Saturday, April 30, 2011

April 30, 2011

Today we hit the half-way mark of our incredible journey to Guatemala.  We are still doing well and wanted to share with you some insights from some travelers we met who are exploring many parts of Mexico, central, and south America.  Attached below find their webpage of photographs, stories, and general adventure that they have been on for the past several years. We met Karen and Eric at the home of Tom's Spanish teacher, and we built an alfombra together for the Monday of SS week.  We had them over for dinner last night, along with the teacher, Evelyn, and enjoyed a long evening of stories and home cooking.  Many of their photographs are the same as ours, but done as a professional would, so enjoy.

Trans-Americas Journey

I am entering my last four weeks of research in the private school, and have sent out a letter of introduction to continue my study in public schools in July, when we return from Mexico and other parts of Guatemala.  Tom's teacher was kind enough to draft the letter on my behalf, and the husband of her hotel manager, who teaches at the school, agreed to carry it forward for me.  It is all about thre, or ten cups of tea. 

I was able to speak in Spanish with a teacher at Colegio Boston who I see every morning at 8, and we have a meeting set up for this coming week sometime to talk about how math was taught in Guatemala when she was a girl, the curriculum she followed before the new textbooks came out, and teaching in general.  She seemed to even understand what I was asking, which was a true bonus.  I chose her because she is the most patient with the children, so I can only hope she will show me this same patience.  I have a lot to gain from visiting with her, so here's hoping my present and past verbs work.

We have both been under the weather this week with head stuffiness and general yuckiness, but once the air clears, we should be ok soon.

Hope all is well for you and yours.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April 26, 2011

Greetings from Jeanne:

In my last post I talked about taking a few days off from Semana Santa, which we did on Tuesday and Wednesday last week.  I got some research done, and we caught up on sleep a bit.  We were back in the fray of the events on Thursday through Easter Sunday.  On Thursday we went out in the late afternoon and followed the procession route backwards, watching people create alfombras, readying for the procession.  We ran into our friend's house manager and spent the rest of the afternoon with Maria and her extensive family in her house, watching the procession from this site on the street.  The cucuruchos were in purple and white again, and this one was carried by the young boys in the city. After the procession we went to a play at a local small restaurant where the actors were acting as cooks and waitresses in a madcap kitchen.  In this comedy whatever the actors were preparing was what we were eating from the kitchen.  It was fun and interesting. When we were walking home after 10 the rains had begun and the already created alfombras were washing down the streets of Antigua.

The next day was Good Friday and the most celebrated in the city.  Unfortunately, Tom was feeling a bit under the weather and was unable to spend the day with Maria's family for the multiple processions.  I met the family at the front door to the house at 5am and started the day with a long stroll through the the alfombras that were being formed and reformed. These were exceptional in length, design, and color. The pictures of this collection is on Jeanne's facebook and labeled Semana Santa final weekend.  There was a strong sense of the gravity of the day Jesus dies.  The alfombra in front of Maria's house was constructed by a group of five men who designed a beautiful design of all flowers, which was not observed anywhere else. The procession was filled with Roman soldiers on horseback, in carriages, thousands of cucuruchos carrying the image of Jesus carrying the cross, Mary weeping at the inevitable, and thousands of people on the street watching this amazing event.  Women were crying and emotions were running high.  I joined the family and friends for a seafood lunch at Maria's and during lunch Maria told us of one of the church's practice of taking Jesus from the cross before the final procession of the dead Christ was processed through town that evening.  The description of the life-like limbs, etc encouraged a group of use to head out for 10 blocks to see this next event.

We made it to Escuela de Cristo in time to witness the removal of the Christ figure from the cross, along with thousands of others who had crowded in the church. We were in the back but observed an amazing site.  The joints of this figure were flexible in a way that as the body was removed, the limbs flexed and gave the appearance of a person being taken from a cross.  We stood outside with a massive, packed crowd who observed the evening procession of Jesus in a glass coffin, carried by 90 cucuruchos, all in black, led by 3-D floats of the stations of the cross, followed by an anda (float) with Mary carried by 70 women. Everyone was dressed in black robes, and some of the men in the lead of the long, long procession wore pointed hats with black face covers, with nets for eyes. The entire procession was amazingly somber, and though were standing among thousands of devout people, there was absolute silence as the long procession worked its way for 10 hours through the city.  To add to the intensity, it began to rain a few hours later, delaying the arrival of the procession at Maria's house.  I arrived back home around 10pm. Tom was feeling better, so we talked and I showed him my pictures.

