14 January 2013

Before I forget what happened over the holiday break...

NUMBER ONE: I went home to Houston! Even got to Austin for a weekend. :) It was very nice to be home and see everyone (and stuff my face).

Pretty architecture in Antigua
NUMBER TWO: I went to Guatemala! We took an incredibly comfortable bus (Pullmantur) from San Sal to Guate City, then taxied to Antigua for $35. Antigua is really nice! It's really chill and touristy. We ate at Bagel Barn and Frida's (wow the mole was so good) and saw all sorts of neat churches and a museum of colonial art. We met up with some fellow teachers who were also there, and Matt and I even checked out the nightlife (slightly unsuccessful, but oh well). We also hiked up to the Cerro de la Cruz (hill of the cross) that overlooks the city. Our hotel (Aurora) was very nice and included a decent continental breakfast.

We were supposed to go camping on Pacaya volcano, but our guide was sick or something and we didn't get to go. :( We hung around Antigua for an extra day, then hopped in a van to Panajachel to see Lago Atitlán. It was one of the prettiest places I've ever been. Will definitely have to go back. We had dinner at sunset and took lots of pictures. The next morning we went to the market in Chichicastenango (the largest market in Central America) and haggled and bought lots of stuff. I got a cool painted skull, a clay jaguar (my Mayan birth glyph is the jaguar, i'x), and a super amazing painted leather Mayan calendar that I am absolutely in love with.

After a reroute back to Antigua and a really really long day of being on a minibus, we finally made it back to Guate around 9:30 pm. Went right to bed and got up to catch the bus back to San Salvador at 6 am. Phew!

The first week back at school went well, and my kids are being really good. I hope it keeps up! I started using classdojo.com, and the kids are really responding to it. Hopefully they won't get bored.

One of my kiddos is moving back to the US (boo), so I'm down to 20.

I'm so happy to be back!

Lago Atitlán
Sunset din din on Atitlán
Chichi market

04 December 2012

Peer Correction of the Week

Samuel: But Ms. Vanessa, I didn't do nothing!

Me: You didn't do WHAT?!

Whole Class: ANYTHING!!!

Double negatives will be gone by June.

29 November 2012

2nd Quarter Updates

It's already almost time to go home for the holidays! Where's the time gone?

One of my friends and I decided that we wanted phone plans (I've really been missing my data plan), so a couple weekends ago we headed to the mall to get contracts with Tigo. What a process! We needed all sorts of things: residency booklets, social security pay stubs, a water or light bill... We didn't have the bill since the school takes care of all of that for us, so the salesman ended up borrowing a bill from a friend. By the time all was said and done, we had been back and forth to the mall 3 times and spent most of the day waiting. However, I now have a data plan and an 18-month contract ($30/month). Most people here have BlackBerrys, which is what my friend got.

We headed to Costa del Sol for the Thanksgiving holiday and had a really good time. It's nicer and more spacious than Tunco. We had a huge house with a pool and kitchen, and even had the housekeeper cook our meals one day.

I've been doing some soul-searching as far as my classroom management goes. The system I have now (PAT, moving clothes pins up and down, counting wasted time, giving warnings) worked at my school in The States, but it's failing miserably with the kids here. My next-door neighbor and fellow third grade teacher turned me on to ClassDojo.com, and I asked my kids what they thought about changing to a more online behavior-management system. Some of them had even used the website before! Since most of the kids at Escuela Americana have access to a computer at home, it seems like a logical choice for them. I think I'll try it in January and see how it goes.

I am very much looking forward to being in Texas in 17 days! Sharp cheddar and customer service, here I come!

Costa del Sol

I never get tired of the sunsets!

21 November 2012

PAT Today

We had a pretty rough couple of weeks, but my kids were so good during PAT (personal activity time) today that I had to take some pictures.

Texas Bingo


The Artists (and Connor)

13 November 2012

iPhone Photo Dump

Here're some pictures of my classroom. And stuff.

