Friday, March 30, 2012

Don't be sad it's over, be happy it happened.


Finally, the long awaited rains have come, Portugal is grateful for them!  As Kei puts it, “Gold from the sky!”

Bobbie, Diane and Paul met for their last classes today.  As expected, leaving was not easy.  They are very fortunate students to have had such perceptive and innovative teachers.  It was a very good match, as the teachers were rewarded with wonderful feedback and rewarding results.  Electronics will be soothing the pangs of parting; how different from the era of the love letters from Portugal.

Joe and Mary were, also, rewarded for sharing their expertise and faceted experiences with a variety of students – varying in age and levels of education.  They spoke often of the pessimism of their older students in not having rewarding careers and dim futures.  Yet there were some upbeat moments and classes.

Reba brought out the inner person in a number of young students by using her experience in teaching.  She appears to have opened them more to their potential by personal contact – all three quite young.


Arleen has certainly learned much from Joaquin – his being so open to learning pronunciation – so difficult for the Portuguese.  Just conversing and slowly correcting small pronunciations and tenses.

A quick note of appreciation to our indefatigable team leader for all the work he has done and experience he has shared with us.

Do not be sad that it is over.  Be happy that it happened.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Nearing the End


Thursday dawned blue and bright with the promise of another memorable day in Beja.  The countdown has begun to the end of our journey, and the realization that we will be arriving back home a little wiser, a little more humble and a lot more full.

Reba had a good afternoon tutoring one-on-one with her 3 students.  She used a variety of teaching tricks including everything from her candid pictures to “Mary-Had-A-Little-Lamb.”   Her future futbol player-student along with Manuel and Raquel all showed progress from the previous session.

Arlene continued her tutoring with “Ke” which has turned into quite the renaissance session, with discussions on literature, poetry, and philosophy and even a little Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and Laurel and Hardy thrown in.   Sounds like a lively discussion.

Mary and Joe had an interesting tutoring experience…teaching English to 11 teachers at the Santa Maria school.  The levels were all basic to advance but one take-away they had is the sadness about how possessing a negative attitude, such as the one displayed by a young teacher, can impact your life, and those around you.   Unfortunately, that type of thinking has the same affect the world over…but can be especially harmful in a country like Portugal.

Joe continued his Portuguese Ringling Brothers routine with Barbara’s granddaughter and her friend…which resulted in a relaxed yet productive tutoring session with lots and lots of laughs.  He rounded out his day by joining Luis at the library for a couple of hours of conversation.

The Polytechnic Trio (Bobbie, Diane and Paul) had an inspirational and emotional day with each of their two classes presenting their end-of-class reports.  Each student talked about influences in their lives and we heard many wonderful stories about books, movies, songs and, of course, the special people that played a role in our special students’ lives.  There were some very emotional moments and each student had a “break-through”, no matter how small or large, in being able to stand in front of the class and be vulnerable and confident as they “thought and talked” in English.   Quite the day indeed!

The Beja team capped off Thursday with a lovely hosted dinner at the Santa Maria school…although with a couple of empty tables, we were not quite sure who else was supposed to be there.  But that did not matter as the food was delicious and was served in a very quaint setting by a friendly and very proud school staff.  We were entertained by the effervescence of Carlos, serenaded by Ke, and some of us were given an exclusive private tour of the Science lab by our new friend Oracio…who has been working for 53 years in Beja… and for 29 years at this school.  What a charmer!

On our return to the hotel, we could reflect on what a charming place Beja is…and nature seemed to agree….as she provided a much needed gift of rain to our special home with its warm and wonderful heart.  It truly was a good night for all.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wine Tour


Joe, Carlos, Francisco (the driver), Joe, Mary, Arleen and myself went on a mystery trip organized by Carlos.  We went to Albernoa today.  We saw orange trees, olive trees and grape vines.  The orange trees were loaded with oranges.  Arleen could hardly contain herself. 

We arrived at the Cascado Santa Vitoria Winery in time for a tour.  Took lots of pictures of the storks at the winery.  They do not migrate anymore, but stay in the same location.  The making of wine is very interesting and complicated.  Eighty percent of the grapes are picked by hand, some by machine.  They still stomp some of the grapes with their feet.  We saw a video of them doing this.  They are measured by their acidity, color, alcohol level and bouquet.  The temperature and humidity must be balanced.  The oak barrels are used for 4 years and then sold.  They are purchased from France and cost $500 - $600.  The wine is aged 9-14 months.  They have 118 acres in grapes and 100 acres in olives.  They use only their own grown grapes in winemaking.  We visited the wine cellar and shown a video about winemaking.  We then had a wine tasting period.  Afterwards, we toured the premises. 

We left for a delicious lunch of beef stew (except for Arleen who had eggs).  Lunch was at Dom Raphals.  On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a Roman excavation site.  It was very interesting and had beautiful tiles.  Instead of paying the driver for his time and van, we made a contribution to the local blood bank.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Another Great Day


Another great weather day in Beja – clear skies and perhaps 72 degrees.

Joe and I had a few hours of free time in the morning.  We visited the Municipal Museum which had an excellent interpretive handout in English.  Well worth the one eruo (retired person entrance fee) which also includes entrance to the Roman ruins museum just around the corner.

Joe tutored Barbara’s granddaughter and her friend for an hour before joining me at the library.  My first assignment was with a college student of molecular biology who was working on a presentation on medical ethics.  Carlos introduced me to this student.  He seems to know just about everyone in town.  Secondly, Joe joined me to “tutor” our new friend, Luis.  He is an economics professor at D. Manual I High School.  His English is outstanding, but he loves to converse in English on any topic.  He was the generous man who drove us to the festival of the river fish on Sunday.

