Monday, December 21, 2015

Fear is wasted energy

I see many of my facebook friends belittling college students for demanding safe spaces where they can be free from racial, ethnic, or religious "microagressions." The sneering at the naivete of youth often resides on the same facebook wall as someone who supports someone like Donald Trump or Ted Cruz because they will create a safe space, free from racial, ethnic, or religious macroaggresions like Islamic terrorism, undocumented immigration, and "criminals," an often nameless class of Otherness which belies a thinly-veiled description of minorities to white Middle America. 

Both the Millenial-and-Homelander students and the GenX-through-Baby-Boomers so-called "grown-ups" believe in differing politics, but, nonetheless, they are giving in to the same sense of fear that pervades America this year. People are convinced that Jesus is coming back very soon, that the world is gone to hell, that war and violence and corruption are signs of the times, and that ____________ is the AntiChrist. It's all wasted energy. Fear profits us nothing. Big corporations are ruining government? Creeping socialism is ruining government? The list of things we're afraid of in the United States is endless. We've become a nation of fretters, driven to and fro by the whispers of a fear comprised of names we can't pronounce easily.

Do not let fear govern your lives. Do not live in a state of anxiety. The world is getting better all the time. There has never been a safer time to be alive than 2015. You have less chance of dying at the hands of another human being today than anyone has ever had in the history of the world. The End is not nigh; there are miles to go before we sleep, so weep not, my friends. Be of good cheer. Shit happens, and it sucks when it does, but life is good. Life is not fair; it is a struggle, but it is beautiful and yours. Do not let others ruin your sunsets, your embraces, and your hope for tomorrow. Resist fearmongering wherever you can. We have people screaming at little children in the security lines at airports and cops asking to search bags at movie theaters now because of terrorism. Folks, I saw a sign on I-20 in Georgia yesterday that said that Georgia has already had 1,300+ highway fatalities in 2015. You have a greater chance of being killed by falling furniture than by terrorism. Do not let fear govern your lives.

The past seems like a safe place, but it only seems that way because we know what happened in the past. The future, full of uncertainty, leaves us anxious in the face of the terror of not knowing what's could happen. Embrace the unknown. Stop letting your fears cause you to think that yours are the only relevant ones and that others should share yours and ignore their "petty" fears. I fear many things, but I've not heard about any of those fears on the news. Sow joy and peace wherever you go and something might grow in your wake.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

What the Williams Family Did during the Summer of 2015

10,673.1 miles (all driven by Mac)

Nations visited: Two (USA and Canada)

Nations seen: Three (USA, Canada, & México)

States Visited: 34 & the District of Columbia
South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington D.C., Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.

Provinces Visited: 4
New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island

3 Ferries Taken:
Sydney, Nova Scotia to Port-aux-Basques Newfoundland = 6 hours
Port-aux-Basques Newfoundland to Sydney, Nova Scotia = 6 hours
Dauphin Island, Alabama to Fort Morgan, Alabama = 40 minutes

Tolls Paid = >$200

7 Time Zones:
Newfoundland Time, Atlantic Daylight, Eastern Daylight, Central Daylight, Mountain Daylight, Mountain Standard, and Pacific Daylight. 

13 State Capitals (and our nation’s capital) :
Columbia, SC; Raleigh, NC; Richmond, VA; Washington, D.C.; Providence, Rhode Island; Augusta, Maine; Montpelier, Vermont; Columbus, Ohio; Frankfort, Kentucky; Lincoln, Nebraska; Denver, Colorado; Phoenix, Arizona; Montgomery, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia.

Interstates Traveled:  10, 20, 40, 70, 80, 90, 15, 25, 35, 55, 65, 75, 85, 95, 19, 76, 29, 93, 89, 91, 87, 79, 71, 64.

