Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ich lerne Deutsch!

That's right, I'm a student once more.

There is a German lady here as a tourist, also volunteer teaching English in one of the elementary schools, and providing community German lessons at night. Her class schedule clashes with my own university English classes, so upon meeting, she agreed to give me individual lessons. Today was my first official German lesson.

It was great! We met at a cafe and she gave me some worksheets and practiced pronunciation, very patiently, I might add! The best part is that one of my English students was talking to us and asked Monica, my German teacher, how I was as a student. It was hilarious, but a good point. This experience to start again at square one in learning a new language will help remind me how my students feel, even though they are about the same level as I am in Spanish. Perhaps I will also review some ways of studying and teaching, bringing them to my English students.

But wait, you might wonder, are you already "fluent" in Spanish? Oh heavens no! I have Intermediate, conversational, informally-acquired, Spanglish speaking ability. I have a long way to go. But, as with many things we seek to spend our time learning, I have hit a learning plateau.

People don't correct me when I make mistakes. I spend equal parts of my day speaking English and Spanish. I know what I need to know to live how I live, so I don't seem to be learning as many new words and phrases as when I first arrived here. Obviously.

Something I read about for this specific situation, is to seek out other ways to practice (such as a fluent Spanish-speaking German tourist). Another was to pick up another language. They suggested that understanding a new language may help you to see patterns and common problems in how you learn, let alone the technical components of similar languages, like Spanish and German.

To make things even more interesting, Monica is teaching me German, by using and comparing it to Spanish. After the basic German lesson, we get to know each other by conversing in Spanish. I told her that since my Spanish is far from perfect, it's more like "Spanglish": a crude mixture of English and Spanish. So while we are learning in such a different approach, it's like learning "Germish": a mix of Spanish and German.

Yes, I hope to pick up a little German, improve my Spanish, and to more importantly make a new friend.

She is older, a CELTA-qualified English and German teacher, who has also worked for years as a tour guide for German passengers through-out Spanish-speaking countries, as well as many countries in Africa. Tall and slender, dark blonde and very down-to-earth, she reminds me of Jane Goodall.

So now I speak English, Spanish, and German. / Yo hablo inglés, español, y alemán. / Ich spreche Englisch, und Spanisch, und Deutsch.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's a Twister!

The hot season is winding down here in San Cristóbal, and the weather is getting cooler. Back in the United States, however, spring is wilting in the heat of summer, and suffering through Tornado Season.

Being from Kansas, I've tried to explain the concept of Tornado Alley and it's wrath to my students. Usually they are not impressed.

I grew up in a location that I witnessed at least one tornado nearly each year. That being said, I was in awe of tornados. I respected them but was somehow never afraid of them. I was blessed to never have lost anything or anyone to a "twister."

Now, as I read about this season's tragedies throughout the Midwest, my thoughts go out to those who lost their homes, their families, their comforts and securities. It's in the response of any disaster, that the true face of man appears: the concerned neighbor, the helpful friend, the courageous stranger, the selfless rescuer. To me, this is the raw heart of humanity in action.

And while storm-chasing doesn't appeal to me, perhaps following behind in the path of where a tornado has touched down would prove more full of compassion and faith and love.

Destruction clears the way for newness, for change, for growth.

May these communities find calm during the storm and a peace which follows behind the dark clouds.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Science of "Want"

I love the life I live. Don't get me wrong. I am an adult and I whole-heartedly admit to the constant decisions that I make which thereby create my own reality. I get it.

So why is it that when I hear about what other people are doing, I tend to whine, I wanna do that!?

I recently heard from a few classmates from college, who after long-ish periods of doing seemingly nothing (nothing worth writing about, anyway) in the States, they have broken free once more to travel in Latin America and throughout the world.

They are riding buses and taking trains. They are rock climbing and surfing and hiking and sleeping in unexpected dwellings. They are trying new foods and recommendations by other travelers. They are just passing through.

