Monday, February 28, 2011

March 1, 2011

It is hard to believe that we have completed on of our six months abroad, but here it is, the end of the first glorious month in Guatemala.  I am writing from my hotel room in Bangkok, Thailand, where my colleague Colleen Eddy and I are presenting mathematics education workshops for an institute here.  Tomorrow begins that fun, but not until we have been to the king's palace this afternoon.  It was a pretty long, long flight, but restful, mindless, and relaxing all the same. The 36 hour trek from Antigua to Bangkok was a bit grueling at times, particularly when flights left late, but it all worked out.

On the Saturday night before I left, Tom and I took in one more concert from the arts festival, Ballet Hispanica. This dance company performed three amazing sets of Latin dances ranging from Cuban to unknown rhythmic madness of brilliant color, confetti, and lighting.  It was at the same place, the open-air theatre, with the stars overhead, and the cool air surrounding us.  It was magnificent.

The flight out was very early Sunday morning, and I arrived here early Tuesday morning. Tom is headed to the beach for three days, starting tomorrow.  Life is good.

Hope all is well with you.

  Love jt

Saturday, February 26, 2011

February 26, 2011

Is is a beautiful day here in Antigua, after a long, soaking early evening rain in the valley.  The use of hiking rain gear came in very handy.  Angela, my Spanish teacher got drenched riding home on her Vespa Wednesday, so she tried my German bicycling poncho yesterday.  I'll find out later if it worked for her.

Very early this morning we kissed Adam and Catherine goodbye, as they journeyed back to Dallas to jump into the fray.  However, we filled every moment since the last post with interesting things.  Yesterday we took a large jeep to a coffee plantation near Antigua, Fina Filadelfia, and were personally toured through the fields, processing plant, drying beds, roasting area, and finally to a cup of Guatemalan coffee.  It was amazing to learn about the process of creating the cup we had and it reminded me of the continued use of the indigenous people to maintain and create the industries in the country.  They are the essence of the coffee production, and work as migrant workers all over the country, along with their unschooled children, to keep the coffee flowing to Starbucks, etc.

During this month, every day we notice many indigenous workers outside one bank and yesterday I learned why from Angela.  The workers of all sorts are given vouchers for their pay, which they can turn in to cash at the bank.  Angela informed me that hardly anyone has a bank account, because the Guatemalan economy is so shaky, hence when banks fail, all is lost for the working poor.  The lines outside the bank are long and the looks of the people are that of patience.  In spite of the hardships, people are up early, heading into work in crowded buses, on the back of motorcycles, in tuk tuks, walking, riding in the back of pick up trucks.  Because of the cost of education for uniforms, books, rides to school in buses and vans, extracurricular supplies, etc, home funding for school is often a challenge, if not impossible.  In spite of this, families sacrifice to see that education is within the grasp of the children.

We both continue to progress in our development as Spanish speakers.  I have for the first time understood the distinction between the use of ser and estar, and can only hope to begin to use the terms correctly when speaking in the future. Tom is working on much more complex forms, but is working very hard to keep up with the expectations of his teacher Evelyn.  Angela and I have formed a very nice relationship and she is my source of cultural learning here, from the perspective of the pueblo life.  It is an eye opener each week, and I find that I am becoming more at ease with my Spanish speaking with her, in spite of my continued fumbling for word usage and pronunciation of the 8 syllable words.  She is amazingly patient and helpful in many ways, both speaking and teaching about culture.

During our Spanish lessons, Adam and Catherine shopped for family, friends, and their house, and Catherine's jewelry collection. They were very successful on all counts, and returned with the spoils just before the rain.  After classes, we met at a small restaurant, Kloster, near Santo Domingo, and discovered that it was a fondue place.  It was initially a wet meeting, but the night of candles, rose petals in the fountains, and excellent cheese, meat, and chocolate fondues, and of course cafe de Guatemala, was terrific. We talked, laughed, and recounted our week of adventures together.  It was a great way to end a wonderful visit. We were so glad they came and will miss them.

