect touch of cinnamon. It was so good, but put us over the edge so that we all felt sick by the time we got home.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

We Did All That in One Day!

PHOTOS of our epic day can be seen by clicking on the title of today’s entry or by pasting the following site into you’re your browser:

To visit my school this morning, Kelly and Kelsey endured the three different line metro trip to school. From the final metro stop to school, they enjoyed the short ride in the bicitaxi. It was a tremendous help having them in my classroom given that they helped students correct their pen-pal letters. It’s obviously overwhelming when twenty-seven students need constant help and attention and reassurance; it was such a relief to be able to delegate the responsibility.

The students were very excited to meet Kelly and Kelsey, and many of them asked if we were sisters. This seemed really strange to us since we don’t look alike at all – unless you only notice our light-colored skin.

During “descanso” we purchased cups of jicama from the Fruit Lady and she doused them with lime. Kelsey was brave enough to have chile powder sprinkled on the top on her cup. Once students returned to class, with the assistant principal’s permission, we went across the street to buy some Cokes. The lady who sells tacos each day, Taco Lady, was still in the courtyard when we returned, so we helped lessen her load for the way home. Then, we walked over to the P.E. class and Kelsey schooled some students in the art of shooting a basket.

After school we hopped on the metro and took it west to Condesa to the Russian empanada stand. I introduced Kelly and Kelsey to the tastiest, fluffiest empanadas that exist. We each had two “meal” ones and then a sweet one for dessert. Kelly had one filled with “flor de calabaza” (pumpkin/squash flower), Kelsey enjoyed the “tinga de pollo,” strips of spicy chicken strips and I ate one with mushrooms and cheese. For dessert, Kelly savored an empanada filled with blackberry and cream cheese, while Kelsey and I relished our empanadas that were filled with chocolate and cream cheese. These empanadas are so heavenly, but just as fatty, so I’ll steer clear of that street corner for a while.

From Condesa, we continued northwest on the metro to Polanco, where we took a necessary walk after our decadent lunch. We strolled along the avenue Masaryk, the richest street in Mexico that is often compared to Rodeo Drive. Off of Masaryk we found an Italian restaurant, Capri, with an outdoor terrace on the second floor. Kelly and Kelsey enjoyed the best margaritas they’ve ever had, while I refreshed with a cold Negra Modelo.

On the way to hail a cab back to my apartment, we passed a bunch of cows – from the art exhibit Cows on Parade. While in the taxi, we saw even more of the sculptures all along the road Reforma and even saw where the official opening was taking place in front of the Anthropology Museum.

Later on we went to San Angel Inn for dinner, where they interestingly had a special meal for Thanksgiving. We took a seat on a couch in the courtyard and had a drink while waiting for our table. Not long after, we were invited to join a guy and a bunch of his friends, who all spoke English pretty well. Besides drinks, they treated us to delicious duck, scrumptious steak tacos and delectable crepes stuffed with huitlacoche (a fungus that grows on corn). When our table was finally ready, we just had the menus brought to us. Kelsey had the Sopa Azteca (tortilla soup) and Kelly and I had the lobster bisque. We had a great time and enjoyed the food and drinks, especially since we didn’t pay a single centavo.

Our long day ended at Mamá Rumba, a Cuban salsa club in Condesa (I forgot there’s one right in San Angel). While Kelsey and I took salsa dance lessons in Chicago back in June, I dropped out after a couple of weeks and therefore was perfectly happy tonight to just watch Kelsey dance the night away.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


PHOTOS from the field trip can be seen by clicking on the title of today’s entry or by pasting the following site into you’re your browser:

At 9:20 AM I stood below one of the largest Mexican flags in the country, right in the middle of the Zócalo (main plaza) in the Centro Histórico. There I waited for Luis, the art teacher who was taking his classes on a field trip to see the murals at the Museum that is the former Colegio San Ildefonso. As soon as Luis appeared, we walked back to where the busload of 80 students was sitting outside of the museum. Considering the ride from school took about an hour and a half and the students then had to wait another half hour inside of the museum before the tour began, they were extremely well behaved. There was a change in plans, however, as the guides didn’t spend time showing the murals, instead leading us through the temporary exhibit on the Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta.

