Sunday, August 30, 2009

International calls - potentially useful information here

So the search started when my Dell laptop's hard drive crashed a couple of weeks ago. Since it's only a couple of months old, it's a semi-nice laptop with the requisite webcam/microphone built in that I've been using my Skype calls on from home/café/McDonald's parking lot. The difficulty is that to call Dell technical support, I have to call the USA. No one in their right mind is going to call another country on a prepaid cell phone and pay an astronomical rate and risk getting cut off, since Dell tech support calls can take forever. I didn't have a headphone/mike for my desktop computer, and Adina's little laptop with the 5'' keyboard...well, I don't care to use that one, although in a pinch, it could work. So...how to call the US with the computer I usually use on the fritz?

Skype has a mobile option, for smartphones, so I downloaded it to my HTC cell phone purchased in the US. Try to dial...but guess what? The configuration for most smartphones, unless Skype is already installed, doesn't allow Skype access to the mike and earpiece on the phone! How in the world am I supposed to use the phone if I can't use the mike and earpiece???

The search was on again. I searched far and wide, ended up buying a bluetooth earpiece that does work for cell calls, but not for Skype on the phone (didn't know that when I bought it). Went to Office Depot and bought the headset/mike set, which works for the computer, solving the problem mostly, but now I was curious how I could get the crazy Skype mobile version to work. As SOON as I got home from Office Depot, I saw a web forum referencing Fring. Checked it out, downloaded it, and I can use Skype through it just like a normal phone call! It probably doesn't work for all phones, and the call quality is a little bit less than desired, and a small delay (yeah, that's a lot of "ifs"), but now I can be sitting anywhere there's wifi and use my cell phone to call anywhere in the world! What a relief. And no, I'm not getting any money from Fring to post this. It's got a bunch of other uses, too, but this is main one I'm interested in. Check it out.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Our father/daughter breakfast - no moms allowed!

Today, since Talia had woken very early, way too early for a Saturday, and Adina had risen to the challenge of handling that, it was suggested to be me that I take a turn after a bit. Being the catch-a-hint guy that I am (or perhaps afraid of a sleepy wife), I crawled leaped out of bed to do my duty. Talia was excited to be alive, so I decided to take her outside to see if my morning breath would peel the paint off the playground equipment. We're awaiting the results of that, but no immediate damage occured.

After getting her morning exercise out of the way, Talia began to inform me ("bite, BITE!") that she was hungry.
Of course, she didn't have to tell me twice, baby. We hopped in the truck and headed down to Lourdes (Lourd-es, two syllables in the Spanish version of the word), which is the small area of Guatemala City where we live. I had no idea where I was going except that I wanted breakfast. After driving around for a few minutes and pestering a guy frying chicharrones in front of a restaurant that appeared to be open ("are you sure you're not serving breakfast??"), we found a place that was, indeed, serving breakfast. It had no name and was on a back street, but had wooden chairs instead of the standard plastic ones, and looked fairly clean, so after letting Talia play with a dry corn husk on the street for a minute, we crossed and went in. Have you ever tried to parallel park on a street 12 feet wide with a 3 foot drop on one side...the side you're supposed to park on? Fun!

After wishing the two other customers Buen provecho, we found an out of the way spot. The menu was stapled on the wall, so I decided on the Plato Típico (see photo, which has part of the egg and beans cut out for Talia).
As you can see from the pictures, she was thoroughly enjoying her beans and eggs, and decided to investigate the tortillas later in the meal. The plate I'm eating has ham on the left, longaniza (a type of sausage) at the bottom, and churrasco (thin beef steak) on the right. It was supposed to come with fried bananas, but for some reason (my size, maybe?) they thought I'd appreciate the ham instead. I did appreciate it, indeed, but since my daughter is bananas for bananas, I ordered fried bananas for dessert. That's cream on top with sugar sprinkled on it. We both dug into it, with the person most adept at using a fork eating most of the bananas. Included are a few shots of Talia with her father-inspired hairdo and bean-y face. Breakfast was enjoyed by all.