Times Jack watched one of the Star Wars movies: >40

Speeding Tickets = zero
Border crossings = two (Calais, Maine and St. Stephen’s, New Brunswick)
Agricultural inspections = one (Newfoundland)
Citizenship inspections (not at the border) = two (New Mexico and Texas)

Total Nights Away from Home= 46
Nights with relatives= 17 (Aunt Connie & Uncle Tommy, Aunt Tina & Uncle Loren, Lala & Jim, Grandma & Grandpa Fonnesbeck, Travis & Erin)
Nights with friends= 2 (Juan Carlos & Tara Avena)
Nights in hotels = 26 (Sleep Inn, Econolodge, Residence Inn, Courtyard, Holiday Inn Express, Wild Berry Lodge, Fairfield, Quality Inn, Comfort Inn, Holiday Inn, and Hilton Garden Inn)
Nights sleeping on a ferry = 1 (Maritime Atlantic)

Awesome memories? 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"Miss Anastán" English Version

For those who don't speak Spanish, I wrote an English version of the story.  I've changed some parts that wouldn't make sense if I translated them, especially if you're not familiar with Costa Rica.  Enjoy.


"Miss Anastán"

The two elders (as male Mormon missionaries are known) wore, as they always did, their dark-colored pants, short-sleeved White shirts, ties, and black nametags that read “Elder ___________” on one line and then “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” in Spanish on the lines below the person’s name. 
One of them was from the Factory, as Costa Rican Mormons were wont to call the State of Utah, the headquarters of the Church and from where the vast majority of the missionaries came.   The other one, the fat one with baby blue eyes, was from Georgia.  He was a little different from the rest.  It wasn’t just his weight, but he way of being, of how he carried himself, and how he treated other people.  He was extremely friendly, even extroverted, and loved to talk and talk and talk.  He had gotten baptized in the Mormon church three years prior but he still had some of his pre-Mormon traits, one of which was a profound sense of injustice, especially if he saw something that he didn’t think was just or fair or appropriate or polite.  He hadn’t grown up in the Church; he was a convert and he would always be Southern, no matter how many other labels you could stick on him.  One of those Southern customs that he would never shake was that he would not put up with a child or a youngster that disrespected an adult.  He thought of himself as an adult that day and that is the heart of this story. 

The heat was brutal that day in February 1994.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the humidity was so high that it felt like the hot breath of an angry lover on your neck.  They were walking along a narrow sidewalk in a tiny passageway between houses.  These neighborhoods were behind where the Coca-Cola bottling plant used to be in Limón, no roads between houses for no one owned any cars, a labyrinth of concrete, wood, tin, and dirt that seemed to continue on forever, all of it done by the homeowners.  The government cared nothing back then of regulations, codes, or civic involvement.  If you wanted a sidewalk instead of mud, you built it yourself.  The sewers emptied into the creek and the houses were all on pilings for when the annual floods came.  It was an odd place.  Every once in a while they would come upon a small empty space where no one had built, usually because it was the lowest lying land.

The sidewalk was elevated and as they walked ahead, the sidewalk got higher and higher, while the houses’ tiny little yards got lower and lower.  They turned a corner and found a 10m x 10m open space that had been made into a small soccer field in front of about five or six houses that backed up to the creek.  The soccer field had two small goals and there were two boys, long about 7 years old, playing there.  Lots of people from Limón back then were of Jamaican ancestry and many of them spoke English….well and English that they call “Mekatelyu” or “Make I tell you.”  It’s also called “Patois” by those who don’t speak it.  To an American, Mekatelyu sounds like Miss Cleo on steroids…heavily accented with some Spanish words thrown in for good measure.  This is also important to the story.  Why, you might be wondering.  You’ll see. 

The sidewalk now was about a half meter above the level of the soccer field.  The two missionaries went by walking, the tall one in front and the fat one behind, as always.  One of the two boys took a solid shot at the goal and it went through the legs of the kid who was poorly playing at being a goalkeeper.  The other kid shouted, “¡Qué tremendo fogonazo!”

