We woke up again today to news of Mexico’s raging drug war. Kidnappings, murders, cartels. Some 40,000 troops deployed to the US-Mexico border. International worries about Mexico as a narco-state. Or worse: A failed state. It’s pretty terrifying to listen even to the measured NPR commentary–what is unraveling just south of our border?!
It’s pretty terrifying, except for this: That’s not actually the truth about Mexico.
See, I’m not letting it lie.
I’m at it again. The smart thing, the peace-making thing, would be to shut up about this. I’ve already made our friends uncomfortable enough listening to my rant. But I’m really, really…irked. (To put it mildly.)
If I hear another comment about Michelle Obama’s arms (or her clothes or her style or her looks), I’m going to punch someone.
The world is going to hell in a handbasket.
Or so I hear every time I turn on the TV or radio or pick up any kind of periodical (and for the sake of my sanity, I really ought to re-program my morning alarm away from NPR). Markets are crashing, homes are foreclosing, politicians are arguing (oh wait…that’s normal), jobs are disappearing, we’re all riddled with debt and panicking and Godzilla is storming our cities. The DeathStar is hovering dangerously close to us. Where’s Luke’s trusty light saber when you need it?
L. once told me a story about a friend of hers who, when proposed to, burst into tears. Not out of joy but out of panic and frustration and astonishment. And our musician friend J., when he proposed to his musician ladyfriend in a top-secret, unexpected way, was greeted with silence. And shaking. And then a tentative, “I can’t answer this right now. I need some time. To think. What a surprise.”
I come from a long line of cooks. Cousins, grandfathers, great-grandfathers…restaurant owners, caterers, neighborhood pierogi makers. I grew up in my grandpa’s kitchen, watching him make sausage and peppers, egg foo young, silver dollar pancakes. When I was finally tall enough to reach the kitchen counter, he started giving me jobs. Most often, it was Cheesecake Maker: He’d set out all the ingredients, cut out a recipe, and leave me to it. He’d be over the hot stove while I’d be crushing graham crackers into a crust. Those were our bonding moments.
Apparently, Chicago is Siberia. Or so I hear from a friend who has recently relocated from the East Coast to Chitown. She thinks she has moved to the arctic hinterlands. This makes me laugh.
I’ve recently started playing soccer again after a fourteen-year hiatus. It’s ridiculously hard: My feet don’t always remember the right way to dribble, the right way to pass, or the right way to trap. Sometimes my legs work and my head doesn’t; other times, the head works and the feet don’t. Sometimes neither work…and then it’s time for the bench.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about student-centered pedagogy. This is a phrase that gets thrown out a lot by progressive educators, a phrase intended to invoke equality, culturally relevant teaching, social justice, funds of knowledge, humanizing pedagogies–you name it. Student-centered pedagogy is a buzzword for all that is ‘good’ in teaching.
I was asked to speak at a panel on Friday about how instructors in our program work with the e-portfolio in their classes. When it was my turn to speak, I started by admitting (1) my initial skepticism about the e-portfolio and whether or not it was actually useful, and (2) the fact that I didn’t know everything about how to best prepare my student teachers and, in fact, that I was still figuring things out. I then went on to talk about some of the technical things that I do in my instruction with the portfolio.
I have an incredibly talented and thoughtful group of friends. Many of them write regularly on their blogs (there’s a whole list of them in the column to the right). Really, my friends–especially those far afield–are responsible for my renewed writing binge here.
I may have become a stalker.
It’s not my fault, though, I swear. See, it all started with a phone number switch.
I’ve recently been asked to work with our career office in the School of Education, doing consultation and professional development around our student teachers’ e-portfolios. This means that I’ve got to confront head-on some of my misgivings about the e-portfolio project and how it relates to preparing student teachers.
In my Chicago family, spring was ushered in by a pilgrimage. On a cold, early spring morning, our mothers called us in sick to school. In early gray hours, we’d bundle up, in red-and-blue caps and layers of hopeful spring clothes, and make our way into the city. The first destination: the McDonald’s parking lot at Clark and Addison, where an extended clan would gather. While the moms sorted through snacks and layers and blankets in the back of someone’s wood-paneled station wagon, the cousins and I skipped around the parking lot, singing, “Take me out to the ball game…,” dreaming of peanuts and malt cups. Then someone would give the orders, and off we were, across the street to where that red sign welcomed us to the Wrigley Field home opener.
Five days is not enough time for Cambodia. We came with laser-focus: to see the temples of Angkor Wat. The flights booked, the countries skipped, even the malaria medicine, all were in the service of our pilgrimage to the ninth-century Hindu temples of one of the world’s great civilizations, which had since been colonized by the jungle. Our pilgrimage was ultimately successful. Three full days were spent exploring crumbling towers overtaken by tree roots, archaeologists, and monkeys. We walked some, we biked some, we even tuk-tuk’ed it some. I even got my one luxury hotel squeezed into our trip, complete with a garden-enclosed swimming pool and a spa.
