Monday, September 04, 2006

Retired Blog

Those of you who keep checking for my latest post, thanks for checking and I'm sorry there hasn't been anything new. This blog was really for my Puebla trip. Now that the trip is over, there hasn't been much to say.

I'm thinking about writing another blog. I haven't yet decided on a topic or theme. Maybe something about golf, maybe a school counseling blog, maybe some of my photos or some of my writing. I haven't decided.

Anyway, thanks for reading this blog. I hope to blog again in the future.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Gooding County Leader Articles

While I was in Puebla, I submitted four articles to the Gooding County Leader. Thank you Kelly for publishing them. I thought I would include them for all the people reading my blog who don't get the paper. The articles include some of the same stuff, and some different.

I would also like to thank the following for their help with trip. Without their support, I could never have done this.

Neva, Harry, Sue, George & Danette, B. Edgar, Wayne and Vicky, Pat and Sandy, Donna, Orv & Roberta, the kind and generous people of Wendell, Paul and Trueline, Steve and Susan (my brother-in-law and sister), Janae and Braeden (my niece and nephew), and of course my mom and dad. Thank you all so much.

The next four posts are the newspaper articles.

Gooding County Leader June 26

Gooding County Leader 26-Jun-06

As I write this, my experience in Puebla is nearing the end. I have completed all the class time, learned all I’m going to learn here, and have only a few hours until I am back in the United States, and more importantly, back in Idaho. Tonight, I have one last meal with mi familia. We will talk in Spanish and English, laugh together, take pictures, and share stories and memories.

I’ve thought so much about what I am taking home. I’m taking home a few souvenirs for my family, but more importantly, I’m taking home experiences and memories that have forever changed how I view the world. I have seen and experienced things that I did not realize existed, or had ignored for most of my life.

For example, I have a new appreciation for a pedestrian society. Here in Puebla there are certainly a lot of cars, after all there are 5 million people living here. But the majority of people do not own cars. They can get anywhere they need to go either on foot or via public transportation. In Idaho that is a rare luxury. Where I live in Twin Falls, the nearest convenience store is a 25 minute walk away.

Here in Puebla, within a ten minute walk of the house is a convenience store, a bakery, a laundry, a barber shop, a hardware store, a tortilleria, a music shop, a glass shop, a picture frame shop, and a kitchen cabinet workshop – and that is just on the street I take to get to school. I haven’t even walked the other direction.

No matter where one lives in this city, all the necessary products and services are nearby. Walking to the store, work, or school may seem like an inconvenience to many, but I have learned to appreciate that time and the routine. And I’m not the only one with a regular morning routine.

Each morning, about two blocks from my house, I pass a married couple who is on their morning walk. We exchange greetings and a smile, each and every day. Each morning I pass the same vendor selling newspapers to the morning commuters. Next, I pass a maid who is out sweeping the gutter in front of her employer’s house, again every day. Several blocks later, I pass Jorge, who is making fresh orange juice. Two blocks after him, I pass Omar, who is also making fresh orange juice.

Next is the police officer cleaning his car, close to the sushi restaurant and behind Blockbuster. Yes, he washes his own car. Several blocks later there is a pet store. Each morning as I pass by, the owner is just opening up, mopping the floors, feeding the animals. Although we exchange, “Buenos Dias,” I regret not stopping to get his name. I should have taken the time talk with him, but I’m a busy American: I have places to go. Obviously I don’t really have any place urgent, but I still find myself with that “I’m too busy” attitude.

Two blocks before the institute I attended, I pass the same mother taking her children to school. One door east of the institute sits the same man, who I assume is waiting for a ride to work. I did not converse with all these people on a daily basis, but with most I exchanged at least a smile. The first few times we crossed paths, neither of us realized we were keeping similar schedules. After a week of seeing each other every day, we began to recognize each other. I began to look forward to seeing these people. If the married couple was not there, I was a little disappointed. “I wonder what happened. I hope everything is okay.” Why would I be concerned about people I don’t really know? Because that is what vecinos do.

I’m hoping to move to Wendell in the near future. If the price of gas continues to rise, I’m not sure I’ll be able to afford to commute 50 miles a day. The main reason for moving, though, is because living in Wendell, in town, would offer me the opportunity to create a pedestrian lifestyle for myself. Each morning as I drive into Wendell, I pass many of the same people. However, we don’t interact with each other. I’m in my car, and they’re either in their car or walking. The opportunity for social interaction isn’t readily available.

If I lived in Wendell, and walked to school, I would have the chance to create new relationships, even if those relationships are only a smile and a wave.

I’m ashamed to admit that after living in Twin Falls for two years, the only neighbors I know are the ones who live across the street. Dean and Mary are very nice people. Why haven’t I gone to meet the other neighbors? Why haven’t they come to meet me? I don’t have a good answer to that question. But I do have a good solution. When I get home, I intend to make some chocolate chip cookies – with pure Mexican vanilla, deliver them to my neighbors and say, “Hi, I’m Chris and I’ve lived next door to you for two years now.”

One final travel story from my time in Puebla. Last Wednesday we visited Tecali. I enjoyed the small city, but I especially enjoyed the fact that it was a small city, out in the middle of the country, surrounded by farms and fields. We first visited an ex-convent. The structure is amazing. Although the roof is gone, the supports and walls are still there. The original doors are there also, which may not seem like much, except these 15 foot high, 12 foot wide doors are 400 years old.

We got to climb the bell tower, up a narrow spiral staircase, stairs that monks and nuns climbed 400 years ago to ring the bell. This ex-convent has a huge water tank that I would estimate to be 20 feet deep, 50 feet long and 50 feet wide. All the rainwater was collected from the roof and stored in this huge tank for the nearby residents. Gravity was also used to create sinks with running water. All the waste water was collected in a different area to be used in the gardens. This structure is an architectural and engineering wonder.

