Friday, May 23, 2008

Stranded in Argentina

It's been a crazy week, but an incredibly fun one!! But before I get to all that, let me back up to where my last post left off....

After my weekend at the beach, the school was full swing into Spirit Week. Unfortunately I missed the first day due to being sick (which was sad, especially since I was one of the two in charge of Spirit Week), but it was good that I rested. I was there for the rest of the week and it was so much fun! The kids really got into it, more so than any other year, I'm told. We had "assemblies" in the mornings where they did things like pick team names, create team posters, create team cheers and team songs, and decorate office doors. We had a high school class teamed up with an elementary class to help bond the school even more. We had judges every day who looked at individual outfits, team participation, and creativity on the challenges. Then at the end of the week we treated the winning team to ice cream sundaes. It was a huge success... It was also very time consuming for me. I had to concentrate all my time on Spirit Week and on grading 33the first draft of stories for the Language Arts Fair that's coming up. All of my other grading just piled up! Luckily I was able to find a little bit of help. But I'm still behind, 2 weeks later!

To see pictures of Spirit Week, click on this link:

The following week was also really fun and really busy. I was able to hang out with a girl who's down here for a few weeks, so that was fun. I caught up on some of my grading, but I also still had the second draft of those 33 stories to grade for the fair. That certainly kept me busy. Then on Thursday I had to collect the final draft. Thursday was absolutely crazy. The papers had to be in a very specific format, and very few of the kids had it correct (they're not so good at following instructions). So I had to help them fix it, and the computers at school aren't Windows. It's a completely different operating system, and I'm not very well versed in it. So I was trying to learn it myself so I could help the kids. It was a very stressful day, as I had kids calling my name every minute or two to come help them. But I finally got everything in (even from the absent kids!), organized, and ready to be mailed off to the judges. The rest of my evening was dedicated to preparing for my trip to Argentina the next day.

