Shipping Fiasco

Fed-ex Moroleon

Fed-ex Moroleon

So with my ill gotten (See Failing at your own business–essay writing) and legitimate gotten gains piling up in my Paypal account burning a hole in my virtual pocket, I decided to do some online shopping. First I went to Amazon.com, however nobody wanted to ship to Mexico and Amazon.com.mx, well had nothing that I wanted. So I went to Ebay Mexico. And yep, they’d ship it to me. Since the last time I used Ebay, oh some 8 years ago, they had started this global shipping program that would ship anywhere in the world. Sounded great! As it turns out, I apparently live in a parallel universe, but I was unaware of that until the shipping nightmare began.

I bought myself some pants and my husband a MP4 player. The shipping fees were incredible–and not in a good way. The jeans were $205 pesos and shipping was $391 pesos more. The MP4 was $617 pesos and the shipping added another $299 pesos. Well, the global shipping program said that there would be no surprise import tariffs at the border, so what the heck. I had the moolah and I spent it.

A week later, I also ordered an archery set for my son. Shipping doubled the price yet again. The archery set was $630 pesos and the shipping was $638 pesos. I thought it worth it because the only archery set we found here was over $2500, therefore $1200 was a real bargain. And I sat back and waited.

About a week later, I checked on the shipping status—and low and behold, the first two packages were at the border. Yippee Skippy! Not long now! So I waited another week and checked the shipping status. I saw that a delivery had been attempted, but had been incomplete because the “business was closed or client unavailable.” Now, that seemed strange. I figured they’d try again the next day, and they did but found the address “undeliverable.” Now I started to worry. After three days of out for delivery but not delivered, I tried to contact the sellers to see if they had any information that might be useful. Ebay wouldn’t let me. My email was sent to Ebay customer service and my claims put on hold until January 6th. I wrote again and specifically asked if they could tell me who the carrier was from Morelia to Moroleon so that I could contact the company, meet the driver or pick up the packages at the facility in Morelia. Graciously, Ebay allowed that I could do that and that the carrier was Fed-ex.

OH! That explains it! I had listed our apartado (post office box) as our address since La Yacata has no street names. I had never had any issues before as the packages had been sent regular mail, which of course arrives at the post office box with no problems. When we had to use DHL for our passports (See Renewing out passports–DHL) we had the package sent directly to the office and picked it up from there. So my hope was to contact Fed-ex and pick up the packages that were “in transit” at the distribution facility in Morelia. According to Map Quest, it was 50 minutes from Moroleon, completely drive-able.

So then began my quest to contact Fed-ex. I spent hours attempting to contact someone in customer service. Of course, I expected a wait since it was right before Christmas and all, but really, hours? Then I finally was able to contact someone who regretfully told me that the Global Tracking number I had was not a Fed-ex tracking number, therefore Fed-ex couldn’t track it. So I contacted Ebay customer service again and asked for the Fed-ex tracking number. I didn’t receive any response. So I tried contacting the sellers again to ask if they by chance had the Fed-ex tracking number, and they didn’t.

Meanwhile, the third package was winding its way down. I saw on the tracking form that delivery had been attempted. I had exhausted all my options for package recovery by this time. However, miracles of miracles, Fed-ex called me after Christmas to request a different address for delivery. The impatient young lady accepted the address and clumsy directions I gave to the school where I work. I said I would be there awaiting the package.  She said would it head back to Moroleon that afternoon. I asked about the other packages.  She knew which packages I was talking about but said that there was nothing she could do.  I waited 5 hours at the school that day. Nothing. So the next day, I came back to the school.  While teaching my classes, being the only teacher there as this was Christmas break,  I had to lock the door, but left a big ol’ sign on it that read “Fed-ex–toca la puerta fuerte” (knock loudly). And wouldn’t you know it, Fed-ex came and went while I was in class, leaving a tracking  and contact number. Talk about annoyed! I called the contact number, which was local and the nicest man answered the phone. He was sympathetic to my dilemma. He said that he could ask the driver to leave the package with him at the office 4 blocks from the school and I could pick it up tomorrow at 9 am. That would be perfect!

So the next morning, I went over to Queretaro street and lo and behold, there was a Fed-ex office! Imagine that! The same pleasant man was there and was able to hand the package right over to me. He couldn’t do anything about the first two packages as I didn’t have the Fed-ex tracking numbers and he was sorry about that. He said the office has been there 4 years, but I found no listing for it when I did my desperate Google searches. Had anyone from Fed-ex called me about the failed delivery of the first two packages instead of allowing them to endlessly circulate in the delivery truck, I could have made the same arrangements and everything would have been hunky dory.