I took pictures of paintings from 400 years ago, original paintings. Some have been horribly eroded by sun and weather, but others, protected from the elements because they were painted on ceilings, are amazing.

After the ex-convent, we visited a marble and onyx factory. I have a new appreciation for how much labor goes into a seemingly simple onyx trinket. México does not have OSHA, which some might say is a good thing. The men who work here are either very brave or very foolish. Every machine is capable of taking off a finger, or an arm, in a split second.

After our tour of the factory, we got to peruse the store. They are able to produce incredible works of art, and sell them at very inexpensive prices. Unfortunately, even though that marble vase only costs $60, it weighs 200 pounds, and wouldn’t fit in my suitcase. I bought only small gifts for my family.

I have so much more I could say about my time in Puebla. I met new people, made new friends, tried new foods (for a month I’ve eaten as a vegetarian), seen new sites, and discovered things about myself I never knew. Or, if I knew them, I had forgotten that part of myself.

I experienced another culture, another language, and another society with completely different rules. I bring back an appreciation for how difficult it can be to change one’s life. I bring back a new appreciation for all the things I take for granted in my life.

I bring back a new resolve to be a patient, kind, warm, accepting human being. I bring back a new attitude: I might be an American, but not solely an American and certainly not American above all else. Above all else, I am a person, just like all the other people around me regardless of their race, religion, financial status, education, etc. We all have our individualities, our idiosyncrasies, and we all have our commonalities.

It seems much more important for me to focus on what I have in common with all the friends and potential friends around me.

Gooding County Leader June 19

Gooding County Leader 19-Jun-06

One week to go. I can’t believe I’ve been here in Puebla for three weeks. In some ways it seems like a very short time; in other ways it feels like I’ve done so much, it can’t have only been three weeks.

This week the language learning became more difficult. I started feeling like I was lost. “When did we learn that? Am I supposed to know this already?”

Carolina, who has been a great teacher, was reinforcing article usage: the, a, some, one, etc. I thought I had it down, that I understand when to use them. We had a short writing assignment, responding to some questions on a worksheet. I included the necessary articles, or so I thought. In the very first sentence, she crossed out an article I had used. “What do you mean there’s no article there. You just got done saying we have to use them.” I was very frustrated. The information I thought I understood, I didn’t.

It makes me think of all the students and families in our schools that are learning English as a second language. There are just as many rules to Spanish as there are to English. The problem is that in English, there are ten times as many exceptions.

There are a lot of Americans that say, “Méxicans should just learn English. This is an English speaking country. If they are going to live and work here, they should learn the language.” I agree. Except, many Americans aren’t interested in foreigners learning English, they want them to KNOW English, right now.

Nearly every person reading this paper learned English the same way I did. For the first two years of our language immersion, we were not required to respond with anything more than simple hand gestures, or a loud yell when we were frustrated. Our teachers allowed us to simply listen to the language, learning the rhythm, sounds and patterns. For two years we were immersed in English 12 to 18 hours per day, every day.

Over the next two years we began using short words and simple sentences. Proper grammar was not a requirement. We were able to communicate most needs and wants, even if we didn’t use the right words, or put them in the right order. Nobody got frustrated with us, nobody laughed at our inability to find the right phrase. Our teachers gently corrected us, teaching us the right words to use. They would point to objects saying, “This is a table. This is a dog. This is milk. What’s the magic word?”

Slowly, our verbal skills increased, our vocabulary increased, our pronunciation improved. Once we had been immersed in the language for four years, somebody finally taught us the alphabet, the numbers, colors, how to spell our name. We spent the next several years learning proper grammar and word usage.

Think of any seven year old you know, a student in first or second grade. Would you call them fluent? Maybe. They certainly know enough English to carry on a basic conversation, even with an adult. I watch people get frustrated with non-English speakers who have been in this country for less than seven years. If we were given that much time to learn our native tongue, why can we not give that much time to someone learning a second language?

Instead of helping them learn the language, we get frustrated at their inability. We laugh at their attempts and make fun of their pronunciation. That doesn’t seem very fair to me. While I have been here, not one person has laughed at me or made fun of my Spanish skills. On the contrary, everyone I speak with wants to help. They smile at my attempt to communicate in a language that is so easy for them. When I use the wrong word, or put words in the wrong order, they gently correct me. If I don’t understand a word or phrase, they find another way to say it so that I will understand.

After spending only three weeks here in Puebla, I have resolved to be a more patient American. When a family comes into the school, to register their student, or take them to a doctor’s appointment, I will not get frustrated with their limited English. When they use the wrong words, or sound like a child just learning English, I will gently correct them. When they call on the phone to say their son or daughter will not be coming to school today, and ask for their homework, I will use my Spanish skills and my English skills to make sure we understand each other.

So many people here in Puebla have been kind and helpful. I want to make sure the families in Wendell can say the same about me.

This week’s excursion was again interesting. We visited Cacaxtla. I have noticed that many of the indigenous names here in México are very hard to pronounce, even for Spanish speakers. Cacaxtla is the sight of one of the largest archeological roofs in the world. Obviously they don’t want to put columns in the middle of a 2,000 year old pyramid, so they have to suspend the roof. I’m not the best judge of size, but I would guess it to be at least two football fields, and maybe closer to three.

Under the roof are paintings from more than 1500 years ago. How often do we repaint our houses? This paint has lasted thousands of years. The roof is an attempt to prevent further erosion and preserve the site.

