I am back on the western side of the Atlantic, teaching English to Mexicans in Queretaro, a city just to the north of Mexico City. That means it's time to ressurect James's America from the abyss of laziness that had laid to waste all my plans for more "reflection and analysis" of my previous trip from New York to Buenos Aires.
ALready, I feel I have a lot to cover from this, the first week of my fourth trip to Mexico, and so I will begin with that rarity for this blog: a succinct account of what I have been up to with as few half-cocked observations about Mexico as possible. Here goes:
My first flight left London at 9.05am last Saturday morning. I slept most of the way to Frankfurt, where I had a three-hour lay over. I had a coffee and some Bratwurst in an airport cafe to tide me over. It was fun ordering in German (this was the first time I had been In Germany since studying in Hamburg in 2006) but then the polyglot waiter decided to address me in Spanish when it came to settling the bill etc. I have no idea why, but he was a nice guy, and he cracked the same joke I had heard him use in French with the table to my right. I didn't leave him any tip - I was in Germany, after all.
The flight to Mexico was uneventful. I had an empty seat to my right. Good. I slept half of the 11-odd hours. Good. The in-flight movies were awful. Awful. If you ever have the chance to watch Bride Wars with Kate Hudson and A. Hathaway, maybe you should take the time to gouge your eyes out and cut your ears off first, so you will be less offended by the content of the movie. Zac Efron's vehicle 17 Again was perhaps marginally better.
I arrived on time, completed my swine flu declaration form. No sore throat, headache, fever etc. No problem. Got 180 days on my tourist visa. (The maximum available). Got a green light when I pushed the button at customs.
My plan was to get straight on a bus to Queretaro where I would meet Jason, the academic director of Bridge Institute, my school here, and Jason would take me to my appartment. In the event, I couldn't get through to J, but got the on the bus anyway. As an experinced backpacker in Latin America, I had researched a cheap hotel in Qro as a fallback option just in case.
I fell asleep almost immediately I boarded the bus to Qro (it left probably 2.5 hrs after my flight landed) and woke up three hours later in my new home town. I was so tired I had decided to go straight to find this hotel and go to bed, rather than trying Jason again. As it turned out, Allen, the head of the school, was in fact waiting for me at the bus station, based on the info I had left on Jason's voicemail, but we missed each other, and poor Allen ended up hanging around till 1am waiting for me...
Anyway, I got in a taxi and headed for the centre of town. I eventually located my US$25-a-night hotel but it was comepletely shut up by this time (about 12.30) and I was exhausted. I walked a block and found another hotel, which quoted me a price of US$110 for a room. I got a discount to about $80 and wasn't prepared to walk any further to find an alternative, so asked to be shown to my $80 room.
As an experienced backpacker in Latin America, I had NEVER stayed in a place like this. From the colonial courtyard I was shown into first the living room of my suite, then the upstairs dressing room and then, up ANOTHER flight of stairs, was my king sized bed, cable TV and bathroom. The guy's question: "You like it?" seemed ridiculous.
I showered and slept like a baby. In the morning I went for a brief stroll round the old town of Qro, checked the cricket score in the Ashes, and had breakfast. Returning to my hotel room, I realised I could get WiFi in my room (of course) and listened to the final overs of the Oval Test. I was in Mexico as England regained the Ashes, just as I had been in 2005. I wonder where I'll be next time...
I called Jason and he came to pick me up straight away. Mike, my new housemate, drove the car. Mike is about 50 years old from Iowa. He has lived and taught in Qro for three years, initially with his wife, before they separated and she returned to the States. Mike is a very good cook and we have got along well so far, discussing largely English teaching, Obama and Mexico.
Jason ran me through my rough schedule for this week at Bridge. I would be substituting for one of the regular teachers who was away on honeymoon. That meant 7am starts Monday to Thursday - plus 9pm finishes pretty much all week. Straight into the fire - and probvably the best way to go.
Monday morning, I walked the 2o minutes into work in the dark, and sat awaiting my first students. I awaited and awaited some more until I decided they definitely weren't coming, and went to check my email and cricinfo instead - an excellent start to my teaching career.
I did take a class later in the morning - a converstaion class with two youngish advanced students. Both loved football and I invited them to discuss Real Madrid, while attempting to go over some debating vocab: "I see your point that Kaka is an excellent player, but I would say that he is unnecessary to the team..."
I sat in on another, elementary class given by Jason, and then had a few hours' break before returning to the school at 4pm to teach Denisse, a girl of about 10 years of age. This was somewhat harder, but we got on OK.
Still on Monday, my next assignment was to cover a "company-class". This meant a 45-minute ride with a few other teachers (Horacio from Mexico, Jenny, Morgan and Megan from the US) out the Colgate-Palmolive industrial plant outside of Qro (in fact, it is in another state - Guanajuato). Another conversation class - this time more business oriented, and with two students at least five times the age of Denisse, and then I headed back to the school. Walking home at 8.30pm, I reflected that this was the first time in probably 6 years that I had gone to work before light and returned after dark.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were similarly busy. A company class from 7-8.30am meant getting up at about 5.45 each day. This class was roughly the same group of 30-40-year-old professinals each day. The level was elementary and in fact we had a lot of fun (especially Tue and Wed - we were all pretty tired come Thurs).
Each day I had about two more classes in school, and Weds and Thurs I was back out at Colgate - on Weds to debate the Lockerbie bomber with one of the guys from Monday's class, and on Thurs for an hour-long chat about all things Peruvian and Latin American with the Lima-born head of HR for the company.
In between these compant-classes, I have had another class with young Denisse (better than the first), sat in on advanced classes and taught grammar and vocab to two high-school teachers.
Today, Friday, I don't start till 4pm, mercifully. I've woken up at about 8.30am, sat and had a cup of PG tips (left by a previous lodger at Mike's) and a bowl of Cheerios, read a little Vargas Llosa in the little courtyard-patio of the house (pics to follow) and now written this lengthy post.
I've taught probably about 15 hours' classes and I'm looking forward to a few more this eve. So far I am loving the new challenge. And for those who are interested, by the end of this week I will have earned.............. about $100.
Eso es la vida mexicana.