Sunday, June 20, 2010

El mundial

I have the fever. When I open my eyes in the morning, my first extinct is to get my coffee and get in front of the TV. I flip through the channels until I hear the familiar buzz of the vuvuzelas. Just the sound fills me with happiness.

Alec and I went to Profe Hector's house for a carne asada party. "I can come pick you up" Hector offered. "No!" I insisted, "I have a car now. You don't have to do that". I had forgotten how rough the ride is to his house. I remembered a big dusty unpaved hill, but forgot about the sounds of the wheels falling of the car. Pick up trucks were having trouble with the off road conditions; dry packed dirt riddled with huge holes and in some areas, loose beach like sand, all located on a steep hill. I was curious if my Mazda could make it and dove in, passing the shanty houses and dodging children and dogs, high above Tijuana.

"¡Del diablo!" Profe Sergio howled, "¡Esa muchacha tiene la boca del diablo!" I adore this man. I found him difficult to talk to when I first arrived in TJ, his gruff demeanor intimidated me. He teaches the electronics students how to wire things, radios, TVs, whatever. I didn't think we had much in common, but we teach all of the same groups now. "¡Son del diablo!" he stated again, eyes wide, when I brought up my favorite electronics group. "I am afraid to let them wire anything if I am not standing over them, they'll blow the classroom up!" Poor bobcats.

As I stood upstairs brushing my teeth, I felt the ground bouncing beneath my feet. "Alec!" I called down the stairs "The house is moving!" In another minute, we were both outside, me barefoot and without my glasses and Alec pretty regularly dressed. "Está temblando!!!!" a little girl yelled from the street, while my neighbors emerged wrapped in blankets.

"Hilary! Hilary!" children's voices called from the rattling front gate. "Can you take care of a dog?" the neighbor kids asked, "it's Diego's, you know, the tall boy that speaks English? Our cats are going's a french poodle!" "When will he be back?" I asked. "Um, no sabemos. We can give you his number...". "Okay" I agreed. The dog rampaged for a little while, ate a corn tortilla and passed out.

"Goooooooollllllll!!!!!" the announcer screamed from the TV. I was screaming too. "Michoacan, Sinaloa, Oaxaca...!!" the announcer howled, calling off various states in Mexico. "Mexico Nuevo, California, Tejas!" he added for good measure. The door across the street sprang open and my neighbor came out, trailed by her three year old, soccer jersey wearing son. "Mexico!" she shouted and threw a flag over her front gate and went back in the house. People ran through the streets with full sized flags and pick up truck loads of jersey wearing, flag waving fans drove through the neighborhood, honking and cheering. It was like the whole country just exploded with joy for a day.

"Do the kids get to school on time when there's a seven o'clock game?" I asked my principal during the drive to Ensenada. "They are at the gate at six-thirty" he informed me. "We told them that we would have TVs set up for them to watch the game, but each group dragged it's own TV into their classrooms. Some had really big ones. And when we scored...ahhh, the kids were just running laps around the school with flags...." he said, a satisfied smile on his face.

They took me to see a state wide art competition. I really didn't want to go, I have very little time left with my students and I am not big on student art work. I didn't realize it would be four hours of singing and dancing. They were truly incredible. The Norteño dancers looked like professional dance troupes. Another group did this insane, blindfolded dance while they waved machetes over and under their legs. My face hurt from smiling so much. "Ti-juan-a! Ti-juan-a!" the kids chanted, drowning out the groups from Mexicali. A vuvuzela honked wildly. A timid looking boy got up in front of the crowd, wearing a worn mariachi suit. He began performing a trotting little dance to the opening cords of his song with a vague, expressionless look on his face, while the announcer stated that he came basically from a school on a highway in the middle of nowhere. He charmed the crowd and even dio a little vuelta when instructed by the girls. "Give him a hand!" one of my bosses shrieked "Está solito!!!!!" Another group of students performed an indigenous dance. Students dressed as evil spirits darted through the dancers, attempting to distract the participants from their mission. I suddenly realized I was about to cry. The dancers continued stomping and rotating to the rhythm of the music, dressed in hats and scarfs that covered all but their eyes, their will triumphing over the evil that attempted to lure them.

I stared at my lap, willing myself not to cry.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

While the world slept...

The bobcats told me they were getting up at 5am. "Doesn't the game start at seven?" I asked, "Yeah but the inauguration is at five, Shakira's going to sing" they informed me.

I slept in my Tri shirt and got up a little after seven. I had to pee. Suddenly, I heard screaming coming from the house next door. "Alec!" I yelled, ripping open the bathroom door, "What happened!?" I busted down the stairs to see Alec sitting in his Tri shirt in the early morning light. "Mexico scored, they're not counting it" he answered.