If you speak Spanish, yelling, “WHAT A TREMENDOUS CANNON SHOT!” after you score a goal is something innocent and innocuous.  But, you have to know that the word “fogonazo” means cannon shot.  If Spanish isn’t your native tongue, and you’re in a land where half the people speak a heavily accented English, what you might have heard, as the chubby missionary did, was, “WHAT A TREMENDOUS FUCKING ASSHOLE!”

Upon hearing that, rage welled up inside our portly Elder, and he jumped down from the sidewalk and grabbed the poor creature by his earlobe, yelling at him in Spanish, “What did you say to me?  “Where do you live?  We’re going to go tell your mother what you said and she what she thinks about that.”  The child, whimpering, rightfully didn't understand what was happening, but he told the missionary that he lived right by there and directed him towards his house.   The child’s mother, hearing the ruckus, came out to see what was going on.   The rotund missionary, full of indignation and feeling very offended, obligated the child to tell his mother the supposed cuss words that had left his lips.  The mother spoke English and Spanish and understood immediately what had happened.  When she explained, laughingly, to the missionary "Easy nuh. Yah miss anastán what him ment win him say 'fogonazo.'  Him say 'Wah a cannon chot!'", the gringo turned bright red, was embarrassed and ashamed, and felt like crawling into a hole and dying.  First, he begged a thousand apologies from the boy, then the mother, then the neighbor women who had come out to watch, and finally to God for having behaved like that while wearing the name of Jesus Christ on his chest.  He bought the kid some Trits ice cream and then some more candy; even then, he felt more ashamed that day that he could ever remember. 

From that day on, he has never ever touched another person in a moment of anger.  He never wants to be the tremendo fogonazo of Limón again. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Short Story: "Miss Anastán"

“Miss Anastán”

Los dos élderes (así se llamaban los misioneros varones de los mormones) andaban, como siempre, sus pantalones oscuros, camisas blancas de manga corta, corbatas y placas negras que decían “Elder _____” en una línea y luego “La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Últimos Días” debajo del nombre del individuo.   

Uno de ellos era de la fábrica, como se acostumbró llamar al estado de Utah, la sede de la iglesia y desde donde salían la gran mayoría de los misioneros mormones.  El otro, un gordito de ojos claros, era de Georgia.  Él era un poquito distinto de los demás.  No fue solamente su gordura, sino que su forma de ser, de andar y de tratar con las personas.  

Él se había bautizado mormón hace 3 años y seguía siendo un poquito brusco si veía algo que no le cayera bien.  No creció en la iglesia; era converso y mantenía algunas de las costumbres de su cultura sureña.  Una de ellas fue que no aguantaba nunca que alguien se burlara de él.  Otra fue que jamás soportaría él que un niño o adolescente le faltara el respeto a un adulto.  Él se creía adulto aquel día y eso es la raíz de ese cuento.

Hacía un calor brutal es día de febrero de 1994.  No había ninguna nube en el cielo y la humedad era tanta que se sentía como el aliento caliente de una amante brava en el cuello.  Iban caminando por una acera angosta en una alameda que antes había al oeste de la Coca-Cola de Limón.  Hoy en día es un Mega Súper Maxi Pali Peri Híper Algo, pero antes era la embotelladora de la zona atlántica.

La acera seguía recto y alto mientras los patios de la casa iban bajando.  Doblaron una esquina y encontraron una pequeña cancha de futbol de unos 10m x 10m frente a unas cinco o seis casas.  En la cancha había dos goles pequeñitos y dos niños de por allí de 7 años.  Muchas personas de Limón eran de ascendencia jamaiquina y muchos hablaban inglés…pues un inglés que ellos llaman “Mekatelyu” o “patua” que tiene un acento sumamente fuerte.  Esto también es importante.  ¿Por qué?  Verás. 

La acera estuvo ya como ½ metro sobre el nivel de la cancha.  Los dos misioneros iban caminando, el alto primero y el gordo atrás, como siempre.  Uno de los chicos marcó con la bola y la tiró hacia la meta, con talento, y se le pasó por los pies del otro niño que jugaba malamente de portero.  El niño que tiró gritó de su éxito, “¡Qué tremendo fogonazo!”

