Friday, December 17, 2010

December, December, December

GOOD morning/afternoon/evening to all of you,
It is December. hmmm, things to update you on. Well, first off, helping out the English Community fair was pretty fun. I manned the used toy section of the fair, it was actually a really big fair which kind of surprised me. It raised a bunch of money which goes to help different small non-profits here in Andorra. Pretty cool, worked with a Singaporean woman who is living here and is one of Christians who goes to the English church service. I also picked up a couple books when I was at there including 1984 and Life of Pi which are two books I have been meaning to get for ages. It's cool, I have yet to start them, of course, but it will happen. I did finally finish White Man's Burden, written by William Easterly (who I heard at Wake) and I can definitely recommend this. Thank you Megan McHaney for letting me abscond with it. I am done with CS Lewis Great Divorce (thanks Shelly) which is also an excellent read. I am so proud... 2 1/2 books in three months, an excellent record.
What else... I have, of course, watched a great deal of football including a heartbreaker 1-0 loss of Arsenal to Manchester United. My Andorran team, Lusitanos, is rocking along. Our first team and my 2nd league team are both in first place. In fact, our 2nd division team is ROCKING! I continue to really enjoy their company. Last week was my last practice, so afterward we went out and I had a great time with the three guys who are closest to me as well as a few other younger Portuguese who joined us at the dive bar where we always go. Dany really is a fantastic dude whom I feel privileged to get to know. Unfortunately, one of the other guys who goes with us is going through a separation right now and it's super complicated so that's too bad but he's awesome, and a really good football player. You can definitely tell that they have worked for a long time cause I feel like most of them look older than they are. and if you look at Dany's hands for instance, they are all cut up, blistered and craziness like that. As an electrician here, he works in the cold in -10 degree weather for 10 hour shifts! ugh... and cause of the kind of work he does he really can't wear gloves which means they get super beat up. He normally works from 7:30 to 7 pm everyday 6 days a week but a couple weeks ago he was working till 10 pm and one day till 1:30 am... Nuts, right? I always feel seriously lucky and so sheltered cause I've never done anything like that. And on top of it, he plays football-plus he doesn't smoke which is unusual. Just a very cool guy. Oh, they taught me a portuguese card game that was called "up and down"-subir i baixar which was super weird and confusing at first but actually a lot of fun. It was a special deck though, but hopefully we'll play again. Another thing I learned was that in Portugal, at least in the northern rural areas where they are from, it's kinda taboo if a woman smokes!! It came up cause Dany was saying that his wife does and people sometimes give him crap about it back home because she's a woman and all. Anyway, side-note but it was a really interesting conversation.
Choir has also been fun, we had our first concert last week. We sang 4 mini-concerts all at nursing homes which was really neat because it was fun to see how excited and happy 40 teenagers can make elderly. We had two on Friday of last week, and although our singing quality was, at times, a bit shaky, everyone was happy and that was what was important anyway. After each session, we had snacks and got to talk to a few people, although mostly we just milled around and talked to ourselves. Antoine (the French teacher) and I are the two male teachers and two of four basses so we spend a lot of time together. Overall choir=success.
Tutoring continues to move along well, I really enjoy working with each kid and last week, one of the mothers was gushing as she told me she was so excited because she heard her son talk in english for an extended period of time for the first time. Her face and his face made me so happy and definitely energized me. With the exception of one of my students, they all give me a lot of energy and make the work of getting to their houses, getting home at 8:30/9 pm etc. all worth it. Plus, of course, the pay is good too! One of the families also gave me a very nice sweatshirt as a Christmas present, how nice is that? That is really a neat family, and her son is going to England this summer to live with a family which will be great for his english. He is about 14 and just a great kid. One of those kids who is definitely going places.
Christmas in Andorra, a bit weird since we haven't really done any decorating or any of that jazz but the city is nice, with decorations and all, huge Snowman on our big square. Last week was really warm (10 degrees) so that made it not feel like Christmas but definitely the stores and school make it feel like Christmas everywhere. We have had one good solid run of snow-unlike the rest of Europe we've actually had a spell of warm weather and not that much snow which is worrying for the skiing. Talking about skiing, I went for the first time last week which was actually a lot of fun. I went with Frieda-one of the other fulbrighters-because she and one of the teachers from her school were taking a lesson which I definitely wanted to be on. It was expensive, 25 euros for 2 hours but it was nice to have someone focusing just on you and I feel like now I can go on my own for a while till I feel really comfortably on blues. Of course I fell a ton, which is normal, and my hips hurt a TON afterwards-stupid duck feet.... but I had a lot of fun. I went Wednesday and Thursday for 4 hours or so not enough to get too tired but enough to be energized. Clare, the Englishwoman from church was super kind and was able to give me her husband's skis which fit me almost perfect. They are super old-school so that means they are heavier than new ones, and have chips and all that jazz but hell, they are perfect for a beginner like me. This HUGE gift along with a ski pass through school for ALL the country's resorts meant that my total investment for skiing including pants from their version of Salvation army, goggles etc. and pass was only 200 euros which, albeit a lot of money, is AWESOME for a whole year of skiing. I feel very blessed. HOpefully I will get to go again this weekend although because of the warm weather, and now a deep freeze which has hit us in the last couple days, the snow is pretty bad but, better than nothing.
Other things in mind include continuing to look at various things for next year and keeping an open mind-and for those of you who know me I tend to be pretty random until I find something I want and then go after it 100%! haha, also, planning a trip to Germany in March to go to the annual Fulbright conference which takes place there. I will also hopefully get to see an old friend, Sara and maybe Stefan too depending on timing. I'm looking to fly to Berlin for the conference, then to Stuttgart for the following weekend and then back to Barcelona on the Sunday at the end of March. It looks to be a bit pricey by totally worth it if it means that I'll get to see some good, old friends.
Last week, I got to see my cousins cause they were on a Mediterranean cruise and had a day so we got to see eachother for the afternoon on Sunday. It was about time since it has been 5 and 7 years respectively since I had seen them! haha 
Hmmmm, oh, last thing. Christmas is in a week, crazy, right? It's already the latter half of December, hard to believe. Anyway, what am I going to do. Well, seeing that mon soeur lives in Mumbai India, I am going to go fly there and spend it with her and my parents who are coming all the way from Congo! How cool is that? The only bummer is that Jeremy and Lindz cannot come but I can hardly complain. I am very stoked to get to see where Jane lives, meet important people to her, and see her city. Plus touristy things all of which I'm not 100% sure what they will be... haha, I know we are going to Rajastan, New Delhi and I don't really know what all else. But I'm sure it'll be super exciting and EVERYTHING will be interesting. It will be my first foray into Asia so, that'll be fun.
Okay, that's all folks. As always, thanks for following along my blog, I hope you find-at least some of-it interesting and thank you guys for checking. Japan, Chile, Brazil, Lichtenstein, Argentina, Slovenia, Russia, Belgium, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, USA, DR Congo, Kenya, United Kingdom, India, Ghana, France, Spain, Andorra are, I think, all of the places people have accessed my blog from. It's super cool to know that people all over the world are curious-although, I really don't have any idea who checked my account from the first 7 countries... Lichtenstein? Anyway, give me a shout-out whoever that is and let me know who it is. Thank you guys all for caring and I appreciate your thoughts, prayers even when it has been a while since we have directly talked. As I look forward into this next year, I look back happily on many good memories with you all, am enjoying the memories I am making here with new friends, and looking forward to creating more memories with old and new friends! Thanks for helping make 2010 a great year and although it seems hard to believe possible, I'm hoping that 2011 will be even better! Merry Christmas, Happy New Year ya'll!
Peace and Love from the Principality!
Mark Titus

