Workshop, Day 1
We arrived in Hermosillo earlier than I had anticipated. The sun was still out when we pulled into the parking lot. The hotel’s glimmering glass doors parted, granting us entry to the marble-floored reception. A spiral staircase wound up through the center of the room, and a sparkling pool waited outside. We dropped off our things, and immediately changed into bathing suits. Linda and I ordered pina coladas, which were brought to us poolside. I swam laps, reveling in the cool water and letting the tension from the road dissipate. I hit the treadmill for another 45 minutes, watching the sun’s reflection fade against a desert hill across from the hotel, and then got ready for dinner.
We met up with our group, and it was practically my first interaction with Spanish. I kept quiet for the most part, and tried to follow along, pretty unsuccessfully. I was familiar with this process, since it had happened in Chile a few years back. I would simply suck at conversation for a short period of time until I got my bearings. Fortunately, I’d been sitting in on Skype conference calls in Spanish for the past couple of months, so my comprehension had gone from almost nothing up to about 75%. Really, the biggest issue was if people asked me a question. Passively listening, no one could tell that I was delayed in understanding. But when addressed directly, there was the delay, and the added anxiety of having to generate a response, so I was really just a hot mess in those situations.
We had a flight first thing in the morning to head over to Mexico City in the morning for our first four-day workshop. The flight felt longer than I had expected, but I had a book with me. We were picked up from the airport by “Marisa”, our contact in Iztapalapa. Again, I was pretty quiet. I still didn’t have my Spanish-speaking hat on yet. Marisa looked a little nervous, so my advisor quickly reassured her that Linda would be teaching the class. It made me feel useless, but I took a deep breath and gave myself permission to acclimate. So I wouldn’t dazzle them at first. Just wait.
The drive to the hotel was…startling. For a while, it reminded me of my trip to Chile a few years ago. There were tons of similarities, even at the airport. Then, the city started to turn. On a busy main road I saw a young woman dressed provocatively on the sidewalk. It didn’t really hit me until we had passed 4, 5, maybe 6 women–within a city block. Prostitutes! Out in the open, just waiting. Shit just got real.
We also got some other bad news. The original plan was great. We’d start the workshop at 4pm each day, M-Th. That meant that the laboratory portion that Linda and I were responsible for would go from 6-7p. In other words, we’d have all day to trip around, and I could get work done on my summer class that started two days after our return from Mexico. Now, we found out that there was some problem with the scheduling…Not only would our schedule be changed, but it wouldn’t even be a regular schedule. Now, we started at 12p on Monday and Thursday, and 2pm on Tuesday and Wednesday. On top of that, our hotel was almost an hour away from the university, and my advisor wanted to attend talks in the morning. In summary, our days were completely fucked.
We finally arrived at our hotel, and instructed not to leave under any circumstances by ourselves. Hmm…
Once I got my hotel key, I was pleasantly surprised to walk in to a beautiful, spacious hotel room, with a flat screen TV and DVD player, where we could watch the first season of Game of Thrones, and large, private bathroom with an ample supply of travel sundries. I was surprised because the website for this hotel was, let’s just say, sparse. I was not looking forward to the stay there until I got to the room. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Come morning, however, it was a different story. My advisor…we’ll call him Thor…was in a terrible mood. From the first minute, he was pissed off. Pissed off that we weren’t down stairs earlier, pissed off about the food, pissed off about the service, the chairs, the room. All of it.
In fairness, the breakfast was pretty awful and I saw his point about the chairs. They were seriously made for really small people. And Thor, let’s just say, is decidedly NOT a small person. It pretty much sealed the deal when the waiter came back and told us we had to pay for our shitty food, even though we were told it was included.
We were supposed to arrive at the University early to be at some opening ceremony for the International Conference that was going on at the time, and Thor was so pissed off, he said fuck the ceremony, we’re packing our shit and going to a different hotel. Linda and I looked at each other sideways, thinking the same thing: This is going to be a long day.