I remember walking through the sun-baked streets of Madrid in summer, 2002. They were empty. Not a person in sight. As I wandered around, all I could hear were television sets playing soccer games from inside houses. "If you go outside during a game in Mexico, you are not going to see one person" Roberto informed me during our break. I told him about what happened to me during my first World Cup experience in Spain. "I think they may be even more fanatic than us," he informed me "are Americans fanatics for American football?". "I don't think it compares. I don't know, I had a roommate that didn't go out for a whole weekend once because the Packers lost..." I told him. "Was he Mexican?" Roberto asked. Actually, weirdly, my old roommate's mother was Mexican. "Así es" Rafa responded, smiling.

Alec darted up the stairs about a half an hour before the game should end to start getting ready for work. "Alec, no one is going to get a head start on getting to work here, they're going to watch the end of the game" I said, in a voice I'm sure he associates with a scolding mother. Around the end of the game, we started hearing the first signs of motion outside. I went to the dirt track for a run. I was met by a sea of green. Even a passing dog was wearing a Mexican jersey. "Goooooollllll!" the flip flop wearing kids on my street screamed, kicking soccer balls between trash cans.

Oh, my poor students. It was like trying to teach people that were hung over. Tijuana is experiencing something called "June gloom". The ordinarily full sun city opens each day with a cloudy haze that lasts until about ten. It is actually a little chilly. Friday, the gloom stayed all day. It seemed to match the tired mood of my students and co-workers. The only thing that would get them going was game talk. "Dulce, what time did you get up?". "Five am" she answered, putting her head on her desk. "My dad started blaring the TV at 5:30!" another announced. "What do you guys think about that noise they make in the stadium?" I asked. "La vuvuzela!" they announced with delight. "I read that they don't think the Mexican team will be as affected by the noise, because Azteca is already so noisy" I told them. They looked at me blankly. Noise? Who in the world could be bothered by noise?

We got to go home early. First, they sent all of the female students to a bicentennial celebration. When the teachers were left with half empty classrooms, they decided to go ahead and send the boys. It was only later that I found out that they students were given the day off from school in exchange for an obligatory presence at a political rally for a mayoral contender and not to participate in a patriotic display of Mexican history. Attractive young girls and later, a few lurking boys, championing the prospective mayor of Tijuana with sleepy, World Cup eyes, all at the behest of their school.

"That's what's wrong with Mexico" Roberto told me quietly.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


"What's that smell?" I abruptly asked my second class of the day. I walked outside of the classroom to see smoke billowing over the roof from behind the school and into the central area between the classrooms. Kind of a lot of smoke. I returned to the classroom and climbed on a chair, through the window I could see large plums of smoke coming from the dry grass directly behind the school. My school is located at the top of a steep hill and we were on the third floor of the building. We stood on the chairs, watching the smoke. "Looks like Carlito is on it" I murmured aloud, as I watched my favorite custodian run directly into the smoke and turn around a run directly out of the smoke with burning grass chasing a few steps behind him. "Maybe we should get out of here" I instructed the class. A few of the students stepped outside, only to return saying there was less smoke inside the building than outside. The other groups didn't seem to be evacuating.

I have experienced wildfires before. I thought of two young men, probably the same age as my students, walking very slowly through a hot summer afternoon. I remember the weak man thanking me, thanking me for helping him, thanking us for driving him to meet the paramedics on a small road in southern Arizona, struggling to speak to us through an oxygen mask. I remember the panic in the eyes of the girl who was driving...this is how people go to jail...they can charge you with trafficking...I remember the rescue helicopter lifting him into the sky and heading toward Tucson. I remember his friend, arms raised, being loaded into a Border Patrol truck, his friend that said he wouldn't leave him, even if it meant getting deported. And I remember the fires, glowing red lava-like embers lacing the hills in the twilight.

"Hey teacher, people are going down" a student from another group instructed me from the doorway. "Let's go" I said and waited in the room for the kids to clear out. Below, the custodians and the guy in charge of printing the students' report cards ran toward the fire with fire extinguishers. I found that to be a hell of a job description. A large black floating thing burned my arm. "Move your cars!" the teachers were instructed, as the fire spread toward the parking lot. Our fire crew made a second round with rakes and shovels. The fire alarm started to chime quietly. Nice timing. Luckily, teachers are not required to do fire duty. After the bomberos finished the fire-fight by dousing it with water, we finished the day in classrooms that smelled like a wet ashtray.

It appears I have a job. I have been duly informed that I should be glad to have one during Great Depression II. It's a teaching job, in a school that I have always admired. Why does it feel like the prison door just slammed shut on me? When I was unemployed, I felt a little nervous. When I would get a few bites from prospective employers, an even greater anxiety would fill me. Part of me wants to return to Atlanta. I miss my friends and family and I miss a more "normal" way of life. Jogging in green parks, social events and no fear of kidnapping or El Teo. A bigger part of me says that I am missing a opportunity to do something awesome if I stay in Tijuana. Something more in tune with what I have wanted to do for the last ten years. This may be my opportunity and I am giving it up. I did the responsible thing, which grates on me. But, that bitch Sallie Mae isn't going anywhere and I will be a lot freer in a year to perform my bleeding heart antics.

