Tag Archives: working in Mexico

El Tortillero

Before we went on our trip to visit my family, my sister-in-law T. asked if my son would help her out on weekends at her tortilleria. Saturdays and Sundays, she averages 8 buckets of masa (dough) each day. Some days, her pistoleras, the ladies who crank those hand-pressed tortillas out, arrive late or not at all. (The word pistoleras literally women wielding pistols or in this case prensas–tortilla presses.) Their tardiness or absence puts T into a bind since she has to fire up a comal and make tortillas herself instead of packing them up and receiving the money.  Because this has been happening regularly, my son said he’d be the money handler.

Since we’ve returned from our trip, he is now working 6 days a week at the tortilleria with T. Weekdays, he works 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. for the lunch rush with Thursdays off. On the weekends, he’s there from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. or so. 

He seems to be enjoying working with his aunt, and she with him, it appears. She has some pan dulce y leche (sweet bread and milk) ready for him every morning. He’s adjusted his schedule so that he is up early for some computer fun before heading to work, then naps in the afternoon. Plus, there’s a little trickle of income for his own use that sweetens the deal and a kilo of tortillas, a container of salsa and some beans every day for dinner.

I enjoy hearing about his day. Customer service always provides some interesting anecdotes. Plus the pistoleras themselves chatter away as they pat and flatten and flip the tortillas.

The other day, my son came home with another one of those strange health beliefs that abound here. This one was that you can’t drink coke and atole (corn drink) together because one is black and one is white. The colors apparently clash in your stomach and make you ill.

Honestly, I don’t know anyone who would want to drink coke and atole together. It sounds like a horrible combination and sure to upset your stomach no matter what color the mixture happens to be. I actually think this belief has more to do with the hot/cold indigenous categorizations. You wouldn’t ingest something cold and hot together. This is why water is often offered al tiempo (room-temperature) with meals or on hot days.

My son also brings us the goings-on from Moroleon. The tortilleria is the hub of gossip mongers. We learned about the sudden death of our neighbor, el plomero (the plumber) from my son. The guy had gotten into a fight, sustained injuries and didn’t go to the doctor. It seems there was some internal bleeding and he died as a result.

Not all the stories are so tragic. One day my son was dispatching the tortillas and a girl about his own age paid him too much money. Before he could give her change, she ran off flustered. All the pistoleras hooted at that! Remember, my good-looking son is a Lady Killer! Later the girl’s mom came back and picked up the change with the young lady in tow, red as a tomato.

It sounds like my son has just pulled up to the house with his bike. Time for me to find out what the latest news from town!

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Failing at your own business–Textbook Video Star

A few months ago I answered an ad shared in one of the expat groups I belong to on Facebook.  The textbook company was looking for someone who spoke Spanish and English fluently and was living in Mexico.  I went ahead and filled out the application.

Much to my surprise, not only did someone contact me, but I made the final cut to be one of 15 participants.  I say I made the cut, but really my son and sister-in-law made the cut. I was just the contact person. From the start, I suggested that they use my son instead of me.  He’s much better looking and speaks Spanish better than I do. Plus he’s had video experience. I suggested my sister-in-law T because she makes tortillas, an integral part of traditional Mexican cuisine. The textbook author was thrilled with my suggestions.

During the course of the next few weeks, the textbook author, film crew and I exchanged a number of emails. I had my son get a haircut and got one myself, not that I planned to be in any of the footage, but I wanted to look presentable.  Boy was that a mistake! I don’t know what the hairdresser did. I ended up with hair sticking up all over the place looking like I had escaped from an asylum. Nothing I tried made it any better. It was even too short to pull up. Then to add to my ugliness, the day before the film crew was scheduled to arrive, I conked my head on the bathroom door which left a large purple lump on my forehead.  Thank goodness I was not the star otherwise it would have been a disaster rather than just embarrassing.

Our house also needed some last minute work.  Although the upstairs was coming along nicely, we still had gaping holes where the electric sockets were supposed to go.  So that required a bag full of supplies and 2 days with the electrician, who we were able to get to come between binges, fortunately.  Every single outlet and switch was tested.  Only one wire had been damaged by wasps and needed replacing.  We are now ready for the next step–a solar electric system!

