Friday, March 2, 2012

“Peace is not won by those who fiercely guard their differences, but by those who with open minds and hearts seek out connections.”

And now our two week adventure comes to an end. We have done what we set out to do—serve the students and teachers of UTEQ in Queretaro, Mexico, and we have done it with love, resourcefulness, commitment and creativity, thanks to a wonderful team of volunteers and our team leader, Pam. We accomplished our other goals of having a cultural experience and having fun; making friends; staying warm; and eating well. In the eating category, a highlight was the Thursday night special, pozole, at La Mariposa last night.

The last two days have been enhanced by celebratory experiences with the students—everything from food at the end (or beginning) of class, thank you comments from the students, presentations, and, most special to me, the songs sung by students for us. I was moved to tears yesterday when the students in one class sang a song for us at the end of class in both Spanish and English, accompanied by a student playing the guitar. The song began “Do you know how much I love you? Do you know how much I care?” These students are sweet and kind; respectful of us, their teachers and each other; committed to learning English and very appreciative of our efforts to help them learn. They are precious beyond words.

After a short morning of classes, our day and adventure at UTEQ ended with a party for the teachers which began with Bill speaking a message of heartfelt appreciation which touched and moved all of us and then us singing two songs composed by Tom to familiar tunes—“Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” and “Anything Goes” which the teachers seemed to love. Then two spokespersons for the teachers expressed words of thanks and appreciation and sang “Ceilito Lindo” for us in Spanish. On to sweets and goodies and informal visiting one on one and in small groups with the teachers, where over and over we were told how valuable we are and what a contribution we make to the students. Then back to the hotel for picture-taking and free time before dinner this evening—our last time together as a team.

I end this journal piece by saying that I can’t find a way to put into words how precious this experience has been.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

“What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.”

I am pleased that I decided to return to Queretaro because I have been truly inspired by the energy of my fellow volunteers and team leader, Pam. My daily walks in many diverse neighborhoods have truly enhanced my cross cultural awareness as well as another “slice” of neighborhood life.

In the mornings I’m greeted by other walkers/persons exercising; city workers busily cleaning the streets; observing parents walking or driving their children with their colorful uniforms to school; women sitting in the car applying make-up; others taking a taxi or bus to work; while others enter the church. All of these activities appear to be accomplished in a quiet calmness. Last Sunday as I was walking, I stopped to read a posted menu. A father and son asked if I spoke English; I said yes. After some small talk, he shared his Sunday morning tradition/routine. He drove across town to this area to purchase tamales from this location. He purchased both Queretaro traditional tamales as well as the Oaxacan traditional tamales, then returns home to enjoy them with his family along with coffee; Oaxacan hot chocolate and juice. Yes, I sampled the tamales and hot chocolate—they were delicious!!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

We began our second day of night classes with breakfast at the Express. We missed smiling Sara, who had to return home for an urgent family situation.

We scattered and then re-gathered for a hearty lunch at Café del Fondo before heading off to class on the van with Antonio. Classes were varied and stimulating. Volunteers again noted that many night students were working, some for international companies. For some, their work intensified their desire to speak English well. Wednesday brought a return to daytime classes starting at 8 am after a van ride brightened by the opportunity to practice songs for our party for the teachers. The songs have “familiar” melodies with lyrics provided by Tom, lyricist extraordinaire.

The volunteers have been energized daily and nightly by eager, enthusiastic students. Today, however, was a more special day in many classes: students came with a multitude of treats—food, food, food, from spicy to sweet, posters, signs, songs sung by costumed students accompanied by student guitarists, even a piñata. Credit for inspiring the students goes to teachers, especially Paty and Paloma. Another excellent day!

Monday, February 27, 2012

“We get to make a living—We give to make a life.”

Our first day of night classes officially began with breakfast at one of the Villemot Creperie locations. We were then set loose until 2:30 when we met at the hotel to go out for lunch. In between breakfast and lunch, we did errands, explored favorite haunts, and bought any provisions we needed. Those of us who rested on benches in the Jardin Zenea were approached by nurses in white uniforms to see if we wanted a blood pressure check.