Today marks the beginning of a new adventure for both of us.  I am staging my materials, clothes, mind, to head out to Thailand for two weeks, to conduct workshops on curriculum, mathematics, music and math, and PDS.  I will be joined by my UNT colleague, Colleen Eddy, who will present on math activities for secondary, whereas  my thoughts will be focused solely on elementary levels.  Tom has decided to return to the beach for three days this week, with plans to stay in the same little beach hotel we enjoyed Tuesday with the AC.  I will continue to blog from Thailand, and hopefully we'll hear about some of Tom's late night adventures on the volcanic beach, watching the mother turtles coming and going, if in fact they do at this time of year.

I hope all is well for you and yours.  Love jt

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

February 23. 2011

Adam and Cathrine are here in Antigua visiting for a week. We have been on a whirlwind of touring of museums, ruins, and beaches since their arrival on Saturday.  We have had a grand time together.  Sunday and Monday were spent in Guatemala City, where a lovely woman we met, Rose Marie, toured us through six different museums in two days. On Sunday we toured through church, historical, and art museums.  Each told a different story of the history of Guatemala, and served to inform and enlighten.  We walked through the central part of downtown GC and observed street vendors, marimba performers, and learned a lot about the formation of GC after the earthquake lay Antigua to waste in 1773.  She told us that the governor decided to move the capital from Antigua to GC, and gave each land owner the same size piece of land, in the same proximity of where their land was held in Antigua.  Antigua lay dormant for many years hence.  After the tours, our friend took us to a beautiful restaurant on a hill above the city, where we visited, learned more, and enjoyed the extraordinary view of GC, and how it is nestled in the valley between the volcanoes.

We played cards all night and enjoyed the chance to relax and listen to weird musac music.  It was an interesting experience indeed.

On Monday we were back on the museum road, but took three museums of mayan, conquest, and colonial history, all in the environs of the Universidad Marroquin, a privada universidad in GC.  In one of the museums, clothes from across Guatemala were exhibited and explained in Spanish and English.  There were three films to further explain the ropas worn by the Mayan people around the country.  In the second museum, we learned and observed more articles of the anthropological digs across the country.  The artifacts were exceptional and the learning intense.  Our friend is a guide in all of these museums, so was able to help us understand the collection. The last museum we saw was of a doctoral dissertation that examined and chronicled a cotton tapestry of a map of the conquest of Guatemala by Spain, with the assistance of Mayan people.  Each panel was blown up, set up in seven stations, each explaining the travels of a Mayan warrior with the Spanish, as they conquered other Mayan villages across Guatemala.  It was most fascinating to hear the interpretation of the map.  We were all enthralled.

Our friend drove us to Antigua, about 45 minutes away, and parked in the parqueo de santo domingo, where we walked underground to the hotel santo domingo, and saw more ruins and restored artifacts of the Spanish era.  We had lunch at the hotel, visited with our friend, and then parted ways, after which the four of us went to the market, home, played cards, and relaxed.

Tuesday, Feb 22, we left the museums behind and took a tourist bus to the west coast. The beaches are black from volcanic rock. Needless to say, it was very toasty out on the sand, but the water was good on the feet. However, the waves were rather large and there was a fierce undertow. Only Adam was brave enough to swim out and ride the waves. After a few tumbles, even he had to give it up. Mostly we lazed around, watching the natural sundail of the palapa edge, watched whales spew and jump, and spent our day at a little hotel, Pez de Oro, where we lounged in low chairs, enjoyed a lovely fish lunch, then got back on board the rickety transport. We arrived tired and sandy.

We had agreed to join our hostess, Maria del Carmen, for cocktails and cena, for conversation with two gentlemen who are working on a book about UNESCO cities, and another who worked for UNESCO in France, on behalf of Guatemala. It was fascinating to talk to these people and Maria about education, art, the world as a peaceful place, and getting rid of drug us in the U.S., hence releasing the Guatemalan people of the pressure of serving as a go between the drugs coming from S. America, through Mexico, to the U.S.

