28 Apr

Secap strike

So. My police came back to class yesterday. There were eleven of them, which brought my class total to 27, and my percent of students who don’t understand me to 41%. I made sure to make the class a little more difficult than usual to scare some of them off, and I certainly succeeded. After class, they came up to me and asked what they could do. “We were completely lost,” they said. “Maybe you can give an extra hour-long class every day for the next month in the police station,” they suggested. I think my face betrayed my reluctance. “What are our alternatives?” they asked.

And before I could really answer, they asked me to come to the station to talk to the Major about the options.

Uh. . .

“No, it’s best if you talk to him, Tim.” Ok, but . . . “He’ll listen to you.” Yeah, um . . . “You have time, don’t you?” Uh. . .

And so I went. A summary of the whole situation would be boring. For reasons I don’t understand, the Major wouldn’t allow the group to be divided, meaning I couldn’t just take the four competent students and send the other seven to a lower level. So the question was whether all of them should enter my class and struggle, or if they should enter Westra’s lower level class and be okay. The remaining question was whether or not SECAP would give a certificate of completion to the students who didn’t pass all the levels. Such a question would not be asked at the vast majority of educational institutions in the States – especially by policemen.

(An interesting aside: one of my policemen was showing me all the nifty toys on his policeman’s utility belt – bullet clips, cell phone, baton, toothbrush and toothpaste even – and the only thing missing was the pepper spray, which, he explained, had been stolen at the police station!)

This afternoon, I rushed to get the grades ready to take down to SECAP for a meeting with the director, Ernesto Gonzalez. I would ask him myself whether or not the police could get a certificate of completion having missed a month and failed others. When I arrived, however, the gates were locked, and a sign was posted claiming that classes were “suspended” for the time being. It gave no information about why. The guard wasn’t helpful, and he wouldn’t let me through the gate to talk to the director. In fact, he said the director was gone.

I didn’t leave right away. I hung out and text messaged one of the police and Jess, the WorldTeach director, to try to figure out what was going on. As I was waiting for a response, I saw the SECAP custodian coming toward me. I said hi and asked if any police had come to talk to Ernesto today. Yeah, he said. Is Ernesto gone? I asked. No, he’s in the office.


I half-asked the custodian and half-asked the guard (again) if I could go to the office to talk to Ernesto. This time, he let me through.

I interrupted a card game to ask Ernesto what had come of the meeting with the police. They’ll wait a month and enter Westra’s class, he said.

On my way home, I heard from Jess. At the north SECAP, they were basically staging a coup. They shut down operations and demanded that the national director, Fernando Alban, step down. They said they would then elect one of their own as the national director. It was more or less a miniature version of how Lucio was ousted.

It’s funny. This morning, I was in the bathroom standing at the urinal. I had made the conscious decision not to close the door. I see about five men every day peeing on walls in Quito, so just being at a urinal, I figured I was exceeding the city’s standards. I looked around the bathroom at the dark yellow pool of stagnant water in the toilet that doesn’t flush; the sparse wads of toilet paper in the rusting garbage can; and the thin, ripped and stained carpet.

Recently, they’ve posted signs in all the classrooms that say “Señor participante, ponga la basura en su lugar.” Literally, this means, “put garbage in its place.” It works on so many levels — the trash being the president of the country, the national director of SECAP, failing students, or wads of toilet paper.