April 30, 2009

A thought on happiness

Coleridge said,
"Happiness is just a dog sunning itself on a rock. We're not put on this earth to be happy. We're here to experience great things."
I've been sunning myself for a few months now and I think he's right. I'm happy (see photo), no doubt about it, but I'm very far from the inspired feeling I had when I was close to the source of something great--the feeling I had when I was traveling and penniless students in Romania gave up their bed so that Tyler and I could sleep, and when I first started tutoring in Saudi and learning about family life behind those massive walls and multiple doors. 

Learning Spanish is excellent. Learning about the culture here...well, there is no "native" Galapagos culture. People started moving here from the mainland 50 years ago to sell sea cucumbers to the Japanese and boat cruises to the Europeans. The culture that is here--from what I've gathered from my language partners and local friends--involves weak Catholicism, television, drinking, visiting the continent for shopping and medical needs, and large lunches eaten between 12 and 2.

The language exchange, which was my attempted "great thing" has suffered attrition. The American students complained they were too busy (2 hours a week away from Facebook is a lot, I know), and the Ecuadorians often skipped out. We'll see if more great things lie in store, but at this point I feel ready to move on in August when my contract expires. Remember, I'm happy! This is just a thought on the feeling.

April 28, 2009

montar vs. mostrar

I forgot to share this little gem of embarrassment with you. It's the first day with my morning Level One'ers. I announce the break. Valeria asks where the bathroom is. To show the class I am bilingual-savvy, I answer in Spanish.

Está por allá. Si quieres, puedo te montar.

It's over there. If you want, I can mount you.

montar (to mount) vs. mostrar (to show)

The whole class just looks at me in a suspension of tongues until I realize what I've said. And then blushing. And then laughter. If you're on board with making a fool of yourself, then these experiences are the best teachers of all. Five years from now, I will be as confident about these two verbs as I am now. Gidyup!

(Image via NC-4H)

Level One

We have an exam today and I'm really excited, because my students are going to pass. They're Level One, which means they aren't confused yet.

They arrived five weeks ago with blank canvases. We have written words. We have drawn lines. But we have preserved space around the words and the lines. The paper isn't crowded. Eventually, inevitably, we will scribble and cross out and cover this first draft, because language learning is messy. Which is why perfectionists suffer and creative people excel. 

Do you know the word palimpsest?

April 25, 2009

I faced my fears.

Enfrenté mis miedos.

I swam alone in cloudy water today, damn the sharks. 

(Image via WHOI)

April 17, 2009


Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No Hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

At which point Daisy Vera interrupts the song to ask if John Lennon is an atheist. Which makes me incredibly happy, because she must be understanding the lyrics.

Level 1 has been working on contractions with "to be" (there's, it's) and prepositions of location (above, below) so this song is perfect. It also brings up yet another example of, "Ok, in Spanish you say... but in English, there are two words for that." In this case:

cielo = sky / Heaven


esperar = to wait / to hope

decir = to tell / to say

casa = house / home

If we believe in the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, these differences are important; they dictate our experience in the world. In English, we can wait even when hope is gone, we can tell people things without saying a word, and we can sit in the house and miss home. We can deny Heaven without the sky falling. So maybe we should change the lyrics: Imagine there's no Heaven/It's easy if you speak English.

April 15, 2009

Me entiendes?

At my last school in Vancouver, students who asked Comment ca va? or Nasilsiniz? were sent home. Did I agree with the English-only policy? Yes and no. Yes, because it prevented groups of Saudis and Mexicans and so on from lumping together, and pushed them to mix and become friends in English. No, because it tied my hands in class. 

For example, I say "There is." Nehir looks at me with puppy dog eyes that say, "Translate. Please. Just translate." I want to say var, but instead I give examples, draw pictures, and dance around like a freaking mime. Nehir knows I know the Turkish, so naturally she's frustrated. Plus, we're missing out on the fun of comparing languages (e.g. did you know Turkish has no verb for "to have?"). Surely there's a productive middle ground between this and my terrible 7th grade French class, taught all in English.

Right now, I'm looking for this middle ground in my Level 1 class. Of course, it's handy that they all speak Spanish. I don't worry about discriminating against the Iranian in the corner because I don't speak Spanish and Farsi. Your thoughts?