Today was a red letter day. We went on a walking tour of Antigua with Elizabeth Bell. She is a woman who came to Antigua at the age of 14 and 42 years later, is a tour guide of great skill and excellence.  We walked through ruins, jade factory, museum at the hotel santo domingo, government office, cathedral, and more. It was an extraordinary morning that lasted for almost four hours.  We learned so many things about Antigua history, government, education, health, etc and were overwhelmed with her knowledge and skill in transmitting.  She was recommended to us by many, including Ron Wilhelm, so thank you Ron. We caught a bit of lunch at La Fonda and split for our separate Spanish lessons, Tom in downtown, and me at home. Adam and Catherine came home and relaxed.

Tonight, for the first time, it is raining pretty strongly. Tom just made it back, and it looks like cena and cards are calling.  Hope all is well with you.  love jt

Saturday, February 19, 2011

February 19, 2011

Tom again.  A couple of days ago I went on a little trip while Jeanne was working at Colegio Boston.  There's a little town just outside Antigua called Jocotenango.  They have some museums I wanted to see, so I hailed a tuk-tuk (small, three-wheeled motorcycle taxi with enclosed passenger seat in back) and took off.  About 15 minutes later I was in the center of the little suburb, not knowing where the museums could be found.  Luckily, I happened to see a rather large road sign just off the plaza central that said, "MUSEOS" and had an arrow pointing down a side street.  After about a half-mile walk, there it was - a cluster of three museums located down another dirt road, past some futbol fields and an arena clearly designed for horse jumping.  There was a Q50 entrance fee, which I gladly paid (about 8 Quetzales to a dollar).  It was grand!  First was a coffee museum (the whole place is located on and connected to a coffee plantation (Finca Azotea) and is called Centro Cultural La Azotea).  It had a number of explanatory stations showing how coffee is grown and explaining various factors that make for the best coffee (like planting beneath trees for protection from both frost and direct sunlight).  Also, processing techniques, equipment, etc. are explained, complete with a tour through the processing areas.  The drying patios are right there, and you can walk around them.  See below:

This guy is raking the beans to turn them over - more even sun drying results.  The roasting area is there too, so you get the great aroma.

The next museum in the cluster is the Mayan music museum.  Lots of marimbas, flutes, string instruments, percussion things I'd never seen, etc.  Also some recordings of both ancient and modern Mayan music.  On Tuesdays they have live performances - think I'll go.

The third museum is "Mayatenango" - I surmise that "tenango" is a suffix meaning "place of."  Lots of places (towns, etc.) in Guatemala end in "tenango."  The museum has outdoor reproductions of Mayan houses, gardens, dress, tools, etc., from low-, middle, and high-altitude areas.  Fascinating.  All in all, well worth the visit. 

I ended my adventure by walking back to Jocotenango (joco is a type of wood artisans work with there) and getting on a bus back to Antigua's "el centro" (cost Q2, or about 25 cents). The buses all go to a large bus terminal area just behind the Mercado Municipal, where just about anything can be found for sale.

All for now, kids.  Catch up with you later.  Meanwhile, keep having fun.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Feb 15, 2011

A late feliz dia del Carino from Antigua. For those of you who are elementary teachers, you can imagine, somewhat the chaos that was in the school yesterday on Valentine's Day.  There were some marked differences. First, in the upper grades (4-6), all the children were given a single name on Friday, for which each child created a special card for that named person, then bought some chocolate for the person.  During the two hour party at the end of the day, the 40+ children in the two sections, A y B, for each grade level, sat on the floor in one room, and monitored by the teachers, one at a time, handed each other the card and gift. As child A gave child B the card/chocolate, they hugged for a moment, then child B gave their card/chocolate to child B, etc.  Of course, in the sixth grade room there were cheers and jeers for beso, and only a few ventured a peck on the cheek, which brought considerable howling. 

In the lower grades, the children exchanged hugs (brazas), got cups with cards and chocolates, and exchanged hand made cards/chocolates with a single classmate. The school purchased a hotdog, drink, and gave each child a darling cupcake with a paper heart stuck to a toothpick.  It was quite a festive event.  I received some candies from the lady who assists me in my work, some of the children, and a cupcake from the staff, along with a hotdog and drink.  I feel so comfortable there and love going each day.