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Whattup all

November 27th. Can you believe it?
I certainly find it hard to believe that I have been here nearly 3 months! Somedays it feels like I have been here for years and other days I feel like I just got here... strange, right? The last two weeks have been blissfully quiet, and low-key, and relatively cheap! :-) Right after I blogged last time, I went with Antonio to a Barcelona versus Villareal game at the Nou Camp and it was AMAZING. Seeing as I don't really follow la liga, I can't personally vouch for this but we were told it was one of the best games, and certainly I thought it was action-packed. For all those who don't like football because lack of goals (Mark Henjum-i'm looking at you.... :-) the score was 3-1 for Barcelona with Messi getting a brace. Great time. We just went down for the day, leaving at 1:15 from here for the game at 22 hours and then spent the night at a hostel before returning to the Great Principality the next evening.
I spent good chunks of time that weekend and the following working on grades which was... uninspiring to say the least but, it had to be done! In my 3rd years, I have 16 kids failing, and 16 kids who are squeaking by with 50s, but there are only a few who are also failing participation so that's good. My fourth years are doing well though, for the most part, I think it's because their quiz was a lot easier. I know this may sound cruel but I got a lot of satisfaction from giving my troublemaker kids because it sobered them up a lot. A number of them, I think, thought my joke was a complete joke, they didn't think it would really count and therefore were just screwing around but now they realize it means something, they were fairly good last week. Oh, also since my last post I had my first/second outbreak as a teacher. One of my classes is particularly whiny and they were complaining about everything including my class, teachers etc. so I just laid out on them and told them the truth: that they are SUPER lucky cause their school conditions are baller, and I didn't let them talk at all while I was talking. That also seemed to sober them up. Lector Marco getting worked up wasn't something they had really seen and I don't think they were big fans, haha. The last two weeks in general have seemed to be going well. I have a few kids who have told me that they are enjoying class, a few who have been pretty bad seem to be MAYBE starting to turn the corner and be less irritating, and a few who probably will always be thorns for whatever reason but I think slowly but surely I am getting better and dealing with those situations. I am confident that I have a ton more mistakes to make and will continue to have issues but it feels good to have a few good times. Last Monday, our school went to a domestic violence awareness theatre thing and let me just tell you, field trips with jr./sr. high kids SOUND a lot more relaxing than they actually are... whewww... but, we only had one kid manage to escape and he ended up being fine, he just went home. Let's just say that 50 teenagers on a bus is a dangerous for the general public.... Good thing about it though, didn't have to teach my two toughest kids AND got out 1/2 early. Suhweet! :-)
Last weekend I was also lucky enough to get some free skis, poles, and boots from a lady at the protestant church that is held once a month. Her name is Clare and she has been very friendly and helpful since the first time I met her. Still waiting to hear about her and her husbands' drive from Singapore to London... Epic sounding, right? Or, her journey across Ireland with the family in a horse-drawn wagon... yah, that's right. Anyway, it was super generous, cause it turns out that my feet are the exact same size so they fit, are nice and old and beaten up minimizing the damage I'll do to them... Also, Antonio, kinda Thongdam, and I all watched Get him to the Greek which is really quite a funny movie and we also went to Pas de la Casa, just to do it. random fact, you have to go through France to get to Pas de la Casa... funny, eh? Oh, one other thing, learned via Antonio, how to save youtube songs onto my computer. nice! :-)
This weekend so far has been nice and chill. Football practice was really excellent yesterday despite it being -3/-4, I finally felt like I played well, probably only the 2nd time that I've actually played well. I found out that one of the centerbacks on our team was on the Porto kids team when he was young before leaving Portugal. Sweet, eh? which explains why he is probs. the best player on our team. anyway, I was happy. Also, after practice I went with Dani, Piedro, and the younger guy whose name I always forget... oops! and went to the normal portuguese "perv" bar-yah, that's what they're called and met up with Dani's wife, the younger guy's gf/wife, and another dude and played cards. I learned a game they call subir y bajar or rise and fall. it is really strange, and has funky rules but actually really fun too. I got home round 2ish-the other dudes work at 7 am, crazy, right? and then talked to Jez on g-phone for 45 minutes or so which was excellent. Oh yah, yesterday afternoon I did the vitally important task of selecting my best sunset/sunrise photos from the past (since I got a digital camera and a couple that I scanned) and making a folder for them. I've been meaning to update that since 2007, but just have never done it. Next on that list, I want to make one for my pictures of crosses.... stay tuned! haha.