The camera guys, a father and son duo, arrived a day before we expected them.  I had a long lunch break between shifts, so we were able to sit down to huevos rancheros and have a pow-wow. Filming began at 6 am Monday morning at my sister-in-law’s tortilla shop. This meant I had to make sure my son was up and present at the tortilla shop before then.  If you’ve ever raised a teenager, you’ll understand all the drama involved in that.

The sound guy had been delayed so it was just the two camera guys.  My sister-in-law was a little cranky because she was ready to do the next step in the tortilla making but had been waiting on them but things went pretty smoothly after that. They even convinced the guy who mills the corn to let them shoot footage of that too. After making sure everyone had some freshly baked pan(bread) from the panaderia(bakery) up the street, I headed back to my house, letting them do their thing with the tortilla filming.

The camera crew, now with a coordinator, and my son arrived around 9 am for some more filming at my house.  Since the topic was “quehaceres” (chores), the camera followed my son around while he did the dishes, swept the floor, mopped the floor, made his bed, folded his clothes, put his clothes away, and straightened his room.

The backside of the filming crew. 

Around lunchtime, the sound guy finally arrived.  We headed downtown to see if they could get some shots of my son buying a gift.  Traffic was so bad that I really don’t know if they were able to get anything usable from the hot trek around el centro.  They got permission to film a short shot outside El Templo del Senor de Esquipulitas, the main church. We were able to get the present, a statue of the Virgin for my sister-in-law, at the shop next door.

Later, we all trooped down to my sister-in-law’s for some more filming.  Unfortunately, her brother B informed us that since he was going to bath and eat, there would be no filming in the house.  I suggested they film where she makes her tortillas and we went over there. However, all the neighbors were gawking and it made my sister-in-law uncomfortable, so we headed back to my house.

The afternoon was long.  There were some questions my sister-in-law answered alone and others that she and my son answered together.  Finally, everyone was dismissed for a much later start the next day.

On Tuesday, filming didn’t start until 2 pm.  That didn’t mean we were idle in the morning though.  First, we had to wait for the water truck and fill the tinacos (water storage containers) and ajibe (dry well). Much to my delight (not), my husband came home with a new rooster the day before and all morning our old rooster and the interloper had a macho crowing contest lasting for hours.  I told my husband the rooster had to go, so he took it and came back with one of the zombie babies, which would have been fine but the zombies are pack animals and just having one caused a plethora of pitiful bleating. Fortunately, she ran out of steam and settled down before the film crew arrived.

We also had to head to the market to find some more gifts and pick up some cactus for lunch.  Then, the house needed some cleaning and everyone needed baths since there was water to do so finally.  Then we had to go and pick up the cake and meat. Then I had to drop my son off for some more filming.  After that, I headed back to town for some ice, while my husband started up the flames for the cookout.

Another trip was made to town to find some decorations for the birthday party we were staging for the cameras.  We were planning on having a party anyway, since my father-in-law, my brother-in-law B, my sister-in-law T and I all had birthdays in March but since the camera crew was here, it was included in the video segment. So back to the decorations, I went to 3 different places and couldn’t find a single thing that said Feliz Cumpleaños–everything was in English!  Finally, I found something at Waldo’s and went to T’s house to pick her and the remaining food items up.

We had invited about 15 people to our pretend party, letting them know that the camera crew would be there ahead of time.  We had a grand total of 8 actually show up. That worked. Of course, we were still in mourning for Mama Sofia, and nearly everybody wore black to the “party” but what can you do?

Then my father-in-law said he didn’t want to be filmed.  The camera guy was totally shocked, but later I explained it was because he doesn’t have many teeth left and he didn’t want anyone filming him eating, which was reasonable.  He didn’t have any problem later after everyone had eaten and in fact, had a good time despite the cameras rolling.

We did the whole singing of Las Mañanitas thing, although it was probably the worst rendition in the history of the song.  Then there was the “mordida” (cake bite which often ends in a face smashed into the cake). My sister-in-law and I were passed over in favor of a smeared father-in-law.  We also each received a gift, which isn’t traditional in my husband’s family but we added it just for the staged event. I LOVED what my sister-in-law got me–three brown ornamental jars.  They are the perfect addition to our newly remodeled upstairs.