January 6 came and Ebay declared the packages lost and issued me a refund as a “courtesy”. Well, thank you very much kind sir. I was dissatisfied overall and won’t be using Ebay again. I think I was mostly disappointed because I had this vision of being able to receive items that just aren’t available in our area via mail delivery. Sort of like my own private trade route. Sigh. It just wasn’t to be.

I was also frustrated by the globalization of the global shipping program. I ordered products from Iowa and Florida. The customer service agent was in India. The Fed-ex driver and brisk customer service representative were in Morelia. But not until I was able to contact a local person (the Fed-ex employee four blocks away) was I able to complete the process. My problem wasn’t their problem. The sellers didn’t lose out as I had already paid for the items. The Indian customer service representative still got paid whether or not I received my items. The Fed-ex driver and snooty customer service rep also were paid whether or not I got the shipment. Ebay’s loss in refunding me my money was a drop in their earning conglomeration bucket.  The location of my items was only important to the local guy, someone I might theoretically meet again on the street in our town. That’ll teach me.

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Up on the roof–that nearly wasn’t

roof

Our goal this year was to add a roof to our second floor. (See Building a dream–constructing a life) We started saving in June or so in the hopes that by the end of the year we would have the $20,000 pesos we estimated we would need. In October, Chuy, who lives up the hill above La Yacata and rents wood for construction, offered to exchange the wood we would need for the roof for our horse Beauty. No cash would exchange hands and both parties would be more than satisfied with the transaction. The deal would save us between $3,000 to $3,500 pesos. Hands were shaken, plans were made and we continued saving.

Wood framing for the roof.

Wood framing for the roof.

Chuy came for Beauty in November with the understanding that we would be ready for colando (wood frame put in place) the week prior to Christmas break. My husband made arrangements for the coladores (men who put the rebar in place and make the cement) to come on December 20 and went to request delivery of the wood. However, Chuy said he didn’t have any wood available at the moment. My husband had already purchased the sand and gravel and had the order for the cement delivery with the loan of a cement mixer, but we wouldn’t be able to use any of that if the wood framework was not already in place. There were several days of heated exchanges between my husband and Chuy. Fortunately, my husband had not given Chuy Beauty’s papers since the deal hadn’t been completed yet, so we were in a more secure bargaining position. The ultimatum was, either the wood was there on the 15th or Beauty came back to live with us. Monday morning came and there was a wood delivery–not everything we needed though. The next three days were tense as my husband and my father-in-law used each delivery of wood and requested more for the following day. Because of the piecemeal delivery, they were still working Saturday afternoon, the day the coladores came to set the rebar and el plomero from up the hill came to run the electricity tube. (We still cherish a wee bit of hope that one day we will have electricity.)

Rebar lain over the wood framing reading for the cement.

Rebar lain over the wood framing reading for the cement.

Sunday morning came and there were still some sections of wood to be put up. My son and father-in-law went up to the roof while my husband and I made a 5 am trip to Ojo de Agua en Media to fill 7 barricas (barrels) with water for the cement mix. At around 7 am, the workers began arriving on foot or by bike, quite a motley crew, ranging in age from early 20s to early 70s. They set to work making a wooden walkway from the street to the roof but ran out of nails. My husband sent me to town to the ferreteria (hardware store) to get a kilo of long nails. It being Sunday, the place that we normally go was closed. I asked the muchacha in the store across the street if she thought it would open. She said most likely since it was opened last Sunday. Since we needed the nails, I opted to stay in town in the hopes that it would open at 9. I went to the store and picked up some coke (requested by the workers), 5 kilos of tortillas, and chicarones (fried pig skin). The carniceria hadn’t received its delivery of carnitas yet, so I’d have to come back. As the ferreteria (hardware store) hadn’t opened yet, I started circling Moroleon in search of another place to buy nails. NOTHING was open! I drove around nearly 40 minutes, doing a complete circuit. On the way back to the first ferreteria (hardware store), I heard someone call my name. It was el plomero with his wife. In desperation I blurted out the problem and asked if he had any nails at his house. He said he did and that I should follow them. I followed them to the carniceria (butcher) and the fruteria (fruit and vegetable store) and then to the place they rented a few months ago when it just became too much for them to live in La Yacata without electricity. He gave me a half-bucket of rusty nails that seemed to be the right size and I gave him 20 pesos and zoomed off.

