Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Comments from the Spelling Bee

Ah, I remember being a kid in elementary school, preparing for the spelling bee. I was a great speller - my classmates always thought I'd be in the spelling bee. We'd have a few rounds in the classroom, then start eliminating for who would go to the school wide contest. I was a shoe-in, they all thought. Except, every time, I'd rush through a word and do something stupid. Who knew "government" had an "n" in it? (And yes, my teacher more clearly pronounced the "n" for the student after me after I got it wrong.)

As a math teacher, I don't have any classroom responsibilities regarding the spelling bee. I don't have to come up with vocabulary lists or hold any contests (although I have started holding my own version of the Granite State Challenge for math review whenever something goes awry with my schedule, such as only having 10th grade and one of the 7th grade classes on Spelling Bee Monday). I don't even get asked to be a judge. But, I do get to watch...and monitor the hallways for when the 7th graders get bored and think a trip to the "bathroom" can last forever as they hang out by their lockers instead of coming back.

It was fun watching the kids with their chance to perform. The 1st graders were very thoughtful with words like run, ran and rat. They would often take long pauses, the length causing the teachers to wonder if they were going to speak again, to think about the word they just heard and place it in their brain on their English vocabulary list. Remember, not only are they new spellers, but they are new English speakers as well! The older kids in secondary school were not as brash as they usually are when they're strutting around school. They, too, would pause to consider their word, carefully spelling it out things like extraordinary. The shoe-in winner, much to the consternation of some Honduran parents who called the school to ask him to step down, was the red-haired gringo from Alaska, here with his parents who are teaching computers and 6th grade. He had studied and competed fairly in his classroom and gotten all excited about being in the competition, so no! he didn't step down. And, like me so long ago, he stumbled, missing one of the w's in awkward. The winner of the competition was a second grader, who clearly had studied. And while she missed "strength", a fourth grade word, in the final competition against a fourth grader, it was clear she knew all of her second grade words.

In true Honduran fashion, we found out that there were activities for the kids after the spelling bee. At first, secondary school was not going to be allowed. Then, Sunday night, we found out the secondary students were going to stay until 10 a.m. if they were on their best behavior during the spelling bee. Finally, while milling around with the other secondary teachers trying to figure out of we should head to our classes or not, we discovered that there were no classes until after lunch. And that's how I ended up teaching only 10th and one class of 7th grade on Monday. Go Granite State Challenge!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Omoa, Honduras by Amy

On our first four-day weekend in the school year, we decided to go to the beach! The Caribbean sounded appealing, so a group of 16 of us headed for the Atlantic coast. White beaches, hot sun, ice cream, perhaps a hammock over the water. Maybe even some snorkeling or scuba diving. It all seemed so dreamy.

We headed out on Thursday after the Independence Day parade. After a 5 hour chartered bus ride (thanks David!), we arrived in Omoa after dark, got our hostel beds, and headed for dinner. Dinner service, as to be expected in Honduras, was slow, so small groups took breaks from being serenaded with US country music at the dinner table and walked out the pier across the street. We waited until after dinner to take our trip up the planks. The water was lapping on the shore, fishermen could be seen catching fish off the end of the pier, and mounds of trash were piled up against the beach and around the pier pilings all the way out to the end of the pier. "I can't swim in that," was my first thought. Oh, we should have known. Lovely Honduras, you are so beautiful, but you do have a trash problem.

Apparently, Omoa has had a few things happen in recent years that is contributing to its trash problem. First, Honduras appears to be in a transition from disposable packaging, such as banana leaves, to all the same types of plastic trash we find in the US. Remember the commercials from the '70s with the (Italian) Indian crying over the trash and the big campaign to clean up the USA? That hasn't happened here, so lots of the wrappers, chip bags, and pop bottles just end up on the ground. We're in the midst of the rainy season, so this trash gets washed into the rivers, which eventually carry it to the coast. Omoa, being close to the border, also is the beneficiary of trash carried by the rivers of Guatemala and Belize. Omoa also suffered under Hurricane Mitch in 1998, diminishing the coastline and changing the sea currents to bring more trash inland. Finally, Omoa has suffered at the hands of the gas company. Storage tanks were installed on Omoa's beach for importing liquified petroleum gas. Along with the tanks came sea walls that disturbed the natural currents and destroyed the beach. Perhaps the locals welcome the continual line of gas trucks driving the length of Omoa all day Sunday? Ah, progress (corruption, greed?).

