You haven’t heard much from your friends at LJT lately. We’ve been here 2 months and so far I’ve only managed 2 blog posts? Yeah, it’s been quiet. We aren’t doing much. But I do have a few stories to tell you, because even when you do almost nothing, you have stories. Sidenote: Once I started writing this blog I realized I had quite a few stories for you, thus this is part 1. When it rains it pours!
We are quite content to take this time to regroup after our long journey that started 5 years ago (!!). That sentiment is according to one side of my brain. The other side of my brain likes to wake me up at night and say “Allison! You have done very little recently! The niñas are doing very little! Brains are turning to mush! This is a crisis!” And so I ranted to Dan. Dan, being of the male gender, responded thusly: “It’s fine. That’s not happening. You’re fine. Stop worrying.”
Well, that was not the response I was seeking so I turned to my sister. My sister is always supportive. I could say to her “I’m going to take a jack hammer to the living room floor” and she’d say “Well, a jack hammer is an interesting choice, but maybe start with a mop and let’s see how that goes first?” But seriously. I vented to her about my desire to do very little at this moment, but my brain’s subsequent desire to make me feel bad about it. She sent me this quote:
There is a fallow time for the spirit when the soil is barren because of sheer exhaustion. It may come at the end of a long, long period of strenuous effort. It may result from the plateau of tragedy that quietly wore away the growing edge of alertness until nothing was left but the exhausted roots of aliveness. Perhaps too much anxiety, a too-hard trying, a searching strain to do by oneself what can never be done that way, has made one’s spirit seem like a water tap whose washer is worn out from too much pressure. But there may be the simplest explanation: the rhythmic ebb and flow of one’s powers, simply this and nothing more. Whatever may be the reasons, one has to deal with the fact. Face it! Then resolutely dig out dead roots, clear the ground, but don’t forget to make a humus pit against the time when some young or feeble plants will need stimulating from past flowerings in your garden. Work out new designs by dreaming daring dreams and great and creative planning. The time is not wasted. The time of fallowness is a time of rest and restoration, of filling up and replenishing. It is the moment when the meaning of all things can be searched out, tracked down, and made to yield the secret of living. Thank God for fallow time!
-Howard Thurman, “Deep is the Hunger — Meditations for Apostles of Sensitiveness
I love this sentiment! This is fantastic. Sisters rock! No offense, Dan. Now, I’m not saying we are depleted of all of our enthusiasm for Worldschooling, but once we decided to go back to the US, our energy for the nomadic life suddenly faded. But we are happy to have this time to recharge and prepare for some very big changes coming up for all of us once we return. Now that I know there’s an actual term for this phase, I am content to accept the quiet days. Most of the time.
But no amount of quotes can keep me happy at home every day. We need at least a few things to do. Thankfully Playa del Carmen has quite a few activities that are designed for tourists and expats to get involved. Haley and I found a place that appreciates our first language – English!
We learned about an organization called KKIS – Keep Kids In School. Did you know that after 9th grade, education is no longer free in Mexico? Kids in 10th, 11th and 12th grades have to pay about $600 per year to attend school. So you can imagine for some families, this just doesn’t happen and the kids drop out. Families make about $849 a month on average, so if they plan well they can budget and make it work, but it’s all a matter of priorities.
The KKIS Scholarship Program includes tuition, uniform, books, and school supplies. This year they have 77 students with high school scholarships thanks to kind donors and sponsors.
The KKIS organization also offers a bi-weekly English club for students at two different high schools, using volunteers from the tourist and expat community. The cherry on the top of the cake is that they provide transportation for the volunteers! We meet at the grocery store across the street from my house and they do all the driving from there. You had me at “pick you up”. This is fantastic.
I thought this would be a great activity for Haley. It’s somewhat limited in duration (only 2 or 2.5 hours from start to finish) and it’s a few days a week. But she wasn’t so enthusiastic so I agreed to go with her the first time. I was truly planning to go with her just one time and then send her off on her own after that. I’m a big fan of volunteer work, especially when it can be done by my kids… without me!
But guess what? I loved it! Oh my goodness I forgot that I like teaching! At least this kind of teaching, when you have enthusiastic students in a small group for a short time frame and no administrators checking up on what progress is being made. #lazyteacher
The first day we were given a whiteboard and told to just do our own thing. That was a little startling but I have had some experience in language classes, I’ve taught the kids homeschool, including Spanish, and I also spent a year after graduating from college taking classes in TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) and I’ve attended a lot of Spanish classes in the last 5 years. So, as it turns out, I was actually fairly qualified for this volunteer job.
I had so much fun I went back the next week and dragged Haley along once again. This time I came prepared. I remembered from my Spanish classes that the most important thing is to get the students speaking. And in my opinion you need to get them speaking in complete sentences, so they get used to running that combination of words together. Quizzing them on individual words or giving them long lectures on the rules of first person or third person subjunctive tense is just not what they really need if you ask me. And this is my blog post so let’s pretend you asked me!
So I created conversations that the kids would have with each other. I gave them written guides so they could read the words while they said them. And I left blanks where they had to insert their own words from other lists I had prepared. We had so much fun wishing each other happy birthday and talking about our ages and numbers of presents, pretending we were at the store and asking prices and working on putting adjectives in front of nouns. It was immensely helpful that I know their first language so I helped them understand their most common errors.