Another friend wrote a few days back and told me the tale full of twists and turns of how her life is falling into absolute perfection, needs are being met miraculously (I don't use that term loosely) and she is the happiest that I have ever known this constantly happy woman to be.

Meanwhile, here in my own paradise, no news is good news. I have regular daily habits, I have routine. And while this brings Comfort and Security, it also drags along it's dull triplet, Boredom.

I haven't traveled to or visited a new place in a very long time. My outlet for new activities (and newness in general) is finite. I try constantly to make my classes fresh and fun, while mixing it up for my own benefit, as well, because otherwise, I'm bored. And if I'm bored, guess who stopped listening and started texting long ago (students!)? My search for my next teaching contract has been a little daunting and disappointing, so far.

I am combating these feelings of staleness and underachievement, by reminding myself that I have plenty of projects and endeavors still in this place. By telling myself to continue enjoying the moment, because when things do change, they generally don't stop, and there you are, reminiscing about the "Salad Days" of yesteryear.

So I will continue to be genuinely happy for my friends, and keep enjoying the stillness of these moments. Where time has slowed and the messiness of life has seemed to settle, like muddy water in a jar, to reveal understanding with crystal clarity.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Seasons Change

While at home spring is just now beginning to, you know, spring, here in San Cristobal, the hot season is winding down and we are creeping into the rainy season. Let me define these terms: "hot season" usually peaks at around 95 degrees F, demanding a fan to stir the heavy air even at night. The mosquitoes are thick and the sun seems to be directly overhead, even early hours of the morning. It's amazing. I don't think I can ever survive in a cold climate again, this is where I belong!

The "rainy season" is slightly cooler, an average daily temp of somewhere around 70. The skies tend to be grey and hazy, garua or mist comes and goes day and night. The ocean's temperature drops, and by drops, I mean the Humboldt Current from Antarctica is what arrives on the beaches, so swimmers need a wet suit. In the evening you need a jacket, possibly shoes, and a blanket on the bed. Forget the fan and close the windows while you're at it.

Tourist and surfer season have died down. Mi compañera, Liz Conn, returned to the States, having finished her teaching term here at GAIAS. Tomorrow is the inauguration of a gigantic laboratory built by UNC Chapel Hill.

The weather is changing, the water is changing, the people are always changing. It's all just a big wheel, isn't it? Always moving, sometimes moving so quickly, other times you can't even notice the progress.

So instead of quoting a children's writer, (if you know me, you know how much I abhor this saying), I will just take a moment to be grateful for all that has came and went, while looking with bright eyes toward what comes next.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Meditations on Madness

I feel myself going a little bit crazy lately. A lot is happening and I've been letting my heart be sloppy and sappy and losing pieces all over the place, like shiny little trails left behind by slugs.

Nothing is perfect. No one is perfect. Life will never be perfect. I am a work in progress and that is a blessing.

That being said, I have allowed myself to be so let down and disappointed and hurt by things and people that I can't control and mopey and sad about things that don't even deserve my energy or attention.

So with that being said, I need to find my center again.

I have lost and found myself so many times that I sometimes wonder if I used to be an illusionist in a former life or something. An invisible woman. An escape artist. A woman with a thousand masks.

One can always find some sort of dissatisfaction in life to pick away at absentmindedly and wait for it to fester into something large and powerful. But I really don't have anything in my life that I should be dissatisfied with. Not really even one little thing.

I am surrounded by blessings and amazing people (even people who are not right here with me). My focus has shifted, however, away from this brilliant light and off into the distance where things are unknown.

Bottom line is I'm happy. I live in an incredible place. I am in love with a wonderful man. I have so many opportunities to meet incredible people from all over the world. I love my job. I have people around me who are concerned for my happiness and well-being.

What else do I need?

So I begin to scrape off the muck that I allowed to settle everywhere, to do some spring cleaning. Get rid of a few things, open the windows and let the fresh air sweep away the staleness. Polish the glass so that I can more clearly see what it really is that I'm looking at. So that I won't keep losing the sun, even when there's just a few clouds in the way.