Tuesday, October 27, 2009

No direction home

I get trapped in a lot of places. Before school started, Roberto warned me not to walk down the street that leads from the school to the main road. "Profes have been robbed, assaulted" he told me "I don't walk down that street; you've seen the people that hang out there". Roberto is not a small man. I spend many evenings after finishing my classes hovering around the school looking for rides. Some evenings, I have gotten complacent. Tired of waiting, I have watched large groups of students walk straight down that street and I have followed them. Sometimes a teacher will pass me in their car and stop, instructing me to get in and lecturing me about the dangers. Sometimes not.

One of my students came to school last week with a large bandage covering his right eye. I asked him what happened and he told me that he was jumped and robbed. "Where?!" I asked, "Right down there, by the school" he told me. I asked him when, was it a night? "About two in the afternoon" he told me.

The migrant house is located in a leafy neighborhood near the center of town. At first sight, I wished Alec and I lived there. When I was ready to go home last Sunday, I told the other volunteers that I was going to walk out to the main road and catch the bus or a taxi. "No!" they insisted "Let us call you a cab. The street is not safe". They waived off the first cab that came. "That driver is weird" Raquel told me. The second seemed better. I started to feel nervous on the long drive back to Villa Fontana. I made a loud phone call from the back seat of the cab, hoping it would be easier to ascertain my location from cell phone records if the car suddenly pulled down one of the many dusty roads to nowhere in Tijuana. The driver started asking me about Casa. "I lived in L.A." he told me "My daughter was born there". The family returned to Tijuana for various reasons. "She is a senior now" the driver told me. "I take her to la linea every morning and she crosses over and goes to a high school in California. We use my sister's address". Sometimes he is able to pick her up in the afternoons, other days she takes the hour long bus ride back to east TJ. "She can never say her dad didn't help her" he told me, dropping me in front of my house.

"You have to be careful here" the Colombian priest at Casa told me yesterday. "They know I'm not Mexican the minute I open my mouth but you are American, you stand out". He encouraged me not to be paranoid but to be cautious. "When they sent me here I wasn't sure if I wanted to come. I was in the Philippines. I don't walk around here alone at night".

"Migrants are bad people. They have tattoos. And they use drugs" Roberto told me after hearing of my volunteerism. I was surprised. I thought all Mexicans had sympathy for migrants. "Please tell me if I am wrong" he added. I told him he was. He said that he would reconsider.

I went to mass again with the migrants. A mentally disabled woman hands out a flyer when people enter the church, a big cheat sheet for what you're supposed to say when. She tried to hand it to the migrant that entered behind me. "No sé leer" he told her. "¿Queeeeé?" she asked loudly. "¡No sé leer!" he answered brusquely. "¿¡No sabes leer!? ¿¡No sabes leer!?" she called over and over again.

"My wife had a miscarriage today" the man whispered to me, after pulling his head out of his hands. "She was five months pregnant, it was a boy". The seminary student continued explaining the rules of the house to the migrants. "You are not allowed to go near the gate because we don't want people buying and selling drugs here". The man showed me his wife's ID. It had a Tijuana address on it. "She is still at the hospital" he said and abruptly stood up and walked toward the gate.

"I was doing everything, meth, cocaine, smoking hierba cronica" the man who slipped into the kitchen told us while we prepared dinner. "I went to jail. Did you know there are two kinds of black people in the U.S.? Real black people and others that are part black and part white". He described the large builds of some of his fellow inmates and how he aligned himself immediately with his Mexican paisanos. After his release, he cleaned up his act, got a dish washing job and started a family. While picking up flautas to bolster the dwindling food supply at his daughter's birthday party, he was picked up by ICE agents. "I begged them to let me say goodbye to my daughter, we were right around the corner". The agents refused. The man went into a tirade, describing all of the things he said to the agents. His eyes repeatedly locked on mine as he angrily said "We are helping this country, contributing by working, you should be arresting dangerous people, drug dealers, not obreros" then in English, "FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! Don't you have families?!". I don't think he actually said any of these things to the agents. But, he got to say them to me. "My family is still there. That is why I am going back".