Ramp to the roof.

Ramp to the roof.

My husband lunged for the bucket when I arrived and thought it would probably be enough. The workers set back to work on their walkway. In short order, it was finished and they were ready to rev up the cement mixer. It started, but would shut off after a minute or two. The men ripped off the motor casing to have a look. The head guy asked for a spark plug–which we did have just lying around. He did some monkeying around and tried again. NOPE! More fiddling, and a nope! By this time is was nearly 10 am and we haven’t even started. Everyone crossed themselves for another try and…..finally it started. Then stopped after 2 minutes. This time the gas valve wasn’t opened, which was a quick fix. Voila! The mixer started turning.

on the roof

My husband sent me to town for a garafon of gas for the mixer and more trips for water. I picked up the carnitas too. When I got back, there seemed to be decidedly less gente (people) than when I left. Three guys were up on the roof with my father-in-law and husband. The boss guy had gone to town to see about getting more men, as had 4 other guys–or so they said. One of the missing did meander back with a bottle of tequila and then we realized what the problem was. We hadn’t provided alcohol for the men! DUH! Here I was thinking that the booze was for after the job was finished. Silly me. So my husband hunted up his brother B and asked him to pick up a case of beer for the guys. When the beer arrived, so did more men. Now we were rolling! After the food was eaten, I made myself scarce so that the guys could enjoy their beer, call each other guey and insult each other’s mothers while they worked.

Mixing guys

Mixing guys

It took all day but the men were happy to continue as long as the alcohol held out. When they finished, the head boss guy received the $3000 pesos agreed upon and he doled it out to the workers as he saw fit. Most of the guys really only worked for lunch, a few beers and some change. After they left, the work still wasn’t finished. My husband, son and father-in-law filled in any cracks, tamped down the roof and swept the new cement with a broom. They finally finished just as it got dark. For the next 22 days, the wood framework stayed in place and the roof was doused twice daily with water to reduce cracking. My husband also put a row of bricks around the edge, perhaps later to develop into a half-wall. We spent close to $25,000 pesos even with the free wood rent but it really is the last major expense on our house. Everything else can be done in bits and pieces as we have the money. Whew!

Finishing up!

Finishing up!

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Failing at your own business–Freelance Writing Essays

doing homework

Last year we had the goal of putting the second story roof on our house and therefore needed a bit of extra money to get’er done. The unearthly hour that my son started school in the mornings meant that I arrived at my own job nearly 3 hours before my first class. Since I was there and had internet access I started sending out my resume for online jobs. To my surprise, I was offered 2 jobs almost immediately. Eagerly, I accepted both and hoped I would have enough free time.

The first position was with a company based in China that indicated that I would be assisting non-native speaking students with their English essays. As I have quite a bit of experience with ESL learners, I was excited at the prospect of revising their work. My first assignment was a “sample” assignment that would pay $60 whether or not the client accepted the completed work. The topic was on gender differences in conversation. I was to decide if there were provable differences between the sexes or not and defend my point of view. I was sent 4 pages to read with a list of additional resources to include. I went to work, although its been years since my last college essay. I submitted an outline, however it was returned with a different outline that the client wanted me to follow. That was ok with me. I changed my focus and wrote what I felt was a passable essay, complete with references, and sent it along.

Then I was assigned another essay and this one was a doozy. Explain why President Obama continued to use drone strikes and how it violates the international humanitarian laws. As I had no idea what the current policy for drone use was, this paper required quite a bit of research. It took me the better part of a week to just get the research done. Before I even finished, I was assigned another essay, but it was a simpler topic and shorter, only 2 pages. I was to go to a public area and observe young teens in their natural habitat. But the pressure was starting to get to me. I managed to meet the deadline for the humanitarianism paper, but had some issues with the formatting. I didn’t know how to send the completed essay to the right person in China, so I attached it to an email. I also asked when I would receive the payment for the first completed essay. I received a response that said they needed my Paypal information to pay me and that I needed to resend the essay in Microsoft Word because the client couldn’t open the file. So I sent the revised file and the requested information.

