Tag Archives: employment in Mexico

Juggling all the eggs in one basket

small-poppins

So it’s been just over a month since the beginning of the school year and my schedule has me running around like a chicken with its head cut off. This year, at the school I work at, I’ve had the owners hire a second English teacher to cover the kindergarten classes and first grade. I continue to teach second grade through sixth grade. I thought it would free up my time some so I didn’t feel like I was dying at the end of each day like last year when I taught 2 kindergarten classes and five elementary classes (I combined some of the groups into mammoth groups to accommodate the school day and my availability). However, although I’ve given up some tasks, I have taken up others.

Instead of teaching kindergarten, I designed the curriculum and textbooks that the kindergarten will be using for all 4 levels, maternal, first, second and third grade. That took more than a few hours of my already limited time. I like doing that sort of work, but it doesn’t compare to the joy of teaching the little lovely happy souls ages 2-6.

The curriculum is already in place for first grade, but it’s been challenging to bring the new teacher up to speed. She’s had more experience at teaching kindergarten than elementary and the additional requirements that come with elementary teaching include things like diagnostic tests, parent meetings, grading with numbers rather than excellent, very good, good, regular, deficient and so on and new to her. Plus, the textbook we use comes with video and computer game components and she’s not really tech savvy. I’m glad that she’s open to learning these things, but it means more work for me at the moment.

Then there’s the pay. I’ve been making less money for more work each year I work in the Mexican school system. When I started, I made 85 pesos per hour and had 8 weeks off in the summer. Now I make 70 pesos per hour and have 4 weeks off in the summer. Of course, everything else has gone up in price during that time. Tortillas used to cost 6 pesos per kilo, now they are 13 pesos per kilo. And the peso had devalued to 19 per US dollar what seems like permanently now.

I’m also supposed to get a provisional teaching license from Guanajuato. Because of all these educational reforms, I’ll need to take the official exam too. The thing is, everybody knows the system is rigged. Several teachers I know that took the exam last year and passed, this year took the same exam and didn’t. What’s up with that? The list of requirements SEP requests keeps getting longer and longer and each required document has a price. So is it really worth it when I make $68.75 USD per week?

mototeacher

Then there are my private and Saturday classes. Since I’ve been working online, I decided to only teach private classes on Wednesday and Thursday during the week. I only kept my long-term students. However, lately, students have been canceling left and right. I have 7 classes scheduled for those two days, last week, I only taught 4. The same thing happens on Saturday. I have 4 scheduled for Saturdays, last week I only taught 1. If I were depending on these “regular” classes for my weekly income, we’d surely starve to death. Not to mention I haven’t raised my prices since I started. I still only charge $50 pesos per class, per student, per hour. That’s $2.64 USD per hour.

Camille Online

You might think that my online classes are my salvation. After all, they pay in US dollars. However, I’ve had internet connection issues this month. One day, my internet dropped just for a minute. I was able to return to the class, but my audio wasn’t working. The tech person instructed me to restart my computer, so I did. Only when I did, Windows 10 decided it needed to do updates. My computer was out of commission for over an hour while they installed. Then another day, the internet went out 10 minutes before my scheduled shift, in the entire town. It returned the moment my shift was over. Then, I’m only scheduled for about 10 hours per week, although Labor day weekend vacation requests bumped my schedule up to 15 hours. It’s not enough to live on, dollars or not. Plus, if the internet continues to be so unreliable, I’m pretty sure I’ll get fired.

I haven’t come up with any good solutions yet. I’ve committed to this schedule until December, then I’ll have to reevaluate the value of my time. Suggestions anyone?

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Failing at your own business–Transcriptionist

transcript

Searching the online want ads I came across a transcriptionist job. I was looking for something to do when classes canceled now that my Business English course was finished. So I clicked on the link and completed the test. The idea of getting paid in US dollars really appealed to me, especially with the dollar at over 16 pesos.

The next day I received an email that said I qualified to become one of the transcriptionists for the company. They also had a need of translators Spanish to English, but I wasn’t sure my Spanish was up to the task. I knew my English was quite good, so I opted to stay with that.

There were a number of training videos to watch. And watch them I did. The whole process seemed a bit complicated, but I signed up for my first assignment anyway. The video reassured me that someone would always be available on Skype if I had any questions.

