Friday, May 2, 2014

Easter Tradition

The Thursday before Easter is a special day in Bolivia.  Not only does it signify the Last Supper between Jesus and his disciples, but it also is part of a religious ritual for Bolivians.  This night almost all churches are opened and have special services.  Altars are decorated with mass amounts of flowers.  Candles are lit throughout the sanctuary.  In some churches, there are scenes laid out with symbols of Jesus’s last supper, betrayal, and death on the cross.  Bolivians go from church to church in remembrance of Jesus’s journey to the cross.  Most people go to at least seven churches; seven because it is the holy number, although many people go to more.  At each church, people go in, bless themselves, and pray for a few minutes.  There are over 50 churches in Cochabamba itself.

I went with my friend, Alexis, her husband, David, and his mother, aunt, and cousin.  It was a very solemn and reverent time.  The first church we went to was the church that Alexis and David attend.  It is a large church with beautiful statues and carvings.  There was a small choir that alternated with a violinist and pianist.  It was an angelic sound listening to the notes ascending and echoing throughout the church.  As we walked around looking at the ornate statues, I looked at the many people crowding into the church.  There were people who were well dressed and others who just stepped off of the streets.  Both types of people were considered equals in this experience.  Both classes were simply coming to experience this ritual.

We walked outside where there were street vendors selling candied apples, Easter treats, and pictures of relics.  Beggars took the opportunity of mass crowds to beg for money.  Children without shoes or little clothing stood beside their parents, hoping to earn something.  There was even an Easter bunny, which seemed quite out of place among the religious artifacts and atmosphere.  

As we traveled to the next church, David explained that this ritual of church traveling was seen only in South America, not in Spain or Europe.  South America is a very religious part of the world and many Latinos take pride in their Catholic heritage.  

Each church we visited (we went to about five in all) was different in its own way.  One church was unique.  Although it was decorated beautifully, the service reminded me of my own church.  There was a small band made up of drums, guitars, cymbals, and singers who were playing modernized songs.  In between songs, a group of people sitting in front of the altar took turns praying.  Many times they would ramble on and undulate sounds.  I later found out that this was a charismatic Catholic church.  I was very surprised as I had not known that Catholics could be charismatic, however, I learned that Catholics were the first denomination to have charismatic sects.  In this church, people believed that the Holy Spirit came upon them and spoke through them through sounds and noises.  Whether this is actually true is another thing.  Although it is in the Bible and there are eyewitness accounts of this happening, I find it strange and almost sketchy at times.  Who is to say that people aren’t just saying random sounds and then making people believe what they want?

There was another church we visited that was very simply decorated, yet still elegant in its manner.  This church actually doubled as a home for the elderly.  It definitely had an “old person smell” that resonated throughout the chapel, yet was very quaint.  The altar was decorated with an abundance of flowers and had symbols laid out: 30 pieces of silver, the bread and wine, a basin and towel symbolizing Jesus washing his disciple’s feet.  It was a reverent and haunting scene.

This experience as a whole was a wonderful one for me.  As a lover of history and culture, it was interesting to see how other countries experience the Easter week, or holy week.  It was interesting that Bolivia did not inherit this ritual from Spain, but rather, was its own entity; or rather, was a part of a region that began its own ritual.  Because I love looking at old churches and cathedrals (yes, I admit I’m weird), I loved looking at the differences in each building.  The artifacts and statues, the paintings, the ornaments and moldings of each church helped give it its own flare and uniqueness.  Although Bolivia may be predominantly Catholic, which is different from my Protestant upbringing, it was still a wonderful and cultural experience; one that I hope I never forget.  As each future Easter comes, I hope that I can look back on this ritual and it may enhance my own Easter time.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I've Had It!!

Well, as the semester comes to a close, most of my heavy work has been finished and I have a lot of time on my hands during my free periods.  Because of this, expect more updates and complaints from me as my kids become more unpredictable and lazy.

Everyone on campus - students, teachers, and administration - are looking forward to the end of the school year.  We have been anxious, well, since the beginning of the school year pretty much.  However, especially now that spring (autumn) break is fast approaching, many holidays, and the end of the school year is in sight, people are more anxious and less studious.  My patience has worn through and my tolerance for my kid's laziness has reached it's highest.

It helps that the only assignments my kids have left are 3 speeches and a research paper.  Note to other English teachers: if you ever want to see kids cry, do a unit on public speaking.  I have had 2 of my 9th grade girls bawling because they did not want to stand in front of their class to give a 3-5 minute speech.  It doesn't matter that they know every single one of their classmates or that they are fine speaking from their seat (while I'm speaking, I might add), put them in front of the class and they are terrified.  Granted, not everyone likes speaking in front of people...heck, I don't and look what profession I landed in!  However, it has been an experience trying to calm my students down enough to be able to speak in front of the class.