Haley also used the conversation cards I created and reported that it got a lot easier for her too. Her group likes to play hangman but she also did some conversation and role playing. Haley is the same age as the students she is teaching so she says she has to do a little more fun stuff in her group. Is she implying that my group is not fun? Them’s fighting words, lady!!
By week three I was really enjoying this volunteer job so I added another day to the schedule and now I’m going twice a week, and I might be able to fit in one more day around my busy Pilates schedule. Haley might even go too, but by now this is all about me. I found a supply store (think Office Depot) and bought all kinds of fun materials to add to my collection. I am having such a good time! Who knew!? Dan says he knew, but we didn’t ask him.
One of the benefits of the year we slogged through public school in Panama and thoroughly enjoyed the year at private school in Colombia, is a fluency in Spanish. Haley has always been interested in sewing and we found a class that teaches embroidery. This seemed like a great hobby for this stage in her life when she is not able to buy a lot of equipment, but is looking for some creative outlets. And Haley is drawn to the quiet projects that one can do in bed. Embroidery it is! Embroidery taught in Spanish? Sure!
She learned a lot even from the very first class, and continued for 3 more classes, gradually increasing her skills. She even taught Zoe how to embroider and now we have all colors of thread and fabric backing and needles all over the house. I have no objections, I love to see the kids learn something like this.
Illegal Taco Seasoning
In my last blog I mentioned that Dan was working on a solution to our TV-watching woes, because our programming is quite limited. He found a great solution and got it all boxed up to mail to us. At the last minute he added some taco seasoning because we just love good old fashioned ‘merican taco seasoning. (Yes, we know we’re in Mexico… home of Mexican food… don’t judge!) He took it to DHL and for the low low (not) price of $108 (yes, that’s US dollars) he sent off a small envelope for containing an Amazon Fire Stick and some taco seasoning. Good news: it made it to Mexico City in less than a week! Bad news: it got stuck there.
I watched the status of my package for awhile and it kept saying it was in some kind of “customs clearance event”. Further research told me that there was additional screening needed. I followed the link where it told me to get more information and I sent an email to DHL asking what was going on.
Turns out there was some “unknown powder” that was causing a bit of a ruckus at the customs office. It’s taco seasoning, people! Geez. It’s right there on the package! I sent them the link to McCormick’s Taco Seasoning (in Spanish), I listed the ingredients and finally, as a last resort, I said they could remove the “suspicious powder” and just send me the Fire Stick!!
My box sat there for another 10 days with nothing happening. This is not a hard decision, people. Do something! Well, they finally did. They sent it back to Arizona.
So after a month trying to deal with it and after the $108 to send it being a complete waste of money, in the end it all got sent back. It’s true that maybe we should have done some more research into what we could mail. But the guy at the shipping store had already denied Dan’s attempt to include a debit card (“a financial instrument”) so we assumed that if there were any more contraband items, they would also be noted. Nope.
We found a work-around in the form of a friend who is driving down to Mexico so Dan got another package to her (sans taco seasoning) with a new Fire Stick (because the other one was still tied up in customs at the time that we had to get the stuff to her) and the good news is that she has arrived. And bonus points for being able to carry the “financial instruments” (debit cards) as well.
We are excited to explore new programming that Dan has loaded onto the Fire Stick, but in the meantime Haley and I have discovered Grey’s Anatomy on Mexican Netflix. This is golden as neither of us have ever seen that show. A 45-minute show with 15 seasons that is fairly engaging but not inappropriate. We got lucky. I feel like Meredith and McDreamy now live with us and are part of our family.
So that was the good news. Now comes the bad news. Zoe came down with dengue fever a few weeks ago. It’s kind of a miracle that we have spent so much time in the tropics and in areas where mosquitoes carry illnesses, and this is the first of our family to succumb. Thanks to a steady stream of Whatsapp messages from the doctor, we kept Zoe relatively comfortable. You can’t really do much to address dengue once the patient contracts it. It was a strange series of symptoms that changed by the day, including nausea, stomach aches, fever, body aches, an itchy rash and fatigue.
We think Zoe got it at the place where we have been volunteering to bathe dogs. It’s pretty wet in that area and a lot of days we have a short rainstorm in the afternoon. We have not been back to bathe the dogs since that time. One concern with dengue is that you have to be quite careful to avoid getting it a second time as it can be much more serious. We are going through massive amounts of repellent each week. Even when Zoe goes down to get the pizza from the delivery guy, we make her put on repellent. It hasn’t really encouraged Zoe to get out of doors much. Can’t say that I blame her.
It was during this same week that Haley discovered a friend whom she met online was, in fact, no friend at all. Haley found out that he was a convicted felon and had been telling a massive amounts of lies to her. This is someone with whom she’s had daily electronic contact for over a year and who she considered to be a very good source of support and friendship. So this was a really big blow. I was nursing teen heartbreak and teen fever at the same time. Both girls have recovered as of the time of this writing, although heartbreak will leave it’s mark for a very long time.
To Be Continued
I have more stories for you. Like these, they are not the educational, learn-about-this country-we-are-exploring kind of stories. But they are meaningful to us and we thought you’d be interested in all aspects of our life down here in Mexico. So stay tuned! I’ll finish that blog post just as soon as I watch a few more episodes of Grey’s.