Bethany’s Life in Guatemala, Volume 9: Today’s Reflection

Vacation. Sweet, sweet vacation. 

I’m so used to having a March break, a glorious week off of school in mid-March. This isn’t technically March break – it’s semana santa, our Holy Week break. So it actually starts in March this year, but of course, timing varies from year to year based on the actual date of Easter. 

Regardless: I am happy to have a holiday. No days at all off of school – except for last week’s exciting trip to Migración to renew our visas – has been strange for me. 

This is good work. Good, but hard. It’s hard to be teaching students I’ve never met. (Side story: Two weeks ago as we walked through the plaza in front of the Catholic church in Jocotenango on our way to church, a little girl ran up and hugged Tegan and then ran off. We speculated that it was one of her students, but she didn’t say anything, not a “hi”, not a “Miss Reschke”, nothing. Later Tegan got a text saying it had in fact been one of her students. At church, Eden had two different students come up to her and talk, and then outside of the grocery store, another student waved and said hi as he went past with his dad. I had no one. Not a single student greeting me. Poor me!)

It’s hard not knowing students personally. I’m sure it’s incredibly hard for students to be learning only through a video. Probably hard enough for their other subjects anyway, but especially so for English. They would normally be doing so much talking and listening and more talking in class, but who do they get to talk to now? (I had them send me an audio message for their final test of the first quarter. It was so great to hear actual voices and to ensure that my students were doing a little bit of talking, but it’s nothing like what it would be in class.)

When students drop off their work at school every Friday, some of them create these fancy title pages for their work. I’ve never asked them to. They just do it. Small signs that tell me they really care about their work.

If my students are struggling, I just have no way of knowing why. In class, there are lots of hints you can pick up on. Are they just having a bad day? Are they struggling in general with English? Is a particular unit hard? Is one skill particularly hard? I feel like I have no idea right now. Is it because they aren’t watching my teaching videos before they do the homework? Are the instructions unclear? Is there no parent at home ensuring that they do their homework? Are they helping out in a family business for a significant number of hours a day, leaving little time for school work? Who knows?! Certainly not me!

My heart aches for students who can’t be at school and who really need to be. It’s so hard. It’s so, so hard. 

At least now we have a week off to enjoy, guilt-free. 

Bethany’s Life in Guatemala, Volume 8: The Joys (and Pains) of Living Mostly Outside

I love how much outdoor time I get here in Guatemala. While mornings can be a little chilly, the day warms up beautifully almost every single day. Depending on the classroom – the direction its windows face, what side of the building it’s on – sometimes during the day I need to keep my cardigan or blazer on, but lately I’ve been losing that part way through the day. If I’m chilly, I only need to go sit in the beautiful sunshine in the middle of the courtyard, and in a few minutes, I won’t just be warmed up, I’ll be blazingly hot and feeling like I’m getting a sunburn. (Don’t worry, Mom – I don’t stay out in the sun for more than ten minutes at a time! No sunburns here yet!)

Our dining room table is on the porch. We’ve got a roof over our heads for the upcoming rainier months, but otherwise, we always eat outside. Even now, as I write this, I’m sitting inside my “home office”, but I have both windows wide open and it feels like I’m more or less outside. 

I love my home office!

Tangent – but related story: 

This week, in class with one of my in-person students, I read a short picture book and we discussed it. One of her unknown words was picnic. Yes, what is a picnic? You know when you eat outside instead of inside, I told her. That’s a picnic. We went on to the next page until I suddenly realized that that was a horrible description to give to someone in a tropical country. Wait – let’s go back to picnic, I told her. Do you eat outside every day? Yes, she does. Okay. In Canada and a lot of the United States, it’s way too cold to eat outside for most of the year. So people eat inside. A dining room has to be inside. A picnic means taking food to a park and sitting on a blanket to eat. That’s when and where people eat outside in Canada. (It was too complicated to get into patio sets that get set up in backyards during the summer.) It made me realize again how intertwined culture and language are. 

Back to living outside: 

I really enjoy so much outdoor time, but it’s not all a joy. You’ve already seen how allergic I am to things that live outside, so that’s great fun. Another thing that we experience is the invasion of those critters into living spaces very easily. Critters and dust. When you don’t have doors that seal at the bottom and you have screenless windows that you leave open all day, you really just have to sweep almost every day, and you have to be vigilant about food and food storage. Just today, Tegan found a giant praying mantis in her room. Better her than me! Still, I wouldn’t trade those things for the colder climate of Canada!

