Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The little things

About a week ago today, I was abruptly awoken to an extremely loud clap of thunder, followed by an obnoxious car alarm that must have been set-off as a result. I guess Hurricane Irene wanted to be the first to say good-morning. I made my way to the kitchen for some breakfast; I could hear people voices and dog noises mixed with the pounding rain outside, so I left my cereal bowl at the counter and went to the door where I found Sarah taking pictures of the commotion outside: Two nuns wrapped in sheets and wearing garbage bags on their heads were searching for mangoes in the pouring rain and flooded yard beneath a fallen down mango tree. Carmello and Luna seemed to be enjoying the scene a little bit more – they were frolicking around in the gigantic rain puddles. It was really sad to see that one of the two big mango trees had been knocked down by the storm – it was part of the monastic community. Anyway, I wanted to help salvage the mangoes (mangoes are my favorite fruit and I like playing in the rain!), but I was too scared to go outside, because I don’t think Luna and I are good enough friends yet. However, she doesn’t bark and growl as much as she used to when she sees me… little steps.

So, Hurricane Irene set off some car-alarms, knocked over a mango tree, flooded the yard, and left the school without electricity or water for almost a week, which meant we could not have classes for almost a week, which meant we stayed inside the Monastery for almost a week...
In just under a week, we were able to work on a lot of necessary lesson-planning, which was a great thing! However, not being able to go outside for that long was also quite difficult. Finally, towards the end of the week, Sarah and I were feeling pretty anxious, so we decided to brave the weather and go on a run. It wasn’t raining when we left the monastery, but it didn’t take long for that to change. As we were running, it started down pouring! It was raining so hard that it was a little bit painful, but refreshing at the same time. I felt the happiest I had felt all week while running through the flooded streets of Humacao…  little moments

We finally returned to school on Friday, well, most of us. I only had six of my eleven students show up. The students were supposed to give presentations in Health class and start a new unit in History/Geography, but with only half the class there, we had a change of plans. So, my class didn’t really resume until Monday. As far as classes are going, the biggest struggles remain the gap between the students’ comprehension levels and the technology. There is a huge range between what some students already know and understand and what other students already know and understand. To get some students caught up, I am hoping to spend a little extra time with them during their homeroom period if possible. As far as technology goes, on Monday I was FINALLY able to project the powerpoint that I had put together for History/Geography class! However, I had three video clips from the historychannel website that I was hoping to play, but apparently the projector does not have sound, so that ended up not working out very well. Nevertheless, being able to project my powerpoint and not having volume is better than not having a functioning projector at all… little improvements

Sunday, August 21, 2011

My blog posts are all over the place, just like my life has been lately, so it's hard to think of an appropriate title!

I was going to work on lesson plans tonight, but school has been canceled Monday for the entire island because of hurricane Irene. So, I will update my blog while listening to the rain outside…

One of the first days here, Sister Rufina brought us with her to meet her family who lives in Maunabo, a town in the mountains about 30 minutes away. When we arrived, we met her brother, Felix, who was on bed rest on the living room, because he has some type of cancer that has now spread throughout his entire body. Most of the family was at his house spending time with him for the last few days of his life.  We didn’t know that he was sick, so I was surprised that Rufina invited us to meet her family at such a tough time. I felt sad for everyone, especially the brothers and sisters of Rufina and the wife of Felix. However, like all of the Puerto Ricans I have met so far, everyone was very open to meeting us and making us comfortable in their home. Later in the week, we got the news that Felix had passed away, so we packed into the van with the sisters and headed up to Maunabo for the wake. All of Rufina’s family was there, including the wife of Felix. When we walked into the room Felix’s wife embraced Sarah and I into a hug filled with so much warmth and emotion that it felt like we had known her our entire lives, definitely not like we had only met her once before. It was very special. Later, Rufina told us that Felix and one of her other brothers hadn’t been talking because of a serious dispute they had many years ago. This was something that was very tough on Rufina - she told us she prayed for them everyday for many years, and the night before Felix passed away, the brothers forgave each other, a relief for the whole family. I was amazed by the strength of the loved ones of Felix, especially the women. It made me think of a story I had heard about consequences:
There once was a farmer who owned a horse. And one day the horse ran away. All the people in the town came to console him because of the loss. “Oh, I don’t know,” said the farmer, “maybe it’s a bad thing and maybe it’s not.”
A few days later, the horse returned to the farm accompanied by 20 other horses. (Apparently he had found some wild horses and made friends!) All the townspeople came to congratulate him: “Now you have a stable full of horses!” “Oh, I don’t know,” said the farmer, “maybe it’s a good thing and maybe it’s not.”
A few days later, the farmer’s son was out riding one of the new horses. The horse got wild and threw him off, breaking the son’s leg. So all the people in town came to console the farmer because of the accident. “Oh, I don’t know,” said the farmer, “maybe it’s a bad thing and maybe it’s not.”
A few days later, the government declared war and instituted a draft of all able-bodied young men. They came to the town and carted off hundreds of young men, except for the farmer’s son who had a broken leg. “Now I know,” said the farmer, “that it was a good thing my horse ran away.”
So the passing of Felix was hard, but it led to forgiveness between brothers and relief for the family. Life happens and most of the time it’s hard to know why things are happening. However, I think throughout the course of life everything falls into place. Sometimes we think we are being punished, but it’s really a time for growth. God gives us difficulties to make us stronger. I am trying to remember this throughout my experiences here in Puerto Rico. Sometimes I get caught up in the stress of teaching or communicating in Spanish, but I know that through both good and bad experiences, I am growing and learning.