The email with the assignments was sent out at 6 pm eastern time with the assignments due by 4 pm the next day. Well, this presented somewhat of a problem. While I have computer and internet access, it typically is during the day since we have no electricity at our home in La Yacata. Then there was the one hour time difference to contend with. I checked in for my assignment at 8:15 am my time, only to find that my assignment had been classified as “abandoned.” I contacted the Skype person and she explained that it was because I needed to have verified my acceptance of the assignment by 9 am EST. She changed the classification and I downloaded the audio.

I moved the file into the Express Scribe Transcription program and began my work. The audio segment was a recorded focus group for Linkedin. For the most part, the recording was easily understandable. However, getting used to the Express Scribe program took some time. Before I knew it, it was time for my classes (See Saturday Classes) and I hadn’t really advanced much. After my classes, I set to work on it again, taking the time to transfer what I had finished to the Google document file. Again, my unfamiliarity of the procedure slowed me up. By the time I had the information transferred, it was nearly 3 pm my time, which meant I wouldn’t meet the 4 pm deadline.

I contacted the Skype on-call person again to tell her of my dilemma. I had only managed to get 12 minutes of a 30-minute audio clip finished. Boy, that was discouraging. I had spent more than 4 hours on it. She told me to mark the file with the “I need help” button and to stop working on it. I would get paid for my 12 minutes but the person who finished my assignment would get the remaining pay.

I thought maybe with practice I could get faster, so I was determined to try another assignment. Then I got sick and the days passed and I guess maybe I didn’t have the time after all. The problem was my schedule. I need to have a day or two to work on assignments since I can not devote my whole day to it. With the 4 pm deadline, there was just no way I was going to be able to finish. I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t going to work out. So much for mucha moolah.

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Failing at your own business–Taxi service

After dinner, last week, my husband began by saying I should hear him out about this plan he has and I immediately perked up and took notice. What new plan was this??? So he started with “There is this group of women and they would pay $100 each. . .” I thought perhaps he was talking about a tanda, which is a sort of chain savings plan where a number of women contribute a portion of their weekly earnings, paying it to the designated hostess and receiving it the week of her own hosting. I tuned out of the conversation for a bit while I tried to think of the word tanda and came back to full attention when my husband started making hugging and kissing pantomimes. What was he talking about?

His sister L, he continued, wanted to visit her young boyfriend (see Parenting challenge–Independence vs. safety) who is currently serving a five-year stint in the bote (jail) near Valle de Santiago on Sunday for a visit. She asked if my husband would drive her there in the truck. She had a group of 9 ladies or so that also wanted to go to visit their significant others and they would pay $100 pesos each for the ride. My husband pressed me to agree by saying we could drop them off at the jail, then go to the tianguis (flea market) in Valle and spend the day leisurely enjoying the shopping and refreshments with the profits of the trip.

I reminded him that every single one of his sister’s plans has caused problems for us. Her last move gave my husband a hernia, her involvement in some of our money making schemes has cost us money and so on. As recent as a week previously, she and the strapping Cornhusker-grown wife of M were brawling in the streets while my husband was trying to close a deal on the burra (donkey)  and he pretended he didn’t know either of them. How could any idea of hers be a good idea?

What if she was planning on breaking her man out of jail? I could just picture them, 9 cholos climbing out of the wrenched jailhouse bars that had been tied to the hitch of the truck, holding their pants in one hand and hopping in the back of the get-away vehicle (driven by my husband) with police and their Uzis firing after us.

As it appeared I wasn’t going to agree, my husband played his trump card. Well, if that did happen, he said, it would be something interesting for me to write about on my blog. OK. I’m in.

This was one time that the reality didn’t live up to my imagination. We got up at the unearthly hour of 4 a.m. Sunday morning so that we could take care of the animals before we left. We began the pickup round for inmate wives and families at 5 a.m.

I have privileged status, being the wife of the driver, so I sat in the front seat. My son, however, was ousted to the back of the truck so that a wife and baby could be in the front. I also was given a baby, a little tike about 3 months old, to hold. Although the driver is required to wear a seatbelt, no one else in the vehicle is subject to that law. Therefore, we held the babies in our laps. Fortunately, neither baby was fussy, so it wasn’t as difficult as it might have been.

jail

The State Penitentiary outside Valle de Santiago

We arrived at the Ceresa (State Penitentiary) about 7 a.m. The ladies hurried to the gate, leaving their children behind in my care, to get their ficha (number). They came back 20 minutes later or so, happy. All of them had scored numbers between 30 and 40, so they would be towards the head of the line. Then they scattered again to hunt down pan (bread) sold by local vendors. They came back with 2 to 3 bags each. These sweetbreads were to leave with their incarcerated significant other for breakfast for the week. There seems to be a concern that the inmates aren’t fed, but I think that’s just not true. I’ve seen some recently released men and they are in no way starving–in fact they were some of the fattest men I came across in Mexico. But then again, maybe their wives and mothers are very conscientious about their weekly visit.

