Friday, February 27, 2009

La Mariscal-Thoughts from Days 1/2

La Mariscal is a neighborhood in Quito Nuevo that houses dozens of hostels, bars, clubs, coffee shops, and international eateries.  Sounds great, I know, and it would the right circumstance.  I'd love to be here with friends, living cheaply, seeing Quito stuff all day, and then having Pilseners at any one of the 2 dozen or so booze spots.  

However, I came down here with a specific purpose - to choose my daily doings almost as if I hadn't left Austin.  Obviously, one thing that's missing is employment...we're working on it.  Aside from that, I've found myself asking the question, "Would I do this/that if I was in Austin?"  When it comes to going and getting hammered for no reason, the answer is, "No."  I want it to feel like I live here.  This is not the neighborhood to feel like a local.  There are English and German speaking white people all over the place, and I think I saw about 12 dreads today.  Of the four bars I've stopped in to have beers, two have been run by white proprietors speaking English.  I have no problem with this, or maybe I do, but it's not where I want to be right now.  Here are some funny stories from La Mariscal.

First, I stopped to watch the futbol in a sports bar called Shooter's.  Approaching the bar, I saw what was really funny for a new Ecuadorian.  Behind the bar, there was a single, count em, single, tap.  It vomited, guess what, Pilsener, the everyman's beer here in Ecuador.  I actually quite like it.  Maybe that means that I've got a job I just don't know about yet.  Yes!

Another funny thing at Shooter's: there's a "Jirafe" on the menu.  Jirafe meaning Giraffe, of course.  I soon discovered what ol' Shooter had up his sleeve when a waitress brought out what looked like an oversized test tube mounted on a lampstand.  The lampstand had a tap in it, and the huge test tube (about a yard+ tall, 4 in. in diameter) was full of, yep, Pilsener.  A group orders the Jirafe and proceeds to pour their own beers...all four feet of them.  

Later that night, I end up going out with some fellas from the hostel.  We've got Frances (Montreal), Kevin (Australia) and my roommate (from all over).  Kevin is a somewhat gangly fellow, though he's quite gregarious and talkative.  I quite enjoy chatting with him.  We talked about how the culture of America is rubbish yet how individual Americans always seem so genuine and gracious.  

Now Kevin has had a wild ride here in Ecuador.  He's probably 50, and an economist amongst other things.  He's sporting an interesting look, with two terribly blacked eyes and a totally bloodshot left eye.  Not knowing what the hell to say to get to the bottom of it, I don't ask anything.  Being Kevin, he comes right out and tells me.  He was robbed once in Quito.  His money, wallet, watch, and British passport were stolen.  There was little violence involved in Robbery 1.0.  Unfortunately for Kevin, he was wearing a target of some sort, and he is attacked again.  This time, attacked is used in a literal sense.  Evidently, Kevin is approached by 6 gentlemen who surround him and stare menacingly.   Kevin responds by smashing one of their jaws.  Broken, he tells me, assuredly broken.  

As one might imagine, the remaining five hoodlums give Kevin the what-for.  Right in the eyes.  Hence, the raccoon mask he's wearing.  He cannot see out of his left eye.  He really looks like shit.  Lucky for Kevin, he has a solution.  Kevin literally wears his sunglasses at night.  One has to feel bad for Kev.  He's had a shitty month.  The governments involved aren't making said month any smoother.  

So, the four of us go to a self-proclaimed Irish pub.  We order our Guinness pints, which is to say our 'barriles de Pilsener,' and find that the bar is full of diversions - pool, darts, white people, etc...After a few barriles, sunglass-clad Kevin comes up and drops a bomb - he's signed us up to play pool against the local sharks.  It would be accurate to say that I hate pool, which is somewhat ironic because I totally love pools.  Huh.  

Being extranos, gueros, gringos, o que sea, Kevin and I get skipped a few times in the play order.  That's fine with me, as I hurry to finish my beer so as to have a valid reason for leaving.  As I'm slamming my beer, literally, mid-slam, Kevin comes up and informs me that the time is now. 

Long story short, that pesky ol' one-eyed Aussie and I accidentally win three games in a row, defeating, amongst others, well-known local shark Juan Carlos, who calls me ZZ Top.  I take it as a compliment.  Juan Carlos expects that I should.  

In an interesting coincidence, indeed one which gives me great hopes for the future, I met a fella who was interested in 'hiring' me for a teaching gig.  Fella's name is Ed, and he's acquainted with my roommate here at Posada del Maple in Quito.  Ed was inquiring as to my purpose for being in Ecuador.  I reply, naturally enough, that I'm here to teach, though I'm not sure how, where, with whom, or what exactly I'll be teaching.  I explain to Ed that I don't really want to teach English for the rest of my life, and that I enjoy working with children.  Out of nowhere, Ed responds that there is a group of 'ninos pobres' who need educatin'.  He asks if I'd be interested, and reminds me that they're pobrecitos.  'Ed,' I say, 'I can't even get communicate with rich kids.  It's not in my blood.'  

Ed says that he, regretfully, can't offer me any payment, but would be willing to have me stay in his home and eat with him and his family if I were to teach these poor youths.  I wonder if Ed knows he basically made me an offer I can't refuse...if it were in Cuenca.  Still, I'm encouraged by the fact that I was able to so simply find something as interesting as Ed's offer in the first two days I'm in Ecuador.  

