Monday, March 31, 2008

Creating Opportunities Through Teaching

Another Monday approaches on the calendar and all seems normal. I experienced an unusual case of insomnia last night only gathering 1 hour of sleep, then managed to go to classes this morning with tons of energy. After the morning class, I did my normal walk over to the language institute to turn in my hours for the month of March. All was usual until I was greeted at the institute with a big smile and hug from a former student of mine. Alejandro Guevara (no relation to Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, the Argentinian Marxist revolutionary) was a student I had in three intensive courses in the end of February/beginning of March. The objective for class with Alejandro, employee of Saab, was simple; prepare him for the biggest presentation of his career.... in English.

No pressure, right?

Alejandro had a big conference in Santiago, Chile in the middle of March where he was to present to the President and CEO of Saab Aircraft Leasing. Alejandro is currently supervisor of the Aircraft Leasing division in northern Argentina. The scenario was if he did a good enough job with his presentation at the conference, he may have an opportunity for promotion in his division.

No pressure, right?

Well, through the three intensive classes I had with Alejandro, we had a good time prepping him for his delivery. To be completely honest, I wasn't sure how well he was going to do as he still hadn't nailed his presentation in front of me and I could see the possibilities of him struggling. As an ESL teacher, there are those classes where you just don't feel you did a good job of getting through to the student. Sometimes, you walk away from a class wondering what you could have done better to help him/her understand more, to make it stick. Then there are classes that you walk away from with an incredible feeling knowing that your students understand and everything was just clicking that class. Well, with Senor Guevara, I felt more of the former than the latter. I could only hope he pulled off a miracle to earn his promotion.

And that he did! Greeting me with a hug and a smile this morning with full appreciation and thanks simply made my day, week, and maybe even month. He claimed the little tips I gave him on how to conquer nerves, relax and deliver with confidence are what earned him this promotion and newfound happiness in his job. I beg to differ, I think he simply found it in himself and is lucky to be a quick learner, nobody executed that presentation but himself and I'm damn proud of him. There is no greater feeling in knowing that you may have created more opportunity for somebody else and their family. This may be the best 'case of the Mondays' I've ever had, what a beautiful day. His smile and happiness made me want to go teach thirty more classes today. But..... I think I will settle for the one more class I have this evening and approach it with a new found appreciation for the business of ESL teaching.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Los Campos Contra El Gobierno

For most people who tune into the nightly news or news online you're sure to be updated on the War in Iraq, China/Tibet situation, Serbia/Kosovo unrest, or even Britney Spears' debut as an actress. However, for anyone interested in checking out South American news lately, you may have noticed the latest political unrest in Argentina. Since the beginning of March, the government, under recently-elected President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has raised export taxes on soy, beaf and wheat products. This increase in export taxes on the farmers has been described by many locals and supporters of the farmers as crippling. The export taxes on beef and soybeans are now at 40% and 45%, respectively. Today is the 14th consecutive day of the farmers´strike and the effects are now being shown in supermarkets not only here in the capital but the rest of the country as well. The prices of meat, eggs, chicken, bread, etc. have jumped noticably in the last week alone in my mercado visits. Once again, the Republica de Argentina is politically unrest with its government practices.

President Fernandez addressed the country on this current lockout last night on live television. ¨No me voy a someter a ninguna extorsion,¨ declared the president (literal translation: I´m not going to submit to any extorsion). She defended her position as claiming that the agricultural sector is one of the country´s most profitable with world demand growing for Argentine wheat, beef, corn and soybeans. Her position is that the government will use this extra money for wealth redistribution such as education, infrastructure, etc. However, Argentina is one of the world´s top exporters of soya, wheat and beef and any prolonged conflict will definitely effect potential export earnings.

Following the President´s speech, the majority of the country erupted into protests. Here in Buenos Aires, I was very content staying inside as the housemates and I could hear the pots and pans banging through the streets. The largest gathering in the city was at Plaza de Mayo (plaza in front of the President´s home Casa Rosada) where protestors made their voice heard through the night setting off fireworks and banging pots and pans. Protests have taken over all over the country especially in the farmlands, campos, where highways have been closed or shutdown slowing traffic due to angry workers. See pics below

The local people I have discussed the issue with tell me this is the largest protest in years. I had a great conversation about this with my students tonight to get a better understanding of what the middle class is so upset about. Leandro, Emilio, and Rodolfo all agreed in sync that it's not so much about the tax increase for the rest of the middle class, they just don't trust the governments' redistribution policy. The money to be redistributed by the government from this tax increase is disgressional, therefore nobody knows what it's used for. For example, the rucous crowds at Plaza de Mayo started out at only protestors only later to be confronted by people supporting the government. Funny thing is the people supporting the government are the poor people with no employment. Supposedly the government pays them in subsidies such as paying them sums for representing the government in times of political unrest, sounds like the tax increase and redistribution of funds is going to a great cause right? My students also told me there is a saying here in Argentina with a rough translation goes something like "Don't feed the fish, feed the bait that catches the fish." The bait in this case would be the middle class people who go to work everyday and pay their due taxes.