There were some more recorded question sessions for my sister-in-law, this time standing outside in the desolate landscape that is La Yacata at the moment.  And some beer for the rest of us. I accidentally tipped over my beer on the sound guy and was worried he’d be electrocuted with all the wires he had on. He just laughed at me.  Have you noticed I am a bit clumsy?

Things wrapped up around dusk and everyone packed up to go.  I had to take my sister-in-law home and cover the leftovers before dropping exhausted into bed.

So why would I consider the video filming a failure as far as businesses go?  Well, I had to take 2 days off from my regular work without pay, buy the food, party supplies, and run my sister-in-law and son around town.  While there is monetary recompense for the video rights, half will go to my sister-in-law and half to my son, leaving me poorer than I began. Oh well.  It was fun!

 

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Teaching Kids Online

 

Camille OnlineMost of you already know that I became a virtual teacher sometime last year in preparation for my transition away from private and elementary classes. (See Transition Year) While the pay was so much better being in US dollars, the hours were random.  Sometimes I had 15 hours of classes, sometimes 9. That being the case, the final transition wouldn’t have been possible had not the company I work for expanded their reach to include children ages 7-14. (See Online Teaching)

I wasn’t part of the pilot program, but when the request went out in mid-June for teachers to switch platforms, I submitted my application and soon enough I was one of the first official teacher group for the junior English component.  

The setup is a bit different from the adult classes in that it uses Zoom rather than Adobe Connect.  Zoom is a bit easier to manage with drawing and writing options for all participants (both student and teacher).  There were some technical bugs to work out, however.  When enrollment reached a certain point, Zoom did some crazy stuff.  It would kick the teachers out of classroom saying they were already signed in somewhere else.  My theory is that some of the newest teachers didn’t have their own Zoom accounts yet and ended up signing in under another teacher’s name.  I took matters into my own hands and created my own free Zoom account so that when the unceremonious ousting occurred, I could sign in to my own account and teach the class without issue.

Class length for the juniors is 25 minutes and one-on-one (student/teacher).  Private classes at the adult level are 20 minutes and group classes are 45 minutes.  I believe 25 minutes is just right.  That gives the teachers 5 minutes before the start of the next class to send feedback, recommend advancement or repetition, and set up for the next class.

As the program was launched before all the classroom levels were completed, all students go through the same classes no matter their initial English level.  That is supposed to change soon though and students will be slotted into levels just like the adults.

Most of the students are from Colombia with a handful of students from Peru, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, and Mexico.  Typically students take their classes after they arrive home from school and on weekends, which means that’s my availability as well so I get the maximum number of hours permitted.  

Most of the students are delighted to be in class and we have a good time progressing through the lessons.  On the other hand, there are the reluctant learners.  They fall into two categories, those that are sullen in class and those that have parents feeding them the answers, so basically are not learning a thing.  The poopy students usually loosen up after I acknowledge their lack of enthusiasm for the class and make faces at them.  

The parents are another story altogether.  I’ve tried addressing the student, who denies anyone is giving them the answers even though I can hear it myself.  I’ve also tried addressing the parent, who denies giving the answers.  Frustrated I brought the topic up in the company group chat and requested a letter be sent out reminding parents that their interference is impeding their child’s learning.  We’ll see if that happens.

Another more recent issue is the hiring of a Latin crew of English teachers.  Reading the teacher feedbacks (Student taked his time.  Him and his father were disappointed.) makes me doubt the wiseness of hiring non-native English speakers to teach English.  It’s not that I think the company should hire U.S. citizens only because there are definitely some positions that are more suited to Spanish speakers.  For instance, sales, technical support and responding to student’s questions about grammar or course issues are certainly better done in the student’s native language.  However, as this is an online English course, parents pay the big bucks to have native English speakers teach their children.  If they wanted Spanish speaking English teachers, well, they already have that at the schools in their area.