Algo inocente e inocuo, ¿no?  Sí, si es que uno entiende la palabra “fogonazo.”  Al pobre gordito gringuillo le llegaron a los oídos algo un poquito más fuerte, de una de las palabrotas más fuertes que hay en el inglés.  Él escuchó, más bien, pensando en esa duda de que si alguien de Limón de ese entonces estuviera hablando inglés o español, alguillo como una mezcla de los dos: “¡Qué tremendo fucking asshole!” 

En ese momento se le subió la rabia y se tiró de la acera hacia abajo y le agarró a la pobre criatura del niño por una de sus orejas, gritándole, “¿Qué fue lo que me dijo?  ¿Dónde es que vive?  Vamos a decirle a su madre lo que acabas de decirme a mí a ver qué piensa ella."  El niño, gimoteando, no entendía (con razón) qué le estaba pasando, pero le dijo al gordito que vivía en una casa allí a la par.  La madre, escuchando el ruido, salió a ver qué pasaba.  

El gordito, lleno de orgullo y sintiéndose bien ofendido le obligó al niño a quien todavía tenía apretado la oreja entre sus dedos a decirle a su madre la supuesta palabrota.  La madre hablaba inglés y español y entendió inmediatamente qué había pasado.  Cuando le explico al gordito el significado de fogonazo, el gringuillo se puso rojísimo, avergonzado, azorado y con ganas de morirse.  Primero, le pidió mil disculpas al chiquillo, luego a la madre, luego a las vecinas que estaban observándolo todo y finalmente a Dios por haber pecado mientras llevaba el nombre de su hijo en el pecho.  Le invitó al chiquitico a un Trits de una pulpería cercana y le compró eso y algunos confites más. 

Desde ese día, jamás ha vuelto a tocarle a nadie en un momento de cólera….nunca quiso volver a ser el fogonazo de Limón.   

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Main Benefit of a Sabbatical for a Language Professor

Coker College is a teaching college, so our sabbaticals are only for one semester and there is no publish-or-perish mindset here.  While a sabbatical might seem like a vacation from work for those not familiar with their workings; it is not. Sabbaticals are about accomplishing projects and doing things that ordinarily cannot be done during a typical semester.

Having time to accomplish things during a regular semester can be a feat.  When Idelber Avelar told me in grad school that I had more free time then than I ever would as a professor, I thought he was nuts.  No, he was right.  Being a professor means grading, reading, meetings, committees, grading, grading, and a little bit of actual teaching.  All of that disappears on sabbatical.  You now have time to do all those things you told yourself you'd do back in grad school.  Obvious benefits include less stress, time to read, time to work on projects, time to write, time.

While I'm working on an article for a book about Borges and the Bible right now, and I'm working on making my SPA 260 course a hybrid one, the main benefit to me, as a language professor, is that I can speak Spanish every single day with native speakers.  I am immersed, again, in the culture and language that I teach. This has had the effect of improving my Spanish, reminding me of countless little quirks and idioms that I have forgotten teaching the ABCs, shapes, colors, and basic greetings day-in/day-out for 15 years.  The vast majority of my students take my classes because they have to.  I rarely get pupils who want to study more than they are required to do. This leads me to spend the majority of my time in "teacher speak" mode, which I've realized can be detrimental to maintaining the superior level of the skill I possess and teach.  

I am able to live in Costa Rica during my sabbatical, and I daily have deep conversations with people, trying to speak Spanish for at least 3-4 hours per day every day.  My Spanish feels polished and shiny, ready for primetime again.  I'm tan, rested, and ready to get back into the classroom in August.  Sabbaticals are a great thing and I hope that they don't go the way of all the earth.  Sería un error ponerle fin a este galardón.