Reba had three long hours – one hour each with middle school age students.  She used a National Geographic magazine with one student to work on vocabulary and pronunciation.  With another student who was her most difficult challenge of the afternoon, she tried flashcards.  Family pictures worked well with her third student.


The Polytechnico trio reported a smaller group in their morning session as the professors in their class have meetings on Tuesday.  The smaller group allowed more in depth discussion on current events.  In the afternoon they worked on vocabulary building with an exercise in which the students would view pictures and name items that begin with a “K, F and P” with emphasis on a silent first letter, such as “knee”. 

We ended the day at the chicken and fish place accompanied by the ever present futbol game on TV.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Warm and Crisp Day


Monday morning was crisp and sunny and I looked forward to at least three more days of clear sky and Beja warmth.

Bobbie, Paul and I repeated our routine of walking to the Polytechnic Institute, and solidifying our class plans on the way.  We have become so familiar with Beja that we didn’t hesitate to take a new route. 

Our dedicated students come into class with sincere greetings and continued enthusiasm.  Both students and teachers shared their weekend adventures.  A short discussion on current events followed and we then presented the main project for the day – “If you won ten million euros, what would you do with it?”  The answers were thoughtful and revealing.  Some responses were:

-      travel around the world with family and friends (one student offered to send us tickets to join them)

-      see the seven wonders of the world

-      invest the money to secure a good future

-      have my own business in cork production and sell products in America; this would help my country to be recognized in the world market

-      build a pediatric hospital

-      earn higher education degrees and pay off houses for family and friends; nothing extravagant

-      drive Route 66 in USA

-      invest money and start a company to promote Portugal and Alentejo

Reba and Arleen started new assignments for this week.  Reba worked with an 11 year old boy.  She had no problems and enjoyed the session.  Her other student did not show up.  Arleen met with her adult student, Kee, and said he taught her more than she taught him.  Kee is full of an incredible amount of information, but Arleen will help him improve his pronunciation of the English language.


I’m already feeling melancholy at leaving Beja.  I have to make the most of the time that is left.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Politics and Games


Paul, Diane and Bobbie greeted their morning class at the Instituto Polit├ęcnico de Beja with “T.G.I.F.” – another new slang expression to add to their growing list.

A serious discussion about religion in the U.S. followed as a student wanted to know how we manage with so many different religions in our country.  Topics covered ranged from separation of church and state, the religion of presidential candidates, to discussion of the Amish (a religion or culture?) to cults, Jim Jones and Kool-Aid.

On a lighter note, we switched gears to our planned “game day” and played a vocabulary building game known to the students as “Stop”.  We grouped them in pairs and passed out a sheet with the following headings:

     Animal   /   City   /   Clothing   /   Job   /   Food   /   We Are

F    Fox      Frankfurt      Fly        Fireman    Fries    Fabulous

We gave them a letter and they would write an English word in each column with that letter.  The first team to complete all categories would yell “stop”.  They loved playing this game and we promised to play it again next week.

We repeated the same activities in the afternoon class.  In just one week’s time, we could see an amazing improvement in our students’ confidence when speaking English.

Joe and Mary had an “exceptionally unusual” class on Friday as they met their new students in the Senior Institute.  Each student’s introduction lasted more than twenty minutes with one student tracing his family history back to the 1700’s! 


Reba and Arleen continued their teaching at Santa Maria Middle School.  They had four classes of the 5th, 6th and 8th grades.  While their students seemed to know the English alphabet, they needed help with the letters’ sounds.  Both Reba and Arleen used flash cards with the students.

Our Friday night celebration dinner was a treat at the 25th of April Restaurant where their specialty was “black pig”.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Strike Day


Mary and Joe's day at the Dom Manuel I secondary school was informative, interesting and frustrating.  Today was Greve Geral (National General Strike), and it affected the school day. 



Workers around the country are protesting the economic impacts resulting from the Portuguese Government's acceptance of the terms of the European Union's bailout.  Workers are unhappy with their economic situation as compared to those of many politicians and upper level bureaucrats (99% vs.1%).  They say they are losing economic ground, and cannot afford to live.  They are paying higher taxes and prices for basic products, and working longer hours for less pay.



ln the morning we noticed the streets and school halls were quieter and emptier than usual.  Students were grouped outside the school, we assume, waiting to see if the school was going to be open.  (The teacher of our first class was 15 minutes late because she was waiting with her son at his school to see if he would have school today.  He did.)  At all of our daytime classes, our teachers were in the classroom because as one said: I can't afford to stay home.  Our evening adult class was cancelled because that teacher was on strike.  (This was not a surprise to us because she is an active member of the opposition political party.)



The daily teaching experience was good as usual.  We not only taught the students in grades 7, 8 and 9 but also we learned from them and their teachers.  The students were more rowdy than earlier in the week because this was their last day of formal classes prior to the 2-week Easter Vacation.



On the way home from the afternoon class just a short distance from the team hotel, a protest rally was underway.  There were speeches, singing and flag waving; none of which we really understood in detail, but could use our imaginations as to content.  We also had a short chat with one of our night students who worked 27 years at the prison, who was attending the rally.



Arlene and Reba had an abbreviated day at Santa Maria school because of evaluations and one strike related cancelled class.  Bobbie, Diane and Paul had a normal work day at the Polytechnic Institute with little student strike related discussion.



After the daily evening meeting the team went to an Italian restaurant for a fulfilling dinner.