On Saturday before Easter we took a public bus to the village of San Lorenzo, the pueblo of my Spanish teacher Angela.  We walked along the roads watching people create alfombras of great detail, mostly in sawdust. The procession was small in size, as was the church, and the only anda was Mary, who was carried by around 40 women. What made this particularly day so intriguing was the procession in which every person in the village who had come out to observe the salida (exit from the church), walked in the procession all the way through the village. 

On Easter Sunday we walked to San Pedro church in town and were looking for alfombras along the route and found none, except for a rather long one leading to the church, and one immediately in front of the church. There were far fewer people at this event, which is in contrast to the U.S. perception of Easter.  There were fireworks, people adding their own contributions to the long alfombra, recorded music of excitement, and white and yellow flags.  A group of bedoin-looking folks played drums, flutes, and shook tamborines in celebration.  Everything in the street suggested a great event was about to happen. Then it did: The anda with Jesus, standing in a brilliant white robe, surrounded by beautiful flowers, arms out, signifying his return and salvation.  Confetti was dropped from the bell tower, the crowd was chanting Vive Cristo, and the procession began with a New Orleans jazz funeral final joyous song from the band that follows all andas. It was an extraordinary end to an exceptional set of events for the past month.  We felt privileged indeed to be witness to this culture's public display of devotion.

Since the end of the events, we have gotten back into the routine of school observations, Spanish lessons, and enjoying Antigua.  I am in the final month of my research in the current school I am observing and am in the process of working out arrangements to observe in public/rural schools in our last month here.  I have a few interviews set up in Guatemala City, which should add to the rich data base I have been building on my ipad for the past three months. I have learned so much here and hope that this translates to additional research in Denton schools when I return.

Hope all is well for you and yours.  Jeanne

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 18, 2011

Greetings from Jeanne:

It has been an interesting week here in Antigua.  I finished a week of observations at the school and was able to glean some new information that might support my hypothesis that there are differences in how mathematics is taught in Central America and Mexico and the US.  I have a line on some possible sources that will help me gather additional information.  I me two teachers who teach in the public schools in Jocotenango, a pueblo next to Antigua, who said they would be willing to talk to their school administrators and possibly gain me entry into this unknown world.  I hope to meet with their school directors sometime in the near future, with the potential to visit in July. From an information gathering perspective, things are looking good.

We continue to work on getting our financial life sorted out here.  We learned that the UPS truck only comes to Antigua once a week, on Tuesday, which affected our newly pressed MCs, which arrived in Guatemala City on Wednesday last week.  We hope to see these sometime today, but who knows. We are faring well in spite of the multiple thefts conducted electronically last week. Thanks to everyone who offered to front us the cash. We appreciate you immensely.

Two big things have been happening this week: 1) we have participated in the Semana Santa events in multiple new ways, and 2) I have begun to speak Spanish openly, albeit still stumbling a bit, in public settings.  First, Semana Santa events.  Sunday Tom and I went to the La Merced church about an hour and a half before the procession. Outside the church there were hundreds of people, many vendors selling food, drinks, sunglasses, cotton candy, etc.  Immediately outside the door was a very long alfombra (carpet) that was brilliant in color and long in size.  We walked the route of the procession from its start for about a mile.  We saw alfombras being constructed of flowers, whole vegetables, sawdust, plastic figurines, fruit carved into animals, etc in varying lengths and design.  We took many, many pictures of these, all of which are in albums in my facebook.  We watched the procession along the boulevard reforma, in front of the farmers market where we shop.  There had to have been thousands of cucuruchos (men and boys in purple, with white veils and purple bands, in facebook), ready to carry the anda (float) along the many miles of this procession. We took a break from the street fair, came home for the afternoon, then walked back to the route, where we met the procession for a glimpse of the event in the night. It was magnificent to see the same anda in the dark, and the same number of cucuruchos waiting to carry the anda.  There were scores and scores of people watching in both the morning and evening. The mixture of solemn devotion to Jesus, coupled with the festive atmosphere of fun and food, is truly amazing.  When our hostess asked us if we would be here for Semana Santa, we had no idea why she thought this was so important; now we are being to get a glimpse of that why.