I didn’t have time to go to a park until Saturday afternoon. I took my son and he met a friend to play while I did my observation. Then I had to hurry back and write it up before my next class. I wasn’t quite finished with it on Saturday, so I had to come back to town on Sunday to work on it. The paper was rejected on the basis that I had spaced twice after periods instead of once. The administrator “fixed” the paper since it was dangerously close to the due date in China, it being in another time zone and all.

In the meantime, I was instructed to download the program DropBox, which I did. It’s a file sharing program. I saved my latest essay in the indicated folder, but as there were no guidelines to names, I had named it incorrectly. I was admonished that I must submit the papers appropriately or I would not longer be working for them.

I sent an email expressing my concerns about the time zone differences and mentioned that I hadn’t been paid for the sample paper yet. I was also starting to rethink this job. I had gone into it thinking I would be correcting already written papers, not writing the entire essay for the student.

I was assigned another paper. This one had a client generated outline that I was to follow. The information I received also included the course syllabus so that I could double check that I was meeting all the requirements, which I did. The topic was on the United States interference in East Asian conflicts. I wrote what was on the outline and added an additional 5 sources. I had it done a full day before it was due. I saved it correctly in the DropBox folder. I only spaced once after periods. The administrator wrote that I needed to add another 2 pages. I explained that I had included everything on the outline and added a considerable amount as well, besides which the course syllabus indicated that the paper should be 4-6 pages, not that it needed to be 6 pages. I rewrote the ending, adding a bit, but apparently it wasn’t enough.

The next morning I received an email that I had been assigned an essay, however it was the same essay I had completed. Then a message that the administrator had finished the essay. I checked the page where the money accumulated for finished jobs, and the money was there. Then I received another email saying that since the company had not heard from me, I would need to send my Paypal information to be paid for the work I had done. I sent the information again and minutes later I received a deposit to my Paypal account. However, it was only the total for 2 jobs, not the 4 I had done. So I tried to log back into my employee account, only to find myself denied. Guess that was their way of giving me the boot!

Well, I wasn’t going to get all bent out of shape over it. I received a little over $100 and happily spent every last cent.

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Failing at your own business (or not) –Saturday School

Featured as a Creative Problem Solver at Inspired Livelihood.

Somewhere between my last teaching position and my current teaching position, I found myself unemployed. Not just unemployed, but destitute. My husband and I had separated and I rented an apartment in town for my son and myself. A decided benefit to the situation was that we now had 24 hour access to electricity, which our home in the Middle of Nowhere, Mexico was without. The down side being that now I had to pay for it. And being unemployed, I wasn’t sure what to do.

Taking advantage of the electricity, I made some English language games. I soon had requests from moms and teachers for Spanish and bible games too. But these occasional sales weren’t enough to get the bills paid.

So, I approached the owners of the school where I had hoped to work but wasn’t because the school hadn’t opened that year. I asked if they would consider allowing me to use the school on Saturdays for English classes. Generously, they said that would be fine and wouldn’t even hear of me paying them rent for the use. I went one step further in my grandiose plan and asked an art teacher if she would be interested in giving art classes on Saturdays as well. Then we started with the publicity. The school had a Facebook page and we uploaded our class offerings there. Then we went about town and posted announcements on the telephone poles and in front of schools. We also went to each of our students, present and past, and gave them the information.

So it began. I can’t say it was an instant success. We each started with 3 classes with two or three students in each class. Some days there were cancellations and we were discouraged. The art teacher began to miss classes and her students stopped coming. But I kept at it. Most Saturdays I earned a whopping $75 (which is less than $6 usd) pesos. Other days I earned upwards to $600 (about $50 usd) pesos, but those days were few and far between.

I taught whatever was asked of me. I taught classes for TOEFL exam preparation, classes for the U.S. citizenship exam, regularization classes for failing students, conversation classes for those planning on heading norte (to the U.S.), listening, reading, and grammar classes from beginner to advanced levels, kindergarten classes, adult classes and classes for every age in between. I even taught a few beginning piano classes.

mototeacher

It’s been 2 years since I began the Saturday classes and I now have classes scheduled from 8 am to 5:30 pm nearly every Saturday. I look forward to cancellations for a little down time in my day. Some of my Saturday classes have converted into weekday classes, so I now teach 2-4 classes in the afternoons Monday thru Friday. I also have an ESL teaching position from 9:20 am until 2:30 pm at the school that finally did open.

