Saturday, August 30, 2008

how to prevent frequent grocery store trips and the accompanying expenditure

My method for not having to visit the store often or buy groceries, or for that matter cook much, is to get a lingering case of mild food poisoning within a few days of arriving in Puebla. It's not a system I'd recommend, but I must admit that living on Sprite and crackers (confession: an exaggeration) saves lots of time and effort. I keep thinking I'm over the effects of the contaminated food, but then each day wears on and I feel less and less like eating.

I have a few points to ponder: What exactly is it that makes Pepto Bismol so dismayingly pink? And how is it supposed to settle an "off" stomach when drinking it makes me gag? Any answers to these questions?

Week one of school is over. I had five of my students: one student's parents enrolled her and her siblings in another school without telling PCS, and another student was still in the States but will be in school this Monday. A class of six students may seem small, but I'm glad the numbers are low. This class is younger and has much less school experience than my previous class. Only one of them reads really well, and her comprehension has large gaps, because English is her third language after Korean and Spanish. We'll be doing a lot of intense reading and comprehension work this year.

It's absolutely the coolest: my students, though few in number, each represent a different part of the world. One is Korean, one half Korean-half Mexican, another Poblana, another Canadian, and the final one doesn't know where she's from (very missionary kid!) although I think she's from the US. The one coming on Monday is from the States. Of my six, half speak English as their first language, but the other three are working on English as their second or third language.

Speaking of English, starting very soon, I'll be leading an informal ESL class at my apartment on Thursday nights. A PCS teacher who retired at the end of last year and moved to the US used to teach this group of young adults and adults, and she asked me if I'd take over. We're going to be reading through The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to start. Tea and crumpets, anyone?

The building next to ours is undergoing massive remodeling, and watching and hearing the work proves time and again what I've been told. Here in Puebla manual labor is far cheaper than using machines to do the same work. Day after day, a small group of laborers have been using heavy hammers, shovels, and other such tools to knock down almost the entire house.

And if the proper tools aren't available for the job, well, improvise. Looking out the window this morning, I saw two men tidying an overgrown lawn. One had a weed whacker to cut, and the other was cleaning up the scattered grass. He didn't have a broom or leafblower, but he did have a piece of cardboard to industriously scoot a bunch together, gather it onto the cardboard, and then carry it around the corner to a growing pile.

Now it's time for me to get to work as well, not with a piece of cardboard, but with computer and plan books. I need to lesson plan for next week and also prepare for Back to School Night on Monday.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

more details

I promised to give more details about the Wood Between the Worlds. Now that we've had our two-day working staff retreat and my classroom is all ready for the seven students that will be coming through my door tomorrow, I have time to fulfill the promise.

First of all, I have to say that international travel has to be one of the most spiritual experiences on earth. At least I find myself praying non-stop during the entire traveling time. And not without reason...

At LAX, I sailed through check in. My two pieces of check-in luggage weighed exactly 50 pounds, and I did not end up having to pay for either of them because the flight was international. Hallelujah! I asked the Alaska Airlines agent if I'd have to pick up my bags in Puerto Vallarta during the lay-over, and she assured me she'd check them through. Great news!

With almost the entire three hours still remaining before boarding, I paced a little, hampered by a very heavy computer case stuffed with food for the day, children's books, and of course my computer. I also had a very heavy carry-on suitcase, but that rolled, so the heaviness didn't cause much problem.

When stores opened, I bought an extremely expensive bottle of water ($2.29 for 500ml) and equally costly pack of gum, then ate some breakfast. So far, so good.

Skip ahead to Puerto Vallarta. We'd landed, I'd wrestled my computer bag and suitcase out of the overhead bins and disembarked, and my next project was to find the check-in counter for Mexicana. After I'd asked a few people, I finally found it. Problem number one: The agent at the desk actually weighed my carry-on suitcase, something Alaska Air hadn't done. The case was way over the carry-on limit which I knew, but I'd been counting on their not weighing it, because no one ever had.

At the Mexicana counter, the agent said I'd have to check in the suitcase. I asked him if the fact that I had two others already checked would be a problem, and he just gave me a puzzled look. Language breakdown probably, since my Spanish did some rusting over the summer. Anyway, he checked the suitcase, and off I went to security.