We had “30” minutes to pack everything and be back downstairs. But really, it was only like 15 before Thor called up to the room and barked that we needed to get downstairs in 3 minutes. Clothes and toiletries were thrown haphazardly back into bags. Luggage in tow, made our way back to the lobby. We were driven to the University, and ended up leaving our luggage in the car, which I don’t even do where I *live*, let alone in Mexico.
There was no time to argue, though, because Thor was on a rampage. The poor student who picked us up was frantically trying to text Marisa to let her know about the hotel situation. Then, we got to the site of the International Conference, and Thor’s face quickly morphed into an expression of clear dissatisfaction.
Stairs. He couldn’t take stairs.
Now, it would be true to say that Thor was acting a bit like a primadonna that morning. A Diva, even, as Linda had succinctly put it. But the stairs were another issue entirely. Thor is grossly overweight, and that’s even after losing enough weight to constitute an entire human being. He can’t walk for long, and stairs are just out of the question.
We made it up those stairs exactly one time. After seeing what constituted this so called big conference, it now deserves quotation marks. An “international conference”, where the first talk was seriously an argument for the divination of Hugo Chavez. Seriously. Thor, a staunch libertarian, left the room after 5 minutes. I went outside myself after about 45 minutes of feeling like it was a complete waste of time, frustrated that I’d be spending my mornings attending this BS conference rather than working on my class.
A sliver of hope. Thor told me that under no circumstances would he be attending this event after that day. Thank god.
We had a short break before our workshop started, so we walked to a street just outside the university. It was a small, narrow street, clogged with traffic and cyclists, and vendors selling cheap trinkets and pirated DVDs. The “restaurant” was decidedly sketch. I couldn’t understand the conversation. I felt meek and ignorant. Patience, I reminded myself. Just keep trying.
Much to my dissatisfaction, I discovered that the current plan at the moment was to stay at Marisa’s house. Now, just taking stock of everything, I quickly realized how awful that would be. We were in a poor ass town, at a poor ass university. Marisa was a professor at this poor ass university, which means she probably didn’t make shit, income-wise. Which meant we would probably end up sleeping on couches and sharing a bathroom with Thor. I was fucking livid but I did my best to keep my cool. Still, the day’s stresses were becoming unbearable.
Soon, it was time for the workshop to start. I had to use the restroom and discovered that there were absolutely no toilet seats, whatsoever, and you’d be lucky to have toilet paper. Inevitably, I had left my portable toilet supplies at the hotel. Big mistake. Drip dry it was.
Fortunately, on the way back to the room, the conference organizer stopped me in the hall and told me that he’d found us another hotel. Honestly, I only understood “other hotel”, so I thanked him and brought the news back to Thor and Linda.
Thor talked for over two hours, gouging into our laboratory session. I was frantically making final revisions on the laboratory materials. Linda didn’t offer to help, or even seem to think about whether the materials were ready. Over the past week, though, I had learned that involving her was actually more work than doing it myself because she is technologically illiterate. At times, it was maddening because there was SO. MUCH. TO. DO. And she was virtually useless in that regard. That was aggravating on its own, but it became even worse later. Hold that thought.
We were brought over to the computer lab about 5 minutes before it was supposed to start, which is never a good thing. The computers didn’t have the program we needed to run the statistics software. Moreover, downloading it was going to take, for some stupid reason, 35 freaking minutes. Linda had *no* idea what was going on. Somehow, she also didn’t seem to notice how fucking unprofessional and retarded we looked. We were 40 minutes into our hour-long slot and literally zero had happened. I broke out into a sweat.
I was not about to have my professional reputation sullied by incompetence, so I stood up and told Thor that we were changing the format of today’s class, and then told Linda that we needed to introduce the program with the User Interface document I had created. This document provided step by step instructions, with screen shots, for everything we would be doing in the program and more.
I was frustrated. If I had spoken better Spanish, this snafu would have been minimized considerably. I could have easily worked around it and minimized the effect on students. Instead, we looked like freaking dodo birds.