This week, another unforgettable event occurred that I feel occurred mostly because of the indoor/outdoor factor. Eden and I had just gotten to school and were getting our materials ready in the staff room. (The staff room is a classroom that has long tables set up in a rectangle. Each teacher has a permanent location where one can store one’s stuff, sit to mark and plan, etc.) From the corner of my eye, I thought I saw movement head right under our chairs, but when I looked, I didn’t see anything, so I shrugged it off. Until Eden turned to me and said, “Did you see that?” Okay, not a coincidence. I wasn’t about to search for whatever thing had just run underneath us – I didn’t want to find whatever it was. But Eden looked around the room, searching the corners, catching a few odd glances from the other teachers. Eventually, she got up and started looking around. That garnered enough attention to have the other teachers ask her what it was. She told them that something had run under our chairs. Probably a mouse. 

Of course, that was not welcome news to most of the female teachers in the room. There were some immediate protests and gasps of horror, and then some help searching (mostly from the one male teacher in the room at the time). Of course, there was also some immediate teasing. One teacher was quite horrified by the thought of a mouse, and her nearest seat neighbour around the corner of the rectangle of desks picked up her motorcycle helmet and rubbed the strap against the head of the poor terrified teacher. Shrieking ensued, naturally. But in the midst of the teasing, screaming, and good-natured ribbing, the mouse was located in the corner. Calls were made to bring a broom. A teacher went downstairs to get a broom from the janitor’s closet, got distracted and had a conversation with another teacher, finally brought said broom upstairs, the mouse was trapped in a corner and attacked with a broom, and finally the mouse was put out of its misery. 

We gathered our students and headed over to devotions a little bit late (but with a very good reason for being late, I felt). When we returned, I came back to the staff room to find two female teachers standing outside of the door, not going in. “Still? No!” I said in Spanish. They told me that they thought it was probably safe, but they didn’t want to be the first ones into the room. I steeled my nerves and bravely entered, peering around piles of student work into the dark corners while my colleagues stood at the door, occasionally letting out little gasps and shrieks that, it turned out, were for my benefit in hopes of scaring me. Thankfully, I had steeled my nerves better than that. Also thankfully, I didn’t encounter any mice because that would have led to some of my own screaming and probably jumping on a chair. 

Once we were settled and actually working again, my colleagues felt the need to regale me with stories of former school years when other colleagues had encountered various mice in various classroom situations. Worst was the story of a poor primary teacher whose students told her, “Seño, there’s a snake under that ball.” She picked up the ball, and sure enough… a snake. Of pretty decent size… although the snake got bigger in subsequent retellings when my American roommates returned to the staff room and also had to hear that story, so who knows the actual truth of the size of the snake? 

All things told, though, as long as no one requires me to do the mouse killing, I’m going to be okay with the painful side of the outdoors and I’m going to keep glorying in the joyful side. 

One Year

Exactly one year ago today, I underwent surgery to remove my adrenal gland – and, more importantly, the tumour that had grown within that adrenal gland. 

I’ve written about life with pheochromocytoma, my struggle to be diagnosed, and how life changed afterwards. If you’ve been around for long enough, you certainly know most of this story. But please indulge me again, because this is easily one of the most significant events in my life within the last decade. 

I wonder how much we can appreciate our health until it’s gone. I think it might be one of the easiest things to take for granted unless and/or until it disappears. I might be a very strange case, because I didn’t realize that my health was gone until it was restored to me. That sounds crazy, I know. But it’s only in retrospect that I can see the long slow descent into poor health that took over a decade. I didn’t know it was happening at the time. 

By the time that I was going to the hospital emergency department, I obviously knew something was wrong. By that time, I was convinced I might actually be dying. But even then, I described myself as okay in between my crisis episodes. I just didn’t know that I wasn’t okay. 

I didn’t know. I didn’t know how much health was lost and what needed to be restored. I couldn’t remember. But God knew. God remembered. And God restored. 

One year ago, I underwent surgery to remove my adrenal gland and, more importantly, the tumour that had grown there that was producing extra adrenaline – sometimes 20 times the adrenaline my body should have had. I knew that I would feel better after surgery, but I just figured I wouldn’t suffer those awful life-crushing crises any more. I didn’t know what God had in store for me. 

Let me give just one example.

I used to wake up with a headache almost every day. A person just can’t actually take Advil every day of their life, no matter how much they may want to, so I would wait and see if this was the type of headache that would go away, the type of headache I could ignore, or the type where I really did need to take some Advil to make it through the day. Somewhere between 3 to 7 times a month, the headache would develop into a migraine. I am so thankful that I didn’t have some of the worst migraine issues – I rarely had photosensitivity or problems with noise. (When you often end up sucking it up and continuing to teach through the migraine, that’s really, really fortuitous.) But I did often have awful nausea accompanying the migraine, getting worse as the day went on to the point that I would just try to lie absolutely still in my bed so that I would just have the migraine headache to deal with. Migraines run in the family, so this was just an unfortunate genetic inheritance, it seemed. 

