Sunday, October 14, 2012

Teaching Tumianuma, by Rico Lost Boy

¬I asked Rico lost boy, a long term volunteer at Neverland Farm, and a sweet, sweet man, to write about his experiences teaching English in our small Andean town- I hope everyone enjoys this as much as I did~ Tina

This is Rico, blogging from Neverland Farm about volunteering in Tumianuma’s elementary school, where the students call me “Richard” although “ch” and “rd” sounds are super hard for them. This is ironic, because I decided to go by Rico here to avoid this … I usually go by Rich in the US, short for Richard, so it stood to reason that Rico is short for Ricardo here in Latin America. Unfortunately, it turns out “rico” just means tasty morsel (*tina note- I am not letting him drop THAT name!!).
 I’d never considered teaching English before I came to Neverland. I’d come to South America for five months of travel to learn Spanish and experiment in sustainable development and off-grid living. I was looking forward to physical work, the freedom of travel, and avoiding English.
When Tina and folks in town asked me to stay to teach, I wasn’t sure. Neverland was supposed to be a first stop, and it’s not every day I’m in South America. I’d spend most of my days teaching English, and then come back to Neverland, where English usually dominates. I was close to saying no and turning down room and board in favor of more travel and less English.
Luckily, I said yes, and – as I’ve learned the Dutch say – I fell with my nose in the butter.
 I’m teaching two English classes three days a week and “computacion” classes the other two days. (The school just received a boon donation of 16 older model desktops and monitors, and the four profesoras of the school don’t know much about them.) I wake up at 6 30 or so if I feel like it, which leaves plenty of time for ugly beginner yoga on the patio with avocados hanging to my left and the mountains rising together in front of me over fruit tress and a stream whose current tucks us in and puts us to sleep at night.
 I walk down a little trail to the kitchen and our enormous homemade outdoor table where I eat leftovers or eggs or fruit as other volunteers start to amble down. At 730 or 8 I start a half hour walk down the mountain to town, which is impossible to make at that hour without stopping to chat at least twice with people from the village coming up the valley for work. Everybody is so happy I’m heading to the school that they pretend my Spanish is perfect.
 I stop at one of two little stores to chat, check the time, and buy chocolate or cookies. If I told you they were for the kids, I’d be lying. I change my shirt to complete my uniform and up the hill I go, saying good morning and waving to all the people smiling at me like I’m the Queen of England (seriously, people even hand me fruit).
 When I walk through the gate and up a field toward the four-classroom school kids start screaming “GOOD MORNING!!!” At 845 I start my first class. I have three groups of kids: first grade through third grade (around 15), fourth and fifth grade (10ish), and sixth and seventh grade (15ish). Recess is around 45 minutes, which for me is a half hour to 45 minutes of chatting with the four just incredibly kind and patient profesoras watching the children scream and run around. Then it’s another class of 45 minutes that usually runs to an hour or an hour and a half until one of the profesoras comes to tell me that they’ve made me another delicious lunch.
 The classes are incredibly fun and very rewarding and at times I get so frustrated I want to cry (although being able to curse under my breath in English makes me smile every time). I have so, so much respect for every teacher on earth after facing 45 minutes with ten ten year olds. Thankfully, every kid in the school really does want to learn English and really does think English is so cool. I cannot imagine what it would be like to teach something they hated.
In all seriousness, though, we’re learning a ton together. All the kids are bright, and making progress. I, meanwhile, am learning so much about expanding my patience and maintaining inner peace under pre-adolescent siege. The frustration usually comes because they all really do want to learn, but they have all the energy and tricks to distract themselves that kids should have. I have limited time at the school and sometimes I feel pressed to advance quickly.