On the way to the site, Omar, our guide, showed us a curious little insect. It attaches itself to cactus leaves and looks like white mold. But when it is squeezed, the result is a deep red dye. The people who built the pyramids and sites like Cacaxtla used this insect to create red paint, which is still around today. The paintings are wonderful combinations of blue, red, yellow and green, all natural of course.

On the way back to the bus, I had a chance to talk with one of the ground keepers. I didn’t think to write down his name, but he was very nice. He told me he was 74 years old, and still working five days per week. We talked about Idaho, about my schools, about where he grew up. Every time I have the chance to talk with someone here, I get nervous. “I don’t think my Spanish is good enough to carry on a conversation with a real person.” Every time I have a conversation, I am rewarded with kindness and helpfulness and a smiling face.

Next week I will be home, sleeping in my own house in my own bed. I will have time to reflect on the entirety of this experience. I don’t know yet what final lessons I will learn, but I know the life-lessons will be interesting and worthwhile.

For photos of my trip, you can visit my blog:

Until next time, which will be the last, Adios from Puebla.

Gooding County Leader June 12

Gooding County Leader 12-Jun-06

Two weeks complete, two weeks left to experience Puebla.

Monday through Friday I have the same schedule:
7:15am – Leave for the Institute. It takes about 45 minutes to walk to school.
8:00am – Check e-mail, update my blog, etc., finish the tarea (homework) I should have done the night before.
9:00am – Class begins. We work on Spanish grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure, verb conjugation, etc.
1:00pm – Head to lunch. We have our choices of two restaurants. Most days I eat at La Zanahoria (The Carrot). It’s a vegetarian restaurant and they serve great food. I haven’t suddenly become a vegetarian; I just like the food better at this restaurant.
2:30pm – Meet in the Zócalo (a central plaza) for conversation class. I spend two hours with my guia (guide) seeing the sights within walking distance, talking about whatever I want, all in Spanish, por supuesto (of course).
6:30pm – Walk home.

Thursday, during my clase de conversación, my guia quoted a 17th century author to me.
Yo no leo para saber mas.
Yo leo para ignorar menos.
I don’t read to know more.
I read to ignore less.

Like many Americans, I have grown up in a society that ignores a lot of things, mostly because some things seem easier to ignore than to fix. When I first decided to come to Puebla, my primary reason was to learn the language. Being able to speak Spanish, on at least a conversational level, will certainly help me in my job as school counselor. I will be better equipped to work with students and families that have limited English skills. Spanish will allow me to do my job more effectively, reaching a greater portion of the Wendell students.

Secondarily, I came to learn the culture. Having a better understanding of Hispanic culture will give me more insight into student behavior and motivation. Again, Spanish will allow me to be more effective as a counselor.

Since being here, I have changed my primary motivation. Of course I want to learn the language, the culture, the traditions, the history. But more primarily, I need to discover what I have been ignoring. If I truly want to reach all students, I cannot ignore any of them.

I understand Anglo history, traditions, and culture. I grew up in the midst of that culture. My background as a white male gives me a unique perspective to help young white males. However, they are only a small percentage of my students. I also need to understand white female students, Hispanic males and females, Christians, Mormons, Catholics, poor students, rich students, etc.

Everyone has a culture and everyone is part of multiple cultures. I obviously cannot intimately know every culture. But, if I can increase my awareness of and sensitivity to other cultures, I increase my ability to help students, families, teachers, principals, community members – I increase my effectiveness as a counselor.

I’m also discovering that I’m not a very adventurous person. I like routine and familiarity. I like to explore, experience new things, but I’m not very brave. Many of the students go out at night, to experience the Puebla nightlife: bars, discothèques, billiard halls, etc. I’m pretty content just being at home with my Poblano family. I’m probably missing things that might be fun, but I don’t think I’m missing anything essential.
As for travel, the weekend was great. We visited Teotihuacan and Chapultepec en Ciudad de México. Although it was a very long day, leaving the house at 7:00am, and getting home about 9:30pm, it was worth the time, and the miles and miles we walked. I feel like I walked 50 miles.

As soon as we got off the bus, the vendors swarmed around us like vultures. Some of the things they were selling were really beautiful, but I wasn’t about to carry around a marble statue all day. Their favorite phrase was, “Amigo, almost free.” I responded with, “Lo siento, me gusta solo cosas muy caro.” If my Spanish is correct, I told them, “I’m sorry, I only like really expensive things.” Only one vendor found the humor in that. A trinket that had just been 10 pesos, he offered to sell me for $1,000. We both laughed.

I got to climb three pyramids, including the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. It was quite an experience to be someplace, walking the same streets, climbing the same stairs, touching the same rocks, as people did thousands of years ago. It also amazed me that men could build such structures so long ago. The Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world, behind the two largest pyramids in Egypt.

When I was on top of the Pyramid of the Moon, I stopped to look around the whole landscape. I thought to myself, “Almost 2000 years ago, there was a man my age standing right here, looking at basically the same landscape. There wasn’t a city back then, but the mountains and sky and trees and these pyramids, were all about the same.”

Chapultepec is a huge park in the middle of México City, a lot like Central Park in New York. We toured a museum that overlooks the city. Over the history of México, the castle was used as a school, a government building, a palace for the French ruler, and some other things. The museum is amazing, but no photos were allowed inside.

We had a hard time getting to the park because of the traffic. On the way to Teotihaucan, there was hardly any traffic. Everyone was getting ready for México’s fútbol match. On the way to central México City, everyone was on the street celebrating México’s win. It was quite a spectacle: flags everywhere, people hanging out of car windows, waving flags, honking, dancing in the street. I’m glad I got witness it.

