Monday, September 21, 2009

Amor y Salsa

I really love teaching. I have certainly enjoyed teaching in the past - in Santiago and Chicago - but not until here in Cali could I honestly exclaim such unabashed sentiments. Blame it on the sentimentablity of the recently celebrated Día de Amor y Amistad if you will, but it probably has more to do with my awesome students. The connection one is able to make with students in a language classroom is a special one. In my application for my current fellowship, I wrote about some of the most meaningful student-teacher relationships I had had and how the majority were with those who worked to teach me Spanish, French, and Portuguese. The best taught me much more than language. They taught me culture and now perspectives while creating an atmosphere more akin to a cafeteria table than a lecture hall. Luckily, I have some great examples to follow as I try to do for my students what has been done for me.

I have been trying to get more and more creative with conversation club, exploring some classroom theatrics, debates, and faux-news room set-ups to aid my constant movement about the classroom in keeping things lively. I substitute taught a four-hour class on Saturday morning which at first thought seemed horrifying,but turned out to be a blast. As far as the younger age bracket goes, primary and secondary schools including the foundation are on vacation for a few weeks. I did have the opportunity to visit a privately run school in the barrio of El Terrón Colorado this Friday that serves students from poor families in the neighborhood, some of whom have been displaced. The mother-daughter team I spoke with have given a combined forty plus years to developing the school and I am thrilled to start volunteering there on Wednesday mornings. In many ways, but not all, the school reminds me of the Academy Miguel Asturias in Xela, Guatemala which I visited this past March. Families give a minimal tuition, many receive scholarships, but all must give a little towards the importance of their education. The women who run the school seem to be incredibly dedicated and very well-educated, one of whom has a masters from a university in The States. I am sure that I will able to learn much from them about educatyional policy in a country like Colombia, a topic which is interesting me more and more these days. As I believe I mentioned before, I had not planned for my time here in Cali to be so devoted to education, but I like what I am doing and feel like I am stumbling smartly into the right places.

That last alliterative phrase was provided by the newest gringa in Cali named Katie who graduated college in ´06 and is working for an agricultural sustainability NGO just north of here for the upcoming year concerned with issues similar to those I learned a bit about while in Nicaragua on an ASB trip a couple spring breaks ago. We grabbed a late lunch SUnday and decided that we should be immediate friends. It is amazing what shared nationality can do when one is far from home.

And now, some slightly random thoughts from this past week...

Translating poorly written Spanish is no easy task. The level of writing I have witnessed thsu far from students has surprised me, and not in the best of ways.

At Colombian universities tuition varies according to one´s area of study with the cost of a semester studying law or medicine for example being more than triple that of education or finance. This system, combined with the fact that at most private universities money in the back equals acceptance and enrollment, creates a marked economic divide amongst students of differing majors.

In the 1930´s as the Liberal Revolution was gaining steam, 2 of every 3 students were being educated by the Catyholic church rather than the state and many were receiving no education at all.

Lacoste, Dolce & Gabana, and Armani labels are plastered in nearly every t-shirt, pair of blue jeans, and tennis shoes I see. Real? I doubt it. Brand-conscious? I´d say so.

I missed my one o´clock bus to La Fundación Libertad y Paz this week due to a demonstration downtown that was blocking bus traffic. A friend of mine, the director of the foreign language department at ICESI, could not arrive to work by car on Friday due to a cole miner´s protest which barricaded all the roads between her home and the university. Welcome back to Latin America, Nico.

Who thought that in the hyper-globalized twenty-first century I could still discover new fruits? The latest find - guanabana. Delish!

I have observed that people here have an odd habit of removing the cell phone from their ear and placing it directly infront of their mouth when speaking. I have brainstormed with many a Colombian about this phenomenon (which none find so extraordinary as I) and have come to several hypothesis, including the need to constantly check how many minutes one has been chatting to assure a hang up as close as possible to the 59 second mark in order to get one´s money´s worth from the steep cell phone prices. I´ll keep hypothesizing and let you know what else I come up with. Another quirky feature of cell phone communication in Cali is the placement of individuals at nearly every important street corner wearing green vests and equipped with several cell phones from the biggest three telecommunications companies in Colombia. You can use one of their cell phones, choosing the company of the carrier of the person you are calling for between 100 and 200 pesos a minute which is cheaper than calling from your own.

Enough of the random Caleño idiosyncrasies. On the lighter side of life, I was sure to take full advantage of the cultural line up for the week. Saturday afternoon a few friends and I went to San Antonio (the oldest part of town with the cutest most homey character of any of the caleño barrios I have yet to explore) for a street festival full of artisans, music, dancing, and theatric performances, not to mention delicious food. I of course took full advantage of the latter, munching on alfajores and dreating a nice champú de lula. You might have noticed that I invented that last verb there for I really know no other way to describe how onemust simultaneiously drink the lulo juice and eat the corn contained in a champú - an odd culinary experience, but one well worth the awkwardness. My favorie two stage shows at the festival were a couple dancing Argentine tango and a group of actors with Down Syndrome performing a delightfully comic mimed sketch. The latter gave me the idea of doing some more theatrical activities with my more youthful English classes, resurecting some skills from my theatre days.

The largest cultural even of the week by far was the fourth annual wold salsa festival. On Thursday I was able to catch an exhibition which included a group of blind salseros putting my dancing skills to shame and some youngsters moving their feet faster than my eyes could follow. Saturday was themain event with dozens of salsa groups strutting tyheir stuff at the Plaza de Torros. When we first arrived, we were sitting in the nose bleed section, but a member of the production team heard my Mexican friends talking and offered us passes to the VIP section just for being foreigners. The couple of Colombians who were accompanying us quickly became Uruguayan and we were in - really sweet! Check out these two videos of the third and first place performances. There was some truly inventive stuff, almost all incorporating that quick caleño footwork into their acts.

I also found time for two holiday celebrations- Mexican Independence Day and El Día de Amor y Amistad, Colombia´s version of Valentine´s Day. Some of my Mexican friends studying abroad at various universities around Cali hosted a party on Tuesday night with some delivious Mexican food - tostadas, quesedillas, guacamole - you name it. So so good. So much flavor - it kept my taste buds happy for days. The only slight damper on the event was the lack of electricity due to a thunderstorm, but we managed by candle light just fine. As for the Day of Love and Friendship (which I found a bit more inclusive than our gringo version of the holiday although that might have just been a more advanced scheme by a Colombian greeting card company), I received a few chocolates and such and spent Friday night with a group of Colombian friends drinking and dancing along to a live vallenato band at a bar close by called Obama´s...he´s´s crazy.

This upcoming week promises to be a bit less busy. Dave, the English English TA as we like to call him, and I are starting up our movie club this Wednesday by showing the British film Trainspotting. I need to choose an American film for the following week, so if you have any good ideas that stray from the standard Hollywood Blockbuster fare do write me an email and let me know. Next I write, I will have hopefully figured out my new aprtment situation so I can let you know my new address. Wish me luck in my search!

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