Saturday, September 25, 2004

Joy's Update

I got this email a few days ago from my hot little sister-in-law... who is not pregnant... dammit. Any further discussion of such unspeakable attrocities will be dealt with harshly. It's long, but worth it. I mean... now you all know someone who is teaching the twin sons of cartel members. How cool is that? Anyway... here ya go...

Hey y’all! Here is an update on all the going ons down here in Colombia. First off, I’m safe and well. It was hell getting the work VISA before leaving, of which you’ve already heard a little with the notarizing transcript in an envelope deal. I had to drive to Nashville twice to finally get it all straight. A week before I’m supposed to leave I find out that I have to leave in two days actually. The thieves!, they stole five days! At the Miami airport, I was one of the last to board the plane because apparently I was one of five people not boarding with small children. This meant that there was no room for my carryon, so, I’m in row 4, but my carryon is placed at the back of the plane in like row 55. My arrival flight into Cali was a little late which meant that three international flights arrived all at the same time. So I’m literally the last passenger off the plane because I had to wait for all to clear out to go back to get my bag. It takes about two hours before I’m cleared through Immigration and Customs and find my suitcases…two huge ones with two carryons…carrying by myself, while having to closely guard my laptop so it doesn’t get stolen. On the trip home we have four people squeezed into the back seat because one suitcase occupies the front.
Upon arrival I’m given two pieces of information I wish I had known before leaving. One is that I was told I would be teaching the 5-6 year olds. In fact that was changed and I was moved to the 4-5 year olds, which meant that all the teaching materials I had brought with me to use, like flashcards and such, were too advanced. Great! The other thing was that the apartment promised me was not ready for me to move in immediately, so I would be living with a couple, whom I already knew and like, for a couple days, then moved in with a family, whom I already knew and used to like…jkjk. But this family opened my eyes to the few things that I dislike about Latino culture. EVERYTHING they say, they say with a whine. I handled it okay for about a week and a half living with them, but after two weeks, I was damn ready to move out because I was starting to mutter to myself all day "Quit your bitchin’!" Unfortunately, I’ve learned I have to do this with my students in order to not be offensive as well. I pray to God this doesn’t become a habit. Another thing is that they are a touchy-feely culture. And I thought my family was bad. There would be the mom and dad and 15 year old daughter and 9 year old son all in bed together spending ‘quality time’ together. I’m sorry, but in the States, as social worker might have been called after seeing them.
So week two I finally got my own apartment, the day before classes started. Let me tell you about the apartment. Not in the complex I was told about. It’s closer to the mall, about a 3 min. walk, if even. There is no oven, so the school bought a toaster oven. Time to cry…this means no biscuits or chicken casserole! There are three bedrooms, one spare is empty, the other became the living room. There is no hot water heater…let me tell you about this. So far I’ve taken 17 freezing cold showers. I complain to the school, they ‘act’ surprised. They say ‘we’re working on it.’ They’ve been ‘working on it’ for over two weeks now! Just when I’m about to throw down the gloves to get one, they tell me they just bought me one. I bring it home with me. It’s gas. I don’t know how to hook it up. The gas company has to do it. Oh, my! I’ve been waiting three days now to get this damn thing hooked up! Finally someone from the gas company comes, yesterday. Apparently this guy’s job description says "frustrate Joy." All he came to do was to assess the ‘situation.’ So it’s a ‘situation’ now? These people freak too easily. He gets all bent out of shape because he doesn’t know who to bill. For some reason he refuses to understand my Spanish when I tell him to bill the school. After people are about to cry, we get that much settled, if they’ll just install the blasted thing. They say ‘we’ll be here tomorrow’. Never came. Now I’m hoping and praying they come tomorrow, Saturday, to install it.
I have a maid that comes twice a week. Her name is Amparo, which means ‘shelter’ in English. She is amazing. She cooks whatever I want, cleans, washes my laundry by hand, irons, helps me make phone calls, and makes my lunch every morning for school. And guess how much I pay her…you’re gonna be jealous…$4.52 per day!
Ok, so to be fully legal here, I need a Colombian ID card called a c├ędula. I have to go to hell, otherwise known as DAS to get said ID. And I need it as well so I don’t have to carry my passport everywhere and risk having an official confiscate it. We need to be there by 6am. We arrive on time. The guard at the gate said that the office for foreigners doesn’t open until 8am. So we go across the street and sit in a little bakery to kill two hours. We arrive at 8am promptly. We get to the foreigners’ office and there is already a line. Apparently they open at 7:30. We finally talk to someone. We have a packet of the needed information listed and organized with all the proper documents and pictures. Well, there’s a problem. The list we were given was the old list. Things have changed. The price is different and the copies required are different. So this means we have to go make more copies and go to a specific bank and deposit $2 more into the acct. for the DAS and bring the receipt before they will process us. After all was said and done, it took us 6 hours to do it. Plus we had to go back on Friday to pick up the newly acquired ID cards. Fun.
Ok, so school. You’ll get a horrifying picture with one phrase "25 four-year-olds". And…they’re all in one class. In fact, we have two such classes, I teach English to both. Praise God I have a full-time assistant that is great with the kids. (A really cute 25-year-old guy named Lucho.) These children are so coddled in this culture that they are underdeveloped in language and fine motor skills. About 70-80% of the students are special needs kids due to this. To add to this beautiful situation we got twins, most likely from a Cartel family. We split them in the two classes. Mine is named Daniel. Today he punched me and kicked me, not the first time. He requires the full attention of an adult just to prevent him from being destructive or running away and hiding in a bus (yes, he and his brother did this). So that takes my assistant which leaves me with 24 on my own. Praise God, we just found out this week that we’re getting another teacher, so we’ll divide the 2 classes into 3. Now this is possible. We start the split on this coming Monday.
Yesterday we were out of school due to political turmoil. There was a protest. A bunch of Indians (descendents of the Incas) marched into the city from the jungle in demand of more representation in the local government. The reason for canceling school was because they were coming to our doorstep. The university here is right next to where I live and near the school. Many of the Indians were destined there to use their radio station. I was advised to stay in my apartment all day, which I did. Today, all was back to normal, more or less. So instead of ‘no school’ days due to inclement weather, ie Ivan, we get ‘no school’ days due to inclement political atmosphere.

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