That went quickly, and I was eating some lunch (lightening the load in my computer bag :-) when a lady walked up, "Are you Rachel Greenlee?" Oh, now that's not good. You never want airport employees to know you by name. "You need to come claim your bags." She continued, "They are downstairs."

I told her the lady at Alaska Air had assured me the baggage would be checked though, but of course there was nothing for it but for me to follow this lady downstairs, back out of security, and claim my 50 pound baggage items. She left me with a porter - uh oh, no one to explain what had happened - and I returned to the same agent at the Mexicana counter, after another employee had carefully untaped and searched the box and the trunk.

Much more serious problem number two. The Mexicana agent's scale showed both luggage pieces as overweight, by how much I've no idea because his scale weighed in kilos. He began telling me how much it would cost me for the baggage, and I protested that Alaska Air hadn't shown them as overweight. After some explaining back and forth, he asked for the baggage claim tickets and disappeared into a back room.

By now it was looking like I might miss the connecting flight. The agent didn't return, and didn't return, and didn't return. After about 20 minutes, he finally reemerged and said the bags could be checked without extra cost but now I'd have to pay for the suitcase, because it was baggage #3 and it was overweight. He quoted me the horrifying price of more than $100.

I replied, "Well, what can I do? I don't have that much money!"

After repeating I'd have to pay, he sent some poor soul to find the suitcase, apparently already in the hold of the plane, and bring it back. "You can try taking it on board,"he finally conceded,"But they'll make you check it."

Praise be, with the help of a flight attendant and after I'd removed some books and my pajamas, the suitcase did fit in the overhead bin, and that adventure ended with all four pieces of luggage on the plane - which I got to on time - at no extra cost to me. No further excitement entered my traveling day, and I arrived late evening at the apartment in Puebla. God is good!

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Self Divided

In my last few days in California, I squeezed in a few final activities. My family celebrated my 30th birthday with me on Friday, my sister and I went to the Getty with a group from her church on Saturday, and friends took me out to lunch for my birthday and I saw the second Sisterhood movie with two other friends on Sunday. On Monday I worked at the church office and then finished packing. At 4 am Tuesday, it was time for me to enter the Wood Between the Worlds (Magician's Nephew if you don't know the reference). An airport shuttle arrived to take me to LAX for the transfer from one world to another.

If you have lived in another country for any period of time, you're probably familiar with what I'm about to describe. If you haven't then the description is inadequate, but I'll do my best. The sensation of leaving behind one set of friends, family, and familiar places to transplant to another set of loved ones and familiar places is, for me, like having two separate selves. One Rachel lives in Southern California and one lives in Puebla and goes by Raquel most of the time. There's a third Rachel that lives in Kenya, but she hasn't been awake for a long time.

When the time came to leave Southern California, the shuttle, airplanes, bus and taxi acted as a Wood Between the Worlds - a neither-here-nor-there place. The Southern California Rachel went into suspended animation as soon as the shuttle arrived, but the Puebla Rachel/Raquel hadn't awakened either.

She woke up when roommate Bethany opened the door of the apartment and we lugged four heavy pieces of baggage up the stairs. No time had passed, summer was erased, and the Puebla Rachel/Raquel took up where she'd left off in June. If you've ever read The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, it describes how the main character Aerin is loved by prince Tor but is injured and healed (and made semi-immortal) by Luthe who also loves her. Luthe puts the memory of himself to sleep in her mind so that she can live a normal life with Tor and then return to Luthe when Tor dies. That is almost exactly what it's like to live between Southern California which I love and Puebla which I also love.

Or to press the point even further, now that I have lived in these different places and loved being there, it is more vividly real to me that heaven is our only true home. I will never live anywhere where I am completely undivided until I'm in heaven. It's like what Frodo says to Samwise in The Return of the King, "...and you cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be and to do. Your part in the story will go on." - an imperfect reference to be sure because Sam was remaining behind in the Shire while Frodo left him, but it sort of works.

I will post with more detailed accounts of the airport "excitement" later, but right now I need to get ready to go on our PCS staff retreat for two days. Thank you to all who prayed. Keep it up! I love you!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Last time

Summer time has evaporated away, and only a week remains before I will be in Puebla once more. One trunk is entirely packed with school supplies which means I'll have to pay extra extra for a second piece of baggage (I'm traveling on an airline that charges for the first piece so it's anybody's guess what the second will cost).