Level of education: primary school. Home state: Michoacan. Date of arrival: 10/05/2009. Other comments: was shot in the arm and doesn't know why. Years in EUA: 3. Condition of health: diabetes, fragile. Home state: Oaxaca. Years in EUA:9. Family members in EUA: 2. Other comments: spent 3 years in jail for illegal entry. Date of exit: 10/08/2009. Level of education: middle school. Condition of health: healthy. Contact information: Maria Bustamante Veloz, Los Angeles, California. Other comments: arrested for aggression in EUA. Family members in EUA: 3. Years in EUA: 7. No sé leer. No sé leer. No quería leer más.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gray, black or white?

The people I rely on for rides all have cars in various states of disrepair. Profe Josefina's van doesn't have any seats in the back. When she gives us rides home, various teachers roll around in the back wearing skirts and heels as we drive the potholed streets of TJ. Profe Hector's passenger door can only be opened from the outside. Profe Roberto's seats don't move forward, the only way out is to crawl through the middle of the two front seats or wedge oneself through a small crack between the seat and the door, which always makes the horn honk. I envy the cars that they use to shuttle between their various teaching jobs - though most work from early morning until late at night. "Not by choice" they tell me.

Profe Hector invited Alec and me to his house for lunch. He even picked us up and drove us up a long, dirt road that climbed a tall hill that lead to his house. The "road" was better suited for an off road vehicle. Cars drove on all sides of the path, blowing dirt and dust skyward as they skirted huge holes. "The road is fea" he laughed, "but I like it up here. It's tranquilo" he told us as we bounced up the dusty trail. It sounded like the wheels were going to fall off of his little compact car. "I got this car for $350 in Anaheim, I've had it five years!" he explained "But I don't like that sound it's making".

No one is from Tijuana. They came here for work and made a life. But they all speak wistfully of the various parts of Mexico where they grew up. Many phrases begin with "Mi pueblo...." as their eyes gloss over. Roberto says that Guadalajara is the most beautiful city in Mexico. Hector talks of growing up in a pueblo in Nayarit; he and his friends would hike mountains until they reached waterfalls and pass the day swimming in the pools. I imagine thin, brown boys, laughing and jumping in an Eden-like setting. Profe Patricia speaks of the wonders of Oaxaca and the marvels of its cuisine. The flip flop wearing man at the plant nursery said he hated Tijuana at first, but came to love it after he built his plant sanctuary that shields him from the grittiness of Cucapah, one of the main arteries that cuts through town. He and his family live in a shanty-like house surrounded by an inner layer of plants, caged birds and chickens, and an outer layer of exhaust, calafias and cement.

I haven't felt the urge to "rescue" people and encourage them to go to the U.S. When I watch documentaries about the lost boys of Sudan I am horrified by the lives they lead in the U.S., shuttling on public buses in cold climates to various low paying jobs. Alone, without friends or family in a completely foreign place. The various undocumented Mexicans that I know in Atlanta speak of how much they miss Mexico, the food, the pueblos, their families, being in a culture that is theirs. They live in cheap apartments or trailer parks, work any job that will pay the bills and pass decades worrying that a simple traffic stop could lead to deportation. At times I wonder if it is worth it.

Nor have I been a strong advocate of working in the American, public schools. It frustrates me when politicians rant about the need for "quality" teachers in our institutions. Many quality educators enter the schools with the best of intentions and exemplary qualifications, only to decide that they didn't build a hot shit resume to be treated like crap all day. Provide a quality job and you will get quality people. Disenfranchise and disrespect a qualified professional and you will end up with people that can't get a job anywhere else.

Lately, I find myself wanting to drag some of my fellow educators to the U.S. There are chemical engineers at my school working for $5 per hour. And they can't even count on the hours. One semester they may have 30 hours, the next 20, without notice or explanation. They are assigned classes that are completely outside of their fields. They are not granted sick days. Or vacations. Some work for free on Saturdays. I find myself thinking "They can't do this at home" over and over.

Making quesadillas for over sixty people is kind of tricky. Especially when many of them may not have eaten in days. I got a little in the weeds while making dinner at Casa del Migrante. I nice man from Honduras stopped eating and came to the flat top to help me out. As soon as we stopped cooking, migrants swarmed the kitchen to clean it up. They ripped the grill apart while it was still blazing hot and scrubbed every inch; they didn't stop until they had scrubbed everything, including the oven hood. And all of the dishes. And mopped the floor. It was a little awkward asking multiple men what size underwear the wear. They get a clean change of clothes every three days, I couldn't bear the idea of them walking around in too small underwear for 72 hours. They were cool, even requesting various colors from the bin I manned. After spending days and sometimes weeks in the backs of American migra trucks and jails, they were bien polite and friendly with the American woman that popped up in a mission house in Tijuana for the recently deported and the ambitious who were about to cross.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Oh, glorious me

I haven't attended too many school events. Sometimes, I can't figure out where they are and how to get there. Some have occurred on our days off when I really don't want to go across town at eight in the morning to work with students. The afternoon teachers, the only people I really know, aren't too big on the events. "If you go, the only people that will be there are the principal's people, the morning teachers" they tell me.