Everything happens for a reason, and this tour turned out to be a fantastic experience.
Legoretta, born in Mexico City in 1931, has enjoyed a 50-year career and on display was a selection of 72 projects in 16 exhibition halls. All illustrated Legorreta's genuine passion for his profession and his profound love for Mexican life and culture. As was my experience, even those who do not recognize his name will recognize his work, many of which were completed abroad, including housing at the University of Illinois Chicago. Legoretta used colors to emphasize different planes, manipulating light to make changes at different times of the day, and is known for his use of water, walls and light-filled spaces.

After the tour the students took part in a workshop to design their own space using foam sheets and a cardboard base. I was quite impressed with how unique each looked and the creativity and effort the students applied to the project.

Besides learning about Legoretta’s architectural prowess, I hope that the students noticed some of his quotes posted on walls throughout the exhibit. One reads, "In the midst of everything, awards and recognition, the true satisfaction of the architect is to go to a building and see that the people are happy. What good is it if you created something that doesn't work?" Legoretta believed in designing his buildings and living his life with passion.

Additional information about this exhibit can be found at:

Monday, November 21, 2005

What Would You Do For a Bag of Candy Corn?

I’ve written about Robby before, he has been a difficult student since the beginning of the year. Just two weeks ago during class he was hanging from the door and pressing his face against the window. If he attended a school in Wilmette, the ease with which he learns and his curiosity would probably have landed him the “gifted” label years ago. Here, he’s known as an instigator and a distracter, someone who constantly calls out and bothers classmates.

For Halloween I brought in candy corn for the students to enjoy. I dumped it in a plastic pumpkin and stuck in a plastic spoon to aid portion control – it didn’t work out too well. Some students, like Robby, horded the candy in their shirts and pockets while others just threw it across the room. As a result, I was stuck with five extra bags of candy since I didn’t want to risk the same results with the other groups. A couple of weeks after that incident, Robby stopped to talk with me after class. He asked where I had bought the candy and how much it cost. He asked if I could buy it for him and said he would pay me for it.

Last week I brought one of the leftover bags of candy to school. That day I asked Robby to stay after class and let him know that I noticed that he had had a good day and hadn’t lost a single point. I continued that if he could go a whole week without losing a single point, I would give him the whole bag of candy corn. I’m sure some will be disappointed and disillusioned (since so many expect teachers to believe wholeheartedly in every single student) to find out that I really doubted that he could do it; I was ecstatic to be proved wrong.

At the end of class today Robby came up to my desk with a proud smile and politely reminded me of our deal: He testified that a week had passed and he hadn’t lost a point. I gladly handed over the bag of candy and asked him to keep it our little secret. It says “Great Value” on the bag of candy corn – who knew how “great” the value really was! If someone had told me that if I bought a bag of candy for $3, I could have a week of calm in class, of course I would do it! When I was reviewing the students’ point cards this afternoon, I was further astounded that Robby is a “Star of the Week,” having improved since last week by an unprecedented 14 points.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Tortilla Soup and Teaching, What Are They Missing?

Tortilla soup: Its sweet, spicy broth and crunchy tortilla chips always have a good flavor. It’s missing something though, that it could be a lot better and it hits me – I need limes! As soon as the lime’s juice hits the broth and I mix them together, the taste becomes, as it should be. Limes make everything taste better – beer, soup, meat, chicken, potatoes (in all forms – fries, chips), peanuts . . .

As my teaching experience continues to improve, on multiple occasions now I have had good classes and good days. While this is uplifting, it’s not good enough – it’s tortilla soup without the lime.

At Wilmette Junior High I feel alive when I’m teaching, full of energy and at the top of my game. Here, at best, I have felt in control and in command. Here, it’s almost impossible to get the students back on track when I do try to have fun, make my students laugh, get them involved and engage them beyond copying information or looking it up in a dictionary. Today, it all clicked. I didn’t even realize I had been missing “the fun” until after school, when I was going to meet Andi and was excited to tell her about how great my day was.

Class was so enjoyable for me today because my students saw me in a new light, that I want to take the time to find out about them and that we can joke around. I referred to the small U.S. map that’s posted on the wall and pointed out where their family members live; almost all have a relative in the States. On my way back to the front of the room I spotted one student’s backpack sprawled in the middle of the aisle. Rather than just ask him to move it to the side, I used my superb physical comedy skills and acted as if I tripped over it. It seems like it’s taken a while to get to this point, but it could never have been accomplished without discipline in place first. Now that the basics are taken care of, the fun can begin.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Celebrate Good Times

The evening began as I met Andi on the metro platform waiting for the Brown Line, at the Centro Médico stop, to whisk us to the Tacubaya stop, transfer to the Orange Line and go three more up north where we disembarked at Polanco. At a fabulous new wine bar, Entrevinos, we sipped wine and thoroughly relished a cheese platter full with Brie, Manchego and Gruyere.

