voy pa’ el volcán

Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to Ometepe I go.

Today I join this very interesting group from Austin and travel to la Isla de Ometepe, and then tomorrow we will climb 1,600 meters up an active volcano in the middle of the biggest lake in Nicaragua. My guidebook says it takes 10 to 12 hours. I’ve got my outdoor gear ready to go, huddled and waiting in my backpack.

I’m very ready for a vacation from teaching, and a vacation from Gigante (especially after I was given a taste of the big city on Tuesday). Yesterday my classes were especially frustrating. A week ago I told my students that this Wednesday was to be quiz day. The quiz went spectacularly bad in my first class, and only sort of bad in the second. After the first class, I was compelled to go curl up in a ball and lie in my bed to contemplate what a failure I am. There are a variety of factors at work here, many of which are completely out of my control. But, I completely mis-gauged how much these students were learning and gave them an overly ambitious quiz. I really don’t know what I was thinking, giving these students a written test when I already know many of them struggle with reading and writing in Spanish. They know phrases in English, but don’t know how to spell them or, as I found out, what these phrases actually mean. For example, fill in the blank: “I ____ from Gigante.” This was, after 2 weeks of learning introductions, a hard question for some. Many recognize the phrase orally, and know they must make a sound like “am” but have no idea how to spell it, nor place it a written context. Also, although they know this is the answer to “Where are you from?”, several didn’t know what either phrase meant. I also realized the disparity of levels within each class. Some students finished the quiz, some looked up at me in frustration, having not a clue what to do, and some simply gave up. I think this disparity has to do with the linguistic development of each student in Spanish, rather than the strength of their attempts at English. It was clear when I went over each quiz individually who knew how to write and who didn’t.  So, I suppose the quiz had some useful components, as I know as I now know to abandon any kind of teaching that requires reading or writing, and focus on the oral. This is particularly hard for me since I am such a visual learner (I need to see a word written before I can learn it) but I suppose that is one of the core challenges of teaching–abandoning your own needs and point of view to better help the students (sounds so obvious written here).

I am realizing (despite all my frustrations) some of the rewards of teaching. I’ve now learned all my student’s names and am beginning to grow fond of several of them. Little Roberto cracks me up; he struggles to learn words and bumbles along in rapid Spanish: ‘imagiiiiiináte’, he always says–and has ooh suuch a ‘tude when he gets words right. He is the eptiome of a little Latin man. I can see him throwing out piropos in years to come. The best students in my day classes are the girls, who come and pay attention and take notes and really seem to care. Every class has its punks, though, girls and boys, who are just too cool for school and nothing I do will persaude them otherwise.

As my lovely mother pointed out, I need to keep in mind that I’m new at teaching and this is a particularly difficult situation (for even the most seasoned of teachers). Although I feel like I’m accomplishing only a little, I sometimes can see the hazy reasons why I’m here. Gigante really is primed to blow up as a tourist spot, as there are housing, hotel, and spa developments all up and down the coast, with Gigante acting as a sort of focal point for the energies. Learning English is an attempt by the locals to have some control over this development, an attempt to participate in the economy rather than being blown over by the rich gringos coming in to charter the unchartered. It’s nice to be a part of this gesture, however little I may be contributing. In the next decade, Gigante is going to swell and change, and I like to hope my students will be out there asking gringos, in perfect English, “where are you from?” For now, however, it is still a very small village, with all the problems (poor education) and joys that this brings.

One of the joys: last night I ate a lovely dinner of fresh fish, fried plantains, rice, and salad (my very first salad here). Juan caught the fish not even five hours before we ate it. I saw him bring in a bucket of foot-long fish, and then haul in a four-foot dorado. I assume the dinner that is now swimming in my belly (ha) came from the first bucket. If nothing else, in Playa Gigante, you get to eat some darn good fresh fish. Top that, big city.

One of the perks of being a teacher (rather than a student, as per my last 20 years of life) is that I get to cancel class when it’s conducive to my schedule. (My schedule being that I want to go explore a really big island, muahaha.) So, I shall return on Saturday, after I conquer el Volcán Concepción. (Famous last words? I hope not.) 

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