During the foot race, the principal invited me to the "concurso" and I agreed to go, not knowing what it was. One of his secretaries took me to her house, prepared me breakfast, drove me to my house to change clothes and onward to the "concurso". She was really nice, REALLY nice, but I felt a little captive. When we arrived, I was directed to sit at a table in front of a large group of people that included some of my students. The table had a table cloth and individual bottles of water that bore the school's name....though my students don't have textbooks. My table mates included the police chief and the head of our entire school system. I didn't even take a shower that morning.

I was the only teacher invited to sit at the table. Me, who has no idea what is going on and is generally thought of as a hapless idiot by my fellow educators. I had to rise when the principal introduced me to the crowd, describing the prestige bestowed on the school by hosting an international teacher. They applauded. A fellow teacher that I don't think views me with fondness abruptly rose and sat next to me at the table; she was not introduced. I was singled out multiple times during the various presentations and lauded, though I was introduced as a "licenciada" along with all of my superiors at the table.

My U.S. school always "forgot" that I had a Masters. Most teachers have one, which made it even more irritating that I was asked when I was going to get one. When I told them that I went to Middlebury, I was asked if it was Middle College of Georgia. One teacher asked me why I had gotten a Masters before I started teaching. Love of learning, increased knowledge..."You didn't just get it for the step increase?" she asked. During the application process for the grant, I repeatedly had to explain what "Fulbrite" was to various administrators and county chiefs. And yes, that was how they spelled it. My U.S. school did not celebrate receiving the grant in any way. They eliminated me from the website as if I had quit. They didn't introduce my exchange partner as a teacher participating in a fancy ass exchange; people probably think he is just some Mexican guy they hired to take my place.

Seated at the table, I tried to tell myself that I deserved this, that I could handle it. "Be professional, isn't this what you want? Respect, regard!" I told myself. People told me afterwards that my face turned bright red every time that I was lauded. I had to present a medal to a student. I really didn't feel like I was being celebrated for my achievements, but for my nationality. I guess it's hard to lure an American teacher to Tijuana. I don't blame the principal. He has a school to promote and he would be stupid not to advertise hosting a Fulbright recipient. Rafa tells me that they want to use me as a "bandera", but I am willing to do it. It is part of the reason schools participate in the program. Unfortunately it didn't keep me from feeling like a complete fraud in front of the faculty. They have been coming to work there for years, I'm just here on vacation.

Profe Josefina filled me in on her thoughts on the way home from school on Thursday. "They did it because the head of the school system was there" she told me "the principal didn't want to do the exchange". She went on to tell me that the head of the system was my exchange partner's principal when he was in high school. When my exchange partner had trouble getting the principal at our school to sign the application forms, he went to the top and contacted his former principal. Josefina said that the Mexicali boss did it for my partner, that he remembered that "he was a good student". "They never gave you any kind of introduction before, did they?" Josefina asked me. "They did it because the boss was there".

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A good day for a race

The prefecta entered my room with three students that I hadn't permitted to enter class. She never does that. I was annoyed. "Qué pasa...?" I started blubbering. "All the students have to be in a classroom" she replied as her eyes widened "the police are here". I looked out of the classroom to see a police pick up truck, a couple of machine gun wielding cops wearing bullet proof vests and combat boots leading drug dogs on leashes. I let the kids in.

When the bell rang, I looked out, did not see the police truck and allowed my students to exit. Another prefecto herded the kids back in the classroom and I went to the room next door to teach my next class. The other teacher was still in there. I told her that someone was with the other group and started teaching my class. She went next door only to return and announced "They're alone. No one is with them. You have to go back". I didn't want to go back. They are my worst group. One hour was enough.

Everyone says the electronics students are the worst. One of the kids from that group told me that he would make me cry. Not bloody likely, but I can't say that I look forward to teaching them. Oddly, they have started to stalk me. The best group I have is in the classroom next door to theirs, late in the evenings while teaching the good group the dreaded electronics group has taken to scaling the wall and peering in the windows, smiling and waving. They actually look happy to see me. When I pass through the courtyard below their classroom, they all scream "Hilary!", waving and smiling like maniacs. Worse, they do it when I enter the teacher's bathroom that faces the classrooms. Not the best placement idea.

