Galapagos 3, Ecuador
English classes were supposed to begin the Monday after we arrived back from our trip. Except in true Galapageon fashion they didn’t. The school was in absolute chaos on the first day- 120 people had already signed up for the classes in the previous 2 weeks but on the day a different 100 turned up to do the placement test and most of the original 120 didn’t turn up! It seemed that the whole town wanted their kids to learn English, mothers, fathers and sisters came in their droves and began shouting names over the crowds “my Juan Carlos was enrolled last year!” “Can my Gabriela do the test now?”. Our lack of organisation was a joke, but by the end of the day we had tested almost everyone and thanks to Jason’s excel wizardry had got most of them into groups by midnight! On day two more new people turned up as did many of the original 120…..so now we have a massive waiting list! Thankfully a new volunteer had arrived 2 days earlier – Bob from Australia. Bob has been a Maths teacher for 30 years and knows how to keep kids in line – thank god! I was saved from having to teach the kids and ended up with classes of 11-14s 15-17 year olds and the adults. Jason is teaching the 7-10 age groups. Apart from the fact that each child has about 4 un-pronounceable names, (and in my class there was a boy called Jesus!)The main problem we have is discipline. We know that in both state and private schools here it is accepted that children will not sit and listen to you in a lesson – apparently teachers just carry on regardless of the kids messing about. Well the kids in Jason’s classes got a shock I can tell you! Often as I walk by his classroom there will be at least one child outside and I hear shouts of “outside for 5 minutes, now! Come back when you can behave yourself!” He is great at the discipline thing, though yesterday he said he found a boy trying to break the leg of a chair ready for some unsuspecting child to sit on…. My classes are a different story…. I started out concentrating on the English part as that’s what I am used to. I am gradually learning about discipline (I don’t have much choice!) and have been issuing a few threats recently, but I think they already see me as a soft touch! Some English gap year volunteers moved into our house and they have been helping us out a lot, they have taken over my 11-14 class which is great news. I have learned to think about things before I get in the classroom, things that would pose no problems to a class anywhere else are not valid here. For example I did an exercise with the 11-14´s where they had to exchange personal information with each other by asking questions such as “What’s your address?” I though they were looking a bit blank and then one said to me “teacher I not have address”. Then I realised, there are no addresses here! There is no postman. The lady at the post office keeps the mail and you just go in and check if you have any. She knows virtually every family anyway! My teenage class can be trying, but I now know I can always win them over with lessons where they get to listen to English music and fill in the gaps. Teaching the adults is great; I have never had a class so keen to learn. They too love music and last week we did a lesson on the Beatles, watching a group of Ecuadorians singing their hearts out to “Penny Lane” was a classic moment. Environmental awareness is surprisingly not high here, although tours around the islands are carefully controlled and the guides are highly educated in conservation. The average Joe Blogs on the street does not seem to have any idea what a wildlife paradise this is. Thus part of Nueva Era is aimed at educating the children about conserving their own island. The main problem on all the islands is the introduced species e.g. stray dogs, goats rats etc that man brought with him and which are slowly killing off many species of wildlife. There have been some successful eradication programmes e.g. a goat cull but the problem is still huge. As in most of South America, almost every home has a dog here, but many seem to have little idea how to look after them. Recently there have been some American volunteer vets attempting to educate the population about training dogs and neutering them. Jason took his 7-10´s to a dog training class to watch, but in true Ecuadorian fashion the woman who was supposed to give them a talk didn’t show up. He ended up playing games with them. (See photos) I decided to let the vets bring a dog into my class of teenagers and show a video about looking after dogs and what to do if “attacked” by a stray dog. I meticulously drilled my class of teenagers before hand with vocab from the video, they clearly thought I was mad running round the classroom miming the verb “to sniff” and “to wag ones tail”, but it was all to become clear when I showed the video. However when I came to press “play” the video was no-where to be found. So there I was with 20 15 year olds armed with useful vocabulary as “to castrate” and “to chew one’s toys” and no video to show them…… not a situation I would like to be in again. Needless to say I don’t think I have earned that classes´s respect yet! (N.B. Jason had used the video for his class and locked it away in a secret draw!) Walking around town these days without seeing your students is hard. Wherever I go, day or night, there are always shouts of “teacher teacher”. When you become a teacher here you lose your name, you are just “teacher” for ever after. I noticed even a restaurant owner has started calling me “teacher” the other day. In the last few weeks we have been really getting to know people – both other volunteers working for different organisations and locals. The volunteers are a close knit community and we socialise a lot together. Our terrace has become the hot spot for parties and we even have even started having Salsa classes there. (To save the sheer embarrassment of trying to dance next to the locals..) There are 2 bars in the town; the main one is aptly named “Iguana Rock”, though they don’t play much else but Ecuador’s version of pop and salsa. Gossip is rife on this island and people know what’s going on in your life before you do. One interesting thing is that there are virtually no single foreigners living here who are not either married to or dating a local. There are few locals left who aren´t married though – they get married at 18 mostly! Most of the girls have babies by 19… and there is also a terrible teenage pregnacy problem apprently most of these babies are fathered by the policeman on the island! (Told you they were bored!)You can see the local guys swarming around whenever a new volunteer arrives, but most romances only last for the duration of the volunteer´s stay. It’s good for us though, as it means that our “group” always contains locals as well. Other forms of evening entertainment here include the “Karaoke truck”, which can be spotted on Saturday nights pulling up outside people´s houses. The little man has speakers in the back and invites each member of the family in turn to come up and sing a song. Then he moves on to the next house round the corner… what a cool idea! We are getting used to the oddities of living on San Cristobal… for example almost every week the island runs out of something. This week it’s gas, last week it was potatoes, eggs and milk. Yesterday we saw dozens of people waiting for hours on the street with their empty gas bottles to be first in the queue for the new gas when it arrived. The supply boats come every 1 or 2 weeks and everyone runs round going, “Quick get to the shops the eggs/potatoes are here!” There is a supply boat which never seems to fail though and that’s the “beer boat”. Yes a huge ship just for beer.. ! I never thought I would be excited at the sight of a can of diet coke in a shop but often the simplest things you would take for granted anywhere else are a novelty here. These things just make for comical interludes in an otherwise fantastic life. Being careful not to trip over the ever-present sleeping sea-lions at night (if you get too close they can bite), as I walk along
the sandy path between home and work will not be something I forget in a hurry. (Great excuse for being late though!) We feel very lucky to be here.