From there, we went to the 15th Anniversary celebration for COMEXUS – The Mexico-United States Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange. The evening began with a few speakers, first was Antonio Garza, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. A three-piece music concert ensued and then hours after the wine had begun to flow, we enjoyed hors d´oeuvres and desserts. The night ended on a high note, I had so much fun dancing until 2 AM at Mamba Rumba, a salsa club.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Making It Real

I’m sitting on my patio, listening to the birds chirp, watching a DVD on my computer while I blog away. My feet are up, I have a couple of frozen Hershey Kisses in my pocket - the students really don’t need all that chocolate. I can hear the song “I Will Survive” playing in the distance – it’s ironic since just a month ago I would have thought that was so appropriate. At that point I was just trying to make it through the day, now I’m trying to really take advantage of the day and enjoy it while it lasts. After getting accustomed to life here in the BIG city, I am so calm and relaxed. Yesterday, after Andi and I went to a 2:20 PM movie, I said to her, “I don’t know how I’m going to go home.” She was pretty confused since she’s aware of my pride for knowing my way around Mexico City quite well. I clarified, “I mean in January.”

My students have come a LONG way, and so have I. I had been completely dejected, feeling that my teaching abilities (in which I had previously had full-confidence) weren’t transferable to a situation different from Wilmette. How could I motivate students who probably weren’t going to use the language while traveling or furthering their studies in college and beyond? I realized that no matter the environment or the students’ realities, they can be motivated and it’s my job to figure out how to do that. I aim to make it real – besides talking about understanding TV, music and movies, now the Mexican students will have a chance to communicate in English. Today, we began to work on pen-pal letters and the students are excited to receive the letters later this week that arrived from the students in Wilmette. Teaching is very different here; lessons that I could do in one class period in Wilmette take at least 3 here, if not 12! Teaching has become a constant challenge, but a welcome one.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Coming Out of the Dark

Thursday, November 10 – Sunday, November 13, 2005

Thursday after school I ventured to Polanco to the Auditorio Nacional to buy tickets for a couple of shows, thus avoiding TicketMaster charges. First I’ll be wowed by David Copperfield’s magic when my friend Sward is in town in December and then, my last week in Mexico, I’ll be going to Luis Miguel’s concert. Luis Miguel, born in Puerto Rico, to his Italian mother and Spanish father, then grew up in Mexico and has sold more than 45 million records during his career.

After buying the tickets, I sat on the steps in front of the auditorium and called Andi to report on the purchases. I looked up and saw the Marriott and I longed for its comfort and luxury. So, I decided I could have lunch there, their chicken Caesar salad is fantastic and iced tea is the perfect accompanianment. While waiting for the meal to arrive, I started to not feel so well, and felt quite weak, but I chalked it up to being my hunger.

Later, I set out in search of a café with wireless Internet that I had read about, Segafredo Zanetti. I enjoyed being able to sit inside, covered by a roof, but with the wall to the outside open. It was a great “people watching” location, many clients had laptops and all were good looking.

With time though I began to feel weaker and coming home in the metro, all I did was concentrate on not passing out or vomiting. When I woke up Friday morning, my head hurt a lot and I didn’t have any strength – but I really didn’t want to miss any more school. I was thinking I could take a taxi to the metro, rather than trying to walk the 10 minutes, but all of a sudden I realized that being at school, let alone getting there, wasn’t going to happen. At 9:00 AM I called school to let them know that I wouldn’t make it in, and the next thing I knew, I woke up at 9:00 PM.