I returned to the electronics group. I sat around and chatted with the students I like until the police arrived at our door. "Empty your bags on the tables, pull out all cell phones and electronics and place your book bags on the floor". They kids immediately started pulling our wires, motors and various bomb like devices; they are electronics students. A heavily armed cop guided a German Shepard up and down the aisles, furtively sniffing book bags. The students seemed to think this was pretty normal.

After losing a couple of classes due to the drug raid, we had the day off on Monday for Día de la Raza. After a relatively smooth Tuesday, they decided that we would take another day off on Wednesday so that the students could have a foot race through the streets of Tijuana. Walking through TJ is like playing chicken. No lines on the roads, four way intersections without stop signs or street lights, cars that accelerate at the sight of pedestrians. I decided to attend the race.

Crowds of students stood at the starting point. Many wore parts of their school uniform, sweat pants and shoes highly unsuitable for running. Electricity for the booming speakers was provided by a neighbor who ran a power cord through a window of his house. As the race was about to start, the principal announced that they had decided to call the police to close off the streets in the route. Not a bad idea. I was herded into the back of a pick up truck with a group of teachers in order to film the race. When the race began, the students shot out of the gate, leaving us screaming and pounding on the truck to drive, drive, DRIVE, as students dove and swerved around the truck. We tore off and followed the students as they raced through traffic, dodging passing cars and police officers. One raced with a chihuahua. A gas truck pulled through the finish line and drove through oncoming students sprinting to the finish. No one was hurt. As I rode in the truck I could hear the various sounds of Tijuana: car horns, police sirens, the chimes of the gas truck, the screams of the students. It actually did seem like a good day for a race.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Lucha Libre

"Leave some work for your 3:10 class and go to the computer lab" the prefecta told me, at 3:00. Leaving work for a class is difficult when there are not textbooks, copies or even a television. And it was the second time last week that we were summoned without notice to watch a little TV educativa about school reform in Mexico. Boring, a group of people seated in a blacked out room around a glass table with fake Egyptian busts surrounding them. I don't fall asleep spontaneously in public but really have to fight not to during these videos.

The meeting was flowing over into our 4:00 break on a day when I had to teach seven back to back classes. I needed that 4:00 break. I had to pee and I was thirsty all at the same time. I needed caffeine after watching that video. I needed to get out of that room. People started shifting around and eyeing each other around four. "Give us our break!" they shouted, kicking over tables and rushing the door. Or I wish they did. We were finally released around 4:45, about fifteen minutes late for our 4:30 class. The kids had been running wild for about an hour and a half. I noticed teachers sort of hovering, no one was running off to get to class. I hovered too. Several teachers started walking toward our break room, saying that they were indeed taking their break. I followed. Someone finally said that we were allowed, we were getting our thirty minutes and, an additional fifteen! The atmosphere was festive in the break room. Around 5:20 teachers started trying to trickle out, maybe teach, time to go. "No one's leaving!" one boisterous teacher said loudly, laughing and blocking the door. "I have to go to the bathroom!" one teacher wailed, only to be blocked from leaving. "I need water!" another called, approaching the exit. "Take mine!" he said, thrusting a bottle of water at her. Though the atmosphere was jovial, it was becoming clear that this break may not have been sanctioned by the administration and it was better if we all "misunderstood" together. Around 5:30 someone rushed into the break room. "There was a mistake. We are supposed to be teaching!" They filed out, snickering, while hundreds of students watched us with curiosity.

I was glad they rebelled. It was bullshit. But I was asking myself in that break room if that was how strikes start.

My snack shop friend had an Anarchy in the U.K. t-shirt on on Friday. "Awesome" I thought and asked him if he liked the Sex Pistols. "I actually have never heard them" he said bashfully "I bought this shirt in San Diego because I thought it was cool". I offered to burn him a CD, always willing to inflict my musical interests on others. "But it's my last day" he told me. WHAT? "I'm going to the other side". I didn't know what to say and shuffled off. I avoid goodbyes. My head was full of nasty images, desert walking, rides in trunks of cars, vans bashing through the gate at San Ysidro. I returned to the snack shop and spoke to his father, who explained to me that his son was born in the U.S., he has a passport. "Want to go dancing with me in the centro one weekend?" he asked slyly, passing me his phone number while looking over his shoulder at his wife working nearby. Nice.