Fortunately, the next day, we were able to find a small beach with less trash and got to go swimming. On Sunday, we took a bus to an even nicer beach with even less trash. We also hiked to a waterfall, saw the old Spanish fort, ate fish, and enjoyed our time at Roli's Place!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It's a small world, isn't it? -- by Amy and Alex

So, we walked into a bar, two Fridays ago, to be precise. Barcito (I guess that would mean we walked into a  "little bar") is a popular tourist hang out, and also popular with the younger U.S. Mayatan teachers. (Us older folks prefer the much more laid back scene at the local German bar over the intense are you gonna date a Honduran? scene at the town's two tourist bars.) Anyway, we walked up the flight of stairs leading into Barcito. At the top of the stairs, I glanced to my left and noticed this tall dark-haired man staring at me. You may think I'm being vain thinking some man was staring at me, but, being the blond giantess that I am, it truly happens quite frequently. So frequently, in fact, that I am in the habit of ignoring it, especially if Alex is not standing immediately beside me. So I turned my full attention to Sarah, who was asking me something, and the very large-screen video of the rock group Queen directly in front of me, thinking meanwhile that the man staring at me looked familiar. "There is no way you would ever see someone you know in Honduras," my brain told me, "He is just some tall Honduran guy." I definitely was going to ignore some tall Honduran guy staring at me. After answering Sarah's question, I peeked back over to see if that guy had stopped staring, only to see Alex over there talking with him. "Oh my gosh!" I suddenly realized. My brain switched gears, finally informing me, "If Alex is talking with him, it must be someone we know.

OK this is Alex writing now: When I topped the stairs I looked to my left and saw the same tall dark haired guy looking at me also. My first thought was not, Oh there is a tall dark haired guy staring at me again.:) Rather, my first thought was, I know this guy, but how? Even though I couldn't place him and my mind was reeling from confusion and feeling a lot like I was in the twilight zone, I waved at him and he waved back. His waving back confused me even more and now I was going to have to approach him and ask, "Hi, how do I know you?" which was pretty much the way it went. I walked up to him, he was standing by now, and I shook his hand and asked, "Tillamook?", my mind still dazed. He replied, "Yes", thinking I had asked something else (it was very loud there) but I was still confused so I tried again with a play it safe kinda question, "How do I know you?", to which he replied, "Yellowstone". Ah, the lights came on. Glenn!

We worked at Yellowstone with Glenn last summer! What a trip! No, I'm not on acid. All this way and who would have thunk it. Amy finally came over and greetings were exchanged as we sat down and got caught up on how we all happened in Honduras. He said he knew that we were in Honduras from another friend we all had worked with in YS, but didn't know where. He had been on vacation in the Honduran islands on the Caribbean side and had met some ladies who were working here in Copan. So, he decided to visit Copan Ruinas. We introduced him to our fellow teachers and the next day he joined us on a guided trip to a waterfall outside the town of Santa Rita. We swam in the refreshing pool below the falls for a couple of hours before we made our journey back to Copan Ruinas. Later that evening he joined our potluck party.  He fit right in, even staying long after Amy and I went home. The following morning Glenn was off on an early bus to San Pedro Sula to catch a plane home to the States. It can be a small world, can't it!

"Road Crew" By Alex

Today I was wondering what I would be doing at school, and I am always amazed at what comes up and how busy I can be. Antonio, one of the vigilantes (guards) came up to me and said, "Let's go help over there," in Spanish, of course. He and Chepe, the other vigilante, carrying shovels and pushing a wheel barrel, handed me a length of eight inch PVC pipe and off we went strolling down the dirt road along side of the school. We walked about a quarter mile to a place in the road where I realized that I was going to be working on a road crew put together at the last minute by the office staff at school. Before I proceed I will give a bit of history. The majority of the road to school is dirt and very dusty and the last bit before you get to the school is up a pretty steep hill. Every year it gets very rutty during the rainy season and now it is going to be paved with cobblestone or interlocking pavers. When we arrived in August, the road crews had started the grading process and sections of the road had been blocked off. As a result, a new temporary road was cut along the outer edge of the town to accommodate traffic to the school and beyond.