I just might pull this off.

First Full Day in Quito aka Visa-it's the only thing I hate about Ecuador.

8:48 AM - Bruce Springsteen wakes me up w/album version of Thunder Road.

Send 1st email from Hostel.

Catch cabbie to take me to the Ministerio de Gobierno.  He charges $4.00, takes me to "Quito Viejo."  A wonderful drive and nice way to start the day.  We arrive, after having a peachy chat, which ended in me getting his name and number for future cab rides.  Miguel.  I step out of the cab fat, dumb, happy, and a gringo, expecting this good luck to continue long into the trip.  I step up to the front door and assume that the looks I'm receiving are due to my beard, my silly hat, or my captivating smile.  Wrong.  I'm at the wrong place.  I'm pretty sure it was the Vice President's office.  I leave.

New cabbie claims to know where we're headed, which is San Ignacio 210 San Javier.  30 minutes later, 12 directions inquiries later, he kicks me out, claiming the place doesn't exist.  He's acting like an asshole, and I don't know why.  I ask him if he really thinks he deserves the $3 tarifa de taxi, not because I don't want to pay it, but because I really want him to be self-critical.  According to him, he absolutely deserves the $3.  Fine.

Find another cabbie.  He's perfect.  He's not a softy, like Miguel.  He's not a prick, like #2.  Like the middle bowl of porridge, he's just right.  We arrive 2 minutes later, which tells me blockhead #2 might have had some sort of sense in his massive skull.  Sorry, number 2, I am speaking passionately.  I don't really mean it.  The 'just right' cabbie has saved the day, and drives off into the sunset...with my Certificacion de Visitacion on his front seat.  He was holding it for the address.   

I step out of the car, not knowing I've left him a surprise.  Before my sandal-clad foot lands on San Ignacio, I'm bombarded with sauve dudes fliffing lawyers' business cards in my face.  I don't want them, because I don't want to think that I need a lawyer for self-declaration.  

I enter the building, and boy was everyone glad to see me!  I look around in a stupor, taken aback by all the mess, and suddenly realize that I've left my envelope in 'Just Right's' cabbie, #9841.  I ask the lawyer what's up.  He vomits words in a language I haven't spent much time with in years.  The vomit is enough to make me nauseous, and I respond by politely nodding and saying, 'si.'  I get a couple of key words, 'diez dolares,' 'banco international,' 'copias de documentos,' 'ramen noodles.'  Not really ramen noodles, but it might as well have been.

I take his advice and start walking aimlessly, searching for a copy machine who lives in an abandoned bank building constructed entirely with ten dollar bills.  They use US currency here, by the way.  

As you can imagine, the already jumbled message has been sufficiently jostled on my trot over to the Banco Internacional, and the bank teller can't make any sense of it.  She probably told her coworkers later how much I was sweating and how I was taller than every other person in the entire country (save the one-eyed Australian raccoon with whom, in a matter of hours, I would be accidentally killing at pool).  

I cross the street and see a small business center that makes copies.  Here's my lucky break, I say.  Things is finally startin' to look up for me and you, pal, I say.  I make copies.  She charges me "dos y cuatro."  I'm thinking 2.40, and I nearly wet myself.  I would say I was embarrassed when I give three dollars, but I've been in a perpetual state of healthy embarrassment since I nearly met the VP on day 1.  Ain't vulnerability a trip?

Copies in hand, I make my way back to the Ministerio de Gobierno to speak with the lawyers and figure out the deal.  I'm approached by a man who is by far the most suave of the lawyers' assistants.  He tells me that 'Just Right' had apparently, in his caring and thoughtful way, come looking for me once he saw that I left a parcel in "9841.  He has 'Just Right's' phone number.  It doesn't work.  I say f-it.  I'll try with my other documents.  I find the lawyer and get things straight.  Apparently, I'm to deposit ten dollars into the Banco Internacional into the account of the Ministerio de Gobierno.  I do this.  The bank teller seems much less amused than I about how much I've learned.

I re-enter the Ministerio with deposit slip in hand, grab a number, and wait like a civilized person, only sweating and serving as the focus of everyone's undivided attention.  By the time my number is called, I've cooled down both physically and emotionally.  It doesn't take the gentleman long to become perplexed.  Something's missing?  Something's missing, alright.  'Just Right' took off with my C de V.  I play the victim.  Sorry, 'Just Right.'

This gentleman has no time for pity parties, however, and he sends me out with nothing changed but a new address in hand and some advice for a sucker.  I'm to go to the Ministerio de RREE, the office called Asuntos Migratorios.  They can get me a new Certificacion de Visitacion.  Oh, and they're closed already.  Manana?

Here's the rub.  I catch yet another cabbie.  I tell him to take me back to the Hostel.  He makes a U-turn and goes about 1.25 blocks.  I'm home in less than 2 minutes.  

Later that evening, I stop to have my first Ecuadorian meal.  I stop in the wrong place.  All they have is seafood and it's expensive, relatively.  I decide to sit and have a beer anyway.  I eventually order "Arroz con camarones, sin camarones."  "Me llamo Cameron, y por eso no necesito mas camarones," I say jokingly.  La mesera doesn't get it.  Her loss.  