The kids at this point have been looking forward to break, which is in two weeks, so their minds have not been focusing on their work.  I've reached the point now, where I am not going to worry if they don't pay attention while I'm speaking.  Granted, I prefer not to have to yell over their own conversations, but if they want to miss important information that I am telling them...well, it's their grade, not mine.  They have had me long enough to know that they need to not talk when I'm talking, to sit in their seats, to pay attention.  However, they don't.  It doesn't matter how much I threaten or discipline them, they don't learn!!  Well, now it's up to them to do their part.  I do my part, they need to do theirs.

#hadit  #overitall  #canigohomeyet

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Transportation and Getting Around

One of the things I've been wanting to talk about is the transportation.  Back home, I'm used to having my own car and driving where ever I wish, whenever I wish.  The cars are a little nicer and more people own and drive their own vehicles.  Down here, it's a bit different.  Most everyone takes public transportation, whether it is by trufi, taxi, or the micros.  A trufi is usually in the form of a mini-van or a larger type of van.  It has a general route, as with the micros.  Each trufi has a certain number and certain route.  I usually take the 121 or 131 trufi as it goes from in front of the school and down Avenue America, which is where most of my activities are.  The fare is 1.90 bolivianos (Bs.), which is equal to around $0.27.  You can go anywhere on this route for that price, whether it is one block to the whole route.

Micros follow the same pattern with a standard route and fare, 1.90 Bs.  A micro is in the form of a bus.  The driver usually decorates the inside with stickers and has a theme.  Some of the "themes" are Disney, cartoon characters, or even more risque pictures of women.

Taxis are like normal taxis all over the world.  You call or hail a taxi and they will take you to your destination.  Certain taxi companies are more familiar with certain areas.  For example, the taxi company that is located around my house is Danubio.  When I call, they know the address of my house and usually pick me up in about 5 minutes.  Any other place, it usually takes about 10 minutes for them to pick me up.  Each taxi is also decorated with stickers or have stuffed animals on the dashboard.  One of the first things I was warned about when coming to Bolivia was to never get into an unmarked taxi.  Every company requires its cars/vans to have their company sticker on the sides of each vehicle.  There are other taxis, though, that are more free-lance and have a reputation for ripping people off or, worse, attacking and robbing clients.  My taxi company of Danubio now knows that when they receive a call from my phone that it is the stupid American that can't understand Spanish, so conversations are short. Lol!

The roads are typical third world country kinds of roads with dirt, cobblestones, or paved, but full of potholes.  Actually, almost similar to Johnstown...full of potholes.  Anyways, because the micros are pretty ancient buses, it almost feels like riding a wooden roller coaster at an amusement park.  The micro sways as it rolls down the street and when climbing a hill, will chug along slowly.

Most people do not follow the stop light regulations.  As long as no one is coming at an intersection, many vehicles stop, look, and just roll right ahead through.  Police are rare, and mostly just look the other way at traffic violations.  Although there are sometimes definitive lines marking lanes, most vehicles do not bother following the restrictions.  They weave in and out of each other, squeezing through tight spots as needed.  Some people use their turning signals, while most don't care who they cut off.  To combat speeding, there are frequent speed bumps where drivers must slow down to pass them.  Even on major roads, there will be speed bumps.

Until I had moved to Bolivia, I had not really taken any public transportation, however, now, I would consider myself somewhat an expert.  I have also never been one to memorize street names or places, but now, I have to pay special attention where things are located.  The transportation system has been a challenge, but one that I am proud to have accomplished and overcome.  I have even had a few pleasant "chats" with taxi drivers about being here in Bolivia.  Although conversations are not long because of the language barrier, it has been fun.

Monday, January 13, 2014

And So It Begins Again....

Well, today was the first day back to school...   Of course the kids don't arrive until Wednesday, so the teachers have a few days to get our rooms in order and go over useless workshops.  Today, we did have a memorial service for Ms. Lili who had passed away over the holidays.  It was wonderful to see the love and support from other colleagues to her family, who was invited to the service.

After the service, we spent the rest of the day doing activities and discussions on how to help our classrooms as far as discipline issues.  Most things that were discussed we already knew or have implemented in our classrooms, but there were also some useful information.  It was a pleasure seeing all the teachers again as well as some new faces.  If anything, CCS does have some wonderful staff.