After school, we had our fifth Spanish lesson.  For me it was not so great, for a while, as the setting, a new coffee house, was too distracting for me, but once we were outside sitting on the steps of the cathedral, overlooking the square, things were better.  I seem to need lots of mental space to think through the preguntas y fraces, but hope that when we return to a quiet setting tomorrow, I can return to stumbling through pronunciation in the quiet of the apartemento.

Tom and I listened to some accordion music, played live from the government building, north of the square, and then wandered over the Hotel Santo Domingo for an extraordinary dinner. The setting is a 450+ convent that has been restored and serves as both a hotel and museum. The food was beautifully served, tasty, and just a bit different.  We found short ribs as good as Sardi's in NYC, so Tom was in heaven.  We were serenaded by a delightful trio of two guitar players and maraca player, all of whom sang in harmony, light songs at each table in the place.  It was really lovely. The red roses from the dinner are in a vase in our loft, and the memory holds as a very romantic night with my best friend and lifetime love.

Today was a red letter day for both of us. Tom found many new secrets in Antigua and arranged for a walking tour with Elizabeth, and a tour of the Filadelphia coffee farm with the same company.  I discovered the secret to the term decimal, as it is used in the Guatemalan ministry of educacion, from which the teachers draw their knowledge.  It is a key to what I am studying here, so I look forward to uncovering more of this mystery as time goes by.

On Saturday we greet Adam and Catherine in Guatemala City, for a week of touring museums, etc.  In Antigua, life is good.  jt

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Feb 13, 2011

Note from Jeanne

What an incredible weekend we have had here.  The XI Festival Internacional de Cultura Paiz 2011 began with a screaming start for us on Saturday night. We went to the Ermita de la Santa Cruz on the SE end of town, where an old church facade served as the backdrop for a large stage, which blended into an orchestra seating area, raised seating behind it, and bleachers, which ended about 100 yard from the stage.  The theatre is open-air, so we were enshrined in stars, moon, and cool breezes that flowed through.

The concert opened with la orquestra sinfonica juvenil municipal (the youth orchestra of Guatemala City), which was spectacular. The group played beautifully, and even though it was open-air, each instrument was miked well, so the sound was terrific. After about three tunes, the players of Tiempo Libre came out and played some pieces with the orchestra. The combination was magical.  After a short break, Tiempo Libre came back out and played for about an hour and the audience was encouraged to get up and dance, and of course, we were up with the rest, enjoyed the maddening music of this world-renowed group.  It was spectacular.

Today we walked into town for a marimba concert at parque central.  In this park there is a large fountain, surrounded by a series of sidewalks that lead to the fountain.  At each of four intersections, four independent marimba groups had set up two very large, hand carved marimbas, a drum set, bongos, and string base.  We found a seat near the fountain, and watched as the crowd developed, just outside the entry to the walkway where the marimbas were set up.  Near us a group of viejas gathered,  and were dressed in traditional Spanish dress, with colorful tiered, flared skirts, and matching peasant style blouses. When the music began, the ladies began dancing with each other. Eventually, more people joined in, and eventually, we got up the gringo guts to get up and dance to these waltzes, rhumbas, and one step dances.  The interesting thing was to dance completely around the fountain, passing in front of each of the marimba groups, and noting their difference in uniform dress, suits with same color ties.  All four groups played the same tune at the same time, and were held together, most of the time, with a prompt from an electronic source that had the beat and general starting point.  As the time went by, the groups wavered in their togetherness, but it was still fun to dance.  Afterward, we wandered to some new places on the square, had a light afternoon fare of a cool drink, cappucino, and pastel.  In general, a great weekend.

We are still enjoying the markets, people, talking about and using Spanish more and more, and in general, relaxing. Tom has pictures of things from the weekend, so look for those here, or maybe my facebook page.  Love to all  jt

Friday, February 11, 2011

Feb 11, 2011

Greetings all

Today, while riding the school bus to school, I was struck by the intensity of purpose of the people of this area.  I catch the bus at 6:45, and as I stand at the spot where I will be picked up, because they recognize me, and there is no designated bus stop, people are pouring by me on the way to construction jobs, school, and parents walking their children to school, while ladies sitting on the sidewalk making sandwiches to those in need.  These are hard working folks who care deeply about their lives, the lives of their children, and the need to persevere and marshal on.  I am humbled standing at the corner among these industrious people who are so intent at the start of their day, that started long before I see them at 6:45.