I realize I'm in Ecuador when I order a beer without specifying a brand and I'm understood to mean 'Pilsener.'  It's the beer of the people.  I also realize I'm in Ecuador when, in place of chips and salsa, or bread and butter, I'm given a bowl of popcorn and plantain chips with some of the freshest salsa I've ever eaten.  That worked.  What a great day.  One down, N+1 to go, where N>0.

UPDATE - On this, my second day in Ecuador, I head to the Ministerio de RREE, wait for a couple of hours.  The lady gives me the following address - San Ignacio 210 San Javier.  No, no, no.  I'm bigger than you, and I'm not leaving with that as my next stop.  I've already been there.  Evidently, I need to have a letter which says, "I'm a jumbo dumbo and I need a replacement Certificacion de Visitacion.  That darned Just Right sped away with my first one."  Again, sorry Just Right.  Then they contact Houston or something and we're in business.  

On the plane.

So I just realized that my hostel has wi-fi which is much faster than the computer here, which is a hunk of junk.  Here's some fun stuff before we're even in Ecuador.  From my sketch book, as will most of the posts for a while be, while I navigate wi-fi spots.  Shut up, journals are where the damn idea came from in the first place..

"It begins.  2/25/09 12:05 PM.  Just had a beer in SA.  Had a Budweiser, because I'm not paying import prices in Ecuador.  Sitting @ gate, 15/25 people on cell phones.

Lady slamming bacon/ranch/egg/cheddar salad when, suddenly, some clown begins to scream, no SCREAM, in spanish.  His spanish sucks a fat one.  I am confident in my spanish more than ever.

Sure enough, the clogger gets mad that she's being outdone by shave-head business baldy and decides to take it up a notch.  Her daughter who is probably about 7 is concerned that they will not be able to bring their water onto the plane.  This is a valid, if not extremely observant concern.  Mom is convinced otherwise, and promptly ends the conversation with the following word to the wise: 'Stop arguing, you're not an adult.'  Whoa.

Vegetarianism means options.

On the plane to Quito, I am told my vegetarian snack cannot be found.  It isn't on the plane.  Like Jodie Foster in that one plane movie, I argue and say they're all crazy.  They respond that it's me, Ms. Foster, who's crazily mistaken.  

Instead, I'm offered a salad and the other shit.  

I receive a small iceberg and red cabbage salad, caesar dressing (anchovies), mayo (eggs) for my missing veggie burger, chocolate bar (milk), and a packet of Cholula hot sauce.  

Solution: Eat the iceberg naked.  Enjoy how bitter and shitty it is in a way you've never done before.  Order a tomato juice.  Cross fingers for a full 12 oz can, but prepare for the worst.  Take the worst, and dump Cholula hot sauce in.  Savor that 'mato juice as never before.  Also, don't forget about the almonds that you bought in the airport (4.49).  Eat slowly and enjoy every bite as your planemates stuff their faces with either a chicken sandwich or beef burrito.  Their stomachs will hurt."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Todo Madre o un Desmadre

I was yamming with my buddy Kajander and I came up with a fairly silly, but somewhat apt metaphor for a specific type of passionate effort that I've thought on a lot. I've thought of a few examples of the type of effort I'm referring to. Without further ado,

1. I decide to join a street gang. I have little firsthand experience with street gangs; not much outside of sharing a classroom with folks more profoundly involved. I've learned quite a bit academically, which is to say from books, movies, discussions and websites. I have an undeniably powerful affinity for understanding gang life and legitimizing gangs as social clubs. It is with this affinity and curiousity that I come up with my idea. Here's the situation:

I approach a group of fellas who appear to be gang-affiliated in a neighborhood rife with gang activity. Let's go with East LA. I explain to them the aforementioned facts about my link with gangs, and go on to offer them my services. I am very direct about stating my intention of becoming a respected and feared member of their gang. I have not chosen them for who they represent, just that they do, in fact, represent.

My assumption is that they would first laugh, and likely tell me to scram. Here's where it gets interesting. Instead of scramming, I continue to explain to these gentlemen that I'm very passionate about involvement. I explain that coupled with my passion is a willingness to do whatever it takes, literally whatever it takes, to earn their respect. I'm willing to kill babies, rabbis, zookeepers, grandmas, animals, anything. This game goes on and on and I'm probably beaten a few times. Not good enough, my newfound friends, not good enough.

The essence of the game is that it always offers two clear solutions. First, I eventually get murdered or die from a beating, either by 'friend' or foe. Second, I eventually earn the respect of the members of the gang and am rewarded with the rightful (albeit gruesome and heinous) respect for having become a ruthless and loyal killer.

It's being, quite literally, being willing to do _____ to the death.

2. The second example I've thought about is getting close to the president of Venezuela. I know a functional amount of Spanish, but nothing near what would be required to be an advisor to Chavez. The game goes the same way. I simply move to Venezuela and try to find a way to get to Chavez. I write him letters, I get on the radio, I memorize his speeches and those of his predecessors, I become active in bringing the vote out for him, and so on.

Rejection will come often and may come at a price. The price might be physical, but more importantly, there will be metaphysical costs. I might have to, as with the first example, renounce pieces of my moral code. I might be contradicting policy beliefs I have, and might even be involved in hurting people that I truly care about. This is no excuse in this game, however. One must do all one is able in order to achieve the goal, or perish as a result of its attainment.

