Two months in and just thought I would share a few observations about la vida loca that is now our own!
Heat – yes it’s hot. Very very hot. But the heat seems to come as a daily surprise to the locals and they are always complaining about the heat. The temperature doesn’t vary much throughout the year; pretty much a steady 90 degrees daily but it does make the locals quite lazy, especially the school children. They certainly don’t want to do any PE (running about, I don’t think so!) so quite a few of them are overweight and if the fans are not working at school during one of our many daily power cuts then that presents the perfect excuse for downing pencils and going to sleep at their desk! Given that all the fans do is circulate the hot air their absence makes no/little difference to the temperature inside the concrete box that is the classroom. None of the kids or teachers walk to school (apart from us) even though most only live about 5 – 10 mins away. They all hop on the local taxi service – a motorbike or scooter complaining it is too hot to walk anywhere!
Humidity – I think you have the picture about the heat but the humidity is immense and has a surprising effect. Within 5 mins of leaving the house your clothes are soaked through, even the kids! Despite the high heat, washing takes ages to dry – there is no way for the water to go because the air is already saturated. When you put washing out in these sorts of temperatures in Australia by the time you have hung up the last sock the first shirt is dry but not here, it takes hours and hours to dry. We don’t have an iron (those of you who know us and our laundry habits well will not be surprised that we have not rushed out to buy one!) but ironing clothes is fairly pointless as they start to steam and kind of “self iron” as soon as you put them on!
The humidity has a bizarre affect on hair too and makes it grow mad curly and up and out instead of down so Rich and I are starting resemble a couple of The Drifters with our 1970’s afros!
Motorbikes – everyone goes everywhere on motorbikes and motor scooters so the roads are jammed with them going in all directions, particularly the wrong way up one way streets or on pavements, round the school yard etc. If we were to try to replace the happy bus here, it would be with a happy scooter as families of 4 and 5 and occasionally 6 can regularly be seen out and about. Dad driving, a toddler or 2 in the footwell of the scooter, kids in the middle and mum hanging on the back holding onto a sleeping baby. And of course no crash helmets! Sometimes we can’t bear to look. Scooters are also the most common way of transporting whatever you need to move.
There is no mains gas here, just big propane cylinders. So if you pick one up from the shop you balance it on your knee and go home on your scooter. We have also seen someone holding a computer (inc monitor, processor and keyboard) whilst driving a scooter with kids on the back but the most alarming I think was a woman with a new born baby in a BabyBjorn sling on her front and 2 other kids on the back, both with school bags trailing on the floor and not a helmet in sight. The most amusing by far has to be the man driving a scooter whilst balancing a washing machine on the seat behind him!
Misogynists – it is slowing dawning on us what a sexist place this is, straight out of the middle ages. Men get married young have lots of kids then get bored and move on to the next wife and start again. Or don’t even bother leaving the first wife and just have many affairs and many more kids. The wives have full knowledge of this and are quite accepting of it, even often bringing up the illegimate children as their own if the other woman doesn’t want them. Although more usually the mum’s don’t want them either so they end up living with grandparents. Most of the kids in my classes live with their grandmothers and cousins. Very few live with their mothers and even fewer with dads. Happily married mums and dads are a very rare thing indeed. It is a great shame for the kids.
Women don’t command much respect any aspect of society. Never been one for banging the drum of women’s lib but it really does need to be heard here! Rich is quite the talk of the town as he has been seen shopping, cooking, cleaning and hanging out washing – all women’s work as far as the men here are concerned. As a man he should be sitting in his hammock listening to some very loud merengue and yelling at me to bring him more beer! [would that I could – Rich]
School – the children are in charge, there is no doubt about that. There are no school rules, no discipline and no consequences for bad behaviour. I gave a group of students zero in a test last week because they wrote nothing on their paper. When a teacher came to write the results in his book he refused to put in anything less than 70% saying we should just say the kids were absent that day! The kids wander in and out of class as they please (no doors so hard to stop them!) and buy sodas and candies from the cafeteria which is open all hours then bring them back to class! I am tearing my hair out, literally (although there is so much of it now, Drifter style, it’s hard to notice!). They don’t buy books because they say they can’t afford them but most of them have nice Blackberries and DS’s which have to be frequently confiscated (leading to a visit to school by irate granny!) and they always have plenty to spend in the cafeteria.
I feel sorry for the kids because despite their unruly behaviour they are really really nice. They simply do not know how to learn or how to think for themselves. They produce their best work when I give them lines for being out of order. E.g. I must listen in English class x 100 and when they have done it they come running up to me looking really pleased with themselves asking for a gold star!! So teaching them anything is a constant daily battle and has resulted in much blood (mozzie bites) sweat (90 degrees and high humidity) and tears (of total and utter frustration!)
Junk Food – I think we have arrived in the junk food capital of the world which is surprising given that you can’t walk anywhere without seeing a tree laden with the most delicious fruits – bananas, mangoes, papayas, avocados and coconuts are just there for the taking. The “cafeteria” at school is the bane of my life and if Jamie Oliver were here he would be hairless! The kids mostly seem to come to school without breakfast so the lessons before break are pointless as they are starving and all they can think about is loading up with snacks at break time. Given that the snacks are 100% sugar and additives they do not do much to promote learning so the lesson after break are, if possible, even more chaotic until the sugar rush wears off but then they are back to being hungry again so the cycle continues!
Rich took the kids to a party at the school last week and when he came back I dared to ask if there had been any carrot sticks or grapes!! He doubled over laughing – first course ice cream – a tub the size of a dustbin which all has to be eaten at top speed before it melts, then pop corn, candy floss, bowls of sweets everywhere, a pinata (paper donkey full of sweets) and a life size Spiderman cake (it was the biggest cake you have ever seen!). They came back with a party bag the size of a Sainsbury’s carrier full of sweets, crisps and pop corn.
But the scariest thing by far here is the fizzy drinks. The quantity for a start, sold by the bucketful in the cafeteria and handed out in similar quantities at parties. The local brand makes me encourage MBKZ to drink Coca Cola as a “healthy” alternative because it is fluorescent (you really can see it in the dark) and the very scary thing it it doesn’t freeze! The other English teacher, Ben, put a bottle of Coke and the local fizzy orange in the freezer to cool and forgot about them. The next day the Coke was frozen had blown the top off the bottle and was all over the freezer but the local fizzy orange remained in liquid form!
Zach is everyone’s favourite at school (youngest and blondest so attracts quite a crowd) and he has wormed his way into the favours of Jesus, the man who runs the cafeteria at the school. So to my despair, several times a day, Zach escapes from the nursery (no door so not difficult), runs to the cafeteria, stands on tip toes so his little blond head is just visible to Jesus over the counter, offers his best Spanglish “Por favor” with both hands held out and despite obviously having no money comes away with a couple of lollies, a pocketful of sweets and a cup of the aforementioned anti-freeze like fizz!
The attention gets a bit much for Zach some times – today he came running out of school asking for a “piece of quiet” (he really is coming out with the most fantastic phrases!)
So all in all life is definitely very different from what we are used to but the people are the warmest, kindest, friendliest on the earth and, having explored a bit more of the island this weekend, I can confirm that some of the landscape and coastline is truly breathtaking (see the blog for the boat trip and the fish that Rich and Matt caught).