Lastly, we went downtown to visit the Zócalo, which is not nearly as beautiful as the Zócalo in Puebla. It was full of people, and I mean full. Thousands were there watching a replay of the soccer game on a huge screen set up in front of the cathedral, selling their wares, eating, dancing, singing, etc.

I’m looking forward to my last two weeks here in Puebla. What new words and phrases will I learn? What new people will I meet? What will I learn about myself that I never knew before?

For photos of my trip, you can visit my blog:

Until next time, Adios from Puebla.

Gooding County Leader June 2

Gooding County Leader 2-Jun-06

How do I begin to sum up the changes I’ve experienced in the last week? There are so many it might be easier to list the things that are the same between life in Twin Falls & Wendell, Idaho, USA, and life in Puebla, Puebla, México. First, let me try to list some of the changes: time zone, country, city, elevation, climate, house, language, culture, architecture, security, occupation (student not counselor), schedule, food, beverages, communication (no cell phone), exercise, noises, smells, friends, pets, peers, family … is there anything left to change?

Some changes are bigger and more obvious than others. Changing languages is why I came here, and I knew when I got on the plane that I would be landing somewhere else. Other changes seemed subtle, but have turned out to be more profound than I first thought. For example, in Twin Falls I live in a moderately sized one-story house, with a large lawn, automatic sprinklers, garage door opener, air conditioning, etc. Here in Puebla, I’m living in a fairly small two-story house, where the closest neighbor is on the other side of the bedroom wall, no yard, and no air conditioning (luckily it has been very pleasant so far).

Several months ago I left my front door unlocked for at least a week. I’m not sure how long exactly because I don’t remember when I unlocked it. Although I try to lock my doors, I’m never really worried about anyone breaking in. Here in Puebla, my house is surrounded by 8 foot tall walls. On top of the walls are 6 foot tall chain-link fences, and on top of that barbed wire. All the windows have bars and all exterior doors have heavy-duty locks. Obviously, security is a huge priority here.

In Idaho I live alone, with my dog. Here in Puebla I’m living with a family of four – who, remember, don’t speak my language – and a live-in maid. Juan and Leticia have three children, Laura (who is married and lives nearby), Juan and Andrea. The criada (maid) is Cleo. She comes from a family of campesinos. She came to the city from a small village where there are no job opportunities. I haven’t asked, but I’m sure that her salary is helping support her family. I’ve also met Tia (aunt) and Abuelita (grandma), and Katia, Juan Jrs girlfriend.

I’ve lived alone for a long time. To go from living alone to living with a whole family has been an adjustment. I must say that the family has been so gracious allowing me my space. If my door is closed, they don’t bother me.

As far as dogs are concerned, here in Puebla they either live on the street, or on the roof, for security. It was chistoso the first time I saw two German Shepherds barking from a roof top. I’m sure people wondered why I was laughing.

Much of the Spanish I’ve learned has come from sitting around the kitchen table with my new family, eating or not, and talking about everything. I ask them about México, they ask me about Idaho, and we generally communicate very well. Two phrases have become a standard part of my vocabulary. No entiendo, and Mas despacio, por favor: I don’t understand, and Speak more slowly, please. My family is very patient.

In Twin Falls it takes me 30 minutes to drive 25 miles to school in Wendell. I would guess that in that distance I encounter several hundred cars on the road. Here in Puebla it takes me 45 minutes to walk to school. In those 3 miles, I encounter several thousand cars. In Idaho I work in a city of under 2500. Puebla is the fourth largest city in México, with about 5,000,000 (I’ve heard many different estimates, so I don’t think anyone knows for sure).

One of the things that has struck me is the architecture. Although construction on buildings and roads is continual (something México and Idaho have in common), there are so many old buildings. I don’t mean old like built in 1910. I mean old like built in 1610. The city of Puebla recently celebrated its 475th anniversary. The only thing in Idaho that old is the Snake River Canyon.

On the first of our planned excursions we visited two churches: San Francisco Acatepec and Santa María Tonantzintla, dating back to the 18th and 16th centuries. I was amazed to see the inside of these churches literally covered in gold and gold leaf. Although there are gates, there are no security guards keeping watch over all that wealth. The people have such a deep respect and reverence. Despite the incredible poverty surrounding these churches, robbing from the church is not even a question. However, at the bank in the grocery store there is often a security guard, complete with bullet-proof vest and shotgun.

The people around San Francisco Acatepec work in the church. They are elected for one year of service. During that year they receive no salary and work 10 hours a day cleaning, restoring, repairing and maintaining the church. They live on whatever the community and visitors donate.

We also visited Cholula, and the Temanapa Pyramid, which has the largest base in the world. Although Temanapa is only 190 feet high, the base is twice the size of the Cheops pyramid in Egypt. Pyramids in México were built as temples, not as tombs like in Egypt. Temanapa is honey-combed with tunnels: for walking, as air ducts, and as aqueducts. As part of our tour we got to walk through several hundred yards of the tunnels. It was an amazing experience to walk the same tunnels that people did thousands of years ago.

During my time here in Puebla, I have three goals: learn the language, learn the culture, and discover what I need to take back to Wendell to be a better counselor for all my students and their families. I’m learning the language, poco a poco, paso a paso (little by little, step by step). I’m learning the culture simply by involving myself in the vida cotidiana (daily life) of Puebla.

As far as what I’m to bring back, I’m getting small glimpses. For example, despite all the changes I’ve experienced, there are similarities. People here are the same as people in Idaho. They work, they play, they love their families, they are kind to strangers who travel thousands of miles and ask to live in their house and eat their food. People here walk through the park holding hands, talking with friends, chatting on their cell phones, watching fútbol, listening to their IPods, eating at their favorite café, and laughing with each other. Children here go to school, play games, beg their mom for cookies in the grocery store, and have smiles that light up their face, just like all my kids in Wendell. By the way, all you students in Wendell – I miss you.