Today, was a relaxing day with the main day-time activity being going to English mass in Ordino which was nice. Me and 80+ year olds plus a random American 40-50 year old I'd guess but didn't get a chance to talk to her. Quote of the day, "the Democratic State of Congo, I remember when I motored through it in... oh, let me see, 1949". yes, awesomeness for old British people who have done AMAZING things. I hope I have half as many cool things to talk about when I'm their age! coolio. Then, came back home, watched Arsenal pull out a nervy win over a spirited Aston Villa. Then, at 4 pm, Antonio and I headed out to Canillo to watch the Chinese Imperial Circus perform-on ice. It was pretty sweet, and albeit expensive, it was probably worth it. My highlight. four dudes doing synchronized worms over a giant jump rope held by two other dudes. yah, awesome. another highlight: in one "scene" there were these huge hula hoop kinda things being swung by two dudes and four girls were getting swung by their necks... crazy, right? simultaneous to the hula hoop thingies were three dudes in a giant hamster ball looking dealio. I realize that these descriptions mean nothing to you but... believe me when I say it was cool. Unfortunately, I did not bring my camera so no proof.
Tomorrow, I should go back out to Ordino to help the English community that is helping/putting on a fair and they need volunteers. I think I'll try to go out around 10:30 for a couple hours until 1:00 or so cause Clare told me that's when they need the most people. Then, I am going to try to get lesson planning done both for tutoring but also for the week of December 5th or so because next week on Wednesday we are hosting 3 fulbrighters from Madrid which will be awesome but since they'll be here for a week, I know more than to expect myself to get much work done. Those are my main goals, and yes, I do have a simple life... I know! My aim is also to shake whatever has been dogging me the last couple days, I am not sick I don't really think but I am not completely well either, I don't know what it is but something is keeping me from feeling fully healthy.
Thanksgiving-only really a big holiday in the US and Canada although I have discovered a few other places do celebrate it a bit. Ergo, I had to work Thanksgiving along with everyone else in europe. I did get chocolates for the teachers though in order to celebrate it in some way and when you throw After 10 mints, everyone loves American-only holidays! haha. To celebrate we had Pizza Hut pizza, fancy, right? haha Monday though, is our actual, big party and it should be good. We are having cocktails, dinner, some speeches and drinks etc. The US ambassador from Spain is coming and along with various government people here, it should be a good time. Unfortunately it runs into the "El Classico" game which is Barcelona vs. Madrid so that is kind of unfortunate but... it is one of the costs.
Okay, I think that's all I really have to report from the Principality. I am currently trapped here because my passport is in Spain theoretically getting itself an Indian visa for X-mas so I'm just waiting for that to come back but I don't expect to really go anywhere big before X-mas although I MAY go to Barcelona next to see my cousins who are coming into Barcelona for just over 24 hours on a cruise. it'll probs. depend on whether I get my passport back in time, I'm supposed to but... you can never be totally sure. Oh, before I forget, another thing I did yesterday is load any videos that could possibly be of any interest to anyone, and plenty that won't be to anyone... haha, to my youtube channel I started two years ago and never have done anything with. my channel address is: . or you can type google congokidandorra youtube. Anyway, there really isn't much that is interesting there but, I will try to get better at updating it with videos of places I go but probs. will keep people limited just for privacy sake. I hope everyone is doing splendidly and if any of you find yourselves 'motoring' through Andorra, please stop by... hehe.
Peace and Love from the Principality!
Mark Titus

