Monday, September 29, 2014

Bring back Doc Martens; or, I'm not even supposed to be here today

My favorite saying is this: Mann traoch, Gott Lauch. It's Yiddish for "Man plans, God laughs." 

It's like some higher being has had a good laugh or two at me this past week.

There was the radio (it's always the radio lately). We have an advertisement heard daily on our two Armed Forces Network radio stations that says, "Stuck on an island with nowhere to go: AFN Radio GTMO."

I chuckle. It's true, but still funny.

I swear this really happened last week---I had just heard that ad while scanning through stations, and then immediately after, on one of my favorite Cuban radio stations, The Eagles' "Hotel California" was playing.


Also, I took my son to see this movie during Throw Back Thursday at our outdoor cinema:
1994 was a good year. Clerks. 
I know, I know, I'm Mother of the Year for that move. I did sort of forget how, well, raunchy it is. (Just the fact that I use the word "raunchy" means I'm perhaps old and semi-senile and may excuse my lack of parenting judgement).

I still laughed, oh boy did I laugh, inappropriateness and all. Clerks is such a slice of the early 90s and reminds me of grad school (much of it spent hanging out with friends at a video store), driving around in my beloved 280z (I could write a book on how much I loved that car), living off snow-cones and Taco Bell, moving to Georgia and then Colorado in very quick succession, and often wearing my Doc Martens just like the protagonist (or anti-hero?) with my favorite movie line: "I'm not even supposed to be here today!"

And that's what I found myself saying while spending yet another weekend at school doing lesson planning. It came out of my mouth before I realized that, oh my god, I'm Dante Hicks, but without a hockey break (on the roof) or a significant other with a counting problem.  (The Doc Martens boots are still in the closet, ready for a much-overdue revival of flannel and mom jeans).  I'm spending every waking hour trying to catch up. Is it getting easier? Um, no. Am I getting used to it? Um. . . no. I am, however, headed to sleep at 9 pm because I'm going to work with my son, who gets dropped off for cross country by 6 am. It's amazing how much work you can get done when you are alone---just a pot of coffee, a stack of papers, and around 6:50, an exquisite sunrise that sort of makes it all worth it.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Slaying Dragons and Monsters; or, Things That Go Bump in the Night

Today's weather at Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, Cuba: high of 89º, partly cloudy, and swarms of gnats still a-buzzing

I've been having recurrent dreams (okay, nightmares) since school started.

It's not those "I forgot my pants!" or "I forgot all the students' names!" or any other typical teacher/anxiety dreams.

It's that I'm battling dragons.

Big, scary, dark scaled creatures with wings and claws.

Mother of dragons, I am not.

A quick Google search (okay, there is no such thing as a "quick" Google search) found the following possible dream interpretations:
I'm battling inner demons
I have struggles to overcome
I am carried away by my passion which may get me into trouble
I need to exercise self-control
I will have good luck and good fortune
I'm using my anger to get my way
I'm struggling against my instincts

But it's not just dragons I'm fighting. Oh no.

There are also monsters. And I'm beating them down with my bare hands.

More possible dream interpretations, via Google searches found:
I have problems spiraling out of control
I have exaggerated fears in my life
I have hidden anger
I need to face my worst fears and inner demons
I have a very stressful situation going on in my life

Sounds rather dire for the most part, right?

However, I have a better interpretation.

Guess what my seniors have been reading?

We've been reliving Anglo-Saxon times and delving into the world of Beowulf. You know, Ye Olde English tale starring the horrible Grendel, who greedily grabs drunken warriors from their mead hall, biting off their heads and letting their blood dribble down the front of his monster body in the process. Then *spoiler alert* once Beowulf, our fierce, boastful, strong hero rips the arm off of the monster Grendel, leaving him to bleed to death, Grendel's mama comes to battle with Beowulf (moral of the story: mess with her kid and mama will come and kick your a$$). She ends up headless, Beowulf becomes an old king, goes into one last battle with---here is it---a dragon, and all his men, save one, abandon him and he dies a valiant warrior's death (but the dragon dies, too).

That's the quick-and-dirty, but you get the general idea. (Read it if you haven't. Seriously. It's fun, gruesome, suspenseful, and overall entertaining).

I've also been reading Grendel on my own, and more monsters, blood, guts, glory, and that dragon (although he's a little more philosophical this time around).

I can choose to believe that I am ready to implode with tons of stress and fears and problems, or I can choose to believe that literature is taking over my dreams.

Also, I have this note on my computer left by a very thoughtful kid that reminds me to breathe and not sweat the small stuff (I hear his mom is AWE-SOME). It's all about making connections with kids and having a great time. I have struggled with little-to-no direction (I'm the only person teaching my preps in the entire district), a real lack of resources, and other teaching issues that are somewhat minor in the scheme of things. I have about 50 students and know as much about their skills and personalities in a few weeks as it would have taken me a semester to learn with 180 students in the States.

Smile, they're only teenagers. Teenagers never judge. 

I'd like to believe that sometimes, dragons are just dragons, monsters are just monsters, and my problems will work themselves out in their own time.