So, while my facebook feed may seem like I'm on one big tourist jaunt around the country, I am speaking, conversing, learning, remembering, and maximizing my time here so that when I'm back there I'll be better than ever.  ¡Vivan los sabáticos!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A bit of introspection about my study abroad trips

Since I'm on sabbatical, I am taking time to concentrate on things I can do to improve myself as a professor.  Since 2010, I have been unable to recruit enough students to make one of my study abroad trips work.  Several factors have contributed to this:

1. The poor economy.  The price is out of reach for many of my students.  However, someone who really wants to study abroad can find the scholarships, grants, and loans to make it happen.  I dislike loans, but sometimes they exist for things such as this.  Not everyone can afford even basic luxuries.  Many of our students come from poverty and threadbare existences.  Rather than trying to find wealthier students, I need to figure out ways to help students learn about financial aid opportunities available to them.
2. A large portion of Coker students are athletes.  They are often unwilling to consider anything that takes them away from their team, practices, or training regimen. The coaches turn over so often that I don't even really bother to learn their names anymore because they'll just be gone in a couple of years.  Working closely with them on recruiting bears no fruit.  If I couldn't even get the soccer coach to recruit a single player for a trip to Costa Rica that focused on the business side of soccer, I don't see how other efforts will be worthwhile.
3. A misinformed colleague told students that I didn't allow anyone to drink on my study abroad trips (not true).  SGA doesn't allow drinking on SGA-sponsored trips.  When I travel with the Coker College Culture Club (CCCC), all of our events are SGA-sponsored, so we have to keep their rules.  Study abroad trips are not SGA's balliwick, and as long as students' drinking doesn't affect their behavior or our schedule, I don't care at all if they drink.  I have gone to bars with colleagues and students on trips.  I don't drink, but I'm not a teetotaler who worries about what others imbibe.  This one still hurts me.  It was untrue and I only learned of it after someone asked me if it were true.
4. The Susan Coker Watson scholarship only works for travel to Europe.  The students most likely to study abroad are pulled that way by the allure of more available funds.  Coker needs more scholarships for study abroad anywhere in the world.  But, there are millions of things that Coker needs.  This is no one's priority beyond my own and maybe a few kindred spirits.  And, I agree that other things should have a higher priority than this.  
5.  I have only offered trips to Costa Rica and Panama.  Many students have the wrong impression of Latin America.  Their parents think it is as it was in their youth.  Nothing could be further from the truth.
6.  The postmodern symptom of late capitalism that sees parents ask their children how or why knowledge of what life is like in another country will benefit them/help them get a job/will look good on a résumé.  Knowing something just to know it is no longer accepted by parents.  Knowledge must have utility; it must do something or else it is pointless and might as well not exist at all (especially if it can't be googled or discussed in a job interview).
7.  The Center for Engaged Learning is focused largely on internships.  The promotion of my trips largely falls to me.  Outdated communication methods like pamphlets have no pull with today's students.  They are understaffed.  The dual missions of the office should be cleaved in two.  Study abroad is a minor part of what they do.  A faculty member with time release and secretarial support could easily handle the current workload.    
8.  Coker's public faculty webpages that we were allowed to edit are no longer available to us since the very-expensive-to-replace server crashed and was not able to be revived or swapped out.  When I had a public webpage, I was able to successfully recruit enough students to Mexico once and Costa Rica twice.  Since its demise, I cannot advertise it effectively.  Students don't read the emails I send.  They want to click on something.  I was able to tell a narrative and frame the idea in their heads.  It was detailed and showed the costs and why it cost what it did.  I think this is a major factor in my inability to recruit people.
9.  Perhaps it's me.  Introspection should be part of any thorough review.  Maybe I'm too eager, too insistent on the subject.  Maybe it's my personality.  Maybe it's the thought of someone depending on me and not finding me reliable enough to trust to take them abroad (often for the first time ever in the history of their family).  I don't really know how to find out this information, but I have to consider it.

So, what can I do to make things better?  I can focus on the nine things above.  I'd like a trip focused on business.  I could bring students here to Zarcero, have them work four days at the lechería, milking cows and making cheese, going to town with Don Édgar to sell his cheese to vendors.  I could take them to Finca Santa Lucía to learn about the coffee export business.

