Monday, September 3, 2007

My latest attempt at academia

In the last month, I've completed the program through the School for International Training, at a local language institute here in Oaxaca called Ollin Tlahtoalli (a nahuatl phrase, English translation: language, movement).

So, I'm now certified to teach English around the world. Not bad for a month's work! It was an intensive course: four weeks, five days a week, and at least ten hours a day of learning and teaching, observing, and giving & receiving feedback for the lessons I gave and those of my classmates. My group of classmates was small, five of us, our trainer Joah, and the director of the institute, Omar. Here I am with one classmate and great friend, Meara, a student at Smith College who's been living and studying in Mexico since January. She came to Oaxaca already having grown familiar with the city of Puebla and a love of Mexican culture:

and, with Sari, a Swedish/Colombian brooklynite who's likely to become a naturalized Brasilian in the near future. She plans to open a language school and organic farm near the Brasilian coast:

This is Jules, who came to Oaxaca directly from Costa Rica, where he's been working for the last few months. Here he was learning some backstrap weaving from one of our students. He's been working hard to find some work to begin teaching right away, and with luck will be working in Quito before long:

Here is Greg, calmly seated behind the wheel of Omar's coveted silver 2002 VW Beetle (the classic air-cooled model, of course). Greg's a pre-med biology student at Tufts University (alma mater of New Mexico governor Bill Richardson). By now Greg's back at school and about to embark on his junior year of undergrad.

Joah, our trainer and primary source of information about such topics as teaching and Bollywood, has been walking the talk of teaching your way around the world for the past several years. He's taught and trained in Costa Rica, Mexico, Japan and India, and is most likely about to begin work in the land of Burma.

Last but not least is Omar, director of Ollin Tlahtoalli. Here he is pictured in front of a cabin where we stayed in the mountains outside of the village of Cuajimoloyas, an amazing town he introduced us to during our second weekend as a group. For the last several years Omar has been working tirelessly and happily on his mission to preserve and cultivate a wider awareness of the cultures and languages of the state of Oaxaca. Not the least of his efforts was to host and guide our group of wide-eyed norteamericanos during our stay in his native city.

We taught two different classes, one class of young professionals living in Oaxaca city, and the other a group of weavers from the nearby village of Santo Tomas Jalieza, a small town of weavers who showered us with an outpouring of affection and food upon our visit to their home. They have been a joy to work with, and have taught me at least as much as I've been able to teach them. I have the good fortune to stay here in Oaxaca for another two weeks and continue to work with them here in Oaxaca and hopefully, in their village as well.
Here we are during a meal together in Santo Tomas. A scene that looks a little too much like the last supper for my taste! Not all of the weavers were able to join us for lunch, but from left to right standing behind me is Priscilla, Dolores, Victoria, Teresa and Alicia. Seated at the left of the table is Suzanne, a graduate of the SIT program here to visit Oaxaca once again, Gisela, one of our students from Oaxaca, and Matt, a student in the US here to study with Omar.

As fate would have it, I visited Santo Tomas last year as well, as part of a tour through the language institute I was attending at that time. I have to admit, as part of a tour that felt like an excuse for the older people in my group to buy textiles, I didn't have a great first impression of the village. This year, after I had already been teaching some of the people from Santo Tomas for a couple of weeks, when we came to visit them in their village I realized that I had been there before. My experience was very different this time, and the difference was that now I knew the people and understood who they were. When I looked at their weavings I realized that these were their creations, made by their own hands. When I held them and ran my fingers across the designs I could almost see how they made them and the time and attention it took to create them.
That's the main difference between the two kinds of human encounters you can have, I think. Either you know someone and have compassion and respect for who they are and where they're coming from, or you don't. One thing I learned from visiting Santo Tomas a second time is that I ought to look at every stranger as someone I just need to get to know in order to see into their lives for who they really are. For those people who I may meet and not have the opportunity to get to know, it's enough to think for a moment or two about that person and the entire life that's unfolded behind them and before them. I'm very grateful to the people of Santa Tomas for welcoming me and helping me to learn that little lesson. Here's one more photo of all of us together for the last time as teachers and students, this time at Ollin Tlahtoalli:

There's been a lot more going on in the last few weeks as well, but I'll save those stories for another time! Be well and keep in touch.


angie said...

Congratulations! I hope you have a wonderful time exploring and relaxing before you leave for Ecuador. Thanks for sharing.

JVM said...

Great post Brian! Glad to hear you are enjoying Quito. I've enjoyed reading your take on our Oaxaca experience and I am finally getting to writing a bit on it myself!