30 May

Off to Peru

Contact unpredictable for next few days. We leave this afternoon and get back on Saturday the 4th. Will try to give some updates. Expect pictures next Sunday or Monday.

29 May


the courtyard at the orphanage

For the past six weeks or so, I’ve been teaching a basic English class at an orphanage called San Vicente de Paul. The picture above is of the courtyard at the orphanage, as the helpful caption tells you. The class is an hour and a half. We’re trying to implement a sustainable English program at the orphanage; in its initial stages, it is for adults, not the actual orphans.

My friend Bill and I have been teaching the classes. Yesterday, I was supposed to teach, but on Friday night, I got a text message saying that there were no classes due to the holiday. I’m ashamed to say, I was thrilled. We had just watched “Sideways” finally, and it kept us up late. I checked the phone at midnight as I was heading to bed, dreading having to wake up in seven hours, and then plan for and teach a class. Then I read the message: “no hay clases mañana por el feriado.”

Woo hoo.

28 May

Crumpled Newspapers

crumpled paper

Eileen�s parents were kind enough to put together a little care package for us in the form of an extra suitcase sent along with Eileen�s friend Joni. It was packed with clif bars, vitamin water, xbox magazines (bathroom reading), livestrong bracelets (gifts for my students), a couple of birthday presents for me (I made a list for those of you who want to get me a little something), and a bunch of newspapers for padding. It was like Christmas morning, opening up the suitcase. Today, we just finished packing it up with things we don�t need for the next couple of months. We�re a little worried that it�s going to be hard to get everything home in July.

Yesterday, I read several of the crumpled Madison newspapers. And I got a little foreshadowing of how a complete understanding of the language I�m living in will be annoying. Right now, I�m comfortably ignorant of the daily idiocy that appears in local newspapers.

I was first lured in by a headline that read, �Lure of CDs snared terror fugitive.� About a third of the way through the piece, I read, �They burn and break in by night, melt into the mainstream by day. They work alone or in tiny cells motivated not by profit but by passion. The Animal Liberation Front . . .� Wait. What? The Animal Liberation Front? Tell me something. Prior to September 11th, would The Cap Times have used the same ridiculous rhetoric in their headline? Terror, huh?

Good grief.

I decided to move on to some local education issues. The first thing to catch my eye was a very compelling headline from the May 16th Cap Times: �Be yourself, graduates told.� That�s front page news? A clich�d, ho-hum commencement speech? No need to read that article.

I uncrumpled a �Metro� section which had an article written by a friend of mine, Lee Sensenbrenner, about the school referendums. I�ve been out of the loop on the issue, so I read it. Unfortunately, the names I read there brought back my worst memories of my teaching career — the career I�m returning to.

I turned to the Lifestyle section next. It had an article entitled �Why we need good English.� I figured maybe the piece would make me feel more appreciated, so I read on. Ironically, the writing was at about 6th-grade level. And it quoted Barbara Coonradt, of Albany, N.Y., who said, �When people speak or write improperly, I immediately view them as not very intelligent. While I realize that my perception may be incorrect, it�s hard for me to forgive the misuse of English when proper usage is something most people can learn easily.�

Barbara, listen to me. I�ve spent the past year trying to teach people how to speak any form of intelligible English. And prior to that, I spent five years trying to teach people some things about �proper English usage.� It�s NOT easy to learn. Have you ever been to a country where you didn�t speak the language, Barbara? How many languages do you speak other than English? If someone had grown up in a culture where �proper English� was not the language, would you still contend that �proper English� is easy to learn? (I�m not just talking about foreign-born people.)

Barbara, I know the difference between lie and lay. I know the difference between effect and affect. I know that in the sentence, �It is I,� I is the predicate nominative and thus should be in the subjective case. Barbara, I�m sure I could kick your proper usage ass in a grammar bee. And I�m telling you as a teacher of English that it is not an easy thing to master.

Good Lord. What�s really scary is that there�s a 90% chance that this idiotic article got posted on the bulletin board in the English department at West.

No wonder I never read the local newspapers.

The real �terror fugitive� in all this is the career I�m going back to. I�m terrorized by the thought of returning to the likes of Joan Knoebel and people like Barbara Coonradt. I console myself with the knowledge that Madison is not a town full of idiots, and that there�s lots to love.

25 May

Time and the Dwarves

I’ve been reading Mirror, Mirror, which is Gregory Maguire’s retelling of Snow White. (He’s the guy who wrote Wicked, the retelling of the Wizard of Oz.) In his rendition, Maguire tells of Snow White (Bianca de Nevada) arriving at the cave where the dwarves live and then sleeping for years from her exhaustion. When she awakes, she eventually gets around to asking how long she’s been there.

“You’ve been here long enough to grow, I suppose,” he said without interest.
“I’m here four years, or five, certainly. Or six?”
“I don’t know.”
“And what have you been doing in all those years?”
“Waiting. Waiting for you to wake up.”
“Standing here around me? For years? What did you do all that time?”
“To the extent we are capable,” he said with a slight grin, “we were thinking.”
“What do you think, then?” she demanded of him.
He considered. “Slow thoughts.”

Now I’m not saying I want to be a dwarf, but there’s something enviable about this outlook on time. In the story, the dwarves are old. Older than the trees. They can afford to sit around like stones, observing and thinking their slow thoughts.

At end-service last weekend, one of the questions we were to ponder was what surprised us most about living in Ecuador. Somebody answered, “how long and short a year is.” It’s a sentiment we can definitely relate to. Right now, we’re a little homesick, looking forward to going back in a couple of months. But we know how quickly those two months will go.

Increasingly for me, time seems to go faster and faster. I can already see how my life will go by before I can do everything I want to do with it. There are so many possibilities, and where as ten years ago, it also seemed like I had a world of possibility, that world was more finite. I thought I would find something I loved and stick with it. Now I know there are many things to love and many things to learn. There’s not enough time.

And since this is the case; since we’re humans with short lives rather than dwarves, there’s a sense of urgency to everything.

Later in the story, Snow White tells one of the dwarves she wants to return home.

“You are bitten with the usual human rage of wanting,” replied the dwarf, munching on a bone that looked unsettlingly like a human digit.
“Nonetheless,” she said, “I am human, or used to be, and I don’t see any shame in it. I want to see the place I come from.”
“Don’t we give you all that you need?”
“I have clothes, I have a book of devotions to read and a small Spanish guitar to play. I have food . . . [but] I want to see [my home].”
“Aren’t you happy here?” asked the dwarf, a bit morosely. And then more slyly, “Were you ever happy there?”
“I was something there,” she said. “Aware of something sad, but real. Living on the forward edge of any ordinary day. Things happened. I don’t know how to answer your question about happiness. Happiness doesn’t signify.”

We humans have trouble waiting it out. Last July, our mind was on Ecuador. Now, our mind’s on this coming July.

In our rush to live life, do we avoid living it?

24 May


First Communion

So a couple of weeks ago, our landlords invited us to their son, David’s, first communion. Actually, David invited us when I wasn’t home. Eileen told me about it, and then an hour later or so, David returned to our apartment to ask us if we would be his godparents. I said sure with a non-chalance that could only be possible with a lack of comprehension, which was the case at first. As David was leaving, I realized that he had asked us to be godparents. Whoa!

We went with them to the “rehearsal,” which was unusually similar to the actual thing, including a first communion. The above photo is from the rehearsal. Unfortunately, the actual first communion (technically the second) was this past Saturday, so we couldn’t make it.

We’re a little apprehensive about what being a godparent entails, but our landlords are not very religious or traditional, so I don’t think they’ll be angry if our godparentage only entails keeping in touch.