Tag Archive: learning


Curiosity

hair

“Where are you from?

“I’m from London.”

“London?”

“Yep.”

“In England – really? That’s great! Why are you here, in Guaymas?”

That’s pretty much how my first encounter with Mexicans goes, word for word. Well, that’s if they didn’t already ask me if I was from Cuba or Brazil. And this conversation happens quite often, well, less so now here in Guaymas. Guaymas is a small town, especially when compared to London, so I’m pretty sure that most people in the town have already seen me going about my daily errands to ask me whatever questions they may have for me. Therefore it’s definitely not the best place to be if you are trying to avoid somebody, and I’ll talk about that at a later date. Guaymas isn’t even listed in the Lonely Planet Mexico guidebook. And you can see the confusion in people’s faces when I explain that I left my job in London to live and work in Guaymas, a place that they consider to be more ‘boring’ and less prosperous in comparison.

As I’ve already explained in an earlier post, my TEFL teacher friends and I stand out when we hang out together, because we are very clearly not from Mexico and because there isn’t much of a mixture of different ethnic groups here. Since my group of friends mainly consisted of females, we would mainly attract attention from males. Much to the annoyance, or amusement, of two of my friends, because no matter how much the guy persisted in his efforts to win one of them over, they wouldn’t budge, because my two friends are an item.

Quite a few Americans come and go through my area as it’s pretty close to the border and I am pretty sure that Mexicans assume my friends are from the U.S. Mexicans however, don’t have a lot of face-to-face contact with black people, so I’m told, and my friends have pointed out to me the fact that I get a lot of stares. People do come up to me and start speaking to me in Spanish. But when they see the blank expression on my face, they change tactics. So they’ll try and practice their English on me, or they’ll make gestures to try and communicate. For example, someone would gesture for me to dance with them if I was in a club, or gesture for me to take photos with them and all of their family members – as a group and individually, or one time a mother beckoned me with her hand towards her daughter and said (this was translated to me) that her young daughter wanted to hug me. …Yes, you read that correctly, she actually just wanted to hug me… I’ve been told that Mexicans don’t generally point fingers at people because it’s considered rude behaviour, so people haven’t necessarily pointed and stared at me. But you can obviously still point at people by using your words, as one man did, when he walked past me with his daughter in a touristy area in Guadalajara. This is the English equivalent of what he said: “Look child, an African!” I laughed out loud at this father’s statement; that moment couldn’t have felt more surreal.

Then there’s curiosity in the form of hair touching, which can be a pretty touchy subject for black females. Most black women I know would not allow anyone to touch their hair, full stop, no questions asked, because we are not exotic animals that you can stroke and because our hairstyles get easily messed up if someone runs their fingers through our hair. Heck, it even gets messed up if we run our own fingers through our own hair. But how would you know this golden rule if you don’t come in contact with people to tell you this? This is where I personally make exceptions. As much as my eyes twitched when the first kid in the school reached for my hair, I let them do this now without feeling the need to clench my teeth together out of apprehension; just as long as they ask me first. I give a bit more leeway with the younger kids in the school, as they can’t really form the sentences to ask me yet.

“Teacher – muy suave,” one girl excitedly exclaims every single time she touches my hair. Literally, every single time without fail, with the same intonation and everything. “Teacher – very soft,” she means in English.

And I don’t mind adults asking to touch my hair, as long as they ask. It’s actually a nice feeling when people tell you that they like the way you’ve styled your hair, when you know full well that it looks crap, but people don’t know any better because they haven’t been exposed to people with the same hair texture as you. Whereas if you left the house with that same hairstyle, your family and friends would probably die from not being able to breathe as they are laughing at you so much. Yes, I am the ‘you’ that is so often referred to in the above scenarios, and yes, I do get away with a lot of hair offences, unless I decide to film a vlog. Damn technology. But I’m very low maintenance with my hair, and I don’t care too much about it. What I do care about, however, is if I have given you permission to touch my hair and then it’s very noticeably messed up after you harassed it. That happened one time, and I was pissed off. Or, the worst is when no permission is asked at all and I feel my hair being tugged from behind me. That’s happened to me, twice. That really pissed me off. They are lucky they did that to me; they definitely would not have survived if it was another black woman.

All jokes and exaggeration aside though, from the people that I’ve met so far, I can honestly say that Mexicans are generally very friendly and I have never experienced any racism while I’ve been in Mexico, from a Mexican. The only racism I have experience was from a young American teacher on the bus one day. She said: “Don’t people get scared of you and move away because of your darker skin?” I really had no words to waste on her and my conversation with her ended abruptly. But that has not been my experience so far with Mexicans; they have just been very curious.