The owners of the highly successful Panadería Zarcereña could teach us about product development, reach, marketing, and supply chain issues.  We'd include a visit to Arenal, zip lining, hot springs, and the rain forest too.  But, I think the educational part is more important than the beaches.  But, if it's the beaches, if it's the beaches that they want then they shall have them.......only after they've dirtied their uncalloused hands.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Mistakes in My Planning

When I visualized our time in Costa Rica, I imagined us living here in Zarcero using public transportation like buses and taxis to go off on adventures.  My plan had some flaws.  Here are some reflections on planning a trip like this in the future.

1.  When five people travel on increasingly expensive buses, the cost approaches parity with traveling via taxi.  The hassle of bus travel means that taking a taxi is very tempting and always wins. 

2.  Taxis in Costa Rica used to be very affordable.  Now, they are ridiculously expensive and a simple trip that used to run $20 now costs $100.  No foolin'  This puts a serious damper on our plans to go places each weekend.  Just getting ourselves somewhere that's not close by will run $200.  

3.  Costa Rica has gone and gotten itself extremely expensive.  It costs more to live here now than it does in the USA.  Food is ridiculously expensive, even if you want to eat the local diet.  Rice is twice as expensive as back home.  Coke is 3-4 times the price.  Eggs, beans, milk, butter, sugar, flour, vegetables, fruit, and snacks all cost about 1.5x the price back home.  For five people here, cooking meals at home, we're spending $35-$45 per day.  I had budgeted $700 per month for food.  Someone is getting rich, very rich, here.  Wal-Mart owns over half of the grocery stores in the country (Wal-Mart, Mas x Menos, Palí, Hiper Más, and Maxi Palí).  I'm guessing that colones are flowing en masse to Bentonville, Arkansas. Thankfully, the dollar has risen 10% against the colón in the last month, which helps us some, but I feel bad for my tico brethren.  I maintain that they should switch to the dollar once and for all and be done with trying to let their central bank sell dollars in the marketplace in order to keep the exchange near 500 to 1.    

4.   Hotels here are exorbitant now.  I'm not talking chain hotels, I'm talking tico places.  You'll pull up to a completely empty hotel with 20 rooms and they'll tell you, straight-faced, that they want $150 per room per night.  Why are your rooms empty you wonder?  If I'm going to spend that kind of money, I'm going to a swanky place for $225 a night.  The days of $35-$50 hotel rooms are gone.  But, it doesn't make any sense.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, is saying that gringos don't come here like before, and tourism is suffering greatly due to the drought of visitors. There is a massive excess in capacity without ANY decrease in price.  Call it greed, call it stupidity, call it a colossal national lack of business savvy, but I don't get it.  The fast-dime-is-better-than-a-slow-dollar mentality does not exist here. It's a shame.  If they slashed the prices of hotels in half, everywhere, more foreigners would come here.  I know how much they pay people an hour to work in and clean hotels.  They'd be making a fortune with 20 rooms full @ $45 a night vs 1 room @ $150.  Hotels that I've stayed at before for less than $50 a night now want over $125 per night for the same remodeling.  Locura es.  

5.  Not having a car was a major mistake.  For the reasons mentioned above, but also for the sheer feeling of freedom that a car gives.  Our options for travel are severely hindered by our reliance on others for our transportation.  It costs us $50 a week to go to church.  I'm considering renting a car for the month of April to see if it makes things better, but I'm not sure if we can afford it.  :(

6.  Lamps.  Most buildings here are lit by overhead bulbs in the ceiling.  Lamps are a rarity, and what ones there are (that cost about $15 at Ikea or Wal-Mart back home) run about $100 here.  Indirect light is easier on the eyes and floods a room better than the options we have here.  

7.  Our kids.  The house we're in has no yard where the kids can play.  We get no break from them except when they're in school, which is different every single day and there's always one of them home at some time early one day for one reason or another.  We needed a yard.