April 27, 2008
April 22, 2008
I’m not positive who originally said it, but I recall hearing a rather famous quote that went something like: “A little bit of knowledge can be a very dangerous thing.” Meaning that, armed with only a small amount of knowledge or information, a person can make many stupid decisions without knowing all the facts. Or at least that’s how I interpreted it. Recently, I’ve modified that quote in my head to: “A little bit of development can be an infuriating thing.”
Maybe I’m not understanding what Julien was trying to say, but that is how I interpreted what he and Martha wrote, and made it fit my own paradigm. See, I go to work every weekday at a call center that is completely high-tech and fully outfitted. It has high-speed internet, multiple coffee stations, and vending machines that sell bags of fried plantain chips. All of that is pretty modern, and when I’m doing my thing, I could just as easily be working in
One way or the other, though, after a day of walking about 45 minutes to catch smelly buses and getting sweaty and sticky from the grit of the city, it would be nice to be able to return home and take a shower or even drink a cup of water that doesn’t come from our newly-installed holding tank on our roof. But I can’t because this fucker turns off our water every evening before I get home.
There are also multiple times when our phone and/or electricity goes down. No one really knows why; it’s just what happens. And in some cities around here, they have super-high speed internet. But in Berlín, we can’t even get dialup. In fact, they initially told us it would take two years to get a mere phone line. And people traveling around in packed Hyundai Elantras stop door-to-door to sell the strangest things; one weekend it’s a guy selling mirrors, the next it’s two-for-one pizzas, and the next someone’s offering to give you pots and pans in exchange for your unwanted rings and other items made of gold. Again, I swear this is true.
So in my mind, the problem seems to be the mixing of the old and the new. Or, the developed and the developing. There are many, many aspects of life here that are deeply rewarding, but there are also many that drive me nuts.
The latest piece of news that is leading me to this rant is both sad and disturbing. It was reported in all the papers last week, and if it weren’t both sad and true, it would be a mock headline for The Onion. The event that I am referring to happened last Thursday when a 24-year-old girl was crushed and killed by a banana truck that tipped over in the middle of
This event is just a culmination of so many things involving development and whatever would be the opposite of development. If there were no demand for exporting bananas to Europe and
In any case, this article made me sad, and what made me even sadder is the realization that I will likely continue to read stories like this into the future, and that the only thing that will eventually remedy this developmental imbalance is good, old-fashioned time. And maybe a good booze-fueled cry to get it all out. But one way or other, the message seems to be clear: development is a slow, gradual process, and it's a painful one at that.
In the recent blog entry where I gave our new phone number here in Berlín, my friend Dustin commented that calling our number would be like the time on “The Simpsons” when Bart called Australia, and he was dialing for about 30 seconds. Well, out of curiosity, the last time I called my parents’ house with a calling card, I counted the number of digits I had to press to reach them. It turns out that to call home, I need to dial a 46-digit number. I guess now the new 8-digit dialing here doesn’t seem so annoying anymore.
April 21, 2008
April 13, 2008
You must not have taught high school or junior high.
No, seriously, I do miss some of the students, although they were really whiny at times. And it's hard to focus on the really good, nice 5% of your students, when the other 95% falls into that whiny category.
But in any case, I was thinking of this because I came across a snippet of a student's paper from last year. His name is Issac, and he was in my 8th grade class. Their assignment was to write a short story, and this is how his began. It was titled "Ryan Sitzman," and this includes my corrections that I made for the final paper. For example, before it said “I know this question are stupids for you because you don’t know what I’m talking about…”
In any case, just read it. It's weird. Then you'll know why I love my job now:
Have you ever had a dream? Have you ever killed somebody? Have you ever died? I know these questions are stupid for you because you don’t know what I’m talking about. But I know a man, for whom the answer to all these questions is “yes.” And here is his story.
15/11/70. That date, a boy was born in Colorado U.S.A. He was born to a poor family, in a poor town, but with a “rich life.” his name is Ryan Sitzman. At the age of 11, one morning he talked with his mother about a dream: “Mommy, last night I dreamed I killed a very nice black man named Issac. I don’t know why, but I did.”
“It was only but a dream, Ryan,” said his mother."