Hopefully I won't be hitting/kicking the husband or waking up with all the sheets twisted in a knot once The Canterbury Tales begins. He's battled dragons and monsters with me, but I'm not sure if he'll be "longin. . .to goon on pilgrimages."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

All (Musical) Roads Lead to Cuba; or, Tom and John and me

Today's weather at Guantámo Bay Naval Station: 89º and cloudy (with swarms of gnats). 

"You may say I'm a dreamer/but I'm not the only one." --- John Lennon
"Why, why, whyyyyyy, Delilah?"----Tom Jones

This week, there was driving around listening to Cuban radio when this came on.

It's Tom Jones, y'all, singing about Delilah.And just like that, I, too, was singing about Delilah at the top of my lungs (Why, why, whyyyyyyy, Delilah???).

I thought it was weird that Cubans love Tom Jones (then again, who doesn't love him??), but I did find online that he performed in Havana this past spring. I also found a very Spanglish/ broken English story that includes pics of Tom and the cleaning ladies at the National Ballet School----"Smiling, funny and gentle, this Knight of the Crown had his picture taken even with the cleaning ladies, and although some did not know him, they sensed that he was huge. However, very few knew of its presence in the Habanos Festival, an event that annually attracts many celebrities that come and go incognito."

Hmmm, to be one of those people who everyone can "sense is huge," even if they don't know you. Must be nice. 

which I haven't heard in years and did make me smile, as it always does. And although it's definitely not the Communist Manifesto, you have to admit that the lyrics are, well, sort of in line with some of the Communist thought process. 

I remember seeing a report on tv a while back about the John Lennon Park in Havana, and you can find several stories and pictures of it on the internet

When the park was dedicated in 2000, Castro, who had previously banned Beatles' music in Cuba, said, ""What makes him great in my eyes is his thinking, his ideas," he said. "I share his dreams completely. I too am a dreamer who has seen his dreams turn into reality."

The best part of the story is not that Castro decided to have a park dedicated to Lennon once he realized that Lennon, the one-time war protester, was actually a rebel against the US Government, much like himself. The best part is about Lennon's glasses. 

Today, John Lennon's signature round glasses have been stolen from his face so many times, a 95 y/o man volunteers to keep watch over both the statue and the replica glasses. "He poses for pictures with fans from all over the world. When tourists come by to take pictures, Gonzalez places the glasses on John Lennon. And when the snapshots are done, he puts the glasses back in his pocket next to his cigars and sits back down" (PRI) Sr. Gonzalez had never heard of the Beatles before he moved to Havana to live with his daughter, but he decided that there was a need, and he stepped up for over 13 years now to make sure Lennon and his glasses are together again. 

Photos: Carlos Montoya and Gerry Zambonini

It's the strange and magical surprises about Cuban radio---and Cuban life---that make me smile. Even though I live so close to the fence, yet so, so far from Cuba, I love feeling connected to this place through the radio.

More here at these sites (where I got all the above info): 

All apologies to my friends with iPads---for some reason, when I write blog posts on my MacBook, embedded videos won't show on iPads (thus the weird spaces on your screen). I could probably fix it if I had patience to deal with the World's Slowest Internet, but that's not going to happen. Sorry. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Invasion of the Sanity Snatchers; or, The Great Gnat Invasion of 2014

We've had a little bit of rain lately, which means that for a few days, at least, it's been a little cooler than normal. Unfortunately, this also means our usual tranquility has been rudely interrupted by gnats. We're not talking a few here and there: we're talking swarms of biblical proportions. You talk, you eat, you breath, and you're swallowing gnats. They fly up your nose so much, you quit trying to be graceful and take to snorting in public. You constantly bat them from your eyes, (so much, you may take to wearing sunglasses indoors). It's not usual to see people in the NEX, their cars, their driveways, or the classroom slapping themselves, because that seems to be the most effective means to getting them off your face.

As for open house at the elementary and secondary school this past week? This is what our halls look like:

all rooms open to the outside
So the swarms followed everyone inside all night long, making for a somewhat miserable experience. During my fifth presentation of the evening, I asked the generic, "Does anyone have any questions?" question, and I got the best one yet: "Yes, when do all these bugs go away???"

All of us who had lived here before tried to reassure the new residents that it's quite unusual; unfortunately, it's difficult to sound convincing when they can barely hear you for the maddening buzzing in their ears.

Desperate times means desperate measures, so I see people dabbing themselves with citronella or vanilla extract, and I got a great laugh when a middle schooler was passing out dryer sheets and all the kids had them pinned to their clothes by the end of the day. I mixed up apple cider vinegar and dish soap in my room, but I can't say it has made things better (and the smell---gag!). Hopefully they will decide to move on. At least it's better than the swarms of vicious mosquitoes we had a few weeks before the gnats decided to besiege GTMO.

The Great Gnat Invasion of 2014 aside, the rain also brightened up our brown little base, and this is the view I have outside of my class door these days:

Look closely and you'll see the GTMO golf course! And unlike most of the time here, you don't have to bring your own grass when we have the real thing. 

