This has been week two of the TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Language) class, and the work is definitely starting to pick up. Every day we have class from 8:30-6:30. The last two hours, though, are comprised of an English class that we teach. Students are offered a free (or very very cheap) English course, and in return, we hone our teaching skills on these poor middle aged women and teenagers who aren't lucky enough to go to an expensive private school where they learn English. It's actually pretty fun, and- somehow- they're learning a heck of a lot. After every class we teach one woman, Ines, says "Congratulations! Good job!" It's so funny!
On the Spanish end of things- I am getting really frustrated with my level of Spanish. When I was sick I had zero energy to even try to speak Spanish, and I wish I'd taken advantage of that week and a half now. So, to improve my skills, I've begun reading the newspaper. The goal is to read the paper every day, but I'm slow, so I'm reading one every two days. I'm also taking every opportunity to speak Spanish or be around people speaking Spanish that I can. This has led to interesting discoveries, ridiculous mistakes, and an observation which I will discuss.
First- this might be my favorite thing I learned this week:
Si asi es de verde, como sera de madura?
Basically it's a compliment to someone wearing green. Our 60-something teacher said it to a girl in class today, and it's apparently pretty platonic-- but when translated it sounds like a bad pickup line-- so next time you're at a bar tell someone:
If you look this good green, how are you going to look when you're ripe?
Second- I had a gigantic pimple on my face this week, and when my host mom saw it she asked "Margaret! What happened to your face?" I realized at that moment that I didn't have the slightest idea how to say "pimple" so I said "Wait a minute, I'll look it up!" So I grab my dictionary and flip to the english side and through the Ps. Meanwhile she's asking me some question, so I'm trying to look fast. Finally, I was at the right page- I saw the word- I scanned to the translation and I confidently told her: "Es un chulo." She looked at me very confused for half a second before I remembered that "chulo" means "pimp". Then I started laughing and tried to explain to her that in english, those words were very close together- and I meant that it was "una espinilla." I'm not sure if she got it, but it was pretty funny. (I also asked a waiter for the cheque yesterday instead of the "cuenta"- or bill. That not only got me a raised eyebrow from the waiter, but the 10 people at our table made fun of me mercilessly.)
Finally- I'd heard that Ecuador is very class-based and that the color of your skin really determines the way you're treated, the job you get, the life you live. Naturally, this is a concept we're familiar with in the United States, but here it's out in the open and treated like a natural fact. For example, in one of my Spanish classes the teacher explained to us, very matter-of-factly, that although it was a nice idea for Bolivia to elect an indigenous government, the indigenas are incapable of running a country because they just don't think the same way we do. Today, as part of my, be-around-as-much-spanish-as-possible plan, I went to get lunch with my host mom at her friend's house. There were a lot of people there and a man starts reading off a peice of paper and everyone started laughing. I didn't understand half the words he was saying, so though I smiled politely, it was clear that I had no idea what was going on.
He asked my host mom if I spoke Spanish, and when she affirmed that I did, but I didn't know the words, they explained to me that these were jokes about two people- a Pelucon - or good upper-class guy- and a Cholo -or lower class guy (my dictioary traslates "cholo" as "half-breed" btw- which I find incredibly offensive). The jokes then go like this-
If a Pelucon goes to a brothel, it's because he's looking for pleasure. If a Cholo goes to a brothel it's because he's looking for his sister.
If a Pelucon is running it's because he's an athelete. If a Cholo is running it's because he's a thief.
If a Pelucon is wearing white it's because he's a doctor. If a Cholo is wearing white it's because he's a milkman.
Etc. The jokes went on and on-- particularly the ones about occupations- if a Pelucon is driving a car, it's because he owns it. If a Cholo is driving a car he's a chauffeur. Each was met by peals of laughter and delight. There was no shame- no explanation- no qualifiers: "I have a friend who's a Cholo, so this is okay." Nothing. I'm trying really hard to see the other side of this- to see how this could be (and apparently is) culturally acceptable, but the more I see and hear, the more it seems like social inequality here is not a problem to them. How do you refrain from ethnocentrism, but maintain a sense of right and wrong? and is it bad to think that, in this particular case they're about 150 years behind the US? I think I've always been under the impression that racism used to be socially acceptable, but in our modern world is a sign of extreme ignorance/stupidity/worthlessness. I'm not sure quite how that jives with what I'm seeing here. I don't have an answer, a metaphor, or nice words with which to wrap this up-- it's just something on my mind. Not to end on a negative note- on the whole, I am so happy here. I don't mean that to sound too harsh.. but it's definitely given me some food for thought.
Two more weeks to go, and then I've got to get a job and an apartment and be a grown up. It looks like Colegio de la Liga will probably work out- so more on that when I know more. (PS- I was offered the position at that elementary school in Cumbaya, but I made up my mind way before that I couldn't do it. It was a good decision to say no.)