It scares me how quickly one year turns to ten.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Have I told you lately that I love you?

Day three: The chola lady with the long shorts wasn't there. Neither was the prison workout guy, the one that does push-ups after propping his feet about three feet off of the ground on a cement bench, all while wearing jeans, work boots and a baseball hat. I started jogging around the small dirt track that circles the park by my house. Not the one with the taco stand onlookers and mad dogs, the other one. On the first day, I felt like one of those boxers from the movies that trains in the inner city. You see him stoically running past graffiti stained walls, burning trashcans and other evidence of urban desolation, fueled only by superior inner strength. By the second day I started enjoying the view of the desert mountains that encircle the city and the weird morning haze and pastel houses of Tijuana.

I wear regular jogging shorts, my pasty white legs jiggling in the breeze as I circle the track. Yes friends, have a good long look at 'merica, as George W. Bush would say, and all your corn tortillas didn't help matters much either. I watched a soccer team practice some painful looking drills in the middle of the park. "TEACHER!" a couple of the guys yelled as I gasped my way around the track; I looked over my shoulder to see two of my students waving like maniacs as other players jumped over their legs. "How are you?! How are you?!" the rest of their teammates howled in English, just to show me their skills. They cheered me every time passed. I was horrified when their coach instructed the team to start running laps. I really don't think I am any match for a group of teenage soccer players. I managed to stay ahead of them, hearing their coach periodically chastise them with "She's already here! She's already here!" and point at me like I was a rabbit in a greyhound race. Tijuana didn't seem like a big raging city that morning. It felt like a friendly small town where everyone knows everyone else.

As I walked into school, I could already hear the Norteño band that was playing in the area between all of the classrooms. Day of the Student is a pretty big event here. We all got an extra day off and when we returned, the school decided to throw in a party instead of having classes. Students manned food stalls that offered elote, tamarind flavored popsicles and tostilocos. Others dressed like cowboys skillfully whipped their partners around in front of the band. An electric bull spun wildly, throwing kids left and right and then swung around to smack them once again before they could get up. The bobcats are really accustomed to group work in class. They wouldn't even ride the bull alone, often piling two boys on the thing's back and holding on for dear life. The teachers beckoned me to sit with them in the shade. I gave myself a head freeze from a mango and chili popsicle and jumped up to roam around and play with the students. I really didn't want to sit down. It was fun out there. I felt genuinely happy, a rarity for me, and didn't want it to end.

I have finally decided the filth covering my car is something of an embarrassment, and apparently just spraying it with the hose is not going to get the job done. I whipped out the Pine Sol type product and finally washed it off. It looks pretty shiny now, but Pine Sol type product does not seem to be the best thing for a thirteen year old paint job. I probably should have used the dish soap. Shampoo is too expensive.

One of the factory work groups was kind of rowdy and getting difficult to teach. As I darted through the rows that separated the nearly forty students, a kid asked me a good question and I made a mad dash to the board to write something on it. And stumbled....and slipped....and staggered...and completely wiped out in front of the whole class. I think the whole display lasted at least ten minutes, as my fall was very elaborate and intricate, involving many twists and turns and somersaults. I jumped up and spun around. The room was completely silent, the students' eyes were wide and mouths open with horror. I covered my face and began laughing hysterically. The room erupted in screaming laughter. Class was pretty much over at that point. Every time I made eye contact with a student and attempted to teach something, I would begin giggling all over again and the whole place would go crazy. As I signed out for the day, I ran into one of my buck wild electronics students. "Guess what I did, Hernandez?" I asked as I signed the papers. "I just busted my culo in front of 4CF". His face widened with horror. "Did they laugh?" he asked, moon eyed. "Yeah, after I did". Then he laughed, and put his hand on my shoulder. "Profe, I fell down over there one day," he said, pointing, "during the recess. And one time over there too..."

Ching, ching, ching ching ching....I looked out to see someone tapping on the front gate. "I'm with the census," the señora informed me "can you answer a few questions?" Okay, why not. "Does your house have a dirt floor, a cement floor or a tile floor?" she asked me. "Um, tile" I answered. "Do you have electricity?", "Yes", "Do you have a bathroom and tap water?", "Yes" I answered. "A refrigerator?" Check. "Did you attend high school?" Yes, that too. As the questions continued about my living conditions, my 'yes' answers continued. Yes, I have everything. Everything a person could want.

I know that I am lucky.