22 Jun



Silvia joined my class back in February as part of the Preeti Wedding Migration. For those who don’t know, one of the other SECAP teachers, named Preeti, went to New York and Nepal and maybe some other countries — I don’t remember — for her wedding. Yes. Her wedding. She got married, had a honeymoon and returned to Ecuador. But she missed a month of teaching, and so during her month gone, her students joined up with me and Westra.

So Silvia joined my class then, along with about nine others from Preeti’s classes. After Preeti returned, the Great Shift happened. The Great Shift was when Westra and I united classes despite our original plan of just keeping Preeti’s students. See previous posts.

Anyhow. Most of Preeti’s students went back to Preeti days after the Great Shift. Silvia was one of them. But a month later she returned to class. I didn’t inquire why. Preeti said she was close to failing, which I can understand given her habit of arriving really late on a regular basis, but she does fine in class, has the ganas, etc.

She’s actually a lot of fun. She and I tease each other almost once a day. She loves getting me to blush and then saying (in Spanish), why are you blushing? She’s also really open about being attracted to me, which is unlike women in the states. It’s not that she flirts and is trying to win me over; in fact, it’s more of a “too bad you’re already taken” sort of thing. For example, when she heard my brother was coming to visit, she kept nagging me to bring him to class. I think she even said once, “is your brother as good-looking as you?”

Unfortunately, she couldn’t make it to the park on the one day when I was able to drag Will along to a class-related outing.

I’m posting Silvia today, because it’s her birthday. According to her, she was born in 2000.

Me and Silvia

22 Jun

First, some business

The House is threatening to slash funding for NPR and PBS. Go to the link below and sign. It takes about 30 seconds.

Below is an excerpt moveon.org:

Sign the petition telling Congress to save NPR and PBS:


The House of Representatives is about to vote on whether to slash funding for NPR and PBS, starting with “Sesame Street,” “Reading Rainbow” and other commercial-free children’s shows. If approved, this would be the most severe cut in the history of public broadcasting, threatening to pull the plug on Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch.

The cuts would eliminate more than $200 million for NPR, PBS and local stations immediately, with more cuts likely in the future. The loss could kill beloved children’s shows like “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” “Arthur,” and “Postcards from Buster.” Rural stations and those serving low-income communities might not survive. Other stations would have to increase corporate sponsorships.

The House will vote on the cuts as soon as Tuesday. Can you help us reach 1 million signatures calling on Congress to save NPR and PBS?

21 Jun



Ivan has been in my class since last October. He was one of the original “civilians,” the four non-police in my morning class. He’s an architect; recently, he has missed a lot of class because of his job. In fact, he missed over half of the last cycle. He’s pretty advanced in his English. His sister, Ana Maria, is also in the class; the two of them usually arrive late together.

Ivan makes the occasional great joke and laughs at himself. He is really gung-ho. Today, I was explaining the big-ass test that will be coming up on the 13th of July; Ivan said, “excellent. I love it!”

He is a very sincere guy. At the end of class, at the end of our post-class conversations, he has a habit of saying to me, “okay, man” and offering his hand, and then saying “see you,” or “nos vemos, no?” In fact, now that I think about it, he also has a habit of saying “chao, no?” Which I’ve kinda picked up.

20 Jun


olga’s apartment

This past Saturday, one of my students, Olga, invited us to her apartment. It’s way the heck in the south of Quito. Took us about an hour to get there. In the picture above, Olga is the one on the left. Her sister Marta was also there. Olga enjoys cooking; she made us a shrimp ceviche (ceviche is the cold soup that is really popular in Ecuador, especially on the coast — it often has seafood), some fried fish, fried shrimp, rice, orange juice, and aji. We started with the ceviche, and when Olga brought out the main course, Eileen’s first thought was that it was for all of us. But then she brought out two more plates.

After lunch, we walked in the backyard a bit. It had grass! And it bordered on a ravine with a river running through it. We then walked to a nearby park. It’s as far south in Quito as we’ve been and it was almost like a different city. Much more residential, not a lot of tall buildings, hardly any gringos at all.