Now where does this all come from? A multifaceted answer will provide some insight.

First, as might have been deduced by the title of this musing, there is a parallel with my stories and the film Blood In Blood Out. In fact, I didn't even see this until I began writing these words, but it's obvious that the movie had a huge effect on me. In the movie, there is a young man who was born of a Mexican American mother and an Anglo father. He has grown up in a culture of Mexican American street gangs, and wishes to become a respected member of the gang Los Vatos Locos. In the end, he basically gives his life in a similar way as I described earlier in the first example. Even as I'm writing this, I'm realizing how uncanny the similarities are. I guess I'm basically analyzing a theme in the movie. But we've come this far, so I'll continue.

Beyond that, I have some thoughts about vulnerability that relate to the aforementioned stuff. I think that some of the most profound moments in people's lives come in times of extreme vulnerability. I think realization of one's vulnerability is necessary for one to fully give their lives to a cause, whatever that cause might be. I think it's a beautiful thing to admit that you humble yourself before a cause. Most of us don't work this way.

This leads me to the reason I was thinking on this. I don't generally act in this way. Obviously, I try to stick to my moral code, my understanding of logic, and what little I believe or know about the world. I wouldn't want to ignore any of these under normal circumstances. Beyond this, I also tend to intellectualize issues, which tends to keep me from getting involved. I end up in the clouds of academia and I feel as though, while I gain a great deal of knowledge about an issue, I sometimes fail to make a direct difference in that issue.

I am hoping that, in Ecuador, I will embrace my vulnerability, both social in having no compadres and linguistic in having to bridge a gap in my communication. I hope that I can accept my vulnerability and be honest about it with the people involved in things I'd like to be active in. I hope that I express my passion and knowledge for interesting issues and projects. In response, I believe I will be accepted as a comrade in the struggle.

I don't think the metaphor enhances this musing at all. It's not very simple, which I guess is similar to the posting. It's a bit jumpy. Sorry. I'm about to leave the country and my head's all over the place. Geez.

Cartesian Convo.

Earlier today, my heart to my body, "Where the hell are you already?"

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dream From The Night of Michael Jordan's Birthday

I've somehow made my way into a church. It's a really big church. I can tell I don't want to be there. I'm not alone in the church, as evidenced by the other people in the church. There are all different kinds of people there. I still don't want to be there.

A guy approaches me. He's wearing a drab grey suit and khaki pants. His mustache says "Screw you." He'd never actually let it say that, though. He is some sort of minister or pastor. The reason he approaches is because he has been trying to get me to join the church. I don't want to join his massive church nor his mustache. I'd rather be honest.

Then, I'm being held by two people that I hadn't seen. They hold me under my arms. Another person wheels an apparatus over to me. The apparatus is a modified crucifix. The back of it looks like a traditional, wooden crucifix. I soon find out that it's different, though. Imagine you're facing the cross from the front. Approximately where Jesus' elbows would have been are two metal planks stuck out in front of the crucifix. They are perfectly parallel with the ground. At the very end of the metal plank, there are handles that extend towards the sky. They are padded.

I am soon on the crucifix. My head is strapped in with a leather strap with a buckle. My hands grabbed the handles and were tied down. My feet dangled below me.

At this point, I noticed all the people in the pews. They had all turned around to watch me. They assumed I was becoming a believer/member/comrade. I knew I didn't want to do this. I had a feeling that guy (mustache) had been working me over pretty good. It seemed I had been resisting successfully so far. This was his last hope to overpower me.

I wanted to hurt him. I decided to hurt his feelings. And those of the members. I began to sing, or rap, a song. The song I chose to sing to hurt their feelings was Straight Outta Compton by NWA. I rapped the entire first verse in the dream. I remember coming to the 'N' word. I don't say this word. I said the word in the dream. Offensiveness was the name of the game in that old church. As soon as I said it, I looked into the seated crowd and saw an African American man. I felt embarrassed continued the song. And the 'N' words. My fleeting embarrassment made my face hot and presumably red.

Soon thereafter, the song was done. I felt victorious.

Next up was an old breakdancing friend of mine, who I'll call Jose Castellon. It's not his real name. Jose was put onto the modified crucifix. He had a red t-shirt on. His head was shaved totally, save his bangs. These were long and full of hair gel. His blue jeans were baggy. They almost completely covered his white K-Swiss sneakers, but not quite.

Jose was similarly strapped into Crucifix 2.0. He wanted to be as defiant as I had been. It was nighttime now. He demonstrated his defiance in a totally different way. He began to breakdance. His hands and head strapped in, his legs were the only things moving. They were moving like crazy. They were flipping and flopping around like a fish out of water. Only it was terribly talented, angry, and effective.

Jose breakdanced all night long. Literally, he continued his kinesthetic resistance until morning. In the morning, after having watched him all night, he finally gave up, exhausted and atrophied. I approached him to help him down. As I got near, I noticed that he had blood and spit hanging from his relaxed lips.

Seeing this made me sick and angry but something made me feel as though Jose's protest had worked. I guess he looked like a bonafide martyr.

On definitivism.