This new road is all freshly cut dirt along the hillsides with not a lot of forethought going into it. Winding, descending and rising along the way it can get very muddy and slippery after a good rain with the buses and other traffic having a slippery time ascending the hills and crossing the swales. A few times buses have become stuck in the mud, and as a result, students have been late for school. There has been an attempt at  alleviating the problem by the "strategic" placement of crushed rock in specific areas which usually falls short of what is really necessary.

Place in point. As we arrived at the work spot, we followed the road downhill where, at the bottom, is a creek flowing across the road while the ascending road on the other side of the creek is much steeper with an added curve to the right. Our motley crew made up of bus drivers, school guards and four young Honduran recruits began picking and shoveling a trench across the road in the middle of the creek. This was no easy chore with the ground being made up of every size of rock you can imagine. My first thought was are we really going to use an eight inch pipe? One of the bus drivers took the roll of hefe (boss) and then another bus driver came and joined him in the roll. They worked as well so that was a plus. Then another guy showed up and started waving his arms and from what I gathered he was saying, "We need a bigger pipe! That pipe is too small! I will make a phone call!"

We resumed our laboring when a bit later another guy, the gringo who owns the bird park here, showed up and talked to the guy making the phone call. Finally, the gringo said, "We need a bigger pipe. This will be disastrous with a big rain. I will go get the pipe." We had to stop digging the trench so traffic had a place to cross so we began shoveling crushed rock into wheel barrels from along the edge of the roadway and wheeling the rock down to beside the trench, dumping it into piles so we could shovel it into place later. Why shovel rock once when you can shovel it twice? A little while later, the guy from the school who sent us there to start the project showed up and put his two cents in about the pipe and sped off - another jefe!

Finally the pipe arrived, a nice eighteen inch diameter corrugated culvert pipe. It was a good thing those guys showed up and demanded a better pipe. We finished digging the trench and placed the pipe. I assumed we were going to backfill around the pipe with the crushed rock we hauled over as this is the correct way by our standards in the US, but to my surprise the others started digging the dirt-clay away from the side of the hill and began dumping it around and on top of the culvert pipe. I wanted to say something, but decided it was not my place or country nor did they need one more jefe. Instead, I willingly helped spreading the dirt around around the culvert. After it was decided that we had an adequate amount of dirt, we commenced spreading the crushed gravel on top of the dirt which was a pain in the ass as it was in piles that we could hardly dig the shovel into. I was thinking about how it would have been much easier to haul it over and dump it on top of the culvert instead of putting it in piles which we would have to move again.

As we finished spreading the material, traffic would drive over it to test it out, but each time a vehicle drove over, the section of road would flex like a sponge from all the dirt below the crushed rock. We will see how it holds up with the next big rain. Even though it was not the most efficient job in some ways, it was a good effort and a new experience of how things get done in Honduras. To top it off I got to work on a Honduran road crew, if that is what you could call us.

Two days later: We had a big rain last night and I was wondering how the culvert was holding up, so the next day I walked over to inspect the culvert. When I arrived, the culvert was intact but, where was all the gravel we spread over the top, not to mention the dump truck load that was brought later that day? Ahh, it all had sunk into the dirt when it turned to mud. Well all in all for now it is okay. We will see how long it will last. Hopefully a long, long time.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Obsessing about Water - by Amy

You may wonder why water is so important to me, having read the blog about finessing the shower to get hot water. Upon our return, during the rainy season and the dog days of summer, I find myself downing  2 Nalgene bottles of water a day. So, yes, I guess I obsess about water. Do we have enough potable water at home, that we purchase in large water cooler bottles for $1? Do we need to fill up all of our pitchers and Nalgenes so we can go get some more as potable water from the tap is a miracle that only occurs in 1st world countries? Is my water bottle continually full at school? The kids have already been admonished by me that they can't laugh when my voice cracks - why is that so funny when they know that not only are the teachers talking 5 hours a day, but we have to teach above the din of the playground, other classrooms (in my case, the computer lab, which has classes coming in and out all day), and the construction noises thoughtfully added to the mix by Alex? We were forewarned by the teachers who were here during the rainy season last year that this is also the time of more frequent power outages, sometimes lasting for  a few days. At our household, power outages are accompanied by water outages. You don't want to be around Alex when he misses his shower - not only does he get stinky, but he gets cranky, too!