Yesterday, we participated in the construction of an alfombra at the hotel owned by Tom's Spanish teacher.  His teacher Evelyn had designed an alfombra of all flowers that began as a circle in the center, then was framed with a rectangle of long pine needles, which was trimmed in baby-breath flowers.  We worked for several hours with her hotel guests, her family, and Evelyn to create the concentric circles of purple, off white, red, yellow, and pink flowers.  The work was relaxing and it was great to be part of the community process of preparing for the procession of Jesus on a float through the streets of Antigua.  All around us were many other hotels and individuals who were creating alfombras of varying sorts.  It was particularly interesting to watch the clean  up crew sweep up in a matter of minutes, the trampled alfombra.  Our incense still burned, along with the candles that Evelyn's mother burned in front of the picture of the crucifixion.  It was an unparalleled experience.

It was during the wait time between preparing the alfombra and the procession that I had a chance to speak Spanish to a woman who teaches in Jocotenango.  She is one of the teachers who is studying English and she and I struck up a conversation.  I found that once I got started, I was able to keep going and we were able to work out a way for me to possibly visit hers and the upper level school near by.  I agreed to speak English with her, and she agreed to speak Spanish. She was patient, helpful, and very delightful.  It was a new day and a great beginning toward one of my goals here, to speak with natives without fear and with clarity. 

We have agreed to take a break from processions today and tomorrow, and are preparing ourselves for the big, big processions of Thursday through Sunday. Easter here is far less important than the lead up to the resurrection on Sunday.  We plan to follow it all, then return to a simpler life of research, Spanish lessons, and seeking opportunities to live a life of peace and quiet, but with an eye for adventure always open.

Hope all is well for you and yours.  jt

Monday, April 11, 2011

april 11, 2011

Greetings from Jeanne

Well, it has been a quiet, seemingly uneventful week here, but it turned out to be quite eventful at the end.  We discovered that three of our electronic connections to finances were compromised, but all is restored at this time.  We will seek other means of transacting in the future, but now stand alerted to the notion that this lovely place has its limitations when it comes to electronic banking transactions.

In spite of this end of the week discovery, we had a good week in paradise.  I returned to the school and was able to put in five consecutive days of observation.  It has been an amazing learning experience, watching teachers who are excellent at what they do, lecture.  My mind spins with possibilities for them if they had materials, preparation, in essence, a supported curriculum.  Unfortunately, they do not, so the lectures continue, and the 3-7% who get it, do well, while most of the others continue to struggle, but marshal on, in spite of their lack of understanding or competence. 

I was sitting under the massive awning outside the cafeteria, reading between a few cancelled classes, since the math teacher had to judge talent contest instead of teach, and had a lengthy conversation, in broken Spanish, with the principal of the school, who also oversees the secondary division.  We came to the agreement that a supported curriculum, with manipulatives, videos, etc, would make a tremendous difference.  It was enlightening to share common thoughts with such an astute person.  He really cares about learning all over the school, and as a chemist, he knows the need to connect the math students are learning to mundo real.  Unfortunately, this stuff is expensive, and they are trying to keep the costs of this private school within some limits.