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The notion of non-English school kids being disciplined and well-behaved is a myth; whoever came up with that idea is a liar and should be punished! In fact, it probably came from some schoolteacher in a desperate bid to try and install some discipline in the classroom.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the picture-perfect image of smiling kids, who eagerly cling on to a teacher’s every word, quickly dissipated. To be fair, my 1st, 2nd and 3rd Graders weren’t children from hell, but they definitely were challenging, particularly the 3rd Graders.

I learnt so much while teaching them during that first full week. I learnt how to think quickly on my feet. For example, if an activity wasn’t working, then I had to change it up a bit on the spot. And who knew that the ABC song would have a pied-piper effect on the 1st Graders? Whenever they heard the song, no matter what activity they were doing at that point in time, or how noisy they were, they would stop immediately without fail, and chime in at the top of their lungs, as if the song triggered some kind of hypnosis.

I’ve already explained in a previous blog post that I don’t have the best memory when it comes to names. During the previous week, I got them to write their names on the board, write their name cards for their cubby holes, and then I wrote their names on a piece of paper. I learnt the names of, shall we say, some of the more disruptive kids in the class first, because of the amount of times I had to say their names. But by the end of the week, I had learnt the names of all 37 of my students, which really was an amazing feat for me as it usually takes me an age to learn just one name. So to learn people’s names in the future, I now know that I not only have to see it written down, I also need to repeat it several times for it to be etched into my brain.

      

I learnt that I’m not actually as bad at drawing as I thought I was. I was pretty much forced to be more creative with my hands, as most of the learning aids that accompanied the course books had apparently been destroyed by a hurricane around five years ago.

   

                                        

I learnt that despite my preconceived idea that younger kids are ‘harder to handle’, the youngest grades weren’t actually that badly behaved; it was the older kids who posed the biggest problem.

I learnt that I apparently only really became a teacher when I was inundated with so much work that I had to stay behind after-hours just to try and catch up with everything. One late afternoon as I was stuck behind my desk, I heard a cackle outside.

“You’re a real teacher now,” Yudith, the 2nd Grade teacher, playfully said with a cheeky grin on her face as she made her way home, because I was still working.

Yudith is quite a character; she makes me laugh and I know that her comment wasn’t malicious. She was one of the first “Spanish teachers” to start talking to me, and she let me borrow her paint so that I could decorate the windows in my classroom, but anyway, I digress.

I learnt about how loving, thoughtful and generous kids could be. I received love from them in the form of a gift, such as a sweet, a flower or even ‘just’ a hug. Teenagers tend to be ‘too cool’ to show this kind of affection and appreciation, but I discovered how unashamed ‘my kids’ were to express these feelings. I learnt about their capacity to ‘forgive’. I would tell someone off for doing something and they would huff and puff about getting into trouble, but the very next day they would act as if nothing happened and that everything in their world was bright and rosy, until they got into trouble again.

And finally, I discovered that I could bond with the kids so much so, that I felt as though I was their parent. I genuinely felt proud and happy for the children once I could see that ‘aha moment’ in their eyes and their expressions – the moment that they understood what I was teaching them. I had to stop arguments and then get them to ‘make up’ or at least tolerate each other. I saw them at their most vulnerable points, such as when I consoled them as they cried; I had to do all sorts. And even though at times they got on my last nerve, they were my kids. And I didn’t fully realise that I had this feeling until I had to think really hard about leaving them, when I was offered to teach the older grades, as an opening suddenly arose…

My epic journey

Phew! So after a very hectic and action-packed few weeks, I finally have enough time to pen my thoughts and to let you know that I’ve arrived safely in Mexico – huzzah!!

For those of you who know the story, I stupidly thought it would be a brilliant idea to finish work, including having work leaving drinks, on Friday 26th September and to fly to Mexico the very next day. Considering all the things that were going on in the background with my visa etc., I thought it would be best not to delay since I should have been in Mexico about a month beforehand.

Even though I packed my suitcases a week early (that was a huge feat for me, so I’m patting myself on the back right now) I didn’t quite factor in how much of my life I would be able to pack into two suitcases weighing no more than 23kg each. As you can probably guess, I didn’t quite manage to do that despite my best efforts even up until the airport car park, and I had to pay an extra £60-odd British whole pounds for the pleasure of having 7kg worth of overweight bags.

After saying my goodbyes to my family and friends, I jetted off on my 20-odd hour journey to Mexico. At around £800 (not including paying for extra luggage and for my overweight bags), I chose to fly with AeroMéxico – the cheapest flight I could get. Since I was expecting it to be the Ryanair of international flights, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. I had my own TV, which compared to Air Europa when I went to Cuba, was a luxury! … That was pretty much it, to be fair; I had a window seat, which was ‘ideally’ situated right above the wing, and a TV, so I was fairly content.