A group of six of us were heading off to Argentina for the weekend because one boy needed to renew his visa. A common way to do this is to leave the country and head to Mendoza, Argentina, a small city on the other side of the mountains. It's about a 7-8 hour bus ride, depending on how things go at the border. The original plan was to take an overnight bus Friday night, and come back Sunday during the day. Well, we found out the pass through the mountains was now closed at night due to snow, so we had to leave Friday afternoon. I had to scramble to get someone to cover my last class of the day, but it worked out.
So we headed out: me, Randy (the high school boy who needed the new visa), Mike (one of my friends here, the interim ABWE Chile accountant), his mom who is visiting for 2 weeks, Nikki Russell (she's on the field council too, and it's a really good thing she went with us!), and Jill, the girl who's here for a few weeks that I've gotten to know.
The trip there was pretty uneventful, except we were stuck at the border for a really long time for two reasons. Argentina was giving a diplomatic family from the Philippines a hard time about coming in to their country, which isn't supposed to happen. The family didn't speak Spanish, so the border people found Nikki and asked her to translate. This was also good because Nikki has an unbelievable skill at talking her way into or out of things, depending on which way she needs it to go. This came in very handy for us...You'll see what I mean. The other thing that held us up at the border was that one girl forgot her passport. Oops! They eventually let her through with a fine, but it did slow us down a lot.
Once in Argentina, we spent our days shopping, walking around town, taking a tour, going to Walmart, snapping goofy pictures, and generally having a good time. In one store, they called over their worker who speaks English (which was interesting since Nikki and I were talking to her in Spanish). We started chatting with this English speaker girl, and she was asking where we were from. I told her, and then explained that I was living in Chile. I went on to tell why, and she started asking what religion I was, Catholic? I told her Protestant, more specifically Baptist, and she got really excited. She was a Baptist too, and she was so happy to meet other Christians just out and about because she hardly ever does. So we talked for awhile (intermittently, since she had to keep leaving to help other customers), and she told me about her brother who lives in Tennessee, who she's worried about. She compared him to the Prodigal Son. Ironically, Jill is from Tennessee (although a different part), and was able to suggest one or two good churches that her brother could try going to. It was so incredible to meet a fellow believer, and to see that just talking to her about our common faith could be such an encouragement to her!
Well, the time sped by, and Sunday afternoon we headed to the bus terminal to catch our ride home. And that's when the real fun began. We were informed that the pass was closed due to snow, and it would probably be closed at least 48 hours. It all depended on the weather. So we were stuck in Argentina! Not a bad thing, if you ask me. The city was cute with plenty to do, and the weather there was absolutely gorgeous! So we made a few phone calls to inform people at home, called our travel agent in Santiago to get him to help us out, and I called the school to give them instructions on what to do with my classes in my absence. Luckily I had left my lesson plans at school...luckily I had them pretty much finished! :o)
We headed back into town and had to go to a different hotel since the other one had jacked up the price. Our first hotel was nice, but the rooms and beds were pretty small. Our second hotel was spacious, but it wasn't quite as nice. For instance, the toilet in the girls' room would clog all the time. So we had to keep asking for the plunger...we learned the Spanish word for plunger. And one time I had to go ask the front desk guy (who was pretty cute) for the plunger at 2am since the real Spanish speaker was already asleep. So Jill and I headed down there, tired (and therefore giggly) and a little embarrassed. We get down there and the front desk guy is talking to a group of 4 other guys! That made us giggle more. So I asked, he got us the plunger, and then I started to ask what I should do with it when I was done. But he cut me off half way through, thinking I was asking how to use the plunger, and he started to explain it to me. That made me laugh even harder. Oh, it was quite the experience.
We spent our extra days in Argentina doing more shopping, going bowling, going to the laundromat (since several of us had run out of clean clothes at this point), hanging out at the hotel and taking naps (pretty much the whole town closes down between about 2:30-5ish...this worked well for us since we stayed up late most nights. Naps were very welcome!). If we stayed another day we were going to go white water rafting, too. Amidst all the fun, we continued to call our travel agent and make trips to the bus terminal to check on the status of things. We kept checking the weather, and it didn't look like it was going to clear up at all the entire week! And Mike's mom and Jill are flying back to the States this weekend. We had to come up with Plan B since Plan A didn't seem like it would happen any time soon. We checked into flights, but the airlines take advantage of stranded people, and the prices were insane. So our other option was to take a bus through a different pass through the mountains, farther south. We had heard of one or two other people who had done this earlier in the week, but it didn't sound at all appealing, so we tried to hold off. But eventually we had to take it, being our only option. The reason this wasn't on the top of our list of things to do is because the ride through that pass and back up would end up being about 30 hours. Thirty hours on a bus!!! But we had to take it. Tuesday was the last day they were sending out these buses for the rest of the week. So we prepared ourselves for a very long trip.
It actually wasn't that bad. We had the front row of a double decker, so we had plenty of leg room. We were able to sleep a lot, although not well, and the bus made several stops...some for a few minutes, and a couple long enough for us all to eat. (At the border I had enough time to wash my hair, which was definitely a necessity!)
I will say this. We saw some of the shadiest bathrooms during our bus rides to and from Argentina (including the one on the bus!). You just never knew what you were going to get. At one place, as I was washing my hands, the lights in the entire area went out! It was pitch black in that bathroom! I heard my friends talking about me being inside, so I said "Nice." in a subtly sarcastic way, then headed toward the general direction of the door as they laughed. I found the door and clawed at it (I may have hammed up the situation a bit) in an attempt to find the handle. I got out, safe and sound, and handed my cell phone to Jill to use. For some strange reason my cell phone has a small flashlight on it.
Well, after many, many, many hours we got home, a little tired, but no worse for the wear. It was sooo nice to take a shower after that long trip! We ended up getting home around 9pm on Wednesday evening after a 31 1/2 hour bus ride. We were originally planning on being home Sunday evening! Luckily Wednesday was a holiday here, so I only missed 2 days of school.