After we found Talia's shoes again, which she loves to kick off, given 3 unsupervised seconds, I proceeded to pay the bill (30 quetzales, or a little less than 4 dollars; a great deal for a pretty good feast!). I hope I can find it again. We came home to a well-rested wife and mother who wondered where in the world we'd gone. And so ends the tale of the father and daughter breakfast.
















Saturday, August 15, 2009

Meet the Fifth Grade Team:

I've spent a week preparing for the coming school year with my team and am looking forward to working with them. Here they are:

Mr. VL: 40ish From Chicago, has a son. He is the math teacher for the whole fifth grade. He has the room next to me, poor guy, and has been very gracious when I have a million questions about the procedures in my new environment. His eyes are always smiling and he and Ms. S have an ongoing friendly rivalry about what she assumes his weekend activities include, (though he insists he is trying to watch his health instead.)

Ms. S: >40 matronly Guatemalan lady with a sense of humor. She has several grown kids, one of whom I've met when he came to help her prepare her Spanish classroom. Her dominant language is Spanish, so sometimes she struggles to come up with a quick retort to Mr. VL's quips. She has been very friendly and helpful with my class list information, for which I am grateful.

Mr. H: >25 guy from Canada. He is an adventurer who loves to travel whenever possible. He is always laughing and picking on someone, (usually Ms. S, but anyone is fair game.) He is a super social person who can be found many times walking down the hall playing his guitar and making people smile. With a tactile approach to teaching and learning, I was very appreciative of his help walking me through the routines of a normal fifth grade day.

If you didn't notice, all of them are generally happy folks who enjoy injecting the mundane with humor. I am really honored to be working with them and am looking forward to this year.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

School and Toddler Development

Today we had individual interviews with our principals. I am really looking forward to this year and working with my principal, a generous Guatemalteca (who makes me feel pretty tall) and who has a wonderful sense of humor. It is a completely different environment from my first teaching experience. I anticipate teaching a subject that I am excited about and that can easily be incorporated into every area, and in that way, is relevant to life. My teaching team sounds like a group of unique individuals. I will introduce you as soon as I meet them in person.

Talia seems to be adjusting to preschool little by little. Once she gets there, she really likes the structure and being around other kids. She is reinforcing the Spanish she already knew and we can’t wait to hear her add new vocabulary. She continues to speak in increasingly complex sentences in English. We are planning a trip to a Guatemala City zoo tomorrow with a few other teacher/kid combos… I’m pretty sure she is going to enjoy that! (Especially the little train that takes you through the different areas. Lately she has been lining her blocks up in a row and saying “Choo choooooo!” I’m really not sure where she learned that.) Always a fan of books she is getting more and more interested in them and is starting to repeat all of the phrases after we read them to her.

If you’re part of the family and are scared she’ll forget you, don’t worry. She’s been calling off the role almost daily and then describing something about the person she said. Some examples include “play in the water, Pop’s and Lulu’s house!”or sometimes that one is at “Meme’s house” with Karka and Zachy thrown in the water for good measure. “Jacob sing a song guitar.” “Nonna Rose and Maggie” “T-Maw and Pawpaw’s house! Play the banjo!” “Unky Ooyd drums” “See Gammy” etc.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Our 4th Marriage Anniversary Celebration at Portal de Angel

Today was nice in several ways. We celebrated our 4th year of marriage at Portal de Angel, enjoyed some excellent steak and enjoyed a nice view of the twinkling Guatemala City lights at night from a high vantage point.
If you've never tried Portal de Angel steak house, I would certainly recommend it. The steak and chicken are both very tender and well seasoned and the side options are excellent as well. Here I was first introduced to chimichurri, a salsa like dish served on the side made with olive oil, cilantro, garlic, salt and several different other things. Me encanta. I also finally was able to enjoy some chocolate in the form of a chocolate cake with cajeta.
One of the best aspects is the view. It is situated on the side of a mountain overlooking the Guatemala City basin-like land form with the mountains in the background. Tonight it looked like the clouds were hovering closer to the ground than normal and the lights flickering through it were beautiful. From this view you can see how the roads are arranged from more of a bird's eye angle. It is pretty interesting to try to find the center of the city and follow the lights inching up the mountainsides.