In my observations today, I witnessed the issuance of textbooks.  I am not sure if this is the first time, but it was a dramatic moment, and the students seemed reverent and pleased to have this new tool in their hands.  It may change instruction, because previously the teacher lectured from the text, but now all of the upper grade students have the same written word.  It is a Dumas moment, where the populace is now in the know.  I revel in these experiences and hope that later when back in Texas, I'll be able to apply this new knowledge somehow toward the betterment of the children in our schools who come from countries where a textbook is such a treasure.

We have completed now 12 hours of Spanish tutoring and we are both having a grand time with our separate teachers.  Both are challenging us, and we welcome this.  I have never spoken so much Spanish in my life.  I can only hope that after six months, some fluency will result. Practice, practice, practice.

I hope you are well and that the ice and snow in Dallas lifts soon.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Feb 10, 2011

Greetings all from Jeanne

Wanted to let you know that we have new photos and a short film posted on my facebook. The film is of the panorama we saw last evening as the sun was setting over the volcano.  There is a small hill north of where we live and we strolled over to see the sunset and were overwhelmed by the beauty of the place. We could see all of Antigua and the mountains in the distance.  It was breathtaking indeed.

I have figured out how to catch the school bus outside our place and ride back and forth with some students from the school, two of whom let me take their picture, Lauren and Casey. Lauren is my new bus buddy and we talk about math and school in general. It is great to get the student's perspective on what I am observing from 8-2 every day.  I am ecstatic to get this additional bonus information.

Today began the annual art festival and we attended the opening art exhibit that showed the works of Carlos Merida, whose work was on display at the museum in the Santo Domingo hotel, which is built in an ancient Colonial convent and displays excavations throughout the hotel grounds. It is extraordinary.  Monday we'll be celebrating Valentine's day there, so I hope to get some pictures of the place, which I will post on facebook, since it can hold more pictures than here.

Today we walked through town to the public market and I practiced my Spanish, buying fruits and vegetables.  It is good to finally take this risk.  More to come.

I have become very comfortable at the school, wandering from room to room, observing the teaching of math, sitting in kid size desks, typing away on my ipad, drawing with my penultimate app when the need arises.  I am learning many things and just this week my theory of disconnection is beginning to play out.  The teacher has been teaching about Roman decimals and Mayan decimals.  It is a very interesting process, but I was confused for three days. Today, when a student challenged her, it finally came to light why I was confused. She is representing the factorization of large numbers by divisions of the exponential of 20, calling this decimals.  She explained to the student who challenged her that the numbers beyond the decimal, which she briefly wrote on the board, as decimos, which was distinguished from decimals.  It was exciting to have this float out of the observations. She seems very open to having me there, so this is very nice. The kids are getting used to me being around, so that helps as well.  It is a terrific experience.  I can't wait to see where it goes from here.

Have a grand weekend and stay in touch.  jt

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Feb 8, 2011

Greetings from Jeanne

Tom has been sending some terrific thoughts about our life here, so I wanted to add a few things about my time in the school and the activities I have been participating in there.  I have had the amazing opportunity to witness teachers in the escuela primaria (elementary school) teach mathematics.  I sit, observe, type thoughts into my ipad, and learn.  For the past two days, the upper grade levels have been learning the Mayan number system and a version of decimals that is new to me, so am eager to continue my observations to sort through the logic behind the method. The teacher of grades 4-6 is presenting this six times daily, twice with each grade, and I observe her three times each day. We are on a recognition, acceptance level, and I hope to get my Spanish up to speed enough to speak to her about her teaching methods and conceptual development. The other grade level teachers are equally open and willing to have me in their classrooms and I am learning many things about how teaching and learning mathematics occurs here.  With 5.5 more months to go, I hope to be quite adept at this. Although the school day is divided between English and Spanish speaking for every child, mathematicas is only taught in Spanish, the native language of most.  It is a challenge at times, but my dictation/interpretation skills are improving vastly as a result.