(Yeah...weird. And keep in mind that this was one of my favorite students, one that I liked, and who liked me as a teacher. Imagine what it was like with the "difficult" ones...P.S. I also docked him points for adding 10 years to my age)
April 6, 2008
Also, my brother Paul's site is expanding, and it's pretty good. As you possibly know, he and I are in a race to finish our A-Z music reviews. He's on B and I'm on J, but he's gaining ground pretty damn fast. In any case, his site is pretty cool, and it also has the videos that he's been making in his film classes, which are pretty cool. There is a link on the left of this page, or you can go directly to http://web.mac.com/paulman97970/Site/Home.html
Either way, this will help you kill a few hours at work.
Have a good one.
Before I go into this, I hope that this doesn’t sound like more preaching/bitching about
The first story was from a cover page article that continued onto pages 4 and 5, in which it was stated that the country would begin to teach students how to use condoms in schools. Now, as far as I’m concerned, sure, knowledge can be power. Schools should teach kids how to use condoms, geometry, the five-paragraph essay, the Pythagorean Theorem, chainsaws, hand grenades…whatever. But that’s not my point here. The thing that made this story alarming to me was a sidebar that described some of the motivations behind the government’s decision to teach condom use. It talked about birth rates in
Now, 0.7% may seem like a small percentage, and I suppose that it is, relatively speaking, but in this case, that still means that 500 babies were born to mothers that were 14 years old or younger. The paper further elaborated upon this. Apparently, in the last year in this country, 366 babies were born to 14-year-olds, 102 were born to 13-year-olds, 16 were born to 12-year-olds, and four eleven-year-olds gave birth. Eleven years old! Man, that’s young. It’s so young, I feel comfortable, APA-style-wise, writing “11” in letters instead of digits.
I realize that in this country of 4,000,000 people, 4 babies born to eleven-year-olds may not be a big deal. And indeed, in the
The second article that caught my attention was one from Thursday. It’s titled (approximately): “Youth Want A Secondary School On Isla Caballo, Puntarenas.” This caught my attention because Isla Caballo is one of the islands in the
Let’s pause and consider this for just a moment. (Pause)
OK. It’s been considered, and I’ve come to this conclusion: Kids are collecting signatures and asking to be allowed to go to school! What the hell is going on here? Am I in Bizarro Costa Rica here? This all makes a little more sense when you read the quote by Yahaira Alvarado, the 17-year-old girl who is leading the signature collecting. She says, “The youth of Isla Caballo need a school to be opened because after we finish 6th grade, we need to start jobs as fishermen.” The article states that she finished 6th grade in 2003 and is now a fisherwoman. I realize that shitty agricultural work can be a good motivator, educationally-speaking (my wife Angela has said many times that she started to study English mainly because she “hated picking coffee”), but imagining 6th graders “graduating” from elementary school by receiving a diploma and a fishing rod is just sad.
Anyhow, to make a long story short, about 50 kids collected 5,000 signatures, but the outlook for a school still doesn’t look so good. According to the Ministry of Education’s representative, they need 120 students to open a new high school, while this one would only have about 40 or so. The article says there may still be a possibility, or that perhaps they could open a “tele-school” on the island, but for now, the children’s educational future remains uncertain.
To summarize and conclude, let me leave you with a case study. I taught 6th grade last year, and let me tell you, it was a pain in my ass. Those kids were whiny, hyperactive, and lazy, usually all at the same time. But they were also my favorite classes. They have that certain indescribable characteristic of youth that makes their energy both draining and contagious at the same time. But, obviously, all of my students were attending school, and they had the opportunity to continue doing so until they graduate from high school. Also, as far as I know, none of the little tykes popped out a baby, so they’re doing pretty good on that front, too. When kids are that age, teachers have to try to cram in as much knowledge as possible to prepare them for some of the stuff to come. That way, when the bell rings and the kids leave class, they can bitch and moan to their classmates about having to study for the upcoming sex education exams. And if you should happen to overhear their protest-filled lamentations, just look at them and smile, for all is as it should be. At least they have a school to go to, and the whining is coming from their mouths, not the mouths of their newborn babies.
