Monday, March 14, 2011

Wow. It's been almost a month since I last posted anything here. It's not that I haven't done anything interesting, but rather that we are settling in and life is much more of a routine. Saturday go to the market for tuna, vegetables, and fruit. Sunday go to church. Monday through Friday do pretty much the same routine from week to week.

One note of interest is that our lawyer submitted our application for a permanent visa, with all the necessary paperwork, last Thursday, and she was told to check back with them in a month, as they expected that it would be ready by that time. I hope that it is, as that is a pre-requisite to being able to bring down our household goods without having to pay any duty on them.

People here have told me that it is unseasonably cold right now. Given that we are about three degrees south of the equator, the sun is almost perfectly straight overhead at noon right now. Then as the year progresses it will move on north, such that by June 21 it will be about 26 degrees north of vertical at noon. It will then reverse this course and pass back straight overhead about the first week in October en route to the winter solstice when it will be about 20 degrees south of straight overhead.

In this discussion I have used the reference of the northern hemisphere, even though we are technically in the southern hemisphere, as that is what is familiar to most of my readers. It is also worth noting that if you live north of the Tropic of Capricorn, which is 23 degrees north latitude, you will never see the sun straight overhead at noon. It is always offset somewhat to the south, even on the first day of summer.

It is also worth noting that on the equator the length of the day never changes. It is always twelve hours with the sun up and twelve with it down. Here it actually does vary slightly, but it is on the order of twenty minutes difference between the longest and shortest days of the year. So there is no reason to mess around with Daylight Savings Time, and they don't. So nyah-nyah-nyah to all you folks who have to set your clocks forward and backward each spring and fall, and who did so just this last weekend.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I just returned from the large open market, plus a quick trip to the local "tienda" for a few things that I couldn't bring from the market. Total I spent $19.95, and the total weight of all my purchases was 50 lb. 3 oz.

The itemized list is as follows:

A pound of fresh tuna - $2.50
A large round squash - $2.00
A large bag of carrots - $1.00
25+ bananas - $1.00
4 pounds of grapes - $4.00
4 large turnips - $0.50
one bunch of swiss chard - $0.25
two pounds of fresh green beans - $1.00
two pounds of fresh shelled beans, - $2.00
A small watermelon, 9 lb. - $2.50
A large pineapple, 5.25 lb. - $1.00
A dozen eggs - $1.20
Four large avocados, 2.75 lb. - $1.00

Here is a picture of most of this, except for the tuna and the eggs. The watermelon is in the middle, while the squash is at the back left. The shelled beans are in the sack in the middle, between the carrots and the green beans. The chard is in the plastic tub that Susan is holding, as she had already stripped it from the stems before I thought to take the picture.

The tuna is brought up fresh from the coast on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so I always pick up a pound fresh for our Sunday dinner. Most of the rest of this is local produce, except the grapes which come from Chile. As this picture should indicate, we eat well, with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Retired again, or at least unemployed

Well, I am no longer teaching at the Escuela Madrid. I told them last week, after 3-4 days of teaching, that it was evident to me that I was wearing down, and that they should look for another English teacher. I would not leave them in the lurch, but I didn't think I could keep up the pace for three months, especially with the other things that I need to take care of.

So, on Friday I saw Alexa (who first took me out there) and her husband in the office when I arrived at the school. They came out of the office a moment later, and she told me that she would be taking over as English teacher, but wanted to go with me to each of my classes that day to meet them and see how it went.

Of course, in the first class I was planning to give a test, but a little over half the class was out for a soccer match, which pretty well blew away any idea of giving a test, or of starting on a new section in the book. So instead I improvised, asking the class if they knew what the English word "ant" meant, and then telling them about my experience with the ants on Monday morning. I also told them that that was my last day to teach, and that Alexa would be taking over on Monday.

The other classes went more according to plan, except the seventh graders, which were involved in a different project, and we just had to skip. I did volunteer to come back as a substitute for a day or two if Alexa had a conflict, or was otherwise unable to be there. I really do enjoy teaching the students, but every day was too much.