Sarah and I have decided that our life (yes, our life – we eat, run, pray, travel, etc. together, haha!) could be a good plot for a reality TV show. Within the last three weeks we have found ourselves in many situations asking, how? How did we get here again and what are we doing?! For example, I never thought that I would be sitting on the patio of a Monastery correcting papers (that I had assigned as homework to my students) on a Saturday afternoon. Later that day, at Felix’s wake, we were asked to play tambourine in the choir. Then, driving home from the wake, we piled back into the van. There was one nun driving, three more as passengers, one choir member, one friend, and two young volunteers, for a total of eight people in a seven-passenger van. We were speeding down the road when all of a sudden a group of people riding horses on the other side of the road appeared in the darkness. We continued to drive quickly down the mountain (not sure what the rush was, usually there is no pressure to get places on time…) and all of a sudden a horse with a cowboy on it appeared in our lane. The driver laid on the horn - a maneuver not recommended around animals that get spooked easily. We ended up broadsiding the horse, and kept driving… yikes.

Last Sunday, the leader of the running team picked us up and drove us back to Maunabo for a 5K race with the running team! It was extremely hot (around 100 degrees) and very humid. There were about 1000 runners at the race and I ended up placing 297th. My time was pretty decent, but I wasn’t very tired or sore when I finished, just hot, so I probably could have run a little harder. At least at the next race I will have a personal time in mind to beat! As you ran across the finish line there was a giant sprinkler and they handed you a medal, water, Gatorade, bananas and apples! I am so thankful for the running team. They are all extremely kind and caring. They have told us multiple times that if we ever need anything at all that we shouldn’t hesitate to let them know. They are also determined people who I can learn a lot from. I was talking to one of the guys about his service in Iraq that led to a severe accident that disabled him from running for two years. Through the  help of the running team he is finally able to run again and feel like his life is back to normal. They are a tight community of people who love, support, and want the best for each other.

I finally caught a lizard – I was in my room and I could hear one of the sisters yelling from the stairs for me to come out. She was saying something and pointing at the little lizard on the stairs that she wanted me to catch. As I made a dive at it, it ran into the living room and I ended up chasing it around while she laughed at me from the stairs. Finally I got it and let it go outside.

School has been going well still. I have now survived two weeks with the thirteen-year-olds. The biggest challenges have been the varying levels of English the students know, the technology, and the textbooks. It is hard not to get frustrated with technology, because I have always had up-to-date computers/projectors/etc. I find myself relying on technology, especially projectors, since that is how I was taught. However, everyday that I have had a powerpoint planned or needed an internet site, the electricity has gone out or the projectors are not compatible with my computer. I am hoping I can eventually find a compatible projector and a good balance of using my computer and using other methods of teaching. The problem with the textbook is that the books that the students were required to buy are a completely different than the one I was given, and their books are in Spanish and mine is in English – it makes it interesting.

I appreciate paperweights more than I ever used to. In the classroom I teach in, one complete wall is covered in windows that are open as often as possible in the hopes of providing a draft to evaporate sweat produced merely from wearing clothes to school. There are also multiple fans in each classroom in order to provide additional airflow so we can breathe in class! (Okay, I am making it sound pretty awful, but it is awfully hot …) That being said, with all the air currents swirling around the room, papers are always flying everywhere, so paperweights are valued. I forgot to mention above that another challenge I have is how noisy the classrooms get. Even when every student is completely silent, I find myself struggling to talk over the loud fans!