I was with my dad last evening at my grandfather's house and we were discussing what I call definitivism. There likely is a better word for it, and it's also likely that in philosophical circles the term has been more profoundly analyzed and defined. My definition, by contrast, is terribly simple. I speak of definitivism as an outlook on things in the world with a definitive attitude, as when one shares with full confidence either a pure opinion on a matter or else a statement of fact that is wholly unfounded, uninformed, and possibly even false. We all express ourselves with some level of definity, albeit some folks seem less convinced by their own ideas and beliefs than others. This musing is about those who speak definitively about nearly everything they share with us.

This all might be obvious, though I want to explore it. We got to discussing people who use their convictions in their religious beliefs as a means to be similarly convicted in, to pull something out of the sky, the construction of a teapot. Take belief in, let's say, Jesus, as the son of the Almighty God, who died, came back, said this, was white, wants us to do this, doesn't mind if we do that, etc...All that 'knowledge' is seemingly inconsequential when it comes to understanding the construction of said teapot. However, it follows that if one has 'discovered' the 'answer' to the unanswerable, one might feel like being confident in matters as trivial as the teapot is totally legitimate.

A couple of thoughts on this. First, and most obvious, there is a logical disconnect. Assuming one's knowledge of an almighty creator is in some way correct, we have no better understanding of their knowledge on a wholly unrelated subject, specifically the more mundane and more concrete subjects (coffeepot).

Furthermore, I'm somewhat skeptical that we'll ever totally understand the brain and how it works, considering we're using the brain to do the investigating. We've gotten quite far, but I do see there being a limit. In the same way, when considering an all-powerful creator, I have trouble understanding how one can claim to 'know' said creator with the specificity of knowing Her/His/Its desires, words, hopes, disappointments, intentions, morality, logic, seems to me that a similar ceiling of knowledge exists here as with using the brain to understand the brain, assuming .

On a more pragmatic level, I fear how this logic pervades a person's view of the world. I feel as if definitivism, acting as I've attempted to describe, is the opponent of relativism - naturally, the idea that truth is relative. While I am not a huge fan of extreme relativism, I want to draw a parallel.

There seems to be a battle similar to that between what I have called definitivism and relativism. I see that the two different battles have their roots in the same thinking process and logic. That epic battle, of course, is that between intolerance and empathy, and it's one in which we can't afford to see empathy defeated.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hopefully the last TEFL-related post

There's really nothing more to say.  In the business module, there was a quiz on business etiquitte.  I failed the shit out of it.  Here are some questions.  

1. Your boss, Ms. Alpha, enters the room when you're meeting with an important client, Mr. Beta.  You rise and say, 'Ms. Alpha, I'd like you to meet Mr. Beta, our client from San Diego.'  Is this introduction correct?
4. You're entering a cab with an important client.  You position yourself so the client is seated curbside.  Is this correct?
11. The waiter's coming toward you to serve wine.  You don't want any.  You turn your glass upside down.  Are you correct?

I missed all of these, by the way.  Guess that means I lost all my clients.  Darn.  

TEFL Tells me what adult learners deserve (things kids can't handle)

I'm nearing the end of this experiment I like to call, "Certified Teacher Undergoes Condescending Months Training for TEFL Certificate."  It's going quite well.  I'm learning how much I already knew.  

My last two lessons have to do, specifically, with Business English Learners and Young Learners.  In the business module is a list that describes the needs of adult learners.  As a little side story, they've already told me that in the early 1900s, when formalized adult education took root, educators were teaching by the 'tried and true' methods used for Primary and Secondary school.  These did not work, supposedly.  The assumption, verified by the following list, is that the reverse is true - that children don't need the same type of education that adults require.  I'll list recommendations they make and then discuss my feelings afterwards.  I implore you, as you read, to think of two things.

First, why is the statement not only true for adult business learners, but for children as well?
Second, why is the statement not only true for adult business learners, but for other adults as well?

Let's see how that plays out, directly from the TEFLOnline module, with some unnecessary details omitted,

"How do adults learn and what do they expect from their teachers?  Below is a list of several factor affecting adult learners and their learning environment.

1.  Adults need to know why they are being asked to learn something, or why specific things are being taught.
2.  Adults need to learn experientially, that is, by experimenting with and applying the knowledge they are gaining.
3.  Adults approach learning as problem-solving.
4.  Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value.  Adults are most interested in spending time on subjects that have practical relevance to their job or personal life.
5.  Adults focus more on the process and less on the content being taught.
6.  Adults come to the classroom with years of personal and work experience behind them.
7.  Adults learn better when instruction is individualized, when they can pace their own learning and tailor it to their specific needs."

TELF Goes on to discuss...

"Learning Climate

Whether the class is held in a traditional classroom setting or in the cafeteria, the teacher should establish a climate that is physically and psychologically conducive to learning, taking into account the following:

1.  Seating arrangements in which all the participants can face each other.
2.  A climate of mutual respect among all participants, emphasizing collaborative modes of learning that encourage an atmosphere of trust.
3.  Opportunities for students to express their own views since adults often appreciate learning from those who have had diverse experiences and/or hold contrary opinions."

Finally, we discuss the importance and application of...