So what did I learn from my first week in Puebla?

No matter where I go, everything changes, everything stays the same.

For photos of my trip, you can visit my blog:

Until next time, Adios from Puebla.

Last Post from Puebla

Friday night I had my final dinner with mi familia. We went for tacos, which were great, at a nearby restaurant. One of the differences I’m not sure I could get used to, is how late people eat here. At home, I don’t very often eat after 7:00pm. Here in Puebla, it is common to eat cena at 11:00. At the restaurant last night, I was surprised how many young children there were. Of course it was Friday night, but other nights would be similar. I’m guessing because I didn’t often stay up that late. My body clock works much earlier.

This morning I sit at the kitchen table with mi mamá. I wish I knew what kind of impression I really made on this family. I think they think I didn’t enjoy myself.

  • I decided to stay only one month, when originally I intended to stay two months.

  • I didn’t stay up late with them every night, talking around the table.

  • My schedule just works better “Early to bed, early to rise.”

  • Evenings and weekends, I would go into my room and shut the door, rather than socialize with them.

  • I found myself needing quiet, alone time, alone with my thoughts in English

  • I needed time to study also, but I didn’t study as often as they thought I was studying. Sometimes I was just playing games on my computer and listening to music.

  • I didn’t often eat much here at the house. Mamá thinks it’s because I didn’t like her food.

  • Although I never had any serious stomach problems, tocar en madera, I often had a slightly upset stomach.

I had to work hard to convince the family that I enjoyed my time with them. I discovered that my serious personality often comes across as dissatisfied or unhappy. Even when I’m happy, I guess I don’t look or act happy. I’m going to have to work on that. When I feel happy, I need to make sure my outside shows that feeling.

This morning, Tio, who I don’t think is any actual relation, came over for some business negotiations. Juan chiquito, sells perfume to make some money while he’s in school. I don’t understand everything, por supuesto, but I understand enough to make listening in on the conversation very fun. They are discussing how much the perfumes will cost Juan, and how much he can sell them for. Mamá y Papá, are paying for the perfume now, so they are actively involved in the negotiations. The whole process seems fun and serious at the same time. I can tell, or at least I perceive, that they are trying to stay informal and relaxed while trying to make sure they each get the best possible deal.

In less than an hour, I will be heading to the bus station. Two and a half hours later, I will be in México City, ready to head home. My flight home isn’t until almost 5:00, but I’m the kind of person who likes to be early to the airport. You never know when there might be problems, especially driving through México City and checking in for an international flight. I’m sure that everything will go smoothly, but I would rather wait close to the gate, then here in Puebla. Mamá thinks it’s because I don’t want to spend anymore time with the family. There might be some truth in that, but not because of the family. I’m just really ready to go home.

Last night I was talking about returning to Idaho. Juan said, “You’re not returning home to Idaho. You’re going to the United States for a vacation; this is your home.” I’ve enjoyed my time here, and have so much appreciated the family. But, I’m not ready to make this my home. I will say I know for sure that I could come back anytime and be welcomed. Maybe that means this is another home. Home is just a place where a person feels welcomed and wanted. If that’s true, I have homes in a lot of places: Twin Falls, Nampa, Puebla, Hillsboro, Portland, Richland, Phoenix.

What a lucky person I am to have homes in so many places I can call home.

Monday, June 19, 2006

PPP: Purely Photographical Post

This post is mostly animals (including insects and reptiles).

This first photo is of a small pyramid at Cacaxtla, a site covered by one of the largest archeological roofs in the world. It might be the biggest, but I can't remember.

We found this lizard laying her eggs. She wasn't very happy I got so close, and right after I snapped this photo, she jumped up and bit the camera. I was lucky she didn't bite off my finger. Her teeth were surprisingly large. For a two foot long lizard, she was really mean.

Okay, I'm kidding. Obviously she was laying eggs, but she was only about 6 inches long. And, while we were watching, she didn't move at all. I'm sure she thought that if she laid still, we wouldn't see her and just go away.

How many dogs have you seen on top of a 2000 year old pyramid? This dog wasn't very happy with me taking his photo, and right after I took the picture he lunged at the camera, teeth bared. I was lucky he didn't bite off my arm.

Did you believe me twice in a row?

Just some red ants, no biting, no growling, no visible egg laying, nothing special, but I like the photo.

His Bark is Worse than His Bite

I always thought that saying meant that someone was all show, but no teeth behind the threat.

Last night, I discovered the true meaning. One of the neighbor dogs barked non-stop from 8:00pm until midnight. When I say non-stop, I mean there was no more than a 30 second pause during that entire time. I have no idea what he was barking at. I have no idea why he stopped.

But, I would rather have been bitten by him than listen to the incessant noise for four hours.

He must have finally quieted down, but about every hour or so he would bark non-stop for 5-10 minutes. I love dogs, but it's a good thing I didn't have a gun last night.

Just a short rant. You may disregard.

Last week in Puebla

Friday, June 16, 2006

Since I’m in my last week here in Puebla, I thought I would write about missing things.

First, things I miss about home:

I miss the quiet of living in a house by myself.

I miss my dog.

I miss knowing that my parents are just a phone call away and my sister, and her family, is just a couple of hours away.

I miss ice. Although the restaurant I eat lunch at has purified drinking water, I’m not sure about the ice, so I just avoid it.

I miss my king-size pillow and my body pillow, actually just my bed in general. Not that the bed here is uncomfortable, but it’s a twin and it’s not mine.

I miss my cell phone. I don’t use it very often, but it is nice to have available. Phone calls here in Puebla are expensive, local or long distance.