Our class library
My little corner of insanity before I got my charola from Office Depot
A particularly nice sunset walking home from school one day
Coloring mandalas in class
There's a lot going on here.
The Writing Process
Huge burger from GBC...ate this on an in-service day.
Random note from my student
This chicken was walking around the bus stop at Tunco.
Good morning from the boys' apartment!
Casey and Matt getting ready for a pirate party

05 November 2012


It's November! The rain has turned off like a faucet. Parent conferences went well last month, and we're already nearing another round of progress reports. My class is trucking right along. We've even got centers set up! On Thursday, I shared a little bit about Mexican Día de los Muertos celebrations that we have many of in Texas, and I brought them some sugar skulls to color - they loved them!

We finally got our first day off last Friday for Día de los Difuntos. Some of my friends and I went to Parque Nacional El Imposible (there used to be a pass that was near impossible to cross until they built a bridge). We rented a pickup and somehow managed to miss the correct highway and go in a big triangle instead of a straight line on the way there...the good thing is that El Salvador is so small that it didn't really send us too far out of the way. It was a good idea to get a truck - going anywhere in ES is pretty risky when you're not sure if the roads will be paved or not (they're usually not). We also had a fun surprise when we turned on the CD that was in the stereo: a random mix of 80s and 90s, heavy on the Air Supply.

We stayed here for the weekend, and it was awesome. All the food at the restaurant was made to order from scratch, so it took a while to get fed but was sooo worth it. We usually took a deck of cards with us and just played games while we waited. The day after we got there, we walked about 1/2 a mile to the entrance of the national park and hired a guide for the day (you can pay them whatever you want - there were 4 of us, and we paid $10, which is pretty good). We hiked about 8 km round trip: first up to a mirador to see the tree tops, then alllll the way down to a swimming hole to eat lunch, then back up again to the park entrance. It was a pretty steep hike, but well worth it.

That evening, we ate dinner at the hostel and asked if there was any place to make a campfire. The hostel employee shrugged, looked around our cabin, and pointed to a spot in the dirt among a lot of foliage. Ha! Smoky the Bear would not approve! We made it anyway, and managed to avoid burning down the whole park. Hot dogs, s'mores minus the graham crackers, and quite a lot of beer were consumed.

We woke up to a wonderful, homemade breakfast at the restaurant, took a picture with our awesome truck, and headed home to see Skyfall (IT'S ALREADY OUT DOWN HERE, SUCKAHS). Great weekend! Just two more full weeks of school, then it's time to celebrate Turkey Day Salvadoran style (at the beach).

Y'all go vote tomorrow.

16 October 2012

Time Flies

I can't believe it's already the middle of October! This week, I'll complete week ten with my kiddos. I have parent/teacher conferences tomorrow, and we have an in-service on Friday, so I only have them for three days this week.

Many challenges have arisen, but I'm finding ways to solve them. This morning, we had a class meeting about how to use kind words if someone is bothering you. I busted out "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," and I think some of them actually understood what I was getting at.

It's really fun to watch them learn. I've almost corrected away their double negative use. They edited and "published" actual paragraphs, formatted on the computer and everything (it was such a test of patience to get 21 eight- and nine-year-olds to format a paper in Word). They can subtract across zero. They know the difference between incomplete and complete metamorphosis. They understand that a rural area does not mean a poor area.

I'm really trying to encourage more creativity, and I luckily have the freedom to (for the most part) do what I want with unlimited-ish resources. After lunch, we color mandalas to settle down. They created small Blot Books to jot down and illustrate ideas. I need to get some songs going because I have a few who are so auditory. One in particular absolutely MUST be making some kind of noise at all times.

I also decided to take on the extra challenge of starting a master's degree. The school flies in professors from Framingham in Massachusetts, and we also get a scholarship for the program. I'm really glad I started it, as I've already completed one of the nine required courses (Curriculum Theory and Practice). Each course goes for two weeks, 3:30-6:30 during the week and 8:00-4:00 on Saturdays. It's a lot, but it's doable. In the fall of 2014, I'll complete a master's of International Teaching. Sweet.

El Salvador is still wonderful. I like my friends, I like my job. I don't have to do laundry or clean.There are bugs everywhere, including a new colony of ants in our kitchen, but oh well. Rainy season is almost over, and it's going to be endless, perfect weather.

We are going to Costa del Sol for Thanksgiving.

I will try to update more often.