It could get even scarier if neither side budges not only for us Argentines but for the rest of the world demanding beef, wheat, corn, etc. I´m hoping that our newly elected President can at least put down the strong front and just have a sit down with Eduardo Buzzi, President of the Argentine Agrarian Federation.

If this doesn´t happen, we may not be seeing any meat, eggs, chicken, wheat, etc in our markets anytime soon, then I´ll either be booking my ticket back home, become a vegetarian, or take part in our own version of fight against hunger.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Case of Writer's Block

I am a victim or am I the cause of my own disease? It has been some time since my thoughts, initiative or concentration have spurred me to jot down some information or insights about my new lifestyle. No light bulbs have suddenly sparked my neurons to upload any witty posts or interesting revelations. Yes, if any of this sounds familiar to you, it is nothing more than a serious case of writer’s block OR better yet….. laziness, perhaps.

Justifying my lack of blog initiative by writer's block is a mere cop out, as if nothing interesting or informative for readers has come over Buenos Aires like a dark cloud. Speaking of clouds, it has been rainy season here in the Argentine capital. Maybe it was the Seattle-like weather here clouding my imagination or initiative to write. Ha, yeah can't you just hear Bill Gates and Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, laughing at this accusation. Both residents of Seattle.

The latest life of Robin here in Buenos Aires includes running the urban jungle of Buenos Aires, being 'schooled' on the field playing futbol with Argentines and Europeans, testing my rhythm taking salsa lessons, becoming more fluent in Spanish, testing new diets and much more.

Yes, in case you were wondering I will elaborate in more detail on each of these plus more on the English teaching front, by the way, teaching employees Business English has more perks than the lavish peso wage. Much more to come on the blog, thank you for your patience with my latest disease of .... lazynitis.

Ok we're back to reality!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Running the Urban Jungle of Buenos Aires

You want to give your heart rate a nice jump to break a sweat and kill some stress or maybe you just have too much damn energy. Many prefer the gym, treadmill, or a nice run at the park. Yet, there are times when you're trapped in the center of the urban jungle and find yourself a bit too frugal to shell out extra cash for the gym membership. At times like these, you must face the sheer excitement of running the urban jungle.

And this is no normal jungle, Buenos Aires delivers some personal characteristics no other urban landscape provides in the same volume, dog crap

For anyone who has walked or ran this particular urban jungle, you may have noticed the massive amount of dog droppings on the sidewalks, don't blink or you might step in the landmines. This obstacle is the most known and feared in this urban landscape and calls for full attention when striding in your daily run. What is a run through this commotion and chaos like?

Strap on your shoes, prepare yourself to run through the jungle. You take your first step out to the streets and instantly smell the exhaust fumes being spit at you by the city buses-colectivos. Then the smell of pastries and empanadas take over from the nice lady across the street, at this point you know you better start jogging or you'll be derailed for a quick empanada stop. One block into it and the first obstacle comes, crossing Avenida 9 de Julio which happens to be the widest street in the world. You wait for that green light and do your best Forrest Gump impression to get across the 18 lanes in one light, first task accomplished. Now the fun begins, as you start the 11 block run down Ave. Mexico towards Puerto Madero. You take a deep breath then hold your breath for several seconds to avoid inhaling fumes as buses pass you by. It's sometimes like doing tantric breathing exercises while running, quite a difficult task. You hopscotch a nice dog dropping here, one there, you weave between the little old lady leaving the market and the kid innocently running along side of you. At this point the sidewalk is at full capacity you take the run into the cobblestone street and focus your steps one by one as to avoid twisting the ankle on any loose stones.
BEEP! A taxi goes whizzing by you from behind warning you to get back on the sidewalk as if this small one way street has no room for crazy runners. Back to the sidewalk to go for more spin moves, side steps and long strides/short strides to avoid adding dog crap to the soles of your 'jungle kicks'. You've broken a sweat now, breathing harder and harder only to hold the breath again as two more colectivos spit fumes in your face. You cross two more big intersections to arrive at Puerto Madero, ahhhhh. Observe the beautiful sight the port offers, for now, you're out of the chaos.

Take a deep breath, you've now arrived at a point of some fresh air and space to run a straight line along the river. The stretch along this beautiful river provides a literal escape from the jungle. You find yourself humming 'Break on Through to the Otherside' by the Doors. Now, the muscles are getting tired and the sweat beeds down your forehead and you're ready for the return home. Take three very deep breaths for you are about to enter the urban madhouse once again. Eleven more blocks of human weaving, jucking, jiving and dog crap hopscotching brings you back to the front door in sheer exhaustion. Congratulations! You've completed the urban jungle, a clearly spontaneous form of cardio exercise that somehow makes you keep coming back for more. Not to worry, the dogs will continue to plant more unexpected landmines for the next 'jungle run.'