Sunday, August 22, 2010


Classes are back in session, so has ended the first week. I teach Level 5 once more, and also teach Level 2. I have some of the same students as before, but there are plenty of new faces and names to learn.

My level 2 was learning vocabulary phrases about life events and achievements. Grow up. Graduation. Find a job. Work hard. Get married. Have children. Retire.

These were a few of the phrases, and according to the teacher's textbook, this was the appropriate order they should occur. I asked the students if they agreed. They generally agree, especially if they don't understand the question.

I asked them if they knew anyone who had not graduated. Yes, they knew plenty of people not in school, not graduating with a degree. I asked if everyone finds a job and works hard. There were a few jabs back and forth, but they agreed that generally, if one is lucky enough to have a job, then of course, you must work hard. What about marriage and children? I pondered next. Do these life events always happen? Does marriage always come before children? Again, more jokes, but no, they declared; sometimes life happens differently than is neatly laid out in the textbook. I don't know a single soul who has retired here. Old men still tinker with trucks and boats. Wrinkled grannies still sell ice creams for coins and push mops and serve plates of the best food you'll ever eat.

We read an article about Oprah Winfrey's life history and all her achievements. To my bemusement, no one knew who the hell this lady was. No one recognized her photo, complete with big hair and microphone, seated with legs crossed on the stage of her famous talk-show, the one that is aired in 132 countries.

Globalization has not yet brought Oprah to the Galapagos Islands. I felt a little guilty about exposing them to her now. I tried to highlight how much money she has given to charity, how she has started schools in Africa to encourage girls to get an education, how she helps people from the projects realize their dreams of having a nice home.

They asked if Oprah would give money to Ecuador.

Well, she has her own private plane, I said, maybe she would fly here for a visit. But if she were to come to Galapagos on vacation, like more than 170,000 people do each year, she'd probably not know how to evaluate the living conditions, blind to the fact that the islands hold the highest quality of life in all of Ecuador.

The living is easy on the islands. With it's livable-wage jobs and government subsidies and recycling program. It's jumbled hospital with medical students and passive water treatment facility. It's lack of sewage system and dependence on everything being delivered from those weekly cargo ships. The lack of smog from the hundreds of buses that belch out the black exhaust. No homeless amputees and children begging at every stoplight and street corner.

They agreed that Oprah was probably better off staying in the US, giving out IPods and expensive imported chocolates and the latest kitchen gadgets that she doesn't think anyone can live without.

They figured that if Oprah did ever come to Galapagos, she'd act like Bill Gates did a few years back: bringing his own yacht so that he would never even set foot on the inhabited islands, to avoid all the people living here, like the only life that existed was no more than what Darwin wrote about. Never knowing that there is a society, with wireless internet and home office stores and computer programmers who install his very own programs. With schools teaching English to students, just trying to find a job so they have the opportunity to work hard.