This was all fine, but the real work of the day was yet to begin. At 4:30, Antonio came with the van. We arrived at UTEQ a little before 5 pm, where we were greeted by Carlos, who spoke perfect English, having lived in LA’s San Fernando Valleyfor a number of years. Carlos led us to the class building and gave us our assignments. After the first class, we were met by Israel—tall, smiling, dark-suited, the program coordinator for the evening instruction. He had started his work day at 7 am in an elementary school but was in good spirits, though tired. Classes 2-4 had a generous component of students with jobs, professionals of all stripes: mathematics teacher, chemist, salesman, human resources workers, etc.

A pearl of great worth, the true essence of the joy of teaching and communicating, was experienced by the team. A great day!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough."

It was a relaxed day in Queretaro for Joan, Tom and Bill and a busy day exploring out of state for Mary, Karen, Carol and Libby. Santospicked up the four travelers for a beautiful drive to Guanajuato. His knowledge and patience enhanced our trip through the fertile valley filled with farms and ranches producing a variety of fruits, vegetables, flowers and livestock. It was very difficult to resist the “frecas y chema.”

We entered the lovely old silver-mining city of Guanajuatothrough the tunnels after leaving the road. We took the funicular up to the Pipita monument to see the view and then descended for lunch on the triangular “square”—accompanied by wonderful live music. After lunch we explored on foot, visiting the Basilica, Diego Rivera’s house and the large Mercado—enjoying the colorful houses and narrow streets along the way.

We returned to Queretaro city just in time to see the impressive international parade celebrating the diversity of the city’s inhabitants—and to share a pizza and Academy Awards gathering with Pam and Sara, who had returned from their weekend in Posos.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Be prepared, stay cool, and enjoy opportunities."

Our group disbursed in many directions on Saturday—Pam and Sara to Posos; Lori and Toby were in San Miguel de Allende enjoying water painting classes. Pam (team member) left for the airport Saturday morning. Tom, Bill and Joan stayed in Queretaro and Karen, Libby and Carol were driven to Bernal by our UTEQ driver, Santos.

Our visit to Bernal, its pena, and Tequisquiapon was splendid. In Bernal, Santos threaded his way through the twisted streets, around construction and up the steep hill to the highest auto access and the pena, which dominates the town was right in front of us. The air was noticeably colder and very clear. Santos pointed out hikers far above us on the trail of the “big rock” and then led us through various market stalls where he identified the mineral resources of the area and showed us the villagers’handicrafts. Chilled by the brisk breeze, we drove into central Bernal to explore the busy village square and beautiful silver, pottery and weaving goods. At Santos’ urging, we delved beyond the sales area of the weaving shop to find many looms set up, dye vats ready and weavers busy making the fabrics and hangings we had seen in the sales area. The square’s colorful buildings, lush trees, many shoppers and amusing street performers, with the pena prominent in the background completed the scene.

Our busy day was concluded by a visit to Tequisquiapon, where we enjoyed a late lunch at La Charmusia (the coffee cake company), and a walk through the busy artist’s and goods mercados.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Thursday evening’s dinner was enjoyed at a new restaurant, “Sabrita.” I thought it to be understated class. We relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company.And now it’s Friday and we’ve reached the halfway point in our teaching at UTEQ. Each classroom experience has been unique.When we returned to the hotel we began to part ways as our weekend plans were taking us in many different directions.

Pam outdid herself once again, finding yet one more local restaurant which pleased our palates, including lemonade made from lemons picked from the tree above our table.We said our goodbyes to Tanya and Pam who are returning to their homes after a week of service.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

“Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.” Jonas Salk

We capped off Wednesday with a delicious dinner at Bisquet where the sauces for the enchiladas went from hot to hotter to untouchable. It was our first mole. The plaza was hopping after supper again—this time with food booths serving up all sorts of dishes to celebrate Ash Wednesdy and “concheros” dancing to the drums.