I rearranged my classroom and started working on preparing unit plans for this semester.  The fun part of creating my own curriculum is getting to pick and choose what I want to do in my classroom.  However, the difficult thing is also picking and choosing what to do in my classroom.  I am able to focus on things that I enjoy and want my students to learn, yet I also have to come up with activities and lessons that will challenge the students in their own way and will meet the standards of learning.  I also need to be able to find activities and lessons that will work with the limited amount of resources I have, yet will also fill the required amount of time.  It might be easier if I was given some sort of direction, especially for a person like me who hates making decisions and has no creative bone in her body.  However, I am grateful for other teachers who have helped to guide me and given me numerous ideas to do in my classroom.

There have been so many times that I look at the experiences of other teachers I know from around the world, and have been jealous of the resources available to them, or the ideas they come up with.  However, I need to realize that teaching is about adapting.  Every classroom and every student is different, no matter where the classroom is placed in the world.  Every situation that a teacher faces will be different.  I need to learn how to adapt to my own situation before looking at other's experiences.  Each situation will help me grow into a better teacher for the next experience I have.  It will be interesting to look back on this experience in Bolivia and see how it helped me to grow into a better teacher...or whatever profession I end up in.

Alive Again

Well, I finally got a new computer that will hopefully be compatible with Bolivian wifi.  I have a lot of catching up to do!

The past three weeks have been spent at home in PA.  It has been a glorious, but short lived visit.  It was actually one of the best Christmas's I've had.  Even though Johnstown experienced one of the record lows for temperatures (-14 degrees!!), I really was able to enjoy my friends, family, and boyfriend.  I spent time catching up with friends and just relaxing.

Relaxing...exactly what I needed after the end of last semester.  It was a rough end.  Had some students yelling at me for me enforcing consequences for missing the last two weeks of school, including finals; a parent bringing in forged doctor excuses for her son who was absent from school for two weeks (he was in La Paz for vacation), yet insisted her son be able to make up the test he missed because he was "sick;" and a parent saying I am stubborn, close-minded and a terrible teacher because I gave his son a zero for cheating on a test.  Apparently I "pressured" my student, his son, into writing the answers for his vocabulary test on his arm.  Ummm, why would a teacher ever promote cheating in the first place??  Hello...I'm here to teach responsibility and honesty.  I am so grateful that the director backed me up and stood up to the father.

Needless to say, the end of last semester was pretty stressful and I needed those three weeks to recuperate.  Also, over break, one of my fellow teachers, Ms. Lili, was killed in a bus accident in Peru.  Although I didn't know her very well, she was still a good friend who always had a smile on her face and was so enthusiastic about her students.  It didn't become real until I came back and realized I wouldn't see her anymore.  It made me think about how precious life is and how I need to cherish each and everyday.

The way back to Bolivia was also pretty stressful.  What was supposed to be a 17ish hour trip, took three days.  In Dullas airport, we were supposed to leave at 330pm, but didn't take off until around 1130pm due to "mechanical problems" on the plane.  We landed in Bogota, Columbia around 2am and spent the next 7 hours at a nearby hotel, which was paid for by the airlines.  We boarded the plane around 10pm, but was forced to switch planes an hour later due to other problems.  We arrived in La Paz at 430am the next day.  At 9am we left for Cochabamba.  We were exhausted by the end of our trip, and I crashed the rest of Saturday and all Sunday.

Anyways, that is the shortened version of everything that has happened since I last wrote.  It was a challenging end of the semester, but I survived and had a wonderful break.  Now, begins the challenge of starting a new semester that will hopefully be a bit more enjoyable.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Getting Through?

Grades are officially in and report cards will be sent out later this week.  Parent-teacher conferences are on Monday.  Which means, that I'm going to have a ton of upset parents at my door.  I hate days like's like these parents can't understand that the reason why their kids have such poor grades is because they don't do their work...not because of me or how I teach.  It's so hard to be patient and calm, when all I feel like doing is yelling and bursting into tears.  Ey ey iy....  My days go back and forth between good and bad.  Some periods are amazing where the kids are discussing, are being calm, and are focused.  Other periods, it's pure chaos.  Today, my last period (which, I have them for my last period three days out of the week, including Friday), was out of control and I made them put their heads down for a few minutes.  I told them that they were at the age where I could expect more out of them. Where they should be acting older than 2nd graders. 

I hope I am getting through to some of them.  I have been surprised at a few kids who have shown their talent in certain areas.  For example, one of my 9th grade boys who hangs out with some of the rowdy kids, is actually a pretty good writer.  He also knows what he's talking about when he answers questions in class and tries to pay attention.  I try to write comments on his papers about how well he writes and how I appreciate him paying attention in class.  There are also a few girls that really have a lot of potential in writing, and I try to encourage them as much as possible. 