I spied El Hombrecito's brother standing on a street corner near my house while I walked to school one afternoon. "Hi profe!" he said, with a genuine smile on his face. "You going in taxi?" he asked, while the Santa Anas swirled around us. "Yeah" I answered, "it's too hot to walk. Want to come?" He agreed and flagged us a taxi. We actually got a decent rate. As we rode in our reggaeton thumping cab, we spotted El Hombrecito walking with a girl down the side of the road. "Can we pick them up?" we asked the cab driver and loaded two more into the cab. Oddly, the taxi drivers don't seem to mind making their cabs into makeshift school buses. When we arrived at the school, I was surprised when the kids pulled out money, offering to pay for the entire fare. No, my friends, this school bus ride was on me.

"¡Quiero ver sangre!" they screamed at the Lucha Libre match. We had taken a wrong turn in the centro and ended up on a street filled with hookers and mariachis. I desperately wanted to pull out my camera, but listened to that little voice that said "Hilary, might not be the best idea". When we found the auditiorio of Lucha Libre, we realized how low rent it was when we were shuffled to a caged in area behind the building with an outdoor ring. Alec bought a "cerveza grande", two beers forced into one styrofoam cup with hot sauce coating the rim. One old timer sat against a wall in a "Hecho en México" hat and repeatedly hissed "pendejos" at the participants. When the "wrestlers" would arrange themselves in certain formations, various sections of the audience would knowingly jump to their feet and run, knowing that men where about to start throwing each other over the ropes and into their vacant seats. While the rest of the participants elected intimidating face masks, tights and leather, one wrestler was inexplicable dressed as a bee. A bee that kicks ass. "¡Callate!" overweight men in superhero masks yelled at señoras, well, señoras that heckled. A perfect ending to a perfect week.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Old kids

My kids here are old. It is mandatory to attend middle school here and at around fourteen, the choice is theirs whether or not to continue. Or the choice is made for them. Students have to pay to attend school. From what I can gather, it costs around $200 a semester to attend the public high school where I work. Most of the kids are on scholarships. I was surprised that a lot of my students don't look like kids, they look like men. Many of them stated their age as "twenty". One "kid" tails me around school, he is not in my classes and his attempts to practice English with me verge on sexual harassment. He looks about twenty-five. While riding to school in the car of a fellow teacher, we saw this "kid" in the street. "He's one of my first year students" the teacher told me. First year? How old would he be when he finishes, thirty? "A lot of them take breaks after secundaria" he explained "and end up working a few years and then returning to school".

I had some secret, old kids in my U.S. school too. I remember the day my beloved Keen told me that her "American age" was seventeen, but that she was secretly twenty-one. "But Mawoo, your brother, is the same age?!" I asked, bewildered. "I'm confusing you" she said with a smile. "My father had many wives in Sudan, when one would get pregnant, the rest would try to get pregnant too. We were born six months apart". She went on to tell me about her trip from Sudan to Egypt to await visas to enter the U.S. "I thought that Mawoo's mom invited me to come because she wanted to help me. Turns out it's easier for girls to find work in Egypt than men. I was thirteen. Men chased me down the street, calling me 'chocolate', ya feel me?" September 11th happened while they waited for their visas, leaving them trapped in Egypt for years. Keen entered the American system without having ever entered a classroom or knowing a word of English, she didn't even know the Roman alphabet. She and Mawoo were handed an English competency test on arrival, they took it, sat with it for about fifteen minutes, then turned it back in, blank. Keen and I spent weeks running from the school the minute after the school buses left to hunt for a free place for her to live after she refused to marry the man her family had sold her to. They were angry and had taken to locking her out of the house.

There was also the lovely Tab. She used a Farsi word for "smile" instead of her real name, because when pronounced, it sounded like "fuck" and all the kids would laugh at her. They tried to put her out of school when they discovered that she was twenty-two, mere months before her high school graduation. She fled Afghanistan with her mother and brothers after her father was killed by the Taliban and spent the next few years as a child laborer in Pakistan. She also entered the American system with one year of "formal" education and was facing removal because of her age. They didn't want to remove the violent students, the chronically absent students, the do-nothing students, but my principal, who stated that his favorite book was "The Kite Runner", wanted to remove her. To his credit, the action was avoided and Tab and I managed to win her a place in a nice, private, liberal arts college.