April 11, 2009

Autobiography Chapters

1: Vancouver. Tearing worms and linking paper hoops.

2: Indonesia. Smacked my head on a tile floor, they tell me.

3: Saudi Arabia. Soccer, small town life, shawarmas.

4: California. Boarding school as you imagine, minus uniforms and lesbian encounters, plus conservatives and rock climbing.

5: University of British Columbia. Cherry blossoms, War Lit, Kath and Pearl.

6: Montreal. Hello, bohemia.

7. Saudi Arabia. "Holy crap! I love teaching!" 

8: Turkey. Wander a thousand miles on buses with flash cards and a smile. No theft, no harm, nothing but kindness and enough white bread to give me diabetes.

9: Vancouver. Culture shock, medicated with biking.

10: Galapagos. Long days, all the better for watching baby sea lions.

April 9, 2009

The men are shorter and so are the sentences.

Que haces hoy? What are you doing today?
No sé
I don't know

I know that this is the easiest language I will ever learn, so I'm trying to savor it.

April 6, 2009

Shakira's teaching me Spanish.

Sólo tú sabes bien quien soy 
Y por eso es tuyo mí corazón 
Sólo tú doblas mi razón
Y por eso a donde tú quieres voy 

Only you know well who I am
Which is why my heart is yours
Only you bend my reason
Which is why I'll go where you want

Here's the video of her performing the song, No Creo. I can't wait until I know enough Spanish that I don't rely on lyric translations, which are never really right anyway.

April 2, 2009

Who am I?

My Chinese-but-not-really friend Pearl sent me to an online mag called Denizen. It's about Third Culture Kids, of which I'm one; i.e. my Canadian parents raised me in Saudi Arabia, so culturally I'm not Canadian (toque? what?), but I'm certainly not Saudi (hello, male friends). I don't say "eh" but I don't speak Arabic (all those years, such an opportunity, I know).

Like most Third Culture Kids, I thank my parents for showing me the world and forgive them for denying me an identity bathed in nationality. Screw nationality. Screw nationalism. I'm a denizen, citizen of the world. Which brings me back to the magazine, just in its infancy. If it works out, it's because we expatriates love to talk about ourselves (see blog title). No one else cares that we that we know flight routes better than highway routes, international dialing codes better than national holidays (I still don't know Canada Day). In some ways, this internationalism is as bad as any nationalism. We wave no flag, but we still do us-them. For example, if you say "What the hell is sangria doing at a Turkish restaurant? Where's the ayran?" then I will say, "I know you. We have more to talk about than Arrested Development." Order the sangria and be judged.

Third Culture Kids are both enlightened and screwed. Enlightened because history chose us to inherit all the benefits of an increasingly globalized world, and we know it--we know how to move for work, how to adapt to the new grocery store and the new dress code, how to book flights on points before KLM changes the policy and tries to fuck us yet again, how to learn just enough of the local language to feel "in" and buy pirated DVDs, how to make alcohol if necessary, how to stand in all kinds of lines (straight, mob, elbows-up, etc.). We had Skype first. We have friends in all the right places (Beirut, Istanbul, London, LA, Dubai...)--

And screwed because we're nomadic parasites. I mean, if I actually had to live in Saudi--as in, live in a high-walled home with two sullen Indonesian maids, cover my head, and spend weekends with crusty in-laws--I would kill myself. The country on the passport's no better. I tried Canada, gave it a shot, and left within 6 months. Taxes? Commuting? Cold? $4 loaves of bread? No thanks.

So we live abroad without immersing ourselves, submitting our thoughts to places like Denizen. Or blogging. Apologies for the self-consciousness. Last night I finished A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and Dave Eggers is still with me.

Top 10 Holiday Pics

1. the big white beach of Tortuga Bay, Santa Cruz

2. where I made a little home under the mangroves

3. endless beach + volcano + sunset = why we love Isabela

4. my happy explorer/geologist, Josefhin

5. one of many

6. the lookout

7. the sandy roads, no shoes required

8. the Bob Marley boat tour with Andres

9. the lost lagoon

10. late afternoon in the flamingo swamp