"Teaching-Learning Strategies:

1. Teachers should involve adult learners in diagnosing their own learning needs, in formulating their learning objectives, and in choosing methods and curricula, as studies show that adults will make firm commitments to activities in which they feel they have played a participatory role.
2.  Learners should be encouraged to identify resources and straegies that make use of such resources in order to accomplish their learning objectives.  Teachers should also be firm in helping learners carry out their educational plans by constantly having learners evaluate their learning."

As I read through these lists, I can't help but think about how relatively radical they would be characterized had they been proposed at the elementary level.  I would imagine that, if one changed the statements to read 'young learners,' or 'elementary learners,' one would get laughed out of most interviews. 

Kids want to learn about things that relate to them?  Kids want to be involved in how they learn those things?  Kids want to learn together?  Kids want to feel as if they have something to offer?  Kids don't come into the classroom as blank slates?  No shit.  How the hell can this seem so valid when discussing adult business education and so radical when discussing children, especially poor children?  It's absurd and disgusting.  

We of so little faith.  Unbelievable. 

Monday, February 9, 2009

Letter to Arrowhead Mills re: Deaf Smith Peanut Butter


My name is Cameron Allen and I live in Austin, Texas. Recently, I was parousing the internet for information about a distant family member of mine who occupies my mind from time to time. He is, as of yet, the only member of my family to garner a wikipedia page, although I believe my grandmother, Lois K. Hull deserves one for her role in the outdoor drama, TEXAS-Musical Drama in Palo Duro Canyon. Incidentally, my older brother, Sterling Allen, will soon be a well known artist and deservedly so. I am a teacher, which garners no positive attention these days outside small gusts of hot air come election time.

The family member who I speak of is, of course, Erastus 'Deaf' Smith, heroic scout of the Texas Revolution. His lineage is both distant and strong, and I've found pride in his having married a woman of Mexican heritage, giving me something I've always wanted - a little color in a sea of white. For this and for his valor, I am proud.

In jumping from website to website, I came across some mention of a product that your company produced. It was, as you might have guessed, the Deaf Smith Peanut Butter. This caught my attention as you can imagine, as I thought back on my Arrowhead Mills purchases to try and recall having seen the product. One would assume it would have made an impression.

As I continued searching the internet for information about this mysterious nut butter, I found two clues. First, it seems as if my 1983 birth year explains my never having heard of the product, indeed missed the entire era of DSPB. Second, it seems that the product itself has an army akin to that of the Battle of the Alamo - possibly undermatched, though passionate, genuine, and loyal to the death (relatively).

I write this to implore you to live out the destiny paved by our Texas forefathers in that fateful battle. Bring DSPB back. The odds, as in said historic battle, are clearly stacked against you, nay, us. However, on our side we've got a faithful and dedicated army made up of me, you, and hundreds, maybe thousands of supporters of Deaf Smith Peanut Butter nationwide; each and every one of them willing to cross that crucial line, the line that once crossed can never be traversed in reverse, the line that says, "I eat only Deaf Smith Peanut Butter, and all other peanut butters can go to hell!"


Cameron Allen

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mom and Dad Seeing What I've Become AKA Book Pack

This past weekend, on Saturday, my mom and dad came up from San Antonio to help me begin to pack my stuff for storage while I'm in Ecuador. I had the idea of cataloguing all of my books by box so that if I request one, they'll know where to find it with less hassle. Here's the lineup.

At the box will be mom. She'll be in charge of actually putting the books in boxes, capitalizing on her organizational skills.

For retrieval and as interemediary will be dad. He'll be in charge of getting stacks of books, and making sure mom and I don't just sit and yak.

I'll be the records-keeper. That means that I'll have say as to whether or not any book is to be packed and, if so, I'll number the sheet with the corresponding box number.

We began to chug along, and an interesting thing began to happen - I started thinking about it. A lot. I noticed that, as I searched the 33 pages to find any given book, dad would have a second to read the title and maybe flip through a page or two. As soon as I marked the number down, he would give the book to mom, who, while waiting for the next delivery, would similarly scan the book for a few seconds. In this way we worked through 13 boxes of books, probably in the neighborhood of 500 books or so.

Later in the day, after the two had headed back to San Antonio, I began to realize the communication that my books had shared with both mom and dad. They were seeing, firsthand, a glimpse into where my interests lie. They saw Marxism, Critical Pedagogy, Poverty, Language, Feminism, Humor, Mathematics, the Universe, Atheism and Religion, Sociology, South America, Revolution, Literacy, Satire, Politics, Food, Non-Human Animals, Children, etc...they saw it all.

In all my 25 years of being extremely honest with them, I've never been able to so aptly and so succinctly offer them a crash course in what their son has become, at least regarding intellectual interests. Amazing. Just amazing.

List of Mission Statements

I've always been interested in stories about famous people who knew what they'd be when they grew up, as if they had a moment of clairevoyance. This is especially funny when they turn out to be athletes when they grow up. It is often said that "so-and-so always said he would end up in the NFL/NBA/Major Leagues, etc." Who the hell didn't say that at one point or another? I certainly predicted, at different times, that I'd be in all the major sports leagues, that I'd be an astronaut, a millionaire, and a heralded actor, amongst other things, most recently a homeless man.

In the spirit of these outlandish claims that, for one in a couple million, come true, here are my 25 definitive statements about my being in Ecuador. I assume at least one will come true, at which point my biographer can say, "He knew, as he stepped off the plane that fateful day, that he would..."