After the bread rush, the ladies rushed to the gate for a second time to claim their credenciales (visitor’s passes). Each lady has her own laminated card, complete with her name and picture, the name of the inmate she is visiting, and the relationship to the inmate. My husband’s sister is not married to her young cholo, so I asked to see her card. She is listed as being G’s concubina (concubine). I had no idea that being a concubine was a legal status here in México. Well, I expect that makes it easier for her to request conjugal rights.

So by then the sun had come up, so the ladies began to primp and preen as any girl might before a hot date. Gel and blush, combing hair and brushing teeth, even a quick change of shirt, something more feminine. I shamelessly eavesdropped while they worked on themselves and each other.

So I learned about the trip last week to see the hombres encuarados (nearly naked men) and some mean gossip about two other ladies that didn’t travel with us. I was especially interested in what their men had done to be in the carcel (jail) in the first place, but I didn’t know them well enough to ask. However, my husband’s sister was free with her own gossip. The one girl with the 2 kids that sat next to me was the daughter-in-law of the lady who gave us donuts. They were here to visit a man who was in for 7 years for beating another man to death with a stone in La Yacata. (Hmm, must have been before we moved there.) The mother of the baby I held during the trip was there to visit her man who had been arrested for selling drugs, like G. The older lady was there to visit her husband who was in year 7 of a 12-year sentence, but my husband’s sister didn’t know for what. And the last lady was there to visit her husband who was in for 30 years for kidnapping an elderly man and holding him for ransom.

Enough gossip, it was time to line up. They left their jackets, cell phones and purses in my care. My husband helped them carry their babies and bags of food to the line. They were called in by groups of 10. We waited until we were pretty certain they had all been admitted and then went to look for breakfast.

Even by rural standards, there was nothing nearby that even resembled a store or restaurant. We stopped at a place that had a few tables set up in the yard desperate to eat. The only thing on the menu was carnitas (fried pork) which is not what I really wanted for breakfast, but the pico de gallo and salsa were very good.

carnitas express

Breakfast of champions in Puebla Nueva

So then we went in search of a gas station. We didn’t have to wait in line and they had free and clean bathrooms.

getting gas

Waiting in line at the gas station in Villa Nueva

We couldn’t afford to drive around and waste gas, so we went back to jail and parked under a mesquite tree outside the compound to wait for our passengers. With the heat and the owls hooting in the palm trees, I soon fell asleep.

Patience is a virtue that we have learned to perfect in México. My husband has taken up smoking to help him to wile away these long waiting periods and keep him calm. My son has learned to bring his rechargeable games (DS or PSP) when we expect something like this to happen. I bring my notebook to record everything for posterity. So went the afternoon. No shopping, no escaping cholos, nothing but the heat and an occasional passing vehicle.

traffic

My siesta was disturbed by the passing traffic.

So at 3 p.m. we entered the prison compound again. My husband went to wait by the door when he saw ladies beginning to trickle out. I was approached by some other lady, not one that had traveled with us who said that she was the friend of Mari (I still don’t know which one was Mari) and that she was going to leave these 2 benches with us to take back to Moroleón. I said, sure. Then she went back for 2 more. About 30 minutes later, our passenger ladies came out loaded with things. My husband moved the truck closer to the door. The ladies were peeved that there were already furniture items in the back because that meant less room for their own things.

front door

Front door at the Ceresa

They had large wooden framed paintings of the Virgen of Guadalupe, several more benches, a large TV stand, a child’s desk, two children’s hat stands and some little end tables. My husband’s sister had a centerpiece sized paper swan that she was all paranoid about having damage. (I guess her man isn’t as talented as some and that was the best he could come up with.) After a bit of maneuvering of babies, women and furniture bits, we were finally loaded and left the compound at 5 p.m.

The significant other ladies all sported nice collections of hickeys that they did not have in the morning. I suppose it makes sense that since their men can’t be there to make sure the ladies aren’t stepping out during the week, that they mark their territories with hickeys during visiting hours.