Having read "Amy's top 10 ways to take a hot shower" way back in January, you may have wondered, as we did, if there would ever be a time when we needed a list titled "Amy's top 10 ways to take a cold shower." Si, claro - of course there is! As the weather heats up, so does the water that comes into our house and the difficulty to get enough cool water to take a refreshing shower. Here's the list:
1.       Become a master of adjusting the water faucet one micrometer at a time to get the right temperature.
2.       Take a shower in the late afternoon, before the power goes out, eventually taking the water supply with it.
3.       DO NOT run any water anywhere else in the entire building (which includes the 2 families downstairs and the teacher next door) while someone is in the shower. It reduces the water pressure, thus increasing the temperature in the bizarre water heater contraption that also serves as a shower head that depends upon a very precise water pressure. (Try to forget that the electric water heater right above your head is connected to the electric source with some very shaky looking wiring and has been known to give innocent bathers a little shock. Case in point - Alex took took a shower yesterday right after our water supply came back. Flowing water was followed by an air pocket. The blast of water that followed the air, caused a large spark inside the water heater. Luckily, Alex was standing outside the shower and not under the shower head at that point.)
4.       Wait for the constantly fluctuating water pressure to peak. If the water pressure is too low, there will be enough cold water to turn the water heater on, but not enough to counter balance the hot water to obtain a luke-warm shower.
5.       Take a shower right after a power outage has started as the water pressure will still be somewhat strong but there won't be power to turn on the water heater. This will result in a cold shower, but when it's this hot, who cares!
6.       Don’t take a shower when the lights are dim. The power, like the water pressure, constantly fluctuates, so you may suddenly find yourself in a very hot shower.
7.       Wait for cooler weather as a warm day heats the water in the river and in the black plastic water storage tank. Warm water gets even warmer when it runs through the water heater.
8.       Learn to accept that the Honduran weather is a lot hotter than where we're from in the US and that everyone sweats, whether you've had a cool shower or not.
9.       Appreciate every day that there is water coming to the shower, no matter what the temperature is.
10.   Take hot showers and sweat it off once you get out.


Thursday evening at five PM, sixty to seventy people gathered at one of the streets alongside the central park to begin the creation of the Semana Santa alfombras (carpets). The first procedure was to take all of the bags of uncolored sawdust that were distributed along the block and empty them on top of the cobblestone.
After we emptyed the bags, people took rakes and brooms to the sawdust to spred it out. Next, we took long boards to use as screeds (similar to spreading out concrete) to level out the sawdust, making several passes, pulling the boards over the sawdust to get out any humps and swales. After the sawdust was fairly level, we placed cardboard on the sawdust and "danced" on it to tamp the sawdust down. Each person used two pieces of cardboard,  placing one in front of the other to travel the full length of the street, pressing the sawdust down. After this was done, string lines were placed to ensure the proper spacing of the alfombras, then out came the sawdust that I helped color last week. We found out when it was time to place the image on the flattened sawdus that us teachers from Escuela Mayatan had our own alfombra.

Each alfombra had a square center with a border. One color was used for the center and another for the border. Each alfombra had its own image, and ours was Jesus portrayed as a shepard, with his sheep of course. We had different colors to choose from for Jesus' ropa (clothes). We were all barefoot as we had to be careful on the sawdust. As a result, we all went home with colored feet and hands. Designs were created by us for decorating the border. Many onlookers were lining the street all through the night along with the occasional stray dog prancing unaware across the length of the alfombras. The damage was very minimal until someone would shew the dog and it would take off only to do more damage. Toward the end we let some "stray" kids help and they were very excited. Our alfombra was finally finished it only took seven hours. Amy was tired and went home to bed while I stayed to guard and helped finish with the final touches.