I knew, as I stepped off that plane on that fateful day in Ecuador, that I'd...

1. make that discovery that helped us understand.
2. lose my marbles.
3. help open a trilingual school teaching Quechua, Spanish and English.
4. encounter my second, and hopefully better, half.
5. have done myself a favor by going to Spain instead.
6. have seen the last of my luggage.
7. bit off more than I can chew.
8. make my family proud.
9. probably be gone forever, having established a home in Ecuador.
10. be fluent in no time.
11. finally earn myself that wikipedia page.
12. spent the last 18 months wisely.
13. become a man.
14. become a woman.
15. never fly again.
16. join the FARC.
17. write the great American novel.
18. write the great Ecuadorian novel.
19. write a mediocre, nongeographically bound novel.
20. start drawing again.
21. have the strength to handle any of it.
22. maintain veganism with ease and elegance.
23. be able to convince family and friends to come down.
24. have to find a bathroom.
25. made one of, if not the single most important decisions of my life.

Again, not hopes, not fears, just possibilities. Just a way to say, 'I told you so.'

AIDS Test Separation

I got some STD tests for my visa. I've thought a lot about it. This should be the only thing left to say. I found my reaction to a question there at the clinic interesting and troubling. I was very angry with the way that I acted. Here's the setting:

I went in to pick up the results of said test, being fully confident that the results were in my favor. In fact, I had, in order to know if the results were in, listened to the phone service which reports one's results remotely. That seems like a terrible way to get HIV results, but I won't dwell on that...or at least won't spend time writing about the dwelling that's already occurred.

As it turns out, when you go in to receive your results in person, they have counselors who will break the news to you. I was assigned a counselor, and subsequently we were, as a pair assigned a room. It is in this room that he'll give me the results. Before he gives me the results which, as I stated, I already know, he double checks to make sure about the tests I've taken. The door is closed.

"So I've got you down for having taken HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphillis. Is that right?"

I answer, "Yeah, yeah, I needed the tests for a visa."

He proceeds to give me the results of the tests, all as expected. As I sit waiting for the notorized copies, I start to think about my experiences here. I realize that I said that very thing when the doctor asked me earlier during the actual exam. He asked why I was there for the test, and I immediately thought of the visa. Now, granted this is maybe the impetus behind me getting the test, there's more to it, I believe.

I think as I sat there in the office, I guess subconsciously I wanted to have something to seperate me from the others in the clinic. As I said, this wasn't conscious and it's very difficult even to wrap my head around right now. I realize now and would have then had I thought on this that I'm clearly no better than any one person in that clinic. I've made mistakes, and I've put myself in a couple of stupid positions. Luckily, those situations have been few and far between and I've been able to avoid any dramatic troubles, like any of the diseases in question.

I wonder where this sense of moral high ground comes from. I live my life to destroy and deconstruct my own assumptions about status, especially related to morality, and yet this was a seemingly internalized and almost unavoidable reaction to a universally uncomfortable situation.

I hope that through realizations such as this and an honest approach to dissecting them, I can continue to deconstruct this self-sense which comes from god-knows-where, and live a more accepting life, both inside and out, consciously and subconsciously.


I've thought a lot in the past year and a half about my identity. Specifically, I've tried to breakdown my identity and place my various characteristics on a point in a number of power struggles. For example, I've thought about what my whiteness means in the city, country, and world. I've thought about what my whiteness means in terms of my teaching kiddos that may not be white. I've considered how my whiteness will be something very different in Ecuador.

I've meditated of the same things with regard to my maleness, my heterosexuality, my middle classness, and lately, my Americanness. Americanness in the sense that a large part of my identity which, much like those aforementioned I didn't choose, plays a role in how I am received by those with whom I share Americanismo and those with whom I differ as well.

Just as with whiteness, there are small, seemingly insignificant areas of privilege that we must deconstruct. An example I think of is the band-aid example. I've never thought that the color of a band-aid is clearly an attempt to match what is informed by my being 'white.' Most people out there don't often receive bandaging which approximates their skin color. Seemingly insignificant, but worth a thought.

The other day, while starting a game of 'Wikipedia plinko,' which is the open-ended jumping from interesting article to interesting article, a kind of 6 degrees of kevin bacon experiment, I decided I wanted to know about the United States Senate. I had been listening to them drone on and on about Obama's stimulus package, and I damned the Senate. I wanted to know more about what I'd damned, to be fair.

In the search bar on Wikipedia, I typed in, naturally, "Senate," assuming I would be taken to a page that discussed the US Senate. As one can imagine, the page I was navigated to was a more general overview of the idea of a senate, little 's.' I wasn't surprised, as when it occurred, I thought of the expansiveness and the history of the term. This, however, is a sign that I've yet to fully deconstruct my Americanismo, my Americanness.

Soon, my friends. Pronto, indeed.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Notes from 2/6/2009

I'm sleepier than shit. I'm at work. That's a terrible mix. I was thinking while searching for documents about sleep. I wonder if anyone who has fallen asleep at work has ever done so with the end of their nose accidentally on the 'z' key, causing it to fill their Microsoft Word page with an endless string of 'zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...'