My friend Scott put things in perspective for me when I was getting badly stressed before I started. I had no experience with English classes and for the most part neither did the kids. He told me that I ought to focus on making class enjoyable and cultivating an interest in continuing with English down the road, since we both know how long a process it is to learn another language. He was absolutely right, and I’m trying to balance his advice with my drive to give the kids a taste of the thrill of being able to have an actual conversation in a foreign language. To me that experience is like cruising on a bike for the first time, which is such a beautiful feeling even if it’s just for a block before you fall to one side.
Teaching here is wonderful because the students are psyched to learn English and constantly surprise me by saying things they’ve picked up from the TV, older friends or parents. More importantly, they have the chance to practice, because most of the adults in town want to learn, too… when they all go to a little store in town after school to buy snacks they’ll soon be doing business in English. I know that sounds imperialistic, but from what I can tell it’s what everyone in town wants to see.
And how can I describe how happy it makes them and how happy it makes me when they completely get something that thrills them? They really do get thrilled, and so do I. The four profesoras, too, get psyched. They love that the classes make the kids happy, and they also love that they get to leave the kids with me for a while. All four teachers are women, one in her 30s, two in their 40s, and one in her 60s. They all understand how hard it is to teach a room full of little kids, and are constantly encouraging me and thanking me and offering me food and putting up with my Spanish.
That goes for pretty much everyone in town, actually… which means I’m welcome to watch my telenovelas for a while after I leave the school at 11 or 12. People are constantly inviting me over to chat and are always encouraging me. I’m learning every day about what life is like in a tiny pueblo in the Andean hills, and just as importantly I’m current with the soap operas and always have places to drink beer and watch sports.
 This afternoon I was able to visit a couple of homes and work out how I could bring two French, three Austinians, two Hollanders, an Englishwoman, a 75 year old German man who lives here, his daschund, and possibly a Colombian into town to watch Ecuador embarrass Chile in the world cup qualifiers tomorrow. I returned a flashlight that I’d borrowed from another family with some syrup glazed popcorn the profesoras made for a snack, and chatted with their neighbor in short shorts who put down his enormous axe as he explained what it was like to fight narco-guerillas and Peruanos in the jungle as part of the Ecuadorian army in the 90s. I walked a little further, sat on Gloria’s couch, and watched characters make bad decisions at the end of El Ex. The decision to teach English has been phenomenal for my Spanish.
Tonight one of the volunteers, Cris, the small and impeccable Colombian cruise ship band director and master dancer, is giving a salsa class at 5, so I decided not to catch the 1230 bus to Loja for a dance class like I’ll be doing two or three times a week. (I can show up at the dance studio any afternoon for a month with my $25 subscription.) The other two days I’ll stay in Tumianuma for the afternoon reading and writing and studying and chatting until folks get off from work and come for an evening English class.
When I feel like it, I head back up to Neverland to eat delicious leftovers put aside for me, and I hang out on a beautiful farm with beautiful horses and birds and a beautifully fluid (and always funny) community of travelers and students from all over. Unfortunately I can only stay til December… so we need someone to replace me in January.
COME FALL WITH YOUR NOSE IN THE BUTTER! Te juro, no vas a lamentarlo!

