Whoa. I’m sitting here at the Plaza de las Americas waiting for Eileen to finish her workout at the gym, and about 20 candidates for Miss Ecuador just walked right by me on the way to the gym.
So this morning, after having assured me no less than four times that we would not unify the two morning Basic 3A classes at SECAP, the director of my SECAP interrupted my class to say that we would unify the two morning Basic 3A classes. The inefficiency, ineptitude, and idiocy of the SECAP administration is alarming. Twenty students showed up this morning, expecting a section of Basic 1B. But their teacher, Preeti, was at the other SECAP meeting with the directors of both SECAPs and 15 students who petitioned to have 3A at the north SECAP. Were the 20 Basic 1B students ever informed that class would in fact start tomorrow? No. Was the guard informed? No. Perhaps a secretary or a janitor? No.
Nevermind that it’s easier to divide a class of 15 students among four other 3A classes than it is to unify two classes of 20 students. Nevermind that we’re already three days into 3A and that I’ll have to repeat the last three days of instruction with my new students tomorrow. Nevermind that two weeks ago, we presented SECAP with our preferred schedule of classes and that I’ve met with my director three times since then to encourage his initiating our preferred schedule. Nevermind that because of said meetings, I’ve assured my morning students time and time again that we would not be unifying two classes of 20 students to create a class of 40. Nevermind that the students who petitioned to have a 3A class at the north SECAP are a mere 12 minute trole ride away from my SECAP. Nevermind that most of my students come from the south and that they live about an hour away from my SECAP.
In fact, nevermind logic altogether. What a stupid way to run a school.
Clearly, this little note makes no sense. Suffice it to say that I’m really pissed at the morons who run SECAP right now.
So. A student of mine, Natalia, has been wanting me to go to her sons’ high school and observe classes and help them improve their methodology. From the get go, she has been thoroughly impressed by my teaching style, which is more a comment on the failings of Ecuadorian methodology than it is a comment on my teaching expertise. Multiple people have told me that the methodology here is severely lacking. Class sizes are usually between 30 and 40 students. Each class is 40 minutes long. School starts at 7:00 and ends at 1:00 or 1:30. And the teachers pretty much just lecture.
In any case, I’ve been wanting to observe an Ecuadorian high school also, so Natalia and I kind of mutually asked each other if it would be okay if she set up an observation for me. Back in January, she wrote a letter or two to the powers-that-be at her sons’ school and then last week she informed me that we had clearance. Today, Tuesday the 22nd, we would go to the school and observe a class.
So we went. We got there a little late, as per usual, and it turned out that we were sitting in on an English department meeting to present our case. What case? you might ask. Good question. I had no idea, really. I turns out that the school had lost one of the letters Natalia sent. In fact, they had lost it twice (she sent a second copy after they lost the first one). So the English department only knew that a parent of one of their students was coming to talk to them about some North American teacher.
I was hoping Natalia would do all the speaking for me. But no. Before a very formal-looking crowd of 12 teachers, Natalia turned to me and said (in Spanish), “do you want to present them with what you’d like to do here?” The thing is, Natalia pretty much wants me to revolutionize the teaching methodology of these teachers. I really just want to observe Ecuadorian adolescents and, secondarily, the teaching methodology that I’ve heard so much about. I told them I simply wanted to observe some classes and that maybe we could try to share some ideas about instruction, etc.
(A brief aside. My students back home sometimes laugh at the fact that on, say, an in-class essay, they’ve “totally BS-ed” and they still got a good grade. Or they’ll express frustration with having to BS. I always tell them, “yeah, but the ability to BS is a good skill to have; you’ll use it on a regular basis in life.”)
I then launched into a big pile of BS about how it has always benefited me to share ideas with my colleagues, etc. blah, blah, blah. I wanted to say that I was flexible with however we decided to arrange things, but even though I can think of how to express that sentiment in Spanish right now, for some reason, at the time, I wasn’t confident that “flexible” in Spanish is “flexible,” albeit pronounced a little differently. I then told them that if they wanted to come to my classes at SECAP to observe, they could. Whoa. That got a reaction. They seemed pretty offended, actually (which is exactly how teachers back home would have acted, I think). But then we got to the business of scheduling some specific classes and they pretty much literally fell over each other trying to get me to come see their classes. I couldn’t figure it out.
So that was that. I didn’t see anything, but I committed myself to going to the school for two hours next Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. A little more than I bargained for. And I’m not sure, but I may have given them the impression that I was going to be a regular teaching consultant and that I might even teach some classes there. Geez. I don’t really know what even happened. I’m gonna have to slowly backstep out of this one next week.
Well, it’s been a while. Sorry. This last week was pretty uneventful. Eileen has parasites. It hasn’t been too bad. In fact, of the possible gastrointestinal disturbances you can get, parasites can be pretty tolerable. She gets some stomach discomfort after eating (after feeding the little guys), but she hasn’t had major pain, and no vomiting, praise the lord.
I chipped a tooth yesterday. Was eating a little toasted corn thingy and my tongue discovered a little irregularity back by one of my molars. I thought it was a piece of the corn shell stuck back there somehow, but, it was actually a broken tooth. So, I’ll soon discover what Ecuadorian dentristry is like. Yay!