Yesterday, one of the directors of the school, Suzy, took me with her and 23 seniors from the h.s. to a small village southwest of the school, Jocotenango. There the students engaged with 60 very old, infirmed folks at a nursing home that operates on donations, kindness, and volunteers.  The residents, many of whom have been deserted there by family members, were very sweet and appreciative of the kindness and energy the students brought to them.  I attempted to speak to the ladies and gentlemen, but it was apparent that my Spanish is still woefully inadequate for engaging with citizens who have only spoken Spanish their entire lives. They still appreciated the personal contact, in spite of the lack of language fluency.  This is one of the community service projects that the school sponsors for all upper level students at the school, which is private, and provides instruction for fairly wealthy students, but also provides quite a few scholarships for children in lesser circumstances.  It is a valuable experience for the students to engage and share themselves with shut in folks.

Another great thing has been happening: I am speaking Spanish; hailing taxis, ordering food, with my tutor for three hours every other day, at the school, and have even begun to see things here in Spanish only.  It is so amazing, since up until this week, I have shied from speaking, so it feels pretty good, in fact great.  I can only hope that this will continue to develop.  We had a slight problem with technology and my Rosetta Stone practice disks ceased to work, which is unfortunate, as this is what was boosting my confidence to try.  Oh well, the real world has set in and I am forced, happily, to give it a go.

This weekend is the Festival Paiz for three weeks in Antigua. Tom has been working fastidiously to acquire tickets, and achieved success today  Yeah!! We have tickets for Tiempo Libre (one of our favorites, check it out) this weekend, and tomorrow he is going to give it another go, hopefully scoring tickets for the national ballet of Guatemala.  The setting is an outdoor theatre that used to be a cathedral, but now only the facade serves as the backdrop for the stage which looks up a slight hill to the stands where we will sit under the stars for the performance. Should be real cool. 

We have begun our parallel day lives, me at school and Tom walking around Antigua discovering new things, but are enjoying our evenings of birds, mountains, and flowers, flowers, flowers. It is truly paradise here.  Off for now.  jt

Tuesday, February 8

Tom again.  Just a quick note this time, written in our favorite internet cafe.  I wanted to share a picture of the view we get coming out our front door - volcano!  If this works, it will appear just below.

Yes!  I see it worked.  All for now.  I need to sign out before I get charged for another hour.  Life's still good here.  We're both enjoying Spanish lessons, and Jeanne goes to Colegio Boston every day to work with the great ladies there.  Bye for now.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday, February 6

Tom here.  Last night we went to a piano concert at the hotel that's just around the corner from our condo - in the same complex.  "The Lions Hotel" (more or less) is a very elegant setting.  The concert was well attended, and held in a cloister-like setting - outdoors, but with a covered balcony all around.  It started just before sunset, and there were candles placed all around, along with soft electric light.  The pianist was Gilles Vonsattel, a faculty member at UMass Amherst.  We noticed that another pianist on this same series is Alessio Bax, our SMU faculty member.  Sra. Maria del Carmen Batres (our host) was there also, and introduced us to the woman who runs the concert series.  I told her we knew Alessio, as well as his teacher, Joaquin Achucarro.  She was excited to hear that, and told us that many (maybe all) of the performers she's geting in are through the Joaquin Achucarro Foundation, and she works with Janet Kafka on this.  Small world!

Our internet service is becoming limited, as we had a couple of unexpected downloads (automatic, of course) that used up about 700MB of our allotted 1GB.  Yow!  Anyway, we're being careful with the "stick" we bought with 1GB, and combining internet tethering with our iPhones for use.  We can't purchase more gigs of service until  the end of the fifteen day free service that came with the stick (limit 1GB).  It's a catch 22 we hadn't expected, but really just part of doing business in a new environment.  All for now - this is a really fabulous setting, sweet people, and gentle place.  T.