One under way, I asked that lady in the front about the furniture. It seems there is quite a prison industry going on. The inmates that wish to work are given materials and a weekly wage (about $700 pesos per week) and make these items. Their wives and mothers then come and pick up the items and sell them in their hometowns. The inmates also make shoes that can be ordered through by catalog.

I was amazed. $700 pesos a week! I expect that the families of many of these inmate workers are earning more now that their men are behind bars than they were before. Work is scarce in this area. Crime does pay after all.

So we made it back to Moroleón before it began to rain, made the drop offs and arrived home about 7 p.m. After we fed and watered the animals, I asked my husband how much money he had made with this venture. He ruefully admitted that he only had $300 pesos free and clear, after gas and tolls. It hadn’t been a good money-making plan after all but it did make a good story.

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The Working Man

working men

So with the closure of Taco Express, I told my husband that I would no longer be party to any more of his money-making schemes. I continued with my own schemes of course, but I will not invest in his.

Therefore, he started job hunting in earnest. It isn’t as easy as you might imagine. Unemployment rates are high, wages are low. In order to just apply for a job you typically must have a voter registration card, a driver’s license, a national registration number, proof of residency (like a utility bill), a high school diploma and your own application, purchased at a papelería (paper store). Each and every one of these documents is a hassle to obtain. You also should have someone already employed with the company who can vouch for you. It’s not what you know, but who you know.

So armed with these documents, my husband began his search. The most difficult type of employment to obtain is regular old construction work. There are too many workers for too few jobs. Then come in the men from outside Moroleón, from the ranchos, who are willing to work for even less than the standard $250 per day. Depending the current value of the pesos that averages out to be about $20 for an 8-10 workday.

This affected us directly as this was the type of job my husband had been looking for. He had not found regular employment in 4 years, then he had that operation and recovery time, so it limited the type of work he felt he could do without re-injuring himself. For instance, he didn’t think that he should be a water delivery boy carrying garafones (water cooler bottles) up and down stairs.

So anyway, he had been going to different job sites asking for employment. He came home each day discouraged. Those with jobs just laughed at his efforts. Literally. To them, it seemed humorous that they had jobs and he didn’t. It didn’t matter what he could do. Definitely not the land of opportunity here.

He found employment for one person, who would swear at the workers, have them do things outside their job, and basically make life miserable. He put up for it for two days, until due to the overseer’s error, he had his finger squished (lost his nail eventually, but no lasting nerve damage). He never got paid for his work, nor received anything in compensation for injuries.

Then another job my husband found was working for the state constructing overpass bridges. He liked his boss there, however, one day he was told to climb the bridge and work at the top. Traffic was not diverted around the construction site, nor was there any sort of scaffolding or safety equipment. The workers straddled two boards set over a yawning gap, over the traffic. He refused to go up and quit that instant. As my mom says, “It shows he has his priorities straight at least. His family comes first.” Seriously, what was I going to do, here in México, a widow, with a young son and no money to return to the US?

Recently, he was fortunate enough to find steady employment. He works for a family and the family of the family, in remodeling their houses. They have a plethora of properties in the area and always are looking for more to buy and redo, so he’s had work 6 days a week. They love his work.

However, he has had a problem with keeping a peon (assistant). Most of the work requires two people, either to carry things or to mix the cement while the other lays brick. So at first, he worked with his younger brother C. C is the youngest of the family of 11, and nothing much was ever expected of him. And he has lived up to that expectation of nothing. He and my husband had a falling out when C took off in our truck and crashed into a telephone pole. So then my husband was short one peon. I keep telling him to not work with his brothers.

Then he had another peon, a middle-aged man who owns lots in La Yacata. But my husband is demanding to work for, he expects quality work and his tools well cared for, and that was too much for the guy and he quit.

Then, my husband had his older brother J working with him, but again, there were problems. During this time, J fell off the wagon and was drinking excessively again and missed work. Then he decided that he preferred to return to Tamaulipas and left my husband in the lurch. Didn’t I just tell him not to work with his brothers?

So then he went in search of another peon, but as this was to be regular work, most guys felt it was too much commitment for them and said no.

But there are always men looking for work, so I’m sure that one will show up. In the meantime, he does the work for 2 people but gets only paid for one. It’s enough to make one think longingly of the States, where there was always enough work for anyone willing to work.

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