Thursday, April 14, 2011

First three weeks in site!

You might be thinking that I’ve gotten lazy again. Unfortunately, you are right when it comes to this blog. I wish someone would invent telepathic posts. As soon as I arrived in my community, I began working. I spend Monday through Friday from 7:30am till 1:10pm at the school. In the afternoon, I trek back to my host family’s house on the other side of the valley. The school luckily has internet but as of right now, the house I’m living in doesn’t have any electricity. Hopefully, as I settle in a bit more, I’ll post a bit more as well. For now, enjoy my first blog from my site, Las Minas, a wonderful hidden gem up in the mountains of Panama Oeste.

First Host Family
Okay, so technically my first host family lives is in a town called Nazarena. It’s about a thirty minute walk from the school, up and down a few major hills slash mountains. The students who live here attend my school and the parents work in the fields on the mountain or in the next town over, El Cacao. I’m not sure if you can find Nazarena on a map. Everyone in the town is related…somehow. (I don’t think I’ll ever be able to figure out all the relations for sure). My host mother is an amazing woman, who, in reality should be more of a host sister considering she is only three years older than me. Yet, she is a mother of three including a thirteen year old, a nine year old and a two year old. I’ll let you do the math. She has her own tienda at the house that she spends all day, every day, attending to  and the customers. She’s so proud of her store and despite only having a sixth grade education (I’ll let you figure out why she dropped out so early), she values the education of her children and is always pushing them to study harder. I can tell when she is working with them how much she would have liked to stay in school. We often have conversations relating to problems in Panama, such as the lack of a trash collection system and the problems with the technical schools (many students cheat to pass and subsequently never gain the skills to actually perform the job they’ve just earned a degree for). I spend most of my afternoons chatting with her about life. She also works hard as my translator. When visitors come to the house and she can tell I’m having a hard time understanding them, she always translates it into something I can reply to. I don’t think I would’ve survived the first week without her.

Her husband is an equally genuine character. He wakes up every day at 4:30am to start working on the finca. Some days that means harvesting the organic limes, other days it means improving the finca by building roads, tending the animals or making sure the other workers are doing what they are supposed to be doing.  He’s so proud of the organic limes he grows here. His house is one of the larger and better built houses on this side of town and he has dreams to expand it even more. When we were chatting this morning, he mentioned how hard it was to find good employees who didn’t drink too much. Apparently, the boss doesn’t like it and it does tend to be a big problem here. My host Dad hasn’t had a drink since he started the job twelve years ago. He decided he wanted to be the best role model possible for his children and he certainly is. Every morning he either has a tractor idling or a horse saddled to take me to school. We’ve spent many afternoons visiting the families who live nearby on this side of town. He has even showed an interest in learning English since the Finca is often visited by foreigners and will eventually become a tourist destination. (If you’re interested in visiting, which I highly recommend since it’s absolutely gorgeous, I’ll let you know when the clay houses for guests are finished! Look at my picture on facebook.)

Oh, the host kids. The two older ones were a bit shy at first but the toddler attacked me from the get go. They all awkwardly watched me unpack everything I brought with me, including the mom. Sometimes they make me feel a bit like a freak show but I love them all. They are so excited to have their very own English teacher living in the house and they take full advantage of it. We have English class together almost every night. If not a full class or homework help, we at least read the bilingual book my mother gave me as a Christmas gift before I left called; I Know the River Loves Me. I’m absolutely sick of the book by now but they can’t seem to get enough of it. (Please send more bilingual children’s books if you have a few lying around, there seems to be a major lack of books in this country and I can’t seem to find many here). The kids feel a need to protect me. They always escort me no matter where I go which was a little annoying at first but now I am used to it. They make the most of what they have here. Even though they don’t have a television, or many toys, they are never lacking something to do. They are always off playing with the animals, swimming in the river, helping their dad with his work or taking me on little adventures. It can be a bit difficult to live with a toddler at times. It seems he always wakes up crying no matter what time of the day or night or early in the freaking morning. His favorite words are “Look at me” and “Food.” I swear he eats more than I do and he’s only two.

One last note on Nazarena: There are two mountain peaks in the community called Cerro Viejo and Cerro Trinidad (and I fully plan on climbing them both, hopefully the first this Sunday). As I was pasearing yesterday to the houses furthest out in the community, I found the exact spot where I will build my home if I happen to marry a local and live here forever. We arrived at the house as the sun was beginning to set and I stood there in awe of the view. I had a perfect view of both of the peaks and the amazing valleys between them. I fell even more in love with my community at that moment. Now I just need to make friends with the owner of the land and see if he will sell me a small piece.   

I arrived to the second day of school on a horse. I have since experienced several forms of transportation in order to get to school including a tractor and the back of a pick-up truck. The school is a ways from my house, up and down several large hills and across two rivers. Last week, rainy season decided to come a bit early and had swept away the stone/tree bridge across one of the rivers thus leaving me the only option of forging the river. Which I have had to continue doing since even though the rain has stopped.   

Life and work with the school has been going slowly but surely. The first two weeks I spent mostly observing the English teacher, taking extensive notes in my little Save the Planet notebook (I’m trying to start a trend since I’m so sick of seeing Hannah Montana and Barney notebooks). My teacher is very open to feedback and input. She has only put me on the spot a few times, several of which I tossed right back to her. This week I finally started to teach a bit instead of just pronouncing vocabulary or correcting grammar. I taught numbers one through ten to first graders, physical appearance adjectives to third graders, and pronouns to fourth graders. Next week I have a TPRS inspired lesson on family planned for the second graders. (Fingers crossed I can actually pull it off!)

Speaking of which, the second graders at my school leave me feeling depressed every day. Apparently, they had a bad teacher for first grade and half of them can barely read or write. There are a few very smart girls in the class who pick up English so quickly and finish the assignments before some of the other students have finished writing their names. All of the kids are constantly running around and screaming out. To make matters worse, their current teacher doubles as the director of the school. Unfortunately, this means he has two jobs to complete at the same time. He works hard with the kids but they need a teacher who doesn’t have so many other responsibilities. I hate to think that they will continue to get further and further behind. It also makes teaching English a bit more difficult when I have such huge differences between the students. If anyone has any suggestions on how to balance the different competences or how to help the students pick up reading and writing faster, please let me know.

But overall, I absolutely love my school. I’m finally starting to feel like I am accepted and respected by everyone and it’s only been three weeks. There’s such a laid back atmosphere that drives me crazy some days and other days is exactly the kind of work environment I need. Of course there have been moments when it’s been challenging here. Being so far away from family and friends is hard no matter how much you love your new home. There are some days when I really just want to have a heart to heart in English but since my site doesn’t have cell phone coverage and I have limited time on the internet, it’s been a bit tough to accomplish that. Last weekend, my parents finally figured out Skype and we were able to have a long chat. If anyone else has Skype, send me a note and we can set up a Skype date to chat the next time I can steal the computer room to myself for a few hours.

I miss you all back home a lot and I can’t wait till you all start to visit! My community is always asking about my family and friends back home and I know they will be as welcoming to you as they are to me. (Prepare to gain at least 10 pounds)

Till the next post, take care!

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