On the weekend, we observed the Saint Bartolome Bacerra procession, which was quite long.  Instead of walking along with them, we started at the square, and walked the route back to where we met up with the procession, the Roman Guards, and waited for the floats and waiting carriers.  As we walked the route backwards, we were able to see some magnificent alfombras, the flower, vegetable, leaves, pine needles, sawdust carpets that citizens lay down just prior to the arrival of the procession, assuring that the carpets are still in tact when the procession arrives.  It was extraordinary to observe the intensity of work, numbers of flowers, and commitment people have to the preparation of the carpets.  We even saw a scout group, who included a purple flower flur de lis in the center of their alfombra, to show the world brotherhood/sisterhood of scouting.  The procession was heavily attended and very, very long in its path.  We got to observe the changing of the cucuruchos, the people who carry the float.  Each person from the different pueblos who want to carry pay a small fee, send in their height, and then are assigned to a particular turn in the procession, along with a specific number along the side of the float.  As the float comes around the corner, poles with rounded tops, wide enough to hold the float, are placed under the float.  The men or women, depending on the float, who are carrying, step away, person by person, until their replacements have stepped into the pre-arranged holding place. when an entire new crew of carriers are in place, the procession continues. This goes on for the duration of the procession, which in the case of this one, lasted from 7am-midnight.  An amazing site to witness indeed.  This will go on for the next two weeks as the approach to Easter continues.

Today I was most fortunate to accompany a new colleague who works for the ministry of Education, who took me to a public school in Santa Ana, a near by pueblo.  The difference between it and the school where I have been observing was striking. The school is much, much smaller in size, population, but very much the same in other ways. All of the children wear uniforms, arrive at school clean and ready to go, listen to teachers readily, and show deep patriotism by standing at attention for 45 minutes as a program of Guatemalan flags, songs, and program were presented.  My colleague took me to observe a class of kindergarteners, whose teacher is a student in the dual-language program, which helps public school teachers learn and teach in English.  She had some pretty interesting looking materials, but we only got to witness her teaching a song to the children about being proud to be boys and girls, which both groups sang with equal vigor, across all gender lines.  I hope to get back there and possibly to other classes in the public schools later in July.

Tom and I continued to enjoy our Spanish classes this week and are both improving in our speaking, writing, and listening.  I actually understood the ladies in the market this week, and did not have to walk to the next vendor out of confusion, which is a giant step forward. One day I will find the courage to bargain, but for now, I listen, weigh the offer, listen again, and when I hear the one that suits me, I buy.  It is a real learning experience.  Tom patiently lets me stumble, which is just what I need, since I have depended on him far too long in Spanish speaking countries.  This aspect of our trip has been really worth it.

Hope all is well for you and yours

Monday, April 4, 2011

April 4, 2011

Greetings from Jeanne

We had quite a weekend.  On Saturday we went on a long, long walk to find the maker of a set of placemats and napkins we like and found the person's shop after several attempts to follow directions we obtained.  What we discovered was a tiny shop of three weavers who make very fine fabric for placements, napkins, and tablecloths.  Two of the weavers were men, and one woman.  All three worked independently on hand looms that were approximately 36 inches wide.  One other man was seated near the first weaver and was using a bicycle wheel and pedal to separate threads for the weavers.  There was an old fashion yarn separator there, but the bicycle wheel worked much better.  We watched the weavers for a short while and learned from the nephew of the owner that if we wanted to order the items we wanted, we would have to place the order with the owner, who was one of our servers at Welton's.  We met him on the way home and spoke to him briefly about the possible order.  One day we'll work out the details and place the order.  What distinguishes these placemats and napkins from others we see is the fineness of the weave and the delicate representation of the Quetzal bird, the national bird of Guatemala. The bird is woven into the napkins so that when the napkin rests next to the plate the length of the bird's tail is evident and not truncated, as is done in some stitching.  We have become quite enamored of this long-tailed bird, so prefer the more elegant representation.

We returned home and I worked for a while on an article about Fiesta Math Night that I am trying to finish, and Tom hung out reading.  Later that afternoon we returned to el centro for the children's procession.  We were cognizant of the schedule, but were surprised to find the children arriving earlier than announced. We learned that this is the way.  What came down the square toward us was a procession of boys, in purple gowns that went from head to toe, who carried a wooden float of statues of Jesus on their shoulders.  There were many, many boys in the streets along side the float where were substituted as the float moved in a swaying way through the streets.  The float was approximately 12 ft long and seven ft high, with statuary of Jesus, angels, etc on the top of the float.  There was a band that followed and played derges as the procession moved slowly through the streets.  Shortly after the boys and their statues had started west towards their town Santa Ana, a second float, honoring the virgin Mary, was carried by girls in white dresses and white lace mantillas. This float was not quite as large, and there were ladies under the float assisting the girls in the carriage of the float. A second band accompanied this float and sad music emanated from the group.