Thursday, November 11, 2010

UK Travels

Ola Ya'll!
Wow! So much awesomeness in the last two weeks! Sorry it's been so long since an update, that'll make this one longer. It is hard to even imagine where to start letting you know about it, life continues to roll along and good and bad events, I am thankful for cause I'm getting to live a pretty cool life! So, I'm just going to give you some highlights.
I left the 28th of October at 5 am from downtown Andorra. This process involved me going to bed at 3 and then waking up at 4! Guess who passed out completely on the 3 hour bus ride?!?! My bus went to Girona which is on the Costa Brava coast of Spain, north of Barcelona and the famous home of Ryan Air-where flying is so cheap you are afraid! I was lucky because the sunrise that morning was unbelievably fantastic. Unfortunately, I did not get a good photo of it but just know, it was truly a recognition of God. wonderful.... I had the whole day in Girona, which, for those of you who have been there, is just about perfect. I went to the Old City which has a bunch of museums and a cool wall that surrounds it. My stops there were primarily the Jewish Museum of Girona-fascinating and the Cathedral-2nd widest in europe after the Vatican. And yes, for those who were wondering, I did wander around the cathedral with one of those touristy headsets on.... hehe. The Jewish museum was also fascinating as Girona was one of the latter places to feel the bite of the inquisition and it was also a large center of Jewish study.  There were some lovely outside cafes and I indulged in some wonderful coffees while people watching and reading a newspaper in catalan (which made me feel like an official retired Catalan man!).
I flew out that evening for the metropolis of Edinburgh and arrived after dark (not hard to do). Thankfully, my expectations of Scotland were not destroyed and it was raining when I got off the plane and walked into the terminal. YES! Stereotype #1 confirmed although I must say teh rest of my time in the UK was pretty fabulous weather-wise. My friend Megan McHaney from Aberdeen was kind enough to come all the way down to meet me in Edinburgh and stay in the city with me. I chilled in the airport for about 30 minutes till she got there and then we headed off to the city center. On our bus (of course it's a double-decker) we got to meet a new friend, Kaytlin who is studying in London and was also visiting. Yay for new travel buddies. Ended up we were staying literally 50m away from each other so we hung out the whole weekend. First thing first, I was about ready to actually eat the Ryan Airplane I came on-which I'm sure I could have done for some fee that they would charge me.... so we all grabbed some Kebabs which were, of course, fantastic! Then we got a drink at a cool bar near the university and just chatted. The next day I began being a tourist in earnest, taking pictures while walking with my face pointed up the majority of the time. You know the type. It was excellent. First thing of the day to attend to was breakfast and we found an awesome little dive and I enjoyed a delightful mocha and ate albeit enjoy is too strong, 3 pancakes that looked better than they tasted. Stereotype #2: Brits don't cook too well. I'm going to have to say I was not disproved, excellent Indian and various other foods but did not eat a lot of British food, only time I ate only with Brits we ate pasta so... I'm not letting this one go. NEW FACT!: They make good coffee AND tea? I had no idea...
We did pay the small fortune required to enter the Edinburgh castle (sorry retirement fund) and I'm not going to lie, it was pretty cool, albeit smaller than I had always imagined. Saw the Crown Jewels of Scotland, shiny and expensive looking hats and scarves if you ask me, but neat anyway. Went through a great museum on various elements of the Scottish army which was fascinating for me-saw a captured flag from Napoleonic wars, cool eh? Coolest part, got to watch the 1 o'clock guns get fired, which was SuhWeet! Did I jump when it was fired? Yes. The next highlight was lunch/tea at this delightful little place on one of the main squares with a clear view of the castle. Cool pots of tea which, all my Wakie friends know, would make me excited considering my minor addiction to tea. Then walked through a lovely park which made me happy as I love nice city parks.That night we went ot an interesting little pub with live music and slept, I was still tired.
Crieff, Aberdeen, and Petersburg shall be lumped together for the sake of your reading. Crieff is where Megan grew up and we stayed with an awesome family friend of hers. They were so hospitable and let me sleep on the bunkbed where their son sleeps-very kind. It was fun to get to see her school, grocery story, and the big Hydro hotel that attracts tons of tourists. It is a sleepy little town and it was a really neat place to get to see. I was also SUPER lucky because I hit the town on the peak of Autumn which was REALLY gorgeous because there are lots of woods around that is awesome to see. Also, Megan and I watched Frost Nixon which I had heard about but never watched which was really interesting and helped my American history.
Aberdeen: Granite... granite.... granite. So, Aberdeen is totally made from the exact same stone and there is very little color in the make-up of the buildings. Highlights: getting to meet Vijay and some others at her church potluck Halloween night, getting to see where Megan works and went to school which is a beautiful university where you feel smart walking around, meeting two American girls who were studying abroad and were with Alban Howorth from RVA, making fajitas which was tasty, eating Indian, countless coffees, a trip to Dunnotar Castle outside of Stonehaven which was gorgeous, great convos and hang-out time with Megan, a trip to Petersburg which is a small little fishing village 30 miles north of Aberdeen. This is where I had my first personal experience with Doric which is officially a dialect but, I can tell you that I understood almost nothing of it... actually, nothing! although, to be fair, some of the Scottish speaking english I didn't understand! That evening, Megan came with me to the airport, I checked in, ate 2 sandwiches in the terminal. One of the tiniest airports I have ever seen in the western... crazy small, only one place to eat food and MAYBE two stores. This flight was EasyJet, which, just so you all know is VASTLY superior to Ryan Air for reasons that aren't terribly tangible but true. So, this is an unfairly short summary of my time is Scotland.

England: Ahhhh.... London! I arrived in "London Luton", which don't be tricked, is not anywhere near London but it is cheap! :-) The journey was part of the joy of my time there. I'll keep it short for ya'll's sake but after a one hour bus ride from the airport to town, a bus ride to where I thought I needed to go, and then the discovery that there was a tube strike meaning I had to then find where else to go without a map of London and being clueless at 11 am!, a very nice dude helped me out, pointed me in the right direction only to find out that the train I was supposed to take from the station was also cancelled. Two more wonderful souls who saw my clearly lost touristy look helped me figure out what bus station I should go to in order to PROBABLY get the right bus. While waiting to get on board that bus, I met a cool New Zealander guy who just got to London and wants to work for a while before moving on-hopefully will visit us in Andorra in the spring. Then, on the bus, I had two more angels appear, while talking to one guy about how lost I was, a woman who was sitting across let me know I could get off earlier and catch the bus at another stop! How awesome was that? just out of nowhere! Anyway, then I finally caught the bus that went near where Dave lives in London-with whom I stayed. Unfortunately, for me when I got there I must have read my directions wrong or something cause I ended up walking around for about 45 minutes before walking to 86 Lewisham way which was theoretically where I needed to go. By this time it is after 1 am. I ring this door to no avail.... oops, so I go to a nearby gas station and call (cause I couldn't use my phone) Dave and find out that I was at the wrong street. 20 minutes or so later I finally get to the ride address.... haha. Wow! I had such wonderful people come across my way and Dave so such a sport staying up late when he had to get up early the next day. Also, he had prepared my room for me and all complete with a small bottle of Baileys, which is something I normally drink with my vanilla black tea (for all you haters, don't knock it till you try it!). Awwwhhh, so lucky to have a network of wonderful friends. I slept a wonderfully hard night and then set off at 10 am to meet Allison at Trafalgar square. Megan Huber, I checked out the Malaysia embassy and at least dreamt about how cool it'd be to get a guided tour there! ;-)
London highlights. A) getting to see Allison's world. I have heard SOOOOO much about it so getting to see everything in person was awesome, the bar Steele's, the fantastic french crepe place with people from Marseille, her church (from the outside), the Hillsong church, her neighborhood, the parks she runs in etc. She once again managed to convince me to run which makes me a bit sick still to think about but... this time I had to walk a portion of it. I think while I was walking she easily could have kept running and probably sung too but... haha, I had to let my ego down for this one! B) Primrose park is right near the Worrell House and it is super cool, especially at night when you can see the whole city. C) the bridge that connects St. Paul and the Tate museum of Modern Art. SOOOOOO cool, D) getting to go to the Arsenal Emirates stadium... that had to come sometime!, E) eating delicious Indian food with Kara and Allison, F) watching of the changing of the guards and feeling like the biggest tourist EVA! got to talk to a dude nearby who used to be in the military and did it once! G) a great evening with Dave's roommates who are South African and awesome-there were 5 white africans all together with only 3 America-born Americans, pretty funny, eh?!, H) Allison and I made a great quick phone call with Larry Jones, I) lunch at an outdoor market. In general, I was very impressed with my visit to London. I'll be honest, I didn't come in with super high expectations of the city itself and I left very much enjoying my experience and even excited to look into opportunities to return. Kara goes to London School of Economics (LSE) which has a highly regarded school for Political Sciences and if I could get into it, it's a place I would definitely consider. Overall, London was a wonderful experience.