I missed out on the day trip with Andi, her boss and boss’ sister to Taxco, a city a couple of hours from D.F. and known for its silver. Rather than shopping for silver til I dropped, I ventured out only to shop for more supplies. I stumbled to a taxi and eked out that I wanted to go to the WalMart near the Nativitas metro stop. I hastily chose three DVDs at Blockbuster. Checkout took a while, as I hadn’t rented from that store before and they had to call over to the other Blockbuster to verify – actually I don’t know what they had to verify. I leaned on the counter, hoping I wouldn’t pass out or leave something behind before I could make it to the bathroom. I moped up the ramp to WalMart and dragged myself through the store, leaning on the cart and stuffing it with
7-Up, saltines, bread, lemonade, rice and chicken soup. Before 5:00 PM I began a regimen of Cipro – the drug that so many sought when the Anthrax scare was going on. Now I understand the scramble for that miracle drug – 12 hours after taking it, I felt so much better. By Sunday afternoon I felt alive again and enjoyed the beautiful weather in Coyoacán’s center.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

My Worst Nightmare

When things were at their worst here and I asked for help from the administration, the principal suggested that I observe one specific teacher as she is right out of school and has fresh ideas and methods.

At the end of my class period with Group 1A, I told them that I would be coming to their next class to observe and to please not pay any attention to me, to act as if I were a fly on the wall. When I entered, impressively only a couple of them turned to greet me. However, a couple of them kept turning to look at me and without speaking, I signaled for them to refocus on the teacher. One girl stopped only when I harshly asked, “What?”

For almost all of the 50-minute class period, the teacher spoke in a loud, harsh voice and I observed:
- Students rise to throw out trash.
- Students throw paper across the room.
- Students quiet down and take notes when the teacher writes on the board.
- 1:20 (the class began at 12:50) the teacher says the topic for today is “Interviews”
- The teacher continually “shh” and say “ehh ehh” to get their attention.
- Two of my best students playing “Cats in the Cradle”
- Various students playing with the plastic covering the table
- The teacher say something to one student and the whole class started laughing.
- 1:21 ALL students were quiet when the teacher began to speak and they had to write down the information in their notebooks.
- During a moment in between instructions, as the teacher walked around, behind her Richi stood up and threw something at a student across the room, then he sat down.
- Once the teacher began to speak again, the class grew silent. Then they all laughed about something she said. She asked a question and they all call out the answer, which is the letter “u”. With that they start to make noises like gorillas.
- 1:23 It’s quiet again as the teacher begins dictating.
- As the teacher continues dictating, they all begin to speak.
- 1:24 She continues to dictate, they all quiet down and then all start talking again.
- 1:27 It’s silent again as the teacher dictates. In the background I could hear someone on a megaphone selling something.
- 1:28 It’s getting loud, the teacher continues dictating.
- 1:38 The teacher finishes the dictation and directs them to continue working on their own.
- 1:39 The teacher announces that the homework is to watch TV. Students all start speaking. When she announces what they have to watch at a certain hour, flipping between three different channels. They all start calling out, especially that they can’t do it, and other general complaints.
- 1:40 It is silent as the teacher reads the questions to answer while watching the programming.
• What kinds of commercials are prevalent during the programming?
• What type of language is used?
• While the teacher begins the third question, the bell rings for the end of the school day. As she continues, behind her back Richi shoots a rubberband across the room.
• She then reads the last question, which of the programs did you find most interesting? And why?

This really was a painful experience, sitting through a 50-minute class period with horribly behaved students. It was even worse since they had just behaved extremely well in my classroom. At what point do I say that teachers can come and observe my classes? Is it even my place to say anything? Does anyone even want anything to change here?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Hardest Part of Leaving is Returning

School didn’t go quite as smoothly today as yesterday, but I tried with all of my being to remain calm. I observed one of the first year groups during their Formation and Civics class. It began impressively, as the teacher, straight out of school, ran a very disciplined class. The students had to listen to her and take notes – a challenge, but they didn’t have a chance to get distracted. But, when a mother showed up to speak with the teacher she left the classroom and the students began to change – they were on their feet, hitting, making sounds, noises, were talking and dancing. One student in particular didn’t seem to understand the concept that I was there to observe and I wouldn’t speak with him. He began to stick his tongue out, with his pen cap stuck on the tip, while standing up and talking to me. At that point, with the teacher still outside, I pulled this student to the hallway and he continued to speak, not able to listen. Since he also had problems in my class yesterday, I asked the principal, who was only a couple of feet away, if there was someone available to babysit him during the next period, when I would have his group. I was content to find that the student did not join his group for our English class. If a student is disruptive and prevents his peers from getting all that they can out of a class, then they shouldn’t be allowed to enter.