26 August 2012

Cumplimos un mes!

I've made it through two weeks of school with my 20 kiddos; week three starts tomorrow. They're really interesting, smart kids, and I'm having a blast getting to know them. I'm also really enjoying the 1.5 hour planning period I have in the middle of the day while they're at Spanish. It's just unreal and totally unheard of in the States.

We also celebrated our one-month of living in ES last Thursday. In honor of this milestone, I've decided to list some things to remember while in El Salvador:
  1. Always carry an umbrella.
  2. Check your cup for ants before reusing it.
  3. Agree on the price of every taxi ride before getting into the car (this is always negotiable).
  4. 2 pupusas are probably enough.
  5. It's okay not to refrigerate eggs, but you should wash the shells.
  6. If an invitation says 5:00, no one will show up until at least 6:30.
  7. Might as well get a beer...it's the same price as water.
  8. Never underestimate the amount of time it's going to take to get somewhere on a road that's not paved, no matter how short the distance.
More on school soon!

04 August 2012

La Palma, El Rosario, Perquín, and El Mozote

Lots of traveling around lately has lead to a little confusion and has brought to light a few cultural differences between United Statsians and Salvadorans. That said, I got to go to a lot of really cool places this week, all of which turned out great.

On Wednesday, we took a long day trip to a lodge in La Palma, a town in northwest ES. We stopped up in the mountains, and the scenery/weather was gorgeous. From the lodge, we drove about 40 minutes and went on a hike to the border with Honduras. We waded across the river to stand in the other country and had a fun time in the water.

After hiking, we went back to the lodge and had gallina india for lunch (chicken and soup, basically). After we were all done eating and were ready to go, we had to wait around for like 30 minutes for our driver to finish whatever he was doing...wouldn't really fly in the U S of A, but down here, you just kind of have to roll with things. We finally got going and stopped in el centro de La Palma to buy some goodies before heading home. Lots of time in the car that day.

On Thursday, the new elementary teachers + one of our lovely welcoming committee gals set out on a trip to Perquín, a town in the northeast of ES. We rented our car for $25/day from someone that a lot of people in the complejo use. Driving in ES is a talent. Carolyn did an awesome job avoiding pot holes, cows, dogs, horses, pedestrians, and semi trucks, all without wrecking the car on one of the crazy curving roads.

On the way, we stopped in El Rosario to find the aguas termales (hot springs). After a lot of asking for directions and circumventing a construction zone on foot, we hiked about an hour out of the town down to a river, only to discover that the nearby hot springs were actually just a tiny trickle of water funneled into a concrete pool about four feet by three feet. We were entertained and took pictures.

On the way back up the mountain, we got caught in an afternoon rainstorm and got completely soaked. I was lucky to be with super laid-back, flexible ladies that weren't bothered one bit. We hiked back to our car in the downpour, much to the amusement of the locals who smiled and laughed at us as we walked by.

We got to our hotel, the Perkin Lenca, and got keys to our bungalow. It was super nice and pretty spacious, with free bottled water and a hammock on the porch. We cleaned up and headed to dinner in the main building - it was delicious and inexpensive.

Our hot breakfast was included the next morning; we ate and booked a guide to come pick us up for what we thought would be a few hours of hiking on the Llano del Muerto and Bailadero del Diablo. Our guide arrived, and there was quite a bit of confusion as to how long we were going to be hiking and where we wanted to go, etc. There was a particular waterfall we were interested in seeing, and Carolyn and I did our best to convey in Spanish the fact that we wanted to do a long hike to get there. We thought we had it all figured out, but our guide Rafael apparently had other ideas about how long we'd be hiking and drove us about 30 minutes from the hotel to the entry point for a 3 minute hike to the waterfall. Hmm.

After discussing with Rafael the fact that we were very confused about our agreed price of $50 for a 3 minute hike, we decided to use him as transport to the Cerro de Perquín, a hill/mountain that the guerrillas utilized during the war and the place where the war museum was located. We drove about 30 minutes from our waterfall to the hill and hiked up about 30 minutes while Rafael told us all about the guerrillas and how they used the hill. He turned out to be a former guerrilla fighter, and he showed us all sorts of things like plants they ate for survival and places where bombs had impacted the side of the mountain. It turned out to be a great tour with a lot of good information.