AS THE TURBINE TURNS... continued...

AS THE TURBINE TURNS, TINA’S TALE OF A MICRO HYDRO ELECTRIC PLANT (continued)The whole work of installing a plant and free utility for the entire valley of Chirusco, where Neverland Farm is located, is taking forever! (ok, it feels like an eternity even if its only been a few weeks).

The first steps of building are done. The primary pillars for supporting the union of the (really heavy) 8” tubes are finished! YEAH! Unfortunately, last week the engineers who sold us the tubes came out to check on our work (which they highly approved of!) and decided that additional support pillars are required! So here we go again, 4 more pillars. They are mostly done, everyone is sick of making pillars. Now to dig out the creek, move tons (literally, TONS) of rocks to one side of the creek in hopes that the creek will not flood us out (the big burns of all of our mountains means that we will experience flash flooding big time this winter).

 Next comes~ The excavation for our machine installation, which has begun. We rapidly discovered that 3-4 HUGE rocks will have to be built into the structure, no way can we move those suckers. And the digging out of this space is back breaking, rock breaking, straight up labor. There are several nationalities of volunteers and local people all in it together! Patricio tells us that by Friday next he will have poured the cement for the initial base. It will take all week as we have to super reinforce with rebar the whole structure, and make one wall that faces the creek impermeable and indestructible by flood or fire, not a small feat! Patricio, and Annegreet, our dutch engineer, have a plan and it is advancing daily. Construction in this isolated valley far from the road is complicated. Every advance is a celebration of ingenuity and hard work, but we can all see tangible evidence that its happening!

Yesterday we had a minor miracle. Well, a not so minor miracle! A few weeks ago Vilcabamba saw the transformative consciousness raising collaborative and big music festival of WaterWoman. I didn’t get to attend, but several volunteers from Neverland went to help set up and attended, everyone loved it. They installed an entire electrical system to be sure they had no failures of electricity. Several days ago WaterWoman organizers posted an advertisement that they would sell the wiring system. Coincidentally, it happens to have exactly the number of fuse boxes we need, all the wiring for the local peoples homes and the approximately 2000 meters of electrical wiring we need to run the electricity to the whole neighborhood! Not only did the WaterWoman provide an excellent fiesta and collaboration between local peoples and foreigners (an excellent example of how to work with local people) but they are selling us the entire wiring system, at a substantial discount, to provide electricity for these homes that have never had access. For far less than I had anticipated! The Neverland Farm volunteers and I will be there Monday morning to uninstall the system, bring it home and begin the lengthy job of wiring the system out of Neverland Farms valley and into the river valley to our neighbor’s homes!! A MAJOR ADVANCE! We are actually doing it! I wish I could post pictures, but our internet is really crappy these days and I cant seem to upload anything, hard enough just to send these blogs. But soon, I promise! We have so many photos to show off! Now all i need to do is raise a bit more funding to keep all of this going... Peace everyone!
Later note, the wire we got was a lot. But far less than we need! More to come in our ongoing saga....

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The 2 Beanies!

There is so much happening at Neverland Farm right now that I can barely find time to check our emails, much less write some of this down!
We currently have 1 small bull, Daniel Shakespeare, 3 heifers, la de brown swiss, la negrita y la naranjada, a mare and her foal, Anabela and baby girl Ayla, our stallion, Ingreido, Tocino and Chuleta (bacon and pork chop, respectively) our pair of pigs, Stewbie the stupid dog (whom I love like my own idiot child), James Brown our fat cat who thinks he is a dog, Tutti Maria, the black lab who lives on the farm with J+C just below me, Odie, German Hans’ dachsund, uncounted (and uncountable, as they look so much alike) chickens and less and less baby chicks daily (we seem to have a chicken predator as well, the mountains burned down and the wild animals have no food…) and Nova, our white dog, who is mother to us all. So the logical addition to this zoo would be, of course, a newly orphaned calf.
She is 3 weeks old and her mommy cow died. We got a call from a Vilcabamban that the poor thing was just crying next to dead mom in a field far away from us. So I asked for volunteers to help with her feeding and care, which will be intense for a few weeks, including bottle-feeding her! I got Beany Lost girl, from England, to volunteer to become a surrogate calf mother.
The negotiations with the owner of any animal is serious business in this rural agri’culture’. There are traditions here, rules to be followed! With animals being the primary income for most families, the loss of a large animal, or even a small one, can be considered tragic! Even the simplest sale of an orphaned animal has its protocol. The purchasing of this calf might well be the funniest negotiation of my life.
I got a team together including myself, Beany, Patricio and Colombian Chris, and on a moments notice we simply left Neverland Farm (a rare occurrence in the middle of a busy day), marched fast to Tumianuma, lucked into a passing truck that let us ride into town in the rain, then took the same truck and drove up into other hills surrounding Vilcabamba. I have never spent much time in San Pedro de Vilcabamba, the farmer who had the calf has a stunning farm right on the riverside, the drive in was slow and scenic, lush and green with the first rains of our little winter coming down (thank god). Farmer Felice (yes, that means happy, and yes, that’s his name) walked us over to this lovely dark chocolate brown (and skinny) calf.
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