To see pictures of my time in Argentina, click here:

Apparently the two days away were enough to make many of the kids appreciate me more. I received many hugs and cheers upon my return, and was told the "horrors" that were the substitutes. It feels good to be loved! I spent the day rearranging things, catching up from being gone, and getting back into the swing of school. It had been raining all week in Santiago, and we were joking that they may have to close school due to flooding. Well, around 6:30 this morning we got the call that school was canceled! I've had a one school day week!! Unfortunately I don't have all of my school work here at home (just some of it), so I'll probably have to make a trip in at some point this weekend. Like I said at the beginning, it's been a crazy week! But I had sooo much fun, and I'm so blessed that God has allowed me to meet some really awesome people and do things like this.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Grading, grading, and more grading

It's been crazy the last couple of weeks...again! The end of the quarter rolled around, which means I'm 3/4 done my first year here in Chile. Wow! It's flown by, and I've loved it!
But with the end of the quarter comes a lot of work, and that seemed to consume my life for the better part of 2 weeks. I had a LOT of grading to do, making sure everything was turned in on time, and then doing math (Yikes!) to figure out the quarter grades for report cards. It was hectic, but it was finally done last week!
I had an interesting conundrum, because several people bombed my writing class. Now, I wasn't quite sure how to take this news when I figured the grades. I mean, I know it's a new class for me, and it's a new format for the kids, but I didn't think it would be this rough! I've been struggling with them for about a month now, because so many of them aren't following instructions. And with this writing class, if you follow the instructions and include all the requirements, you can get a good grade. So even those who are less adept at writing and communicating can do well. And, when followed correctly, it really does improve their writing. Well, several of them haven't bothered to follow the instructions. One or two because they genuinely don't get it, but most of them because they're too lazy or too indifferent to try. I wasn't quite sure what to do with this, so I called one of the administrators, who is infinitely more experienced than I am. She suggested that I curve the grades (just a teensy bit) since it's their first time with this course, but other than that, just let it go. The kids need to learn to follow instructions. They've had the luxury of being in a small school with lenient teachers who often are concerned with seeing that they understand the content rather than on how they present the content. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it needs to be in balance. So by letting some kids fail, hopefully I'll be teaching them some other life lessons that they haven't been pushed to learn yet. I don't know. I don't like failing anyone, but at the same time they earned it themselves.
Oh the joys of teaching! :o)
After the end of the quarter, we luckily had a long, holiday weekend. So several of my friends from church and I got together and headed out to the beach. (Granted, it's getting cold, so we weren't going to the beach for your typical "going to the beach" reasons.) I woke up Thursday morning to get ready to go, and realized I was coming down with a cold. Lovely. I was able to enjoy myself anyway, but it did get progressively worse throughout the the point where Sunday and today I was at home in bed. However, it was so much fun with my friends, and it gave me 3 days to work on my Spanish. I learned a lot, of course, and made many mistakes, of course. I almost wish it had lasted a few more days, because by Saturday I really was feeling comfortable in Spanish. We had so much fun, going out to eat, going to the beach, taking crazy pictures, hanging out at the house we rented, laughing, talking, and just goofing off together. I'm so happy that there's such a great group at the church, and I can't wait until the day I can understand them! :o)
There are only two more months of school left, and then I'll be home for a few weeks before the next year starts. I'm hoping to be able to fit some more fun, new experiences into the next two months....including a possible weekend trip to Argentina, a day at an amusement park, and a weekend at another missionary's house for some more Chilean culture experience (they have several kids that I teach and I get along really well with all of them). Hopefully these things will come to pass!!

It's hard to believe the next school year is only 3 months away, but it's true. What does this mean? I need to have 100% of my support in by then! I've sent out letters and spoken with several of my monthly supporters, so I've definitely gotten the ball rolling. Now it's just a matter of waiting to see how God provides! Please pray for me in this, because I'm not allowed to come back until I'm 100% supported. If you're interested in helping out, please check with me (or read the letter I sent) on how to do it. My monthly support level is now just over $1700, due to the drop of the dollar over the last year. I have a portion of that already committed, but I'm still lacking.
Thank you all for your encouragement, support, and prayers! I really do appreciate them all! It's good to know that my family back in the States is supporting me as I follow God's leading half way around the world!