Thing I won’t miss about Puebla:

I won’t miss the rooster that wakes up at 4:30am, almost like clockwork. “Hey, stupid rooster, the sun isn’t up yet. Didn’t they teach you that in rooster school?”

I won’t miss the stupid dog that either lives with the rooster or right next door. He barks for no apparent reason, as if he’s being tortured for 30 seconds, then suddenly stops.

I won’t miss the extreme poverty here, the people – families, parents, children – who live with nothing. I also won’t forget them.

I won’t miss the constant (which here means all the time for no apparent reason) honking. Let me give you a few examples. Even though I walk to school everyday, I think I’ve learned how to drive in Puebla.
Rule #1: Say you are the 10th car in line, waiting at a red light. When the light turns green, if the car in front of you doesn’t immediately make some sort of movement, you must honk. Presumably because none of the cars in front of you know the light turned green.

Rule #2: If there is nowhere for anyone to go (again because the light is red or everyone is stopped because there is no place to go), you must honk. I’m not sure why, but it’s necessary.

Rule #3: When you drive through a green light, if there is a car waiting at the red light the opposite direction, you must honk before proceeding through your green light. I guess this is to say, “You have a red light, I’m moving very quickly, don’t pull out in front of me.” They might not see the other car barreling down the road, but they will surely hear the honk.

Rule #4: If the car in front of you is driving more slowly than you think they should be driving, or is not driving the way you think they should, you honk.

Rule #5: If you are upset about anything other than driving, you may honk. Yesterday, on the way to lunch, cars were backed up. Everything was at a standstill. In this one intersection, with cars going both directions (two one-way streets) there were probably 40 cars. One woman started honking. This was not a toot-your-horn kind of honk. She laid on the horn for a good 30 seconds. Why? I have no idea. This is why Rule #5 was created. Just for people like her. Did it help for her to honk? Obviously not because no one could move.

One additional Rule, concerning red lights: red lights don’t really mean anything. If no one is coming, or if you think you have plenty of room, just go through the intersection.

Okay, one more rule concerning lanes. If a road has two lanes, but there is enough room to fit 4 cars side by side, the cars in the second row must fill the spaces, thereby temporarily creating 4 lanes. If the cars in the second row do not fill in, see Rule #4.

I won’t miss being surrounded by 5,000,000 people (or 3 million or 4 million, is just depends on who you ask; each person I asked said, “I’m sure there’s X million.”)

Things I will miss about Puebla:

I will miss being able to visit buildings from 1500, or churches built in 1650, or office buildings that have been around for 300 years.

I will miss having a tienda (little store) on every corner. When I walk to school I pass 7 OXXOs, they’re kind of like 7-11 or Maverick, just smaller. There is always one close.

I will miss having my laundry done for about $5.00 a week. If I could find someone at home to wash, dry and fold my laundry for $5.00/week, I would probably use the service.

I will miss being able to greet women – old abuelas, young ninas, mujeres in between – with a kiss on the cheek. I think it is a very kind thing to do, a very warm gesture.

I will miss seeing students in their school uniforms. They all look so nice. American schools could benefit from school uniforms. (If any of my Wendell students are reading this, don’t worry. You won’t be wearing uniforms any time soon.)

I will especially miss my family. Juan Jr. had the opportunity to take a job, three hours to the north of Puebla. He asked my opinion about what he should do. I was so touched that the family would include me in an important decision like that. Juan is 23 years old and a little tired of living at home. On the other hand, he is trying to finish his English education, having only two more months. We talked about the importance of education, the importance of family, the importance of independence, the importance (and likelihood) of future opportunities.

Being here in Puebla has taught me to appreciate so much that I have.

I appreciate my independence. I have a car; I can go where I want, when I want.

I appreciate being able to turn on the faucet and know that the water is safe to drink.

I appreciate the safety of my neighborhood. I don’t have to surround myself with 10 foot high walls. I don’t have to have bars on my windows and a watch dog on my roof. I can walk around town at midnight and know that I’m safe.

I appreciate that the police in my town are there to protect me, not take advantage of me. I have talked to many different people about the police here in México. Everybody gives me the same response. “The police are corrupt. I don’t trust them, no one does.” If any police officers in America are reading this, Thank you. You do a great job and are not thanked often enough for the risk you take to protect citizens like me. I promise that the next time I get pulled over (which I hope is never) I will thank you.

I appreciate the quiet of rural Idaho.

I appreciate the wide open spaces of rural Idaho.

I appreciate the hugs I get everyday at school. People down here greet each other with a kiss on the cheek, which I really like, but it’s not the same as a hug from a kid.

I appreciate not having to stand on a street corner all day, trying to sell newspapers or trinkets or flowers or vegetables, while around me cars (with the obligatory pollution) speed by trying not to notice me. I appreciate not having to hope someone will let me wash their windshield or help them back out of a parking space in exchange for a few pennies.

I appreciate being a wealthy American. I know that by American standards I am not rich, I’m probably lower middle class. But after seeing the way people live here, I am so rich.

I appreciate being able to communicate clearly.

I have actually heard Americans say, after talking with a Méxican, or trying to communicate with someone who has limited English skills, “Why don’t they just learn English. This is America. They should learn English.”

The problem is, Americans don’t want Méxicans to learn English, we want them to KNOW English, right now. I think back to when I learned English.

For the first two years of my English education, I was exposed to the language 12-18 hours per day. I was not required to respond with sentences or words. In fact, I was not required to respond with anything more than a hand gesture or a loud cry. My teachers simply allowed me to listen to the language, learning the sounds, the rhythm and the patterns of the language.