We’ve been missing our dog.
I could make this story as long and drawn out as our hike up to Guagua Pichincha, but I’ll try to keep it short. Last week, Eileen and I met this woman named Judy, who started up a foundation called Kallari. She has been in Ecuador for 8 years. Kallari sells arts and crafts to American shops, nature centers, zoos, etc. directly from indigenous communities in the Amazon. They also have a café in Quito, where they sell crafts and food. Anyhow, there will probably be more to tell about Judy and Kallari at a later time; after telling us about her experiences in starting up Kallari and in dealing with US AID and other such internationally-minded organizations, Judy invited us to hike up Guagua (pronounced wa-wa) Pichincha. The plan: we’d leave town around 8:30 on Saturday morning. We’d catch a bus and then hitch a ride on a pick-up truck to a town called Lloa (yoa), and then we’d begin a 4-5 hour hike up to the “refugio,” a concrete building close to the summit of Pichincha manned by a park ranger. There, they have beds, a bathroom, a stove, and a fireplace. We’d spend the night, and then hike back down on Sunday. We’d be home by 12:00 or 1:00 on Sunday.
For me, the trip was appealing for a few reasons. One, it would be nice to get in a good hike. Two, Judy knows what she’s doing more so than any of us WorldTeachers, and it would be a good opportunity to tag along with someone more knowledgeable. Three, Judy and I had talked about attempting to write an article about her experiences and trying to get it published in a US magazine, and the hike would give us an opportunity to talk some more about it.
I departed on Sat. morning, having somewhat stressfully come to the conclusion with Eileen that she probably shouldn’t do a five-hour uphill hike. We had some minor snafus with the busses, but we got to Lloa just fine, and started the hike around noon. It was a pretty gray day, kinda foggy, and therefore lacking the view we might otherwise have. The first couple of hours were pretty uneventful. The landscape was still very pretty; it reminded me of Ireland – hilly, foggy, wet, and full of plush grass and livestock. I think around two or so, it started raining again. I got out my umbrella and draped my raincoat over my backpack. We continued on. There was a British woman named Maria hiking with us; she was not in great hiking shape, but her sense of humor and her attitude were impressive. Judy ended up carrying Maria’s backpack for most of the hike (in addition to her own), and she also slowed down and walked with Maria. The rest of us – Andy, another WorldTeacher; Jan, a middle-aged doctor from the states; Gabi, and mid-twenties Ecuadorian who directs a volunteer organization; and I – walked ahead. At about 5:00 and then again at 5:30, we started wondering where the refugio was. We had one false alarm; there was a small building that from a distance we kept hoping would be the refugio. And then shortly after being disappointed by our discovery that we hadn’t yet reached the refugio, we saw it up the hill a ways. We had been walking for 6 hours uphill; Andy, Gabi, and I arrived around 6:00. And here’s where things get bad. There was no park ranger in the building, and the kitchen and bathroom were locked. There was a little bit of standing water near the fireplace.
I dropped off my bag and went back down the trail to check on Maria, whose heart rate 2 hours into the hike had been 160 (our gym workout equipment starts to beep at you if you get above 160). I got to Judy and Maria, told Judy about the absent ranger, and walked with Maria as Judy sped ahead. I was hoping she’d be angry enough to break the locks by the time we got there.
Maria and I arrived at about 6:45, just as it was getting dark. Judy and I found a wood palette which we broke up for firewood. Andy worked on getting a fire started, but since the fireplace was wet, he had to restart it several times. It was frustrating. We lit candles and dispersed them throughout the refugio. The fireplace proved to have more problems than water; most of the smoke was coming straight out into the room.
We ate some tuna sandwiches for dinner and then filled a pot (Judy had brought one) with water and got it boiling on the fire. It was a precarious set up. We had to occasionally rotate the wooden platform upon which the pot was resting since it started burning multiple times. We ate some ramen noodles and squeezed in close to the fire. The rain had made most things slightly damp. Luckily, everything in my backpack was dry, but other people had to sleep in damp sleeping bags even.
The worst part of the night was the increasing quantity of smoke entering the room. I went to bed around 9:30, but I woke up several times feeling like I couldn’t breathe. Maria threw up about four times, blaming the smoke. I probably got a total of three or four hours of sleep. I woke up at 6:30 and got out of bed, thankful that the night was over. The ranger showed up at 7:30.
We hiked up close to the summit and looked down into the volcanic crater of Guagua Pichincha. Most of the photos I got were from the 30 minutes or so I was up there. It was a pretty impressive view. Guagua Pichincha is at about 15,000 feet, higher than any of the Colorado peaks, I think.
We left the refugio at about 10 or 10:30. The hike down was quick. In the first half hour, we covered what had taken us an hour and 20 minutes the previous day. We stopped briefly, snacked on some peanuts and raisins, and then saw a pick-up truck coming down the road.we caught a ride with it to Lloa. We probably shaved off at least an hour and a half in hiking time. I got home around 1:30.