This posting was still in our drafts box from last Easter. I guess we fell behind a little on our postings. We now have internet at home, so we should be better, barring power outages and acts of God that seem to strike Honduras more than Oregon.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

cotinuation- playa el tunco

Starting on Thursday March 17th, we had a four day weekend. Ten of us decided to go on a little excursion to Playa El Tunco, El Salvador. Tunco, in the indigionous  language means, pig. Thus, The Pig Beach. We packed our bathing suits and boarded our chartered van, and set out at 2pm on March 16th for our five hour journey. The van rental was $200 dollars round trip total. Leaving Copan, we traveled 15 min. to the Guatemalan border.
 After passport check we loaded up and made the 2.5 hour trip through mountainous rural Guatemala to another Guatemalan border, bordering El Salvador. After stopping to have the Guatemalan immigration officer stamp our passports, we loaded up again to drive two blocks to the El Salvadorian immigration check point. We unloaded, had our passports stamped and loaded up again for another 2.5 hours to Playa El Tunco. Once again we traveled through mountainous rural Central America with a few medium sized cities in between. Central America has much beauty, although we learned that 92% of El Salvador is deforested. This means that the virgin forests are virtually gone. When you travel through, you will see many tropical trees but you can tell that they are mostly young.
  We arrived at the beach on time and promptly split up into a couple of groups to find rooms. We layed to rest at La Pupa motel. It was very nice with a pretty plant garden, a community kitchen and hammocks outside. The room was a room with a bathroom and two beds, tile floors, a fan and a two minute walk to the beach. All for $18. Playa El Tunco is a very small community beach town known for its great surfing waves. There are numerous restaurants along the beach that are what I would call very open air restaurants. It's a great place to play. Thursday we got aquainted with the area. Then we played in the waves and did lot's of body surfing. Amy doesn't like to get slammed by the waves so she just went in long enough to get wet. Once, I was waiting for a wave only to look up to see Amy running for dear life toward the beach to out run the wave wash from the wave that had just come in. it was a pretty good size wave. There is an ice cream stand in Playa El Tunco that makes home made paletas, (popsicles). You can choose from flavors like, Fresa, sandia, ron con pasas, coco, mente con chocolate, mango or mango con chili, papaya or papaya con chili, Irish cream,and a few others we can't remember.  Flavors in English that aren't obvious. In order, strawberry, watermelon, rum with raisins, coconut, mint with chocolate.
  Friday, Kyle, Cristina, Max and Lori, and myself, took a surfing lesson. $15 each. Our guides were going to keep us close to shore but the waves were not cooperating, so they decided to take us "outside" to where the good "big" wave were happening. We looked at the girls, who had been a bit anxious to begin with, for a thumbs up. They smiled, shrugged, said "I guess", and we were off. Let's do it!! Those waves were beautiful. Good form, big, for us, nice cut to the right. Let's go surfin' now we are just learnin' how c'mon get wiped out with me. My play on the Beach Boys tune. After a good paddle out, the guides helped us position ourselves to be in the right spot to catch a wave. I should clarify that we did recieve a short surfing workshop on how to paddle and stand up along with other doos and don'ts. Of course that was done on the beach. Ten minutes later we were ready! YEAH!!                                                                                                                         I'm up next. OK get ready, NOW, paddle paddle. I catch the wave, pick up speed, grab the side of the board with my hands, push up. I get on one foot and one knee. Push to stand up and WIPE OUT! Ok, I come up for air, look for any approaching waves. Looks good, although there is a swell coming. I pull on my tag line, reel in the board and climb on top. I begin paddling to the side though I see I'm not away from the wave break. I roll off the board and dive under water beneath the wave, resurfacing to paddle to take position once again for the prize catch. My last wave of the day was one of the bigger ones. I started out at the crest of the wave and shot straight down the wall, which by the way is not the best form, but oh well. I felt like I was going a hundred miles per hour. I could feel the board skipping across the glassy surface. Once again, on one foot and one knee, i push up to stand and double WIPE OUT!! Oh well, we had fun. We all had good rides and wipe outs even if we never stood up. It was a beautiful sunny day with warm water and good times.