There is one boy, who I have had a few problems with, and who disrupts a lot of other classes.  He and I had a falling out when he was fresh with me, but since then, has calmed down some, although he still disrupts the class.  He did pay me a compliment yesterday, and said he appreciated that when I give him a punishment, I tell him what it is for.  I was kind of astonished, since I believe that that is the only way people learn; by knowing what they did wrong so they can change it.  However, I think that also showed him that I respect him enough to tell him his mistakes.  Today, after class, I had to pull him aside and reprimand him on his behavior.  I said that he is intelligent and he is capable of anything.  However, he needs to learn to focus and be in control of his actions.  I am hoping that somehow I can get through to him.  He is very bright and, when focused, can produce good work.  However, it is getting to that level that is difficult and challenging. 

It becomes difficult constantly giving of myself to not reap any rewards in the end.  I guess such is the life of a teacher...give 110%, receive 50%.  Even from the parents, it is difficult.  I know there are always those parents that believe that their child never does anything wrong, and it's all the teacher's fault.  Well, just once, would I like to meet a parent who is active in their child's learning.  Who is actually home and involved in the child's life.  I understand that it can be difficult with both parents working, but when a child is left on their own most of the time after school with only a housekeeper to look after them, then there's something that is totally wrong.  Maybe I shouldn't compare these kids' lives with my family or other families I know, but it's hard to see why parents don't want to be involved with their kids.  Why parents would rather their child be raised by a cholito (a native Bolivian woman).  No wonder these kids have the difficulties they do in school and in relationships; they have no role model in the home to show them how to be a human being. 

Ok, enough ranting for now.  Back to the grind of tutoring, work, and sleep!  It's hard to believe that I only have 2 more months until the end of the's going so fast, yet not fast enough.  While I am enjoying my time here, I can't wait to go home.  Yes, I do mean little pokey Johnstown. However, it's where my family and friends are.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Catching Up

Hola!  Ok, so I know it's been a computer doesn't seem to get along with the Bolivian internet here...

Things have been busy lately with the first quarter coming to an end.  Grades have to be done and entered and parents appeased.  The kids have been tough lately, between their attitudes and laziness.  I have been somewhat more strict on them in regards to their work.  For instance, I have had a problem with them doing other work in my class, so I made a policy that if I catch them doing work from another class during my class, I would take their work and keep it until Friday after school.  I told them I don't care if they have a test, quiz, or paper they have to work on; when they are in English, they focus on English. Is that too much to ask?  I have had to confiscate some books already.  One guy cried because I wouldn't give it back.  Did feel slightly bad, but....   Also, this week, one of my 8th grade classes was just too lazy to do their homework, which was one vocab word and a short paragraph explaining how something they loved has changed (like a favorite hang out spot, or a place in their grandparent's house, etc).  Homework that would have taken them about 10 minutes to complete.  Did they do it?  Of course not!  Well, 3 did.  So, in addition to that homework, I told the lazy students to do a one page typed essay on responsibility to hand in the next day.  Of the 10 that were to do it, only 1 actually followed directions.  It's a shame how lazy these kids can get.

I know that I only subbed in the US, but even then, the kids were more respectful and more considerate.  I know being rich and entitled has a bunch to do with it, but still.  It's ridiculous how many times I have to remind my students that not only am I trying to teach them academics, but also life lessons.  Lessons such as responsibility and a good work ethic.  I get so aggravated at times and feel like I'm not connecting through.  Then, other times, I really enjoy my kids.  Like today, my one terrible 9th grade class, I actually really liked today.  We did a vocab review and then the last 15 minutes I let them ask me questions about myself.  Scary, I know.  But they had fun getting to know me and it was fun seeing their reactions to my life.  It's times like these that I do enjoy teaching and the kids.  However, these times are few and far between.  I tell my kids that I don't like being mean or yelling/raising my voice, but if that's the only time they listen to me, then I'll keep on doing it.  Not sure how else to get through to them.

Besides the hassle of non-obedient kids, I've been trying to get into a routine: I go to the gym and yoga in the evenings, tutor about two hours everyday, and started taking Spanish lessons.  The days are long and I usually fall into bed exhausted, but I take it day by day.  I am anxious to go home and see everyone, but overall, the year has been going by fast.  I've been learning a lot and experiencing a lot. I'm excited to see what kind of opportunities await me after this adventure!