Later on I met up with Karina and her cousin at Cineteca Nacional, a government-supported nonprofit theater that shows smaller independent films and art films. We were there because Karina’s cousin’s friend’s brother was talking about his new book about the famous Mexican comedic actor, Tin Tan (Germán Valdes). After a short interview session, we made our way to another room to view the documentary, “Ni Muy Muy . . . Ni Tan Tan . . . Simplemente ‘Tin Tan’”. The director of the documentary was also on the panel, which was moderated by a comedic actor who is on TV.

While I was with Karina, I asked her about the rumor I had heard that Fulbright grantees could extend their exchange. This has been true with other countries, unfortunately, with Mexico COMEXUS (U.S.-Mexico Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange) doesn’t have the funding to continue to pay the Mexicans beyond their end-date. And so, I have to face the fact that this experience has to end, and I have to go back to reality. As I left the Cineteca Nacional, on one of the posters for another movie I read the tagline, “La Parte Más Difícil de Salir es Regresar” - The Hardest Part of Leaving is Returning.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Back in the Saddle

I felt really good when I landed in Mexico last night, like I was coming home. I passed through customs and was singing (in my head) the Mexican national anthem. I know about three of the words (I’m working on learning it) but was humming the tune – again, to myself and not out loud. Before exiting, I went to push the button at customs, literally crossed my fingers hoping for green and got it. I then stopped at a currency exchange and handed over my wad of U.S. dollars, that I took out of the ATM in Dallas. That way I was only charged a fee for taking money out of an ATM that is not my bank and wasn’t also fined for doing so out of the country. Then, exchanging the cash at a currency exchange in the airport gives one of the highest rates available. I walked out of Door 7 to meet Elisa’s dad. We threw my suitcases in the trunk, he handed the police officer 5 pesos (who knows for what exact reason, if there is one) and we were off.

I didn’t know how class would go today since I hadn’t seen the students in a week. I tried to bear in mind mom and dad’s advice to remember that the students may not remember the rules. So, I began class by reviewing them and class proceeded rather smoothly. I only had to send out a couple of students and my method of just asking them to come to the hallway to talk with me is still working. Rather than saying, “You have lost three points, go outside.” I ask, “Can I talk to you in the hallway for a moment?” The students come with me, and there I explain the reasons for having lost each point. I then decide if the student can just work out there or if I have to have someone fetch a “prefecto”.

When I asked Robby (one of the students with whom I met a couple of weeks ago with his mom and the principal) to go to the hallway so that we could speak, I couldn’t immediately get out there with him. When I glanced out there, I saw him hanging from the top of the door. I told him that if he could work diligently and independently in the hallway then I wouldn’t call a “prefecto”. Well, when I looked out there about 30 seconds later, his face was pressed against the glass, lips touching and he was breathing onto the window. I went out there, again, and looked down to the courtyard where the assistant principal was walking. I asked her to look for a “prefecto” and when Aurelio came up, I reviewed Robby’s card with both of them, showing how his day had gone. He first lost a point when he sat down, while everyone was on their feet at the beginning of class while I was giving instructions. He said that his feet hurt and I let him know that all he had to do was ask for permission to sit. Next, I asked for all of the students to look at the poster displaying the classroom rules and Robby had his head on his desk, facing the opposite direction. Finally, he was talking out loud. He wanted another chance (apparently they haven’t figured out yet that I stick to my guns and DO NOT change my mind), saying that he would be suspended. I explained that if that is the case, in the future he must think before acting and before speaking.

I was proud of myself for taking the day as it came and not getting overly emotional or frustrated. I continued to take it easy by meeting Andi for lunch around 3:15 at a pizza place in Condesa. After our excellent meal with perfect service, we headed to my old favorite, El Ocho, the café with wireless Internet. Rather than taking my computer out instead we sipped tea and battled it out in a game of Scrabble in Spanish.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Easy Come, Easy Go

After buying my plane ticket for this weekend, going to Target with Faye on Saturday afternoon and then the Mall of America with Uncle George on Sunday, I was a bit anxious about how much I had spent. I felt the need to buy warmer clothes, now that reality has set in and I understand that it really does get cold in Mexico City – maybe not Chicago winter cold, but cold enough to need long sleeves, pants, sweaters and maybe even eventually even gloves! With Faye I also bought a lot of candy for my students, now that I know better what you can and can’t find in Mexico. I didn’t buy any more licorice however, not common at all in Mexico, since the students don’t really like it. Imagine that most of their candy is covered with chile powder and then I give them licorice, which hardly has any flavor to begin with.