This past weekend was a blast! We were invited to go to San Juan with a teacher I work with, so she picked us up from the Monastery and brought us to meet a bunch of her friends. We went to a small hole-in-the-wall bar that was outside. Her friends were all very friendly, and she let us sleep at her house for the night (in order to avoid the 10pm curfew at the Monastery). The next day she drove us to Fajardo, and we caught a ferry to the island of Vieques and went to the beach! It was an absolutely perfect day to spend at the beach. We traded off lying under the palm tree and cooling off in the water, even though it was just as warm as the air. That night we returned to Old San Juan for a friend’s birthday party. We are lucky we decided to come back to the mainland Saturday evening instead of Sunday, because they ended up shutting down the ferry due to the approaching hurricane, leaving a lot of very angry and rioting people stranded on the island for the time being.

I will try to get better at posting smaller, more concise blogs, sorry!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Enseñando y aprendiendo

One of the funniest moments Sarah and I have shared happened the other night at the expensive of the extensive security system mentioned in the first post and myself. I think it is more of a “you had to be there” kind of a moment, but I wanted to mention it anyway. At about 9:10PM, the lovely, computerized, Spanish voice (we need to give her a name still) gave us the one-minute warning announcement, about 50 minutes earlier than planned. We both froze, stared at each other, and then I realized I didn’t have any water, a necessity in Puerto Rico, especially when you are locked in your room for the night! I grabbed my empty water bottle, leaped over the beds, ran through the doors, and bolted into the kitchen to fill it up with filtered water. I could hear the beeping of the motion sensor speeding up, but I couldn’t make the water come out any faster. When the beeping seemed like it was at its max, I stopped filling my bottle and sprinted back to my room. The beeping must have stopped just before I made it to the other side of the sensor, because I think I set the alarm off.  Sister María came down the stairs, and was saying something to us through our doors. At this point, Sarah and I were laughing so hard we could barely make out Sister María’s rapid Spanish, let alone breathe. I think Sister María thought we were absolutely crazy. I finally controlled myself enough to open the door a bit and tell her sorry and that we had everything we needed. We probably continued to laugh about our situation for another 10 minutes straight. HA ha!

Our lifestyle in Puerto Rico is completely opposite from our lifestyle at college. Luckily, Sarah and I share an interest that we are able to practice here, and that helps keeps us sane: running. There is a track about four blocks from the Monastery that we decided to check out last Wednesday. As we were running, we noticed a big group of people slowly gathering on the side of the track, and every time we passed them they cheered us on. When we were done with our run, one of the guys from the group starting talking to us. We learned that the group we saw gathering is a bunch of friends who meet everyday to run together. They train for various races in Puerto Rico throughout the year, and they invited us to join them!  The next day we met them on the track and we did a full workout, something that Sarah and I have not done since being on the CSB track team. It felt really good, it was fun, and we met a lot of great people. So far we’ve been invited to an art show, and will be competing in a 5K race this Sunday with the team!

As far as monastic life goes, it seems that every time we go to prayer or mass, we are able to follow along a little bit better than the last time. We went to mass at church in town on Sunday, and it was gorgeous, but also very hot and hard to understand the priest. On Tuesdays a priest comes to the Monastery and we have mass there. I really enjoyed that, because I was able to understand the complete homily (given in Spanish, of course). It’s easier to understand someone when they are talking in a small room that doesn’t echo.

The heat is unbelievable! I don’t think they even bother changing the 7-day forecast…everyday is listed as an average 85 degrees, 80% humidity and chance of showers (which by the way, when it rains or storms, the humidity stays the exact same!).
On the first day of class, Sarah and I packed our backpacks: computers, textbooks, water bottles, rain jackets, umbrellas, markers, snacks and all. At about 7:20AM, we started walking to Colegio San Benito (CSB), and by the time we arrived, about 10 minutes later, we were soaked with sweat! That will probably be the last time walking to school for us. However, the important part is that we woke up on time, found the school, and made it there in one piece for our first day of teaching… EVER!

The first day was a bit overwhelming, as it should be. I was asked to be a substitute teacher for a seventh grade Physical Education class. Seventh graders talk “muy rapido”… It was hard to understand their questions, but I survived. After substituting, it was time for me to teach my first Health class to 11 eighth graders. I was pretty nervous, especially when they started entering the classroom – Puerto Ricans are much taller than Guatemalans, so height is not something that will be on my side when trying to establish control. I was also unaware of how much English they would understand. That being said, I could not have asked for my first time teaching (ever!) to go any better!