This evening my sister and I went to the Huntington Beach street fair for my final visit for a long time. We spent more than an hour watching the Etcheverry brothers. You have to see them play to believe it's possible to play like they do. Try looking them up on Youtube as Seis Cuerdas. After they'd finished, I asked for a picture with them, just because.

A couple of weeks ago while I was at the beach with a friend, she noticed that one of the bouncers working in a bar we passed had the unlikely name of Muffin embroidered on his shirt. This nickname (or at least I assume it's a nickname) particularly amused me because his appearance is very un-muffin-like. I think I rather startled him when I marched up and asked for a picture, but he politely agreed.

Today was my second-to-last working at Newport Mesa. I'll be doing data entry Monday, so that will be the final goodbye. Just to prove I didn't spend the whole summer on the beach, out with friends, watching concerts and Shakespeare, and generally gadding about:

Be sure to keep tabs on this blog. The next post - or perhaps the one after - will be from Puebla! Please pray that all the traveling goes well for everyone going down for the new school year. I'm nervous about my flight to Puebla. It's one with a lay-over somewhere in Mexico, and I have to change airlines there. None of my previous LAX to Mexico City flights have left on time, and if the flight leaves late this time, there's a chance I'll miss the connecting one. That wouldn't be exactly exciting. I also don't know if I'll have to claim my baggage, go through customs, and the recheck the baggage with the new airline during the lay-over. I know I have to go through immigration there, but hopefully the other mess can wait until Mexico City.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Street Fair

With time speeding by and my return to Puebla almost here, I wanted to visit the weekly Huntington Beach street fair again. As usual, Ezekiel and Martin Etcheverry, the Argentinian flamenco guitar players known as Seis Cuerdas had their crowd gathered around. One solemn 2ish year old couldn't get enough of their music. He stared, transfixed through song after song. I took some video, unfortunately not begun or ended with any particular timing - rather I started and stopped the camera when spectators moved out of or into the way of the picture.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Even in Huntington Beach

In Nairobi, we were fairly used to having the electricity go out. My goodness, for the first four years of our time out in Tot, in extremely rural Kenya, we didn't even have electricity. But I've lived in the US and Mexico since 1991, and I'm used to lights on, refrigerator humming, fish tank bubbling, fan blowing... At about 4pm yesterday, the transformer controlling our block exploded, and out went the electricity. It was AWOL until 8:15 this morning. That made getting up at 4:25 to take my sister to the airport especially fun. Even after the electricity came on, we could tell that the underlying problem had not yet been solved, because the power company had three large generators set up, feeding power to the houses on the block. Hopefully the problem will soon be solved, but at least we do now have electricity.

One of the activities I worked on last week was making felt and puff-paint animals to go with Jan Brett's story The Umbrella. I've also made some of the animals from Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Bill Martin, but there's still several more for me to make before that's done. I'll use the animals with my class. I'll tell the story first, using the felt board, and then the kids can tell it to each other or even take the supplies home with the book and tell it to their families. It'll be interesting to see who my new students are and how many I'll have.

Saturday night my sisters and I went to see Anthony and Cleopatra, courtesy of Shakespeare By the Sea, a company that tours around giving free shows of various Shakespeare plays. They did a really good job, and we enjoyed the performance.

A friend of mine from high school is visiting from Oregon. She and I spent some time together yesterday at Balboa Island, and we'll be getting together this afternoon before she leaves.

Some time today I'll also be going through my teaching trunk - a collection of various teaching supplies, books, puppets, and stuffed animals - to see what I might want to take to Puebla. The new baggage restrictions make planning difficult. I know for certain that at least one of the airlines I'm taking charges for the first piece of baggage. Well, it can't be helped.

This week is my last summer school class. Yippee! I'm done with all but one page of homework. I will not miss driving 49.2 miles each way.

I sent out the Powerpoint presentation cd's about PCS and Dios es Amor last week. If you didn't get one and you want one, please let me know before I leave on the 19th. Thank you so much for your faithful prayers and support!