The “Beast” – my first witness to a catastrophe

beast-smallI’d heard about “The Beast” before coming to Mexico.  But having just come back from a “border run” this past weekend and spending some time with friends and family, I realized that some back in the estados unidos didn’t know or understand the significance of this train.

But last week I confronted face to face the terrible consequences of that train ride through my new amigo – 3 year old Ricardo and his mother.

His right leg got caught under the train wheels and was severed between his ankle and knee.  Mom’s arm – trying to save him – was severed.

They are now here at the Casa, and despite language barriers he yells out to me “Hola” while we chase and crawl around the floor together. I’ve taught him how to “high 5”.

ricardoLast Friday was Ricardo’s third birthday.  There was a birthday party for him along with the traditional piñata and other kids, but I knew all the adults watching the fun and festivities were reflecting deeply on other matters.

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Studying in the great Vasconcelos biblioteca

vasconcelos-smallI’ve discovered a new place to study.  While the Casa is a great place to study, there are a lot of distractions that can seem to be more important in the moment than studying (checking email, surfing the net, getting a snack, etc).

When faced with certain tasks that really need to get done (income taxes and the like), Leslie and I have joked for years between ourselves that we’d rather clean the toilet.

So after class finished the past two days, I jumped on the E2 MetroBus (6 pesos – about US $0.50) and took it to the end of the line 5 blocks north to the Buenavista shopping mall complex.  The Vasconcelos library is right next to the huge mall – which also serves as a light rail station for points north.

vasconcelos-study-smallThe library is a world class facility with stunning architecture.  The building is maybe 8-10 stories, but the interior is all open with each “floor” floating in space, the “floors” cantilevered out towards the middle of the building.  The floors hang from steel cables and it’s an experience to walk to the top floor and look straight down.  There’s a huge dinosaur down below on the main floor.

All along the outside part of the floors are study/research tables with outlets for your laptop.  The place is quiet.  The people there are in serious study mode – just the atmosphere I need to keep up with all my verbos, sustantivos and sentence structures.

But I’m asking myself – will I have the self discipline to continue going up there in the afternoons, or have an overwhelming desire to stay here and clean toilets…?

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¡Feliz cumpleaños! Leslie’s birthday celebrated in clase today!

andres-small Andres, our excellent Profesor in español, surprised Leslie and our class this morning with a lesson on cultura de México which culminated in a fiesta (party) to celebrate her cumpleaños – plus many new words for us to learn!

Towards the end of the class, Andres brought out a beautiful cake and a rose and presented it to Leslie to the delight of all our fellow classmates.

It was a highly touching moment for Leslie who was completely caught off guard.

Our group comes from multiple countries and languages.  Some of us can only communicate to each other in very rudimentary Spanish!

group-smallBut it seemed like everyone had their cell phones out snapping pictures of the event, and needless to say, everyone loves a party.

Today was the start of week five for the original “group” of students.

Every two weeks new students can join the group and a new gentleman, only one week in México, joined our class.

One “job” I’ve undertaken is to help new students transition to the class. So after class I met with Michael, showed him what we’ve covered so far and explained the principle of the WW2 convoys.  The convoy won’t stop and wait for him to catch up – he’ll have to work hard to catch up with us.  It’s an intensive program, but I explained that he’ll do fine if he just takes it poco a poco (little by little).


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My little gift to Leslie – a birthday card with the contents all written in español!

(It only took a couple of hours to figure out…)

zlota-smallTonight we’ve been invited out to dinner at the home of former residents here at the Casa who have become dear friends over the past several months.

As I’ve told many people, the 5 months we’ve lived here at the Casa have been a rich experience for us – and the love and kindness shown to Leslie today proves it!


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¿En dónde está…? Week 4 of español intensivo now behind us

It’s mid-afternoon on Saturday and I’m taking a break from studying Spanish…

cutting-boardYesterday afternoon Leslie and I cut up 2 sets of flash cards I’ve been slowly printing up this week.  The Casa’s heavy duty cutting board (in español – “guillotine” – very appropriate!) made short work of our stack of card stock and now we have several hundred flash cards each.

Monday started off with about 20 new verbos, sustantivos (nouns) and preposiciónes we needed to memorize so we could ask and tell direcciones.

Tuesday was dedicated to preposiciónes and the rest of the week had us newbies trying to make sentences on the white board and speak – lots of aaaahs, fits and starts and corrections!

I asked Andres (our Profesor) about how long it takes to maybe be ready to join an intermediate class and he thought about 3 months getting the basics in the beginners class.  So we’ve told the Casa we’d like to stay at least until the end of October.  For now, that’s all the further we’re planning for down the road…

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Friday – 3 weeks of español under our belts

andres-thumbnailCan’t believe how fast the week has gone.  Can’t believe how fast 3 weeks have gone!

Our profesor, Andres, is an excellent teacher for a class that has students whose primary languages are Russian, French (Cameroon), Farsi, various dialects from African countries and English (Leslie and me!).

He is very patient, only teaches in español, is methodical, does excellent review work from previous days and uses Power Point extensively for his board work.

mapas-mentales-smallFor learning vocab, rather than telling us the meaning (in various languages!) he uses images and drawings to convey the meaning.  Following that thread, he has had us build mapas mentales (mind maps) – visual associations.  To help develop the concept, Andres had us do board work to build a mind map.

Last night (Thursday) we met again with our tutors Jose and Teresa here at the Casa but this time a gentleman from Belgium and a woman from our class joined us around the dining table.  We used the time to ask questions about the morning lessons, get help with our tarea (homework) and practice pronunciation.  Lots of serious work but also lots of laughing.

Over the past weeks we’ve moved from simple concepts to more complex (sustantivos, adjectivos, verbos, artículos) topics.  This week we’re into sentence structure.  After thorough teaching with Power Point on the whiteboard, Andres had us do this handout in class with colored pencils.  I love his teaching – he builds patterns for us to follow.

oraciones-smallThis weekend I hope to get 5-6 hours of study in on Saturday and Sunday.  I spend a fair amount of time with Google translate – especially the audio (Google pronounces the word, phrase, sentence, etc).  There’s also lots of memorization of vocab and verb conjugations.

It seems impossible to keep all this stuff in my brain…!

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