When the lunch bell rang, students exploded into the halls and were off to go eat. My face must have given away the confusion that I was feeling inside, because one of the teachers, Mrs. Piazy, asked if I knew what was going on. When I told her I didn’t even know where the cafeteria was, she took me there and explained how everything works. I was extremely grateful for this. The students and faculty all eat together in the cafeteria, which is nice, but also really hectic! They piled so much food on my tray – I ended up eating a huge portion of rice and beans, two pieces of chicken, vegetables, watermelon, and milk from a bag (another first).

After lunch, it was time for my second class of the day, History and Geography of the Americas. I have the same 11 students for this class that I have for Health class, so I will really be getting to know them. They speak varying amounts of English and have varying knowledge of the geography of the world. One student thought Alaska was Nevada and another thought that Europe was a country in South America… we have some work to do! I think I am most excited for my History/Geography class, because I think I will learn the most from this class as well. It is overwhelming and intimidating right now to think about planning for an entire school year, but I am hoping that after seeing how the first week of classes goes, I will be able to envision how the rest of the year might look.

Monday, August 1, 2011

"Que bonita la vida"

Well Sarah and I have arrived to Puerto Rico, safe and sound (and sweating – its hot!). Sister Mary Ruth and Sister Miriam were waiting at the airport for us. On our way out of San Juan, we got caught in a mini traffic-jam outside the Krispy Kream doughnut shop, but eventually made our way to Longhorns Steakhouse for a very non-traditional dinner. Nonetheless, it was good food and made for a good transition, I suppose.  

This place is beautiful – the Sisters, the Monastary, the school, the church, the teachers, and the backyard (papya mango and banana trees)!  The Sisters were so excited to show us our room, which is incredible. The furniture is very nice, and Sarah and I have cute, matching comforters. We also have a bathroom with warm water for showers (an amenity I did not have living in Guatemala, however I should probably shower more often as a teacher than I did as a student), and a flatscreen TV with satellite (another amenity I’ve never had).

Next we met our pitbull guard dogs named Luna and Carmello. Carmello warmed right up to us, but Luna will take more work… I’ve made it a goal of mine to befriend her.  

“No hay prisa” – There is no rush! We figured that out quickly. For example, mass started at 6pm last night and we got into the car at about that time. The next morning, we were supposed to have a teacher conference starting at 8:15, and we left the Monastary at about… oh, 8:15! The great part is that nobody minds. When we got to the teacher conference, Sister Mary Ruth brought us right up to the front and had us introduce ourselves in Spanish, of course! It was a little intimidating but I kept reminding myself that it is the best way to learn! My name here is “Hana”, because “J” is not pronounced the same way.  I also learned that I will be teaching Health and History/Geography of the Americas to eighth graders. I am still crossing my fingers that I will be receiving textbooks/materials for both of these classes before Monday, because otherwise I don’t really know where to start. I am also hoping to get a girls soccer team going at the school!!

Today we saw a little bit more of Humacao, the city we are living in. I have noticed there are a lot of abandoned and run-down buildings right next to nice, clean houses. It will be interesting to get to know the town better. 

For those worried about our safety here (Mom, Dad…), rest assured that we are quite secure! Sarah and I learned quickly to be in our room by 10pm sharp. At that time, loud beeping fills the monastery hallway and a Spanish voice warns of the motion detector that is being activated – the device detects movement DIRECTLY outside our door, so no leaving that way. As for the windows, I don’t think we will be testing Luna or Carmello’s protective capabilities.

I cannot express how happy I am to have Sarah on this adventure with me! It’s good to have someone I can be completely lost with in chapel (there is only an average of 5 of us in there at a time, 2 of which are Sarah and I…), laugh with when everyone else is laughing and we don’t know why, and to hang onto when the Sisters drive on the wrong side of the road.  But really, I think this journey will be even more meaningful having someone who can completely relate to all of the new experiences to come!

My favorite part of tonight was that Sister María gave Sarah a plastic recorder from a fast food restaurant, because Sarah told her she used to play flute. When we got home from dinner (Pizza Hut), Sarah played “Hot Cross Buns” and I danced to it in the kitchen for the Sisters! J  It’s going to be a good year.