In the evening, after siesta, I discover that almost everywhere is a shop and they all sell much of the same stuff, but only one sells real butter. You can buy filter coffee but not filter papers and someone’s front room is actually a barbers at one end.
Puerto Banquerizo Moreno, the main town and our base in San Cristobal feels to be booming, glossy new government buildings, lovely promenade and lots of construction work, mainly on big houses. Apparently they don’t do mortgages and cash is king, you buy a piece of land from the municipal government and build as many floors as you have cash for, hence the reinforcement bars sticking out of so many roofs waiting for the next bundle of cash. Saying that, even though it is low season it feels quiet and I wonder how much tourism has been affected by the global financial crisis?
The horror of being involved with getting the kids ready for school! Maybe I am a lone Dad who finds this part of the day a touch frustrating but I suspect this may be a common problem even in the more perfect of Stepford households. I feel lucky at home that we have had au-pairs to herd the fruit flies out of the door and Mo who loves this ‘quality time’ with the children when she can. Suffice to say that asking a child to put their shoes on 20 times makes me think of Einstein’s quote about doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result, yep I am going mad…
The headmistress seems happy to see us and we get the obligatory peck on the cheek, smile and burst of Spanish which my brain fails to translate and I hope is nothing more than ‘good luck, you’ll need it’. The kids are gone, no need for embarrassing parental delivery to the door and we head to the classrooms we were shown yesterday. How will the kids fit in? Will they enjoy it? Get anything out of it? What about us?
Being in the Galapagos an appropriate quote from Charles Darwin enters my mind:
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
Yes we will have to focus on being adaptable. I am feeling a little bit more comfortable than Mo as I am quite used to computers but my first discovery is that the PCs are all running Ubuntu Linux and Open Office, all of course in Espanol, no Windows in sight! I start to wish we had covered computer language in my Spanish classes. The class and the computer teacher pile in and we exchange ‘buenos diases’ but this is the only conversation I have before she launches into the lesson. The sound is terrifying and despite the teacher’s best efforts at asking for ‘Silencio’ it makes my head hurt. Luckily by the end of the day my hearing has adapted and I guess filtered out unnecessary sound.
The lessons are mouse control games for the youngest (a free programme called Psycache) and either word processing or spreadsheets for the older ones. With zero direction (Willy had warned us we had to be proactive) I go round the room helping anyone that is struggling, a couple of minutes with each is all that I manage but on the first lesson I get a big hug off one kid at the end, aaawwww.
In the break I chat to Luis and we have a lengthy conversation where we both practice each others’ languages. He makes me feel really welcome although some questions leave me wondering what the best answer is? What do you say to someone that states you must be very rich as we are travelling for a year with 5 of us and in the Galapagos which is only visited by rich people? When I admit, truthfully, that an iPhone costs about a thousand dollars I don’t think I changed his opinion! Ecuadorean teachers earn between $400 to $600 a month (a bit more in the Galapagos, I later hear)! Tricky and not something I have an easy answer to.
I notice many of the computers are not in use and doubling up is common so I investigate the others. After fixing 4 mice I feel I have added some value as that is 4 more computers back in action, the wires have been routed so the cable is bent sharply at the mouse end which makes them work intermittently. I actually watch a student unplug it and try and force it back in bending the pins so it wouldn’t fit. Mystery solved and with a biro to bend back the pins and a bit of rerouting they were mostly sorted. I also fix the projector for the teacher but feel that plugging the lead in has not stretched my technical capabilities.
Then I find that many of the PCs have the programme shortcuts deleted so they aren’t getting used either so I put these back on, we now have just 3 PC’s out of action, one has a bust hard drive but the others just need Ubuntu reinstalled. I suspect these problems come from the students just switching the power off to the PCs rather than shutting them down properly, I’ll have to work on getting this translated.
For Christmas my secret Santa present at work was a mug with ‘I Love Spreadsheets’ in a big heart so it was great to see such a useful programme being taught in primary school. The biggest difficulties I can see are that there is such a wide range of abilities in each class. Many children need one on one help, which I can give some of but is almost impossible for a sole teacher. I also feel for the brighter pupils who are far from being stretched and fill the time playing solitaire, loading up music and photos from USB thumb drives or just chatting etc. Mixed ability classes without streaming may be a socialist ideal but makes me foam at the mouth with frustration at the waste of young talent and drained enthusiasm not to mention the ability to focus extra resources at the other end of the scale!
Rant over. Happily I have to go and find our children at break time. They are bombing around the playground followed by a group of new friends and having a ball. Great news and one of our main concerns is gone. I go to find Mo…
I think Mo has been amazing. Not only has she worked so hard at learning enough Spanish in 3 weeks that she can converse, she managed to run a class for a whole day. We were told that they were the most challenging ones and needed the most help so to do it single handed… I am just glad our roles weren’t reversed!