So, I’m working 3 evenings a week and all day Saturday and Sunday.  It’s the first time in years that I actually have a “weekend” even though it is in the middle of the week.  I’ve been enjoying the days off, the teaching experience and the better income.  All is not smooth sailing, however.  Last month something happened with Telmex (the only internet provider in my town) and there was no internet for hours, right in the middle of my shift. (See Internet service back after 3-hour outage)

Then I was worried that the recent hurricanes and earthquakes might cause connection issues, but that didn’t happen, at least to me.  Quite a number of teachers were affected though.  So it’s a bit nerve-wracking being so dependant on such an unreliable service.  Well, I guess I’ll ride this wave as far as it will take me.

Meanwhile, I bought the tile for the entire second floor of the house with my earnings.

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Transition year

mototeacher

If you recall, a few months ago, I outlined my busy work schedule (Juggling all the eggs in one basket) and wondered if really these things were worth the effort I was putting into them.  I decided shortly thereafter that they were not.  Thus began the transition year.

The first to go was my Saturday classes. (See Saturday classes)  Some days I had been pulling in a whopping $600 pesos, but more often, I had a single class.  $50 for a 6 hour day was not profitable.  So when my student finished the book we were working with, I told his mother that I was going to take a break from teaching on Saturdays.  She and her 8-year-old son were disappointed, but I consoled them that I may start up again in the Spring.  The uncle, who had been my student but gave his hour to the nephew, sent me an email demanding to know why I wasn’t going to teach English anymore.  I explained that I was still teaching English, just not on Saturday mornings.  I had too many other obligations and I needed more time to do things like laundry and shopping.  He wasn’t happy.  Oh well.  Can’t please everyone.

I still taught online Saturday afternoons, but I wanted to transition to my new place in Sunflower Valley (See A Room of Her Own).  It took over a month, but I finally was able to make the little house my base of operations rather than the school.  Having a kitchen made the afternoons easier.  There’s a little store across the street, so whipping up a light meal for a hungry teenager boy was more manageable.

Then I started dropping my afternoon private classes one by one.  The first to go was in mid-November.  We finished our book and that was that.  She begged and pleaded that I not abandon her.  I told her that I’d start teaching in the spring but that if she really wanted classes, she’d have to come to my little place in Sunflower Valley.  She said she would. We would see.  That freed up 2 hours a week.

Then in December, right before Las Posadas, I dropped the other 3.  All of them said that yes, it would be a good idea that I took a break, but that they didn’t want to lose their classes.  Maybe I could drop everyone else, and just teach them?  When I said that I really was planning an extended break, like maybe until Semana Santa, their eyes went wide and said, well, they’d be waiting here for me to return and give them classes again. That freed up 2 afternoons per week.

I didn’t start teaching afternoon classes after Semana Santa. Instead, I began going through my things at the school, readying it for my final transition.  I reviewed the supplementary books I had made for each grade level for errors and changes.  I also checked that there were assessments and exams and grade sheets for each unit of all 6 levels.  I would be leaving the entire system in place for whoever takes my place.

Finally, in July, I told the owners that for health reasons I would not be returning the following school year.  It’s not that I hated my job at the school.  After all, I had designed the entire ESL program myself.  I was getting some results, not as much as I would have liked, but some.  I had my own classroom, which is a rare perk in the schools around here.  Yet, at $65 USD per week, it was not in my best interest to continue. The health problem wasn’t invented.  I’m really working myself to death at this rate.  

I interviewed and recommended 2 teachers, one for first, second and third grade, and the other for fourth, fifth and sixth grade.  Yep, two teachers were needed to replace me.  I agreed to do a training session with them in August before everyone returns to classes.

The owner asked if I would consider staying and teaching at least 2 groups or at least the phonics classes since the main focus is pronunciation there.  Nothing doing.  I would, however, make a book for the sixth-grade group for the new teacher to use.  And if I got around to it, make a recording for the phonics books.

My first schedule with my newest online job came out the week after we finished classes.  Twenty-six hours paid in US dollars.  So provided I have a full schedule each week (and with online work nothing is a given) I’ll nearly triple my income for half the work and less than half the time.  

Hasta la vista baby!

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