All of that spending was the “easy go” – the “easy come” happened shortly after I boarded my connecting flight from Dallas to Mexico City. The flight was oversold and the airline offered a $200 voucher for anyone to take the next flight. I pushed the call button for the flight attendant and raced down the aisle to volunteer, ran back to take my stuff and more than happily reported to the next hours flight. On this next flight, they offered $500 to anyone who could take the next flight – I took it again. Even as they offered more for anyone to wait to take a flight the next day, I figured I should report back to school after already missing three days. So, I did board the final flight, and still arrived in Mexico before 9 PM, with $700 in travel vouchers with American Airlines to spend within the next year.

As I boarded the airplane, I saw a fly on my plane. I wondered if he is from Dallas? Will he get to Mexico City and not know where he is and not understand a word the other flies say? Do flies even speak to each other? Like birds, do flies also fly south for the winter? Is this just the smartest fly in the world, hopping on a plane to head south rather than flapping its tiny wings for thousands of miles? I think I’ve spent too much time alone today.

The fly went away, but now it’s back and flying back and forth between the passengers on each side of me. Yes, I’m stuck in the middle; but it’s a luxurious exit row with plenty of legroom. It could be a lot worse too, I could be next to the guy who was smacking his gum behind me in line, or seated next to one of the French people, there’s a big group of them, who have TERRIBLE body odor – people keep making faces as they pass by those five rows. I took out my scented hand lotion and rubbed some in below my nose hoping to pick up its scent rather than the Frenchie’s funky smell. I’m only seated next to “The Sniffler” – at least once every minute he sniffs and on the other side of me is a lady who is doing nothing. It doesn’t sound bad to do nothing, but to just sit there and stare forward for more than two hours . . . It’s such odd behavior that there was a Seinfeld episode based on people who do nothing while sitting on a plane.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

THE Big Day - Bris Day

PHOTOS of Jonathan’s bris (don’t worry, there aren’t any of the actual procedure) can be seen by clicking on the title of today’s entry or by pasting the following site into you’re your browser:

Today was Jonathan Louis Sair's bris. All went well as he was surrounded by all of his grandparents and more family and friends. A pediatrician performed the circumcision, as apparently there was a mohel convention going on! The rabbi was very warm and light-hearted and we were all quite impressed that Jonathan quickly stopped crying when the rabbi, while holding Jonathan, started doing squats.

We all enjoyed brunch afterwards and Arnie and Kara bought an amazing carrot cake – I’m still thinking about it! Jonathan spent the rest of the morning sleeping away; he thoroughly enjoyed his first sips of wine - used to commemorate the drop of blood (redness of the wine) that he is giving to come in to the Jewish covenant. The wine also has the affect of calming the baby when he cries.

I spent the afternoon shopping like a mad-person at the Mall of America. Uncle George was the perfect shopping partner, as we began together looking at electronics and then separated when I did a lot of damage at Old Navy. I did need to buy much warmer clothes for Mexico, now I have flannel pajama pants and a couple more pairs of pants too. We had dinner at Tony Roma’s and I devoured my baby back ribs and fried shrimp. I was so glad to find that I still love the ribs, since I tried Tony Roma’s here in Mexico City and couldn’t even eat one rib – clearly they do not come from the same pig stock.

The weekend was perfect and I am so glad that I was able to fly in for the special occasion.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Getting to Know Jonathan

PHOTOS from Day 2 can be seen by clicking on the title of today’s entry or by pasting the following site into you’re your browser:

We spent most of the weekend just staring at and admiring the newest member of the Sair family. Enjoy all of the photos of Jonathan.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Worlds Collide

PHOTOS from Day 1: Jonathan Meets the Family can be seen by clicking on the title of today’s entry or by pasting the following site into you’re your browser:
Last night I met my nephew Jonathan; I stared in awe at his perfect, tiny little face, his lips and his long, itsy bitsy fingers. He’s so cuddly and soft. He coos and grunts and groans, all six and a half pounds of him. When Arnie and I arrived home from the airport, Kara was feeding Jonathan and I just saw his tiny legs in little blue socks, his diaper and pink stomach. Then, Kara passed him to me for burping time. I had no success so Arnie showed me his technique and when I took Jonathan back, he promptly and predictably spit up his whole meal - right onto the front of my shirt. Arnie grabbed his camera and the resulting photo is one of my favorites – I’ve never looked so genuinely happy in a photo, and I have baby spit-up covering the front of my shirt.