Moreover, Linda had been substantially less involved in the preparation for the course. She simply hadn’t been available for a number of meetings for various reasons. A few times, for work. Other times, not so valiant reasons. I don’t remember if I mentioned this in my last post, but began working on this workshop the Saturday after finals ended, and one week exactly before leaving to Mexico. We met around 11 or so in the morning, and Linda was hung over as fuck. We wasted the first hour talking about personal crap, before I turned the conversation to the workshop. I asked her two questions: 1) how much work was she willing to do, and 2) how much time did she have. She seemed interested in producing high quality work, so I told her my ideas about creating PowerPoints, the User Interface with screen shots, Annotated Outputs, and so on. About another hour or so in, we realized the restaurant was closing and would have to change locations to a coffee shop. I arrived at the coffee shop, and she called me to ask if I was there already.
Yeeeeesssss…why, I asked. And she said, I feel like shit I just want to take a nap. A lightening bolt of disgust/annoyance/anger struck, but I took a deep breath and closed my eyes to recenter. I asked her what other time she had to work. Of course, I already knew she didn’t have any other time, but I clearly had to remind her about that, and to indicate that under no circumstances would I do all of this on my own. Little did I know at the time…
Finally, she came to the coffee shop. What followed was 6 hours of fucking AGONY. I set her to the task of taking screen shots of the whole process we’d be going through in class. Meanwhile, I’d work on the PowerPoints. What actually happened was I did not have even ONE 5 minute span where I was not interrupted to solve a problem. By 9:30pm, my head was pounding, and we had gotten almost nothing done. I didn’t even have all day to work on this, because grades were due two days later and I still had a MOUNTAIN of shit to grade. Finally I decided I’d get more done on my own and ended the “meeting”. I had resolved myself to the fact that I simply did not have time to sleep. I went home, popped a Nuvigil, and redid everything for the workshop. I finished around 9am, took a small break, and then started grading.
Meanwhile, I’m getting texts from Linda about her out of town trip, which had suddenly morphed into a spontaneous trip to Vegas. She’s texting about stopping to go shopping and two free nights in Vegas and drinking. Originally, it was just a one night deal, and she said she would have time to help Monday night. Clearly, that wasn’t happening anymore. Meanwhile I’m at home, in physical agony from exhaustion and frustration from grading shitty papers. It was absolutely fucking maddening, but it was slightly less maddening than trying to get her to accomplish any work, so it felt like a net win. And that’s just sad.
Anyway, back to Mexico. The point of that whole digression is that I was having meetings with my advisor to get clarification about the topic and have the materials approved and to make sure I understood what was being taught. Linda, on the other hand, got none of this, which meant that a good 30% of the work I did was neglected entirely. Which also meant that Mexican students were getting a worse deal than they should have, in terms of education and the value-added of paying to attend our class. She blew through conceptual stuff, background stuff, and anything extra. She did a black-and-white, step by step of the program, and then said, yep, well that’s it! I had to use everything I had to keep my poker face on, because she was making our class sound fucking pointless. There was literally zero pedagogical skill going on there, even though she had sat in on and observed me teach the workshop in the US, where I did go over those very topics.
Finally, the agony ended, and we were driven to our new hotel. It was in an even more sketch area, and was decidedly shittier than the original hotel. The rooms weren’t as nice, and there was like NO privacy for bathroom related activities. The shower opened right out into the room. Thankfully there was a door for the toilet. It was disappointing to say the least, but Thor was happy, so I put my fucking game face on and said it was fine.
We all met down in the restaurant, where I immediately ordered a fucking cocktail that was glorious and wonderful. We ate dinner, and made a plan to meet in the morning, because Linda was analyzing some data and I needed to make revisions to the User Interface, which had now, through some unspoken agreement by everyone but me, completely fallen on my shoulders. Linda didn’t even ASK if she should help or indicate that she thought she should. We’d be meeting at 10am the next day, 4 hours before the workshop started. Then there was talk of going out to eat afterword. In other words, the day was shot.
Finally, we made our way back up to the hotel room and zonked the fuck out.