Some students have disappeared but have sent friends, relatives or classmates to me in their stead. Others have just disappeared. I’ve learned to be more selective with the classes I teach and the students I take on. I’ve actually had to say no to new students several times this year. I give preference to students that have been with me since the beginning when setting up my schedule and when cancellations occur. I have a waiting list for both the afternoon classes and Saturday classes, but the students that I have currently are not in a hurry to give up their places, for which I am incredibly grateful.

I love that I don’t teach the same old thing over and over again. Each class is more or less individual, sometimes with 2 or 3 students, and I am able to concentrate on what would be most beneficial for the student or students. The process of inventing such individualized classes has been challenging but rewarding. I enjoy seeing my students’ progress and watching them master tricky language skills. I am who they recommend when an English expertise is needed. Although I won’t ever become wealthy teaching on such a small scale, I have become rich in experience and it does get the bills paid.

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Christmas in México— El Día de la Candalaria (Candlemas)

baby jesus

If you thought that Christmas celebrations were long finished, think again.  The final Navidad festivity occurs February 2 when the image of the baby Jesus from the nativity scene is taken for blessing at a special mass. (12 Inch Baby Jesus With Glass Eyes Holy Religious Figurine Decoration)

This custom comes from the bible events recorded at Luke 2:22–40 where Mary presented herself to the temple to make purification sacrifices after 40 days of uncleanness after giving birth.  If calculations are based on the belief that Jesus was born on Christmas Eve, even though there is no biblical proof of such, February 2 is the day on the modern Roman calendar that these purification sacrifices would take place.

In our area, Mexican mothers are still held as unclean and not to leave the house for 40 days, known as cuarentena, after giving birth.  If the child is male, the mother “merece el chocolate” (deserves the chocolate) and is served hot chocolate every morning of the 40 days, supposedly to build up strength after the astonishing feat of giving birth to a male.  If the child is female, the mother isn’t as deserving and is not only not served chocolate, but is often expect to be up and about long before the 40 days have passed.   Apparently, it isn’t as exhausting giving birth to females.

In addition to Mary’s purification sacrifices, there were additional sacrifices to be made under the Mosaic law recorded at Exodus 13:12-15 since her child was a firstborn male child, and Jesus was presented to the temple at that time as well.

Therefore, the image of the baby Jesus, is taken from the Nacimiento (Nativity Scene), dressed and taken to mass.

The same group that cut the Rosca de Reyes on January 6 comes together again, with those that received the plastic baby in their cake piece acting as the padrinos (godparents) of the celebration by providing tamales and atole. (Pan dulce. Repostería y postres para las fiestas (Spanish Edition))

Last year, since I was the lucky recipient of plastic representation of el niño díos, I was responsible for bringing tamales to share at the school I work at.  I had never made tamales in my life, but we had corn aplenty and I had a cookbook or two and my sister-in-law and husband agreed to help me.  It was quite an undertaking, but the tamales de dulce (sweet) and the tamales de chile (sauce) turned out much better than I expected.  (See Mexican Cuisine—Tamales)

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Why we chose to send our child to elementary school in Mexico

first grade

Then there was the decision to send our son to elementary school. We live in an isolated rural area so small that it doesn’t even qualify as a village. Although there are inhabitants in La Yacata despite the difficult living conditions, there were not any children our son’s age. He is also an only child, so socialization was one reason we opted to travel the 20 minutes to town every day.

A secondary reason, although somewhat related to the first, was the fact that we felt that schooling would help him learn what was necessary for successful interactions in the community. Although my husband is Mexican, he is not from this area and his difference in speech and custom is often remarked negatively upon. I am not Mexican and would therefore not have been the best teacher in this regard for my son.

Registration for Primaria (elementary school) takes place in February, before students finish preschool. There are often long lines of parents waiting to register since there are always more students than cupo (available seats). In most public schools, there are two turnos (sessions), matutino (in the morning) and vespertino (in the afternoon.) Everyone seems to want the morning classes insisting the students learn better and the teachers are more qualified than the afternoon classes. However the morning teachers are just as likely to be the same as the afternoon teachers since many teachers teach 2 turnos (sessions), teacher pay being what it is in Mexico. Furthermore, studies have shown that students actually perform better and retain more in the early afternoon than in the morning.  The morning class typically begins between 7:50 and 8:10 am and ends at 12:30 pm. The afternoon session begins between 2 pm and 2:10 pm and may end at 6:30 pm or as late as 7:30 pm depending on the school. Private schools have somewhat extended hours and only one turno (session) which runs typically from 7:50 am to 2:30 pm.