You’d think that I would be satisfied.
“You buy something from me, Madam? Very cheap!”
So begins every excursion in capitalist…er, communist, Vietnam. Rice paddy hats, dragon fruits, war paraphernalia, rip-off North Face gear, even donuts are aggressively peddled wherever you go. Think you’re safe at dinner? No way! Teenagers selling photocopies of Lonely Planet Vietnam and war memoirs follow you in, begging you to buy a pack of gum, if not a book. Duck into a bar, and you’re blind-sided by an MTV-style, table-dancing three-year-old. After he gyrates and booty-grinds in the middle of the bar, he busts out the watches and Zippo lighters that his mom outside is trying to sell. Plying down a Mekong River byway in a wooden canoe, you are passed by endless empty tourist boats whose paddling captains hold out their hands and ask, “Tip money, Madam?” Even in the middle of Ha Long Bay, on your own private junk, miles away from the nearest floating village let alone the shore, as you’re about to dive off the roof and swim ashore to a deserted spit-of-sand beach, a four-foot-tall woman comes rowing a ten-foot-long raft loaded with all the worldly goods you could possibly imagine–crackers, beer, rain ponchos, fake Crocs, Jim Beam. And as she frantically paddles in place so as to be within earshot of your boat, she orders you, “You buy something from me! Very cheap! My beer cheaper than boat.” And when you ignore her sales pitch and dive head first into the South China Sea, you swear you can hear her uttering Vietnamese expletives at you while she paddles furiously onwards to find the next foreigner-filled and dollar-blessed junk.
A bathroom has made my week.
This was not, however, any old SE Asian bathroom. Oh no: This was the Petronas Towers’ shopping mall deluxe bathroom, with such deluxe pleasures as toilet paper, toilet seats, and hand soap. For 2 Malaysian ringgitt (about $.60), travelers can take a break from the typical squat pit potties and hose-cum-TP of Kuala Lumpur’s other toilets and instead pamper themselves with Shisheido cucumber waters, Chanel perfumes, and Johnson & Johnson baby lotion. All this while rubbing shoulders with the burqa-ed and chador-ed elite of the Islamic diaspora.
Amid thunderclouds and ripening corn, I drove to work this morning, sleeplessly and deliriously marveling at this strange new parallel universe I have entered: Wisconsin. Ross and I have been residents of Madison, WI for nearly two weeks now, and every day seems to pack a whopper of a ‘sconi punch
Our last day in Central America is bittersweet. Bitter because we’re forced to spend it in Cancun (aside from partying twentysomethings, who comes here?!). Sweet because we have fallen in love with Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.
Imagine this: Thousands of butterflies—orange, white, blue, brown, red, and yellow—flitting around you as you cruise down a swift river in a kayak-like wooden boat. Beyond the palm roof of your lancha, you can see jungle, thick, sweaty, and alive. There are vines, palms, banana trees, and giant tree trunks oozing ancient Mayan bubble gum. Monkeys lounging in trees, monkeys howling and grunting in the distance. Bromeliads hang in fuschia splendor from a towering ceiba tree; yellow and purple orchids float on a draft of wind down to the river. And as a soundtrack to it all, birds twitter and sing while cicadas and tree frogs add an incessant bass rhythm.
Greetings from Chiapas! Yes, Chiapas…home of the infamous 1994 Zapatista uprising. Sounds scarier than it is, though: Today, Chiapas (or at least San Cristobal de las Casas, the cultural capital of Chiapas) is more of a gringo-filled tourist pit stop than any place yet that we have been in Mexico. This town is seething with Brits, Aussies, Frenchies, Danes, Americans, Canadians, even Israelis. All are in town ostensibly to take in the colonial architecture, the surrounding indigenous villages, the Mayan textiles, and the cool mountain air. But I think that the Zapatistas are the real draw. They’re everywhere! On t-shirts, on windows, on little woven horse tchatchkes. Even in bars…
Buenas tardes from the tropics! Or the rainy tropics, I should say. At over 7000ft, in July Mexico City is a rainy, thunderstorming megalopolis. Like clockwork, at 8pm the drizzle, then the thunder, then the downpour arrives. It miraculously misses rush hour every day, although it tends to interrupt the nightly excursion for dinner and cerveza. Our best Mexican purchase so far—a ginormous paragua, an umbrella perfect for protecting both of us from the rain, but also sending little old ladies off the sidewalk in fear of its stadium shadow.
The Goddess of Fortune visited me on a South Indian beach that has since been washed away.
She was not quite thirteen, with Pippi Longstocking braids and a sprightly yellow smock dress to match. Lakshmi (the name of the Hindu Goddess of Fortune) spent her days smiling spryly at European tourists while peddling shells, pens, and other trinkets to the sunburned visitors. Her father, a local fisherman, would send her out among the tourists, knowing full well that his daughter’s charms were irresistible.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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