Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Juice Stand

Something Colombia does very well: juices.

It helps that Colombia has a lot of really tasty fruits that don't exist or are hard to find in the United States: guava, papaya, curuba, níspero, passionfruit, granadilla, mango, lulo, name a few.

My favorite juice stand sits on the median of one of the bigger streets in my neighborhood, a five-minute walk from my house.  It's a metal, industrial-grade food cart, and every morning the man and woman who run the juice stand haul it out into the middle of the street and park it beneath a tree.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Top Ten: Reasons to Have a Peace Corps Cat

So as you'll remember, I have a kitty now.  His name is Diego, and he is wonderful.

I realize that this is my third or fourth blog post about cats, but listen...this is one is actually related to Peace Corps.  I promise.

Reasons to Have a Peace Corps Cat:
  1. Pet cats are a great integration tool.  You don't know how to start a conversation with X?  (Your host dad, a teacher at your school, the person at the corner store, etc.)  Talk about the cat.  The other person may think you're weird, but it's actually a great icebreaker.
  2. Cats speak English and Spanish.  You can talk to cat in English.  You can talk to cat in Spanish, no matter how bad.  Cat just purs and meows and loves in response.
  3. It's an easy way to meet the neighbors.  My cat likes to hop out the window, scramble down the stairs, and run into my neighbors' front patios.  At least now I've met the neighbors?
  4. You can spread the gospel of U.S. cat culture.  In the United States, it's very common to have cats as house pets and to be affectionate with them.  In Colombia, cats are seen more as street animals, and if they're pets, they're kept mostly to hunt pests.  So a lot of Colombians think that cats are dangerous or dirty...which is obviously an untruth.  Spread the kitty gospel.
  5. Cats are child-friendly.  I have a little cousin named Santiago who lives downstairs.  Santi is almost two years old.  Do I know what to do with two-year-olds?  Absolutely not.  Can Santi and I bond over the cat?  Absolutely yet.
  6. It's a great way to feel competent.  The whole cross-cultural thing can be tough on the ego.  Let's face it, there is a lot of failure in my life.  Not devastating failure, but failure nonetheless.  What's not a failure?  My care for this kitten.
  7. Who can say no to kitty cuddles?  I don't care that it's 128 degree Fahrenheit with the humidity, I can't turn a purring cat down.
  8. Cats are great listeners.  They're like therapists.  No judgements, no assumptions, just listening.  Just look at Diego's ears--they're huge!
  9. Every host family loves a rat-hunter.  My host parents are particularly pleased with Diego's rat-catching potential.  He hasn't actually caught any rats yet...and hopefully we don't have any.  But he has wrangled a cockroach or too, so I'm sure he'll work his way up to bigger critters.
  10. At the end of the day...  It's just lovely to come home to something so loving.

 Click for more photos of Diego!

The Teachers' Room: A Photo Portrait

On Sunday mornings, I attend a photography class at my school offered by Casas Distritales de Cultura.  I found out about the class from my friend Pedro, the art teacher.

On the first day of class, the teacher, Andrés, explained that our final project would be to tell a story with a series of four photographs.  It could be any kind of story: a real-life situation, a joke, a dream, whatever.

I chose: the drama of the teachers' room.

Let me explain.

I love my teachers.  I do.  Not just the English teachers with whom I work most often; all of them.  They're a great group of people.  I appreciate how much they like each other; I appreciate how much they give to our school; I appreciate how warm of a welcome they have given me.

But every single day, a soap opera occurs right there in the teachers room.  There are characters, there are scandals, there are jokes (some hilarious, some less so), there are impassioned speeches and witty comebacks.  Break is a mix of everything: teachers working, teachers blowing off steam, and teachers engaged in raucous debate and gossip.

I hope these photos start to give you an idea.  (Click on photos to see an enlargement.)

Marco, an English teacher, casually making a point to someone across the room.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Must Love Cats

First of all, a disclaimer: the following xkcd comic is 100% true.

I. Introduction

I love cats.  On a scale from 1 to 10, I would say that my love for cats is a 10.

I now have a kitten.  Its name is Diego.  On a scale from 1 to 10, I would say that my love for Diego is a 10.5.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

In Transition

This morning I had a long conversation with my counterpart Marco about a a teachers' strike that is scheduled for next week.  Marco tells me that the teachers won't be giving class on Tuesday, and that there is a possibility of a subsequent, indefinite strike.  This is all on the national level--all of Colombia's public schools would potentially be shut down.

The way Marco tells it--and Marco's not a terribly political guy--it all comes down to a set of decretos, or laws.  These national laws govern how teachers are paid and promoted.  If you were hired before a certain date, then your salary and advancement opportunities are determined by the old decreto.  If you were hired after a certain date, then you fall under the the system of the new decreto.

What that means for teachers like Marco, who is relatively young and early in his career, is that they are paid less than older teachers and must overcome greater obstacles to advance on the pay schedule--specifically, instead of automatically getting a raise upon earning an advanced degree or completing a certain number of years teaching, they have to pass a pretty hard evaluation.

So, Marco says, the system is unfair.  There are two sets of standards, and it's much harder on new teachers than on old ones.  He says that young teachers are unhappy, and university students don't want to enter the profession at all.

But he also admits that while the rules of the new decreto are unpleasantly rigorous, the old decreto was unfairly generous.  He says that teachers who were hired decades ago make too much money.  Marco understands why the government wants to switch over to this new system with lower starting salaries, more thorough teacher evaluation, and more demanding standards for advancement.

After talking to Marco for a while, I came to see that maybe the problem isn't really the new decreto at all, nor is it the old decreto.  It's the transition.  It's tough to be a new teacher, true, but it seems like people are protesting not because it's tough, but because it's tough for some teachers while it's easier for others--the perception of inequality.  At least from what Marco tells me.

How do you make that transition?  I don't know.  If the Colombian government determines that it would be better to pay teachers in this new way, how do you get the entire country to switch over from an old system to a new one?

If we do go into an indefinite strike, I'll have plenty of time to think about it.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Diego Martín Shakespeare the Cat

Update: I now have a kitty.

Its name is Diego Martín Shakespeare.  It's little and adorable and wonderful.

That is all.