For the next two years, I began using simple words and short phrases. “Me want cookie.” “I do it.” Nobody laughed at my inability to use the language properly, nobody got frustrated when I was unable to communicate my intentions or needs. My teachers simply corrected my usage, very kindly and gently. “Say, ‘I would like a cookie please.’”

Not until my fifth year of being immersed in English did I begin a formal education. After five years of listening to and using the language I finally learned the alphabet, colors, numbers, how to spell and write my name.

After seven years of immersion, I was finally conversational in English. Think about any 7 year old you know. They can carry on a conversation, even with an adult. Would you call them fluent in English? Maybe. Every single person reading these words right now, took at least 7 years to learn English, to become fluent in the language. Give Spanish speakers at least that long to learn their second language.

The next time you find yourself frustrated at someone because they can’t speak English, stop to think about how long they’ve had to learn the language. It is a widely accepted fact that children learn languages faster than adults. If you are attempting to communicate with someone who has been in this country 5 years or less, remember, as far as the English language is concerned, they’re like pre-school students. Have some patience with them. Don’t laugh at them, don’t get frustrated, try to help them.

Most of my Spanish is in the present tense. I haven’t yet mastered past tense (in Spanish there are two past tenses, unlike English). If I want to say, “Yesterday I ate lunch in the restaurant then went to the museum.” I have to say, “Yesterday, I go to the restaurant, then I go to the museum.” Before I leave we will learn how to conjugate verbs in the past tense, but just because I learn it in class doesn’t mean I can use it. I’m sure to Spanish speakers I sound juvenile. I am. In the Spanish language, I’m like a 4 year old (and that’s being optimistic).

Never again will I get impatient when a parent comes into the school office. I will attempt to communicate with them, in English and Spanish, knowing that if we both try, we can communicate meaning, even if we don’t use the right words.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Teotihuacan, some photos

Old Mexico City and Modern Mexico City

Pyramid of the Moon (piramide de la luna)

Detail of a 2000 year old pyramid

The Pyramid of the Sun (piramide del sol)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Another fun weekend

Sunday, June 11, 2006

I discovered something else about myself. I come across as a serious person, which I know that I am. My mamá and I were talking at the kitchen table. She thought I didn’t like the family. She thought maybe I was angry about the family or the house or something. I think she also had that thought because I changed from staying eight weeks to only staying four weeks.

I assured her that, “No, I’m not angry. I am a serious person most of the time. Plus, I’ve lived alone for a long time. I’ve gotten very used to a lot of time by myself. It’s been an adjustment to be in a house with a whole family.”

She understands. They have been so respectful of my privacy, never disturbing me when I need to be alone, while making sure to take care of my needs.

When I told her I lived alone, she asked, “Who cleans your house?” I do. “Who cooks?” I do.

“You’ll make some muchacha a great husband.” We both laughed.

Okay, you’re probably going to laugh at me, but I was listening to Christmas music today. Now before you fall out of your chair making fun of me, Christmas music and classical are all I have on my laptop. I needed some English, so it was Christmas music. There aren’t many words in Mozart’s symphonies.

There are several songs that I really like, but this one seemed appropriate somehow. I’ve never really listened to the words of this song, except for the very last verse.

Are you far away from home     
This dark and lonely night          
Tell me what best would help
To ease your mind
Someone to give direction for
This unfamiliar road
Or one who says follow me
And I will lead you home

How beautiful, how precious
The savior ?
To love so completely
The loneliest soul
How gently, how tenderly
He says to one and all
Child you can follow me
And I will lead you home
Trust me and follow me
And I will lead you home

Be near me Lord Jesus
I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever
And love me I pray
Bless all the dear children
In thy tender care
And take us to heaven
To live with thee there

Take us to heaven
To live with thee there

While I’m listening, it’s actually afternoon, and I’m not lonely. Instead I’m craving some time alone in my house, just me and my dog. But the sentiment is nice.

I’m here in Puebla because I felt God leading me here. There were many obstacles, but He cleared them all.
“God, there’s no way I can afford this.”
     That’s okay. I’ll provide you with friends and family to help out.
“What will I do with my dog?”
     Ask Will and Vivian. They’ll say, ‘Yes.’”
“I don’t know what to do about my house.”
     Did you forget about Dean and Mary, right across the street?
“Yes, I remember them. But what about my lawn?”
     Talk to Donna, she’ll know somebody.
“I’m not sure I can be away that long. I am a rules official during the summer.”
     Vicky will pretend to be mad, but she’ll support you. I’ll take care of her.
“I’m very used to living alone. I’m not sure about living with a family all that time.”
     You’ll be fine. Trust me.
“Are you sure I can learn another language. I’m not a kid anymore.”
     You’ll be fine. Trust me.
“What if I get sick? Wait, I know. I’ll be fine. Trust you.”
     You’ll be fine. Trust me.

So I did, I am, I will continue to.

It’s an interesting adventure. I thought I had prepared myself for what to expect. My expectations were very close to reality. Reality has turned out to be better, like it usually does. Often in my life I have told God what I needed, and how I thought would be the best way to handle the situation. He doesn’t very often follow my advice. Can you imagine that?

He does seem to know what He’s doing, so far. I keep trying to give Him hints and clues though. Someday, in Heaven, I’ll ask Him to explain himself.

“I realize everthing turned out fine, but are you sure I wouldn’t have been better off as a multi-millionaire, or a star professional athlete?”
     You were fine. You trusted me.

Friday, June 09, 2006

My new favorite word

My new favorite word: estadonidense.

I can’t just say I’m an American, that includes everyone in North and South America.

I can’t just say I’m North American, that also includes everyone in Canada.