On another note, one day during break I saw the boys playing a soccer variant that I had never seen before. They have a very small field, about 18 yards long, cut into the hillside so that both goals have a good backstop. The goals themselves are about 9 feet wide by 6 feet high, and the fronts of the goals are about 16 yards apart (as I paced them off). There is a line drawn on the ground halfway in between, or 8 yards from each goal, and two players stay on their half of the field, meaning they are not allowed to cross the center stripe.

The one in front tries to get in position and kick the ball into the opposing goal, without losing control of the ball and letting it roll across the center line, while the other one hangs back in the goalie position to try to block any shots that come his way. The first score that I saw here came when one of the players gave a powerful kick, which the front player across the line blocked such that it bounced directly into the goal behind the player who kicked it.

When a goal is scored, the team that was scored against sits down and a waiting team rotates in. And if I understood right, it is also the duty of the last team to rotate out to chase the ball should it head off down the hill, which is not uncommon.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Updates on school and ants

I have now completed three days of teaching, and I have yet to meet with all five classes in a single day. Although tomorrow looks likely to change that string. The kids are wonderful, and I enjoy my time in the classroom, but I really don't enjoy the chunk that this cuts out of each day.

One interesting aspect is that they are giving me a ride home in a school bus (minivan) along with a bunch of the students. Rank hath its privileges, so at least I get to ride in the front seat. As a consequence, I have seen parts of Cuenca that I had not seen before. Although it is not surprising, there are places in Cuenca that I would not be willing to live. I have not taken any pictures of them yet, but they are there.

On another note, when I got up yesterday morning and went in the kitchen, I noticed what at first glance appeared to be a streak of dirt on the floor about an inch wide. As I looked more closely, I realized that it was moving, and that realization was quickly followed by recognition: ANTS

They are tiny, not much more than 3 mm long, and perhaps half a mm wide, but there were thousands, TENS of thousands of them. They had formed three highways, two minor ones, perhaps 4-6 lanes wide, that followed the baseboard along the edges of the living room, and the multi-lane interstate that cut right through the middle. They weren't actually following lanes, but if they had been, I would guess that the one through the middle would have been at least 12 lanes wide. The source was outside the front door in the dirt, and the destination was our trash can in the kitchen. The can was touching the wall, and the combined highways met and traveled up the wall and into the trash. The total distance from their apparent den to our trash was about 25 feet by the shortest path.

I quickly realized that routine tactics were pointless, so I went next door and borrowed their vacuum cleaner. Not worrying about occasional wanderers, I plugged it in and started on the superhighway, followed by the smaller tracks along the walls. I then moved the trash can and sucked up all the ants on the wall and sealed up the garbage sack and took it out for disposal. I then came back and used the vacuum again to mop up the backup squad that hadn't heard that the party was over.

We still have a dozen or two ants roaming our kitchen at any given time, but the trash is no longer an attraction to them, or at least not an accessible one. We are careful not to leave it touching the wall, and apparently the plastic trash can is difficult to climb, to say nothing of the plastic bag that lines the inside. I have read that most small ants like this that infest homes on occasion seek either sugar or protein. Given that these were apparently after our left-over chicken scraps, plus the fact that occasional small bits of sugar don't appear to interest them greatly, I assume that these crave protein. They do not sting, but still, finding masses of them in our kitchen was a shock. We will be more careful hereafter with our scraps.

Given the shock of the moment, I did not take any pictures, and I hope that I don't have any occasion hereafter to do so. So I hope that my verbal description will take the place of pictures this time.

Friday, February 4, 2011

First day of school

I'm sure glad that I started teaching on a Friday. It gives me the weekend to recuperate from my first day, which wasn't all that bad. Mostly I am tired because I didn't sleep well last night, in anticipation. I got to Escuela Madrid a little early, and was pointed to my first class, which were the fifth graders. Other than one girl who had lived for a while in Canada, their English was not very strong, but that is not surprising.