Yawn! We made it to the bus for a 6:30 am departure. The paved stone streets were empty as we headed to UTEQ. Seen en route: two plaza sitters, two girls walking, four joggers, a few commuters, and a sunrise. The students were completely engaged despite it being 7 am, and we were off to a flying start. A few things we are noticing: a number of girls are pregnant or recent moms—many without husbands. The students help each other without apparent competition. Boys wait for the “lady” volunteers and teachers to go through the door first. A couple of very fluent boys said they learned their English from watching movies and TV shows in English—(a good practice for us to adopt with Spanish TV and radio at home!) A very friendly group of boys were playing“conquian” or our Gin Rummy with baraja Espanola (a Spanish deck of cards which has wonderful pictures and neither 9s or Aces—who knew?)

A group of students came up to us as we sat in the “waiting room”—perhaps we have become a local attraction at the end of the first week—let’s hope so.

Lunch break in Centro was relaxing and delicious. A buffet with sparrows having a few nibbles, was a delightful way to relax after another day at UTEQ.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Life is Good Today"

Life was good in Queretaro today.

Perfect weather, team survival through all the “firsts:” first day, first meeting, first class. Feeling more comfort and confidence in what we’re doing thanks to tons of support and coaching from within the team. Meeting goals: having fun and serving, proving once again one always gets more than one gives….remembering there is more that connects us than divides us as we listen to the students who want what we have wanted for ourselves and our children—a good job, raise a family, find love, have fun, to be acknowledged and valued.

Life is really good in Queretero today.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

“It’s better to light just one little candle than to curse the darkness.”

Breakfast was by dawn’s early light in the hotel and then off to school with Santos at the wheel of our white minivan. At school, I am sure I learn more about Mexican culture from the students than the English they learn from me. It’s a good trade.

I want to express my gratitude to the women in our group. I realize that they are about a generation ahead of me. I listen to stories about gallivanting as a young woman in Europe, living in Turkey, and I realize that these women have helped blaze trails, making my adventures seem blasé and so“everyday.” Thank goodness for trailblazers and those who lead by example.

Monday, February 20, 2012

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."

I would be remiss not to mention again, last night’s dinner, in front of the Santa Rosa Cathedral with over 100’ of fountains programmed into a beautiful sound and multicolored light show—the sound being the magnificent voice of Andreas Bocelli. It was a treat for all.

This morning we climbed into Santos’minivan at 8:15 for what would be our daily drive to UTEQ. A delicious breakfast of chilaquiles verdes and fresh orange juice awaited us. After introductions with the English language teachers and a tour of the campus, we met with Julio to get our schedules for the two weeks. Finally with a certain level of apprehension our first classes began at 11:00. Most of us then had a break from 12:00 – 1:00 followed by our second and last class of the day.

Class time was spent in groups of 6-7 (some 4-5) with each teacher, all within a classroom. At times, it was rather like the noise of the dueling bands on Saturday night. The students were lively and eager to practice their English. Their levels ranged from beginner to advanced within each group.During free time, it is hoped that teachers will chat informally with students in the cafeteria. Some students clearly resisted but many welcomed the opportunity.

Lunch next to the University at Vera Cruz at 2:00 was called a “light lunch”…only three courses! I hate to imagine what a normal lunch would be! We piled into the van a happy, satisfied and tired group for the return trip to Hotel Hidalgo and some free time before dinner at 7:00.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Big breakfast at the hotel. Pam provided general information in her usual efficient, clear and concise way. Carolina arrived and “received” us—expressing her genuine and heartful appreciation for the team. After she left, more team work on goals and team building. And more information.

Another break, another large lunch at a different hotel and an evening meal while enjoying the entertaining and beautiful offerings of the fountain.

I was struck by the similarity of goals of this team as well as the shared enthusiasm in working with students tomorrow. And we already met some of our goals of warmth, fun, cuisine and culture!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Team: Feb 18- March 3

Our first team gathering began with dinner. All team members were present except for Joan, Tom and Karen. We ate a delicious dinner, socialized with each other and listened to music. One kind of music though one ear and another group with the other—different music to the immediate right and left of us—like the battle of the bands.