We had a light cena, watched a few movies, and readied for the bigger day on Sunday.  In the early morning we found a tuk-tuk (motor cycle with a covered carriage) and went to the Colegio Boston to watch the first Boston marathon in Guatemala.  The school children, people from the surrounding villages, and national champions in marathon participated in this fund raiser for the school. The school event was a huge success with over 100 participants, lots of prizes for winners, food, live music by a village band, recorded music from the Gallo (beer sponsor), and excitement on the part of our hostess Maria del Carmen, who was instrumental in thinking this up and making it happen.  Tom and I mostly watched, but for a long time had a great conversation with a sixth grade English teacher, Juan Carlos, who is Guatemaltecan, but lived with his mother in NY, Chicago, and around the US for 20 years.  He got some training in teaching ESL in Guatemala City, so now teaches at Colegio Boston.  It was eye opening to hear his story of his mother's work as a nurse in the US, and their eventual return to Antigua in her retirement.  He had many interesting stories of life in Brooklyn as a young child learning English and doing mathematics in English, yet not understanding what was what.  His story contributes to my study of learning mathematics here then later transferring it to US learning and the difficulties of the exchange.

After the race, we found our tuk-tuk driver who had returned for us, and went to Santa Ana to participate in the adult procession of the floats from Santa Ana to el centro en Antigua.  We found the church and along the streets leading to the church, we found streets lined with carpets made of long pine needles, fruits, vegetables, flowers, and scented nuts.  There are pictures of these in a facebook album.  We were told that the best thing to observe was the beginning of the procession coming out of the church.  This was indeed an amazing event.  Just outside the steps of the church was a carpet that was fashioned of sawdust, died in brilliant colors, with a template of religious designs, put together to represent a path along which the statues of Jesus and Mary could be carried in the procession.

We were right at the farthest edge of the carpet in front of the church, participated in the last 20 minutes of the mass before the procession began, and witnessed the arrival of the Roman soldiers, Egyptian/Middle Eastern dressed men, many men in purple robes, and some with white yokes.  The float that exited from the church was astounding. It was a carved wooden structure, approximately 40 feet long, fifteen feet wide, and fifteen feet tall. About 30 men were posted on either of the long sides, several underneath, and a few in the front and back guiding the float, which was carried on the shoulders of the men. As with the younger parade the day before, a band followed this float.  They walked across the carpet and by the time the women exited the church with the second float of the Virgin of Dolores, the carpet was completely destroyed.  We watched the women come out, along with the four men who carried a smaller statue of John and Mary Magdellan.

We had decided to walk behind the procession to Antigua, which is about 2 miles away.  We walked behind the first float and observed a very interesting phenomenon.  People behind the float with Jesus were picking up the fruits, vegetables, flowers, etc after the carpet had been disrupted by the carriers of the first float.  Many of the remains were undisturbed and usable.  We equated this to a reverse Mardi Gras. The wealthy in the Mardi Gras parade throw beads, etc to the less wealthy observers. In this procession, which was observed by many, many people along the route, the wealthy create the carpets outside their homes and the less wealthy who walk behind the Christ figure receive the remains of the visual tribute to Jesus.  It was amazing to observe.  Another interesting observation was the use of 40 poles with 10" wide flat faces with dowel rods sticking out of the top, to lift the many, many telephone, electrical, etc wires so that the floats could get through. This was particularly challenging when the float had to be turned on streets that are about 15' wide.  The people carrying the floats had to lower the float if the wires could not be moved, particularly in the turns.  From our vantage point, behind the band, it was a marvel to witness the lowering, lifting, and turning of the floats.