Sometimes I think the only good I did in three years of public education was work with those two girls. I had a fantasy about starting a charter school for non-traditional students; refugees whose education had been interrupted, a state and federally funded institution that would have higher age limits and a powerhouse ESOL program. I remember the Nepalese girl from Bhutan that I knew. "I went to those classes in the refugee camp. I thought it would help me, I thought it would mean something. Here I have nothing". She was too old (twenty) to enter a public high school in the U.S., but couldn't go anywhere without a high school diploma. The last time we spoke, she was supporting a family of six working as a maid in a hotel chain.

It felt a little cool a few days ago and I finally decided to take a jog. I have been told that wearing shorts can attract unwanted attention here, so I instead donned the skin tight exercise pants that I bought at Wal Mart. It was a little awkward running around the small dirt track while people ate tacos at the stands that line the park, watching the crazy American woman who thinks physical labor is recreation. After a few laps, a dog lunged at me, barking with teeth barred. It was kind of embarrassing to scream out loud like that and I quickly ran out of the park and back to my house.

The temperature abruptly dropped in the middle of the day at school and it rained, for five minutes. "Aren't you cold, profe?" the students asked me, mysteriously clad in jackets, not just jackets, winter coats with fur collars. They don't even have lockers, where did these coats come from? As Roberto and I rode out of school, a couple of students on the street corner started calling "Hey profe! Hey profe!" grinning and waiving at Roberto. "Gaaay!" called Roberto from his window, leaving the boys to shriek and slap each other in the twilight.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

School of Rock

Some people seem to make it past our secure gate with ease. Jehovah's Witnesses descended on us one Sunday morning, while I was sitting on our porch in my pajamas with day old makeup smeared all over my face. Alec went to the gate to speak to them. He tried to tell them he didn't speak Spanish and a man with perfect English popped out of nowhere. I'm surprised that he didn't try "I'm Jewish" on them, but maybe he has been down that road before and knows that it only leads to more attempts to convince.

Various pets also enter our compound to use our "flower bed" as a litter box. A big Persian cat meows plaintively if I try to dissuade him. I actually don't mind the two chihuahuas that trot the street together, peeing on bushes and crapping in shaded areas. Animal friendships are cute and these two are inseparable. And here I was thinking that chihuahuas were some Taco Bell Mexican stereotype.

I dealt with the cop that came to the gate. He asked me for money for vigilancia, something I sort of thought was included in their pay. I quickly gave him 30 pesos, wanting to get him out of my door way before shots starting flying. During the first weeks of school, our principal told us about a new program that our school was participating in. Undercover cops would patrol the area before and after school, looking for kids selling drugs. The principal stated that they also had students participating undercover in the program that were patrolling our classrooms. For some reason this did not strike me as suspect, Alec found it downright dangerous. "People shoot cops here" he stated "are they trying to get those kids killed?"

The principal makes me a little nervous. He is overtly friendly to me but the faculty is squarely divided in two camps: for and against. I feel a little torn, I appreciate his support but do not trust him. During an impromptu faculty meeting on a FRIDAY night, one profe expressed discontent with how we are evaluated as teachers. "Why do you keep working here?" the principal abruptly asked, "Your union rep is here, we can settle this now". With his second in command at his side, the principal dug in. "You're absent a lot and you turned in half of your electronic folder empty" he continued, teeth literally and figuratively bared. Extremely awkward, to say the least. And in front of the entire faculty. I never want to be on the wrong end of one of those exchanges.

Whenever I take a taxi here the driver tells me that he lived in the U.S., often for years in a mid western state. I always imagine that they were deported, most people don't get a resident alien card only to give it up and return to TJ. There are people from all over Mexico here, the southern states, Sinaloa, Nayarit. Lourdes says that they come with the idea to cross, things don't work out and they stay. "Tijuana isn't doing that great, but it has more jobs than a lot of parts of Mexico" she told me. She is from Nayarit. For some reason the taxi drivers always make me think of the men on the trails in Arizona. Seeing men cry was very difficult for me. I remember one late, hot afternoon when I found two men sitting on the side of a road in Arivaca. They were older, in their fifties and not moving. I jumped out of the truck to speak to them and they didn't even stir, just watched me with tired, heat exhausted eyes. This is not normal. They started pulling out identification. I told them repeatedly that I was not migra and they continued anyway. One of them pulled out his federal identification badge, he used to be a cop. And then, they pulled out pictures of the children they hoped to reunite with in the U.S. and started to cry. I really couldn't take it.