Jonathan is so privileged to have two dedicated parents who want to make him happy and who constantly care for him. At bedtime, Arnie swaddled him in, tried to turn his head to the left, to help avoid his flat spot and as we quietly left the room, Arnie adjusted the volume on the CD player so Jonathan could fall asleep to the soothing music.

I just can’t get over how beautiful Jonathan is and how amazingly fortunate he is to have been born to Kara and Arnie, and into our family that just showers him with love and attention – I know in about 13 years I’ll have to remind him of this. I’m sure my experience in Mexico is deeply affecting my judgment here. Just yesterday I saw one boy, about three or four years old, all alone and playing with the dirt, filling a bottle cap, reminding me of playing at a beach. At night I walked by a crying baby sitting in her car seat that was placed on the sidewalk, her mother nearby, gathering the goods that she had displayed at the market. A couple days ago I saw a beautiful baby girl, holding a rattle and sitting in a cardboard box, lined with a blanket while her father, or grandfather was cooking at his sidewalk stand. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a baby girl, old enough to sit on her own, doing so on a grass lined median strip while her mother was weaving between the stopped traffic, selling gum and candy.

It is hard coming home and readjusting to this life, even if it is just for the weekend. There is so much love and luxury here, I just want to scoop up those children I see in Mexico and give them this warmth. How is it possible that we are all “children of God” and so many are in the street, on their own?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Conundrum

This was a hurried morning, trying to fit in as much as possible before heading to the airport before 11 AM. I always feel like I have to take advantage of everything I can since in this case I have no idea if I’ll ever be back in Mexico City around Day of the Dead.

I started by cabbing it around to see a couple more “ofrendas” first at the Frida Kahlo Museum and then at the National Museum of Popular Culture. The Frida Kahlo one was my favorite of all that I have seen. It’s very brightly decorated with “papel picado” (the cut tissue paper) that covers the ceiling, papier-mache figures, skulls, her favorite foods, tequila, playing cards and the floor is covered with colored sawdust. At the cultural museum, I saw “ofrendas” representative of many different regions like Guerrero, Puebla, Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Michoacán, Tamaulipas.

Even though I won’t be back in school until Tuesday, I’ll only be missing two classes with Groups 1A and 1C and one class with Group 1B. I left the movie “Con Ganas a Triunfar” (Stand and Deliver) with a sheet of questions. I had left this movie for the students to watch on two previous occasions, however, with Group 1A it was turned off after 10 minutes since Gerardo starting acting up. With another group, the power went out and the third group never even made it to the audiovisual room since the one person with a key to that room wasn’t in school that day. This time, in case of any technical difficulties, I left a backup plan.

I like “Stand and Deliver” especially because it is a true story of students in East L.A. I’m sure my students will be able to relate to at least part of the movie as, except for a few, the students featured in the movie don’t have any interest in school and make class almost impossible for a teacher to control. Those who do want to learn are torn by the responsibility of helping support their families financially. The math teacher, Jaime Escalante, showed the students how capable they were and he motivated all of them to take the AP test so that they could receive college credit and from there hopefully obtain scholarships. Every single student passed the test. The low expectations for these inner-city minority students, both in the U.S. and in Mexico, not only run rampant within their own communities and across the city and country, but they cross the border as well. This evening, when I passed through customs in Dallas, the immigration officer questioned why I had been gone for three months. After I said that I’m teaching in Mexico City he said, “Oh, wow. That must be like teaching the dunce class.”

So I face the conundrum: Despite others expectations, I aim to motivate students and help them realize their capabilities, while encouraging them to continue school. Reality, on the other hand, is that Mexico City taxi drivers make more money than teachers do.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

November 2: Day of the Dead

PHOTOS from Day of the Dead, including sites and “ofrendas” I visited, can be seen by clicking on the title of today’s entry or by pasting the following site into you’re your browser:

* Breakfast in the Centro Histórico at El Cardenal

* Ofrendas on display in the Zócalo

* Diego Rivera Anhuacalli Museum in Coyoacán

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

November 1: Day of the Dead in Mixquic

PHOTOS of Day of the Dead in Mixquic, Mexico can be seen by clicking on the title of today’s entry or by pasting the following TWO sites into you’re your browser: