Sunday, February 20, 2011

Group Hug!

In Colombia there is a word used to describe an event where people come together in unification.  In the U.S. we might refer to it as a "group retreat" or possibly a "team-building conference."  Here it is called a convivencia (literally, "living together").  Since the 9th graders I teach lost the privilege to go for a week to Isla Gorgona due to irresponsible behavior by many during a similar event as 8th graders and several incidences this current school year with theft and poor treatment of substitutes, it was decided several days away from school with the teachers in an isolated environment to work out some class issues, might be a positive thing.

So, off we headed to a finca ("farm") in the department of Quindio in the heart of the coffee region for two days and nights of "living together."  This region is popular for other trips by our school as the weather is normally comfortable and it is relatively close - about three hours by bus.  During this time the students attended a several workshops by either us or a couple of outside psychologists about team-building, confidence, responsibility, and inclusion, among other themes.  While the dividends of the experience are yet to be seen, I think the trip accomplished one major feat: it humanized some of the teachers for the students, and possibly vice versa.

The event flew by but we still found time to enjoy the space we were in which included several nice pools, a stream with a small waterfall, and a bonfire.  While its no whale-watching, snorkeling, or coral beach, it was a nice break from the daily school grind.

At my "empathy" workshop: Camila, Maria Paula, & Isabella
Nicolás at the "empathy" workshop.

Los Muchachos: Sebastián, Juan Camilo, Rodrigo, Andrés,
Henry, Lucas, Pablo, Juan Camilo, Luis, & Nicolás
How low can you go? Picking up a cut-off paper bag with
no hands and only your feet touching the ground
New challenge: How many 9th graders can you fit in one pool?
Welcome to the Quindío countryside.
Taking a dip in the stream near the waterfall.
Las chicas y la chorrera
(Andrea, Catalina, Juanita, María Antonia, Isabella, & Laura)
Singing at the bonfire...probably Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift
(Note: Some kids using their BlackBerries to follow the lyrics.)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Double Vision

Upon returning home from work yesterday I encountered my downstairs neighbor and her teenage daughter sitting on the ledge outside the front door to our multi-unit house.  They only moved in around October and with our schedules, I hardly ever see them.  Hear them, yes, but a physical sighting is rare.

In fact, the first time I met the entire family was when I returned home near midnight after a Halloween party dressed all in black, carrying a feather boa, hair spiky and sprayed silver, and with black rings painted a good two inches around my eyes.  (In the interest of full disclosure, it was also Grandma, some cousins, and probably a handful of aunts and uncles too.)  Needless to say, we don't have an intimate neighborly relationship.  I probably know their maid best; I seem to run into her during the inexplicable weekly routine of mopping the driveway.

So, despite it being February, asking about each other's Christmases and vacations was acceptable conversation.  After it was established that we both indeed had a pleasant end to 2010 and like spending time with family, the mother asked how my roommate was.  This would have seemed a mundane question, except for the fact that I've lived alone the last two years in Colombia; I have no compañero.

At first I thought, despite the use of the masculine, that she was referring to the third occupants of the house - a woman and her university-aged daughter - whose door is next to mine on the third floor.  No, she ascertained, as she looked to her own emphatically nodding daughter for reassurance, the other guy who lives with me.  Finally believing me that there is no one coming and going from my apartment but me, she turned to her daughter, shrugged, and rationalized, "well, all you gringos look alike!"

I'm not sure how to take this as I always have thought of my hair color as setting me apart from the rest of my pale counterparts, but, as I climbed the stairs, I began to wonder if I looked dramatically different each time I left the house to create the impression that I was multiple people!   I suppose I shouldn't put much thought into it seeing as how a woman who makes her maid wash places her car goes might not be that clever in the first place.