In addition, one of the huge cactuses (okay, I know it's really "cacti") near my room is covered in blossoms. I'm hoping they'll open. I'll post pics if they do. Then again, this may be all it does. Either way, it's rather interesting and the vibrant pink flowers do brighten my day. 

As an extra bonus, I've had little need to water the orphan potted plants I picked up here and there from the doorways of staff members who transferred over the summer.  This guy was waiting for me when I came into work for a few hours today. 

We've missed most of the movies lately and spend as little time as possible outside thanks to the infestation, but I think the trade-off is almost worth it when you consider how a little rain can transform this place into somewhere a little different and more beautiful than before. And for the break in monotony, I can almost deal with the swarms. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Back in the Saddle Again; or, Some New for the Old (that's me)

Time does stand still sometimes at GTMO.

Did you hear that Philip Seymour Hoffman died?

You know, the actor who died waaay back in Feb?

In case you've been in a coma, come to GTMO and check out the most recent Entertainment Weekly magazine here---it's the "latest" edition all about what happened.

There are several other magazines from February currently on the stands. And yes, they are selling for full price.

Other times, time zooms by. I can't believe that a) summer is over and b) weekends go by at warp speed, thanks to my new job duties this year.

I'm back in the teaching saddle again.

It's been a little rough.

The teaching part has, thankfully, been great.

It's just me that's falling apart.

Just keep swimming. . . A day at the beach, earlier this year. 
I have a pattern in my life that goes something life this: exhaustion leads to frustration, frustration leads to anger. 

In the middle of that is illness. 

I've been exhausted with the start of a new year, new preps, new schedule, new routines. 

I first found myself with a full fledged cold---exhaustion, moldy room, and/or germy kids I'm sure had something to do with it.  I ended up going to the ER for my cold---it sounds silly until you realize that I couldn't take off work the first few days for a dr. appointment, so the ER it was. Thankfully you can still get Sudafed in GTMO (as long as you go through a doctor), and I am finally feeling better. 

I was also feeling frustrated (leading to anger) over having to spend so much time at work instead of with my family, that I went for some backyard therapy and pulled, yanked, and cursed at weeds for a good 2 hours until I felt much better. 

This sounds great until the yanking, combined with many nights bolting upright coughing in bed, resulted in a back that was completely out of whack. That's not the doctor's diagnosis, because, well, there's that whole not-taking-off-work-at-the-beginning-of-the-year thing. . . But whatever I did hurt worse than back labor, and that's saying something. I have finally recuperated and I'm holding my breath that I'm healthy from here on out.

What's different about this year isn't just that I'm getting older and crabbier. It's that there are more hours required than I have in a day for work. 

Unfortunately, teaching isn't just teaching. That's just a small part of the job. There's the prep. 

I've been known to spend 2 hours or more putting together a 30 minute lesson. This seems stupid until you realize that a skill learned in 30 minutes can be used for a lifetime. The payoff is huge, if you plan and execute your plan just right. 

I'm teaching five preps of English after six years out of the classroom. I have very little resources, being that a) I moved here to be a librarian, thus not bringing many teacher resources, and there are very few here; and b) I am the only person teaching my preps IN THE ENTIRE DISTRICT. (Did you catch that?  We are the only high school in our district, so I have no colleagues for collaboration). Imagine now doing this for five classes, every week for 180+ days. 

I'm so exhausted, I'm frustrated, and I'm trying so hard not to get angry. 

I don't like being angry. I don't like not being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

But it's been difficult to not get angry when I am exhausted AND sick at the same time. 

My version of the pic above---done when I should have been doing lesson plans. 
Why am I falling apart? 

I could go on and on with being a martyr/mother/teacher, but there is some good that makes me realize that this, too, shall pass. 

There's the husband who has cooked dinner almost every single night since school started. He's packed lunches, walked a boy to the bus every morning, made sure a teenager is where he needs to be after school, and barely bats an eye anymore because, bless his heart, he's had to live with this for 21 years now. He knows the drill---I will be completely and totally worthless at home for the next month or so. (Hopefully less than that). 

There's the neighbor who greeted me at my first night back to work and said, "I know you are exhausted from your first day back, so I cooked you supper." 

Seriously. And she's done it again since. 

Then there are the kids. Not my amazing birth-children, but my student-children. 

There are the less than 3 weeks of school and I've already heard these comments:

"I think it's a hyper-bowl." (nope, that's a hyperbole: hy-PER-bo-le)

"I miss you in the li-berry." 

"Christopher Columbus was a sick bastard." 

"Miss, Miss. . . " (some teachers get offended when kids call them "Miss," but it's a sign of respect in several countries/cultures, and I find it rather endearing). 

*snicker snicker* "She said 'diction!!' Dick-tion!!!" *snicker snicker

(I won't even go into the inappropriateness that accompanied our unit on DIDLS. Yes, the unfortunate acronym is pronounced "diddles"). 

. . . and my personal favorite (directed partially at me): 
"All white people are crazy." 

I'm so impressed. It usually takes 2-3 months for kids to say these things. If one bursts out with, "You forgot to brush your hair this morning, didn't you?" I know that I've reached them all.