We opted to send our son to the afternoon session. Why waste the best part of the day cooped up in a stuffy classroom? Therefore, while I went to work at a private elementary school teaching English, in the mornings, for 6 years, my son stayed with his dad, taking care of the animals, working on the house, or just riding his bike. Then when the day became too hot for outdoor activities, (this is Mexico after all), he went to school. He spent 4 1/2 hours in the classroom with perhaps 15 minutes of homework each day.

Primaria (elementary) begins when about half of the students are just 5 years old since the same age requirements apply as preschool. Half enter reading Spanish and half are still learning their letters. The pressure for reading and general learning eases off in primaria (elementary) since teachers are not allow to fail students unless they make a personal appeal to the school board in Guanajuato. This educational reform has only been in practice 3 or 4 years. It is now just fine for students to finish second grade without being able to read, write their names or do simple mathematics. It seems that the shame in failing a grade outweighs any educational rationale although the debate still wages as to whether failing a grade does more harm than good.  Perhaps if there were more resources and support available for teachers in Mexico, more children would be better educated. But then again, perhaps the government isn’t interested in having well-educated citizens.

Schools are required to teach Spanish, Mathematics, History, Exploración de la Naturaleza (Earth Science), Formación Cívica y Etica (moral values), art, music, physical education, English, and Computer Literacy. Yes, English is now a required course even in the public schools. However, there is a decided lack of qualified teachers. Many teachers have been certificated as English teachers on the basis of being able to pass the TOEFL exam. (See Getting Legal–Working Papers) Unfortunately there is a world of difference in knowing a language and being able to teach it effectively.  But fortunately for my son, I am a licensed English teacher, so no problem there!

elementary school

Grading is done on a scale of 10, 10 being the highest grade and 6 being the lowest passing grade. A 5 indicates the student has not passed, although with the ban on failing students, it is rare that any student receives a 5 anymore. Each classroom has anywhere from 24 to 40 students, making it a challenge to meet every child’s learning needs.

Up until 2014, students were required to take a standardized end-of-year exam called ENLACE. The current president, Peña Nieto, has disbanded the ENLACE exam, however his educational reforms have been clearly modeled on the current U.S. standards and now teachers can be dismissed on the basis of their students’ grades. I think that there will be another exam issued nationally to take the place of the ENLACE in the very near future despite fervent protests and marches by the teachers’ union.

The extended school year is interspersed with random vacation days. Every month, teachers are required to attend an meeting and school is canceled. 2014 marked the first year that these required work days were tacked onto the student calender, which meant summer vacation didn’t start until July 15, well into the rainy season in our area. As the 2014-2015 school year began on August 18, that left less than 5 weeks of summer break. The school year currently runs 200 days.

elementary school inside

There is an extensive Christmas vacation in December, that begins December 19 or 20, but since Las Posadas begins on the 16th, the vacation isn’t nearly long enough. School starts back up typically on January 7th, just one day after Los Reyes Magos deliver gifts. Seems a bit unfair that the kiddies only get one day to enjoy their gifts after having waited the entire vacation period, but, hey I didn’t make the rules. Semana Santa is also a long vacation and actually lasts 2 weeks in March or April. May is the most tiresome month to get through as a teacher, but wonderful for the students. Not only is it the hottest month in our area, but there are a number of special days commemorated. Beginning with April 30 there is El Día de los Niños. (See Cultural Apathy) Then May 1 is El Día del Trabajo (Labour Day), May 5 is the commemoration of La Batalla de Puebla (The Battle in Puebla day), May 10 is El Día de las Madres (Mother’s Day), and May 15 is El Día del Maestro (Teacher’s Day).

Exams are administered bi-monthly and are usually taken over the period of a week. Early on in this segment of schooling, we discovered some issues. My son’s lowest grades and highest frustration levels were in Formación Cívica y Etica, which is something along the lines of Mexican Moral values. Even the kids that weren’t passing any other subject were getting 8s and 9s in this subject, so why not my son? Upon examining the exams, I discovered that many questions had to do with Mexican dichos (sayings). For instance:

Lo que empieza con gran coraje termina

1) con gran orgullo

2) con gran vergüenza

3) con gran ventaja

The answer is 2, but I wouldn’t have known it not being a Mexican and all. My husband had no formal schooling to speak of, so wasn’t much help in exam preparation either.