We hiked back down and went to the museum, which houses a lot of pictures, news articles, weapons, and propaganda posters. There are a lot of former guerrilla fighters there who are very eager to share their stories.

This morning, we checked out and headed to El Mozote, a site slightly south of Perquín where a terrible massacre occurred during the war. The government was utilizing the strategy called quitar el agua al pez or taking the water from the fish. During the war, the guerrilla fighters were like the fish, and the pueblos and civilians were the water that supported them. The government massacred the entire population of El Mozote, nearly 800 men, women, and children. We heard the story from a woman near the monument as well as from a young man named Eduardo. While not everyone in our group could understand every word he was saying, Carolyn and I did our best to translate, and it was obvious to everyone what a terrible tragedy it was.

Eduardo told us about another monument about a mile away that was under construction and offered to walk us there. We followed and were very pleasantly surprised at a large structure featuring Jesus, Ghandi, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, and MLK Jr. It was beautiful and quiet, and we felt surprised and privileged to have seen it before its completion, as it was obviously not listed in any of our guide books. After taking some pictures, we headed back to town, bought some artesanías from the ladies near the church (the freakin ginger candy is amazing), and hopped in the car for our drive back to San Salvador.

All in all, it was a great trip. While confusing at times, we were happy with the outcome and learned quite a bit about El Salvador. If you are on a strict schedule or need everyone to always be on time and accurate when estimating the time things are going to take, you may not be the happiest camper traveling around this country. The key is to relax, take it all in, and not be too perturbed when things don't go exactly the way you were imagining. The people are incredibly kind and helpful, and will always be around to point you in the right direction if you're lost. The animosity toward people from the US that I've felt in other parts of the world doesn't seem to be as much of a thing here. For someone who has been to a lot of places, the gente amable of El Salvador is a welcome change.

Posing by our anticlimactic hot springs

31 July 2012

Lots of things!

Lots has happened since my last post. We met our maids last Friday and organized which days they were going to come. One of the perks of being here is having inexpensive help around the house, and our complejo residents pay much more than the ladies would be making elsewhere. Megan and I have Antonia on Tuesdays and Fridays, and we pay only $24 a week. She does laundry, cleans, and will even make food if we want. Next week I'm going to have her make that tamarindo drink I like so much. I'm so glad I'm able to speak with her and the vigilantes, etc. around here; it's come in really handy and saves us a lot of time.

The new elementary teachers and I are planning a trip to Perquín for the Agostinas coming up. I called the place we wanted to stay, and of course they had no one available who spoke English. I'm happy to report that I booked the whole thing, complications and all, in Spanish. I think this is a first for me. The weird thing down here is that you can't hold the room with a credit card; you have to go to their bank and make a deposit into an account. So, I took my first trip to Citibank the other day, which happens to also be our bank. It reminded me a lot of the DMV. I took a number and waited to be called, only to find out that the lady couldn't transfer money from my account to the other account. I had to go outside and around a corner to the ATM, take money out, and come back to deposit it inside the bank. What a pain! I definitely missed the conveniences of home that day.

We also took a trip to Ataco, stopping at a few places along the way. We ate at an amazing garden/restaurant for lunch, bought some stuff at artisan markets, and stopped by a gastronomical festival.

I don't remember which day, but we also took a trip to downtown San Salvador. It was quick, but interesting. Definitely a very different world from our school bubble over here in San Benito.

Today we went to La Libertad to the beach club that the school has a membership to. It was a nice, relaxing day. Megan and I plan to come back to the States super tan for winter break.

After we got back today, a few of us were feeling under the weather, so we took a field trip to the farmacia across the street from the complejo. I described everyone's symptoms and we walked away with medicine that would for sure need a prescription in the US. One of the things I really like about being abroad is the ability to walk into the pharmacy and get things like antibiotics with no problem. I remember in Spain I had a blister that got infected, and I just went to the pharmacy to get prescription-strength antibiotic ointment. It's incredible and such a time/money saver.

Tomorrow we're going to La Palma. I have no idea what we're doing, and no one else seems to know either. It will be a surprise!