Olga is in my night class and she’s the only one who arrives on time every day. She’s very dedicated even though sh’e told me that there’s no pressing reason for her to learn English. Her sister is a high school English teacher, so she can practice with her every once in a while. I haven’t had Olga in class all year. She began with Westra, but then when we made the Great Switch back in February, I gained Olga as one of my students.

On Saturday, she was telling us about how when she was in college, she had to take a year of English. Well, one day she got there and they were taking a test. She arrived late and had missed the directions. She worked on it for a while and finished, but then found an “answer sheet” which she hadn’t been aware of. She happened to be sitting next to a friend who knew English very well, so she copied her friend’s answer sheet . She ended up with 48/50.

It’s funny, cuz Olga would be one of the last ones to cheat in my class.

During our lunch at her place, we were talking about Colombians. They have bad reputation in Ecuador, and I have a tendency to blow off people’s complaints as prejudiced talk. But Marta actually said, “you can’t generalize everybody, but.” That one concession made me listen to them a little more. They were explaining that if you were invited to someone’s house in Colombia, they would have a motive. It wouldn’t just be to be nice and generous. It would be cuz they want something from you.

I thought, “hmm. That’s pretty much how things work in the states for the most part. It’s important to ‘return the favor.’ People are seldom nice just because.” They went on to explain that if you need something taken to the states by a visiting Ecuadorian who lives there, he’ll take it even if he has to pay the extra cost. If you need something taken to Spain by a visiting Spainiard, however, they’ll charge you the extra fee.

I don’t know. But maybe Ecuadorians are just aware that they’re nicer than most people in the world.

19 Jun


On Friday night, I had three students in class. They were all really motivated students who didn’t seem bored, but the class was relatively empty. I spent a lot of time pacing around the room, making sure I was available for questions. And when I walked from the front of the room toward the back, I could see my clear reflection in the window overlooking the courtyard. For most of my night class, it’s dark outside, which means that with the lights on in the classroom, what you see when you look at the windows is yourself in the classroom, looking at the windows.

Friday night was no exception. I saw myself looking back at myself in the window. The only difference was that at certain angles, the room seemed entirely empty. And I could imagine that I was looking at a ghost, pacing up and down the aisles in an barren classroom.

Chances are good that one month from now, on July 19th, I’ll spend my last day in SECAP ever. I’ll be a ghost, a memory — a part of my spirit left in this experience that will forever be a part of me.

There’s been a trade, you see. I’ve left a part of myself here; and I’ve gained a new facet of myself.

I’m looking forward to coming home. In fact, Eileen and I have been anticipating it with excitement, talking to each other about the comfort and familiarity that awaits us when we return and we get to sit on grass in our yard or pet the dog or drink tap water. But I don’t want thoughts of home to overshadow the next month I’ve got here.

It helps me to think of the end well before the end, to imagine the goodbyes and what I’ll miss and where I’ve traded parts of my spirit with new parts. I don’t plan on spending the next month writing nostalgic, pseudo-poetic journal entries to post on my blog. It’s just that if I can see the ghosts now, I’ll maybe live here for the next month instead of back in Wisconsin.

I’m anticipating going around town and taking pictures of all the stuff I don’t normally take pictures of. I’ll have to get pictures of the people I see on a regular basis, like the SECAP guards, the copy lady, the grumpy corner store woman, the internet guy who lets me print off worksheets and doesn’t charge me for computer time, and of course, my students. If someone is reluctant to allow the picture I’ll explain that today is the “ultima dia de mi vida.” If they look shocked, I’ll explain that it’s the last day of my life in Ecuador. And if they press me, I’ll admit that it’s not quite the last day, but that it’s coming up.

I’ll do my best to live here for the next 30 days.

On Friday, in my near-empty classroom, as I walked toward the window, my reflection grew stronger and more defined each time I passed under the overhead florescent lights. When I got closer to the window, further from the overhead lights, my reflection began to fade a little. And when I got right up to the window so that my nose was practically touching it, my face disappeared altogether. All I could see was the mountainside of Pichincha, peppered with lights. That’s got to be a metaphor for something.