See, I once read this book called “Invisible Monsters” by Chuck Palahniuk, and it said something to the effect of how amazing it is that so many people who die in traffic accidents are beheaded due to having their car windows rolled halfway down. This idea is creepy, and I know that many people focus on it, at least jokingly, because my brother Paul warned my mom about it one time when we were driving on the highway.
But still: could it be true?
Not that this is really something you necessarily need to know, but it’s rather inexpensive to build a house in
To pay our contractor and to pay for the materials we buy, we’ve been using cash so far. I know that may sound strange, but apparently, it’s the best way to get good prices around here. No one here has or accepts checks (in fact, the girl at the bank flat-out refused to open a checking account for us). Additionally, most places, if they do accept credit cards, they apply extra charges which can rack up the cost of materials by 10% or so. All of this translates into cold, hard cash. Or, as in the case of colones, which is
This issue is more complicated because most of my money is still in my account in the
Fortunately, the company I work for is located in a free trade zone or a duty free zone…I’m not really sure what it’s called, but the bottom line is they look in your car’s trunk when you leave, and while you’re anywhere in the commercial park, you have to wear a badge that makes you look like a big tool. But, the ATM is inside of my company’s building, so it’s probably the safest ATM in the entire country (which IS actually saying a lot, if ATM robbery reports on the news are to be believed).
So, when we need money for construction, I go to the ATM, take out 250,000 colones (about $500), which appears to be the maximum that I’m allowed to get in one day. I quickly snatch the money, fold it, and cram it into my pocket. I then head toward the bathroom, find a stall, lock the door, and sit down. This is where it gets weird. In my other pocket, I’ve already placed a napkin and a rubber band (wow, this is turning into a totally heroin-y story!). I count the money, just to make sure it’s all there. It always is, which is somewhat remarkable, due to the colon’s notoriety for being a physically flimsy bill that is prone to mold and ill odors; I’m just surprised that the mechanical parts of the ATM’s bill counting machine would not have more problems with this currency.
When I know it’s all there, I carefully wrap the napkin around the money. I then double-wrap the rubber band around the bundle. Then I stick it in the front of my underwear. Of course! I know this may sound totally weird, but it was a technique that developed through trial and error over a long time. I used to carry my money in my shoe, like when I had to go pay my immigration lawyer in San Jose, but I noticed that that technique left me with a slight gangsta limp and a sore foot at the end of the day, to say nothing of the subtle humiliation that comes from handing a lawyer a slightly moist and smelly wad of bills.
That, of course, could possibly explain the use of the napkin, but it’s actually not to absorb sweat; instead, I do it to protect my own skin, as there are few things I would like less than a moldy paper-cut on my wang. And the rubber band keeps all the money in place; I’d feel somewhat like a hooker if I pulled forward my drawers to find a disorganized and scattered collection of large-denomination bills. So, the napkin and rubber band are a must. If you have tight-fitting drawers, you can put the stash against your thigh, right about where your front pants pocket would go. Tight-fitting? Oh, I’d recommend boxer briefs. Conventional boxers are obviously out of the question, and bikini briefs are just too small (and pervy) to get the job done. And it shouldn’t be just any style of boxer brief. I’ve found that the American Hanes and Fruit of the Loom just aren’t nad-squeezingly adequate; for our purposes, you’ll have to look to the Old Country and track down some good quality tight-weave Eurotrash boxer briefs. Try
If all else fails, you can stow the “package” of money by placing it under your pants button, and further secure it with the help of a tight belt over that. Then top all that with a some ribbon, a bow, some whipped cream, a cherry, and a small cocktail umbrella. This whole process should obviously be done near the end of the day, because it’s not comfortable, mentally or physically, having that much cash bouncing around so close to your junk.
From there, it’s probably smooth sailing. If you’ve got a car, you can basically head right home. If you’ve got to wait at a bus stop like a loser, you can take comfort in the fact that at least if you’re mugged, the homophobic nature of most Latin American criminals will probably mean that although they may steal your wallet, they probably won’t be looking to do a pat-down in your groinital area.
Anyhow, the only reason I mention this is because the other day, as I was securing my cluster of currency to my body much like a police informant secures his hidden microphone, I asked myself, “Man, I wonder if paying for house construction is this complicated in the U.S.” And my immediate answer was, “No, of course not. I’d just use a check.” Oh well, different strokes for different folks, I guess.