I can’t just say I live in the United States. México, is officially the Estados Unidos de México (the United States of México). (If I’m wrong about that, feel free to let me know.)

So, the Spanish word for where I live is: estadonidense.

Spanish is an interesting language, becoming increasingly more interesting the more I learn.

For example, in English we say things like:
I’m hungry
I’m cold
I’m thirsty
I’m 39 years old

These things don’t really describe who or what we ARE.

In Spanish, we say things like:
Tengo hambre          I have hunger
Tengo frio          I have coldness
Tengo sed          I have thirst
Tengo 39 años          I have 39 years

In this area, Spanish seems to make a lot more sense.

One of the things I’ve noticed in the last few years is how people answer questions. Ask someone, “What do you do for a living?” Hardly anybody answers with what they DO. Most typically they answer the question trying to define who they are. “I’m a counselor. I’m a teacher. I’m a realtor. I’m a banker.”

I didn’t ask what you are, I asked what you do. I sometimes think that we Americans (meaning estadonidenses) define ourselves too much by our work, either vocation or avocation.

What am I? Who am I?
I am a counselor, a brother, a son, an uncle, a student, a teacher, a reader, a writer, a pet owner, a citizen, a traveler.

What do I do for a living? I work in a school. I am employed by a school district to fill a certain position, performing certain duties. What I do, however, does not define who I am.

On the contrary, I think who I am defines what I do. I am a good listener, therefore I chose to find a position that allows me to listen to kids, parents, teachers, staff. I am a good problem solver, therefore I searched for a situation that allows me to use that skill to help other people. I am a writer (or at least I think so), therefore I find outlets for that creative need: blog, newspaper, letters, poetry.

I am an uncle, therefore I make sure my niece and nephew know that I love them very much. I’m a brother and son, so I make sure I do my best to fulfill that role for my sister, my brother-in-law, and my parents. I also use my role as a family member to model for others (most specifically the students in my schools) what it means to be a good family member. I’m a good friend, therefore I find ways to model what it means to be a good friend.

This trip to Puebla is clearing away some of the clouds that have prevented me from getting a clear picture of who I am, what I am, what I do.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

An Anthropological History of Puebla

Okay, I’m not really going to give you an anthropological history of Puebla.
I, however, did receive one today.

If you remember, I spend two hours each afternoon with my guia. We can go anywhere we want, and talk about whatever. My guia this week is David, who is studying anthropology at the university here – urban anthropology to be specific. Today, rather than walk around, I asked David to tell me about Puebla.

He gave me a complete, albeit brief, history of the state and the city. Keep in mind, this is all in Spanish. Obviously my Spanish skills have improved, but I was also able to understand because David is very good at finding other ways to explain words I don’t know.

At one point a stranger (and by stranger I mean two things: 1- someone neither of us knew, 2- someone more strange than me or David) joined our conversation. He spoke very rapidly, apparently assuming that I am fluent in Spanish, which I am not.

I did however catch parts of his talk. He moved very quickly from Indians in America scalping homesteaders, to atomic bombs in New York, and Los Angeles. I’m a little fuzzy about the connection between the two.

David, however, was very coherent. He actually made me feel a little stupid. If he had asked me for a history of the US, I know for a fact that I could not have given as complete a history.

“Well, back about 200 years ago, some people were mad at England, they sailed across the ocean and landed in Boston, home of the Red Sox, where they eventually opened up coffee shops – called Starbucks – that have spread across the entire world. That’s really about it. Oh, and once a year we shoot off fireworks to celebrate the day all the tea was thrown overboard (hence, Starbucks), and Benjamin Franklin was electrocuted by a lightning storm.”

I’m amazed that I was able to not only understand, but also ask questions and converse with him. I have discovered that I understand a lot more than I can speak. My recall of vocabulary is very limited; I have a hard time finding the right word. My comprehension is much better. Even if I don’t understand all the words, I’m able to grasp the meaning.

The most interesting part of the afternoon came right at the very end of the afternoon, after we had stopped at the local OXXO (convenience store) to pick up some drinks. I bought the drinks because I found out that David gets paid 40 pesos for the two hours we spend together. At the current exchange rate that is about $3.65. But I digress …

The most interesting part of the afternoon came right at the very end of the afternoon. A 17th century Spanish writer said,

Yo no leo para saber mas.
Yo leo para ignorar menos.

I don’t read to know more.
I read to ignore less.

I think I might have found my motto, my reason for coming here to Puebla in the first place.

I’m not learning Spanish to know more.
I’m learning Spanish to ignore less.
I’m learning Spanish so I don’t ignore the Latino students and families in my school.
I’m learning Spanish so I don’t ignore their culture, their traditions, their history, their language.
I don’t want to ignore their experience.

After I made the decision to stay only four weeks instead of eight (which I’m sure is the right decision because I have felt so relaxed since I decided), I discovered what I think is the reason I did not want to stay eight weeks.

I miss American food, but that is not the main reason.
I miss my house and my bed, but that’s not it either.
I miss my car and my independence – nope, not it either.
I miss my native language, but that’s not it because I really do enjoy Spanish.

I miss small town America. Going from Twin Falls & Wendell to a city of 3-5 million people has been the hardest change.

This implies that I might be feeling the same way had I attended a Spanish immersion program in New York, or Los Angeles, or Chicago, or Dallas.

I miss being able to drive 20 minutes to find a place where there are no buildings. Here in Puebla, I would have to drive for several hours to get out of the city.

I miss seeing green lawns, and big trees, and new flowers. That has been the biggest change, the hardest change. When I come back to Idaho, to my place, I will view things much differently.

Yo no leo para saber mas.
Yo leo para ignorar menos.

I hope I never ignore something or someone simply because I’m unwilling to change.