As the weeks after surgery went by and I kept feeling better and better, I stopped waking up with headaches. I was thankful not to have any migraines, but I wasn’t really holding out any hope that they were gone for good. I expected them to be a part of my life forever. But time kept passing and I just never got a headache, let alone a migraine. Over the summer, I flew to Alberta and stayed with my sister, taking care of my nephews. When the older one started school in September and came back with a cold, one morning I woke up with a bit of a sore throat and a headache. Just a headache, nothing more. But I was pretty miserable, wondering how did I do this almost every day for so long? 

The real benchmark for me was a week of lost sleep before coming to Guatemala. With variants of concern identified in Canada, I often lay awake in bed for hours, wondering if I would really actually be able to fly out of Canada and enter Guatemala. I never had the slightest bit of a headache. Previously, lack of sleep had been my number one migraine trigger. While getting a good night’s sleep wasn’t enough to prevent a migraine, not getting enough sleep pretty much guaranteed that I would pay with a migraine. We arrived in Guatemala close to midnight, and with the time going through customs and immigration, driving from the airport, and getting settled in at a new place, I fell asleep well after 2 am. With the time change, bright sunlight shining in, loud motos driving by outside, and dogs barking in the street, I woke up at 5. While I felt absolutely exhausted, I had no headache. No migraine. Nothing. I could only marvel at the goodness of God in the timing of this healing. 

It’s not just the goodness of not worrying about a tumour or about the next crisis. It’s the day to day goodness of good health. It’s the gift of being in a new country and a new job and new community and feeling good, every single day. 

I do not take this for granted. I literally thank God for my health each day. 

Bethany’s Life in Guatemala, Volume 7: Homeschooling

One of the things that I have really been enjoying about my work, as petty and small as it makes me sound, is that I can do all of it during the school day and I don’t take school stuff home with me here in Guatemala. If you read my earlier post about my routine of school work, you might be a little surprised by that. Preparing and teaching both online classes and in-person classes and then marking all of that work – it is a lot of time. But our jobs are designed to be done during the school day. And this isn’t “our” as in just the TEFL staff – this is “our” as in all the teachers here. We leave at 2:30, and we do not generally take work home with us. This is particularly helpful when a not insignificant number of the staff are also pastors in the church network and can do their pastor work outside of school hours. It also allows teachers to spend time with their families and have real lives. (I have to say, after the gift of such a manageable workload for a year here, heading back to a Certain School in Ontario will be a difficult transition! 😭)

If you read my last blog, you are now familiar with Julianna, the director of Global Shore Opportunities. Julianna is Canadian by birth, but she’s lived in Guatemala since 2004. As my TEFL director Beth put it to me, Julianna would say that she’s here by choice, but what about her kids? They don’t have a choice about whether to live in Guatemala or Canada. They’re all very happy to be living in Guatemala… but what about if they want to go to university in Canada in the future? So in addition to attending the school here and taking their classes in Spanish, these kids also do some homeschooling curriculum that ensures that they will be prepared for a Canadian university if they so choose.

This past weekend, the former homeschooling teacher returned to Canada. At the end of this month, our one Guatemalan TEFL teacher will return from her maternity leave and my roommate and colleague Eden will take over as the homeschooling teacher. But for the month of March, Beth and I have divided up homeschooling responsibilities as a sort of stop-gap measure. For the past week and for the next three weeks, I’ve taken over the homeschooling of two young boys. I’m only seeing them for a total of four hours a week – it’s not like actual full homeschooling would be, given the aforementioned stop-gap nature and, you know, the fact that I already have a job to do here. 

So, homeschooling. It’s quite fun! I have two young boys, grade 1 and grade 3, and we do a lot of reading together. We do Bible work and history work and language arts, and we always take a movement break. Otherwise it would be a lot of sitting! We race around the soccer field or have a jumping jack competition. I usually lose, but in the end when we go back to class and we’ve gained the ability to sit and listen again, I’m the real winner in the end. 

The homeschooling adds some more hours of work to my already busy week, but I feel like it does use my skill set very well. Seriously – taking a pre-planned curriculum that’s reading based and making it relevant and accessible to two kids? Easy. Coming up with comprehension questions on the fly (since the pages for our particular book are missing from the binder)? I feel like I could do that in my sleep after 15 years of prior teaching. Sprinkling in little mini-lessons to teach reading strategies and vocabulary? I’m a natural. 

On the workload front, it was a squeeze to fit in the extra responsibilities, but with a lot of very intentional focus and continuing to work while eating instead of taking actual breaks for food (teachers, I know many of you know what I’m talking about!), I did manage to fit almost all the work into my work day. I did head into school 10 to 15 minutes early most days, but that didn’t really feel like giving up much. The real challenge will be this upcoming week: we are heading to the city on Friday to renew our visas*. We still need to get all of the same work done… just in four days instead of five. We’ll see! 

*Visa renewal allows us to stay in the country for more than our allotted 90 days that the visa we entered with permitted. We’re already in March – how have two months already gone by?!