We stayed with the procession until it reached town, and arrived 3:45 minutes after it had started.  We left the procession, but it continued through el centro, then returned to Santa Ana.  Although there are only two miles between the city of Antigua and village of Santa Ana, the time it takes to move the float, wires, and complete the stations of the cross along the way, it is likely that the procession arrived in Santa Ana after 11pm.  Another intestesting part of the procession was the clean up crew who swept, shoveled, and cleaned the streets of all carpets, trash, etc as the procession completed its route.  We were some of the few who walked all the way from Santa Ana to Antigua, as most others left when the procession entered the city.  We learned the nature of the event, to suffer as Jesus did on the cross for us. Our feet, backs, and knees were in pretty bad shape after so much stopping, standing, walking really slowly, on cobble stone streets, plus standing for an hour to wait for the procession to begin.  Our age was showing last night.

We treated ourselves to limonada con soda at Angie Angie, where Tom has his Spanish lessons, then made our way over to a new place, a gallery of art by a Cuban artist, and shared some ceviche and pizza.  We arrived home content, but tired, took showers to clean off the dust, and settled in for a long night of rest after a long day.  This kind of event for cuardesma continues for the next two weekends.  More to come... Hope all is well with you.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April 1, 2011

From Jeanne

It's been a quiet week in Antigua for me and Tom.  We took a nice walk yesterday to the tourist office and spoke to some artists who were from San Felipe who worked in wood, metal, jade, and fabric.  We bought a table runner/wall hanging from a weaver.  It was amazing to watch her sit on the ground with the weaving loom tied across her lower back as she wove both fabric and designs into the fabric with special threads.  We learned that this is what she did, in spite of being a mother of four.  Someone else takes care of the children, so she can do her art.  As we strolled through Antigua, I took multiple photos of brass door knockers. There are some extraordinary brass lions, hands, amusing faces throughout the city.  I'll publish those photos in a facebook album when I get a larger collection.

Today we went for desayuno at the El Tener de Cerro restaurant at the top of the hill across from us.  We see this place at night, but had not ventured there yet. We had heard that the view was spectacular, but what we did not expect was the setting of this very modern restaurant in a hillside of modern arts of metal, wood, ceramics, paper, and murals.  It was an extraordinary experience, partly because of the view from the hill of the mountains, but also because the service was terrific and the food excellent.  Although we had what we have many time, huevos rancheros, somehow here it was exceptional.

Our main work this week has been practicing Spanish, in classes, on the street, in our homework for our lessons.  This week was the first time I ventured out alone for an appointment to get a manicure and pedicure.  Although I was familiar with the place, the only other time I went there was to get my hair cut. This time, I was sitting alone across from Thelma, alone for several hours.  Toward the end of our silent time, Thelma began a conversation.  I informed her that my speech was slow, but that I was studying and trying. We spoke for quite a while and she was very patient.  This was a major breakthrough for me, to speak to someone in sentences other than repeating what comes from a workbook.  I still struggle with questions people ask me on the street, but I am improving some, and hope that with hard work, I will continue to progress. Tom is still speaking quite well, but his teacher continues to work to get him out of his years of slang and into more formal forms.  It is taking pretty well.

This weekend we hope to catch our first glimpse of Lent in Antigua.  We plan to begin in Santa Ana when the procession begins, and pick it up later when it arrives in Antigua.  Pictures will follow in facebook on Monday. Today we got our first glimpse of a Lenten carpet at the restaurant on the hill. The work was extraordinary and the results true beauty.  Throughout the town there are purple banners commemorating semana santa in Antigua. Tom was able to procure the last one available from city hall for our apartment.  A photo will be included when we post the rest of this fourth lenten weekend on Monday.

With some time at home, I was able to get one of the five articles I am working on well under way.  I also spent some time reading, in Spanish, the Guatemalan recommended curriculum.  It is amazing to observe the disconnect between recommendation, written, and taught curriculum throughout the city.  We met a woman who works for the ministry of education, supervising private schools in Antigua. Her greatest struggle is to get teachers to embrace this new, more flexible, creative curriculum. She "trains" teachers in the use of the curriculum, but observes them teaching the way they were taught, an age-old problem in education in general.  It will be interesting to observe some public schools soon, to see how they interpret this new curriculum. 

Hope all is well in your neck of the woods.  jt