It has been a very peaceful day in the middle of a busy settling-in month. Thank you, Benji.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Refitted belts and Guatemalan police: the events of today

Refitted belts and Guatemalan police: the events of today

Every day is an adventure in Guatemala. The day started off great, but since I’ve dropped a few pounds in the last couple of weeks due to lifestyle changes, I decided to ask the construction workers at the school for a nail and hammer to make another hole for my belt. Well, they thought that was hilarious, but they quickly found what I needed, I think just to see the spectacle. So I walked over to a stack of cement blocks and proceed to gently make a new hole in my belt, with several construction workers looking on. All’s well until I try to put my belt back on and the buckle falls apart in my hands! Now I’ve got a broken belt with perfectly good holes and no buckle, and my pants are so baggy now that they will literally fall down around my ankles within 10 steps. Fortunately, the people in the Transport department are my amigos (more to come on the transport dept later on) and I asked them if I could have some rope to at least tie around my pants so they don’t fall off. This is at 7:30 a.m. and I’ve got all day to be at work. They find some rope and I proceed to tie it around me, and that seems to work (much to the amusement of yet another set of Guatemalans). The upside is that the rope was black, the same color as my pants.

The day goes on as normal, but I have to retie the rope from time to time. After I got out of work about 2 p.m. I decided to go visit this belt and shoe repair shop nearby that Victor at work had told me about (a peleteria). After much drama, I find one that will send my poor belt off to the factory and have it fixed by Saturday. But what is Benjamin to do until then…walk around with twine around his waist?? The quite resourceful motherly clerk suggested that I go look in Paiz, the grocery store in the same shopping center. They didn’t have a belt my size, not that that surprised me, as my waistline is about the same as most Guatemalans’ height : ) just kidding; the store had a belt that was just barely too short. Instead, I got two of the shortest belts and hooked them together. The belt buckles were too big to go through my belt loops, so had to start one at the back and hook it there too. I’m sure the guy that came in the bathroom thought I was doing yoga lol Anyway, the previously mentioned motherly clerk was nice enough to punch some holes in the right spots for me, so it fits right and holds my pants up, but if you see me walking around with two belt buckles in odd places for the next few days, you’ll know what happened.

Back to the transport office: I’m trying to get Guatemalan license plates for my truck, so that requires the services (well, not requires, but sure makes it a lot easier) of a tramitador, similar to the help I got on the borders of Mexico and Guatemala. So the transport office at school told me to drop off my passport and truck documents at their office and they would take care of the paperwork, which means that I did not have any identifying information for myself except for a Texas driver’s license. No big deal, I thought…it’s just for one day. Wrong.

On the way home from my belt excursion, and police truck with a few guys pulls me over, no doubt due to the Texas plates. Of course, they’re asking for something to prove I’m the owner of the truck and it’s all at the school about a half-mile away. I make some strategic phone calls, just about giving a heart attack to the HR people because I’m not carrying my passport (dumb on my part, but anyway), and someone from transport is on the way with the papers. A portly police officer starts talking about having to “infraccionar” me; in other words, pull out your wallet, buddy. I pretended not to really get what he was saying and waiting until the transport guy got there. He arrived after about 20 minutes and the police motioned him over to talk privately. After about 10 minutes of some wild gesticulations and later, low tones and mention of calling the school lawyer, the transport guy Eric brought me my passport, smiling, and said, “Have a nice day.” Apparently the mention of a lawyer and the refusal to pay fees on the street gets you out of there quickly. Good to know.

Another day in Guatemala. Lovin’ it more every day :D