The kids seemed to like the "Seven Nation Army" lesson. One kid, Francisco, proudly showed me the CD he burned of the song, he had hunted it down on the Internet. I am horrified about teaching modals. Coulda shoulda woulda? How are you supposed to teach that? Maybe with "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"? The students did not agree that the Clash is the only band that matters, but I sure did like tagging all the whiteboards with this phrase. Next, we will move to the glam rock portion of our lesson with "Queen Bitch". You know what they say, those that can't teach teach electives.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The biggest feet in Mexico

I have done this before. I remember hitting India after two months of backpacking and wanting to claw my eyes out. I recall telling Alec that I wanted to make a public address to the Indian citizens about how they could run their country a little better. And we had eight months left to go of our trip. Three months later, as we rode out of Calcutta in a taxi, I felt strangely sad. India was setting up shop for another day in the life and I wasn't going to be there to see it. Culture shock is a strange thing - you may understand it and anticipate it, but it doesn't make it go away. You just know that it will at some point.

I remember a guy at the Fulbright conference that reacted to my TJ placement by saying "Tijuana! That's the United States!" I personally have never seen the army patrolling the streets of Atlanta armed with machine guns, nor have I seen men blowing fire out of their mouths for money at home.

Little things just seem so difficult. I went to grad school in Spain - nice, developed western country- and remember a point when I was sick of a simple task taking all afternoon. Or two days. And I still don't know why dog owners in Madrid allow their pets to shit on the sidewalk. Most tasks here have taken me two or three shots to complete. When the pinche gas tank behind our house sprang a leak, it took two extra trips from the gas men, with their singing truck, to repair it. Paying the utilities was a nightmare. "Just go to OXXO" everyone told us. We discovered that you can't pay for everything at OXXO. Especially when all of your utilities have massive back charges on them. Walking, trudging through Villa Fontana and up and down Cucapah, hunting for some certain place where we could pay our bills. I am a little concerned about my landlord's financial situation. Back charges with the electric company, water company and overdue mortgage payments. I was surprised when I saw her mortgage bill. She is charging us about seven extra dollars a month. I think the goal is simply that the mortgage gets paid, not to actually make money. Apparently a lot of people don't pay their mortgages here; the company posts the overdue bills on the outside of the mailboxes, name, house number, everything, for all to see. A repo man came to our house to take our landlord's car, but she doesn't live here, we do.

I wanted to start using some audio in my classes. In order to play "Seven Nation Army", I bought a little boom box. Surely it would have good sound, judging from the booming speakers I have heard screaming from inside cars, from on top of cars, mounted on a plane that flies over our house and on various street corners. No such luck, if the kids moved their chairs we couldn't hear it. One classroom didn't even have a functioning electrical outlet. One enterprising student noticed an outlet up by the ceiling, scaled the wall to plug in the crap ass boom box and created a tower of notebooks to balance it on, all just to hear the White Stripes. I bought a set of computer speakers. They have come out of their box once after hearing the meager sound the produce. HOW COULD THIS BE? My printer seems to be suffering from the same, fuck you Hilary virus and will now only print from Alec's computer. I bought ink for it and after opening the package, found a mispackaged cartridge that wouldn't function in the printer. WHY, WHY, WHY?

I also appear to have the largest feet in Mexico. In desperate need of a pair of work shoes, I entered shoe stores all over Tijuana, only to be told that they don't carry my (gigante) size. "Look at her feet, they're pretty big" Alec pointed out repeatedly as we hunted through TJ. I finally crossed over to Chula Vista and bought a cheap pair of shoes from Target. They leave my feet covered in bloody gashes, but I guess I look a little better than the day I went to school wearing a pair of Pumas with my work clothes. No one said anything.

There is this nice lady that works at the OXXO by our house. She schools the kids that work as baggers about how I bring my own cloth bag to avoid plastic consumption. I avoid her now, because I fear she is monitoring my massive beer consumption. We, well I, ripped through their supply of Bohemia and had to turn to Sol. As I grabbed the last six pack of Bohemia, a man commented "That's the good stuff!" as he walked by with a 20 ounce can of Tecate. It's good to know all the right people. One day, I snuck in during the afternoon and quickly ran out with my six pack, thinking that I had missed her. And there she was, hopping out of her car, waiving, a knowing look on her face.