Interesting things on the internet
-Brain in a Vat
-Bearforce 1
-Fu Schnickens
-Lords of the Underground
-Poor Righteous Teachers
-Photoshop technique for making a photo look like a tiny model.
Here's a good example.
-Read James Dickey's Deliverance
-Narwhal-is a medium-sized toothed whale that lives year-round in the Arctic.
-Buy and read The Bell Curve
-Citizens Against Public Waste website

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Great NY City Maple Syrup Fragrance Mystery

I was listening to cnn live coverage online. They cut to a press conference with Mayor Bloomberg. He said he had information that might blow the "Great New York City Maple Syrup Fragrance Mystery" Case wide open.

Apparently, over the past couple of years, NY City has been, for a few days at a time, shrouded in a smell reminiscent of maple syrup. Ha. They love it, but it confuses them. They want for explanations about its origins, its cleanliness, its implications on their health. Well, the case has been cracked.

In said cnn press conference, Bloomberg outlined the four major clues that were involved in cracking the case. He thanked the unbelievable number of agencies and commissions dedicated to rooting out the cause of the stench. In the end, the source was somewhat lackluster and might not live up to the Scooby-Dooesque narrative. As it turns out, a fragrance company in nearby New Jersey who creates a variety of fruit flavors processes fenugreek seeds for their fragrances. If the weather is just right, the winds agreeable, and the humidity where it needs to be, the smell from the processing of these seeds is wafted over the Jersey side of New York City.

Case Closed.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Reasons I've Chosen Ecuador.

I seem to be getting this question often. I understand why I would be. I also understand why I've chosen Ecuador. Here's 10 reasons...for now.

1. Ecuador is relatively small, about the size of Nevada. No, there's no Las Vegas. A smaller country will make my goal of being able to poke fun at lame cities and lame regions, in a similar way that I joke about Houston, or maybe Waco, that much easier. Silly, but we're being honest now.

2. The weather in Ecuador is terribly agreeable. There is a rainy season, but being on the waistline of the Earth renders the climate conducive to swim trunks. Not to mention sunburns.

3. The geography is wildly varied. There are mountainous regions. There is the coastline. There are the Galapagos Islands.

4. Speaking of Galapagos, the flora and fauna are equally varied. I'll have new fruits and veggies coming out the wazoo, literally.

5. Ecuador provides an interesting cultural experience. There is African influence in the north, Spanish influence in the cities, missionary influence peppered throughout, and a strong contingency of indigenous groups living all around the country, including the Quichua and Waorani Indians.

6. The political system interests me. Our government would like us to believe that Ecuador is the third, albeit least threatening head of Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the hell of socialism...the other two, of course, being Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia. The truth is likely much more complicated. I want to explore that complication.

7. The citizens, especially the indigenous people are becoming more active in the protection of their mega biodiverse country, specifically in terms of ecological conservation, but also conservation as relates to cultural conservation and issues of social (in)justice.

8. None of my close friends have ever been to Ecuador, and it'll be nice to know the weight of my description of it to people back home. They'll have to take my damn word for it.

9. Ecuador is in a strategic place for South American travel, Cameron-style. I'd like to visit, in order of interest, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, and Cuba. Ecuador shares a border with Peru, and the others are almost equally accessible with each other, with the obvious exception of Cuba. Cuba would be a dream come true, though.

10. The people of Ecuador seem terribly gregarious. Given the troubles they've had in their existence, especially with their Bolivarian fight for independence from Spain and their more recent economic hardships, I get a sense that they've emerged a happy and hopeful peoples. This I gather from my discussions with folks who have visited or lived there.

Simon Bolivar Provides the Ending to Any Personal Journal

Here's a quote from Simon Bolivar's The Jamaican Letter-Response from a South American to a Gentleman From This Island.

It was written in 1815.

This is the end of the letter, and a paragraph that I will include in any journal I write in. Forever.

"Tales son, señor, las observaciones y pensamientos que tengo el honor de someter a Vd. para que los rectifique o deseche, según su mérito, suplicándole se persuada que me he atrevido a exponerlos, más por no ser descortés, que porque me crea capaz de ilustrar a Vd. en la materia."

"Such, sir, are the observations and thoughts that I am honored to submit for your consideration and which you may correct or reject according to their merit. I implore you to understand that I have expressed myself forthrightly, not to be discourteous but because I believe I am in a position to inform you on these matters."

'These matters,' naturally, being my personal thoughts and feelings. I really like that.

Remnants of Creepy Dream

I am climbing up a spiral staircase. The walls are light blue. They look like large bricks of an elementary school. They are painted with thick paint. There is scant room between the staircase and the walls. This small space would be enough to fall through. The stairs are also a shade of light blue. They look like they lead to a slide on a playground. They are metal. Something about them says that they're precarious.

I look down. I look up. I see the same thing in both directions. More stairs. Eventually, what I see disappears into darkness. The damn stairs could go on forever, for all I see. I imagine a large machine dropping ten foot segments of stairs into the top of the building. With such little room, they would land just right. This process, like the stairs, could continue indefinately.

I continue my ascension. At some point, a pebble drops. I assume my foot knocked it off the stair. I can hear echoes of the pebble hitting stairs on its way down.

I tell myself, reassuringly, that if there were werewolves in the building, I would absolutely hear their shrieking.