I left on Sunday morning and had almost EXACTLY enough money to pay for the 4 pound tube ride and a postcard. I ended up having 10 cents left. Got to Girona safely and spent about 4 hours wandering aimlessly getting lunch and coffee and reading. It was fine but not exactly a dream come true, haha.
Got back to Andorra around 11 pm, walked home, crashed, started work the next morning at 8:30. Got home eventually at midnight Monday. This is where another blessing came in. I somehow contrived to drop my wallet on the biggest road of Andorra and was nervous it might be gone for good. I went to sleep Monday night thinking I was going to have to go and try to find it the next day somewhere along the road or in my Catalan class. Turns out at 6 am, I get a call from the police telling me that they found my wallet and I could come pick it up. I did so later that day and not a thing was missing.... how awesome is that??? crazy, right? Anyway, I can't have been more thankful and lucky. The rest of this week has gone by quite normally, tutoring is still going quite well, due to the fact that some government dude didn't sign the right papers last week, we don't get paid until next week which kinda sucks but... oh well. Oh, this weekend, on Saturday night, I am going to go watch Barcelona play Villareal at 22:00 with one of my apartment mates, Antonio. Obviously, I am stoked about that being the football geek that I am. Friday night I may begin tutoring from 6-7 pm. then I have football practice till 12 and then I am going to try to go to a concert in La Massana in Andorra because of my fellow teachers is in a punk-rock cover band and they are playing there. So, Antoine (french teacher) and I are going to go, and perhaps one or more of my apartment mates will join us! should be a good time anyway, but likely going to be a rough morning wake-up to go to Barcelona! haha, we plan on leaving at 12 but... it's flexible.
All right, as always, love hearing from you guys and I do hope that everyone finds themselves in good spirits, good health and in the knowledge that I appreciate what you guys mean to me!
Peace and Love from the Principality!
Mark Titus

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Life in October

Greetings all!
Well, another almost two weeks have passed and I have continued to enjoy my life here thoroughly. The past several weeks have been very chill which I have enjoyed immensely. Teaching continues to be a challenge daily, finding how to reach out to my surly, slightly too-cool-for school students, keeping things at least interesting for my students whose mother language is English (while showing them that their written work needs a lot of help!). Whewww, always interesting. It is also funny that some of the students who are famed to be the worst ARE indeed a big challenge but other times, students who are supposed to be a big challenge end up being rather easy-going and not too rough. impossible to predict is what I am starting to learn Also, I am getting a lot of practice trying to figure out when to stick it to the kids and get them in trouble so that they learn a lesson and when to cut deals with them to try to coax better behavior out of them. So far, I seem to have had more success than failure but... who really knows! hmmm, otherwise during the week, my two choirs are going excellently, I continue to enjoy my tutoring, and that pretty much makes up my week. Oh, of course, I also enjoy long convos with with Shelly on Tuesdays and/or Fridays and whatever other conversations I get to have with friends far away!
Last weekend was a nice chill weekend, I had planned to go hiking but honestly was just super tired so I slept! I relaxed in the apartment, chilled out, got grading done, and did laundry. Oh, of course, Fridays I have practice from somewhere around 10 or 10:30-depends when the team before leaves till about midnight. I am having a great time at practice, just to get back out onto a field with guys who love the sport and want to play. Overall, I don't feel out of place except with my language skills! I think I've mentioned this but one guy, Dany, has really taken me under his wing and just been super friendly. Before practice our habit is to grab a quick cafe solo (aka an espresso shot) and then afterwards grab a beer-you wouldn't want to actually LOSE calories through the whole practice saga! haha. Some of the people are actually really cool, one kid was even scouted by sevilla when he was younger but unfortunately got into some trouble and therefore never got to play at a higher level for them. Some of the guys, like Dany, are a bit older and therefore can't play in 1st division anymore and some of the people just like playing! I am playing with the second division squad which I have been really enjoying, we always have a good time. I will get to sign a contract in December and then, if I cut it, move up to first division but they said since I'll be officially starting in the middle of the year, it's doubtful I'll play for first division unless I stayed next year. Whatever though, it's cool and it sounds like I will get to play in the country's cup competition which, if you win, lands you a place in the Uefa cup, which is pretty sweet! :-) If you ever care to follow along the league, you can check out the website here:
This weekend will be some work-I began recording my kids' voices and now I need to start going through them analyzing them all... ugh, it will take forever but I think it'll be useful to both them and to me as I try to help them learn to improve their english. This weekend is also Andorra la Vella's "fira" which is a big fair-I htink mostly commerical and food but it should be a fairly good time. I am going to go this evening to volunteer with a group that is selling raffle tickets to raise money for non-profits here. It should be interesting trying to sell raffle tickets to people in Catala since I don't speak it very well.... oh well! I am also going to stop by my students' booth-as children everywhere, my 4th years are raising money for their big trip to Italy at the end of the year and they are selling something or other at the fair so I'll stop by and support them I spose. I think this afternoon I am also going to grab coffee with Antoine-a cool, new, French teacher at my school before all the fair stuff. Then, there is talk of going out dancing tonight although I got my toe cleated pretty badly last night-little blood, nasty bruise and I'm a bit worried about the actual toenail so after having walked around the fair for a bunch of hours I might be just about done in. hmmmm, oh that reminds me, I got new cleats for the first time in 5 or so years I believe and it was awesome! :-) I got a pair of umbros which were on sale for 50 euros and am very pleased with them, my feet were a bit sore since it was the first wearing of them but they feel real good and the motion really did seem nicer in them.
Just so everyone knows, I am one of the luckiest people ever and at the end of this week I am going to get to go to Edinburgh Scotland for 2 or so days before going to Aberdeen with my dear friend Megan Mchaney from high school!!!! how cool is that? I will be in Scotland from Oct. 28th to November 3rd at which point my blessed life continues with me going to London to visit Allison. I look forward to being one of the few of Megan's high school classmates to discover her world and then getting to repay the wonderful visit I got from Allison and Dave two weeks ago. how cool is my life? Obviously this means that I will probably not blog post again for a while as I will be on the road for those two weeks and then I will get in late Sunday so although I won't rule out the possibility of a post, don't count on it! Thanks, as always, for following along on my journey and I treasure the knowledge that my friends and family world-wide can follow along with my life since I can't talk to each and everyone of you individually! I enjoy your posts here on my blog, my email or facebook so! thanks for reading.
 Peace and Love from the Principality,
Mark Titus

Monday, October 11, 2010

Estonians, people hailing from London, a bloody irishman, and american mutts....

Well, life in the Principality continues to pop along quite nicely and excitingly. Changing trees, low-lying clouds, ridiculous children, wonderful visits, and a visitor-induced run! :-) That is the sparknotes but if you only read that you would probably fail my quizzes. My experience so far as a teacher is that students fail quizzes even when they are open note and are about #s when they are in the 3rd or 4th year of English... anyway, that's another story.

 Allison, Dave and I at the llac.

Last Monday, with my little hellions, went a lot better than expected and were actually pretty darn good. They were in way better behavior mode than the week before and so we got through it. We learned music and theatre vocab, listened to music and botched a bit of critical reading. So, unfortunately for my 4th year C class-about 10th grade, they are my first class, Monday morning. A) Monday mornings inevitably suck and weekend hangover is rough. B) they are my first guinea pigs for my new lesson. Let me remind you that this is my first year teaching so... things don't always happen like I imagine them going to. Anyway, so, that poor kids kinda get a rough deal but luckily for me they are overall great kids who mostly want to learn English so that makes my life easier. Tuesday through Friday happened. Really, not all that much to report here but... it was aight.... Wednesday afternoon the school informed me that I had to be there for an hour I didn't expect. In the end, I actually didn't really have to be there and really it was mostly a waste of time and a stress inducer because I was supposed to meet two girls for tutoring at 5 pm before another kid at 6:30. In the end, I was late to just about everything meaning I refused to charge the one lady my full price cause I was 45 minutes late... beh, any it was mostly just frustrating cause it was unexpected. Oh, Tuesday I was told that I needed to be ready for a new class on Wednesday with the english students. Luckily I knew about this already but just had no idea when it started. We only had 1 kid come last week because most didn't know it was happening yet but... whatever, it worked out great. The kid who did come is a great kid so that worked out well. After the bewildering late feeling day, I then had to go back to encamp (it's about 1 hour from where I tutor to where I teach in Encamp...) for parent-teacher conference. Thank God that as a student, I was convinced (and may have been right there) that my teachers knew me personally so well. I'm just going to say that with 130+ students, I only know both english and catalan plus last names for a few and they are either the best-behaved or the very worst behaved! haha... so, anyway, it went overall fairly well. Thursday night was excellent fun because I went to a new choir which I think I mentioned I was joining. It felt really good to be in an adult choir with people who really know what they are doing again... refreshing.
Okay, Friday was good because, it's Friday... what could possibly be bad??? 4 realz though... it was a solid day, did a bunch of shopping stuff, did not eat at school because it was rice with seafood stuff and I decided that a baguette would do just fine by me.... I managed to tick off a bunch of errands overall last week including finally becoming a legal resident (thank you uncle Dave for all that funkiness), and then pursuing to start a little savings account here so that I can try to make sure I don't just spend money considering however slim the salary here is, it is significantly larger than anything I have ever had on a long-term basis! Friday night was a potluck dinner at a teacher's house with all the other fulbrighters too. After about 1/2 an hour of trying to be my normal outgoing self, I retreated after much failure. Luckily, once more alcohol flowed and food occured, people were friendlier and we all had a great time. This is for you Matt Steen and co.-the man who "can sell a ketchup Popsicle to an old lady" failed totally and completely with the teacher get-together....
Saturday Allison and her friend (and now my new friend! :-) came at around 2:30. I slept late and even got to talk to my dear sister before they got here! :-). What a true blessing to have my 2nd round of visitors here.... how super cool is that?! We had lunch together at the apt. before heading out for a walk through the town, crowned by coffee (stressful, I know). then we went hiking up to llac (no, that is really how lake is spelled-french people should recognize that) Engolasters which is part of a UNESCO world heritage site here in Andorra. It wasn't a long hike but I won't lie, I was huffing and puffing pretty darn good! We hitchhiked our way back to town (the dude dropped us almost right at our door!) and then got Portuguese chicken. If I haven't told you already about Portuguese chicken, I apologize. This is probably-wait, no, definitely-the best chicken I have ever had in my entire life and probably just about the cheapest food you can get in andorra. An entire chicken costs 9 euors. In fact though, no matter what when I have left there, I have paid 8 euros with a beer, fries and rice included with that cost and full! me... full!?!?!?!?! it's awesome! :-) So, we had deliciousness then went out dancing at the one club that we have ventured to in Andorra-latin club so lots of salsa and other cool dances that I just fake to have fun.
Sunday was another excellent day albeit a short night's sleep beforehand. Allison kindly accompanied me to church that happens once a month and it was FANTASTIC. Allison made all sorts of random coincidence connections with this one family there which is awesome cause it shows you how small this world is. The rest of the day revolved around eating-leftovers with Robert, a neighbor from across the street and actually an ex-fulbrighter-and his boyfriend. Then, we went to a cafe to plot dinner-an extravaganza that was delicious beyond all means. Then we went to the store to get all the foods, things necessary for our dinner. We had breakfast for dinner. :-) For 12 or so people! :-) We had hashbrowns-yes, detail is needed-with green pepper, red pepper, onions and enough butter to fill my arteries until I'm 50. then we had scrambled eggs with many of the same ingredients that were fabulous. That's it... JUST KIDDING!, we also had pancakes... what kind of pancakes do you ask? oh, pancake choices with apples, mulberries, strawberries, whipped cream, chocolate chip pancakes, banana-filled pancakes, simple maple syrup with butter or I guess, you could of just ahd them plain! It was a scrumptious feast. This is where the Estonians come in. Our friend Will-the bloody Irishman as I normally call him-is a proud member of couchsurfing and had 4 estonians staying with him this weekend so they came along. so there were the 4 of us who live here, ALlison and dave, the 4 estonians, Robert, and the bloody irishman which I believe makes 12. Unfortunately the 5th current fulbrighter couldn't make it due to previous dinner engagement. It was overall a pretty nuts time filled with food, tea, estonians drinking absynth like it was coke, and a lot of laughs. They proved to be wonderful guests and although cleaning up all the dishes and general kitchen mess sucked it was TOTALLY worth it. At one point in the dinner, I looked around and thought how cool it was that a dear friend from college of mine, one of her best friends, 3 new fulbright friends, 4 random estonians, a kid from Arkansas, and a bloody irishman were all able to connect so well over food, and fellowship. pretty darn cool, eh? Pretty lucky lives we get to leave!
Today, the show started again, but Monday and Tuesday are half days because half of Spain invades to shop because it's a holiday over there-thank you Spain.
This week is theoretically going to be "normal" and with a "normal" weekend. Also, I was proud of myself, I managed to resist getting involved with a 3rd choir! :-) I was so proud of myself....
Peace and Love from the Principality
PS-for those who believe understandably that I never exercise unless it's a sport. I ran-because my visitors wnated to and therefore I had reason to go (to talk) and we ran for 30 minutes. Thank goodness I got that over with for the next couple months... I proved my legs can still move for that long so now it's time to vegetate until I have to prove myself again. One day I will fail this test... then I have no idea how I'll react!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Another update

Hello. Well, Andorra continues to be Andorra, all sorts of randomness that goes on here. Life is settling itself out. So, I will try to give you a glimpse of what my life is like now, what I'm doing etc.
My classes continue to go fairly well. Some fun factoids: many of my kids cannot complete sentences, even very basic phrases, one of my students mooned my class, I have one girl who spends the entire class quizzically looking at me, a few who speak neither spanish, french, Catalan, or english, and a few who are just flat-out crazy behavior-wise. To be fair, the vast majority of my students are fairly good kids, who aren't necessarily great at english, or even all that driven but they are overall good kids who don't give me too much trouble. I have a few students who are just fantastic, fun kids who are trying hard and are honestly interested in learning English. It is always very rewarding to teach these guys/girls. I find myself enormously entertained on a daily basis by 14-16 year olds. what a fun/hilarious/kinda ridiculous age. I also continue to enjoy the teachers around me who are driven to help these kids succeed despite the challenges and despite the fact that some of the kids don't seem to be interested in learning. My english department is really fun and strong, and I continue to form a particularly strong relationship with another new professor named Cesar who taught in Texas for 3 years before 1 year in Barcelona and now he's here. His desire for students to get a good education is so apparent and he has been very helpful to me. We got to have coffee last week one morning and he gave me a ride back from Barcelona the weekend Shelly and I went there. Hopefully in the next couple weeks I will get the opportunity to meet some other teachers outside of class but time is definitely stretched.
Now I tutor 3 or 4 students (waiting on confirmation on the 4th) 1 time each a week so that takes about 6 hours total with commute included. I now also sing in 2 different choirs, and when my ankle is fully recovered I will be practicing with a soccer team twice a week. Luckily on Wednesday mornings and Friday mornings I can chill a bit because I only have class in the afternoon. Still, though when you get home at 10:30 at night having left at 7:15 it definiely wears you out. My classes on Monday are my most challenging but that is good cause it means the week gets better as time goes on. haha
Last weekend I got to have a wonderful time with the Wichtermanns who first introduced me to Andorra in 2004! I got to spend some time at their lovely house with their kids (it was their twins' 18th birthdays) so it was very pleasant to be with a family and have lovely home-made food. It was a quick trip as I left Friday night and came back Sunday night but it was definitely fun. This past week breezed by with incredible speed. And yesterday, the 2nd of October, I went hiking with Amanda (one of my roomates), Frieda (another fulbrighter) and we climed Mt. Coma Pedrosa which is the highest peak in Andorra at 2,946 meters. I didn't expect the hike to be as hard as it actually was but it was UNBELIEVABLY gorgeous. I may not get a chance right now to attach photos but I will at some point and some and more will be coming are already on facebook. It has been a nice weekend after a week which definitely tired me out. I had some serious blond moments this weekend. Which reminds me-in, I do believe it's Bulgaria or another central european nation-there is a blonde movement with national holidays and companies that only employ blondes in an effort to fight the stereotype of blondes being silly. For example, they are making a resort island where EVERYONE who works there and on the planes that bring you there are blond.... weird, eh? Anyway, I was definitely scatterbrained. Okay, that is about all the time I have for now, I have spent my sunday washing clothes, getting food, making lunch, and now I'm going to go watch Arsenal play. Next Sunday I can finally make it to church at the Anglican church which shoot be good. :-) Thank you guys for your thoughts, your prayers, and for your friendship. I hope that my blog isn't too boring and check back later for photos. :-)
Peace and Love from the Principality.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

First week of School

Well, it is now Tuesday, September 21st. Today marks the 3rd week I have been in Europe... it seems as if though I have been here for ages though... crazy! I am writing this from my classroom as the mist continues to move through the mountains above me. Everyday I get to drive to me school with the bus and marvel at the beauty around me, all the meanwhile, everyone tells me that this is nothing, that just wait until winter. To me this is gloriously beautiful and herald's the wonder of God's creation.
Corner, wonder, going, still, make, move... these are all words that about half my students have no idea what they mean. hmmm... Teaching a foreign language IN that foreign language is pretty darn tough when words like this are not understand by good chunks of the group. The difference between my levels is extraordinary, 3rd years (which are equivalent of 14/15 years) are vastly less knowledgeable than their 4th year compatriots. Also, what is incredible that within the same class of 24 which we have split into 2, one group of 12 might have a fairly impressive level of English while their classmates perform far worse.  It really amazes me the difference in levels. This, of course, is not intellectually new news to anyone but to see this in the classroom has been quite incredible to me. Obviously, for those of you who are teachers or who have taught before this will come to no surprise. My first week has taught me two things quickly: 1) lesson planning takes far longer than the lesson itself, and it takes a lot of creativity to try to think of interesting things every class, 2) kids may be about the same age but they act ridiculously different and one leader can change the atmosphere of a class completely.  Mondays I have 5 hours of teaching starting at 8:30 am. three in a row in the morning, and then 2 in the afternoon. Classes are 1 hour long so the poor things really have to slough it out. by the time the 4 pm hour begins, the poor kids are dying to get out-honestly, so are the teachers! haha. It also works out that what is renowned as the toughest single class in the school are my 3 and 4 pm hour classes on Monday. Great... everyone loves that kind of start to the week, right?! Anyway, they are definitely full of energy, one student has already been thrown out of class-literally ejected-3 times in 7 days, and there are about two other troublemaker kids who are super energetic. Mostly though, these kids are bad, or violent, or anything like that but rather they are just middle school kids with tons of energy. Taming their habits of hitting eachother with everything from their hands to their pencils to pieces of paper seems to be taking some time but... hopefully we'll get through that. Also, flipping the bird is apparently an ingrained portion of a 14 year old Andorran culture but again, we are workign through that. Tuesdays and Thursdays I have 3 classes and an hour-long meeting, while Wednesday I only have one class and a long meeting 1-2 hours and best of all Friday, just one class! :-)
One thing that has been my saving grace so far is a very supportive English department and even more than that, a supportive teaching staff. I am blessed to just have great teachers who are working hard, care about the quality of their work, not so they can get their pay and go home but because they really love their jobs. I am very, very pleased with that. In particular, a fellow newby to Andorra whose name is Cesar (pronounced Thesar) has been keen to make sure things are going well with me, that I don't have any questions and he has always made it clear that he want to help when he can. He taught for 3 years in the US and they were also his first years of teaching so he can empathize with me. He also was kind enough to give me a ride back from Barcelona on Sunday.
So, school is going well, life is not all about school although I do work hard to do the best I can and I think so far people are pleased with my efforts. I am also tutoring, right now I am only going to tutor two people, although I have about 8 people have asked me if I can tutor them! but they all want, obviously, to do it in the evening and I would like to a) have a life and b) I have other things to do in the evenings. Mondays will consist of this. School from 8:30 to 5 pm. I leave for school about 7:15ish to get to school by about 8 so I can set up the class before my 8:30 class. We have to clean up our rooms everyday so it takes a couple minutes to resettle everything everyday. Then, at 7 I have catalan lessons in Escaldes (near Andorra la Vella where I live). After Catalan ends at 8:30, twice a month I have language dinner where we take turns speaking in different languages. Tuesday I have class from 8:30-5 but I have a nice big afternoon break so I can do lesson-planning and blog-writing! :-) Then at 5, I have the school choir practice from 5 to 6. Then I head out immediately to get to St. Julia which is about 20 minutes from Andorra la Vella and 40 minutes from my school in order to tutor one particular kid. then it's soccer practice at 9 pm in the same town so I'll just leave the kids' place and walk to the stadium where my team, FC Lusitanos, plays. Wednesday morning I don't have morning classes! :-) woohoo! so it's a good day for getting things done at the apartment or in town. Thursday is like Tuesday but so far I have nothing in the evenings-this may change with a tutoring session but right now it's clear and I think it's likely to stay clear. Friday I only have one lonely class so the morning I can again get here early and try to get my next week's classes started. In the early evening I may end up having one tutoring session because there are two kids at once that really want to get tutored and I may end up just saying yes... even though it's Friday.  The weekend so far is blissfully unbusy. I am still trying to track down church in a language that I understand but there's always mass in Catalan so that's all right.
I started playing soccer with these guys last week like I told you and it was all right but unfortunately on Friday I rolled my ankle pretty badly and am out for about 2 weeks.  I was also told that I won't be able to play in any games until at least January because the season has started so they can't sign new players. BUT, I can practice and then if I do well, and I want, I can sign a contract in December. The prospect of all this is fun, all the players except a small handful of Spanish, are Portuguese so I am inundated with that language too, although with my loss of language and their different accent, I'm often missing large chunks of what is going on.
This past weekend, I had wonderful honor and privelege of having Shelly Slemp visit me from Sudan which was truly awesome. Because of another trip she had to make she was only able to be here for 3 full days plus Thursday night but we made it count! :-) We went hiking, went to Caldea-which is a big spa here-, walked around all over, showed her my school, and she got to sleep in our new apartment the same night that we did! :-) Sunday we went to Barcelona and enjoyed some time in Parc Guell-truly a cool place if you ever get a chance to go, and then the Sagrada Familia which is an impressive place. Some say that they don't like the architecture or the church itself that much but I thought it was a very neat church. My friend and coteacher Thesar has an apartment which actually overlooks Sagrada Familia which is super tight. Anyway, he was in Barcelona this past weekend as well so he was very kind and drove me back that night at about 8:30 while Shelly stayed in a hostel we had found earlier. In short, she and I had a wonderful weekend with plenty of time to talk, catch up, and discuss all sorts of things-very fun! :-) Because I have not really had a chance to explore Andorra I knew very little but by the next time someone comes visit me (allison) I should have a slightly better handle on things! :-)
Okay, I should go, eat, and then maybe actually work. Tuesday afternoon is nice because Monday is by far and away my toughest day with my toughest kids so I can feel a lot more relaxed. I will put a couple photos up so you can see what things look like.
Peace and Love from the Principality