I began by introducing myself and telling them a little about me. Then I took pictures of each of them, in groups of three or so, with their names written on the white board so I could begin to try to learn their names. Here are four of the kids from the fifth grade.Then I went to the seventh grade and went through the same routine. Here are three of the boys from that class.And finally I went to the ninth grade, and here are three of the girls from that class.

Normally I will be teaching two other classes as well, but today they were gone on a field trip, so this is where my first day ended. I also picked up textbooks and teacher manuals for each of these classes, but not for those that I did not meet, so I have plenty to keep me busy this weekend. However, I think I am going to enjoy this.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Back, due to reader demand

It has been too long (again) since I last posted. But I have faithful readers who have suggested that it is time to post again, so here goes.

The latest news I will put first. We'll see if I get to any more. I am employed again. The pay is trivial, but I will be teaching English part-time at a private, bi-lingual school in the outskirts of Cuenca. I learned about the need on Wednesday morning, when the mother of one of Susan's piano students arrived and asked me to please consider helping out. Apparently the English teacher at the school, or at least the one who taught the older students, had left without prior notice, and they were without a teacher.

She took me out to the school in a taxi and introduced me to the principal and a few of the teachers, as well as a couple of the classes that were currently teacherless. I was very favorably impressed, both by the location of the school [with a stunning view of Cuenca], and the students themselves. They appear to be friendly and eager to learn, and are well-behaved.

This is a view of the school. It is configured as small pods built into the hillside, and includes a couple of small playing fields for soccer and such. Just going up and down the stairs will help keep me in shape.

Susan and I went back today to make sure that I knew the way and could find the school, since I will be traveling there and back by city bus. It takes almost an hour to get there, depending on the connections and how long I have to wait, although they have promised me that most days I can get a ride home in the school bus, which should be somewhat faster.

I will try to post again after I actually start teaching. Tomorrow is my first day.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Too much to cover

It has been too long since I last posted, and there is no way I will cover everything, so I won't even try. Instead, I will talk about a few specific things that I find interesting.

First, when I was out at the Mall del Rio several days ago, I saw the setup in the picture below. It consisted of a wading pool perhaps 12'x20', with about a foot of water in it, and two large inflatable balls of clear plastic. The balls are ~5' in diameter, with a zip-lock kind of opening perhaps 30" long. They would open the seal, let a kid climb in, zip it almost closed, and then stick in the exhaust of a vacuum cleaner and inflate the ball with the kid inside. When inflated, they would finish closing the seal and then the kid would have 3-5 minutes to run, stand up, fall, and otherwise play. Watching them, it was evident that they were getting intense exercise and having a blast. I don't know if such would be allowed in the US. I can think of half a dozen or more issues that might get them shut down, but it looked like a blast.

It was obviously very difficult to maintain your footing inside, but that was part of the fun, as it also looked like it would be very difficult to hurt yourself when falling. And given that it was apparently limited to kids less than 4 feet tall, who can generally fall with impunity anyway, it looked safe to me.
Then yesterday I got invited to go out to a piece of land that is on the market to see if the water looked usable. When we got there, it was socked in with fog, and my GPS showed that it was at about 11,200 feet of elevation. The guy who currently owns the land took me down into a gully to show me where the spring water first surfaces, and then on down to where we hit the road again. He said the forest in the picture was primary forest, and had never been cut. I could feel the organic debris under my feet was probably several feet thick.
He also has a garden, where he raises potatoes and radishes, among other things. He told me that these radishes had been planted as seeds only 28 days earlier.
When I got back, I was hungry, so I went to a place a few blocks away where I had seen a sign advertising roasted chicken. The two skewers on the grill are mine, along with a couple of the potatoes and some mote [it would be posole in New Mexico, or hominy in other places]. Anyhow, the coals had died down some, so the woman preparing my chicken grabbed a blow-dryer to fan the coals and generate more heat. I thought that was very creative. Everything together cost me $3. Next time I will just get one skewer, as I really ate more than I should have.