Besides having to pay extra for my bags at the check-in desk, in cash, everything went by fairly smoothly. Well, somehow I spent a lot of time in the shops looking for headphones as my sister conveniently took mine, but then I had to run for the plane and I managed to lose my travel pillow along the way. Oh, and at the security check point at both airports, they wanted me to fit all of my nail varnishes into a ’little’ transparent, resealable plastic bag, as the litre bag that I provided was apparently too big. I was expecting everything to be more problematic to be honest, because I worry, a lot. Do not tell me facts that will potentially scare me into thinking about the worst possible outcome, because I will take on board everything that you say and then multiply that by a thousand. Such as the morning my manager told me a couple of weeks before I was due to fly that there was a hurricane in Mexico. After a quick Google search, I found out that the hurricane passed by my region and that it was preceded by earthquakes – plural!! Although I must say that ‘my town’, Guaymas, was not really affected by it. On that same day, I read about how some Americans were scared about ISIS terrorists entering the USA through Mexico, and I was particularly worried because my request for a halal meal on the plane was rejected and my mind raced through all kinds of terrible scenarios. But my fears proved to be just that – a product of thoughts I had created.

I arrived safely in D.F. (Mexico City) at stupid o’clock in the morning on a Sunday. I walked around and found somewhere where I could nap for four hours until my next flight. The odd thing about that experience was that even though I had a connecting flight, I had to take my luggage from the conveyor belt, go through customs, then go to a connecting flights conveyor belt to drop off my suitcases. Very strange. It was at this airport where I encountered my first language barrier, when I had to ask where my terminal was.

My journey continued on a flight to Hermosillo, where I quickly found out that AeroMéxico domestic flights were more like the vision of a budget airline flight that I had in my head. But the good thing was that the flight was not full, so I didn’t have to sit next to anyone, and it only lasted a few hours.

I arrived at a small airport at around 7:30am, then I had to take a taxi to the coach station. This was straight forward enough, I guess. Apart from the fact that my ‘Latino’ friend said I should never get into a taxi with a stranger. Well, the driver was lugging my luggage into a van full of strangers. I panicked and was slightly unnerved. But then I realised that everyone else was going to the same bus station, so it was fine.

Once there, I had to get the coach to Guaymas. I had been practicing my line for this in Spanish during the flight to Hermosillo; I was ready. The lady at the ticket office seemed to understand me, up until I got to the name of my destination, “Guy-yam-as”!

“¿Qué,? she asked, with baffled look on her face.

“Guy-yam-as,” I replied even louder, making sure to pronounce every syllable.

“¿Quéééééé?”

I showed her the spelling of the place on a sheet of paper that I had.

“Ohhhh… Gwhy-mas,” she said. I had been pronouncing it the wrong way for months, and even now, I’m not sure if I’m actually saying it properly.

Anyway, a worker who spoke English came to the rescue and sorted out everything for me, and I was comfortably sat behind the driver in seat number one.

As we drove through Guaymas at around 10am, my first impression was that it didn’t seem like much at all; it just seemed quite run-down and bland.

As soon as I sat down at the bus station, a hustler came over to me and tried to sell me something. “Ah, Monica…” he would always exclaim and he kept hovering around me.

I was instructed to call someone called Elsa, whom I later found out was the coordinator for the primary school and the director’s wife.

“I’ll be wearing jeans and a blue top,” she said on the phone.

A lady walked into the station with that description, and I was about to get up and greet her, until I realised that she wasn’t actually looking for anyone, so I sat back down, deflated.

Elsa finally arrived to pick me up and drop me off to my new home, arriving with her signature smile that I have come to know. She really is the embodiment of happiness, but I can also imagine that if you cross her, she would destroy you.

We arrived in a matter of minutes, but we had to recruit some guy to carry my heavy luggage up some stairs to my apartment above some shops.

I walked in and it was really dark and dusty. To my left was a room with bunk beds in it. Then as you walk through, the kitchen is located on your left. If you take a couple more steps, then the bathroom is on the left. Taking a few more steps forward, I saw another bedroom, this time with a double bed, and I immediately claimed it for myself even though I had no one else to compete with. In hindsight that room was a good choice, because the flat is located on the main road and the traffic is quite loud and can even be heard from my room at the back.

Once I dropped off my bags, Elsa took me out to eat and she offered me some options. I’m ashamed to say it, but I wanted something that was familiar to me, especially as I was super hungry after my epic journey, so I opted for Burger King. It was so strange to see that the price for the food started from about $70, but it’s about $20 to £1, so it’s not as bad as it seems. What’s even more confusing is that the sign for Mexican pesos and the sign for American dollars is exactly the same, and some shops, particularly in touristy areas, show their prices in dollars rather than pesos. Confused.com

So, once I received the food, we sat down in a booth and talked business. We discussed what was expected of me in the role, blah, blah, blah and then my ears pricked up with the words “start tomorrow”.

‘What!!!!?????’