How about this one?

In Mexico la muerte nos…..

The answer is …pela los dientes.

Come again?

So it stands to reason that Formacion civica etica was a trial for my son throughout his elementary years.

Since this sort of schooling was not enough for a well-rounded education, we augmented part-time unschooling. (See Homeschool variation) There were and continue to be so many opportunities for learning in our area, or perhaps we just look for the opportunities. My son also often accompanied me to my private English classes, sometimes as an additional student to the class, other times with his own activity book. After all, he may decide that this place we call home is not for him and set off on his own adventures one day, English might be beneficial when that time comes.

school days

My son did well in the traditional classroom and besides being in the honor role all 6 years was part of the escolta (honor guard) in sixth grade. As only the best and brightest are chosen, (See Independence day) it was quite an honor. He was also chosen by his teachers to read a despidida (farewell) poem during the graduation ceremony. His high achievement led to his being recommended into the better of two secondary schools in the area, and a shot at the matutino (in the morning) session.

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Why we chose to send our child to preschool in Mexico

Marching in the Kinder parade for Independence Day.

Marching in the Kinder parade for Independence Day.

Before you get all up in arms, our choice in formal education was done with the idea of finding what was best for our son. We live in rural Mexico and the educational system is a bit different here. Not better, just different. Our ultimate goal has been and continues to be adequate life-learning for our son, and that has included sending him to school.

In Mexico, kinder (preschool) starts at 2, yes 2. The little tots typically attend school from 9 am to 1:30 pm Monday thru Friday, with no nap time. Children must be the minimum age for a grade the December of the year they begin school. This means that children born on January 1 are more than 12 months older than their classmates born December 31. Talk about classroom diversity!

We arrived in Mexico when my son was 4 years old, which was just as well, because starting school at 2 was not in my plans. I kept him at home with me until August, so he actually was 5 when he began school. We opted for a private, bilingual kinder, mostly because I was able to get a position there and teach my son half a day, along with 20 other 4 and 5 year-old Mexican children. Overall, it was a good experience for him (though not so much for me). (Learning and Teaching Year 1) It allowed him to improved his Mexican Spanish in both formal and informal situations and keep up his confidence in the process since he was the top English student.

Kinders (preschools) typically offer music, art, some sort of physical education, math and reading. Students are given homework daily in the hopes that it will instill a sense of responsibility in them. It seldom does. There is an almost unholy quest for students to be able to read before they finish kinder. Fortunately, Spanish is a bit less complex than English in regards to reading (The Easiest Language to Learn) and most children are able to master basic Spanish language reading skills.

Marching in the kinder parade!

Marching in the kinder parade!

Quite a lot of time is spent on events, Grandparent’s Day, Christmas, Day of the Dead, Children’s Day, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Carnival, Independence Day etc.. Most of these events require the little ones to learn some sort of dance and memorize some poem or song. There are several parade marchings as well. The kids usually ride in floats, but it’s hard on the teachers and parents marching alongside.

Planting a tree on Father's Day.

Planting a tree on Father’s Day.

There were some worthwhile activities as well. For Father’s day, dads and kids went to Los Areas Verdes and planted a tree together. For Children’s Day, several parents and teachers took a collection of toys to the remote villages of Los Amoles and Santa Gertrudis, then a clothing donation to La Ciudad de los Niños (a local ophanage) and another children’s shelter in Uriangato. As the trees were donated, the toys were used and we volunteered to drive, it really wasn’t much of a sacrifice on the part of the well-to-do parents whose children attended this kinder, but hey, something is better than nothing.

Kinder graduation

Kinder graduation

When the 5 and 6 year olds are ready to leave the kinder, there is a graduation ceremony. At the private school we attended, the boys wore a little tux and girls wore mini-prom gowns to perform a bas (formal dance). They received diplomas and shook hands with the mesa directiva (school board). It seems quite excessive unless you take into consideration the comparable hoopla for first communion ceremonies.

Saying goodbye to the Kinder.

Saying goodbye to the Kinder.

During this school year, we found a little bit of land to purchase and my husband began working on our home. My son and I would head to school in the morning, then out to the construction site in the afternoons. Saturdays he and I would make the private English class rounds on the moto. He had his own “English” activity book and was an incredible incentive to students just starting out. It was an exciting, but exhausting, period in our lives with all the planning and building and just getting adjusted to the way things go here in Mexico.

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Filed under Education, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms