Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Not in Buffalo: How many times can I say "no, gracias"?

When we spent any amount of time in central park in Antigua, Guatemala, I continuously needed to say "no, gracias" to the very numerous products and services being offered.  Americans are not used to being approached and often are either offended or nervous.  I felt bad saying no so often, of course.  Many of the items were total bargains, like necklaces or beautiful pieces of fabric for a dollar, but when you don't need something, you don't need it.


The experience made the family think, however.  We don't have commercial tv in the living room and no cable, so most ads we see are limited to online and billboards.  We have escaped the repetitious constant attempt to get us to want things we don't need.  Corporations get away with repeating messages with little effort or personal contact creating a sort of one-sided cultural dialogue.  In Antigua, where there are relatively few big box establishments and certainly not the large suburban type with big parking lots.  Small businesses and private individuals on the street rely on personal contact and expect some haggling over price.  This makes most Americans uncomfortable, but isn't it more authentic?  Isn't it more of a free market?

Anyone who wants to sell must have the guts to approach you and ask you to buy.  In return, of course, you should give an answer, even if it is almost always, "no, gracias".  There are also the businesses that can't exist in our corporate controlled environment.  We saw someone selling cigarettes one at a time, not much different than the odd person buying one off someone at a bus stop at home, but certainly, the regulations are set up to prevent an individual from carrying out such as a business in a more ongoing manner in the United States.

I am sure we haven't thought about the implications of all the differences, but clearly our trip has prompted more and more thinking about economics and marketing.  I think most Americans, and other relatively affluent Westerners, would benefit from embracing such travel experience rather than succumbing to fear.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Not in Buffalo: I think we've covered the Mayans!

After our great experience last year with my friend in a different part of Guatemala, we decided to go to Antigua to explore more Mayan culture and, of course, some Spanish colonial history.  After loads of church ruins and museums, we decided that we better hit some major Mayan ruins in case we are unable to come back to Guatemala.  Most people think of Tikal.  We thought about going there, but Copan is quite a significant site and closer to Antigua, not to mention being able to visit Honduras.

It was a great experience.  I will post many photos at the bottom of this post because I think it speaks louder than my descriptions.  First of all, there is nothing like being in a place like an Antigua for a month.  To me, this is the minimum amount of time needed to pretend to live in a place and get a real feel and familiarity for it as well as see the sites slow and steady without wearing out.  Secondly, it was fascinating traveling to Copan, only 5 hours away, but different.  The tipicas comidas were similar sorts of foods, beans, corn tortillas, queso, avocado, but they were prepared and tasted different than their Guatemalan counterparts.  Also, the weather was more humid, including an hour and a half of rain in the evening, something rarely seen in the dry season of the popular parts of Guatemala.  The border crossing experience was quite interesting too.  Despite the agreement between Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, you need to formally leave one country before entering another.  This is quite different than going to Canada from Buffalo, where you don't talk to any immigration officials until you are on the other side talking to a Canadian official.

We kept telling the kids how lucky they were to see all of it firsthand rather than simply reading about Mayans in a library book, or worse, a textbook.  Hopefully, they understand that most kids don't get to go to Copan or any other site.  For some it is money (outside of airfare, there are cheap ways to travel central america like a backpacker, also expensive luxury accommodations with many options in between) or time, but for others it is fear.  Regardless, nothing beats this most authentic way to cover the Mayans so well and to get a sense of native peoples generally.

Many things were interesting, but see for yourself:












Thursday, January 22, 2015

Public Transportation Curriculum

When we are out and about late afternoon, it is difficult to fight the sinking feeling when I see the all too familiar yellow buses.  A little bit of the feeling is the resource intensiveness of the super security to go a short distance versus the relatively low economic resource levels of children in our city.  More of it, however, is the knowledge that those children, as well as those in the bubbles of their parents' vehicles, are missing the tremendous number of educational opportunities on the NFTA buses and metro rail.  Indeed, all cities with relatively significant public transportation systems have unique systems and environments for learning.

Some of it is what you expect, geography and timing, but much more of it is character and socialization.  Kids in cars have no real responsibility for their own transportation.  They can't because they can't drive.  Besides putting their seat belt on without being asked and not distracting mom and dad, there's nothing.  Students on yellow buses can make sure to be at the stop on time and behave, but nothing else.  My kids have to carry their own bus passes, get them out at the right time, not lose them, make sure they scan, pull for the stop at the right time, etc.  These are not tremendously difficult things to do, but they need to do the same things adults do in order to ride.  They get real responsibilities sooner.

There are many rewarding social encounters.  Often, someone sees us and alerts me to a good place to take kids or some event for them nearby that I hadn't heard about.  Sometimes they witness kind adults and teenagers giving up their front seats for elderly or disabled people.  This is something they are starting to do.  One time, my son chatted with a man who was impressed with a story he told and encouraged him to write a book.

There are also social encounters that just don't happen in other environments since there are so few other opportunities to be in close quarters with strangers.  Many are great learning opportunities.  We witnessed two men heckling a woman over her hat one day and the incident had many components including: how to behave in public, freedom of religious expression, the lack of correlation between religious beliefs and proper behavior sometimes, as well as the idea that sometimes even the truth need not be stated.  We discussed these things the best we could given their complexity and their current ages.  Another time, we met someone on the bus who clearly had a hard life and was facing several hardships.  The kids kept pointing out several ways she and I were similar.  When I talked to them later, I tried to make them understand that often the only difference between someone who is doing okay and someone facing hardships are a few wrong turns, some of which may be outside of their control.  I hope they are learning empathy and compassion.

The more of these encounters and experiences we have, the more I believe that the decline of public transportation is one of many reasons that individualism and materialism seem to be so high in our culture.  There is no longer a sense that we are all more similar than than we are different or that we are all in it together.  It is easier to see others as "other" or even less than human when you don't have to get close to them.  People can more easily be in bubbles: in cars driving from their homogenous town past those "other" kinds of people in those "other" neighborhoods.

Hopefully, I am countering some of this bubble culture with my kids.  Only time will tell if riding around on the bus is the answer to responsibility and character building.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Expanding our Horizons in Guatemala Meets Escaping Buffalo in January

Several months ago, at the age of 34, I got my very first passport.  I was always nervous to travel abroad.  I am sure part of it was the propaganda about traveling to certain places.  However, most of the time I think I was intimidated by new languages, international paperwork, and flying. I had a terrible time with Spanish in college and only received some sort of a B (don't remember the exact grade) due to a student teacher who was afraid to look bad.  I hate flying, not because I am afraid as much as I feel sick, both air sick (either I come down with a sinus infection from the pressure or actually vomit on the plane) and it aggravates my fibromyalgia.  Until now, I never felt like I missed out and I certainly traveled otherwise, hitting more than half the states (by car) before I turned 20.  Still, I was nervous.  I have a cousin who has lived in London for quite a while and have never gone despite the fact that I am sort of in love with Britain from its wonderfully made television mystery shows.  In the case of Britain, it isn't a language issue, but a long flight and time change issue.  Anyway, with our kids in the training choirs at church and the regular church choirs traveling to England this August, it hit me that I needed to get comfortable with foreign travel in the near future.

Then a friend of mine who lived in Guatemala for over a year, raved about it to me and wanted to go back, so we decided to go together for the month of January.  It would be a great homeschool trip for her son and my kids as well as a break for my fibromyalgia in the cold.  Of course, if she had only been on vacation there, I never would have been brave enough to go, but since she actually lived there, on her own with her son, I was much more comfortable.  I wanted the kids to be immersed in Spanish as well as see a different culture and experience life very different than the U.S.  The nice thing about Panajachel Guatemala is that there is still a very strong Mayan culture including traditional food and dress.  It is one of the few places left in the world where so much native culture remains.  The climate is also ideal with lows of about 48F and highs of about 72F all year, so it is never cold or hot.

For homeschool, it was a super experience.  First off, the architecture was interesting with buildings open to the outside, sometimes in the middle of the building, since they don't require heating or cooling.


There are churches much older than our church too.


Don't forget the day trip to Antigua where we saw many sites with old ruins including the Church and Convent at Capuchins.

There was the natural wonder of Lake Atitlan with its surrounding volcanoes.

The science of hot springs due to the nearby volcanoes.
The nature preserve was quite exotic complete with banana trees.
We learned about coffee on a tour of the farm and processing.

Forget conventional art class.  The kids took a Mayan weaving class.
They visited a handmade pottery factory.
They visited the Galeria owned by Nan Cuz where they viewed lots of Guatemalan art.

They tried on authentic Mayan clothing from the village of San Antonio.
While we didn't plan on doing a whole lot of math, they kids studied Guatemalan currency and used it buy things including watching Mom attempt to bargain.  Social studies was the strongest area covered mainly because the kids visited the homes of two local families and ate a traditional meal at one of them.  We also experienced the ancient by visiting Mayan ruins.
Modern differences were the most interesting.  On the one hand, there was litter and less than perfect plumbing, but on the other hand there was the tremendous wisdom in simplicity such as the efficiency of tuk tuks on roads without too many cars (no traffic lights), hopping in the back of a pickup truck for longer distances, shopping in a pharmacy with no prescription needed, using ATMs where you can lock yourself in without the fear of someone else with a bank card being able to get in, and eating in restaurants where the owner's chickens roam about the premises.
Physical Education wasn't left out either as we did a horseback ride throughout the village of San Pedro (which I don't recommend for someone with fibromyalgia as due to lack of balance and sensory issues it was very uncomfortable and afterwards I had to rest quite a bit on the couch for several days - but it was fine for the kids).

The kids also went kayaking, but I didn't get pictures.

Obviously, many people in Guatemala don't have as much as we (or most Americans) do, so we had the kids volunteer two mornings doing an art project with preschoolers at Mayan Families.  They really felt great about helping the little ones. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

There Are No Breaks in Homeschool!

Thanks to the grandparents I got to take the kids on vacation to Maine.  Dad had to stay home, luckily to start a new job, not continue to look for one.  So, did we get a break from homeschool? Not at all!  Yes, I let the kids skip their Time4Learning for the week, but they didn't stop learning.  Besides, what better place to learn than at the beach!  It was unstructured learning though.  I brought along several books from the library on the ocean, Maine, rocks, and seashells.  We looked things up as needed, but made no effort to read anything cover to cover.  The first day, it was raining, but the tide was out at a good time, so we went for a walk and collected rocks and seashells.  Over the next several days we tried to look them up to see what we found.  For the rocks we tried to make an educated guess at igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary based on what we read.


I showed the kids that if you dig, you can reach water.  We even made a little canal and a sort of tide pool.  It wasn't exactly the Erie canal, but I think they got the idea.


They also had a great time playing in the ocean.  C rode some waves with Grandpa and T goofed off in the water.  They wore their long suits and hats to stay out of the UV rays.



Grandpa took T and C candlepin bowling for the first time.  He got them bumpers of course, but, hopefully, it will get them interested in the sport.  Too bad there is only regular bowling in Buffalo.


Don't forget about crafts too.  Mem helped them teach them how to do a type of knitting.  It was fun to watch them since I did that as a kid.





It was a great time.  There was a lot of learning too.  While many homeschool families say that they take the summer off, I doubt they stop learning.  I think when homeschool families say they take a break, they are really taking a break from formal curriculum.  Reading and exploration continues anyway.  This was certainly the case for us.

What about you?  Do you take a "break" from homeschool?  What does taking a break mean to you?


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Old Fashioned Travel for an Old Fashioned Education

If you have been reading my companion blog, you know that on July 6, 2012 we took an unusual trip with the help of the grandparents.  Driving from Buffalo to Chicopee, MA is nothing new for our family, especially me.  I have been making the trip regularly since 1997 when I moved to Buffalo.  We've always taken the NYS Thruway with the most choice being where to stop, like the supply of fast food was a big variety, and whether to stay on the thruway or stay on Interstate 90 when with goes around Albany.  With the kids the trip takes around 7 hours, pretty efficient like most modern travel.  Modern travel with its well placed conveniences and efficiency is centered very much around getting where you are going, and not about the trip.  Interstate highways have taken motorists off of the traditional US highways where people actually work and live.  Worse is the way people fly around place to place without even having to think about the people they pass by or the real distance they are going.

For a long time, I thought about how interesting it would be to travel on the old US highways across the country, like US 20, or up a coast, like US 1.   It reminds me of old movies from the 1930s and 1940s before the interstate system.  It was a time where, if you drove somewhere, you couldn't help but go slower and experience the places you passed through.   I can't see a situation where we will be able to do the whole thing at once, but I thought we may get to do it in increments.  We started on July 6, 2012 by attempting to pick up US 20 as soon as we could outside of Buffalo and take it to Springfield, MA.  Because we ran out of time we picked up the NYS Thruway just outside of Albany.  While we decided to go at the last minute and I didn't have time to review Carschooling, the kids brought maps and followed some of the town names.

The trip was a great time even though it wasn't exactly the way I expected.  First of all, I thought the kids would be into seeing all the farms as we passed, but after the first few, the fascination wore off a bit.  Despite being city kids, I suppose seeing cows from the car is only so interesting.  We did, however, get to stop at lakes, farms, and dairy stands that we hadn't seen before despite frequently driving within a few miles of them.  Here are the highlights:





This kind of travel is like homeschool, where being able to take your time and ignore the conventional ways gives your a more full experience.  I don't remember how many times I have driven from Buffalo to Chicopee, but we won't forget this trip with all the sights and fun stops on the way.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Always Learning

Even on our vacation to visit family in Florida, T & C were still learning.  Check out these photos from our visit to Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center on Hutchinson Island.  Hands on science beats classroom lecture hands down!






Daddy even fed sting rays:

video

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Museums and Unschooling

During our trip to Florida, we visited the Children’s Museum of the Treasure Coast.  It is a great museum where kids play in different exhibits much like Explore and More in East Aurora.


There is a really large pirate ship with activities about sailing and exhibits with activities about daily life and occupations.


The concept reminds me quite a bit about the book, The Unschooled Mind.  It proposes that kids would learn better by doing activities in a museum setting under the guidance of experts who run exhibits of sorts.  Kids would complete age appropriate active projects in each area.  As they got older the activities would get more complex, self-directed and lead to apprenticeships in their occupational area of interest.  The idea is that students could perform better by continuously applying what they learn.

As I said before, we are balancing these ideas for unschooling with the Time4Learning curriculum we are using.  We do a little work on our curriculum each day, and when I can manage it we make it out to a local attraction for a field trip.  We also enjoy walking to the places in our neighborhood for our regular activites and errands building skills through daily living and exposure to city life.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

We're Back!

For obvious reasons, I didn't tell you that we have been away for more than a week.  Everything came together at the last minute and we went to Florida to see the grandparents (not the set in the board game post).


The kids were great in the car!  They practiced reading signs and by the end of the way down, T and C realized that food and gas signs on the interstate are always blue and that the exit ones are green.  I am a little embarassed though that I was so exhausted from the little bit of driving I helped with, that I didn't do most of the techniques I read about in Carschooling, even though it is a really great book.  I felt silly reading it because we don't own a car and need to rent one to leave town, but it is a great read regardless.  It really does have have great ideas for covering all subjects on many types of car rides, from long trips to commuting.

I also thought that it would be fun to check out the homeschooling laws in Florida.  Before I looked, I assumed that they would be less stringent than New York.  Was I wrong!  While I didn't see anything about quarterly reports, Florida requires a specific type of log and under certain homeschool options the need for a certified teacher to adminster tests.  It seems a little more stringent to me.  Of course, I only read the summary by HSLDA.  Still, it made me thing that New York may not be the most difficult state for homeschooling.  More on our trip in future posts!